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Monday, 17 April 2006 07:09

Microsoft backs HD DVD in war with Sony

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About 18 months ago, we ditched the worn out early model DVD player after buying our youngest son an Xbox for his birthday because we realised we had also bought ourselves a new DVD player. If we had bought him a PS2 the same thing would have applied. However, if we happen to one day decide to fork out the money for a high-definition TV (HDTV), the choice between a Microsoft and Sony games player will actually matter.
The fact that we bought an Xbox last time was pure chance. Our son really wanted a PS2 but the store was out of them that particular day. Anyway, for our purposes, which was playing movies, either machine would have done just as well because they both play DVDs. The same thing will not apply for high definition videos, which have just come on the market, because Microsoft and Sony are about to replay the old VHS and Betamax war in the high definition video space.

Of course both Xbox 360 and PS3 (when it finally hits store shelves in November) will both play DVDs, which is what most of us still watch. However, for playback of high definition videos, Xbox 360 is compatible with one standard called HD DVD, from Toshiba, while PS3 is compatible with another called Blu-ray Disc (BD), from Sony. Camps led by Sony and Toshiba got together last August and tried to unify the two formats in order to avoid another technology war but unfortunately couldn't reach agreement.

The consensus is that BD is superior technology - it holds 25GB per disc layer compared to 15GB for HD DVD. However, Betamax was also considered superior technology in its day. What's important is which standard becomes more accessible to the consumer.

This time round, the key to what standard gets accepted may very well be determined by the games console players. Sony, being a key developer of Blu-ray, has already flagged its intention to release PS3 with a Blu-ray high definition video player. From a media release last month: "PS3 incorporates the final specifications of BD (Blu-ray Disc), and with the overwhelming computing power of PS3, it enables to playback BD software at a high bit rate. With a maximum storage capacity of 50 GB (dual layer) and robust security, BD is a highly anticipated storage medium that delivers digital entertainment content such as games and movies at an unparalleled level of image quality."

And herein lays the key. The cheapest HD DVD to hit the market this week is reportedly going to cost US$500, while the early model Blu-ray players will cost double that. However, why would you bother paying that sort of money for a high definition video player when PS3, with all of its gaming capabilities, will include a Blu-ray player for a total cost of US$500? Xbox 360 does not have an HD DVD player on board. Users will have to buy one as an add-on. At current HD DVD prices that could not only be a significant differentiator between the gaming platforms but, given the multitudes of Playstation devotees, also provide a huge boost for the Blu-ray platform.

Microsoft, of course, is not likely to take this laying down. It has about six months before PS3 hits the market. In that time, hopefully prices of HD DVD players will have dropped significantly. However, since HD DVD does not come as standard with Xbox 360, how much can Microsoft afford to charge for the add-on? The market awaits the outcome with interest.

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Stan Beer

 

Stan Beer co-founded iTWire in 2005. With 30 plus years of experience working in IT and Australian technology media, Beer has published articles in most of the IT publications that have mattered, including the AFR, The Australian, SMH, The Age, as well as a multitude of trade publications.

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