Toshiba has officially started the next generation DVD battle today with the launch of its first commercially available HD-DVD player in Japan.

The new player, called the HD-XA1 is the first player to support Toshiba's HD-DVD format and will play any pre-recorded HD-DVD.

Along With L-PCM 5.1ch audio, HD-XA1 supports the clarity and realism of three next generation surround-sound formats, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD, and sound sources can be output to audio systems via the player's HDMI output or multi-channel audio output.

Support for up-conversion of standard DVD to a resolution of 1080i or 720p through HDCP capable HDMI output allows consumers to enjoy current DVD libraries with output resolution scaled to their HDTV or HD displays.

Accompanying the launch, Toshiba seems keen to point out extra benefits users will be able to get with the new format in addition to improved picture quality. The player offers users the chance to use "pop-up" menus that display movie chapters with thumbnails while the movie plays, and allows users to navigate menu features without pausing playback.

Picture in Picture (PIP) with motion video functions include the ability to play supplementary video over the main program, allowing viewers to watch bonus content, such as a superimposed director's commentary or a documentary about the making of the movie, while the movie plays.

Initial shipments of HD-AX1, until April 27, will bundle two Complimentary HD-DVD movie discs, "Resident Evil" and a Japanese film, "Moonlight Jellyfish".