Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Blu-ray victory means royalties, but perhaps not as many as you think!

It's kind of silly to even mention, but let's mention it otherwise. Sony won big this week as Blu-ray's victory means royalties, royalties, royalties for a company that had been on the losing end for a while now. It is no longer associated with personal sound playback devices (the iPod has made Walk and the Discman little more than ancient memories in the marketplace) and it is now in "third" behind Nintendo and Microsoft. Indeed, PS3, if anything, has finally won something significant: a standard war. I noted a couple of years ago that the PS3 was Sony's Trojan Horse for the new DVD standard and, yes, all of those players have seemed to have crept out of their shiny black encasements and killed any chance of Toshiba winning with its HD-DVD standard. Never mind that they had Microsoft's Xbox 360 on their side, if you wanted the HD-DVD player it was a $120 accessory, i.e. another substantial consumer choice and payment. If you bought the PS3, you got a severely discounted player in your machine and you didn't even have to think about it.

So, yes, this is classic "Razor and Blades", except in this case the winnings are, quite possibly, much more substantial since now everyone must buy the same blade (i.e. Wal Mart said you have to). The promise of future royalties is just that. In the US right now we are about to go through a mandated upgrade to TV that will flummox a good portion of the population. Predictions aside, in this economy fewer and fewer are willing to load a couple grand on their cards for a new widescreen so many of us, myself included, will be left with a 4/3 29 inch TV that has a digital adapter. I am certain my TV signal will look better, but not that much better that I will feel compelled to buy a new player and all of these new discs. Sony will see its royalties, but they will severely compromised and nothing like those seen by Toshiba and their DVD consortia in the 1990s. And the reason will be simple: it's the economy stupid. I just don't want to buy another copy of The Big Lebowski until I have to. And even then, when I have watched my storebought copy of the DVD on my dad's widescreen it looks just fine. In an atmosphere where homes seem to be foreclosed in new record rates, purchasing a new, expensive TV is one thing. Replacing my hundreds of DVDs, well, that's another thing altogether. So congrats to Sony for winning the battle... let's see if they can win the war.


Derek said...

Excellent point about the current economy. I think the PS3, in Sony's eyes, is kind of like a tank. It may not be fast, but it's relentless. They won a major battle when Toshiba gave up. If game developers get with the PS3 (which now looks likelier than ever), then they'll start to turn that war (especially since it's looking like the Wii's not such a hot platform for new software; teh people luvz their Wii Sports and that's about it, apparently).

That said, I find it ironic that we're talking about yet another adaptation of a spinning disc (a technology 120 years old) a few weeks after Steve Jobs pulled the MacBook Air out of an envelope. How much longer are we going to get our electronic media through tangible objects ("atoms," to use the cliche)? My guess: somewhere shy of 20 years.

Which is still a long enough time for a media format.

Leviticus P said...

Spot-on analysis re: DVD/TV upgrades and Sony's place in the living room during the next few years. However, in terms of the current next-gen console war, it would seem that Sony still has a battle ahead of them. The previous commenter is right; the PS3 is a tank of sorts as long as it retains the support of all of the fanboys converted to their cause during the PS/PS2 years. As initial hooplah over hardware capability has subsided, the game industry's focus is now on libraries.

It makes sense to buy a PS3 if you've got the $1K+ components to exploit the BluRay player and 1080p capability, but if you as a gamer are looking for console exclusive titles as a deciding factor when purchasing a next-gen machine, Sony's library (and upcoming release schedule) seems to lack definition. The Gran Turismo and Metal Gear franchises? Killer apps? Questionable at best. There aren't many titles available for the PS3 that aren't available for the 360, and I won't mention the Wii as Nintendo's game libraries have historically been defined by first-party titles (the Wii is NO exception).

It's also safe to count as shortcomings the PS3's lack of appeal to the Wii's player base (largely) and Home's clear inferiority to XBL.* However...in 1994 Sony showed the world that Nintendo wasn't the 800-lb. gorilla of the game industry anymore and the PS2 is arguably the most well-supported (software-wise) console in history. Maybe with Phil Harrison gone and Kaz Hirai in control of SCEA, the company will manage once again to surprise the world by overcoming the obstacles I've mentioned. It's certainly going to be interesting!

*Home's young; it may be too soon to tell if someday the student will be able to defeat the sensei

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