Blu-ray burning its high-def DVD rival

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Of the high-definition discs bought by consumers in the first quarter, 70% were in the Blu-ray Disc format and 30% were HD DVD, according to sales figures provided by Home Media Magazine's market research department.

Blu-ray took the lead in February, and its percentage of total sales accelerated to the point where it accounted for nearly three out of every four high- definition discs sold in March.

What's more, when given the choice, consumers are going with Blu-ray. Warner Home Video released "The Departed" the same day, Feb. 13, in both formats. Between then and March 31, consumers bought 53,640 copies of the film on Blu-ray Disc and 31,590 on HD DVD, according to Home Media Magazine's market research, based on studio estimates and Nielsen VideoScan point-of-sale data.

Research also shows that eight of the 10 top-selling high-definition titles in the first quarter were on Blu-ray Disc. At the top of the list is Sony Pictures Home Entertainment's "Casino Royale," which sold through to consumers an estimated 59,680 units in the first quarter. The Blu-ray Disc edition of "Departed" finished second, while the HD DVD version of that Oscar-winning film placed third.

From Jan. 1-March 31, consumers bought almost 1.2 million high-definition discs — 832,530 Blu-ray units and 359,300 HD DVDs — according to Home Media Magazine. In March, consumers bought 335,980 Blu-ray Discs and 119,570 HD DVDs.

Since the high-def format's inception — HD DVD launched in April 2006, while Blu-ray got rolling two months later — more than 2.14 million discs have been purchased by consumers: 1.2 million Blu-ray Discs and about 937,500 HD DVDs.

Observers aren't surprised by the disparity, noting that Blu-ray Disc enjoys the support of five of the six major studios, while HD DVD is supported by three of them. Three studios — Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, Buena Vista Home Entertainment and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment — are exclusively in the Blu-ray camp, as is mini-major Lionsgate, while Paramount Home Entertainment and Warner Home Video support both formats. Universal Studios Home Entertainment is the only major studio to release titles only in the HD DVD format, which backers claim is easier and cheaper to produce.

"All of this data points to the irrefutable facts that the consumers are voting with their dollars and adopting the revolutionary technology of the Blu-ray Disc," Buena Vista Home Entertainment president Bob Chapek said. "With such beloved titles as 'Pirates of the Caribbean' on the horizon, these numbers will only do one thing: grow."

Added Sony Pictures Home Entertainment president David Bishop: "Breaking the 1 million-unit mark is a significant milestone for Blu-ray because it represents rapidly growing consumer acceptance for this revolutionary platform. I am confident that the numbers will increase and more critical benchmarks will be reached to ensure Blu-ray's position as the leading high-definition format."

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment president Mike Dunn agreed.

"Practically, Blu-ray launched this past November and in just over one business quarter has rocketed to a significant lead," Dunn said. "Consumers are clearly choosing Blu-ray as their high-def format of choice and telling us so at retail cash registers."

The three HD DVD studios wielded weak release slates in the first quarter; behind "Departed," the next biggest-selling HD DVD was "Batman Begins," which had been released in October. The title sold 16,980 HD DVDs in the first quarter, but factoring in its initial sales, it stands at 44,590 units, not far behind "Casino Royale."

Blu-ray supporters also were quick to hail the widening gap between Blu-ray and HD DVD titles.

"It's exactly what we've said all along would happen: The strong support for Blu-ray among movie studio and equipment manufacturers means that consumers have more choices when it comes to players and titles," said Andy Parsons, chair of the Blu-ray Disc Assn.'s U.S. promotion committee. "And they're choosing Blu-ray by an ever-increasing margin."
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