If Blu-ray Is Dying, Why Are Disc Sales Soaring?

Artwork: Chip Taylor
Will Blu-ray finally get some respect? The high-definition optical disc format has long been the whipping boy of media pundits, many of whom predict consumers will spurn Blu-ray and gravitate instead toward video-on-demand, online download, and movie streaming services. Blu-ray is old school, they say, a relic of the bygone era of physical media, despite the fact that it bested challenger HD DVD in 2008 after a two-year high-def format war.

But don't nail Blu-ray's coffin shut just yet. A new study from Adams Media Research shows that sales of Blu-ray discs in the first quarter of 2009 nearly doubled compared to the same period a year ago, rising to nearly 9 million from 4.8 million in Q1 2008. Sales soared even though Blu-ray players and discs remain pricier than their DVD counterparts, although Hollywood studios have wisely begun to slash prices of some Blu-ray titles.

Does this mean Blu-ray has a future after all? It certainly appears so. Lower prices may be helping. Many Blu-ray players are now under $200, and Blu-ray movies sell for a little as $10. The HD format displays a prettier picture -- albeit not dramatically so -- than the HD content delivered by video-on-demand and online movie download and streaming services.

Consumer adoption of HDTV is certainly helping Blu-ray, although many users may never upgrade from DVD, or else they'll opt for a less expensive DVD player that upconverts DVD movies to HD quality. Or, as some believe, they'll simply ditch the discs altogether. But if they abandon movies-on-disc, much as they've already abandoned audio CDs, what explains the dramatic increase in Blu-ray disc sales?

This year should show whether Blu-ray's got staying power, or whether it'll die off like HD DVD.

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