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Wal-Mart Shoppers Get Mixed Bag

16 Nov, 2007 By: John Latchem

Visit a different Wal-Mart, and you're liable to hear a different story about how to upgrade to high definition. The Home Media Magazine staff visited several locations around Southern California and got mixed results. Some clerks seem to have a clue. Some have none. Some stores don't even have the players to sell.

About the only items consistent at the various locations were movies on HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc, and the availability of HDTVs, the Blu-ray-playing PlayStation 3 (40GB $399, 80GB $499), and the Xbox 360 HD DVD add-on ($169.24).

One clerk in a Long Beach store was adept at reading the prices and model numbers from the shelf display, but was of little help otherwise except to suggest that buying Blu-ray Discs and HD DVDs was more expensive, and that an upconverter may be the way to go. The lone Blu-ray player was displayed with the insignia of the new HDNA promotion.

When she couldn't explain the difference between 1080p, 1080i, 720p and 720i, she turned things over to another fellow who exuded confidence in the subject. He proceeded to explain that 1080i was the best resolution (1080p is) and that Blu-ray players are the best because they play both DVDs and HD movies. He didn't seem to know much about the format war and was surprised at the suggestion that HD DVDs won't play in a Blu-ray player.

The high-def movie section was extremely small, filled mostly with new releases. Spider-Man 3 on Blu-ray was well stocked, but the Transformers HD DVD was sold out.

A Foothill Ranch location had no standalone players, and the Xbox add-on was sold out. But a clerk suggested an upconverting DVD player would do (it won't play HD DVDs or Blu-ray Discs). Another clerk suggested going to the Circuit City across the parking lot.

The Foothill Ranch location had a 2-to-I ratio in favor of Blu-ray movies, but only display copies of high-def movies on shelves, as the clerk said they kept getting stolen. The Santa Ana location has a similar policy.

In San Clemente a customer service rep suggested a specialist would be in soon to train the clerks about high-def, and that they'd start stocking standalone players when they fell below $200. She said there were only five or so regulars who come in to buy Blu-ray or HD DVD movies, with most customers not asking about it at all.

A clerk in Chula Vista (in San Diego County) seemed generally up to speed on the format war and said most players were sold out after the Nov. 2 secret sale. The player displays also had a lot of helpful information explaining high-def.

Several Wal-Marts in the Los Angeles area had no high-def set-top boxes, and employees doubted they would sell anything other than PS3 and Xbox 360s through the holidays. A Panorama City clerk dismissed them as “fancy DVD players” with no difference between the formats. A West Hills clerk had no answers and called a manager.

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