Just a year-and-a-half since they launched, high-definition players are breaching the $200 barrier. If reports on the Web are correct, HD DVD is poised to break the $200 mark before the holidays. Toshiba has told me there's no official pricing moves with regard to their MSRP; however, reports on the Web indicate Wal-Mart may be prepping to sell a $198 HD DVD player.
If so, this is a significant and aggressive move in favor of Toshiba and the HD DVD format: They would be delivering what--up until now--only a no-name manufacturer based in Hong Kong has promised. And even then, Venturer Electronics has yet to release its $199 HD DVD player to market.
Given the need for frequent firmware updates, a player such as the one posited from Venturer gave reason for concern: Would a company like Venturer, which outsources its technical support, be able to stay on top of the updates required as HD DVD discs evolve? Toshiba getting there is a whole other story, though: That's a big gun going out to the masses--complete with established and experienced technical support. Toshiba playing at the sub-$200 level makes the cheap high-def player far more interesting--even if that player is "only" capable of outputting at 1080i resolution (a drawback considering the movie content is presented at 1080p; HDTVs can deinterlace the 1080i input, but that requires you to have a TV that's up to the job).
Reaching $200 is a notable milestone, says Paul Erickson, Director of DVD and HD Market Research at DisplaySearch (a market research arm of NPD Group). "The $200 price point is considered an important financial and psychological barrier to cross for a consumer electronics device to become affordable to mainstream audiences," Erickson says. "This has been borne out in the past with DVD player, game console, and more recently, upscaling DVD player sales figures. And, according to our analysis of NPD retail sales data, consumers have thus far clearly demonstrated to be much more responsive to price, rather than content or features, when purchasing next generation DVD players. As such, getting below $200 and even $150 may actually be even more crucial for next generation formats to generate the mainstream sales numbers to succeed."
The price drop rumor stems from posts at the AVS Forum and the HighDefForum.com, where an astute Wal-Mart employee noticed that there was a new SKU entered for a $198 Toshiba HD DVD player, the HDA2-W.
If this turns out to be true, I'll be interested to see how the Wal-Mart factor impacts Toshiba's hardware sales. Earlier this year, Toshiba saw major boosts in sales with price drops this spring; a further price drop and availability in Wal-Mart could help the company, and the HD DVD format, widen its appeal to shoppers.