Monday, March 2, 2009

Will MS go back to an 'old friend' in their nextbox?

Originally published on Houston Chronicle's site, on March 3rd, 2009


Microsoft faces an interesting challenge with their nextbox. For storage purposes, does MS go with Blu Ray, which, no doubt, won the HD format war over HD-DVD due to the popular Sony PlayStation 3, or do they go with downloadable and/or streaming content? I say neither. I think Microsoft will go "old skool" and revisit a trusty and dissed friend.

Say hello to ... HD-DVD! Yes, the failed HD format that MS toyed with but failed to attract the following - or studios - that Blu Ray snagged.

Ok, ok, before you blast me with buckshot, hear me out.

Based on stats and even from Sony itself, it was a stalemate.

Each PS3 sold was counted toward a Blu Ray purchase. That alone gave the edge wholeheartedly to the Blu corner. However, standalone wise, HD-DVD was clearly beating Blu Ray standalones on price and even adoption.

Then, Blockbuster, Target and Netflix gave the cold shoulder to the HD-DVD format. But the fatal, finishing blow came when Warner Bros. defected. Soon thereafter, Toshiba announced the end of the format.

Microsoft, with a slew of HD-DVD add-on players, slashed prices to under $50. Retailers like Fry's will rotate their huge stock of HD-DVDs, selling select ones for $4.99 a pop. Even though the advanced format is essentially dead, it still has quite a following.

Here's where the story gets interesting.

Microsoft, who toyed with HD-DVD with an add-on (look at past add-ons and tell me if you see any of them that were a success), passed on the chance to delay the Xbox 360 and released the console with the standard DVD-9 readable drive. Their commitment was likened to a prenup - sure, I'll marry you (as you put your hand over your wallet). If it worked, sweet. If it didn't, well, Microsoft didn't invest tons of money into the format.

Microsoft, essentially a software company, is more interested in downloads. From extra game content and games ("Braid" and "Lost & The Damned" say 'hello') to OSes, it's crystal clear where MS wants to go.

MS won't embrace Blu Ray, because they will admit that Sony was right to pick the format.

So, what's MS to do with the nextbox? Say hello to their old friend - HD-DVD.

Ok, start laughing but here are 3 valid points why MS will try to revive the dead format for storage in the nextbox.

1. MS already has already paid the licensing fees to use HD-DVD. They don't have to mess with the legal paperwork necessary to add Blu Ray into the console. They created the add-on, and using HD-DVD would actual lower costs to make the console. Plus, they know what they are working with. They had to make a revision to the 360's OS to get it working the first time around.

2. MS wants to do downloads but not all gamers have broadband. Even when the nextbox, which I believe will hit 2011, 2012, there will be some gamers, especially in rural areas in the U.S. and poor, undeveloped countries around the world, who will still be on dial-up. Offering a console that only plays downloadable games is rather foolish. It will also eat up hard drive space, forcing people to delete their purchased games and redownload them, but who wants that? Even if you stream games, a vast majority of gamers still want physical media. And Gamestop would have a thing or two to say as well.

3. MS gets the storage it needs without bowing down to Blu Ray. By the time HD-DVD went to bed, there were rumors it could do 51gbs per special disk. With that much space, MS could easily do a Metal Gear type game in full HD, and have gamers forget the days of disk swapping and keeping tabs of multiple game disks for some games ("Blue Dragon," "Lost Odyssey" both come to mind). As stated earlier, MS doesn't have to pay the fees to get HD-DVD into their box, plus they can end the DVD-9 drama.

and 4. Toshiba can restart their HD-DVD process due to demand from MS. Guess what? There are some devices that do well being the sole format supporter. Look at the DS, PSP and even the Gameboy Advance. All use different media formats. Disks are way cheaper to make and burn than a cartridge. Plus, with everything already in place, if MS went that route, it wouldn't be very expensive to get things ramped up again.

With the storage capacity of HD-DVD, plus the vast infrastructure already in place, MS should look long and hard at reviving the dead format to live another day in their nextbox. Forget movies, MS - think storage.

-- Mad Skillz

1 comment:

Ben said...

And if MS actually made games on HDDVD, they would give the cold shoulder to tens of millions of faithful 360 owners.

You also bring up MGS. The majority of the space used on Blu Ray for that game was in its hours and hours of cutscenes. While it was a great game and deserved every single award it received, every single reviewed said it was flawed due to the cutscene length. You shorted those, condense them, whatever, the size of the game is significantly smaller. Add in the fact that games themselves are getting smaller and shorter by the year, there is no reason for the 360 to change its format.

Also, remember E3 just a few weeks ago? MS announced it will start a Steam like service for the 360, with full games and such. Sure, the majority of the US isn't there yet broadband wise, but a large chunk of hardcore gamers do already have a decent connection. There is just absolutely no reason to even think that MS is contemplating a format change, especially this far into its lifecycle.