It appears that Santa may be very good to the Blu-ray manufacturers – both player and content. Reports via a number of sources show that sales of Blu-ray players are up by as much as threefold over last year’s sales and that the format may finally be catching on with the average home entertainment enthusiast. The New York Times featured an article on the dominant driver for this sales increase: Quite simply it’s a reduction in price and an assortment of available features added to the players such as streaming media on broadband capable players. The vanguard in all of this is, of course, Wal*Mart with their $78 Blu-ray special (limited features) that consumers apparently went nuts over during the Black Friday weekend. Other retailers quickly followed suit to come up with bottom-line pricing on a number of less-than-major brands, and consumers have stayed relatively enthusiastic about these players throughout the holiday season. For those trading up or considering major brands, the wi-fi features standout among choosy holiday shoppers.
The communal “meh” that greeted Blu-ray on its launch a few years back has begun to dissipate as players and content once priced solely for the early adopter have made their way to retail discounters such as Target. But, after three years of consumer inaction due to format war/format confusion, overpriced players and high-priced software content, it seems the recession (and consumer demand for cheaper retail items) have helped to drive the price of Blu-ray players down significantly. In addition, many older films and popular titles presently on the high-def format are now featuring consumer-friendly, even stocking stuffer, prices. The myriad price wars amongst the major retailers this holiday season appears to have helped determine how the major distributors and studios will be pricing their titles. Ensuring that, in the future, these value-sensitive consumers keep buying long after the Christmas bustle has passed.
As more Blu-ray popular and catalog movies filter down to retail discounters, expect even more price reductions. In some cases, the studios themselves have gotten in on the deal by offering a way to trade older DVD titles for the exact same title in the Blu-ray format. Warner Bros. has made a major push in this approach toward consumer satisfaction. After all, who really wants to completely re-purchase their home video library (not to mention that the original DVD format was pitched as the marriage of perfect picture and sound quality on a virtually “indestructible” disc… Um, yeah). Warners has a website dedicated to helping consumers make the transition from standard-def media to the high-def format a little more reasonable (check out: http://www.dvd2blu.com/ ). All of this seems like a fresh start for a format that some have said would die on the vine in light of the strides made for streaming digital content directly to consumers. Now that Blu-ray player manufacturers have brought VOD-type services to the general consumer with a single device, high-def players are situated to take up the slack from falling DVD profits as that format slowly fades from the king of digital content delivery. Some say the time has never been better to go cable-free and live with just a Blu-ray player… only time will tell.
Nevertheless, after the holiday madness dies down, expect Blu-ray player manufacturers to up the ante in terms of Blu-ray’s ability to access online digital content directly from the studios (using BD-Live), the ability to use your player like a living room IMDB service (using Live Lookup), direct connectivity for digital media players such as the iPod line and other hand-held devices, in addition to 3-D without glasses (this will be a function of both HDTV’s currently in the tech pipeline and Blu-ray players still in development). Ask and you shall receive features such as faster loading times, more BD-Live content, better bookmark and playback saving features and other conveniences that early Blu-ray players lacked are soon on the way as well.
All said, the future for Blu-ray looks a lot brighter this holiday season, and that’s just what Blu-ray manufacturers and studios were wishing for (perhaps they’re on Santa’s nice list this year).