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Will Microsoft Adopt Blu-ray?

Rumors surrounding the Xbox 360 and Blu-ray pop up after Toshiba drops HD DVD.


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Now that Toshiba has officially dropped HD DVD, rumors surrounding Microsoft's role in the high-definition format war have come front and center.

Microsoft was a main supporter of HD DVD with their external drive for the Xbox 360, but they do go with the market. One of their problems is that they have to architect their solutions to take them into the future, but they only can release "mainstream" products that can be supported well.

Look at their operating systems. Windows XP did not support DVDs natively very well, even though they were pretty mainstream by the time the OS was released. Windows Vista now does.

Vista, of which the core was designed originally five or so years ago, does not support HD DVD or Blu-ray formats natively. You can bet that the next release will have whatever it takes built into the OS.

The HD DVD add-on drive was an excellent approach for them. There was less effort to bring it to market than there would have been bringing out a Blu-ray option. The hard part is not just attaching the physical drive -- it's in writing the necessary codecs to support the new formats.

Microsoft had to add some four million lines of code for the 360 just to get the HD DVD side working. It also had to be optimized for the graphics engine and the way the threading model works for the 360's processor to get the best experience.

They already had the source to HDi in addition to their own development tools. It was a safe strategy with the least amount of obstacles.

There also was another "war" brewing: Mandatory Managed Copies. The Blu-ray camp had not decided how strict they were going to be with the BD-ROM features.

It took a while just for the BD camp to embrace the AACS approach, but they still left the option for no copies at all if the content provider wanted to enforce it.

Is Microsoft's Future Blu?


It wasn't until just recently that the BD camp finally came out with a finalized spec and solution. It would have been pretty tough for Microsoft to architect such a customized solution for the 360 when it was in such flux.

Times have changed. Now that the Blu-ray specs have been finalized, content providers are delivering media that leverages the new features.

You can bet you that Microsoft has been following this really closely and that they definitely have Blu-ray drives running on the 360. You probably can bet that they already have designed for support of it into their new Opus, Valhalla, and Orion iterations of the 360, too.

They never said that they were not going to deliver a Blu-ray drive. I believe they just had to wait until the BD backers settled down on something that they would be able to deliver without a ton of upgrades along the way.

Xbox 360 vs. PlayStation 3


From a different perspective, it's not just about the media.

One of the complaints real A/V lovers have about the 360 is its lack of support for the newer features that the high-def formats and HDMI 1.3 open up. The PS3 advertises HDMI 1.3 and has incorporated several of the features.

Where is Microsoft's support the new 1.3 features? Where is their deep color? Where is their support for the newer high-def audio codecs? Where is their 7.1 analog audio output to support the newer audio codecs?

They have some big fish to fry if they really want to move ahead with high definition media on both the 360 and the OS levels. They may be forced kicking and screaming to embrace the Java interactivity engine, but that is doable.

Having an internal Blu-ray drive on the 360 currently would be problematic though, because you would not be able to play games. Even the external HD DVD drive does not allow you to play games from it, so a "standard" Blu-ray probably would not either.

However, if I were Microsoft, I would consider getting a custom Blu-ray drive made that would….

But let's imagine Microsoft supports Blu-ray on the 360.

What are the remote control requirements for interacting with it? They never did get the four "required" buttons right across their product line for HD DVD.

Will the Blu-ray interactivity be the same? Will the buttons on the controls work or be mapped across the same? Is four even the right number?

Will we have to re-program customized remote controls?

There are a lot of questions to be asked before we come to an answer.

Derek R. Flickinger is vice president of R & D for Interactive Homes, Inc. (http://www.InteractiveHomesInc.com). He provides consulting and implementation services for manufacturers and consumer electronics installation companies on new technologies, products, and strategies related to standards-based Distributed Audio, Video, Communications, and Control (DAVCC) systems for the home and consumer market spaces. Derek’s long-term goal is to be instrumental in the development and deployment of entertainment systems on space stations and space colonies.




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Article Topics

News · Gaming · Blu-ray · Blu-ray · Gaming · All topics

About the Author

DrFlick, Play
I provide consulting and implementation services for manufacturers and consumer electronics installation companies on new technologies, products, and strategies related to standards-based Distributed Audio, Video, Communications, and Control (DAVCC) systems for the home and consumer market spaces. My long-term goal is to be instrumental in the development and deployment of entertainment systems on space stations and space colonies.

9 Comments (displayed in order by date/time)

Posted by Steve Harbor  on  02/20  at  08:05 AM

The XBox720 will have a blu-ray player built-in. It’ll be out Holiday 2010.

I have reliable inside nameless sources who assure me of this (not really).

Posted by Lee Distad  on  02/20  at  08:37 AM

Too bad, Steve, because that’s an awesome rumour!

Posted by Steve Harbor  on  02/20  at  11:29 AM

Oh, I’m pretty confident it will happen. I just don’t have reliable inside nameless sources.

But analysts have predicted that the nextgen XBox and Wii will roll out in 2010, which seems about right to me, given the delta between the XBox and XBox360 rollouts. Microsoft has a jump on Sony now, and they’ll want to keep that lead by coming out with another system to keep Sony down.

Assuming the XBox720 has physical media (alternative: digital distribution), DVD isn’t going to cut it any more. Just not enough space… and with HD DVD out of the picture, it’s either Blu-Ray or sending out disks on multiple DVDs (or, I suppose, MS could come up with its own proprietary format).

Posted by Andrew Finkel  on  02/21  at  06:12 AM

Great points by all however I believe that there is a problem with the XBOX game data being able to be read by a pure Blu Ray drive and that either a stand alone solution like the add on HD-DVD drive, which also could not read game data, or a dual laser drive would have to be employed.

That may explain why the Elite was not shipped with a built in drive.

Because Sony from the start of the development of the PS3 intended to have a Blu Ray drive they were able to have the game data that thier developers produced for games readable by the drive and thus have a single laser system that can read both.

Andrew Finkel

Posted by Steve Harbor  on  02/21  at  07:57 AM

Yeah but I’m talking about a whole new console (which I’m referring to half-jokingly as the XBox720). The replacement for the XBox360, predicted by some analysts to be a 2010 product. New internals, new OS, new I/O routines. So they could build it to be able to deal with the larger storage space and lower read speed of blu-ray.

I agree that they couldn’t just stick a blu-ray drive into the current XBox360, for both technical reasons, and because it would split their customer base. Developers wouldn’t take advantage of it since any product that did wouldn’t be playable on the millions of XBox360s currently in consumer’s hands.

As for an add-on blu-ray player for the XBox360 (to replace the HD DVD add-on), just to play high-def movies, we’ll have to see. Some rumors are saying it’d be out as soon as May but that seems awfully aggressive unless MS had it in quiet development all along. I’m not sure how interested they really are in such a product, since it conflicts with their digital downloads via XBox Live.

Also remember that MS dropped the XBox immediately when the XBox360 launched (unlike Sony, who is still producing PS2 units a year after the PS3 launched). If they plan to do that again, then is it even worth it to develop a new add-on for the 360 if they’re going to discontinue the line in 2 years?

Lots of “what ifs” and speculation…guess time will tell.

Posted by Steve Harbor  on  02/21  at  07:59 AM

Doh, I just realized you were replying to the original article, Andrew. Not to me. Apologies for my narcissistic tendencies. smile

Posted by James Gardiner  on  02/21  at  08:09 PM

Interesting post Derek, but some of those more technical reasons don;t ring with me as major reasons why those products will fail or not in many areas.  If the consumer does,‘t know what it means, do you think they care? (HDMI 1.3 for example)

Also, Audio over 5.1   I work in productions. no one really cares much for more then 5.1
Most consumers would not even know the difference.

It is consumers who don;t know the difference that make or break the products success.

Consumers purchase cheap DVD players all the time with remotes that are not well defined and have to many buttons etc.  Again, its not a definitive reason for a strong effect on consumer purchases.

In any case, I wrote a more in depth blog about this following a more general approch at..
http://www.crafted.com.au/blog/2008/02/22/blu-ray-in-xbox360-of-course/
If interested.

Cheers,
James

Posted by Derek R. Flickinger  on  02/22  at  05:56 AM

James,

Thank you for your response.  I was not trying to infer success or failure of the product.  As system integrators, the target audience of CEPro, these are important architectural considerations for any product recommendation.  One of the issues, as we see it, is that Microsoft’s current ecosystem strategy is to incorporate Media Center Extenders throughout the home.  However, there is no good solution for how to use Blu-ray disks with them (either locally or via remoting).  The dichotomy is that we have to choose between using a Windows Media Center box at each location and give up the ability to distribute premium CableCARD content to those boxes or we use Extenders and give up the ability to watch Blu-ray disks, which is not the right answer either.

If we use the Windows Media Center approach, we have the ability to deliver the complete Blu-ray experience that leverages all of the new audio capabilities.  If they supported Blu-ray in the Extenders, this would help, but we still have to sacrifice by not being able to deliver on the full experience.  When clients spend good money for a home entertainment environment, we strategically do not want to put in solutions that limit their capabilities.  The price is low enough that we could rip and replace a year from now, but it also would be nice if Microsoft provided just a few more features in their products so we do not have to do this.  From a marketing perspective, it also would give them the potential “nail in the coffin” (as you inferred) of the PS-3 because they could deliver an experience that the PS-3 currently cannot.

The comments regarding the remotes reflect a pet peeve of ours.  The HD DVD Forum standardized on specific buttons to be used for controlling the interactive features of HD DVD.  Microsoft could have provided consistency in their remotes for both sides of their platform if they put it on their list of design requirements.  We have hopes that they will get these right on future iterations, especially since they incorporate a new interactive platform into their products.

Nice article, by the way.  However, we are surprised you did not cite how the Xbox 360 already supports Microsoft’s MediaRoom platform and will be a key enabler of that by the end of year.  We believe that will be a huge success factor for the product (at least in markets that carry it).

  =D-

Posted by James Gardiner  on  02/22  at  06:44 AM

Derek,
I can see where you are coming from and agree with you in terms of a holistic approach of what SHOULD be implemented in a digital media solution for the home.  I like Microsoft’s product, however, I tend to disagree with monopolistic tendencies of it in its overall formula and the historic activities Microsoft has done when in this position.  I must admit, I was in the trenches when Microsoft was tearing the competition apart so I tend to be very cynical about them.  I try hard not to be….

Still, its hard to over look some of the very good engineering that comes out of Redmond.  I personally do expect them to make MC Extenders play Blu-Ray.  Its a killer feature. (Maybe the distributors will stop them as people may not by as many copies.  Microsoft tends to play ball with Hollywood.)

On Remote Control Buttons.  I have been looking of a Standards body on remote controls for a long time.  I am AMAZED we do not have any SMPTE recommendations on the minimum buttons and functionality.  Do you know of any sites listing this?

The Media Centre Extenders are a great solution.  In many locations using Cable and other localised service provider access, it is a best of class type of product.  My issue with it, however, is that these incumbent companies and business models are not long term sustainable models. As such, I tend to ignore them.  Main reason I over look MediaRoom.
MediaRoom is simply the way to do Cable in the new world of Digital Media/Internet.  But that is if content owners still sell content to content consumers via a middle man, the cable network.
As the future of digital media distribution points more to direct producer to consumer relationships, or via other types of aggregation. Will products like MediaRoom be a long term solution?
I tend to think not, but do give them a 5 to 10 year window of opportunity before the landscape changes to much for them.
However, I do believe there is room for all of these technologies.  As DVB-T will always be the best solution for real time Sport/News and general served up content.  MediaRoom may be a better solution for this in some areas.  Houses for courses.  But I personally see P2P/RSS technologies and downloading of content to watch when we want as the future.

James

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