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Blu-ray Won the Battle, But Now Comes The War

By Saul Hansell

There is a concept rattling around the blogosphere that Sony's victory over Toshiba in the war to define the high-definition video disc format is moot because soon people will be downloading high-definition videos rather than buying them on discs.

I suspect Blu-ray will have a hard time for a few years, but not because of downloading. That is simply too hard for the mass market. Buying discs is easy to do and easy to understand.

The competition for Blu-ray players is the latest generation of DVD players which can generate a high-definition signal from a standard-definition disc.

Right now, Blu-ray players cost $350 to $400. Sony PlayStation 3 game machines, which also play Blu-ray discs, also cost about $400.

I called Mike Abt, the president of Abt Electronics, the big Chicago-area electronics retailer, to ask about his take on demand for Blu-ray players in the wake of the withdrawal of Toshiba's HD DVD format.

He said the biggest question is how Sony and the other manufacturers approach pricing.

"If Blu-ray is really smart they won't raise prices even though they can, now that they have no competition," he said. "They haven't got everyone to join in and want a Blu-ray."

"Most people are happy just buying a better DVD player, instead of spending $350 or $400 for Blu-ray," Mr. Abt said. "An upconverting DVD for $79 is a great value. It has a great picture, really better than an old DVD. You really see a difference."

What is more, he said, consumers will be put off because Blu-ray discs cost $5 to $10 more than standard DVDs.

Sure, the super-high-end home theater buyers will start to get Blu-ray players, Mr. Abt said. They had already been buying the combination Blu-ray and HD DVD players from Samsung and other makers. (Those are the folks who may experiment with Apple TV or other ways to download movies, I suspect, but they will have disc players too.)

But Blu-ray will represent far less than 25 percent of disc players sold until the price falls below $200 or even $150, he said.

What about all the people who bought HD DVD players, prompted by Toshiba's aggressive price cuts? Mr. Abt hopes he can at least partially mitigate their anger and frustration by pointing out how well the players can display standard DVDs.

"We have a lot of people who bought HD DVD players in the last few months," he said. "We are going to communicate with them: you have an upconverting DVD player, enjoy it. You paid $150 for it, so you didn't lose too much."

©2007 The New York Times Company

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