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Blu-ray Gets Blockbuster Boost

Blu-ray, the high-definition optical disc format backed by Sony and a host of major movie studios, has been endorsed by retail and online movie rental giant Blockbuster as its HD disc format of choice, a significant blow against the competing HD-DVD optical disc format mainly supported by Toshiba, Microsoft and NBC Universal.

Blockbuster will roll out an expanded Blu-ray disc inventory for rental to 1,700 Blockbuster stores by mid-July, while continuing to offer HD-DVD titles online and in some 250 stores where it initially deployed both HD disc formats last November. The company says its decision was based on consumer response, as Blu-ray rentals are "significantly outpacing HD DVD rentals" at Blockbuster stores.

"We intend to meet the demands of our customers and based on the trends we're seeing, we're expanding our Blu-ray inventory to ensure our stores reflect the right level of products," said Matthew Smith, SVP Merchandising for Blockbuster, in a statement. "While it is still too early to say which high-definition format will become the industry standard, we will continue to closely monitor customer rental patterns both at our stores and online, so we can adjust our inventory mix accordingly and ensure that Blockbuster is offering customers the most convenient access to the movies they want, in the format they want."

Smith adds that Blockbuster may increase its HD-DVD offerings if consumer demand warrants it. Both formats display 1080-line-progressive-scan (1080p) pictures, the only content available to match the display resolution of the latest high-definition TV sets.

With the new expansion, Blockbuster will be carrying over 170 Blu-ray titles from studios such as Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Home Entertainment, FOX Home Entertainment, Buena Vista Home Entertainment, Lionsgate Home Entertainment, Warner Home Video, and Paramount Home Entertainment. The demand for Blu-ray is probably a result of the steadily falling prices of Blu-ray players. Sony, which also makes Blu-ray drives that work in its Playstation game machines and Vaio laptop computers, recently slashed the pricing on its base Blu-ray player to $499, bringing it closer in price to HD-DVD players, which have sold as low as $299 in recent promotions.

At a New York press briefing last week, Sony Electronics vice president Randy Waynick predicted that Blu-ray player sales would "multiply by six or seven times this year," and that the total HD disc player market would encompass some 250,000-500,000 players sold by year-end. Waynick declined to provide a detailed number for Blu-ray player sales to date.

The adoption of HD discs overall has been slowed by consumer uncertainty over the competing formats. LG Electronics sought to solve the problem by developing a dual-format player that plays both discs. That "Super Multi Blue Player," however, costs $1199.