Toshiba now officially Blu

Toshiba on Monday officially confirmed last month’s rumor that it’s preparing to join the Blu-ray Disc ranks, issuing a one-paragraph statement saying it will roll out Blu-ray products, including set-top players and notebook drives “in the course of this year.”

“In light of recent growth in digital devices supporting the Blu-ray format, combined with market demand from consumers and retailers alike, Toshiba has decided to join the BDA (Blu-ray Disc Association),” the statement said.

blu-ray_disc_logoThat immediately led to speculationthat Apple will be next to join the Blu-ray camp, completing the format’s sweep of the field among electronics makers.

I can’t speak to Apple, but as I noted in a previous post, I think Toshiba’s new-found support for the format has more to do with Toshiba’s business than with Blu-ray.

Why? Because the electronics maker just wrapped up the worst fiscal year in its history, posting a record et loss of $3.5 billion for the year ended in March and things haven’t gotten better since then. The Consumer Electronics Assn. is forecasting total industry sales to be off nearly 8% this year and to turn around only gradually in 2010. About the only bright spot in the CEA forecast was Blu-ray players, which are expected to grow by 112% this year, to 6 million units.

Today’s announcement also comes on the eve of the CEDIA Expo custom installers’ show, which is scheduled to get under way in Atlanta on Sept. 9 and is an important event for CE makers. Installers these days generally like to include a Blu-ray player and their set ups and right now there’s a hole in Toshiba’s product line-up. That means it can’t sell installers complete home-theater packages and is likely losing high-end market share to manufacturers that do offer Blu-ray players. Though Toshiba said it has not decided whether to display its new Blu-ray players at CEDIA, it has at least alerted an important constituency that it is plugging the glaring hole in its product line.

The biggest reason to suspect today’s news is more about Toshiba’s business than about Blu-ray, though, is that Toshiba is still selling HD DVD players in China, under the China Blue High Definition (CBHD) banner.

Desperate times, desperate measures.