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Toshiba 'disappointed' over Warner Bros. decision

The biggest hardware backer of the HD DVD format responds to Warner Bros. recent decision to back Blu-ray exclusively.

LAS VEGAS--"Disappointed" probably isn't a strong enough word to describe when a major focus of your business plan and the highlight of your Consumer Electronics Show pitch is derailed two days before by one of your former partners.

As the most prominent backer of the HD DVD high-definition video format, Toshiba's press conference at CES this morning drew a lot of interest among the tech press, mostly out of morbid curiosity. What could it say after Warner Bros. announced Friday it would exclusively back rival Blu-ray, after the studio had played it neutral up until now?

Toshiba didn't waste any time addressing the 800-pound gorilla in the room. President and chief executive of Toshiba America's consumer division, Akio Ozaka, took the stage to lament the studio's announcement despite strong sales of HD DVD players in the last quarter of 2007.

"Unit sales of HD DVD in Q4 were the strongest yet. Therefore we were surprised by Warner Bros. announcement that it plans to abandon HD DVD later this year," said Ozaka. "We were particularly disappointed this decision was made in spite of the momentum HD DVD has gained in this market."

Toshiba vice president of marketing for digital audio and video products Jodi Salley was even more somber.

"As you can imagine, this is a tough day for me," she said as she took the stage. "I fully expected to come here this morning to share with you the successes of the last year of HD DVD, (but) the events of the last few days have shifted the focus of my comments."

Instead of announcing a fourth-generation HD DVD player as expected prior to Warner Bros. announcement on Friday, Toshiba took the opportunity to simply reaffirm its faith in the format, and point out features like Web connectivity and the presence of Ethernet ports on every player, which Blu-ray does not have.

"It is difficult to read pundits declaring HD DVD dead...but we've been declared dead before," Sally said.

Despite that sense of optimism, she didn't offer any details on what Toshiba's next move will be.