If the contest between Blu-ray and HD DVD were a horse race, the two are at the point on the track where Blu-ray pulls ahead -- just as HD might be getting its second wind.
In less than a year, Blu-ray has become the first of the two formats to sell a million discs. In fact, the trade publication Home Media Magazine reported on Monday that 70 percent of all high-definition movies sold in the first quarter of this year were Blu-ray. In addition, HMM found that Blu-ray's lead might be increasing, as nearly 75 percent of all discs sold in March were Blu-ray.
HMM also reported that Warner Home Video released The Departed on the same day in both formats. Within six weeks, consumers had purchased nearly 54,000 in the Blu-ray format compared to about 32,000 in HD.
Reports About Wal-Mart
HD's "second wind" might be a report that U.S. retail giant Wal-Mart has purchased two million HD DVD players and will price them at less than $300. According to blog reports late last week, the players were purchased from Chinese manufacturer Great Wall Corporation. The players apparently will go on sale in either late 2007 or early 2008.
This would be about $100 less than the least expensive HD player currently available, and about half the price of the least expensive Blu-ray player.
But Wal-Mart has not confirmed the order, and, to make matters more confusing, it is not entirely clear if the format is HD or Blu-ray. Some reports indicate that translation from the initial Chinese report indicated either a "Blue-ray" or a "blue light" high-definition DVD. Both formats use a blue light laser.
Five of the six major Hollywood studios support Blu-ray. Three of them -- Sony, Disney, and Twentieth Century Fox -- are exclusively Blu-ray. Both formats are supported by Paramount and Warner, and only Universal supports HD exclusively.
Blu-ray Has 'Upper Hand'
In the first quarter of this year, consumers purchased about 832,000 Blu-ray discs and about 360,000 HD DVDs. Meanwhile, there are reports that European filmmakers are falling into the HD camp because the format allows discs to be produced for less than the Blu-ray format does.
"Blu-ray does seem to have the upper hand at the moment," said Paul Jackson, an analyst with technology research firm Forrester. But we're at a tipping point, he said. "If Wal-Mart jumps into the HD camp, it could tip it to them. It should be clear who's winning within the next six months." Wal-Mart currently accounts for about 40 percent of all conventional DVD player sales.
He noted that Sony's PlayStation 3 game console, which comes with a built-in Blu-ray drive, is definitely helping Blu-ray, but he still said it is unclear how many people were actually watching movies using the PS3.
Another factor, he said, is that the "great add-on features" each side said would be possible in their next-generation formats have not yet emerged. These could also tip sales in one direction or another.
The HD format launched in April of last year and Blu-ray two months later. Since then, about 1.2 million Blu-ray and about 937,500 HD discs have been sold worldwide, according to HMM.