Report: U.S. sales of Blu-ray players soar

U.S. consumers are warming to Blu-ray disc players in a big way, according NPD Group, a market research firm. First quarter 2009 sales of standalone Blu-ray players in the U.S. topped 400,000 units, a significant 72 percent increase over Q1 2008.

Two trends are leading the sales surge: A rising number of HDTV owners seeking high-def content, and cheaper Blu-ray players.

"The rising penetration of high-definition televisions and lower Blu-ray player prices are broadening the format's market opportunity," said NPD Group analyst Ross Rubin in a prepared statement.

And while HD movie fans have a growing number of online alternatives to physical media, including high-def flicks on iTunes and Amazon Video on Demand, "Blu-ray is carrying forward the widespread appeal of DVD into the high-definition marketplace," said Rubin.

It's likely that part of that appeal is the fact that Blu-ray looks and acts like DVD. There's little if any learning curve, particularly if you simply want to play discs and not fuss with Blu-ray's more innovative features, such as Ethernet connectivity and Internet streaming via Netflix, CinemaNow, and other online providers.

If you're familiar with DVD—and everybody is at this point—the transition to Blu-ray appears painless. Simply slip a disc into the player, and you're good to go. While online services aren't necessarily complex, many users are likely reluctant to try something new.

The NPD Group report also illustrates how dramatically Blu-ray player prices have fallen in the past year. The average selling price has plummeted 34 percent—from $393 in Q1 2008 to $261 in Q1 2009. Street prices are probably closer to $200 now, and some Blu-ray players could go for less than $100 before the end of the year. Vizio, best known for its aggressively-priced HDTVs, plans to debut a $200 Blu-ray player in August, a development that could help push prices lower as well.

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