Blu-ray confirmed, denied for Xbox 360

[UPDATE] Microsoft backtracks on CEO Steve Ballmer's apparent confirmation of hi-def video format for console, saying reference was to PC accessories; "no plans" to bring media player to 360.

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When the HD DVD/Blu-ray war came to a sudden end in February 2008, it was quickly followed by word that Microsoft and Sony were discussing a Blu-ray drive for the Xbox 360. Now, 20 months later, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer appears to have confirmed that the Xbox 360 will be getting a Blu-ray player of some sort.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.

In a video interview with tech site Gizmodo, the outspoken executive was asked how the Xbox 360 could be the center of a modern entertainment system and not include Blu-ray. His response appeared to rule out an internal Blu-ray drive for the 360, but apparently confirmed it would be available as a peripheral much like the discontinued Xbox 360 HD DVD drive.

Speaking about the Xbox 360, Ballmer said, "Well, I don't know if we need to put Blu-ray in there. [But] you'll be able to get Blu-ray drives as accessories." He offered no further details, such as a time frame or price, and Microsoft reps declined to offer further comment on "future plans" regarding Blu-ray.

Bill Gates' successor quickly pivoted to promote the Xbox 360's ability to download high-definition video. "I think the future of movies is on demand, as opposed to…via distribution of physical media. So we're going to just strive forward and try and make [the Xbox 360] the best entertainment--overall entertainment, and not just gaming, but overall entertainment experience we can."

The next step in Microsoft's hi-def video strategy is the addition of 1080p video downloads and Zune-compatible movies as part of next month's Xbox Live update.

A Xbox 360 Blu-ray drive might look similar to the discontinued HD DVD drive for the console.
A Xbox 360 Blu-ray drive might look similar to the discontinued HD DVD drive for the console.

Though fairly unequivocal, Ballmer's comments should be taken with a grain of salt. In June, his from-the-hip comments at an investor conference--disseminated by an incomplete blog of the event--sparked a rumor firestorm that an all-new Xbox 360 would be released next year. Those rumors were subsequently shot down by director of Xbox 360 product management and Xbox Live Aaron Greenberg, who said Ballmer was speaking about the console's previously announced motion-sensing technology, Project Natal.

[UPDATE] Alas, as with Ballmer's seeming confirmation of an all-new Xbox 360 in 2010, the Microsoft executive's Blu-ray comments were off the mark. In a post to his official blog, Xbox Live director of programming Larry "Major Nelson" Hryb has clarified Ballmer's statement, saying that while Blu-ray accessories are available for Windows PCs, Microsoft has no plans to release a high-definition media player using the technology for the Xbox 360.

"During an interview yesterday, Steve Ballmer was asked about Blu-Ray and the Xbox 360," Hryb wrote. "I wanted to clear something up. 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 very soon when Xbox 360 becomes the first and only console to offer instant-on 1080p streaming HD movies."

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