HD-DVD explodes on the launchpad

Its all very well being in a race to the moon, but once the other guy's got there... and that's what's happened to HD-DVD.

Its all very well being in a race to the moon, but once the other guy's got there... and that's what's happened to HD-DVD. The sales figures show that while HD-DVD was talking a good fight, Blu-Ray was not only in orbit but landed. Total HD-DVD sales worldwide, including the XBox 360 optional drive, were around a million. Today, Sony said that it had hit 10.3 million PS/3 sales.

There may be ways back from a 10:1 ratio, but not this time. Without a working launch vehicle, Toshiba had no answer. Savage price cuts and bundling deals - Amazon was selling hundred quid HD-DVD players with seven discs - just made the format look desperate. Consumers can smell that. So can retailers. And the studios? Even Hollywood understands 10:1.

And so, Toshiba found itself in the unenviable position of the Soviet space programme, with the smouldering wreckage of its N1 rocket still on the launchpad while Apollo astronauts played golf on the Moon. You can pretend for so long, but eventually you have to admit to yourself that there are better things to be getting on with.

As for Sony, it gambled big and won. Not for the first time, the company stuck to its guns in the face of severe criticism and got through. The parallels with the original PS/2 are strong; that had a DVD drive in the days when DVD was rare and had an uncertain future (video CD was still a contender back then), and that cost Sony plenty yen. Adjusted for inflation, the costs were comparable with those for the PS/3.

Toshiba couldn't make that gamble, and while its partner Microsoft could have done it chose not to (although that may have been a blessing in disguise).

One final thought: Apollo was a huge victory at the time. But it was also a giant dead end. The race to the moon consumed everything, including alternative ideas that in retrospect would have been capable of far more flexibility and long-term development. It's not inconceivable that we'd be twenty years further along by now had Apollo never happened.

Is putting data on optical disks really the future?

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