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Best Buy's Code Blu

5 Nov, 2009 By: Thomas K. Arnold

Best Buy's Mike Vitelli waxed philosophical at Blu-Con 2.0 when he said the chief obstacle to Blu-ray Disc going mainstream is the gap between consumers' awareness of the format and their familiarity with it. The two are hardly the same, he pointed out, noting that while just about everyone has heard about Blu-ray Disc a surprisingly large number of people still don't know much about. Citing anecdotes related to him by store personnel, he told a rather sobering tale of ignorance, with many people still thinking all they need to get true high-def out of their DVDs, and DVD players, is to hook them up to their high-definition TVs.

Education certainly is key, but first you have to get people to want to learn. And that's where pricing and portability come in. Blu-ray Discs may be sexy, but we have to level the playing field before anyone's going to initiate a courtship. Specifically, he was talking about price and portability.

All right, let's talk about price. I remember when Blu-ray Disc was launched and everyone was hoping for a $10 premium. "We're not looking for a replacement technology," one studio president told me at the time. "We're looking to grow the business." Well, those dreams went right the door when the economy tanked, and with a DVD purchase slippage of nearly 14% so far this year a "replacement technology" that will stop the slide sounds perfectly OK to my ears. The bottom line is that we simply cannot expect consumers who for years have been able to buy any new DVD release for around $15, at least its first week in stores, to shell out twice as much for a Blu-ray Disc. Bring the price of a new Blu-ray down below $20--heck, $19.99 sounds just fine--and you're in business, particularly now that player prices are under $200 (for a good one) and even under $100 for some cheapo models.

But that's only half the equation. When DVD was launched, the DVD player replaced the VCR n the home. Sure, you might have had a second VCR in the bedroom, but that was about it. Today, we've got DVD players everywhere--in the car, in each bedroom, even on the plane or train (courtesy of your laptop computer). There are way more players out there than ever, and Blu-ray Disc, unfortunately, is still pretty much home-bound. The computer industry has been slow to include Blu-ray Disc drives in their new computers, and I have yet to see a commercially available Blu-ray Disc player for my car--at least one that I can afford.

Put these two factors together and the combination is a tremendous roadblock to Blu-ray Disc's advances. You're being asked to pay more for something that's a lot more limited in terms of where you can play it. As Vitelli said, consumers walk into a store and have to make a choice: Blu-ray Disc or standard DVD. Even if they have a shiny new Blu-ray Disc player in their family room, they may ultimately opt for the DVD because they can play that DVD anywhere and everywhere.

As a parent with a yen for long road trips, I understand what Vitelli's saying. I am absolutely wowed by Blu-ray Disc and its superior picture and sound. If I could, I'd toss out all my DVDs and go completely Blu. But only one of my three kids could then watch the film in his own room, on his PlayStation 3. And our road trips would be endless bouts of the alphabet game or "I Spy."

We, as an industry, have to aggressively attack the two Ps standing in the way of Blu-ray going mainstream. Actual selling prices have to be lower, crossing that psychological $20 barrier. And we need to put the pressure on CE and computer companies to go Blu in everything they do.

At this point, I am convinced that Blu-ray Disc's ultimate success is inevitable. But how long it takes to achieve that success--well, to a large degree, that's up to us.

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