Will BluRay Decide the Next-Gen Video Game Battle?

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Well, here it is. The major video game companies will finally be hawking their next-gen "wares" to consumers this fall. Graphics, exclusive content, controllers, and price (more on this later) will all be major selling points. Possibly the biggest selling point will be high definition (defined as 720P or 1080i/p) games and movie playback.

A little history first.

N64 vs PSOne
Remember the Nintendo 64? Remember Mario Kart and Super Mario World? The N64 was a great system with a great controller (first to use the analogue stick and the first to have rumble capability). Sony's Playstation launched around the same time but included one major advancement - the use of a CD-ROM. The N64 used a cartridge format that was more expensive than CD-ROM's and took longer to produce. We know what happened from there - the PSOne became a hit and Sony never looked back.

Dreamcast vs PS2 vs Xbox
The Dreamcast was launched first and used a CD format. The PS2 launched next and Sony included full DVD movie support right out of the box. Thanks to this DVD support, the PS2 made quick work of the Dreamcast and Sega quickly closed down shop. Microsoft (a company with the financial girth to complete with Sony, unlike Sega) launched the Xbox in late 2001. The Xbox also included DVD support (although a clunky plug in was required) and also included a 8 Gigabyte harddrive. The Xbox became the first console to launch with a harddrive. Well, the one year heard start with the PS2 and the 8 (or so) year head start fostering relationships with game developers meant the Xbox had little chance. Although the Xbox had some success (over 20 million consoles sold), it was a distant 2nd to the PS2.

Now we have arrived at the next generation of video game consoles. The Xbox 360 launched in November of 2005 and the Playstation 3 will launch in November of 2006 (the Nintendo Wii will also launch in late 2006). Console manufacturers and game developers alike have all endorsed High Definition gaming. Games on the 360 and the PS3 are required to be compatible with 720p and 1080i. Neither console has an advantage when it comes to High Def gaming.

But what about multimedia and movie playback? The 360 has an internal DVD player while the PS3 will launch with a BluRay player.

So, will the internal BluRay player give Sony the same competitive advantage that the CD game the PSOne and the DVD gave the PS2? The Sony Corporation is literally banking on it. Their gaming, manufacturing and movie division are going "all in" on BluRay. If BluRay loses the format war, the entire corporation could be set back 10 years.

So, once again, will BluRay give the PS3 a competitive advantage in the gaming arena? If optical disks were the ONLY content deliver method like they were with PSOne and PS2, BluRay may be a competitive advantage. This generation of gaming consoles will bring their HD content in through WiFi, through satellite, through PC's, and thought the Internet in addition to optical disks. The disk is no longer the one and only way (nor the cheapest way) to bring gaming content to the gamer.

The Xbox 360 will be launching an HD-DVD drive in the Fall of 2006. This will merely be optional for those who want to watch HD movies and have them tie into the 360's immersive operating system. HD content and movies can also be viewed through your 360 using broadband internet streaming. HD content will also be brought to the 360 via Xbox Live. HD content will be brought to the 360 through a (yet unconfirmed) deal with Direct TV. High Definition is what the 360 is all about and it is format agnostic.

Future posts will look at how price factors into this (the PS3 is $500 or $600 depending on version) and will take a look at the Next-Gen optical wars and how we got to where we are at (for instance, why did MS abruptly abandon its format neutrality last summer?).

What are your thoughts?


Microsoft to bloggers: "Lets be friends"

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Microsoft has an initiative under way to befriend video game bloggers at E306. Let me introduce you to the Blogger Bus! According to Microsoft, this bus will be equipped with power outlets, WiFi, comfortable seating, and beverages for bloggers. It will be located right outside of the Expo so bloggers can go back and forth to report to the huddled masses. For the record, this bus is for invited bloggers only lest it fill up with any wary soul in need of a soft drink and a place to put his feet up.

This is another example of Microsoft's concerted effort to win over gamers and bloggers world wide. Bloggers have received special treatment from Microsoft at last years X05, at CES in January, at the Australia Xbox 360 launch in April and now at E3. Blogger benefits have included plane tickets, hotel rooms, food, behind the scene access, and interviews with Xbox brass. Not a bad gig being a blogger these days!

Microsoft seems to be using blogs as a major component in their marketing efforts. They are even encouraging Xbox employees to speak directly to consumers via blogs. Major Nelson famously burst onto the scene last year, giving readers inside information not even found on Microsoft's official website, Xbox.com. The site is so popular it is practically an official Microsoft Xbox blog. Xbox PR Manager John Porcaro's blog became a semi-official Xbox organ last year near the launch of the 360 as readers flocked their to learn the inside story on why the 360 was selling out and what MS was doing to address the issue. Microsoft's commitment to blogging is also found at Gamerscoreblog (software, general Xbox info), at Xbox Team (Hardware Team), and now at HD DVD Team Blog.

Will this communication effort by Microsoft pay off? This much is clear, Sony is taking the opposite approach. They have been tight-lipped with gamers and the blogging community alike. In this battle, Microsoft is playing the scrappy upstart, Sony is playing the dominate big kid on the block. Time will tell who will win this battle of corporate giants.


Supply chain gymnastics

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There is an interesting article on the development of the Xbox 360 over at Reed-Electronics. Sounds like Microsoft moved mountains to launch this thing on time. It also makes me wonder how Sony is going to pull it off. They are designing a new chip (Cell) from the ground up, they are using a new form of media (Blu-Ray), and they are trying to create their version of Xbox Live - all at the same time. The stakes could not be higher for Sony right now.



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