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Microsoft CEO’s Blu-ray Comments Open To Interpretation [Updated]

by Jeff Cork on Oct 22, 2009 at 03:40 AM

Tech site Gizmodo recently sat down for an interview with Microsoft’s always entertaining CEO Steve Ballmer, and one of his statements has left the online world in a tizzy. When asked if Microsoft had plans to expand on the 360’s media strategy by including Blu-ray capabilities, Ballmer responded with the following:

“Well, I don’t know that we need to put Blu-ray in there. You’ll be able to get Blu-ray drives, you can get Blu-ray drives as accessories. I think probably the future of movies is mostly on demand, actually, as opposed to via distribution on physical media. So we’re just going to keep driving forward and try to make it the best entertainment—overall entertainment, not just gaming—but overall entertainment experience we can.”
As you might imagine, the slightest insinuation that Microsoft could be supporting Sony’s HD media format is kind of a big deal. Microsoft backed the failed Blu-ray rival in the early days of the Xbox 360’s life, offering a $200 external HD-DVD drive accessory.

Gizmodo followed up with Microsoft for clarification, getting the following official response: “Our immediate solution for Blu-ray-quality video on an Xbox 360 is coming this fall with Zune Video and 1080p instant-on HD streaming. As far as our future plans are concerned, we're not ready to comment.”

That kind of denial is a given, especially with on-demand video and the Zune marketplace being such a large component of the upcoming Xbox 360 update. Even if a Blu-ray plan was in the works, it would be silly to expect Microsoft to reveal it in such a shabby way. That leaves a few possibilities.

1)    Ballmer was right! A Blu-ray accessory is coming!
Call it a PR mistake or a slip of the tongue, but Ballmer accidently revealed his company’s plans during the interview. Microsoft will be releasing some kind of Blu-ray accessory, most likely something similar to its external HD-DVD drive.

Or

2)    Hold on a second. This doesn’t make any sense.
Why would Ballmer reveal a new accessory—one with all of its associated manufacturing, marketing and distribution costs—only to deflate such a move immediately after by essentially saying that physical movies are a dying model? It’s critical to carefully listen to what he says. “You’ll be able to get Blu-ray drives, you can get Blu-ray drives as accessories.” The second part of his statement comes so quickly that it’s obvious that he was just trying to rephrase a statement to be clearer. It wasn’t an accidental reveal of a new accessory, mind you, but an error in speech. Yes, you can buy Blu-ray drives as accessories for your home theater setup. Not as accessories for your Xbox 360, but for your home theater setup.

It’s certainly tantalizing to think about Microsoft crawling back to a format that beat it out, but it’s equally unlikely. Of course, if something crazy does happen and Microsoft decides there’s room to bring out something this big just as it’s rolling out Natal, we’ll let you know.

Update: Microsoft has clarified its statement to Gizmodo, saying, "Steve was referring to Blu-ray accessories for the PC. As we have said in the past, we have no plans to introduce a Blu-ray drive for the Xbox 360. In fact, the future of home entertainment starts this fall when Xbox 360 becomes the first and only console to offer instant-on 1080p streaming HD movies. With a library of thousands of TV shows and movies to choose from, Xbox 360 owners can instantly watch the movies they want, when they want, in the highest form of high definition."