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Sony Releases Blu-ray in China

19 Nov, 2008 By: Chris Tribbey

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment is hoping to avoid another format war, this time in China, by releasing 30 Blu-ray Disc titles there Nov. 21, the same day the Sony BDP-S350 Blu-ray player is made available to Chinese consumers.

In contrast to the format war between HD DVD and Blu-ray in the United States, this time Blu-ray is the first to put software in the market. Toshiba’s revamped HD DVD for China, called China Blue High-Def (CBHD), accommodates Chinese audio and video codes, however licensing efforts are still underway, according to the DVD Forum. A DVD Forum spokesman was not available for comment by press time.

The news comes just days after The Wall Street Journal reported that Chinese pirates were producing counterfeit Blu-rays, which were actually a bootleg DVD format with only 720 lines of horizontal resolution, compared to the 1080 in Blu-ray. However, T. Paul Miller, Sony’s SVP of international, said piracy isn’t the driver behind the releases. Instead, it’s because the Chinese are buying HDTVs at a rapid rate and are ready for high-definition content.

“There’s a substantial base of consumers looking for [high-definition] product, the best product,” Miller said.

“Obviously, by percentage terms, it’s probably much smaller than here,” he said of Blu-ray hardware in Chinese homes. “But our sense is there’s a fairly high level of penetration.”

Initially, Miller said, Blu-rays from Sony will be imported. However, eventually the discs will be made at a replication facility in Shanghai to avoid added costs and hassles associated with importing software.

As for CBHD, Miller said that format has yet to get off the ground.

“There was concern around that,” he said. “But it’s turned into a bit of vaporware from our standpoint … there’s no content, and no hardware.”

Selling roughly for the same price as U.S. Blu-ray, the average price for Blu-rays sold in China is $30. Released via Sony’s local distribution partner Excel Media, the titles include recent releases such as Hancock, The Water Horse and the “Spider-Man” trilogy, as well as catalog titles such as Men in Black, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen and Into the Blue.

The titles will be sold in Sony Style and Carrefour stores, with online sales at Joyo.com. Miller said a deal is being worked out with Best Buy stores in China to allow for an in-store operation to sell Blu-rays. Best Buy currently does not have the licensing rights to sell software in its China stores.

“We are very happy to be the first video distributor releasing legitimate Blu-ray Disc in China,” said Kenny Ling, GM of Excel Media. “We believe that transforming the home entertainment experience to high definition is an essential trend.”

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