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Blu-ray: Picture Gets Dimmer for Entertainment Format

Sony Blu-ray Disc
AP
Sony Blu-ray Disc

Could it be a "black-and-blue" Friday for Blu-ray? There are rumblings about a big announcement coming from Wal-Mart that could give a big boost to HD-DVD.

I'm hearing that the company will begin selling the Toshiba HD-A2 for $98 in a special one-day, in-store secret sale. The unit sells for $198 at Circuit City and Amazon, so this is a steep discount.

It points to the aggressive strategies shaping up in the format wars gripping next-generation DVDs. K-Mart has already decided not to sell Blu-ray players at all because of the affordability chasm between the two. The cheapest Blu-ray player at Wal-Mart runs $464. The Xbox 360's external HD-DVD drive is now available at $179, and that comes with five free movies. You can get even more free titles with your purchase at Best Buy , including the first season of the NBC hit series "Heroes." Nice deal.

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I've already detailed in previous posts how HD-DVD is far-outselling Blu-ray on laptop computers and how Toshiba will make available a notebook with onboard HD-DVD for under $1,000 this holiday shopping season. Look for other big price breaks from the other major HD-DVD laptop makers, including Acer, Gateway , HP and Samsung.

The fact is, Blu-ray's top argument is its penetration in the marketplace thanks to its inclusion in Sony's Playstation. The numbers on their face seem impressive: Home Media Magazine says Blu-ray sold 2.6 million discs between January and September, compared to 1.4 million HD-DVD disks during that time. Blu-ray revenue is beating HD-DVD revenue by better than 2 to 1. But momentum is clearly swinging HD-DVD's way.

I got an email this morning from a PR firm representing key HD-DVD companies pointing me to a recent NPD survey showing that an astonishing 60% of Playstation3 owners weren't even aware the console had a Blu-ray player in it!

That same email points to how successful the movie "Transformers" has been on HD DVD, its exclusive platform release, selling a 100,000 copies its first day, 190,000 in its first week. "Shrek 3," all five "Harry Potter" films and "The Bourne Ultimatum" will be released by mid- December.

Chalk this up as yet another reason to watch Microsoft , one of the key backers of HD-DVD . And another rough issue for Sony, backing Blu-ray, which still has some key partners in Disney, 20th Century Fox and Lions Gate. HD-DVD enjoys Paramount, Dreamworks and Time Warner . This is about momentum, just as it is with Sony's Playstation. And once again, Microsoft and the HD-DVD folks have it. And Sony's looking for a way to re-capture it.

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Questions? Comments? TechCheck@cnbc.com

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