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A Disturbing Lull for Blu-ray

12 May, 2008 By: Stephanie Prange

Blu-ray Disc format backers may be blowing an opportunity.

We've hit a lull in the Blu-ray push. It's almost enough to make you wish for the old days of competition with HD DVD. At least that would give the Blu-ray format backers some reason to make some definitive moves.

Right now, things are in limbo, with retailers waiting for the updated Blu-ray players from manufacturers to hit.

“BD player prices remain high and supplies are limited,” said Applied Business Intelligence analyst Steve Wilson in a recent report. “This is good for the market because most current players do not support all [disc] functions.”

Good? I beg to differ. I see it as a potentially damaging loss of momentum.

Indeed, a recent NPD report found sales of standalone (non PlayStation 3) Blu-ray players fell 40% from January to February in the United States and only saw a 2% increase from February to March.

Along with high player prices — which Walt Disney Co. chief Robert Iger noted need to drop to $300 — the lack of upgraded, fully functional Blu-ray Players (with picture-in-picture and other capabilities) has kept format growth subdued. In last week's financial call, Fox chief Peter Chernin said many retailers carry just one or two Blu-ray players, waiting for a manufacturing push for third-generation players. He expects the new players to reach the market by summer and contribute to an upswing of both player and movie sales through the fourth quarter.

The third-generation players do seem to be on the way. Last week Panasonic and Pioneer Electronics announced pending launches of new third-generation Blu-ray Disc players with Bonus View (picture-in-picture) and BD-Live (Web-enabled interactivity), among other features. Panasonic's DMP-BD50 player — available this spring — retails for $699.95. Pioneer's BDP-51FD and BDP-05FD models — available this summer — carry suggested prices of $599 and $799, respectively. Those prices aren't exactly cheap, and not even close to Iger's $300 tipping point.

Here's hoping it's not too little, too late.

After beating rival HD DVD, the Blu-ray format seems to have lost its drive. Blu-ray backers better find that drive again quickly — or they will find consumers are going to stick with DVD.

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