The kneejerk reaction is that this is curtains for HD DVD, not just on pure market share grounds, but also on the crucial aspect of momentum. Think of all those HD waverers who’ve put off making a decision on whether to buy a Blu-ray or HD DVD player until they were sure who’d ‘win’.
But I’m equally interested in the implications for Microsoft’s Xbox 360 console, not least because there’ve been strong rumours this week that one of the highlights of Bill Gates’ CES keynote would be the unveiling of an ‘Xbox 360 Ultimate’ with built-in HD DVD drive.
It’s worth noting that Microsoft has come out and scotched that rumour already, saying “We have reiterated multiple times since launching the Xbox 360 HD-DVD Player that we have no plans to integrate an HD-DVD player in to the Xbox 360”. That’s pretty clear.
Even so, Microsoft has so far hitched Xbox 360 to HD DVD by selling an external HD DVD drive for the console. Today’s seemingly decisive shift towards Blu-ray is a big blow for Microsoft then, right? They’ll be stuck with a console wedded to a soon-to-be obsolete format. Or will they?
Leaving aside the question of whether HD DVD is indeed not long for this world (and if so, how long), it’s clear that Microsoft faces less of a problem than Sony would have for PS3 if Blu-ray had gone down the dumper.
Why? For starters, that external drive. I see no reason why Microsoft can’t now do a Warner and switch formats, in its case by launching an external Blu-ray drive for Xbox 360. Maybe they could even get moving on that Xbox 360 Ultimate, except with an internal Blu-ray drive rather than HD DVD.
Sure, it’d be embarrassing to admit they backed the wrong horse in the HD format wars, but it’s a shift Microsoft would surely make if necessary – if not in the 360’s lifetime, then certainly for the next-gen Xbox console.
What’s clear is that Microsoft now faces a choice, since switching to Blu-ray really would be seen as the final nail in HD DVD’s coffin. Does Bill Gates want to be thought of as the format kingmaker?
You’d have to think that he’s sitting down right now with his fellow Microsoft strategists and deciding what to say about the format war in his keynote. After today’s rumpus, he surely can’t avoid the issue. Can he?
The nuclear approach would be an announcement that Xbox 360 is switching to Blu-ray as soon as possible, although an equally risky approach would be to strongly and publicly back HD DVD despite today’s events.
It’s certainly another reason to look forward to Gates’ CES keynote, anyway. Xbox 360 owners will certainly be hanging on every word…