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Blu to Bow Now

19 Jun, 2006 By: Thomas K. Arnold

As rival HD DVD continues to make headway in the market, Blu-ray Disc, the next-generation optical-disc format supported by the lion's share of studios and consumer electronics manufacturers, makes its long-awaited — and oft-delayed — debut this week.

The first batch of seven Blu-ray titles, all from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, are scheduled to arrive in stores June 20. The first set-top Blu-ray player, from Samsung, is slated to go on sale June 25.

Benjamin Feingold, president of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, said about 15,000 copies of each title are being shipped to retailers that also will carry the player, including Amazon.com, Best Buy and Circuit City.

“It's really about where there is hardware,” he said.

Retailers also are receiving corrugated cardboard displays with the Blu-ray Disc logo and the sell line “Experience High Definition Today.” The standees hold three rows of three titles each, face-out.

Feingold said the initial batch of Sony Blu-ray Disc titles will feature some, but not all, of the extras on the DVD versions.

“Our strategy is to have the best resolution,” Feingold said. “We are devoted to increasing the bit rate as high as we can, and we're finding that even with 25GB we could use more capacity. So we are looking forward to having a 50GB disc available, starting toward the end of summer.”

The Blu-ray launch comes two months after HD DVD — supported by just three studios and one consumer electronics manufacturer — hit the market. The HD DVD launch has been challenged by meager software support — at this point, there are only 26 major-studio titles available, 12 from Universal and 14 from Warner — and a problematic first-generation player from Toshiba, which developed the high-definition format.

Early adopters who bought either of the two Toshiba players, the $499 HD-A1 or the $799 HD-XA1, complained of slow boot times and other disc-playback problems. Toshiba is offering customers a firmware upgrade as a fix.

Robert Zohn of Value Electronics, a top online retailer, said sales of both players “have been strong and steady. The problem is still in the limited allocations.” Toshiba won't say how many HD DVD players it has shipped, but sources peg the initial rollout at about 10,000 units.

Toshiba marketing VP Jodi Sally said the company is working hard to produce and ship more players.

On the software front, Paramount Pictures Home Entertainment, the third studio to commit to releasing product on HD DVD, has yet to announce any titles.

Retailer Zohn reports “strong and steady” sales of the Universal and Warner titles.

On the Blu-ray side, next week's Sony rollout will see the release of The Fifth Element, 50 First Dates, Hitch, House of Flying Daggers, The Terminator, Underworld: Evolution and XXX. A week later comes Ultraviolet, the same day as the DVD.

Basic Instinct 2 will be out July 11, followed July 25 by The Benchwarmers, A Knight's Tale, The Last Waltz, Species, Stealth and S.W.A.T.

Lionsgate also has chimed in with Blu-ray titles, beginning June 27 with Crash, Lord of War, The Punisher, Saw and Terminator 2.

Lionsgate president Steve Beeks said fewer than 10,000 copies of each title are being pressed. Samsung's BD-P1000 player ($999) will be the only set-top Blu-ray machine available until Sony releases its BDP-S1 in July, a month behind schedule. Pioneer has delayed its own player until September. A Sony VAIO notebook computer with a Blu-ray drive is due June 24, with a desktop to follow June 30.

“Obviously, the real story will unfold in the fourth quarter, when there will not only be more machines delivered to the market, but many more titles showcasing the superior capabilities of Blu-ray technology,” Beeks said.

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