Is it the right time to buy into Blu-ray?

In the run-up to Christmas, the fight between Blu-ray and HD DVD is being fought largely by retailers. Finally we're seeing a broader selection of high-def disc players, and that's driving down prices.

The question is this: is now the right time to buy a high-def disc player?

Buying into Blu-ray

Blu-ray is certainly the more expensive of the two competing formats. The almost blanket lack of BD Profile 1.1-compliance hasn't affected online prices too much either. Sony's debut BDP-S1E player, originally released at £700, can now be picked up for around £500.

It's stll pricey, especially as Blu-ray movies themselves can cost upwards of £18 per disc. The price of Die Hard 4.0 (Blu-ray) on, for example, is £23.99. The DVD equivalent is £12.99.

However, Sony has added two more affordable Blu-ray options this year in the shape of its BDP-S300 and BDP-S500 players. We found both online today via for £259 and £453 respectively.

Panasonic's DMP-BD10A has tumbled in price from its launch point of £600 to a reasonable £349, while Sharp's new BD-HP20H, which debuted at £399, can already be found for £100 less than that online.

Profile 1.1 compliance

Pioneer's high-end BDP-LX70 entered the market at a suitable elite price point - £1,000. Even its best street price today (£780) is hard to justify for anyone but a cash-rich AV afficionado. And while the BDP-LX70 is one of the few Blu-ray players to feature an Ethernet port, its firmware can't be upgraded to comply with BD Profile 1.1. It's pretty though.

In fact, Samsung's brand new BD-P1400 is the only dedicated 'standalone' Blu-ray player currently on the UK market that boasts an Ethernet and HDMI 1.3. It will set you back in the region of £300.

Which is still more expensive than the Sony PlayStation 3, which will now set you back just £279 for the cheapest 40GB version. The PS3 has had an Ethernet port built-in from the start and boasts onboard memory, so it's Profile 1.1-friendly. And you can also use it as a games console.

Buying into HD DVD

Despite the fact that Toshiba stands alone in offering HD DVD players, it significantly undercuts any player from the Blu-ray camp. The first high-def disc player in the UK, the HD-E1, can now be picked up for a measly £175. But it's worth noting that the HD-E1 isn't a 1080p (i.e. 'full HD') deck. It only supports 720p.

In March Tosh added the 1080p-friendly HD-EP10 (£230) and has recently released two more well-priced players - the HD-EP30 (sub-£200 if you look around online) and the HDMI 1.3-equipped HD-EP35 (£279). The HD-EP30 might lack the latest version of HDMI, but the sub-£200 price tag is getting close to no-brainer territory.

Another way into HD DVD is via the Xbox 360. Owners of Microsoft's noisy console can add an external HD DVD drive for just £100. There seems little point in buying an Xbox 360 specifically for HD DVD, however. The console's fan noise is considerably louder than a standalone player.

To buy or not to buy?

The format war is still difficult to call. HD DVD has some renewed momentum and the lure of sub-£200 players. But the Blu-ray camp currently enjoys the sales advantage, the biggest Hollywood studio support, and Sony's PS3 is easily the best Blu-ray player currently available.

Dual format players could be the answer. But LG's BH100 is the only bright light in this category. But the BH100 technically flawed - it doesn't fully support playback of the interactive features on the HD DVD format. Worse still, with a current best price of £680 online, you can actually buy a PS3 and a Toshiba EP30 for less.

While LG promises an updated, fully HD DVD-friendly BH200 soon, the format war drags on. It's the tech equivalent of trench warfare, with neither side gaining any real ground against the other.

With the installed base of HD DVD and Blu-ray hardware growing each month, it's becoming increasingly difficult to see an outright winner. The longer the stalemate continues, the more likely it will be that the two sides will co-exist and the big movie studios will abandon one-format loyalties.