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Blu-ray player sales down despite format victory

Standalone player sales not benefiting from HD DVD's exit from the market.

Looks like it wasn't the HD DVD/Blu-ray battle that was keeping potential customers away from high-definition video players after all.

The NPD Group released some of its retail sales tracking data Wednesday that showed sales of Blu-ray standalone players (not a PlayStation 3, combo player, or PC with Blu-ray drive) had mostly decreased since the beginning of the year.

Standalone Blu-ray player unit sales in the U.S. decreased 40 percent from January to February and saw a very slight increase (2 percent) between February and March, according to NPD.

HD DVD players fared even worse--player unit sales dropped 13 percent from January to February, and 65 percent from February to March--which was expected. Toshiba stopped production of HD DVD units in February, and the format's promotional group disbanded in March.

So what does this mean for Blu-ray player vendors? Why haven't sales experienced any sort of substantial uptick without a competitor? Prices offer one clue. Blu-ray player prices were at their peak for the year in mid-March, around $400. During the holiday shopping season the average price had been closer to $300.

But more likely is what NPD's high-def video analysts have been harping on for a while: that DVD is "good enough" for most consumers. And that the picture offered by a Blu-ray Disc and accompanying player doesn't appear so overwhelmingly better than a standard DVD and an upconverting player that many consumers can't justify the dramatically increased cost.

To that point, sales of significantly less expensive upconverting DVD players have actually increased 5 percent over the first quarter of 2008, compared with the same quarter a year ago. Standard DVD player sales dropped 39 percent over the same period.

Blu-ray player prices are going to have to drop dramatically, to around $200 probably, to make themselves more attractive to consumers outside of the early adopter/home theater enthusiast crowd. Sony, one of the largest producers of Blu-ray players, says $200 players aren't likely until next year at the earliest.