HD DVD on life support as Wal-Mart backs Blu-ray

In what is being seen as the death blow for HD DVD, retail giant Wal-Mart has chosen to go Blu-ray only.

In what is being seen as the death blow for HD DVD, retail giant Wal-Mart has chosen to go Blu-ray only.

The discount chain, which has more than 7,200 stores worldwide, announced the move on its blog Friday. 

Susan Chronister, who buys movies for Wal-Mart, announced the chain will no longer offer HD DVD products as of June. Wal-Mart will carry only Blu-ray discs and players, as well as standard-definition DVD players and devices that up-convert standard definition to a higher quality picture on HD televisions.

"So if you bought the HD [DVD] player like me, I'd retire it to the bedroom, kids' playroom, or give it to your parents to play their John Wayne standard def movies," Chronister wrote.

The company later confirmed the move in a news release, which stated that its 4,000 Wal-Mart and Sam's Club stores in the United States would offer only Blu-ray.

"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.

"With the customers' best interest in all we do, we wanted to share our decision and timeline with them as soon as possible, knowing it will help simplify their purchase decision, increase selection and increase adoption long term."

A spokesperson for Wal-Mart Canada said the announcement by the U.S. parent company also applies to the 292 stores in Canada.

Wal-Mart news follows same from Best Buy, Netflix

The move was seen by technology experts as the final blow for the HD DVD format.

"When the world's largest public corporation won't stock your products, you're basically doomed," wrote the influential Gizmodo blog.

Wal-Mart's announcement comes hot on the heels of similar news this week by Best Buy and U.S. online DVD rental service Netflix. Best Buy said that while it would continue to stock HD DVD, it would "recommend" Blu-ray to customers. Netflix, like Wal-Mart, chose Blu-ray outright.

The announcement also comes a day after the Hollywood Reporter cited industry sources who said that Toshiba Corp., HD DVD's main backer, will soon pull the plug on the format. The company has slashed prices and is taking a loss on every player sold, the report said, and with a lack of movie titles on the horizon, Toshiba will have no choice but to kill HD DVD.

Prices expected to decrease

The decisive blow was struck in early January, when Warner Bros. announced it was throwing its weight behind Blu-ray, which is backed mainly by Sony Corp. That left only two of the seven major movie studios, Paramount and DreamWorks, supporting HD DVD.

Sales of high-definition discs in both formats have been sluggish as consumers have waited for the war to be resolved. The slow sales have kept prices high, with many players costing more than $400 and discs more than $30.

Chronister said Wal-Mart was not yet sure what sort of prices will result from the move to Blu-ray only, but they should go down.

"History tells us that as more people move to a new technology, prices typically go down," she wrote.