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Best Buy Cools on HD Discs

17 Nov, 2006 By: Erik Gruenwedel

Consumer electronics retailer Best Buy has put high-def optical-disc hardware on the shelf — the back shelf.

With 762 stores in 49 states, Best Buy is an integral player in the successful launch of rival next-generation, optical-media formats HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc.

The chain carries Toshiba's HD DVD player and Samsung's Blu-ray player at its Magnolia locations, and is taking preorders online for the Sony and Pioneer Blu-ray players. However, Best Buy has quietly refocused marketing efforts from a proactive approach to a standalone flat-panel HDTV display that requires consumers make the first move.

Why is the Minneapolis-based retailer scaling back marketing efforts?

“Customer response due to the format war is so muted that it is not even a factor for us,” spokesperson Brian Lucas said. “There are people who had to have either one or both when they came out, but most people are sitting on the sidelines to see how this plays out.”

A Circuit City Stores spokesperson said it was too early to discuss adoption rates of either Blu-ray or HD DVD. The 600-store chain carries Blu-ray players from Samsung and Sony, and an HD DVD player from RCA.

A Tweeter Home Entertainment Group spokesperson expressed similar sentiments, adding that Toshiba had delayed the launch on the HDA2 until mid December from October. He said Sony and Pioneer had pushed back launches of their Blu-ray players to the first week in December.

CE manufacturer LG reportedly scrapped plans to unveil a Blu-ray player prior to the CES show in Las Vegas.

Not even the much-anticipated Nov. 17 launch of Sony's PlayStation 3 with a Blu-ray Disc drive gives Lucas much hope for a groundswell of high-def packaged-media interest.

“Most people are going to be using PS3 as a gaming system,” said Lucas, who added the launch coupled with Nintendo's Wii system introduction two days later was almost unprecedented in gaming.

He said some early adopters would test out a Blu-ray movie on the PS3, but it's not likely large numbers of consumers will flock to establish Blu-ray movie libraries.

“That's a pretty risky thing for somebody to do,” he said. “If customers ask, we will explain to them there are two competing formats. And if they buy one now, there is a chance it won't be the one that wins. That is a tough thing to sell.”

Still, Lucas said he isn't ready to lump HD DVD and Blu-ray in with Sony's underachieving UMD format. He said widespread acceptance of HDTV underscores consumer willingness to buy high-def packaged media — but not until the format war is settled.

“Then we are going to have to educate consumers because they've almost been conditioned to not pay attention at this point,” he said.

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