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Blockbuster to Rent Out Blu-Ray Only

  In a move that many would call absolutely crippling to HD-DVD, the largest rental chain in America, Blockbuster, has officially announced that they will not be renting out HD-DVDs. Their HD format of choice is the format that most have ended up choosing: Sony's Blu-Ray. As a conducted test of preference, Blockbuster has been renting out both HD-DVD and Blu-Ray movies in 250 stores scattered across the country for the past nine months.

   The results witnessed were that Blu-Ray rentals eclipsed that of HD-DVD by a ratio of over 7:3 - over 70% of HD rentals were Blu-Ray (which is also a close reflection of the format's sales). Those 250 stores will keep the available HD-DVDs (though very likely in limited quantities), but the remaining 1450 stores will exclusively feature Blu-Ray as of this July.

   "The consumers are sending us a message. I can't ignore what I'm seeing," Matthew Smith, senior vice president of merchandising at Blockbuster", told The Associated Press. "When you walk into a store and see all this product available in Blu-ray and there is less available on HD DVD, I think the consumer gets that," Smith said.

   Likewise, Smith cited the release of the PlayStation 3 last year as a momentum boost for the format. Most importantly though, the fact that Blu-Ray has the support of every major studio (with the exception of Universal), is the deciding factor in Blockbuster's announcement. The company is much better of supporting a product that has an enormous assortment to choose from, as opposed to a constricted one.

   "It will help shift the balance toward Blu-ray, clearly," said Richard Doherty, president of The Envisioneering Group, a research company.

   Clearly the North American HD DVD Promotional Group wasn't too happy about this, criticizing Blockbuster as being shortsighted. They believe that Blockbuster is only looking at the performance of HD-DVD's first three months of 2007, which were abysmally bad, and that has skewed their perception of the format. The group cites movies such as "The 40-Year Old Virgin" and "The Matrix" trilogy as boosting the format's sales in players and performance.

   "I think trying to make a format decision using such a short time period is really not measuring what the consumer is saying," said Ken Graffeo, co-president of the group.

   It seems like the HD-DVD group is grasping for straws here. Realistically, for every two major motion pictures that debut exclusively for HD-DVD, Blu-Ray sees a good 15. Where as HD-DVD is relying on the success of a select few, Blu-Ray isn't faced with that struggle. And with Sony slashing prices of Blu-Ray players by half, down to $500 and with the impending PS3 price-drop, the gravestone has been written for HD-DVD. It's time to break ground.

6/18/2007 Arnold Katayev

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