|Toshiba HD-A2. Image: Toshiba|
A pre-holiday retail skirmish in high-definition DVD players has begun. Just days after Wal-Mart (WMT) slashed its in-store price on the Toshiba HD-A2 to $198, Circuit City (CC) and Amazon (AMZN) followed suit by offering the player online for $197.99.
Consumers seem eager to buy the HD-A2, which had been selling on Amazon for $230 and as much as $280 elsewhere. The Toshiba player, which had been one of several top-selling DVD players on Amazon before the price cut, has quickly become the favorite: On Monday morning it was the 24th most-purchased electronics item on Amazon’s site. The next closest DVD player ranked 46.
The low prices could shift momentum in the high-definition format war between HD DVD and Blu-ray, which are vying to succeed today’s ubiquitous DVD. Like mainstream DVD players, HD DVD and Blu-ray players accept DVDs. But they also play high-definition discs in their own formats, which look sharper on today’s large, flat-screen televisions.
Blu-ray had been seen by some industry watchers as having a better chance of winning the format war, mainly because more Hollywood studios had agreed to release movies exclusively on the format. But Blu-ray technology, which was created by Sony (SNE), is more expensive to produce than HD DVD. The result is that while retailers are jousting with sub-$200 HD DVD players, the most affordable standalone Blu-ray players still cost twice as much.
|The Spider-Man trilogy comes out on Blu-ray October 30. Image: Sony Pictures|
Meanwhile, each format has amassed a passionate following online. Blu-ray backers argue that Blu-ray’s high-end technology will win out over HD DVD’s more basic approach. They say that Toshiba’s HD-A2, which outputs images in 1080i resolution, is inferior to Blu-ray players that output sharper 1080p. The Blu-ray backers are often fans of Sony’s PlayStation 3, which comes with a built-in Blu-ray drive. HD DVD backers counter that HD DVD quality stands up well to Blu-ray, and that the companies supporting HD DVD have embraced a pragmatic strategy that will beat Sony’s more expensive methods. HD DVD backers are often fans of Microsoft’s (MSFT) Xbox 360, which has an optional HD DVD attachment.
This week the rivalry will grow more intense. Tomorrow, Sony Pictures will release the Spider-Man trilogy on Blu-ray, marking one of the most highly-anticipated HD releases of the year. Pre-orders of the HD trilogy were the 20th bestselling item in Amazon’s DVD store Monday morning, two slots ahead of the Transformers movie on HD DVD.