The Blu ray factor: If Microsoft come out with a BD accessory, where’s Sony’s advantage?

Posted: 01.08.09

First off let me make it clear I am not a Sony basher, I like Sony, and I love the PS3. I also like Microsoft and the Xbox360.

Sony has said they won’t drop the price of the PS3, and has even stopped building the lower cost smaller disk version. Why, in a world of economic turmoil would Sony seem to be swimming against the tide? For one thing Sony believes, and I agree, that the PS3 represents value for money. One of the main values of the PS3 is the Blu-ray (BD) player in it. The PS3 is a fully integrated home media center with HDMI output, wireless Internet connection and a damn fine gaming engine.

Rumors of Microsoft coming out with a BD player accessory for the Xbox360 just won’t go away, and so it’s probably just a matter of time till they announce it, my guess is GDC in March.

This rattles Sony and the company has been sending out messages that show the cost comparisons of the two machines, which is when you put everything on an Xbox360 that a PS3 already has, but not a BD player, the prices come very close to each other. Then, the built-in BD player in the PS3becomes themain differentiating factor.

Neither Sony nor Microsoft can make a convincing argument that their graphics capability is superior to the other, there is no benchmark, and most console players could care less about frames per second, either the game plays or it doesn’t, and play means no frame drops.

Sony can brag about a larger, and built in HDD, but that’s hardly going to be the deciding factor when someone begins their purchase decision.

Content, content, content as the old joke goes. Content sells consoles, nothing else. And so Sony argues that in addition to having great games (but, not as many as Microsoft), they also offer the greatest content delivery platform with the built in BD drive. That’s a persuasive argument, and one that has helped parents accept their children’s request for the more expensive PS3.

So if Microsoft does come out with a BD accessory, where’s Sony’s differentiation and advantage? If you ask Sony they’ll list their on-line capabilities and free service, their interconnect capabilities, their music and TV show libraries, and most importantly their movie library. And although Sony may still have a feature check list advantage, the argument gets more difficult, the final decision more complicated. One of the biggest factors in Sony’s favor in my opinion is that it’s a fully integrated box, no snap on, plug-in accessories (except maybe the camera), and it looks good enough to live in the living room or where one has their media center.

So keep your eye on the BD battle and watch Sony’s reactions to any mention of Microsoft coming out with such a capability.

On the other hand, even if Microsoft does come out with a BD accessory, which they surely must do one day, there is still the HDTV factor. According to Sony, there is a very high tie-ratio of HDTV sales to PS3s since Sony has pushed the HDTV/Blu-Ray connection. Xbox360 sales don’t have the same effect, even though the Xbox360 can comfortably drive a HDTV. The emphasis is on games.

So, if most people who have an HDTV/console combination have opted for the PS3, as Sony claims they have, why would those people then want to add on an Xbox360 – just because it has a BD accessory?

Well, if you believe Microsoft, it could be because there are more Xbox360 owners than PS3 people and some of them just might want a Blu-ray drive. At the CES grand opening starring Steve Ballmer, Robbie Bach took the stage to claim that Microsoft's Entertainment and Devices division has now sold 28 million Xbox consoles worldwide. Sony has sold 19.3 million PS3s, which pushes Microsoft's lead over 8 million.

But, given the current economic situation this may all be a moot point. It’s doubtful anyone except those with a few dollars in savings and savvy buying skills are going to go shopping for game consoles and/or HDTVs right away.