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Why Toshiba needs to think beyond Blu-ray

Toshiba is reportedly planning to release a Blu-ray player by the end of 2009. But after fighting against the format for so long, shouldn't it focus its attention elsewhere?

A report has surfaced in Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun that Toshiba, one of the top backers of the HD DVD format, will be releasing a Blu-ray player before the end of 2009.

Toshiba lost with this player; why should it release a Blu-ray player? Toshiba

It's a fascinating concept. the company that spent years trying to tell the world that Blu-ray is inferior is now looking to tell those same people that it really is worthwhile. Wow.

I understand that Blu-ray is becoming more popular. I know that it's slowly, but surely, gaining market share in the disc market. But it's not the only way to bring entertainment to the masses.

The vexed consumer
Tech companies have nothing unless the consumer base trusts them. Whether it's faulty products that break that trust or poor business practices, once it's broken, it could lead to financial ruin. That's precisely why I don't see why Toshiba would want to release a Blu-ray player.

During the war between HD DVD and Blu-ray, Toshiba did all it could to highlight issues with the competing format. It explained why its format was better. And it did everything it could to make Blu-ray look less desirable.

Even after the war was over, Toshiba didn't stop with the Blu-ray bashing. In an interview with TechRadar last year, Toshiba's deputy general manager of HD DVD, Olivier Van Wynendaele, said his company "wouldn't change anything that it did" with its HD DVD strategy.

But it gets better. Van Wynendaele went on to say that HD DVD is "a finished standard, unlike Blu-ray." And in the end, even though Blu-ray won the format war against HD DVD, Toshiba's format was still "better than Blu-ray."

Speaking in an interview with The Wall Street Journal in 2008, Toshiba CEO Atsutoshi Nishida told the newspaper that his company had no intention of releasing a Blu-ray player. He even said Toshiba's upconverting DVD players would match HD technology.

"What people don't realize is that Hollywood studios are going to release new titles not just for Blu-ray but for standard DVDs as well, and there are a far greater number of current-generation DVD players out there," Nishida told the Journal. "If you watch standard DVDs on our players, the images are of very high quality because they include an 'upconverting' feature. And we're going to improve this even more, so that consumers won't be able to tell the difference from HD DVD images. The players would be much cheaper than Blu-ray players too. Next-generation DVD players are in a much weaker position than when standard DVD players were first introduced."

And yet, that "next-generation" player (a generalization that presumably includes Blu-ray) is exactly what Toshiba plans to release later this year.

Go elsewhere
But why? Since releasing a Blu-ray player is a suspect business decision, given its history of talking it down, wouldn't it make more sense for Toshiba to follow a different route?

Streaming media and downloadable content are quickly becoming a viable alternative to disc-based entertainment. Luckily, it seems Toshiba realizes that.

Toshiba offered a TiVo device back in 2004. It's currently not on sale.

In recent months, it has focused more on the set-top box space. Toshiba announced at the Consumer Electronics Show this past January that it plans to release a set-top box with Widget Channel technology. It's also looking toward a Japanese release of a set-top box that will allow users to record up to six HD shows at once.

Even Toshiba's DVD recorders with built-in tuners show that the company understands the market. So I don't see why Toshiba wouldn't shift more of its focus to supporting streaming content.

For example, Toshiba sells HDTVs; it should add streaming content as an added service in all its sets. LG, one of Toshiba's top competitors, is following that path.

It seems to me that Toshiba is coming to the Blu-ray market out of necessity. It's the last major electronics manufacturer to hold out on Blu-ray. And as the Blu-ray market continues to grow, it might see it as an opportunity to make a little something as it jumps on the bandwagon.

I get that. But I still think that there are better opportunities for the company to set the pace, rather than follow the leaders. It's indisputable that the future is in streaming and downloadable content. Each week, more companies are finding ways to bundle that idea with their products.

Toshiba obviously realizes that. But to capitalize on it, it should focus even more of its attention there. By doing so, it can ensure that it's on the cutting edge. More importantly, it would help the company maintain trust with consumers who will be confused by its decision to release a Blu-ray player, even though it has said in the past that it's not the format to buy.

Toshiba is testing the waters of streaming content, but to be successful, it might be best if it jumps right in.

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