The ability for the PlayStation 3 to play Blu-ray movies out of the box has been one of the system's strongest selling points in the next-gen console war.
But what if Microsoft started including HD DVD drives in the Xbox 360? Would that be enough to tilt the scale permanently?
According to SmartHouse, a new Xbox model is in the works to debut in late 2008 or 2009. This new system will include an HD DVD drive built in, a larger hard drive in addition to "extensive wireless networking capability."
The new system will allegedly be undertaken as a joint venture by Microsoft and Toshiba, hinting towards the possibility of multiple SKUs, with expansion being a key selling point. This leaves room wide open for more multiple SKU confusion.
A new partnership between Microsoft and Toshiba to start including HD DVD drives in future Xbox consoles could quite possibly mean devastating results for both Blu-ray and the PS3. HD DVD has a higher attach rate per player than Blu-ray, so if a new, HD DVD ready Xbox system releases, HD DVD sales could skyrocket.
This could, however, be a good thing for Blu-ray as well, because many single format high definition owners tend to go format neutral to enjoy exclusives on both sides of the war, potentially helping BD sales as well. Granted, this wouldn't be a large number, but it certainly narrows the gap.
Ultimately, it will come down to pricing and marketing. A new, high end 360 SKU would open up a perfect opportunity for Sony to market a price drop or reaffirm its commitment to Blu-ray. If Microsoft does indeed plan to include wireless connectivity and a high definition drive in it's system, it is certainly going to release at a price point close to, or above that of the PlayStation 3.
Also, with built in HD DVD, it would be only a matter of time before developers began to need the disc space for games, possibly leaving early adopters behind, forcing them to purchase an add-on or get a new system. With games such as Blue Dragon, which uses three discs, already being made, there is little room for improvement on the system without utilizing a larger disc format or releasing multi-disc sets.
Microsoft has continually stated that the HD DVD drive would never be used for games, but similar promises have been broken, such as the claim that the hard drive would never be mandatory. Would Microsoft force an upgrade on all of its users? Are they prepared to take a massive loss and release this unit at a lower price point than expected? Will a move like this help Microsoft sell more HD DVDs, or defect its fans to the PS3, which has supported a high def media format all along? Only time will tell.
For now, this is just rumor and speculation, be sure to check back for any and all updates, as well as the latest on the next-gen wars.