Dreaming of a Blu Christmas? Nic Tatham explains why there’s never been a better time to make the leap.

The ball is now well and truly rolling for Blu-ray as more and more manufacturers and film studios get behind the effort to make Blu-ray the de facto format, not just for high definition, but for movies full stop. It’s taken a while, though, with hardware and software sales remaining sluggish, even after Toshiba pulled out of the rival HD DVD format almost a year ago.

Extremely cheap upconverting DVD players had a part to play in this, as did the comparatively high cost of BD players and software, but all that is changing now. LG, Sharp, Samsung, Panasonic, Pioneer and Sony are targeting the mass market with aggressive pricing on new models, offering sub-$500 players with the interactive Bonus View and BD-Live features that take full advantage of the format’s capabilities.

The $500 ticket price and the festive timing is historically significant. DVD only really started to kick when hardware reached that price in Christmas 2001, with households quickly embracing the format and all its advances on videotape.

Naysayers argue that times are different now. That Blu-ray doesn’t offer the same compelling quality and convenience improvements of DVD over video tape; that the benefits of full HD on a sub-40 inch screen indiscernible from DVD; that people don’t want to feel forced into replacing their library of DVDs with a new format; that pricing needs to be more like $299 to entice ‘working families’ to open their wallets, or that the global financial crisis will keep wallets firmly shut and all but crush the ambitions of Blu-ray’s backers.

All systems go

The industry, however, is confident that Blu-ray will replicate the pattern set by DVD. LG’s TV category marketing manager, Warren Kim, speculates that 100,000 Blu-ray player units will be sold in 2009, excluding gaming consoles. Figures from September put Blu-ray player sales at 400 000, with just 40, 000 being standalone players. The other 360,000 are accounted for by the Playstation3 console.

He also pointed out that the latest Blu-ray pricing trend indicates that prices are eroding faster than the industry expected, more so than it did with DVD hardware. For consumers, that means that Blu-ray is actually cheaper than DVD was at the same stage in its life cycle.

“Locally,” Kim adds, “there has been a BD push from various manufacturers. In the case of LG, we are offering bonus BigPond DVD rentals for four months valued at $79.80. This is an added incentive for consumers who are considering purchasing a BD player.”

Samsung is adding value too, giving away a Blu-ray player with select model televisions, while Pioneer is supplying free Blu-ray movies with its entry-level player. When it comes to seeding Aussie homes with BD players, though, Sony tops the honours list. In July 2008 it bundled a Playstation 3 console with select model Bravia LCD televisions, with the allotted 35,000 consoles all accounted for before the month was out.

The company is currently promoting Blu-ray to wider audience, running television advertising telling viewers “what a waste” it is to watch standard definition video on a high definition TV.