Is Blu Cheap Enough for You?

Month in and month out I receive letters from readers about pricing on Blu-ray, and noting that the public won’t buy in until Blu-ray is cheaper. What the public at large will or won’t buy into isn’t quite the same thing as what Home Theater readers will buy and for how much. For you, as a Home Theater reader, how cheap is cheap enough? Cheaper than an iPhone or an iPod? Walking through Costco the other day I saw every day pricing on players that was well below $299, and I’m sure we’ll see cheaper prices around the holidays. But realistically, is Blu-ray cheap enough to make it down your chimney this year? Was there ever a case to make that Blu-ray was genuinely “expensive” to begin with?

Before I get into the 21st century I want you to travel with me. Back in time. In the early 1980’s the first stereo VCR my family bought was $800. More than a decade later, the first DVD players started at $799. Although the first Samsung BD player was priced at $999 (if memory serves) the PlayStation 3 came out within months with a model at $499, and in addition to newer PS3s as low as $399, standalone players below $399 have been readily available for some time now and fully featured players with outstanding performance are now available for $299 and even below.

When I look around and see the proliferation of electronics gadgets that sell in the millions, there are many in the same price category Blu-ray occupies. The iPhone now starts at $199, with a $299 model. The iPod Touch has models selling for $229, $299 and $399. The iPod Classic sells for $249. Can people really not afford Blu-ray, or have they been taught that optical disc players are a ridiculously cheap commodity by the absurd pricing of current DVD players?

Fully featured BD players like the Panasonic DMP-BD35 are now at $299 and falling. I can’t adequately convey the sea change in picture and sound quality one can expect from this relatively modest purchase. We have readers who spend more on exotic cables, power conditioners, and other silver bullets that will never do so much for their systems as one of these players and Blu-rays from Netflix if you don’t feel like buying. Not even close.

So, is this enough in this economy? Is Blu-ray coming to your home theater soon?

John in Missouri's picture

I have 3 big screens in my house. I purchased 3 HD DVD players when the bottom fell out because the free movies virtually paid for the players. Blu-ray was different. The prices of players has fallen and keeps falling. I am now looking at getting my third Blu-ray player. The problem is the cost of BD disc. I don't believe these disc should cost any more than regular DVDs. Neither me nor my friends give a hoot about the extras, but even with them I believe the studios are ripping us off. Until the price of disc comes down I will not be buying many BD disc. In fact I have not been buying many regular DVDs hoping Blu-ray disc will drop. Renting is not much of an option around here, as the rental places have only 1 or 2 of each BD title, so they are usually out when I want to rent.

Bruce in CO's picture

Shane, the picture you show with the $280 Sony was my tipping point, and more importantly, crossed the spousal acceptance factor. We own a few BD discs, and have rented a couple, but ran into the same problem as John in MO about the rental stores having only 1 or 2 discs per title. That issue will fix itself over time. Even with our relatively small HD screen (soon to be upgraded) the improvement in picture quality is well worth the investment.

Richard's picture

Same here on the sub $299 Sony. Picked it up off Amazon a couple of months ago. I was upgrading from a late 90's Denon DVD player. What amazed me more than the HD (since I've seen plenty of that over the air on my 60" Sony SXRD) was the significant improvement in standard DVD's. They look so much better than the old Denon that I'm thinking I may not replace certain DVD titles in my movie library. Do I need 40 Year Old Virgin in HD when the DVD looks pretty darn good? Call me crazy, but I don't really want to see anymore detail in Steve Carrell's face. Now...Underworld Evolution (which I have on Bluray) is a different story. Kate in tight black latex...yeah, give me all the detail I can handle. ;-)

Shane's picture

John and Bruce- If you haven't looked into it yet, I strongly recommend Netflix for BD rentals. Great selection, and I've always found Netlfix' service superlative in every way.On the software side, it's a classic chicken and egg. DVD was also at a premium when it first came out with discs at $25-$30 while VHS was entrenched at $15 and below until DVD hit critical mass. That tide will turn for Blu-ray only when enough people have Blu-ray players and buy new releases in great enough quantity to turn the economy of scale in consumers favor. Iron Man sold over 500k copies, and reports are that over one million units are being prepped for Dark Knight's December release. Hopefully this is a sign we're moving the right direction.

David Vaughn's picture

John and Bruce- I concur with Shane and I highly recommend you checking out Netflix for Blu-ray rentals. They have phenomenal service and you can rent every Blu-ray available. The only downside is recent day-and-date titles may be difficult to rent the first few weeks they're available, but if you can tolerate a little time lag, it's well worth the $19 a month for the 3 at a time plan.Best Regards,David Vaughn
Technical Writer / Blu-ray Reviewer

Kris Deering's picture

The price of Blu-ray titles is a sour point, I will give you that. I have a hard time with the catalog titles more than the new releases but things have been getting slightly better. I highly recommend looking at pre-order pricing on titles you know you'll want as they tend to be pretty good at places like Amazon. Also, for those that don't know it, Home Theater is now selling titles as well. Surprising to me was the prices that we're charging for Blu-ray titles. Most are better than other retailers. (And no I don't get a red cent of that money, I just noticed it when I started linking to our online store in the reviews).

John in Missouri's picture

I have looked into to both Net Flix and Blockbuster rentals by mail. Even though there are no late fees, when it comes to renting I want the movie right away, when I am in the mood to watch, and my taste in movies can change on an hourly basis. This is a character flaw, I know. I forgot to mention that I, also, have a collection of over 900 DVD titles. I like to have movies handy when I do decide to watch a particular genre or a selection when friends stop by. Also, I do watch favorite movies over and over. Usually, movies I rent are movies I am not sure whether or not I want to watch more than once. Having said that, we all realize most Blu-ray movies are movies released previously and they would have to be very, very good for me to buy it again at a much higher price.

Claude's picture

I already have the original PS3 at $600 that I love. I'm at Costco three times a week (milk for the kids) and do see people lingering over the BD players as the price goes down. I agree with Shane on pricing. My first VCR was an RCA that I purchased on credit at $999! No even hi-fi! My first DVD player, a Sony was $450 at discount. Prices are cheap, but I still think the "magic" number is $200. The real issue is software pricing. Prices are going down and deals can be had, but I think all titles should be below $20 to generate much higher sales. It's no longer an impulse buy when over $20, at least for me.

Jon's picture

Just what is the Sony BDP-BX1? A rebadged first generation model? Have only seen it at Costco. Same goes for the Panasonic Plasmas that Costco sells.Blu-ray titles about the same price now as DVDs were at the same technological age and a lot cheaper than Laserdiscs were. If you look around you can find good prices. Went to a store called Fry's in Atlanta. Pirates of the Carribean 2 & 3 just $17.99. Also, still had 100's of HD DVDs for under $10. Also, picked up a Sony BDP-350 at a Tweeter store that was closing ($215). The wife was okay with that price.

David Vaughn's picture

Jon,That Sony player at Costco is a re badged S-350.David

PhilS63's picture

When VHS came out I was in the military and picked up the Hitachi VT-88A for around $500, that was in 83 or 84. It just passed away a few years ago and I really miss it! I also remember my first Discman, my first distaste of Sony products. For some reason I kept giving them a chance. No longer. When the prices of the Blu's go under $200 signifacantly, then I'll jump on board. As for now I'm happy with my 65" Tosh and HD-3A player.

Don Grabski's picture

I am undecided between the Sony BDP-S550, ($399.00) and the Panasonic DMP-BD55K, ($399.00).Both can be had for less than $350.99 via the internet w/no shipping.Specs look very similar.Need to see a comparison review!!!

John's picture

I have two PS3's and only own about 6 bluray titles. I agree that pricing of the titles is still too high for most consumers. I really can't see spending more than $12.99 on a catalog title and $17.99 on a new release. I have a very large collection of DVDs that look just fine so why spend the extra money. There are many people out there like myself who love the latest and greatest tech but aren't ready to spend an arm and a leg on it.

The Flap's picture

Nope a flawed format will not make its way into my system, ever. I am content to wait for streaming. Blu-Ray had a chance but wanted to coner the market and they did a fractional segment that is not growing at all

Shane's picture

Flap- what data do you have to support your "not growing" prognosticating?According to new info I saw last Friday, as of a few months ago 28% of the HDTV install base in the US owns a Blu-ray player already, and large amounts of consumers are going to jump in between now and Xmas with player prices now dropping fast. Dark Knight is going to be the first title to ship one million BD copies on street date and preorders suggest huge sales. Out of curiosity, at what point did you jump into DVD?

The Flap's picture

The fact that Sony and others must eat the development cost and sell units so cheap just to get people to buy them. Based on the capital invested Sony has not broken even as of yet. Every PS 3 player that goes out the door costs Sony $150 bucks. Sony thought that they could make up some revenue with games sales, but the Wii has made that all but impossible. I realize that Blu-ray is gaining market share, but it is at a huge price. Until the format shows a profit its future is still shaky. To further answer your question I never really had a choice but DVD as my first system was only 10 years ago. However DVD media was about equal to VHS actually made me go get a system. My next system upgrade will have to wait a while until a proven concept is launched. I think streaming is the future.

Dwayne in Saskatoon's picture

What I find really interesting is that most of the people commenting here remember the cost of their first VCR or DVD player, not to mention the costs of the original "software' to go along with those formats. (Which gives away our chronological ages.)My first DVD player was a Panasonic on SALE for $800 (still running). But more importantly was the lack of DVD rentals or titles available for purchase. Even more important to remember which has not been mentioned is the rate of inflation. The $300 that you bought your first VCR in the 1980s is not the same purchasing power of $300 dollars today. The same $25 you spent on early CD or DVD titles is not the same $25 today. I'm not defending the movie studios' pricing but we consumers of new technologies quickly forget what we were willing to pay for older technologies more than a decade ago. And also that those same earlier formats such as CD or DVD eventually came down in price, but not for a LONG TIME into the formats' lives.

Shane's picture

Flap- Market share and corporate P&Ls are quite different. Obviously corporate business isn't the beat around here. But FWIW, Sony reported that its gaming division was already breaking even earlier this year. And aside from the hardware manufacturers, as market share ramps up BD will become a money make for the studios. Last week the home video chiefs at the studios reported that BD is already making up as much as 14% of their disc sales revenues on large titles and expect that to accelerate to 20% in 2009. One major studio exec speculated that BD will offset the downturn in the DVD market by 2010 and grow substantially from there.I know these guys aren't paid to be pessimistic in public, but all sources indicate BD is in line with where DVD was the same time period in its development. The question is whether we'll see anything resembling DVD's explosive growth from year 3 and onward.

Parag's picture

The comparison in pricing of BD to DVD and especially VHS tape is a poor one. The arrival of VHS allowed people to do someting they could not do before, namely watch movies at home on their own schedule. That is worth something. DVD brough a great leap in picture quality and simplicity of use...that is why it was quickly adopted. Blueray does not bring much to the table. It does not allow people to do sometheing that they cannot already do. The improvement in picture quality is worth something to the small percentage of people with large screens who are videophiles. Video on demand is truly the next step and when it is simple, high quality and comprehensive, it will be adopted rapidly. Samsung and LG putting Netflix streaming into Blueray players is evidence that even the manufacturers know this is the case.

walt 's picture

i have the anthem d2 unit. what blu ray unit choices do i have to feed it all of the codecs. the d2 will not decode on its own - the b/r unit must do the heavy lifting.and- is there a "quality" difference between bitstream and pcmthank you walt

John in Missouri's picture

We learn from our mistakes. We have bought high priced VCRs, Laser Disc Players and DVD players and their related software, only to see prices drop within two years. They gradually fell more over the next few years. Its like the old saying "Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me." Video tapes were so expensive that it was several years before I bought any. I didn't buy a laser disc player until a local grocery chain started renting the disc. DVDs were a bit different. Though I used to rent them initially, even the first few I bought were only about $18. With Blu-ray you see disc for $30, $35, even $40 for regular movies. The usual price for new ones is about $27. Most of the DVDs in my collection only cost me about an average of $10 and were bought about two years after their initial release. We've learned from the past Blu-ray will drop in price. Until they do, I am going to wait. If they don't I may start renting again.

David Vaughn's picture

Walt,I would look at the Panasonic BD35 and have it output the PCM signal to your Anthem. A review of the BD55 will show up soon over at UAV and it's the best stand alone player I've used (the BD35 is essentially the same but adds analog outputs). Kris also reviewed both units in this months Home Theater. If you want a player this Christmas, that's the horse I would make a bet on.
David Vaughn

Brian Tarling's picture

I have a Runco projector (720p) projecting on an 8 foot wide screen. My DvD player is an old pioneer, DV-09. If feeds the Runco scaler at 480i and the scaler produces an excellent picture-but not as good as Hi-def TV which feeds the Runco at 1080i. I own about 700 DVDS. In the family room I have a 42 inch Sharp 1080p LCD.Would I buy a Blu-Ray player? Well first off not for the family room-we only watch DVDs in the Theater room. The Runco wasn't cheap and is a great projector. However it was manufactured before HDMI came out so it only has a DVI input along with Comp., etc. Would a blu-ray player outputting 1080i into the Runco either via HDMi to DVI or via comp. produce a better picture that what I'm getting now? Probably, but how much better? Would it be as good as hi-def TV? I can't seem to get an answer. Also load times and other issues come to mind. Still I'm waiting for The Oppo or possibly the new Pioneer player due out shortly if I can be assured of a picture equal or better than

Bruce in CO's picture

Kris, I just read your review of the Sony BDP-S350, which was very well written. I have the sister model BX-1. There is one thing that every BD player review needs to cover and that is network connectivity. BD-Live needs connectivity and on this player there is only an ethernet port. Bad planning. Few houses are wired for ethernet, but I would imagine that most houses have wireless networks, or will have in the near future. Ethernet to wireless is possible, but a hassle for the added hardware. BD player manufacturers need to have wireless capability built-in or allow a USB port for a wireless connection. Also, how chintzy can they be to not include the necessary memory internal to the system?!? A flash chip for Sony or Samsung must be less than a dollar.

Shane's picture

Brian- Blu-ray at 1080i over HDMI-DVI breakout or component will look better than broadcast high-def and much better than DVDs look now. The high bitrates and lack of artifacts will look far superior, even on your 720p projector.Parag- it's funny, but back when DVD was first appearing, many pundits believed it wouldn't be rapidly adopted because it was not a recordable format, in spite of the obvious advantages you name. Waiting for download to become simple, high quality and comprehensive is exactly the issue with that. it's not like downloading songs.

ErikC's picture

Shane,I haven't seen a review of the Marantz BD8002 Bluray player yet. Any chance there will be one?

Shane's picture

No, I don't think we will. Looking at the user manual online, I don't see an Ethernet port which means no BD-Live compatibility. At this point we won't recommend any players that aren't Profile 2/BD-Live compatible and therefore there's no point in reviewing one. Whether one thinks these features are important or not, I just can't see why anyone should make such a sacrifice in a $2k player. If it turns out this player is BD-Live compatible we'd happily review it. I'd also add that an Ethernet port is the best and fastest way to implement firmware updates, which remain a way of life in the next-gen.While we like seeing the Silicon Optix Realta, Samsung has a player with the REON for $399 that also includes Netflix streaming, and Panasonic has fully featured players with processing that rivals SO's for under $300. The sub-$500 players are too good and too fully featured for manufacturers to be putting out $2k players that don't offer crucial features.

Steve in Manitoba's picture

Bravo, Shane. I was starting to tire of reviews of players that lack features that should be considered as minimum complements. I would extend this position to other components as well. Projectors - 1080p. Flat panels - 1080p. Receivers - HDMI 1.3, DTS MA, TrueHD, 125 WPC, auto-setup...etc etc.

Bryant TREW's picture

I've been around since VCR/Laserdisc too, and my DVD library is around 400-500. I love my library, and on my 60" Kuro a lot of old discs look really fantastic. I know how rare it is that I go back to certain DVDs in my large library. I've therefore slowed my disc collecting. Seeing Bluray discs priced so high is an added roadblock for me. I just can't justify the price of the disc. It's an insult in today's digital media world. When I divide the cost of the player by the number of blu discs I would buy, the cost per viewing is ridiculously high.

Shane's picture

DVD has been around for over ten years, so you're apparently at a clip of buying 40-50 movies per year. Kris Deering just saw the Panasonic DMP-BD35 at Costco for $229. I don't know what you paid for your current DVD player, but how many discs do you have to buy at that price to make the player worth it? Even if you bought just 20 BDs in a year, that's about $12 per "viewing," assuming you only watched once. And that doesn't included rentals. Given that On-Demand HD, Vudu and other forms of HD rentals run about $6 per rental window, I don't see how this is construed as a poor value. How much did you pay for the video cables that connect your disc player to you 60" KURO?