TOKYO (AP) _ Sony Corp. formally declared Wednesday that it would not introduce digital video disc players until next spring, citing an initial lack of software.

Company executives for months have said there was little chance Sony would produce DVD machines and discs by the end of the year.

Sony was forced into a design compromise with rival Toshiba Corp. on the new discs last fall and recently announced licensing terms for its DVD patents independent of Toshiba and other electronics makers.

DVDs, seen as an eventual replacement for CDs and videotape, are the same size as compact discs but are capable of storing seven to 14 times as much information.

But disputes about copy protection have delayed the production of software, as well as the DVD players, Sony spokesman Masanobu Sakaguchi said.

``We believe that was a reasonable business decision,'' he said. ``You can't do business just coming out with the hardware.''

Other Japanese electronics makers such as Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., Toshiba and Hitachi Ltd. still plan to introduce their DVD players by the end of the year.

A Toshiba spokeswomen said the company's DVD players will hit store shelves in the United States and Japan in time for Christmas shopping. Matsushita will give a Japanese sales date and pricing at a news conference Thursday, a spokesman said.

Goldman Sachs analyst Hitoshi Kuriyama said the only thing hurt by Sony's staying out of the DVD market until next spring was its brand image as a trend-setting innovator.

``I always doubted whether bringing it out before Christmas was that crucial,'' he said. ``It's going to take five years for it to grow into a major product.''