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Good News from CES from the Blu-ray Disc Association

Posted on Friday, January 9th, 2009 1:07 PM

Blu-ray LogoIt's been just over a year since the home theater industry was rocked with the news that Warner Bros. was going to end its support of the HD DVD format, a move that ended up killing the format altogether by the end of February 2008 (read the announcement of Toshiba conceding defeat).

The Blu-ray format today is very different from a year ago. Last year, I was really wondering if the companies involved could get their collective acts together and start producing hardware that was full-featured (much less at reasonable prices) and that software titles would start pumping out at a higher rate. At that time, the only Blu-ray player worth buying at any price was the Sony Playstation 3 (PS3) game system (read my article "Looking for a Blu-ray Player? The Only Good Choice Right Now Is..." which was published 2/11/2008), as the rest were a mixed bag of overpriced underperformers, none of which had a chance of supporting the upcoming profiles that provided enhanced features, such as Picture-in-Picture commentaries (Bonus View) and Internet connectivity (BD-Live).

2007 was a lousy showing for Blu-ray, and with the death of HD DVD, I really hoped that 2008 would be better on both the hardware and software fronts.

According to the Blu-ray Disc Association, the group behind the Blu-ray high definition format, at a presentation given at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) yesterday, 2008 was indeed a good year for the format!

Andy Parsons, Senior Vice President of Advanced Product Development, Pioneer Electronics (USA) Inc., started off with some statistics.

  • To date, 10.7 million Blu-ray capable players have shipped, including the PS3, which is about twice as many players as the DVD format sold in its first three years (Blu-ray launched in June 2006).
  • Approximately three times more Blu-ray players were sold in 2008 than in 2007.
  • 1,100 Blu-ray titles are now available
  • The Dark Knight is the first title to surpass 1 million sold (it was released December 9, 2008). You can read more about the sales records for The Dark Knight.
  • More than four times more discs were sold in 2008 than in 2007 (24 million vs. 5.3 million)

The Dark Knight (+ Digital Copy and BD Live) [Blu-ray]
The Dark Knight is the first Blu-ray disc to sell more than 1 million copies. It has a great video transfer, a Dolby TrueHD lossless soundtrack, loads of extras, and Internet-enabled BD-Live features. Soon after its release, 10,000 buyers were invited to chat live with director Chris Nolan with their BD-Live enabled players.
He also addressed what was my primary complaint about Blu-ray players last year, which was the utter lack of the aforementioned enhanced functionality of Bonus View and BD-Live. Bonus View started popping up in players as a result of a requirement that all new players announced after October 2007 had to have that feature, but BD-Live was still just being talked about.

One year ago, there were no BD-Live titles and no players to play them. Sony promised that the PS3 would be upgraded to support the format, since it had horsepower to spare and an Internet connection (both wired and wireless) ready and waiting. Even though naysayers discounted the benefits that could be had, I was adamant that any player, especially at the prices that were being asked at the time (the $400 PS3 was a relative bargain just a year ago!), should have Bonus View and BD-Live functionality.

Skip forward to present day, and there are 21 BD-Live titles (Search Amazon.com for BD-Live titles), including The Dark Knight, Sleeping Beauty, and Wall-E. There are also 9 BD-Live capable players now on the market, including the PS3. 11 more players have been announced at CES.

My other major gripe last year about Blu-ray players was the incredibly high price points for what I saw as under-equipped and under-powered offerings. Thankfully, prices have come down, which is a most welcome change. For example, you could get a Sony BDP-S350 for $179 from Sears on the day after Thanksgiving. During the Christmas shopping season, it was easy to find BD-Live and Bonus View-equipped models for $200. Prices have risen slightly now that the holidays are past, but nowhere near the $500 price points of a year ago. For example, the Sony BDP-S350 and Samsung BD-P1500 are both going for around $250-$275 on Amazon.com.

The panel that convened and answered questions from the crowd after the presentation were very positive on Blu-ray's outlook. One panelist predicted that 2009's sales would be 5-6x that of 2008! Even in the face of downloads, which is the current whipping post for naysayers, they felt that Blu-ray still provided the best picture, the best sound, and the best value.

It will be interesting to find out how the market looks next year!

HD blog site EngadgetHD covered the presentation, and you can view photos and running commentary at the Read link below.

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