Blu-Ray and PS3, Xbox 360 and DVD – the real battleground for the next generation of consoles from Games Digest
So the launch of the Xbox 360 has finally been, and all the units have gone. But does selling 50,000-odd consoles to a mix of canny eBay sellers and rabid gamers who will buy any new machine the day it comes out really constitute success? The lukewarm response by games reviewers says not. So Microsoft needs to build hard for 2006 when the real battle against the PS3 hits. But the battle this time isn't just about who has the most pixels or the best games, but who has the right disc. Both Sony and Microsoft have bet everything, not on their consoles, but on the way they deliver games. Microsoft's Xbox 360 features a standard DVD drive. Sony's PS3 has a much fancier Blu-Ray drive in it. The two approaches are at opposite end of the technological spectrum.
Microsoft's approach is to use the existing, and cheap, DVD format. Everyone knows it, it's produced in mass market quantities, and it holds 9 GB. Most games for existing consoles like the PS2 and Xbox don’t even fill up one DVD. Microsoft is betting that game makers won't be using that much more for the shiny new graphics on next-generation consoles. Meanwhile, Bill Gates has hinted he thinks DVD could be the last disc storage format. The Xbox 360 Live Marketplace already features game trailers and additional levels for games. Clearly Microsoft is set on a system like Valve Software's Steam. They put the games on Xbox Live, you download them.
But Microsoft has some fairly serious obstacles to overcome if it follows the download route. Retail and traditional game distribution's wariness of game downloads at the expense of the high street is likely to be a major stumbling block. Secondly, there are already rumours of Xbox 360 games in development that take up four DVDs. Four? Gamers, a largely sofa-bound demographic, will loathe getting up that often to change discs.
Thirdly, the hard drive that ships with the Xbox 360 is 20 GB. Or half the size of that four-DVD game. So how will the hard drive have the capacity to store downloaded games (and for that matter, how long will it take you to download before you can play)? Finally, what about people who want to use their machines to play movies? The "HD Era" that Microsoft trumpeted when hyping the Xbox 360 extends to the new High-Definition Blu-Ray and HD-DVD discs that maximise movie visual potential. Gamers like movies. So will Microsoft, as they have hinted they will do if necessary, provide an add-on HD-DVD kit? If so, that's a lot of expense. And it will make their brand-new console look distinctly under-featured in comparion to Sony's PS3.
Sony, on the other hand, in embracing Blu-Ray, have their own problems. The discs have up to 50GB capacity already. But are looking like they'll be fearsomely expensive and complex to manufacture. That means pricier games, or fewer niche or quirky games and a format that may not win a format war with the cheaper HD-DVD.
If consumers don't opt for Blu-Ray, Sony is in real trouble. In effect, its console is a Trojan horse, like Microsoft's. Microsoft want an Xbox 360 in your living room, talking to the PC in your office. Sony, on the other hand, want a PS3 so that Blu-Ray is a success. Without PS3, without Blu-Ray, Sony looks like a very weak, financially ailing company past its innovative best.
Both companies have a lot at stake beyond the next console battle. They're both betting everything in the disc wars." [more