I’ve gotten a fair amount of reaction to the various articles I’ve posted on Microsoft and Blu-ray, and it still seems the overall consensus on the web is that Microsoft will fall head over heels for Blu-ray in their products.
I want to preface this post by saying that I’m not advocating Microsoft not supporting Blu-ray. The fact is that Blu-ray won, while I think HD DVD had its clear advantages those don’t matter anymore. I want Blu-ray support in any product that markets itself as part of a digital home.
Fiction: Microsoft should support Blu-ray on the Xbox 360
I truly don’t understand why Microsoft would add Blu-ray support to the Xbox 360 at this point. When Microsoft added HD DVD support they did so by adding some four million lines of code to the Dashboard and had Toshiba manufacturer and sell the HD DVD drives at a loss. How do I know it was at a loss? Just look at the fact that the standard IDE drive was selling for far less than any other IDE HD DVD drive on market.
Toshiba didn’t make any money on the 300,000 that were sold and neither did Microsoft. Microsoft took the development time to add support simply to counter Sony including Blu-ray in the PS3. This was an extremely poor counter, but it provided a fairly cheap way for a consumer to add support for a next gen DVD format on their Xbox.
As that was the only real reason, what reason does Microsoft have now to do the same for Blu-ray? The war is over, Blu-ray won. Your not fighting that anymore. The Xbox 360 is nearly two years old with an approximate four year total turn-over time for the next console. Why add Blu-ray in any form to the Xbox 360?
The simple fact is that it’s not in Microsoft’s best interest to provide Blu-ray support in the Xbox 360. The drives are going to be too expensive as there is no reason to sell them at a loss anymore. Pair that with the development time for BD+ and BD-J, two technologies that Microsoft didn’t agree with in the first place and you have a recipe for no Blu-ray on the Xbox 360.
As for internal drives, that’s even worse. Going back to the drawing board, yet again losing money for an integrated drive that can only be used for movie playback. Remember, developers can’t use Blu-ray Disc’s as that you limit your market by some 18 million current Xbox 360’s (Microsoft also wouldn’t allow it either).
I strongly disagree that Microsoft already has some of these things planned and working as Derek Flickinger suggested on CE Pro yesterday. I don’t believe the Xbox 360 will ever have Blu-ray Disc support. As for the Xbox 720 or whatever you want to call it, I think it is too soon to say it won’t but I don’t think you can say it will either.
Fact: Microsoft should support Blu-ray playback on the PC
There is no doubt that Microsoft should support Blu-ray playback on the PC, but as I’ve talked about several times this comes with a major technical concerns.
For native Blu-ray playback to happen in Microsoft applications they will need to update Vista’s Protected Media Path to support BD+. This is a pretty significant change to the system that already supports AACS, the only protection that was needed for HD DVD.
It has always surprised me that BD+ never got the bad press that any other DRM/content protection system does. It runs code in a virtual machine within the player, if that’s not something for the DRM opposed to get upset about I don’t know what is.
The need for BD+ and the equal need for Java-based BD-J interactivity support instead of the Microsoft developed XML-based iHD leaves a huge shadow of doubt about what Microsoft is going to do. No doubt Windows Media Player and Windows Media Center users will suffer from having to use PowerDVD or alike to playback their Blu-ray Disc’s.
This also leaves Media Center and the connected Extender ecosystem in doubt. Managed Copy in the still unfinished AACS specs will give Blu-ray the ability to offer streaming too, but BD+ is still an issue. Microsoft might get burned by the PS3 again as there is a good chance it will be the first product to take advantage of such features.
Fiction: Microsoft should wait for digital downloads
Digital downloads are exactly what Microsoft wants. Why? Because from VC-1 to WMDRM to Silverlight to Windows Server to Windows Vista they can push their products from point A to point B and collect on them all.
The clear problem with this is the lack of bandwidth in the US. Streaming and downloading of large files just isn’t an option for most US broadband users, and no matter how efficient VC-1 is as a video codec. The fact of the matter is US ISPs are holding up streaming being a viable mass market solution.
The best way to explain this is with a graphic from Vudu, another streaming hopeful (via Dave Zatz). As you can see from the graphic, those with broadband connections less then 2Mbps have up to a four hour delayed wait before they can start enjoying an HD download. It should also be noted that the audio/video quality provided in these sorts of streams just can’t match what Blu-ray has been delivering for the past year. Highly quality means higher bitrates with means larger file size which means longer download times.
Those ISPs that do have the bandwidth (>10Mbps) charge a pretty penny when compared to a basic lower bitrate DSL connection. Are customers willing to both pay high dollar for an Internet connection and then pay high dollar for an HD download that it many cases has to be watched within 24 hours? There is still a lot of work that has to be done before digital downloads can replace physical media for good.
Of course, itshould be noted that digital downloads already exist using Microsoft technologies. The Xbox 360 has downloads via the Xbox Marketplace and the same basic concepts from above apply in terms of download times and bitrates. Many are waiting for Microsoft to extend the reach of the Marketplace downloads to Windows Media Center (and thus Media Center Extenders) as well portable devices like the Zune.