Tech Check

Toshiba Feeling the Blu's; Apple Next?


That cool wind blowing through hell? That'd be Toshiba's confirmation over the weekend that it would be building Blu-ray, next-generation DVD players before the end of the year. Tantamount to an Apple spokesman announcing that the Windows platform has somehow become "compelling."

So you gotta figure, if a stalwart like Toshiba is ready to acknowledge the enormous business potential of this technology, can Apple necessarily be far behind? (Blu-ray, not Windows!)

True the two companies would be coming at this transition from decidedly different positions in the market: Toshiba, the ardent, vocal backer, along with Microsoft and Panasonic, of the competing HD-DVD technology about a year and a half ago as the market struggled to adopt an industry standard now jumping ship to compete in consumer electronics; Apple mulling such a move as a concession to convenience for the Mac faithful who haven't gone the streaming and download route, yet.

DVD standards can be a messy business. The Blu-ray/HD-DVD war got seriously nasty. As an aside, I would tread lightly on the topic because any time I posted something about HD-DVD and Blu-ray it would unleash a torrent of invectives from one side or the other. It didn't last long though. Because of key studio adoptions of Blu-ray, the market hoisted Sony to victory, and Toshiba was left to slink off into the jungle, a beaten warrior whose glory days suddenly passed it by. HD-DVD essentially died at the beginning of last year.

Now there's word that Toshiba's can't-beat-'em-join-'em approach to Blu-ray will lead to a new group of products by year end with the pressure on the company not to enter the market, late as it is, with simply a me-too Blu-ray player.

Blu-ray continues to soar in the marketplace thanks to the ongoing HDTV upgrade cycle, even in an economy like this one.

Which leads me to Apple. Steve Jobs has characterized Blu-ray as a "bag of hurt" when it comes to adopting and licensing the technology into Macs or even Apple TV. Jobs envisions a world where media lives in the ether, where everything is "accessed," or "downloaded," or "streamed" and there simply is no need for physical DVDs or CDs. Which may indeed be true. But mass adoption of that brave new world may still be a few years away and in the meantime,

Apple might be well served to include a Blu-ray player in new MacBooks. I get the argument for not doing it; but I embrace the argument for doing it much more quickly.

Consider: My home is Blu-ray, my Mac isn't. When I go to Netflix , I have to rent two different versions of the same movie if I want to watch one at home, and one on my laptop. Yeah, I could get AppleTV and stream hi-def content from iTunes, or downloaded rented HD movies and media to my TV but I just haven't done it yet.

I've got Blu-ray players and a Netflix account with loads of Blu-ray titles, and they serve me well.

So far.

Blu-ray is growing with consumers buying something like 3 million titles a month, double last year's pace. Blu-ray players, while still a bit pricey, are plunging in price. The market is going to a download and streaming model, but it's going to take some time.

Apple can certainly afford to bide that time by not paying the hefty Blu-ray licensing fees, but the company is betting that the great online panacea will be upon us far sooner than the marketplace seems to be suggesting.

No big deal.

Apple is certainly doing fine without it. Has done fun thus far without it. But with no less a Blu-ray competitor like Toshiba seeing the laser light, Apple might be next. Wouldn't surprise me at all. And sooner rather than later.

Questions?  Comments?