Xbox 360 Finally Getting Blu-ray Peripheral Support?

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Steve Ballmer says the Xbox 360 probably won't get an internal Blu-ray drive, but as for an external one?

It's on.

In a sit down with Gizmodo, the outspoken Microsoft CEO answered a question about Blu-ray's presence in the Xbox 360's assemblage of accessories:

"Well I don't know if we need to put Blu-ray in there," said Ballmer, predictably, then not so predictably adding "You'll be able to get Blu-ray drives as accessories."

Proper skeptics they are, Gizmodo pushed for clarification, to which Ballmer responded:

Our immediate solution for Blu-ray-quality video on an Xbox 360 is coming this fall with Zune Video and 1080p instant-on HD streaming. As far as our future plans are concerned, we're not ready to comment.

So no further comment about "You'll be able to get Blu-ray drives as accessories," but effective confirmation--without backpedalling or obfuscation--that it'll happen at some point.

Microsoft's wouldn't have to move the heavens and earth to shoehorn Blu-ray peripheral support into its Xbox 360 games console. There'd be the question of first- versus third-party peripheral licensing to deal with, of course, i.e. do you craft a generic driver for multiple third-party peripherals, or scoop up all the profits with a first-party "official product" lock? There's the license fee to consider, i.e. paying the enemy to use its formerly competing technology (that'd be a bitter pill, to be sure). And then you have the playback software to consider: Would it fold into Microsoft's existing media playback wrapper? Or land its own application?

External USB Blu-ray playback drives already exist, of course. Cheap ones, too, judging from a cursory scan of Amazon 'Blu-ray usb' items, several of which price in the $100 range.

Of course the real question is whether anyone cares about Blu-ray support at this point. Videophiles (present company included) probably do. The format's still worlds better looking than "on-demand" video--1080p or otherwise--with its superior sample rates. And there's the "extras" aspect to consider, e.g. commentary tracks, deleted scenes, and making-of supplementals, something on-demand video doesn't offer...yet.

But the rest of you? Answer this: Does on-demand video sound seductive? To watch what you want whenever you want to? No longer filling shelves with dozens of crowding plastic cases? And--if the industry gets this next bit right and moves in the direction I expect it to--the option to upgrade to higher-quality versions when they're available without paying full price all over again?

Then Blu-ray as a video-playback solution probably isn't for you. It's a standard slightly ahead of its time in a medium that's quickly falling behind the times. Offering it as an option for Xbox 360 owners would be a friendly wave across the room to a handful of video elitists, but I don't see it becoming the sort of dealmaker it might have been, had it emerged two years ago.

UPDATE: Microsoft's Larry "Major Nelson" Hryb has responded to the Gizmodo story by stating "We have no plans for Blu-Ray on Xbox 360."

During an interview yesterday, Steve Ballmer was asked about Blu-Ray and the Xbox 360. I wanted to clear something up. Steve was referring to Blu-Ray accessories for the PC. As we have said in the past, we have no plans to introduce a Blu-Ray drive for the Xbox 360. In fact, the future of home entertainment starts very soon when Xbox 360 becomes the first and only console to offer instant-on 1080p streaming HD movies. With a library of thousands of TV shows and movies to choose from, Xbox 360 owners can instantly watch the movies they want, when they want, in the highest form of high definition.

An odd way to parse Ballmer's comment, surely, though I'd take Hryb at his word on this. He's not right about 1080p being "the highest form of high definition" however. That's still Blu-ray, consumer-grade. Resolution is only part of the HD picture, and Microsoft still has to compress the heck out of the video stream to make it "instantaneous," much less watchable by videophile standards.

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