Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Blu-Ray Poised to Win HD Player Wars

The war is all but over. Warner Brothers may have started the domino-effect last week by announcing at CES that they will offer their titles on Blu-ray disc, not in the HD DVD format. But it was Toshiba that may have finished the job today by slashing prices on their HD DVD players, apparently conceding defeat.

It's about time for the wars to end! During the several years that the marketplace was holding its breath and waiting for the knockout punch, no one was a winner. Not the movie studios who couldn't sell DVDs, not the equipment manufacturers who couldn't sell HD players, and not us. We could film in HD but couldn't deliver until the stalemate was broken.

At this point, Blu-ray has sewn up 70 - 75% of the market with all the titles from Walt Disney, 20th Century Fox, MGM, Lionsgate and Sony. Only Paramount Pictures, Universal Pictures and DreamWorks Animation are still releasing their movies exclusively on HD DVD. Paramount and Universal may well jump ship when their agreements expire later in the year.

Then today, Toshiba announced they were slashing prices on their HD DVD players by 50%. Even so, who wants to own a piece of equipment that will be obsolete within the year? This could be the death knell for the HD DVD format. Last time Sony was engaged in a format war - Betamax vs. VHS - they lost. This time, however, the technologically superior format has won. Fortuitously, last week Sony announced the debut of a Blu-Ray player under $200. To the victor go the spoils.

So what does this mean for the average consumer?

Q: Can you use a Blu-ray player if you don't have a hi-def TV?
A: Yes, but there's not going to be much of a difference in the picture between hi-def and standard def until you get a new HD TV.

Q: Does size matter?
A: Yes. The bigger the TV (>40") and the closer you are to the TV, the more it matters.

Q: Do you have to replace all your standard-definition DVDs?
A: No. Blu-ray players will play standard DVDs, but some will do a better job than others.

Q: What does a Blu-ray player cost?
A: Prices will most certainly be dropping in response to increased demand and in response to Toshiba's price slashing on their HD DVD players. In the meanwhile, prices are $300 - $1000. Or, buy a PlayStation 3 which is basically a Blu-ray player AND a gaming console for $500.

Q: Which Blu-ray player should I buy?
A: Depends on what quality you are seeking in picture quality, design, load times, sound and extra features. See product reviews on C|NET, Consumer Reports and HD Guru. Here's a summary:
The player with the highest ratings was the Pioneer BDP-94HD ($1000).
In the next tier were Samsung BD-P1200 ($800), Samsung BD-UP5000 ($800), Samsung BD-P1400 ($300); and the Panasonic DMP-BD10 ($1000) and Panasonic DMP-BD30 ($450).
The Sony BDP-S1 ($400) and Sony BDP-S300 ($450) were rated a fraction lower.
Or you can buy a Sony Playstation for around $500.

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