High-Def Game Wars Begin

In the wake of the nearly simultaneous introductions of Sony's Blu-ray capable PlayStation3 and the HD DVD external drive for the Xbox 360, some answers are already coming in on the impact these gaming consoles are going to have on the format war as a whole. And so far, aside from radically altering the install base of hardware for both formats, the gaming rigs are playing a big role in moving HD software off the shelves too.

While Sony was to have allotted 400,000 PS3s for the US in its initial debut, reports are coming in that as many as 200,000 and as few as 150,000 PS3s actually went out to retailers. Of course, they went on sale at midnight on November 17th, and were sold out within minutes, resulting in the Ebay bidding wars we've had so much fun hearing about.

Sony is claiming it will still meet its target and get a million PS3 units in the US by the end of year, but even this initial run has likely put Blu-ray in the lead for installed hardware base and also helped to make X-Men: The Last Stand Blu-ray's top selling title in only a week's time.

As of CEDIA 2006 in September, Toshiba was claiming an install base of 30,000 HD DVD players. And given that Toshiba has announced two new HD DVD players that aren't yet released the estimates I've read of 35,000-40,000 stand alone HD DVD players in the US sounds about right, although this is admittedly speculative. A recent Video Business article quoted an industry source claiming that Microsoft has already sold 100,000 of the $199 HD DVD external drives for the Xbox 360. This is a totally believable number given that estimated Xbox 360 penetration is claimed to be over six million.

Still, when you add up those numbers and throw in at least a few thousand units for Samsung's BD-P1000 Blu-ray player, Blu-ray is already in the lead with hundreds of thousands of PS3s on the way and consumers apparently willing to commit acts of violence in order to get their hands on them. PS3 units shipped and units sold are probably 1:1 until further notice. Blu-ray's hardware lead can expect to grow by leaps and bounds with every shipment of PS3 for the foreseeable future, and stand alone players from Sony and Pioneer are scheduled to go on sale within the next two weeks. PS3 already made a big winner out of X-Men: The Last Stand, which went on sale the same week as PS3. Look for BD software sales to continue to grow as a result.

Nevertheless, overlooking HD DVD isn't something I'd do just yet. Aside from the fact that the releases on the format have been remarkably consistent in offering spectacular quality HD picture and sound, software sales have been strong in spite of the relatively small player install base. As of November 10, 1.5 million HD DVDs had shipped to retailers, and with titles already announced 150 HD DVD titles will be available by year's end. In other words, people with HD DVD players are buying a lot of HD DVDs, and the player install base just grew three-fold based on sales of the add-on drive for the Xbox 360.

Convergence of PCs and home theater is something that hasn't been embraced by the public. But game consoles and HD-based home theater is starting to look like a real marriage.