Toshiba said on Tuesday it will delay the year-end Japan launch of its next-generation HD DVD players to address copy protection issues, potentially undermining its advantage as the first supplier to put such machines on the market according to Reuters, the news agency.

The Japanese company had said in September the domestic launch might be postponed until after December.

A spokesman for Toshiba said it would continue to push for a US launch in the first quarter of 2006, most likely some time between February and March.

Sony is expected to roll out Blu-ray DVD players in Spring next year in the US to coincide with the launch of the PlayStation 3, which is expected to feature the new disk format.

The two companies have been battling to win supremacy for the next DVD format for the past 3 years, with a constant stream of tit-for-tat announcements.

But both may be quickly usurped by download services or a holographic high capacity disk being delevoped by Memorex.