From the side-lines, it’s been hard to fathom what Sony is up to. In fact, it’s easier to explain their actions as a lack of strategy rather than a grand plan. But, for the sake of argument, let’s assume they’ve got one.
Kate sent me a link to an article at The Age about James Gosling, who was touring around Australia recently. He’s an interesting guy, and I actually got to meet him. I also heard him speak at Sun Tech Day at the start of March, where he voiced an interesting thought: that players for Blu-ray Discs (got to have the hyphen) could make excellent TV set-top boxes.
The recent version of the Blu-ray specification (called Profile 2.0, also known as BD-Live) requires that the player has an Ethernet port, the ability to connect to the Internet, and 1GB of local storage. It’s intended for newer content to be pulled off the web to supplement the disc, rather having to rely on what’s stored on the disc. However, there’s nothing really to stop it from pulling all the content from the web, and having nothing on the disc. The disc could be a bit like the BBC iPlayer, and enable you to watch any movies or TV programs you like without having to insert a new disc.
And now that Sony’s won the HD-DVD vs Blu-ray war, we’re all going to eventually get Blu-ray players to make use of the High Definition TV screens we’re all buying. But what makes this different from all the other Sony boxes that you’ve ever bought, is that you may never need to replace any of your media.
Basically, every time Sony’s come up with a new format, they’ve needed to take one of two approaches: provide backwards compatibility with previous formats, or get people to buy all new stuff that conforms to the new format. The PlayStation is a great example of them following the former strategy – the PS2 and PS3 have been backwardly compatible, allowing people to keep old games. However, most of the time, Sony follows the latter strategy. Do you remember any of these..
- Betamax, introduced by Sony in the mid 1970s – long dead
- Compact Disc (CD), introduced by Sony and Philips in the early 1980s – terminal illness
- Digital Audio Tape (DAT), introduced by Sony in the mid 1980s – now dead
- MiniDisc (MD), introduced by Sony in the early 1990s – close to death
- Memory Stick, introduced by Sony in the late 1990s – over the hill
- Universal Media Disc (UMD), introduced by Sony in the mid 2000s – sad and lonely
You will note that none of those technologies was backwards compatible. With Blu-Ray, Sony has changed the game, and can potentially avoid the need to provide backwards compatibility – by delivering content from the Internet rather than on physical media.
The need to get people to purchase new media every time, meant that Sony could really only rely on selling a new box to play the media every 10-15 years or so, since there was such (understandable) resistance in replacing collections of music and movies. Without this limitation, Sony can continue to innovate with formats, adding new audio and video technologies which need new boxes to play, but without requiring customers to buy new media – since the content will be delivered from the Net. They will be able to sell people new boxes every 2-5 years, and stay ahead of the cheaper boxes coming out of China which will not have the latest features.
Or maybe this is all dreaming on my part, and Sony has no such plan at all.