LOS ANGELES – Blu-ray, one of two much-hyped high-definition DVD formats, debuts next week, but the launch is expected to be muted amid device delays and consumer confusion, industry analysts said on Thursday.
Sony Pictures this week said it will deliver various titles in the Blu-ray format to retail on June 20 to coincide with the first available Blu-ray DVD player from Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. and Sony's (SNE) own Blu-ray compatible VAIO PC.
But Sony has delayed shipping its set-top Blu-ray player from July until August and Pioneer Corp. has also postponed the North American launch of its Blu-ray player to this fall from June, cutting its price to $1,500 from $1,800.
Blu-ray, backed by Sony Corp., is competing with a format called HD DVD, led by Toshiba Corp. Studios hope the new formats, which offer far more capacity than current standard DVDs, will breathe new life into the $24 billion home video market.
But their efforts have been overshadowed by the impending format war, which has divided Hollywood and been likened to the 1980s Betamax/VHS battle over a consumer video format that confused consumers and cost studios and manufacturers millions of dollars.
Likewise, analysts predict that many consumers will remain sidelined until there is a clearer picture of which standard, Blu-ray or HD DVD, will prevail.
HD DVD launched earlier this spring, but only a relatively small amount of compatible titles have been released.
"We're in the very early stages of the early adapter phase. The sales of these players and discs right now are not going to move the needle," said American Technology Research analyst PJ McNealy.
In-stat analyst Gerry Kaufhold said consumers will probably not even consider buying high-definition DVD players or discs until they have bought pricey high-definition televisions.
"The average person probably doesn't even care," said Kaufhold. "The fourth quarter of 2006 is when the clock really starts on these items. The first big real push will be the holiday season of 2007, but then you still have the rival format issue clouding things," he said.
Both Sony and Pioneer said they are focusing on educating both retailers and consumers.
"Based on it being a new format, we wanted the educational and promotional materials to be in full swing so that consumers can fully understand what it is," said a Sony spokesman.
Pioneer has also set up a task force to educate retailers.
"We realized that retailers didn't really understand Blu-ray and what its virtues are or what the differences were between Blu-ray and its rival," said Russ Johnston, senior vice president of home entertainment for Pioneer Electronics.
Video game consoles will also play a key role in the DVD standards battle. Sony has much riding on its plans to use the PlayStation 3, the newest version of its market-leading video game console due late this year, to get its Blu-ray high-definition DVD standard into homes.
While Blu-ray has drawn more support among Hollywood and electronics firms, HD DVD has garnered an ally in software giant Microsoft Corp. (MSFT), which plans to offer an external HD DVD drive for its Xbox 360 game console that will turn it into a high-definition DVD player.
The $499 to $599 pricing for the PS3 would make it competitive or cheaper than most stand-alone HD DVD or Blu-ray players. Toshiba has released an HD DVD player priced at $499.