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Blu-ray players rumored to hit $249 by autumn

Sony is said to be dropping the price of its entry-level Blu-ray player to $300 in September, with competitors going even lower.

Sony BDP-S350
Will the pricetag of the Sony BDP-S350 get a $100 haircut?

Sony will be dropping the prices on its standalone (non-PlayStation 3) Blu-ray players by $100 in September, according to an anonymous source cited by CE insider Gary Merson on his HD Guru Web site.

Around the same time, the source claims that budget players manufactured by Funai and sold under the labels Philips, Magnavox, Sylvania, and Insignia could drop as low as $249. Specifically, the Sony BDP-S350 would drop from $400 to $300, and the as-yet-unreleased step-up model, the BDP-S550, would be introduced at $400, instead of the $500 price that was previously announced.

Now, anonymous sources are a dime a dozen on the Internet, but our normal degree of "beware stuff you see on a blog" cynicism is tempered by two points. First: Merson's had a good track record on getting the inside scoop on forthcoming price drops in the past (example). Second, the fact that prices are coming down as we approach the all-important holiday buying season just makes sense--we'd be more surprised if the prices didn't fall.

So, you might ask: "I can already buy an Insignia Blu-ray player (Best Buy's house brand) for just $280--what's the big deal?" Good question. Let's remember that CNET's stock Blu-ray player recommendation is the PlayStation 3: it remains the best Blu-ray player you can buy for $400, and it adds a full host of gaming and network media features in the mix.

But once a wider variety of standalone players break the $300--and $250--price point, the PS3 is no longer a slam-dunk choice. Indeed, the aforementioned Insignia is "good enough" for basic Blu-ray duties, but the Sony BDP-S350 would be a no-brainer for just $20 to $50 more--it's got faster disc-loading times and better video quality, and should be getting a firmware upgrade to add BD-Live compatibility by year's end. Another upside: the presence of a top-tier name like Sony at the $300 level will undoubtedly pressure rivals such as Panasonic and Samsung to lower the prices of their Blu-ray players as well.

With this being the first post-HD DVD Christmas season, manufacturers are looking to consolidate Blu-ray's position as DVD's successor. Now that all major studios are releasing Blu-ray titles (no more "VHS vs. Beta" market confusion for high-def discs), more affordable hardware is the real catalyst that Blu-ray needs to begin its move from enthusiast hobby to mainstream media format. Price tags in the $249 to $299 range are a great start. And rest assured, it's only the start: don't be surprised to see $199 Black Friday deals on Blu-ray players this year.

What do you think: would you be willing to pay $300 or $250 for a Blu-ray player? Or is that still too expensive given Blu-ray's less-than-clearcut advantages over standard DVD?

(Source: HDGuru)