Wal-Mart Picks Blu-Ray Over HD DVD

Blu-ray scored a big win in the DVD format battle with Wal-Mart's decision to phase out high-definition DVDs. The news came after Best Buy and the online DVD rental service Netflix also decided to carry Blu-ray over rival HD.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

On Mondays, we focus on technology. And today, we talk about High-Definition DVDs. If you're in the market for a new DVD player and are still confused about the difference between the two formats - Blu-ray and HD DVD - pretty soon, it may not matter.

It looks like one of the formats is emerging as the winner in the high-stakes technology battle. Several retailers have announced that they're backing Blu-ray. And on Friday, the biggest of them all, Wal-Mart, announced it will only stock Blu-ray discs for high definition movies.

NPR's Kathy Lohr reports.

KATHY LOHR: Wal-Mart says 4,000 of its stores will phase out HD DVDs by June and carry only Blu-Ray. Last week, Best Buy and Netflix - an online DVD service - also decided in favor of Blu-ray. Andy Parsons is with the Blu-ray Disc Association, an industry group that promotes Blu-ray technology.

Mr. ANDY PARSONS (Blu-ray Disc Association): So Blu-ray is the one that is coming out in the end as the single format for high definition on discs. And I think that a lot of people who may have heard of it should take a look at it now.

LOHR: This is not the first time there's been a format war involving new technology. Many recall the VHS versus Betamax battle that ended with VHS winning out. Parsons says a technology war ultimately brings about innovation.

Mr. PARSONS: It's the way we have kind of a winnowing of technologies that are maybe not quite able to cut it. And so, unfortunately, that means sometimes you have to bring it to market for that decision to be made.

LOHR: The decision has been headed in favor of Blu-ray at least since January, when Warner Brothers Studio announced exclusive support for Sony's Blu-ray technology over Toshiba's HD DVD format. Blockbuster and Target announced last year that they also favored Blu-ray. But Stephanie Prange with Home Media Magazine says Warner's decision turned the tide.

Ms. STEPHANIE PRANGE (Writer, Home Media Magazine): All along, Fox, Disney, Lionsgate, some major studios have been behind Blu-ray. But Warner is the biggest market share. So when they went to Blu-ray, that was a big chunk of movies no longer in the HD DVD camp.

LOHR: A spokeswoman for Toshiba, Junko Furuta, would not talk on tape, but said the company has no comment on Wal-Mart's decision. Furuta says Toshiba is assessing the market and reviewing future strategy.

In January, Toshiba said it was particularly disappointed at Warner Brothers' decision to go with Blu-ray in spite of the momentum that the HD DVD format gained in the U.S. market in 2007. But in the last couple of months, Blu-ray has been outselling HD three-to-one. Much of that is attributed to Sony's release of the PlayStation 3 game console, which can also play Blu-ray discs.

In Roswell, Georgia, the Wal-Mart Supercenter has one small locked case at the end of an aisle in the electronics area that contains both Blu-ray and HD DVDs - for now. Many here, including Colin Willis, say the retailer's decision to choose Blu-ray helps them figure out which DVD player they want.

Mr. COLIN WILLIS: I've been kind of on the fence about which one to buy, and I think this'll probably push me closer to Blu-ray.

LOHR: Maria Cheek(ph) just bought an HD DVD player two months ago. And when she heard about the decision to phase out her choice, she shook her head and laughed.

Ms. MARIA CHEEK: Great.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CHEEK: Not so good.

LOHR: Many industry experts expect Toshiba to announce soon that it will throw in the towel and stop making the HD DVD format altogether.

Kathy Lohr, NPR News, Atlanta.

MONTAGNE: That word about the maker of HD DVD throwing in the towel comes from the Wall Street Journal and Japanese media reports. They said company sources at Toshiba - that's the company that's been developing the losing format -Toshiba still won't confirm any decision, but its stock price jumped more than 6 percent in trading. Investors are apparently happy about the reports that Toshiba will cut its losses rather than continuing to plow money into a losing technology.

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