- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 15, 2009

LOS ANGELES

Although prices for some Blu-ray players dropped below $100 this holiday season, customers are hesitating to jump into the next-generation video format. Even people who already own Blu-ray players are still buying movies on DVDs.

One big reason: Blu-ray discs won’t play on standard DVD players found in cars, computers and bedrooms.

Now Hollywood — which is banking on the pricier Blu-ray discs to help lift sagging home video sales — is stepping up its efforts to win customers. Studios are packaging Blu-ray discs with regular versions on DVDs and throwing in “digital copies,” which can play on computers and iPods.

Over the past month or so, “Up,” “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” and many other hit movies were released in such combo packs. Universal is releasing its “Bourne” movies on “flipper” discs with Blu-ray on one side and DVD on the other.

Such combos generally cost about $20 — sometimes 50 percent to 70 percent less than what it would cost to buy a Blu-ray disc and DVD separately.

Movie studios have been pushing Blu-ray for its crystal-clear sound and images, which can be enjoyed even without the best flat-panel TVs. Yet DVDs remain more convenient because players and computer drives that read DVD discs are ubiquitous. Two-thirds of the 92 million American households that have a DVD player have more than one.

There are now Blu-ray players in nearly 12 million U.S. homes. However, you still need to think hard about where you’d want to play a Blu-ray disc before you buy one.

“Blu-ray is landlocked. It’s home-locked,” said Michael Vitelli, a vice president at Best Buy Co.

At a recent industry conference, Mr. Vitelli remarked that it shouldn’t matter where consumers plan to watch a movie they buy. But these days, with an array of video formats and devices, it does matter.

The home video market is crucial for studios because that’s where they recoup much of the cost of producing movies.

Yet the market has been sagging as people refrain from adding to their already well-stocked home collections and turn to rentals, which are far less profitable for Hollywood. U.S. home video revenue fell 3.2 percent to $4 billion in the third quarter, even though the number of home movie transactions rose 6.6 percent, according to the Digital Entertainment Group, an industry organization.

Because Blu-ray discs generally are priced $10 or more higher than DVDs without costing much more to produce, they could boost profit margins in Hollywood.

Until now, the pace of adoption for Blu-ray has matched what DVD had when it pushed aside video cassettes more than a decade ago. But DVDs didn’t face as many competitors as Blu-ray has. Other delivery methods have emerged, including videos and movies over the Internet, sometimes sent straight to the TV.

Shoppers say utility and portability are sometimes more important than the picture and sound quality that Blu-ray enables. That’s why studios have resorted over the past year to including computer- and iPod-friendly digital copies in many movie packages.

Brett Bonowicz, a 25-year-old Los Angeles screenwriter, would give anything to have Blu-ray capabilities on his iMac computer, which has a 27-inch screen and sits in the living room. For now, he’ll have to settle for the digital copy that comes with many Blu-ray discs.

“If there is one with a digital copy and one without, I definitely always get the one with the digital copy,” Mr. Bonowicz says.

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