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Retail Remains Unchanged Post Format War

14 Jan, 2008 By: Erik Gruenwedel

Less than 10 days after Warner Bros. said it would exclusively distribute high-definition packaged media in Blu-ray starting in May, many national retailers continue to sell hardware and software in both formats.

In the ramp up to the Super Bowl Feb. 3 in Glendale, Ariz., — reportedly one of the busiest HDTV selling periods of the year — consumer electronics retailers Circuit City Stores Inc., Best Buy Corp., Costco Wholesale Corp., and Southern California-based Ken Cranes Big Screen Headquarters incorporated both HD DVD and Blu-ray in Sunday (Jan. 13) newspaper circulars.

Circuit City is offering free 1080p Blu-ray players from Sharp Electronics and Panasonic with the respective purchases of a Sharp Aquos HDTV or a 50-inch Panasonic 1080p plasma HDTV. Both offers include five free Blu-ray movies.

Richmond, Va.-based Circuit City continues to offer Toshiba's HD-A3 HD DVD player for $299 and seven free movies, including 300 and The Bourne Identity in the box.

Best Buy offers the same Toshiba player and movies for $399. Indeed, the ad for HD DVD appears before an ad for LG Electronics' dual-format player for $799. The circular made no mention of Blu-ray software or additional players.

Costco sells Samsung Electronics' Blu-ray player (BD-P1400)with 1080p resolution for $379. It sells the Microsoft Xbox 360 HD DVD player attachment for $170, which includes five free movies.

Ken Cranes offered the HD-A3 with 1080i resolution for $148 and the HD-A30 with 1080p resolution for $198. Both models included the seven free movies.

Steve Caldero, SVP and COO of Hawthorne, Calif.-based Cranes, said the slashed HD DVD prices did not reflect a decision by the company to abandon HD DVD.

“No, we're not discontinuing HD DVD,” Caldero said.

He said Warner's decision still left retailers with the responsibility to sell both formats, since Universal Studios, Paramount Pictures and Dreamworks still release exclusively in HD DVD.

“It hasn't been the best situation from day one,” Caldero said.

He said Toshiba's players have been Internet-connected from the beginning, compared to Blu-ray players.

“The new Web-enabled BD players haven't even shipped yet,” he said.

Both Best Buy and Circuit City could be dropping their HD DVD prices shortly as Toshiba Corp. Jan. 14 announced it was cutting $150 and $200 from the retail prices of the HD-A3 and HD-A30, respectively.

Last week, Best Buy spokesperson Brian Lucas said the retailer would continue stocking HD DVD so long as studios release content in HD DVD and there is a market for the format.

“As far as we're concerned there are still two formats and the format war is not really over,” Lucas said.

He said Best Buy would continue telling customers about the two formats and not take sides so they could make “an informed decision.”

Lucas said as more BD titles are released, stores would offer increased shelf space for them. He said Best Buy is responsible to its customers and not studio decisions.

“Unless one format drops out, it's business as usual,” he said.

Currently, Best Buy offers 461 BD titles and 396 HD DVD titles for sale on its web site.

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