Sony is gearing up its marketing department behind Blu-Ray DVDs, its next-generation disc for high definition movies. Toshiba and its partners are lined up behind HD DVD, a different, incompatible format. Sony hopes that you’ll buy its Blu-Ray players and movies this year, and it’s especially hoping that you buy a PlayStation 3 next year with a Blu-Ray drive.
Should you bet that Sony technology will win? Sony’s obsession with controlling consumers and attempting to dictate industry standards has led to an unbroken line of failures. It’s a bit overwhelming to look at the record from the last ten years or so.
1) One word: Betamax.
2) The MiniDisc format for music, effectively deceased for all but a few diehards. Flash-based mp3 players beat MiniDisc players on reliability, size, weight, upgradeability, shock resistance, water resistance, speed, versatility, and compatibility. Typically MiniDisc players are more expensive, too.
3) SonicStage software, generally agreed to be one of the worst pieces of software ever. Too many Sony products require use of this steaming pile of crap – among them MiniDisc players, handheld music players, and the Sony Connect online web site. I understand that the boxes for MiniDisc players actually emit an offensive odor because SonicStage is included, but that might be apocryphal.
4) The ATRAC format for music, now effectively deceased. Sony killed any chance of entering the market for handheld music players when its first products would not play music in any format other than its ATRAC format (not mp3s, not Windows Media format), requiring use of terrible Sony software and a lengthy conversion before music could be uploaded to the portable device. (As an aside, I still find it baffling that a company would give a music format a name that sounds like “eight-track” when you say it out loud. What were they thinking?)
5) Memory sticks for portable devices and cameras, still irritating consumers worldwide. They’re more expensive and have no discernible advantage over more standard Compact Flash and SD cards.
6) The Sony Connect online music site, still running but wholly irrelevant. Sony decided to build the system around SonicStage software and its ATRAC music format and has yet to change that, despite promises.
7) Let’s not forget the Sony CD copy protection that installed a rootkit on computers worldwide, which was at least enormously embarrassing and at worst created bitter, enraged enemies who will stay away from the PlayStation in droves.
8) Most recently, it’s become obvious that the Universal Media Format disc for PSPs is another wretched failure. It was intended to be such a cool way to purchase and view movies on the Playstation Portable that sales of both would skyrocket. Instead, the studios (including Sony) have stopped releasing movies in UMD format because it’s more trouble than it’s worth.
Six months from now, when you’re standing in Costco considering a high-definition DVD player, it won’t be obvious whether the Sony player or the Toshiba player will prevail in the market. (At best, one will remain standing, and it’s possible that both will fail miserably.) Recent history leads me to think that betting on Sony is a losing proposition.