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The case of the missing Xbox 360 Blu-ray player

With the arrival of the new Xbox 360 Slim for $299, Sony and Microsoft's gaming consoles look a lot alike in terms of specs--except the PS3 Slim has a Blu-ray player and the new 360 doesn't.

The new XBox 360 sticks with a DVD drive. Microsoft

When Microsoft unveiled its new Xbox 360 at E3 on Monday, not many people were expecting the company to include a Blu-ray player, and we didn't get it. However, when you look at the specs and $299 pricing for both consoles, the most obvious omission--and the thing that seems to separate the two systems--is that Blu-ray player.

Yes, you can nitpick about things like the PS3's free online play vs. the Xbox 360's $50 yearly fee for Xbox Live Gold (360 fans like to say you get what you pay for) and which industrial design is superior (I would argue PS3 holds the edge there). The fact is that now that Microsoft's added built-in Wi-Fi (802.11n) and quieted down the system by redesigning the fans and moving to a 45nm chipset that runs less hot, the core specs and performance are very similar. (Get a full rundown of the new Xbox 360 here).

But why no Blu-ray player?

Let's start with the obvious. It adds cost to the system. And just as importantly, it doesn't appear as if Xbox 360 gamers have been clamoring for a Blu-ray player, even if the company keeps talking about the 360 as an "entertainment hub." Also, while a few games like Metal Gear Solid 4 and Final Fantasy XIII took advantage of Blu-ray's expanded capacity (to the amusement of PS3 fans, the Xbox 360 version of Final Fantasy came on three discs), by and large today's games can live just fine on a single DVD.

Occasionally, we hear rumblings about a potential step-up model with a Blu-ray player for say $50 or $100 more, but it never materializes--mainly, I assume, because the pricing makes Microsoft look bad. An external option, like Microsoft once had with its Xbox 360 HD DVD drive, doesn't work either because it's simply an ungainly solution to a problem Microsoft doesn't want to acknowledge.

Speaking of HD DVD, perhaps Microsoft has some sort of weird psychological block when it comes to including a technology that it once bitterly opposed (and lost a lot of money promoting)? Probably not. Even Toshiba, the main force behind HD DVD, serves up Blu-ray players these days.

So, why, Microsoft, why no Blu-ray player?

Well, aside from the aforementioned costs issues, I'd say Microsoft simply believes, like a lot of other people, that movies should not come on optical discs anymore. And instead of licensing technology from Sony, its archrival--at least when it comes to gaming--it would prefer to have you rent or buy digital versions of movies via Xbox Live.

That's all well and good, but for those of us who rent our Blu-rays from Netflix, the only choice is the PS3--or the Xbox 360 and a standalone Blu-ray player.

Perfection, I guess, is elusive.

What do you guys think? Do you care whether the new Xbox 360 "Slim" has a Blu-ray player?