And the winnaah is… Blu-ray!
Where does BD’s victory leave Microsoft, which after all has been pushing the now-failed HD DVD format on its Xbox 360 platform as a low-cost add-on drive? It isn’t clear how successful take-up of this add-on has actually been, and I suspect that not many people use it for playing back HD DVD discs (I read that there are some disc compatibility issues with HD DVD-authored movies). But none of that matters now. What does matter is whether Microsoft buckles and plumps for BD support on the Xbox? I’m not sure it’s in any rush, as after all its operating systems have historically been very slow to support new optical disc formats: Windows XP – which is still in use all over the place – has native support for CD burning but not for DVD, while Vista brings DVD-burning to the table but has no idea about anything bigger, whether it be HD DVD or BD. Don’t expect any in-OS support for these formats until at least the next version of Windows, and who knows, maybe not even then if Microsoft is still in a huff about HD DVD…
There’s no question we need BD support on the desktop for high-definition video work, but the tool of choice in that domain is Final Cut Studio running on a Mac. Apple hasn’t yet announced BD support, though it is part of the Blu-ray Disc Association. Maybe the arrival of this new LG drive is going to spur the firm to bring something to market, although making a laptop-sized, ultra-thin BD burner is going to present quite a challenge!
All this talk about BD leads me to another topic – Sony’s PlayStation 3. In defiance of my initial scepticism, Sony is doing an outstanding job driving this platform forward, releasing regular feature-enhancing new versions of the operating system, and games developers are definitely getting to grips with its unusually parallel hardware architecture and implementation.
Given my love of high-end sports cars, I keep an eye on the simulator games that are available, and the new Gran Turismo 5 Prologue has knocked me sideways. Playing into a large high-definition television set with surround sound, picture quality is absolutely astonishing and knocks anything I’ve ever seen on a PC into a cocked hat. It seems to me that we’ve finally hit that tipping point where the suitability of the PC as a high-end gaming platform has been pitched well and truly into the dumpster. The limited implementation of real 3D in Vista hasn’t helped, especially given the weak base Intel chipset implementations that have prevailed across the board so far. I know the chipset vendors are pushing forward with dual-slot SLI, and even quad-processor stuff, but to what end? Costs are shooting through the roof, and I’d question whether the game video quality significantly betters that of a PS3, especially when the price/performance ratio is taken into account.
And once you start to consider the ongoing graphics card driver nightmare that any sort of high-end gaming plunges you into nowadays, I simply can’t see the point any more. GT5P draws a line in the sand that says “Game Over” for high-end PC gaming: it was fun, but it’s time to move on.
OOXML and ISO
To no-one’s great surprise, Microsoft has at last managed to shoe-horn its OOXML file formats through the ISO standardisation process. I’ll confess that I’m far from shocked at the outcome and, to be honest, I’m really not that surprised by Microsoft’s position and tactics, either – it’s all about business to Redmond, and if that means tying the ISO into knots then so be it. It’s clear that ISO has come out of this badly, too, as it should have had more effective means to control the more obvious trolling. It’s reported that one country’s panel voted 80% or so against the OOXML specification, but that the national committee overrode them and voted “yes”. If that’s true, then questions need to be asked of ISO about how it runs its affairs.