Blu-ray to get boost from new players, lower prices, and 3D?

Consumer Reports News: September 26, 2008 04:15 PM

If you've been considering a high-definition Blu-ray DVD player, this holiday season is shaping up as a good time to buy. More Blu-ray players are steadily arriving, with models from Denon, Insignia, LG Electronics, Panasonic, Pioneer, Samsung, and Sony now in stores (and in our Ratings of high-definition DVD players, available to subscribers). In addition, you can play Blu-ray discs on Sony's PlayStation 3 game consoles, which have an integrated drive. A growing number of notebook and desktop computers either come with, or can accept, Blu-ray drives.

Two reasons for delaying a purchase, high prices and a still-evolving format, will be less of an issue as we head into the holiday buying season. We’re already seeing prices for the most basic players, so-called Profile 1.0 models, heading toward the $200 mark. Sony's BDP-S300, for example, has been selling for $229 at Amazon. Predictions from sites such as DealNews call for some even more aggressive doorbuster specials, such as players for $149, and player/movie bundles for $199. As we've seen previously, prices can often bump back up after the three-day Black Friday shopping period (Thanksgiving weekend), but they rarely return to pre-holiday levels.

In addition, there are a growing number of Profile 1.1 models with BonusView picture-in-picture capability, and Profile 2.0 models with BonusView and BD-Live Internet connectivity. A number of players can be upgraded to BD-Live functionality, including some from LG, Panasonic, Samsung, and Sony. Secondary brands, including Insignia, Magnavox, Sylvania, and others, will be introducing Profile 2.0 models this fall, one reason we expect prices for an entry-level BD-Live player to hit $200 by the end of the year.

But hardware is only one side of the Blu-ray story: Hollywood is also getting into the act, hoping to ramp up sales of new discs, which typically sell for $25 or more. Some now offer interactivity and 3D viewing capability. Disney, for example, has loaded its Sleeping Beauty Blu-ray disc with extra features, including games, tons of bonus material, and some cool BD-Live extras, such the ability to access content on the movie studio's Web site. For example, the disc's main menu features a "real-time" castle with weather that reflects the viewer's own local weather conditions. Viewers can also chat with and send video e-mails to friends while the movie is playing.

Blu-ray could also get a boost from a slate of planned 3D releases, which follow the release of Disney's Hannah Montana & Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds as a 3D Blu-ray title. Warner Bros., for example, is issuing both Polar Express and Journey to the Center of the Earth—originally shot in 3D—in 3D versions for Blu-ray, complete with glasses. With animated 3D movies coming from both Pixar and DreamWorks in 2009, 3D could be a major factor driving player sales.

And coming later this year: a growing number of studios that will include a "Digital Copy" of the movie—a DVD that contains a standard-definition digital file of the film—along with the Blu-ray disc. The Digital Copy can then be downloaded to a computer or portable video player for on-the-go viewing.

—James K. Willcox

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