Wal-Mart's announcement was the latest major blow dealt to the Toshiba-backed HD DVD, which this month also lost the support of consumer electronics retailer Best Buy and online movie renter Netflix. Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Group, which accounts for 20% of DVD sales in the U.S., said last month it would ship all of its high-definition titles in Sony-backed Blu-ray by year's end.
The Hollywood Reporter, quoting "reliable industry sources," said Toshiba is expected to drop its HD DVD format in the coming weeks. Officially, however, the company remains committed to the format.
Sounding much like others playing taps for HD DVD, Wal-Mart pegged its decision on customers. "We've listened to our customers, who are showing a clear preference toward Blu-ray products and movies with their purchases," Gary Severson, senior VP of home entertainment for Wal-Mart in the United States said in a statement.
The fact is most consumers have shunned high-definition DVDs and players because of the format war, and as long as the market was divided between HD DVD and Blu-ray, consumers were unlikely to open their wallets in significant numbers, experts say. With HD DVD support dropping fast, Sony has apparently been more successful in drumming up industry support for its favored format.
Wal-Mart plans to offer only Blu-ray movies and players at its 4,000 Wal-Mart and Sam's Club stores by June, as well as standard definition movies and players. The same applies to Wal-Mart's online stores.
Within 30 days, customers will see a "more predominant move" toward Blu-ray in Wal-Mart retail outlets, the company said.
In dropping support for HD-DVD, companies have said that having one format would eliminate customer confusion over having to choose between two competing and incompatible technologies. "Because we believe that Blu-ray is fast emerging as that single format, we have decided to focus on Blu-ray products," Brian Dunn, Best Buy's president and chief operating officer, said in announcing support for Blu-ray.
Best Buy said it would begin in early March recommending only Blu-ray titles and players. Netflix expects to offer Blu-ray titles exclusively by year's end.
Among the Hollywood studios, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, Warner Bros., and Buena Vista Home Entertainment have backed Blu-ray, while Paramount Home Entertainment and Universal Studios Home Entertainment continue to publish in the HD DVD format.
Among player manufacturers, Sony, Hitachi and Philips favor Blu-ray, while Toshiba and NEC support HD DVD.