By Sarah Falson

SYDNEY: Castel Electronics, the local distributor of Toshiba consumer electronics, believes that the retail distribution model for the launch of its two HD DVD players launched yesterday is the key to the format’s success in the Australian market.

The two Toshiba HD DVD players will be sold through Harvey Norman, Retravision, Myer, Wow Sight and Sound, West Coast HiFi and AV specialists – with the first model hitting retailer shelves on 10 December and the second expected in February 2007.

“Toshiba is a premium brand so we really think about which stores we’ll partner with for distribution,” Castel NSW state manager, Peter Shamoon, told today.

“Castel has limited distribution, so [stocking] a very good brand like Toshiba, which is the only Japanese brand in Australia that has not distributed its products to every major retailer, allows the retailer to make more margin.

“Harvey Norman is going to be the biggest reseller of these products,” Shamoon said.

The two HD DVD players – an entry-level Toshiba HD-E1 (RRP $1099), available for Christmas, and the premium-model Toshiba HD-EX1 (RRP $1599), expected to arrive at retail in February 2007 or earlier – will also be sold through specialist stores like Audio Connection and Todd’s HiFi.

Shamoon believes that selling Toshiba HD DVD hardware through a combination of major retail and specialist audiovisual stores will allow the players to reach both of their target markets, namely the ‘early adopters’ and the general public.

“The specialist retailers obviously have their own niche customers,” said Shamoon.

Shamoon also stressed the importance of Toshiba’s presence in niche audiovisual shops, as these kinds of stores strictly stock high-end audio and video brands.

“Specialist AV stores don’t usually sell Japanese brands – they sell premium brands like Loewe, Bang and Olufsen, and now [of course] Toshiba. The specialist group will be our other major retail outlet.”

Castel will hold a roadshow before stock hits shop-floors to educate retail staff about the HD DVD technology, and the benefits of the format over normal DVD media and hardware.

“We are holding a retailer launch in either November or early December. We will conduct in-store training on ways to educate the consumer about the difference between current DVDs that they’ve been enjoying for the last five to seven years, and the new HD DVD format.”

Shamoon views this move from standard optical discs to high definition formats as “very similar to [the leap the public has made] from standard definition televisions to high definition versions.”

When the Toshiba HD DVD players go to market, they will be up against rival high definition Blu-Ray-format disc players from Panasonic and Samsung. The two formats are expected to battle it out for supremacy over the coming months, harking back to the rivalry between VHS and Betamax video formats.

High definition optical discs are expected to eventually replace DVDs in the home theatre due to their superior sound- and picture-quality, and increased storage capacity.

“HD DVD is a completely logical successor to CD – it slips into CD’s place like a hand into a glove," Castel Electronics product manager, Paul Astbury, said at the launch yesterday.

Both Toshiba HD DVD players will come pre-packaged with a copy of Apollo 13 on HD DVD, with other blockbusters from Warner Brothers, Paramount and Universal Pictures, such as Doom, King Kong, Jarhead and Mission Impossible I, II and III, to be released on HD DVD discs soon.

The Toshiba players are ‘backwards compatible’, meaning they can play content from regular DVDs and CDs, as well as HD DVDs, and the high-end HD-EX1 will also be able to ‘upscale’ regular DVDs to HDMI for playback on high definition televisions and displays.

The rival Blu-ray format is supported by seven of the eight major movie studios including Sony Pictures, MGM, Walt Disney Pictures, Lions Gate Films and Twentieth Century Fox, while Warner Brothers and Paramount support both formats.