Blu Skies Ahead
Quick! Drop this magazine, run down to your neighborhood electronics retailer and buy a Blu-ray DVD player--or three! Ring up your friends and relatives and tell them to do the same. The quicker Blu-ray sales ramp up and manufacturers overbuild, the sooner foot-draggers like me will be able to get Blu-ray on the cheap.
If blog chatter is any measure, it's clear that you technophiles and movie buffs don't mind paying the premium that Blu-ray players will carry until that unknown date when supply begins outstripping demand. Web shopping engines report that player prices have actually drifted upward by about 30 percent (or 100 bucks) since February, when supporters of the competing HD-DVD standard unilaterally surrendered. But premium prices haven't dampened Blu-ray sales. After three years of vendor bickering, there's a huge pent-up demand from early adopters that has to be worked off before cheapskates like me even think about plunking down their plastic.
Oh, and would someone please clear the aisles of all those HD-DVD pioneers with vendor arrows in their backs? Customer sacrifice is so unconducive to shopping. What are the odds they'll be joined by Blu-ray early adopters? Actually, the obsolescence arrow has already left the bowstring.
Most current Blu-ray players being sold are based on something called Profile 1.0. They cost around $400 and are only a tad more functional than entry-level players like Toshiba's D-R400 that can up-convert your standard discs to 1080p resolution. The D-R400 goes for about $100 at e-tailers like Overstock.com.
Lately, Profile 1.1 players have also begun drifting into the supply chain. Priced at $500 and up, they offer features like picture-in-picture (aka BonusView) that provided the original rationale for buying HD-DVD. Panasonic hopes to leap-frog them this summer with a Profile 2.0 player, the DMP-BD50, which has a web interactivity feature called BD-Live. Even though Blu-ray's victory quashed most dual-standard products, Plextor has taken the bold step of releasing two Blu-ray PC add-ins that also read those obsolete HD-DVD discs--a $499 PX-B300SA dual-format reader and a $599 PX-B920SA Blu-ray burner.
Sony has announced two new Profile 2.0 players that will come out later this year. Sony's BDP-S350, upgradable to web interactivity (BD-Live), will ship this summer for about $400. Its BDP-S550, due out this fall for about $500, will have BD-Live built in and 1GB external storage.
Although prices are unpredictable, Sony Electronics president Stan Glasgow has publicly guesstimated that Blu-ray players will be priced at $300 by the end of the year and $200 sometime next year. Consider those as guidelines for other Blu-ray vendors. While they're left to compete on price, Sony will be selling premium features.
Sony has already released a Profile 2.0 system upgrade that makes its PlayStation 3 gaming console the most capable Blu-ray spinner around. Priced at $400 like 1.1 movie players, the PS3 can also download videos, games and phone ringtones from the web for transfer to other devices, up-convert standard DVDs and tap into the interactive features of upcoming BD-Live-capable movies. If Sony's claim of a 10-year life expectancy pans out, the PS3 would seem to be the safest way to take the plunge.
Please, be my guest. It all sounds great, but no way will I dip a toe into the cool Blu pool until I'm really, really sure there are no surprises lurking below the surface. I'll let someone else play the hero.Mike Hogan (email@example.com) is Entrepreneur's technology editor.