Can Sony reset the clock on Blu-ray’s lifespan?

Some consumer electronics manufacturers have predicted that the high-definition movie format may never become a mainstream hit and could be superseded by other technology in five years.

Their reasoning is compelling: Many consumers still are purchasing cheaper DVDs, and a growing number of people are turning to digital downloads.

But Sony has a lot riding on Blu-ray’s success. The consumer electronics giant has spent hundred of millions of dollars building disc-pressing factories, promoting the product and convincing Hollywood studios to drop their support for vanquished rival HD DVD.

Sony must sell more players for another reason. It needs to reach critical mass to help bring down the costs of its PlayStation 3 gaming console. Sony senior vice president Mike Abary told me recently “the clock is definitely ticking” on whether it can succeed.

At an event July 18 promoting the format in San Francisco, Sony executives expressed hope the increasing availability of BD-Live capable players and discs will tip the scales. BD-Live players use an Internet connection to send information to the device, including updates movie previews, movie information and games.

To raise the profile of BD-Live further, Sony also announced an exclusive new service called movieIQ. The feature is powered by recent Sony acquisition Gracenote. Starting with releases coming this fall, movie fans will be able to access continuously-updated information on cast and crew and explore relevant trivia such as production facts, music and soundtrack information all tied to scenes within the movie.

It’s a good start, but the big problem for Sony is that Disney currently is the only other studio heavily promoting BD-Live. Other studios that deliver far more movies each year have yet to join in.

PC makers also have largely sat out installing Blu-ray drives in their products. The DVD format really took off after Mac and pc makers embraced it and began offering computer and entertainment software. Apple and others this time around seem to be placing more stock in the idea of digital downloads.

Sony hopes to kickstart that market, too. Abary unveiled a new 15.5-inch screen notebook called the Vaio NW that includes a Blu-ray player with a budget starting price of $880.

But unless Sony can quickly get others on board, it’s unlikely the company ever will be able to recoup its investment.

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