Why the Playstation 4 won't have Blu-ray

Sony hasn't made an official statement yet, but Don Reisinger believes the Playstation 4 won't have Blu-ray. Will Sony have something to say about that?

Don Reisinger
Don Reisinger
Former CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
5 min read

One of the key components in the Playstation 3 won't be in the Playstation 4 if Sony plays its cards right. And which component is that?

Its Blu-ray drive.

I know Sony zealots will probably scoff at the very thought of Blu-ray not being included in the Playstation 4 because of their belief that so much of Sony's future is tied to Blu-ray, but I'm not willing to sip the Kool-Aid.

To me, Blu-ray is the LaserDisc of its time. It's not nearly as useful as the DVD that it's trying to supplant, and the future is coming on so quickly that it may not have the time to cement itself in the industry before HD downloads become the next big thing in the space.

To make matters worse, I simply don't see how we can categorically say that Blu-ray was such a major part of Sony's success this year with the Playstation 3. Let's be honest--is the average mainstream user who isn't tech-savvy at all, really buying a Playstation 3 to watch the same movies they have on DVD already?

But the fact that the Playstation 4 won't feature Blu-ray goes far beyond the fact that it's not as coveted in the Playstation 3 as some want to believe. In reality, it's more likely that the Playstation 4 won't have Blu-ray than you may think.

The Playstation 4 should be made available in the next three to five years. During that time, Sony will need to work on getting Blu-ray into more homes and try to supplant DVD as the leader in the media space.

But how will it do that? The main advantage DVD still enjoys is that it's mobile and ubiquitous. You can bring a DVD from your house, play it in your car en route to your buddy's place, and finish it when you get to his house. You can't do that with Blu-ray and the chances of it happening soon are slim.

It took DVD almost a decade to reach that kind of saturation, and Blu-ray simply doesn't have that much time. With companies like Apple, Amazon.com, Netflix, and others quickly moving towards a home environment that doesn't require a disc, but rather a download or streaming service, Blu-ray can't compete.

It's becoming easier and easier to stream movies from your computer to your HDTV. A Roku Netflix box means Blu-ray isn't even needed anymore, and cable companies offer VOD service for those that don't feel like popping a DVD into the player. And as broadband speeds increase, making HD downloads more relevant, Blu-ray finds itself squeezed out by the past and the future.

And all the while, Sony is left to make the decision of whether or not it wants to tie its next video game console to an irrelevant format.

But don't take my word for it. Andy Griffiths, the director of consumer electronics at Samsung UK--a strong Blu-ray supporter--told Pocket-lint earlier this month that Blu-ray would be dead in five years and forgotten in 10.

"I think it (Blu-ray) has 5 years left, I certainly wouldn't give it 10," he told Pocket-lint in an interview.

Sony has also been making waves with a new brand of Bravia HDTVs, which will work with the company's MovieLink technology, making Blu-ray and even DVD useless by streaming content directly to the HDTV without the need for a set-top box. If that doesn't make Blu-ray irrelevant, what does?

Granted, the next iteration of the Playstation will need a format to play games on and it might be easier for Sony to use Blu-ray, but I'm not so sure it has to. Microsoft has done just fine using DVDs with the Xbox 360, and game developers have shown that DVDs can still be a fine solution. Even better, DVD production will be even cheaper when the next generation rolls around, and although Blu-ray will be too, it'll undoubtedly cost more to use that format instead of DVD. And in an industry that's being dominated by high cost and diminishing returns, developers will want to save money in any way they can.

The argument is oftentimes made that DVD was experiencing the same issues Blu-ray is today and everything will turn out just fine. And while that's true on a number of levels, the argument fails to address the fact that DVD wasn't being impacted so heavily by the future the way Blu-ray is. After all, the idea of HD downloads and streaming movies to an HDTV were hopes and dreams when DVD first made a splash.

Sony learned quite a few lessons during this generation. It learned that developers really do matter and making them happy is a key component in being successful. It learned that people want a video game console first and an entertainment device second. Not the other way around. And most importantly, it learned that providing a worthwhile experience while keeping the device's price down is just as important as the games.

Can Sony truly learn from those mistakes if it hitches itself to the format that representatives from other companies say will die soon and even its own strategy suggests the same outcome?

Assuming what the analysts say is true--Sony will release a new console in three to five years and Blu-ray will be dead in five--how can the company justify putting a Blu-ray player into the Playstation 4? Does it really want to tie itself to a loser even though it spent so much money trying to make it a winner?

Given the company's financial woes in the video game space as of late, that could turn into its greatest blunder.

The technology industry is pushing Blu-ray aside as more capable offerings become available. I think Sony knows that already and will try to milk Blu-ray for as long as possible. But once the Playstation 4 is announced, the company will make its strategy known: it will forgo support for Blu-ray in the video game space and start focusing on streaming and HD downloads--the future of the industry.

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