Blu-ray Disc Rapidly Gaining Popularity in Japan

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Shipments of Blu-ray Disc-based video recorders and players are increasing fast in Japan as the market rallies around the format after the end of its battle with the defeated HD DVD format.

Shipments of recorders and players based on Blu-ray Disc hit 122,000 in June marking the first time that monthly shipments have broken into six-figures, according to data published on Tuesday by the Japan Electronics and Information Technology Industries Association (JEITA). The data is gathered from member companies, which include all the major consumer electronics manufacturers in Japan.

That figure is a healthy jump on the 82,000 units shipped in May and is likely due to anticipated demand for the devices going into July, when millions of Japanese workers receive a mid-year bonus, and August, when the Olympics are held in Beijing. Both events typically provide a boost to the consumer electronics sector.

The sector was also boosted by the July 4 launch of a new system called "Dubbing 10" that allows consumers to make copies of TV shows they have recorded. In the past consumers were able to make one digital recording of a TV show but not make subsequent copies of that recording. The new system, which required new firmware or updated machines, allows up to 9 additional copies to be made and its arrival had some consumers holding back on purchases.

Because of the widespread availability of high-definition digital TV Japanese electronics makers are pushing Blu-ray Disc recorders that, in many cases, are combined with hard-disk drive recording capability.

A quick check of comparison shopping Web site shows the cheapest Blu-ray Disc machine, Sharp's BD-AV1, can be found for ¥44,800 (US$420). The machine, which doesn't include HDD recording, is typically priced at between ¥55,000 and ¥65,000 at many retailers.

The cheapest machine with HDD recording that is widely available is Sony's BDZ-T50, which packs a 250G-byte drive that can accommodate about 50 hours of HDTV. The recorder, which was first released in November 2007, costs as little as ¥71,180. That's about half the original list price of ¥140,000.

However, buyers need to be wary of purchasing older machines that, in some cases, don't support the latest version of the Blu-ray Disc format. The Sharp BD-AV1, for example, won't record to the newer 2-layer Blu-ray Disc media although it does offer playback. That means owners are limited to single-layer 25G-byte discs that hold about 3 hours worth of HDTV.

No major vendor has released a playback-only Blu-ray Disc machine in the Japanese market.

Japan domestic shipments of Next-generation optical disc recorders/players

Month Jan 2008 Feb 2008 March 2008 April 2008 May 2008 June 2008

Shipments 35,000 58,000 77,000 81,000 82,000 122,000

Source: Japan Electronics and Information Technology Industries Association

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