Is the PS3 pushing Blu-ray or is Blu-ray pushing the PS3? Right now, I would say that Sony's PlayStation 3 is pushing Blu-ray. Back in March, in response to a question on whether putting Blu-ray in the PS3 was a sound decision, Sony Computer Entertainment Worldwide Studios President Phil Harrison was quoted as saying: "No regrets whatsoever. And it's those kinds of decisions, painful though they were to live through in the last quarter of 2006, those are the decisions that are going to propel PlayStation 3 to be a platform that lasts for ten years, like we've seen with PS1 and PS2. And it will be, I believe, reflected on as the smartest decision we ever made."
I remember the mockery of this statement quite well. "Yeah right! All that Blu-ray has done for the PS3 is made it more expensive and therefore given it less sales!" That may be true, but let's look at it from a different perspective. Blu-ray seems to be consistently beating HD DVD. Sure, the gap isn't something to write home about, but nevertheless, despite various set-backs, Blu-ray somehow manages to come out on top in the sales numbers. In August, Paramount and Dreamworks chose HD DVD exclusivity for the next 18 months. From January 1 through September 30, Blu-ray discs amounted to 2.6 million units compared with 1.4 million HD-DVD discs in the U.S. This news was followed by HD DVD Transformers becoming the best-selling first day and first week HD movie ever. Despite no such titles from Blu-ray, that same week ending October 21 Blu-ray still beat HD DVD, albeit by a slim 51% to 49% ratio. Why did Blu-ray still manage to get the upper hand?
A possible answer is the PS3. It's actually a bit ironic if you think about it. The PlayStation 3 is a gaming console, but it seems that all it has gotten right is the aspect that's supposed to make it more attractive: Blu-ray. Sony may be beating Toshiba, but Microsoft is happily celebrating. Things might have been different if Microsoft didn't decide that it would beat Sony with time, by entering the "next-generation" console market a year early, but that is something Sony will have to deal with and not use an excuse. Developers are choosing Microsoft because it already has the user base, which only makes it harder for Sony. It's a vicious circle, really. The PS3 loses developers, which in turn means less game titles, which in turn means less console sales, which in turn means losing developers and so on.
So what does Sony do? A price drop of course. Too bad Microsoft has the backing to do the same. Ouch. Sony may not reach out to those deciding between the 360 and the PS3, but it should definitely reach out to all those that want a PS3 but aren't stupid enough to shell out the money equivalent to 2 Wiis and then some. Right? Well, that was the idea. Unfortunately, Sony couldn't simply cut the price tag: they had to cut the price tag by a little, and release the 40GB model. See, the PS2 user base is the greatest by far, and there are many, many users that want a PS3 primarily because of brand loyalty. They won't be happy when they learn they can't just sell their PS2 to save further on the 40GB because the latest SKU lacks PS2 game backwards compatibility. The real thing that is saving Sony's gaming division here is the income from PS2 consoles and games, which continue to sell like hotcakes. Maybe Sony needs to realize that cutting a price should not have to result in cutting features.
But if you're going to cut something, at least cut Blu-ray out of the equation. I mean, if Toshiba and Microsoft are gearing up to merge HD DVD and 360 into one device, why can't Sony offer a model with no Blu-ray? I'm sure there are some PS3 gamers out there right now who just want to play games. Oh wait, the games come on Blu-ray discs! Let's see, is that such a terrible move on Sony's part? Not if you don't look at the PS3 sales numbers. Whether it's superior marketing or a larger availability, the fact is Blu-ray is the leader in the HD war. Looking over at blogs and tech forums, you'll rarely see Blu-ray fans deciding to switch but HD DVD fans seem to be in a state of indecision and mild confusion. As well, threads about how Blu-ray is gaining shelf space at HD DVD's expense seem to be popping up everywhere. So much for the better and cheaper format – because that's exactly what HD DVD is in my opinion. However, my opinion, along with the rest of HD DVD supporters, becomes completely irrelevant if Blu-ray wins.
Of course, things aren't exactly looking grim for HD DVD. Sure, Sony has the 40GB slated for release before the holidays and it still has thousands of companies backing Blu-ray as well as its own movie studio, which will undoubtedly never change. HD DVD has the price advantage and the rumours of Warner Bros. ditching Blu-ray. If Toshiba really wants to win, they should start losing money per device like Sony is doing with the PS3. Who cares if you cut your revenue in half if you sell HD DVD players for $100 and win the HD war? The money would come trickling back, would it not? Yes, I'm aware of the $198 HD DVD player Wal-mart is selling, but I'm not certain it will settle the issue. Surely, the holidays will give us some answers, and if not then, the following year will hopefully choose a single successor to DVD. I'm assuming here, that a winner is possible in this HD war, and that price is the consumer's number one concern.
This brings me to the $180 HD DVD add-on from Microsoft. It is an excellent idea since many gamers don't want and don't bother watching movies in HD, especially if it's going to affect the price tag of their console. On the other hand, many PS3 owners are thinking that since they already have Blu-ray, why not shell out the extra few dollars for the HD version of the movie? They got a taste of HD, and they want more. Too bad Microsoft has not (to my knowledge, please comment below if you know otherwise) released HD DVD add-on sales numbers. Based on HD movie sales, I wouldn't be at all surprised if there are more PS3s in homes than there are HD DVD add-ons.
One of the main reasons the PS2 sold so well is because of the demand to have a DVD player at home. The PS3 may be pushing Blu-ray now, but Blu-ray could easily end up pushing the PS3. If HD DVD never came out and decided to take on Blu-ray, if more people owned HDTVs and if Sony understood how to apply a proper price cut, the PS3 would indeed be the PS2's successor. It may not look like it now, but what if the PS3 did eventually catch up to the 360? If Toshiba, for whatever reason, gave up on HD DVD, then PS3 sales would skyrocket. Yes, the two are that closely tied. Microsoft may have a huge backing for the 360 now, but Sony built the PS3 for the next ten years, or at least they would want you to think so. If Sony cleans up its act, I would not be surprised if they did end up beating Toshiba and Microsoft, but only in the long term and with huge short term expenses.
As a side note, I would like to address all those respondents that will surely pop in just to say something along the lines of "Wii FTW!" and continue merrily on their way, enjoying the extra money they saved by not choosing a 360 or a PS3. When was the last time you played your Wii? Reportedly, around two thirds of Wii owners haven't touched their console recently. It's really too bad that there aren't numbers to compare with the PS3. Obviously Halo 3 and Gears of War are keeping 360 owners occupied, but one must remember that the PS3 and the Wii don't have something equivalent out yet. No, I don't believe Wii Sports and Resistance: Fall of Man are on the same level. The Wii has basically matched or beaten the 360 in sales numbers, depending on which research company you trust, without releasing a highly-anticipated title. The PS3 was last to join the race and the numbers show it. These trends will soon become outdated. Final Fantasy XIII, Super Mario Galaxy, Gran Turismo, Super Smash Bros. Brawl – Microsoft beware!