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Sony ups the Blu-ray / HD DVD Ante
February 27, 2007
Thomas Mennecke
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If anyone is going to win the current format war between Blu-ray and HD DVD, it will be the consumer. Between the omnipresence of unauthorized Blu-ray and HD DVD titles circulating online, falling retail prices, and intense competition between the two camps, most consumers simply have to sit back and wait for the bludgeoning to subside. It also doesn't hurt the situation that Sony announced yesterday their new BDP-S300 Blu-ray player will sell for $599.00 (US).

That's a big drop from Sony’s current Blu-ray player, the BDP-S1. This player retails for about $1000.00, or $995.95 according to the Sony website. The remarkable thing about the new, less expensive model is the consumer loses nothing feature-wise. Both models have the capability to play at full 1920x1080 progressive resolution.

The Format War

According to virtually everyone that's compared HD DVD and Blu-ray titles, there's no difference in the perceptible quality between either formats. Perhaps Lieutenant Data could distinguish a difference in quality between the two, but for us mere humans, deciding which format to buy will be based on something other than quality.

So far, HD DVD has been "winning" the format battle. The bottom line, as often is the case, boils down to price. A quick look at BestBuy's catalog shows the cheapest, full resolution HD DVD player retails for $499.99. Until yesterday, this was a full $500.00 cheaper than Sony's standalone model.

HD DVD also has the support advantage from such corporations as Microsoft, Intel, Toshiba, and Universal Studios. Sony and Fox are Blu-ray's biggest supporters. Another tipping point is that HD DVD has been embraced, no pun intended, by the porn industry.

Additionally, HD DVD has won international support. According to a recent study, HD DVD sales have surpassed Blu-ray in the United Kingdom by a margin of 4 to 1.

Blu-ray evens the odds

Although HD DVD had the advantage of an earlier release date, the Play Sation 3 (PS3) variable appears to be turning the tide in Blu-ray's favor. Released November 2006 in the United States, PS3's sales and price have compensated for the relatively expensive stand-alone players. Selling for $499.00 and $599.00 (20 gigabyte vs. 60 gigabyte), which incidentally is the same price as Sony's new Blu-ray player, the PS3 has Blu-ray movie capability built it. Simply export the Blu-ray disc via an HDMI cable, and full High Definition video is achieved.

"Eighty percent of people who buy a PS3 also buy Blu-ray movies to go with it," Randy Waynick, senior vice president of the home products division of Sony Electronics said yesterday.

The release of the PS3 has been widely credited with the latest finding from Nielsen. Nielsen found that Blu-ray had for the first time taken a slight lead in sales. Specifically, Nielsen's data found that for every 100 Blu-ray discs sold, 98.71 HD DVD discs were sold.

Interestingly, the HD DVD camp was able to spin this latest finding in their favor. Despite the small sales advantage, there's a much wider disparity in hardware sales. Currently, Blu-ray hardware sales outweigh HD DVD by a margin of 5 to 1. Is the HD DVD camp worried?

"Given that the life to date title sales ratios are close to 1:1, and given that Blu-ray has a 5:1 ratio right now on the hardware side due to the PS3, it poses an interesting question for the Blu-ray studios of why Blu-ray software sales are not outpacing HD DVD by a similar ratio?" Universal's HD DVD chief Ken Graffeo told BetaNews.

Repent, the end is near!

The best anyone can say is that Blu-ray has a minor sales advantage right now, nothing more. Blu-ray is much like Hannibal having his way in Northern Italy, yet lacking the strength to land a crippling blow on Rome. PS3 sales have certainly given Sony and the Blu-ray camp a hardware advantage, yet Sony's perceived reputation following the rootkit scandal may make people think twice before going Blu-ray.

Another factor is the PS3 has yet to be launched in Europe. An immediate reaction may suggest this will tip the global scale in Blu-ray's direction; however release delays and backwards compatibility issues with the PAL PS3 may not provide the golden egg that many are anticipating. Gamers have expressed their frustration not only in Europe, but worldwide, as the Nintendo Wii has reaped the benefit of this anger.

Yet these frustrations may all be swept aside in exchange for a cheap Blu-ray player. It's still way too early to know which format ultimately prevails, but the longer it takes to resolve, the better chance that neither will emerge victorious and instead default to HVD.

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Technology News :: Hardware

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