bluhd.JPGIt’s now official. Wal-Mart announced today that its 4,000 Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club stores and internet websites will move forward this year with just one hi-def movie and hardware format: Blu-ray. The change will take place quickly as the retailer phases out HD-DVD product and reorganizes shelf space by June. “We’ve listened to our customers, who are showing a clear preference toward Blu-ray products and movies with their purchases,” said Gary Severson, senior vice president of Home Entertainment for Wal-Mart, U.S. Wal-Mart will continue to sell through remaining HD DVD product, but in less than 30 days customers will see a more predominant move toward Blu-ray in stores, clubs and online. As the nation’s largest retailer, Wal-Mart is a hugely dominant force in selling entertainment product; how ironic that this past Christmas the Arkansas behemoth sold all those super-cheap $99 Toshiba HD-DVD players only to render them virtually obsolete just months later. Warner’s recent decision to choose the Blu-ray format sealed the deal in the format war because now four of the six major movie studios are making their high-def DVD titles only in the Sony-developed Blu-ray format.

Wal-Mart’s decision follows similar announcements by Best Buy and Netflix. This week, Best Buy Co said that, beginning in early March, it will prominently showcase Blu-ray hardware and software products in its retail and online outlets in the United States. The company noted that it will continue to carry an assortment of HD-DVD products for customers who desire to purchase these products. But Brian Dunn, Best Buy’s president/COO, explained: “Best Buy has always believed that the customer will benefit from a widely-accepted single format that would offer advantages such as product compatibility and expanded content choices. Because we believe that Blu-ray is fast emerging as that single format, we have decided to focus on Blu-ray products.”

As for Netflix, the world’s largest online movie rental service, it decided this week to move toward stocking high-def DVDs exclusively in the Blu-ray format. Netflix said that as of now it will purchase only Blu-ray discs and will phase out HD-DVD by year’s end. Since the first hi-def DVDs came on the market in early 2006, Netflix has stocked both formats. “The prolonged period of competition between two formats has prevented clear communication to the consumer regarding the richness of the high-def experience versus standard definition,” said Ted Sarandos, chief content officer for Netflix. “We’re now at the point where the industry can pursue the migration to a single format, bring clarity to the consumer and accelerate the adoption of high-def. Going forward, we expect that all of the studios will publish in the Blu-ray format and that the price points of high-def DVD players will come down significantly. These factors could well lead to another decade of disc-based movie watching as the consumer’s preferred means.”

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