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More features, higher prices in future for Blu-ray players

CONSUMER WATCH

February 20, 2008|David Colker | Times Staff Writer

Is it time to go Blu?

Now that the format war with rival HD DVD is over, you might be tempted to rush out and buy a Blu-ray player as a companion for your high-definition television.

If you're mainly looking for a good price, this could be your time.

"The prices of Blu-ray players were forced down by the war with HD DVD," said Richard Doherty, research director of technology consulting firm Envisioneering Group.

The typical price, which headed south during the holiday shopping season, is now about $400 for a mainstream Blu-ray player.

"Don't be surprised if they start to go up this summer," Doherty said.

Manufacturers of the players, such as Sony Corp. and Panasonic, will justify the higher prices because of added features, he said.

The basic Blu-ray 1.0 machine can play discs in the high-definition Blu-ray format as well as all your old DVDs. Then come the enhancements.

Already available in a few models are features that meet the Blu-ray 1.1 standard. These include picture-in-picture that allows the viewer to watch, for example, a video commentary in a small box on the screen while simultaneously watching the film.

"If I were to advise someone who was going out to buy a Blu-ray player now," said Paul Erickson, director of DVD and HD market research for DisplaySearch, "I would definitely tell them to look for 1.1."

More 1.1 models will be coming out soon, and some players, including Sony's PS3 game machine that also plays Blu-ray discs, can be upgraded to the new format.

But that's only the beginning.

"I would not rule out Sony coming out with a model that has network video," Doherty said. "You could take your vacation videos and send them right to someone's HDTV."

Another possible upgrade: a jukebox-type player that could be loaded with multiple Blu-ray discs.

And by the end of the year, upgraded Blu-ray 2.0 players are expected to hit stores with online connectivity as a standard feature.

But if you don't care about having the latest and the greatest, this might be the time to get out the plastic and buy a basic player.

Still, no matter what enhancements come along, prices on consumer electronic goods always seem to head down, eventually.

A major case in point are DVD players that sold for $1,000 and more when they were introduced in the United States in 1997. Now they're commonly available for less than $50.

Doherty thinks prices for Blu-ray machines won't plunge quickly, however.

"This is a really advanced laser system," he said. "It's not the kind of thing that can be knocked off in China overnight."

And there is another option. You could still buy an HD DVD player to view all the existing discs in that format.

As of Tuesday, those players were officially retro. And cheap.

Only a few hours after Toshiba announced it had accepted defeat in the format war, a search on "HD DVD Player" on EBay brought forth 1,134 auctions.

Few had bids. But one of the newer models that had retailed for $200 got picked up.

The winning bid: $61.

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david.colker@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Clear differences

How much it will cost and what you will get by upgrading from DVD to Blu-ray. (Note: It makes sense to upgrade only if you have a high-

definition television.)

Players

DVD: About $50

Blu-ray: About $400

Movie discs

DVD: About $15

Blu-ray: About $24

Maximum screen resolution

DVD: 480 horizontal lines

Blu-ray: 1,080 horizontal lines

Source: Times research

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