Delays Aggravate HD DVD, Blu-ray Roll outs

March 22, 2006
Although hardly unusual for the ramp up of any new technology, both incompatible formats for the next-gen of DVDs are experiencing delays in player and title shipments here in early spring, and that's the bad news. The good news is that none of the delays appears serious enough to jeopardize either side's long-term plans ("long-term," in this case, being about a year out).

Within the past week, Warner confirmed rumors that it will have to delay its original release date for HD DVD titles from March 28 -- Toshiba's original launch date for early products -- until April 18 (HD Notebook, March 15, 2006). The studio has also scaled back its initial rollout to only a trio of titles -- "The Phantom of the Opera," "The Last Samurai" and multi Academy Award winner "Million Dollar Baby." Warner attributes the delay to "technical issues," a generic term which could cover a multitude of possible production and/or copyright problems.

For Sony, the announced six-month delay of its PlayStation 3 game console until next November is seen as a blow to its overall launch: PS3 will incorporate Blu-ray drives and its original ramp-up date this spring could have served as a huge boost in its war with HD DVD. Still, PS3 will apparently be available for the all-important holiday season later this year. Sony still hopes to see some early DVD players from other manufacturers on store shelves by the end of May, but it will not release its own Blu-ray players until July, starting at about $1,000.

Although nothing firm had been announced at deadline, it's appearing more likely that Toshiba's new DVD players will not be introduced in late March, but will be held back a bit in order to better coincide with the new April 18 content release date from Warner. For early adopters, however, new HD DVD players would not be totally devoid of content if they are launched prior to any titles; HD DVD players will be backward-compatible to accommodate today's DVD discs. Sony says Blu-ray will be the same.

Warner's own research reportedly suggests the pending launch of next-gen DVD could take off even faster than the original DVD format (a contention that should be consumed with large dollops of wishful thinking). The first DVD ramp-up was the second most successful new format launch in CE history, behind only MP3 music players, notably the iPod. Warner reportedly projects that by the end of 2006, U.S. consumers will buy nearly 600,000 new format DVD players -- 450,000 of them HD DVD units and the rest Blu-ray (largely because of the latter format's later arrival, and price differences).

Warner researchers apparently seem to have forgotten that most consumers only purchased their current DVD players within the last 2-3 years, that an estimated 85 percent of all U.S. households do not yet have HD sets, and that both formats' new players will carry price points many times those of today's DVD players. Although HD DVD units will be priced below Blu-ray, the least expensive HD DVD player will come with a price tag of about $500. (Wal-Mart now sells a progressive-scan, recordable DVD player for $98).

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