Oh Microsoft. What were you thinking? When people point to Microsoft’s biggest folly of the last hardware generation, they’ll normally suggest either the Red Ring Of Death pandemic or an unhealthy obsession with Kinect. Both of those have been problems for Microsoft, sure, and I’m sure we’ll get to covering both of them in our “Last-Gen Zeroes” feature, but I don’t think they’ve been as big a failure as the ill-fated – and now all-but-forgotten – HD-DVD drive.
See, Microsoft shrugged off the RROD problem. It fessed up, paid up and moved on, and having only just been unseated from a dominance of US hardware charts that dates back over two years, it doesn’t seem to have ultimately affect their overall sales or market standing. Much.
And Kinect, well… that’s still a work-in-progress. We’ll see in a few years whether an improved Kinect with the Xbox One was worth the distraction of the Xbox 360’s inept attempt.
But the HD-DVD drive was a disaster. A complete and utter failure in every sense of the word.
Conceived at a time when the world was still unsure which company/format was going to become the standard for next-gen high-definition video content, it was a feeble attempt at matching Sony’s ability to pack a Blu-Ray player in with every PS3 sold.
Remember, this is how these companies used to behave. Tit for tat, eye for eye. Thankfully, they’ve settled down now, but if the consoles of 2013 were launching with 2005’s mindset, you can bet that if one machine supported YouTube, the other would have supported Vimeo.
The HD-DVD drive didn’t ship at launch; in fact it was released over a year after Xbox 360s first hit shelves, in November 2006. And it was doomed from the start.
For one, the PS3’s Blu-Ray capabilities were baked-in. You bought a PS3, you got a Blu-Ray player, and it was the same thing you played your games on.
The HD-DVD drive, on the other hand, was messy. It was an external drive you had to plug into the Xbox 360. It was sold separately. You couldn’t play Xbox 360 games on the thing.
And that’s assuming you’d even want to. Studio support for the HD-DVD format was never as strong as it was for Blu-Ray, and shortly after the HD-DVD drive released, things only got worse.
Whenever the drive is remembered these days, you’ll probably hear someone joke about how they’ve still got their copy of King Kong. That’s because it was about the only movie anyone ever owned for the thing.
By February 2008, it was done for. Sales had been dreadful, and Blu-Ray had emerged the clear winner in the format wars. A few days after HD-DVD’s creator Toshiba had killed off their own support, Microsoft announced the end of production for their own drive. They dropped the price to $US50, mostly so collectors with sense of humour could snatch one up and say in five years’ time “Hey, I’ve still got my HD-DVD drive, and a copy of King Kong”.
It may not have cost Microsoft as much money as the RROD, but in terms of the scale and completeness of its failure, the HD-DVD drive was I think the company’s biggest blunder of the last generation. I mean, it was just so…humiliating.
Microsoft didn’t have to make the thing at all. It didn’t impact the playing of games one bit. But in an effort to compete with Sony in terms of multimedia, it invested time, money and marketing to draw a line in the sand. A line Sony kicked it right back over.
Perhaps the most telling sign of its failure was that it was killed so soon in the hardware generation that it’s been over five years since it was discontinued, a long enough time for people to forget it ever existed. Surely the only fate worse than a failure everyone remembers is one so ignominious and inconsequential that they don’t remember it at all.
Last-Gen Heroes is Kotaku’s look back at the seventh generation of console gaming. In the weeks leading up to the launch of the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One, we’ll be celebrating the Heroes — and the Zeroes — of the last eight years of console video gaming.