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Saturday, May 3, 2008

Blu-ray player sales down

Looks like it wasn't the HD DVD/Blu-ray battle that was keeping potential customers away from high-definition video players after all.

The NPD Group released some of its retail sales tracking data Wednesday that showed sales of Blu-ray standalone players (not a PlayStation 3, combo player, or PC with Blu-ray drive) had mostly decreased since the beginning of the year.

Standalone Blu-ray player unit sales in the U.S. decreased 40 percent from January to February and saw a very slight increase (2 percent) between February and March, according to NPD.

The industry appeal of Sony’s Blu-ray high definition video format may have beaten back the challenge of Toshiba’s HD DVD alternative, leaving Blu-ray to be crowned as the official HD standard, but that victory clearly hasn’t yet secured Sony the true success that it seeks.

Specifically, market research company NPD Group has indicated that sales of standalone Blu-ray players have thus far failed to impress following the demise of HD DVD on February 19, which is in stark contrast to the market reaction industry watchers expected.

While having not yet released the actual figures that support the poor sales performance (due to the likelihood of easy retailer identification), NPD Group notes that Blu-ray sales plunged some 40 percent from January to February, before rising by a mere 2 percent between February and March -- when HD DVD was no longer a competitive force.

According to Ross Rubin, NPD’s director of industry analysis, Blu-ray’s superior digital performance is not yet registering at the consumer level, with cheaper DVD players equipped with up-scaling technology (a marginal visual enhancement) thus far proving a bigger hit in the living room and a smaller hit on the pocket.

For example, DVD players offering an up-scaling feature are presently available for below $100 USD, while standalone Blu-ray players are generally pegged in excess of $300 USD. That cost-based disparity is compounded by a recent report from ABI Research, which revealed that the majority of consumers are still not able to discern the visual differences between Blu-ray and standard DVD.

In terms of Blu-ray’s market future, NPD offers that its relative lack of popularity growth will likely remain shackled to its pricing, at least until this year’s Christmas period, which should see Blu-ray players drop to around $200 USD. Unlike NPD, the research team at API believes that Blu-ray will continue to struggle for widespread acceptance until the end of Q3, 2009.

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