The Dark Knight may yet save Blu-ray from the lair of the PS3

Those bells you hear aren't all just about the holidays. They're signals that BetaNews is publishing a positive story about Blu-ray. Mark the date in your calendars.

In an effort to restore consumers' enthusiasm in the high-definition disc format that, after all, won the format war, the Blu-ray Disc Association is emphasizing some positive statistics from recent weeks' sales worldwide: Some 462,500 BDs were sold in the UK during the month of November, which the Association claims is a 165% jump from just the previous month.

A huge chunk of those discs probably consist of just one movie: The Dark Knight, Warner Bros.' latest chapter in its Batman saga, featuring the final performance of the late Heath Ledger. According to Warner's figures, in the first week of sales alone, The Dark Knight posted sales of 13.5 million units worldwide, some 12.6% of which were Blu-ray -- some 1.7 million discs. In the UK, the British Video Association reports this morning, some 513,000 copies of this movie were sold in its first day, with 21% of those in Blu-ray format.

Those are very respectable numbers -- at long last -- for a format that has spent the entire year stuck in the takeoff position. It's conceivable that Blu-ray discs and consoles have found the "sweet spot" -- the prices that, in the collective consumer consciousness, render them effectively affordable.

The quarter did not start out strong for Blu-ray, with average console prices stuck at about $300 and second-run discs selling above $20 apiece. Heading into Black Friday, console price averages had declined to about $240, but sales may have actually dropped. Then the day after Thanksgiving saw prices on Samsung and Sony consoles drop below the $200 mark (and Wal-Mart offering discounted models as low as $128), along with sale prices for BDs at below $20.

And then, there's the introduction of the element that PC analysts who remember Lotus 1-2-3 a quarter-century ago would call "the killer app:" the latest Batman movie.

That's when the sales spike happened. Two weeks ago, NPD DisplaySearch estimated total US-based Blu-ray console sales will eclipse the 900,000 mark and flirt with 2.2 million for the year. These are great numbers for the quarter, almost making up for Blu-ray not achieving its overall annual sales goal of 2.5 million consoles. In a quarter where revenues from HDTV sales may decline annually despite 29% unit sales growth, once the final numbers are tallied -- even with the DTV transition under way in the US -- this is an impressive comeback for a format that many analysts were preparing to write off after 2009.

It's important to note that the PlayStation 3 is barely participating in this rally. The device that was at one time supposed to have been the principal entry-level device for Blu-ray, is experiencing sales declining by almost 20% annually in the US, according to NPD's numbers for November, while being outsold by Nintendo's Wii by almost two-to-one -- with unit sales more than doubling the previous year. At a time when the sales prices for Blu-ray consoles descended below that of the PS3, consumers who want Blu-ray are buying dedicated consoles.

The magic ratio will probably be 1 in 5. In other words, when the final holiday numbers come in, maybe even in time for CES, if unit sales for both Blu-ray consoles and BDs constitute about 20% of disc-related sales volume overall, then the BDA and supporting manufacturers can claim victory.

But now that the console discounts have expired, and many prices have crept back up to around $250, has consumers' window of opportunity already closed? The BDA's statement this morning may have been a spur for retailers to help pre-empt that possibility.

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