Data firm NPD has issued a warning over leaked sales data that showed Blu-ray surging ahead of HD DVD in early January.

The data appeared to show a complete collapse in sales for standalone HD DVD players, and an increase in sales for Blu-ray despite both formats being neck and neck the week before. Many blamed the collapse on Warner Bros' announcement on Friday 4 January that it was dropping support for HD DVD.

However NPD says that a series of promotions run by Sony, Sharp and Panasonic in early January is the true cause of the sales boom. That's because all three firms either gave away a Blu-ray player - or heavily discounted the cost - when anyone bought a new TV. These 'freebie' sales accounted for 30 per cent of total Blu-ray stats for the week, with Blu-ray chalking up 21,770 sales in total compared to HD DVD's 1,758.

The 12 January totals also didn't include sales from online stores like Amazon, which has the Toshiba HD-A3 HD DVD player ranked 6th among HD DVD players and 14th among all electronics, Betanews says. Not one Blu-ray player makes it into Amazon's electronics list. The numbers also don't include sales of the Sony PlayStation 3 or HD DVD add-on for the Xbox 360.

So where does this leave us now?

We may not be able to extrapolate from one week's sales data - and our original story doesn't - but that doesn't also mean we can't reach some broad conclusions about the state of the format war:

On sheer momentum alone, Blu-ray has everything going for it - the Warners' announcement, Fox's defection and rumoured support from Paramount and Universal makes it easily the most popular format in terms of software titles. Hardware-wise too Blu-ray has the lion's share of the big, credible household brands - Sony, Philips, Panasonic, Pioneer, Denon, etc, etc.

Still we can't help but feel sorry for HD DVD - it's a great little format, it's miles ahead of Blu-ray when it comes to interactive features and doesn't feel like a 'beta' product like its rival does. It doesn't deserve to lose. Really. But defeat looks increasingly, sadly, inevitable. HD DVD, we hardly knew ye.