More Ramblings About Blu-ray & Xbox 360

At this point I’m either setting myself my for a huge fall
or I’m exactly right, I’ll still let you be the judge of that but the more I
think about Microsoft doing Blu-ray for the Xbox 360 (internal, external, new
SKU, etc) the more it still doesn’t make any sense.

If you haven’t already, read some
of my
other posts
where I have said
that a Blu-Xbox 360 isn’t
going to happen
.  However, it seems
that more reports are coming out that are attempting to hint that it will
happen.  I’ve already covered the post by
the The
Financial Times
, but now the Seattle
Post has a quote from Steve Ballmer
that people might be taking too far.

“We’ve already been working on, for example, in
Windows, device driver support for Blu-ray drives and the like, and I think the
world moves on. Toshiba has moved on. We’ve moved on, and we’ll support Blu-ray
in ways that make sense.” – SB

A device driver has nothing to do with playback nor does it
really fall under the category of “support” like most people are thinking.  This simply means that Windows will now recognize
the file structure on a Blu-ray Disc and display a BD icon in Windows Explorer
(Matt
pointed this out
in the comments of my post last month).

“We’ll support Blu-ray in ways that make sense” is the key
statement.  I’ve previously
run down my reasons
why I don’t think it makes sense, but since several
people don’t seem to be happy with those here are a few more.

Microsoft sold 300,000 HD DVD add-ons to a potential 18
million Xbox 360 owners.  Assuming my
math is right, this is less than 2% of owners. 
People might be “demanding” Blu-ray because it’s a buzzword, but it just
doesn’t make sense for Microsoft to support it in the Xbox 360 with such a
small market following.  As I’ve said
before a price cut would most likely be more beneficial here, along with fixing
the rising RROD issues (more popular buzzword then Blu-ray).

Another issue is building such a player to spec, something
Microsoft will have a hard, or rather near impossible time doing.  Unlike HD DVD’s hardware specs (PL1), Blu-ray
requires that all
players support multichannel PCM out
. 
The Xbox 360 can’t do this with current hardware (no software update
fixes that), nor does it have HDMI 1.3 to directly output the bitstream of
advanced codec’s like TrueHD.  Would the
BDA let Microsoft make a player that is not built to spec just because they are
Microsoft?

Edit: I’ve been offered the question if Blu-ray requires players to decode and output LPCM, or just decode (and then say convert to another format).  I’m trying to think it through, but I’m really not sure so I might be completely wrong on that point.  If decoding is the only required part, then it would work link the current Xbox 360 HD DVD add-on.  I mistakingly used output and decoding as one.

I still don’t get it, for those telling me that Microsoft
needs Blu-ray to “compete” with the PS3, are you going to buy such a unit at its
high price when it can’t output anything better than DTS, when it isn’t built
to the latest Blu-ray Profile (or any of them) when the PS3 is still cheaper
and can do almost all the above?

14 thoughts on “More Ramblings About Blu-ray & Xbox 360

  1. Sony should be the ones to expend time & money to build up the blu-ray install base. We’ll see what happens. In the meantime, I’m following what Microsoft is doing with the XBox 360’s Movie/TV library, IPTV and Media Extender. I’m still thinking that Microsoft & NetFlix have something in the works for 360 and Media Center. To me, that would be more exciting.

  2. I don’t understand your reasoning. How do you think normal BluRay players support the PCM out? Why would it have to go through the Xbox?

  3. Phil: If it didn’t go through the Xbox 360 then you are talking about buying a standalone Blu-ray player.  This isn’t what I’m talking about, nor is it an issue relating Microsoft or the Xbox 360.

    I’m talking about either an external USB Blu-ray Disc drive or replacing the internal DVD drive with a Blu-ray Disc drive.  Audio and video is decoded and routed via the Xbox 360’s hardware.

    If you want a standalone player, none of the above applies.  Standalone players have nothing to do with an Xbox 360 or Microsoft (minus VC-1, but that’s not really “Microsoft”, it’s done by a licensing agency).

    Normal (eg. standalone) players have the ability in the circuity to do PCM currently.  When you take the specs into the design considerations of the hardware stuff like this is not an issue.  The Xbox 360 however, was not designed with Blu-ray in mind.

  4. Been guiding people for years on how to set up Media Centers. MCE is a relic of the past. Buy hardware extenders for your betamax is what this discussion is about and it simply does not rise anything orher than MCE is absolete, poorly made etc…

    I love your blog Chris and I also love your critical perspectives on Microsoft’s progress, with regard to XPMCE and VistaMCE.

    However…All this talk about Extenders etc is irellevant even you an Ian should be able to enterpret the writing on the wall. The future is not HD in 1080i mpeg2@50/60hz…. It will be Mpeg4 at HD full spec. The very fact that you’d even consider eg. the linksys is flat out stupid seen from my point of view.

    Also i realize that you are a canadian(Good work….love Pierre Marc Bouchard, Sidney Crosby,team canada rukes)But the focus on the limitations of MCE does not reach beyond North America, I’ve had Digital Cable on my Media Center(Vista and MCE even HD specs mpeg2specs)for years….

    With regards to the your articles about BD, Well it certainly underlines my points of view MCE is dead and så is Vista MCE.

  5. Hi Patriarken, this likely wasn’t the best post for you to reply too, but Extenders do support H.264 (just not in MKV). More so, H.264 support within Media Center will be much greater after the next release where it will be possible to capture H.264 within Media Center.

    I’m not sure about me being Canadian, I’m a Texan, born and raised (them fightin’ words). 😉 The closest I’ve ever been to Canada is looking at a map.

    H.264 is more important outside the US (and Canada for that matter), and much more important in other parts of the world under DVB.

    DIRECTV will be launching a tuner that uses DVB-S2 with H.264 for the next Media Center release.

  6. I tend to agree that Blu-Ray is for the next iteration of XBox and not for this. It makes sense for Microsoft to make PC’s play nicely with Blu-Ray, but why they wold want to muddy the water with a Blu Ray drive for the Xbox would be mad. As they have said before games have moved units, not films. With the best game attach rate across the next gen consoles, why chase the Blu. I don’t agree with Patriarken, I think MCE isn’t dead, in spite of Microsoft. They’re entertainment section needs to really do some house keeping and get the connective home gig running sweetly (Zune, 360, MCE, WHS) before Apple or anyone else steals the glory

  7. Chris,
    What exactly is the 360 missing in regards to hardware that prevents it from outputing multi-channel PCM via HDMI?

    It seems even the earliest pre-HDMI 1.3 Blu-ray players like the BD-P1000 could do this.

  8. Ben: The audio path is simply not wide enough, so it would require circuitry redesign in order to make it work. I’m sure it could be done, but your talking about going back to the drawing board and redesigning the physical hardware to do it (on an aging console).

    The Xbox 360 as a gaming console never needed to spit out 5.1 or 7.1 channel LPCM (5-13Mbps), so there wouldn’t be much reason to design around it.

  9. chrisl: Why should it output linear PCM audio? Only input is required, not output. The sound can be re-encoded on the fly (even a 800Mhz CPU can do that). It would take in LPCM and output, say DD 5.1.

    If that’s not “OK” with you, then let me ask it this way. Does your PC output true LPCM?

  10. pwned: I believe it is mandatory that the player be able to decode and output LPCM.  The Xbox 360 w/ HD DVD can output 2 channel PCM, that goes directly with the specs for HD DVD.  I’ll double check the specs to make sure, but I believe it actually has to be able to output LPCM.

    A reason a PC can do it is because all PCs have analog outputs.  The Xbox 360 on the other hand, doesn’t.  The PC also has audio paths large enough for the uncompressed audio to travel on.

  11. pwned: I think you are right.  Decoding is what is required, not output.

    I’m trying to think through it now, if only decoding is required (and not output) then I just have one question.  How does mixing occur at this stand point?  Would it re-encode to DD or DTS and still be able to mix menu and other sounds?  I assume so since that’s what the Xbox 360 with HD DVD is doing.

    Good point!

  12. Alfred: you might want to read what I have wrote, along with the article you just posted.  As usual, articles on DailyTech and most other websites do nothing but re-state (or misconstrue) information posted on other websites.

    I’ve already covered what Steve said, and I’ve already covered what was in the FT article.  None of these say _anything_ from Microsoft about them supporting Blu-ray playback in any of their products.

    Sorry, but it truly amazes me how people take random articles that are just restating other reports are take it for fact.  I just don’t understand.  In fact, if you read the DailyTech article the only thing Microsoft says is “no plans to introduce Blu-ray.”

  13. If they released one tomorrow for the same price range ($150-200) for the 360, I’d buy tomorrow.

    Media Center does not support it, at least I could watch the other format on my 360…

    It would be nice to do it in HDMI but, I do hope some way it will support True-Dolby Digital or DTS (uncompressed) but, I don’t have my hopes up on that one…

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