Losing the Next-Gen DVD War…and How Microsoft Could’ve Saved HD-DVD

January 12, 2008 at 3:37 pm Leave a comment

 Blu-ray VS HD-DVD

It was announced earlier in the week that Warner Bros. is going exclusively with the Blu-ray Disc format for their high-definition media. Warner Bros. is the last major studio to support both Sony’s Blu-ray and Toshiba’s HD-DVD, but the announcement has pretty much sealed the deal in what will be the standard HD format for the next few years.  The only remaining major Hollywood studios supporting HD-DVD exclusively is Paramount and Universal.

I was personally going for HD-DVD, primarily the cost to purchase a player and the cost to manufacture the actual discs.  Since HD-DVD is built on the same technology as DVD, currently manufacturing facilities that make DVD’s can more easily be converted to produce HD-DVD’s.  Eventually, the cost would be passed down to consumers, causing the $30+ discs to drop to the more reasonable $20 range sooner.  Even though HD-DVD’s hold less data than Blu-ray, compression technology and techniques are getting better all the time, allowing more data to be squeezed onto an HD-DVD without loss in quality.  And it’s not like Blu-ray’s, which hold 50 gigs of data, are taking advantage of the space efficiently anyway.  For example, a 5-disc HD-DVD set of a TV show is still a 5-disc Blu-ray set with roughly the same feautres (both HD-DVD and Blu-ray have exclusive features that won’t appear in the competing format).

Back at E3 2006, when Sony announced the price of the PlayStation 3, they became the laughing stock of the games industry.  A steep price tag was justified by the technology inside.  The Cell Processor is more powerful than the CPU found in the Xbox, and the PS3’s proprietary media was Blu-ray, which basically forced game developers to take advantage of the HD format.   Sony’s thinking was also based on their strategy for the PS2, when DVD’s were just becoming consumer-friendly.  The PS2’s disc drive was also a DVD drive, and the large quantities of PS2’s sold during it’s first year helped also drive DVD movie sales.  If the PS3 can widen the Blu-ray player install base, then Blu-ray media would sell well.  It was the ‘Trojan Horse’ tactic.

Microsoft’s competing console, the Xbox 360, shipped with a smaller hard drive and with current standard-definition DVD technology.  In 2006, Microsoft released an HD-DVD add-on that would allow the 360 to play high-definition movies using Toshiba’s competing format.  Microsoft, an official backer of the HD-DVD format, attempted to give the 360 an edge that would give the console similar specs to that of the PS3.  But here’s where Microsoft’s strategy was doomed to fail.

Xbox 360 Arcade

Sony made Blu-ray the mandatory format for the PS3.  Instead of releasing a cheaper version that was based on the DVD format, Sony forced the HD era upon the gaming public.  It was a risky move, but it seems to be working.  A good chunk of consumers who buy Blu-ray discs own a PS3, which they use to watch their discs.  However, stand-alone HD-DVD players from Toshiba are selling at a brisk pace as compared to stand-alone Blu-ray players.   Microsoft’s strategy of giving the consumer a choice seems to be nailing the HD-DVD coffin shut.  The average consumer looking to purchase a 360 wants to spend as little as possible while still being able to get the most bang for their buck.  That means buying, say, a an Arcade system with some games, a hard drive, and maybe an extra controller.  There’s also the Elite model, which comes with an HDMI port, and many retailers are offering bundle packages that include the HD-DVD drive.

PlayStation 3 40gb

The downside now becomes the price, one my the 360’s advantages over the PS3.  If you want a 360 that can compete tit-for-tat with a PS3, it would end up costing you more than a basic PS3 model , which is HD-ready out-of-the-box; no need to buy any extra components (except maybe an HDMI cable).  What Microsoft should have done from the very beginning if they really wanted HD-DVD to succeed, was to make HD-DVD part of the 360, not just an add-on.  Instead of the DVD drive, it would be an HD-DVD drive, and that would allow developers to load all sorts of textures and other data that would normally need to be compressed to fit on a 9.4 GB DVD disc.  Microsoft’s tactic would essentially be the same as Sony’s, a Trojan Horse strategy, but it’s not like it would be a bad thing.  Sony is Microsoft’s chief threat in the video game world (Nintendo’s demographic has gone far beyond the 360’s and PS3’s demographic, there’s no point in trying to go after them this generation), and in many ways they’re copying each other.  Sony’s online strategy already echoes Microsoft’s Xbox Live (minus the subscription fee).

Unfortunately, Microsoft’s decision to try and meld current generation DVD tech and next-gen video game tech seems to put the 360 in a place between two worlds.  Microsoft’s support for downloadable media in the future has made HD-DVD more like an afterthought for this generation.  It’s a shame, really.  Oh well.  The bottom, in the end, is that the consumer and the industry have one format for media.  An industry that supports two would probably implode anyway.


Entry filed under: Technology, Video Games. Tags: , , , , , , .

Figuring this thing out. Good job, Nintendo

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