Microsoft going Blu-ray? Say it ain't so, Bill

By Peter Nowak, CBCNews.ca

Microsoft is reportedly in talks with Sony to bring a Blu-ray player to the Xbox 360.

I was asked just the other day if I thought Microsoft would add a Blu-ray player to the 360 and I must admit I said no. After all, the two companies are bitter rivals when it comes to video game consoles. For Microsoft, which was one of the main backers of HD DVD, going Blu would basically be sleeping with the enemy.

Microsoft chairman Bill Gates underlined that thinking at this year's Consumer Electronics Show in January, where the next-generation DVD war was all but settled. In his keynote speech, just days after Warner Bros. levelled the deciding blow by announcing it was dropping HD DVD, Gates took the opportunity to push video downloads rather than talk about physical discs. Many analysts took this as an endorsement for consumers to skip discs altogether and move to online delivery of movies. Of course, what else would Gates say? His side had just lost the war, after all.

Lo and behold, Sony Electronics U.S. president Stan Glasgow spilled the beans at a media dinner on Thursday in San Francisco, according to the U.K.'s Financial Times. If true, this opens a can of worms.

First off, did Microsoft make a mistake by not embedding an HD DVD player in the 360? The company may have been hedging its bets in case the format lost the war, but many observers have said this lack of commitment was one of the main reasons Blu-ray did win out. A self-fulfilling prophecy, of sorts. Could Microsoft have done more to ensure HD DVD won out?

Second, do people really watch movies on their video-game consoles? It's sort of like taking photos with your cellphone – you can do it, but the experience always seems substandard. How did movie players ever get locked into video game consoles anyway?

Thirdly, are discs indeed on the way out? I was at a media briefing with Apple today where executives showed off the Macbook Air, which is of course famous for fitting into an envelope and for not having any DVD drive to speak of. The Apple folks swore up and down that the optical drive is becoming less and less important. If both Steve Jobs and Bill Gates say the disc is on its way out, who is Sony to disagree?