Toshiba will exhibit a prototype of its soon-to-launch HD-DVD player at Ceatec in Japan this week.

The player, which has the preliminary model name HD-XA1, is close to the final design of the commercial player Toshiba plans to launch before the end of 2005, said Junko Furuta, a company spokeswoman in Tokyo.

Big buttoned drive

An image distributed by Toshiba shows a relatively large player, roughly the same size as early generation DVD players. The drive and several navigation buttons are located in the lower half of the front panel and there appears to be a hinged cover that can hide them when not in use.

It won't be the only HD-DVD drive Toshiba shows at Ceatec. The company earlier said it will display a 12.7 millimetre-high HD-DVD drive suitable for notebook computers. The drive can read HD-DVD discs and read and write DVD and CDs.

Choose your sides for next-gen DVD

In recent years Ceatec has provided a stage for the backers of HD-DVD and the rival Blu-ray Disc format to showcase their latest prototypes and technology. This year competition is likely to be greater than ever as both roll towards launch. HD-DVD will be on the Japanese market before the end of this year and available in the US in early 2006, according to Toshiba. Blu-ray Disc supporters are promising a launch in 2006.

Both formats offer significantly more storage capacity than current discs: HD-DVD provides 15GB or 30GB and Blu-ray Disc 25GB or 50GB, depending on the disc. But the two are incompatible with each other due to a difference in the depth of the recording layer inside the disc.

With both heading for commercialization and talks to develop a common format failed, many expect to see a re-run of the VHS versus Betamax battle.

Ceatec runs from Tuesday to Saturday at Makuhari Messe in Chiba, east of Tokyo, in Japan.