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HD DVD Craters; Sony Rides the Wave
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Whether they are cunning strategists or simply have had an incredible streak of dumb luck, credit Sony for perfectly navigating the HD movie format war. Not only has Blu-ray emerged victorious, the timing of HD DVD's demise just might tip the scales for the PlayStation 3.
When the PlayStation 3 first appeared, it seemed Sony was trying its bone-headed best to sink its own console. First they bumped up the PS3's production and retail costs by insisting on Blu-ray drives. Then they decided to bundle a movie instead of a game with each new PS3. People declared the system had an identity crisis that would kill its market: Gamers wouldn't buy it because there was too much focus on movies, and film buffs wouldn't buy it because it was a chintzy game machine (Sony's reputation for making shoddy electronics doesn't help them any). Indeed, that's exactly how the PlayStation Portable ended up playing second fiddle to the Nintendo DS, and the PlayStation 3's current third-place position behind the XBox 360 and the Nintendo Wii would suggest most gamers are in fact looking elsewhere.
There is an important difference between the PSP and the PS3, however: Unlike the PSP's Universal Media Disc format, Blu-ray is not a solo venture for Sony. Other big names like Pioneer, Samsung and Philips were involved in its development, and have a vested interest in its success. These other companies have in turn produced other Blu-ray players, allowing Blu-ray to establish itself as a truly platform-independent standard. That makes Blu-ray much more attractive than UMD ever was.
Of course, Blu-ray had competition of its own. HD DVD also had the backing of several big names, and also showed itself to be platform independent. And yet here is the irony: Even if the PS3's sales were suffering because of Blu-ray, Blu-ray's sales were improving because of the PS3! Lumping the PS3 in with the rest of the hi-def movie hardware gave numbers which showed Blu-ray easily outselling HD DVD. Sony and the rest of the Blu-ray Disc Association ran with those numbers, and movie studios, resellers and customers all took notice. Then, Warner Brothers announced they would go Blu-ray exclusive, opening the floodgates. Barely a month later, Toshiba dropped HD DVD, ending the format war. (Incidentally, there is also a game console that can play HD DVDs, the XBox 360. However, 360 owners must purchase a separate piece of hardware to get HD DVD support. Any video game enthusiast can tell you, if it's not bundled, it's going to fail.)
And now here is another irony: The Blu-ray format isn't even finished yet! When Blu-ray first appeared, features like picture-in-picture, Internet access, and storage for downloadable content were still on the drawing board. In the quest to get Blu-ray out the door in time to compete with HD DVD (which, by the way, had everything mentioned from the start) and still have a comparable feature list, the Blu-ray spec was split into three versions, or "profiles." Profile 1.0 calls for basic movie playback and navigation, Profile 1.1 adds picture-in-picture and content storage, and Profile 2.0 offers Internet connectivity and room for more content storage. Until now, most players on the market adhered only to Profile 1.0, and Profile 2.0 still has yet to be finalized. It gets better: Each profile dictates not only software requirements, but hardware requirements as well. That means if a player qualifies only for Profile 1.0, for example, odds are it does not, and will not, have the equipment necessary to meet Profile 1.1 or 2.0. No software or firmware update will be able to change that. That means if you bought a Profile 1.0 player, and a movie comes out with Profile 1.1 features you want to see, your only recourse is to buy another player. As it turns out, at this point there is only one Blu-ray player on the market is guaranteed to have everything needed to qualify for Profile 2.0. That player is the PlayStation 3!
So there we have it. The PS3's inclusion of Blu-ray got the format noticed, and the current state of the format means the PS3 is the safest bet if you want all of Blu-ray's promised features. And now that HD DVD has lost the format war, also thanks in large part to the PS3, the PS3 is presently the only option if you want everything this generation of home video will have to offer, period! Naturally you can wait for other Profile 2.0 players to come out instead, or just make do with an older player that provides most of what the spec promises, but I'll bet Sony is banking on two qualities of stereotypical technophiles: 1, they want it now, and 2, they don't want anything missing, even something they probably will never use.
The HD market is still pretty thin right now, with many people still happy with their conventional televisions and DVD players. But the market is growing. Like 'em or hate 'em, Sony is positioned to take full advantage of that growth.
It's almost as if they planned it that way.
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