April's coolest gadgets

For many months there's been talk about next-generation DVD players for high-definition movies and there's been nothing but prototypes, and then suddenly two products have come along at once!

Both units are made by Toshiba Corp., and both support the HD-DVD format, with one on sale in Japan and another to follow shortly. They'll be available to U.S. and European readers soon for those wanting to get their hands on the products.

While the month has been good to HD-DVD, news from the rival Blu-ray Disc faction hasn't been quite so favorable. Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. announced a delay to what is expected to be the first consumer Blu-ray Disc player on the market. The machine was due out May 23 but won't be available until June 25, according to the company. Sony Pictures said it will still release movies in May.

Over the next few months more products should begin making appearances from other companies and the format battle will begin to heat up. With two rival formats consumers might be best advised to wait and see before betting a week's wages on a HD disc player.

If you just can't wait, there is one bonus to picking up an HD-DVD player now: the HD-XA1 has no region coding for the HD-DVD content, meaning it can play HD-DVD discs purchased anywhere in the world. A decision on region codes isn't expected to be made for several months.

Toshiba HD-XA1

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The HD-XA1 has secured Toshiba Corp. the bragging rights for being the first HD disc player. The machine went on sale in Japan on March 31 and combines HD-DVD with almost all DVD and CD disc formats. High-definition output is via an analog connector (depending on disc encoding - check the movie package) and HDMI (high-definition multimedia interface). On the audio side, the machine supports Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby True HD and DTS-HD. In Japan it costs around

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