Target features Blu-ray for holidays

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Target Corp., the nation's second-largest retailer, will start selling a Sony Blu-ray high-definition DVD player during the critical holiday shopping period and feature the player along with Blu-ray discs in store displays, dealing a potential blow to the rival HD DVD format.

The move, which the companies will formally announce Thursday, is another step in resolving a format war that has kept confused consumers from rushing to buy new DVD players until they can determine which format will dominate the market.

Target said it will sell the Sony BDP-S300 for $499 in October and display it along with Blu-ray DVDs from three studios, including Sony Corp. and The Walt Disney Co., at the ends of store aisles.

The Target announcement comes five weeks after a decision by video rental chain Blockbuster Inc. to offer only Blu-ray titles when it expands its high-def offerings this fall.

Blu-ray is backed by Sony, which developed it. Most Hollywood studios are releasing films either exclusively in Blu-ray or together with the rival HD DVD format, which is backed by its developer, Toshiba Corp.

Only Universal Studios, a unit of General Electric Corp., is releasing films exclusively in HD DVD.

Both formats offer a high-definition picture that is crisper and brighter than standard DVDs, as well as more storage that allows interactive features and games to be packaged with movies.

Consumers have been slow to embrace either format, worried they might get stuck with a losing technology.

Target does not sell high-def DVD players in its stores, although it does sell a Toshiba HD DVD player for $299 on its Web site.

Target stores do sell an HD DVD add-on for the Microsoft Xbox 360. They also sell Sony Corp.'s PlayStation 3, which comes with a Blu-ray player built in.

Target would not say why it decided to sell only Blu-ray players in stores. Sony is paying a fee to have its products featured in the end-of-aisle display, called an endcap, although Sony executives said the retailer contacted them about the decision.

"We are not proclaiming one format vs. the other as the preferred consumer technology, and software will continue to be available to our guests in both the Blu-ray and HD DVD format," Target spokeswoman Brie Heath said.

Target will track customer feedback and adjust offerings as necessary, Heath said.

The HD DVD camp was not fazed by the Target decision, pointing out that HD DVD players continue to outsell Blu-ray players, which cost at least twice as much. They also point out that HD DVD players and DVDs are featured in endcap displays in Circuit City Stores Inc. and Best Buy Co. locations.

HD DVD promoters also contend that consumers are more influenced by price than product selection.

"HD DVD players are the most affordable," said Ken Graffeo, co-president of the North American HD DVD Promotional Group. "It's one thing to have a player featured, but it's another if it doesn't sell."

While more titles are available in the Blu-ray format, this fall should provide a head-to-head contest between the two formats.

Two blockbuster films -- "Spider-Man 3" from Sony and "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" from Disney -- will be available exclusively on Blu-ray.

The HD DVD camp will be counting on sales of the blockbuster film "300" from Warner Bros., which will be released in both formats, and the first season of the popular sci-fi TV show "Heroes," which will be available exclusively on HD DVD.
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