Will Steve Jobs jump into the silly hi-def DVD format war? Some analysts — most recently AmTech’s Shaw Wu — expect Jobs to spend some of his Macworld keynote on Jan. 15 unveiling Apple’s HD entertainment strategy, including support for Sony’s Blu-ray disc format.
Why Blu-ray? Wu doesn’t offer much explanation, but notes that Apple’s good friend Disney (DIS) — where Jobs is the single largest shareholder — is in the Blu-ray camp, and that rival Microsoft (MSFT) backs the competing HD-DVD format.
Consumers haven’t really adopted either format yet. Does Apple need to? Perhaps it’d be a nice add-on option for its high-end, creative-type customers, who actually might need to read a Blu-ray disc or burn a 50-gigabyte, dual-layer disc full of movie files, hi-res photos, or whatever.
What might hold Apple (AAPL) back? Cost is one issue: An internal Blu-ray drive costs between $250 and $600 retail, depending on manufacturer and features. Apple obviously doesn’t pay anything close to that, but whatever it doesn pay, it’s much more than a conventional DVD drive, which now goes for about $30 retail. So a Blu-ray drive might make a good feature on Apple’s $2500+ Mac Pro. But it’d be hard to stomach for entry-level iMac buyers paying $1,200.
But a bigger problem: Getting in the middle of Blu-ray/HD-DVD format war is fundamentally unJobsian. Why take sides in a war that no one is winning? Even if Blu-ray does eventually win out, in the near-term, Apple customers would find themselves with expensive computers that can’t play all the movies they want. Apple is perfectly happy to play hardball with partners/competitors, but it does its best not to upset customers. Why change now?
We think that if Apple adds hi-def disc drives to their Macs at all, they’ll do what Shaw Wu describes as a less likely option: insisting on costlier — but more useful — Blu-ray/HD-DVD hybrid drives.
Update @ 4:30 p.m.: Is the format war over? Time Warner’s Warner Bros. has dropped HD-DVD support and is going exclusively Blu-ray. This could tip the format battle to Sony’s Blu-ray — making Apple’s rumoured Blu-ray tie-up more practical.
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