Blu-ray DVD drive annoys some PlayStation 3 buyers

The added costs of Sony's Blu-ray drive in the PS3 is scaring customers away

Gamers love Sony's new PlayStation 3 for its graphic capabilities and firepower, but the advanced Blu-ray DVD drive is annoying some by raising the cost, slowing production and forcing them to buy into a format they've not yet aligned with.

Sony's move to put a Blu-ray drive into the PS3 video game console is part of the Japanese giant's plan in a high-stakes next-generation DVD format war that recalls the fierce Betamax-VHS battle, which Sony's Betamax lost.

This time, Sony's Blu-ray is competing against a rival Toshiba Corp.-backed format known as HD-DVD.

Sony said Blu-ray is part of its long term plan to position its machine as a home entertainment hub, but some experts say the strategy may be backfiring.

Yankee Group analyst Michael Goodman said that while die-hard gamers will buy the PS3 at any cost early on, buyers who come to the product later will be more price-sensitive.

"Blu-ray is adding US$150 to US$200 to the product. They've created something that is not for today's market. It's not a market driver, it's only driving the price higher," he said.

Cymfony, which culls trends from posts on Internet sites, reported that positive discussions about HD-DVD were 46 percent higher than Blu-ray in a survey of almost 18,000 posts on blogs, discussion boards and consumer review sites from October 1 to November 30.

"Negative Blu-ray conversation indicated a lack of consumer trust in Sony, as well as gamer displeasure with selling Blu-ray in association with PlayStation 3," said Jim Nail, a spokesman for Cymfony, which culls trends from posts on social media sites

Hollywood and electronics makers are hoping high-definition DVDs, with better picture quality and interactive features, will reignite the slowing market for DVD sales. But the format war, technical issues and the advent of digital video-on-demand services are creating hurdles for the new DVDs and players.

Andy Parsons, a spokesman for the Blu-ray Disc Association, called the launch of the PS3 a "turning point" for the format.

"Blu-ray's here to stay. The likelihood of people using PS3s as DVD players is significant, particularly when you're talking about millions of consoles Sony expects to sell," he said.

There is a good precedent for Blu-ray -- Sony's PlayStation 2, currently the dominant game console with more than 106 million sold, helped push the standard DVD format. The PS2 came to market in 2000, about three years after the DVD was first launched.

"We think the same will happen with the PS3 and Blu-ray," Parsons said.

In the gaming console war this holiday season, Sony's PS3, priced at around US$600, faces two main competitors in Microsoft's Xbox 360 at around US$400 and Nintendo's Wii for about US$250.

Microsoft recently added an optional HD-DVD player and began offering full-length film and TV downloads in high-definition via its Xbox Live online gaming service.

Mark Knox, a spokesman for the HD-DVD consortium, said offering HD-DVD as an add-on was an important distinction.

"We know that every HD-DVD drive being sold to Xbox users is being used to watch films. They're not being forced to buy it," he said. "Every PS3 includes a Blu-ray drive, but that doesn't mean every gamer wants to watch a movie on PS3."

John Davison, editorial director of 1Up Network, a gaming network with 13 million monthly unique visitors, said most gamers are not interested in viewing films on the PS3.

"PS3 will live and die by the games it plays. The fact it's a DVD player is a bonus, but not why people bought it," he said.

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Sue Zeidler

Computerworld
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