Would Microsoft really incorporate an internal Blu-Ray Drive into the Xbox 360?


posted 3/7/2008 by Dan Keener
other articles by Dan Keener
Platforms: 360
Now that Sony and Microsoft are supposedly talking about adding a Blu-Ray drive to the Xbox 360, I am wondering if it is feasible to expect the Xbox 360 to be able to play Blu-Ray based games. We posted a news blurb a couple weeks ago that covers why it would be difficult to update the Xbox 360 to accommodate Blu-Ray movie playback, let alone game playback. Which makes you wonder why people are speculating that the talks have not only been about a stand-alone Blu-Ray player, but also incorporating an internal Blu-Ray drive in an even higher-end Xbox 360. Logically, support of Blu-Ray games would seem to be the only motivation to installing a Blu-Ray internally in the Xbox 360. While this sounds good in theory, this could be a logistical nightmare for developers, publishers and Microsoft.

There are many obstacles, the largest of which is the 17+ million Xbox 360's Microsoft has already shipped worldwide. That means there are over 17 million standard DVD-rom drives built in them to read games. If one Xbox 360 SKU suddenly has the capabilities to play Blu-Ray game titles, that would require every developer and publisher to accommodate any Xbox 360 owner, which would facilitate the development, manufacturing and release of both DVD-rom AND Blu-Ray versions of the same title. While Blu-Ray can read DVD-Rom, DVD-rom cannot read Blu-Ray. So at best, each Xbox 360 title would have two versions in the same box, while at worst there would be multiple boxes on the store shelves with either a Blu-Ray or DVD-rom in each one (and that doesn't even include the jazzed up collector's editions.) An even uglier scenario is that developers (even if they had a developer kit available to them – see below) could basically shun development of Blu-Ray titles on the Xbox 360 altogether.

There is also the matter of firmware updates to the Xbox 360 and its dashboard to accommodate Blu-Ray movies and games. That could require a completely separate dash update for the different versions of the console going forward if anything in the updated code touches the video playback portion of the dash. Again, double the work for potentially little to no gain.

So that leads us to the next question of what does Microsoft gain from an internal Blu-Ray drive instead of external version? The short answer is nothing, nothing at all other than additional storage space. The negatives far outweigh any positives making such a move. Whether it is the royalties Microsoft would be paying to Sony on every one of those consoles or the creation of two versions of games (DVD-rom and Blu-Ray), there seems to be just too many obstacles to pass the cost justification check for such a project. It would require Microsoft to alter their long-held stance that the Xbox 360 is first and foremost a game playing device.

Even with the reasons already mentioned previously, there is one thing that most certainly would kill an internal Blu-Ray in the Xbox 360. With the Xbox 360 almost halfway through its projected 5 year life cycle incorporating a Blu-Ray drive for gaming would require a complete revamp of the operating system and developer kits to accommodate a feature that would be available in to a minute portion of the Xbox 360 consoles on the market as well as a major overhaul to the Xbox 360 manufacturing process. By the time a revamped SDK was complete and the manufacturing plants were upgraded there would be only one to one and a half years left before the next Microsoft Gaming console is due out. No developer in their right mind would support this as it would be a waste of development resources.

Having said that, it is almost a certainty that the next version of the Microsoft console will have a Blu-Ray drive as its standard game reader unless something new breaks out or Microsoft decides to create their own format. While the advantage over DVD-rom is basically limited to larger capacity, it would make sense to support the standard for Hi-Definition DVD movie playback.

So to answer the question asked in the headline, Would Microsoft really incorporate an internal Blu-Ray Drive into the Xbox 360? The answer is a resounding no for the Xbox 360, as it makes no sense financially or a logistically. As long as a stand-alone Blu-Ray player could be connected via the USB and the Java Component issue can be resolved, then Microsoft has nothing to gain and everything to lose by incorporating an internal Blu-Ray player in the Xbox 360. As for the next version….bank on it.
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