The PlayStation Meeting has come and gone, and the gaming world is left to reflect on and discuss the announcement of two new PlayStation consoles: the new slim (simply-monikered PS4) and PS4 Pro.
The slim PS4 is replacing the current model as the standard base model and doesn’t include many technical improvements over its predecessor. Instead, Sony chose to focus all of their upgrades into the PS4 Pro console, formerly known as PlayStation Neo.
PS4 Pro touts all sorts of new features: 4k upscaling, HDR support, a 1 TB hard drive, and an upgraded wi-fi card. Of everything listed, 4k was the almost exclusive focus of Sony’s reveal at their event Wednesday. Beautifully rendered textures, photorealistic scenery, and graphical fidelity unlike anyone has seen in the console space dominated the conversation. All-in-all, Sony seemed poised to foray console gaming at least somewhat into the 4k future.
However, something was missing.
Not long after the PlayStation Meeting wrapped up, and outlets set off to find out every possible detail for the new hardware, reports started to arise that the PS4 Pro was missing something most would have just assumed was a part of the system: a UHD Blu-ray player.
It seemed all-too-obvious that Sony would include a means to play the physical media that is capable of producing a 4k picture. Yet, here it is, no UHD Blu-ray support.
There are any number of reasons for such an exclusion. The main reason, however, being the final cost of the product. It was no secret moving into the reveal event that the market had its eyes fixed firmly on how much the PS4 Pro would cost. Especially with words like “premium product,” being thrown around for the PS4 Pro’s closest equivalent, the Xbox Scorpio, Sony had to get the cost of this system right. The difference between a $449 price tag and a $399 may very well have been found in the decision to not include the UHD Blu-ray player.
Looking at the Xbox One S’s cost of production and drawing some conclusions about the prices Sony could have obtained for the UHD Blu-ray player, it appears as though Sony saved, at most, $15 per unit by choosing to forego the disc drive upgrade.
PlayStation has found success in the past by making tough financial decisions. In fact, the reason we are even able to have this conversation about UHD Blu-ray players is because Sony made the decision to include the original Blu-ray player into the PlayStation 3. In the short-term, the decision resulted in Sony losing over $300 on every Ps3 sold when it launched. However, in the long-term, it meant that Sony would ultimately squash Toshiba and NEC’s HD-DVD by flooding the market with its own peripheral.
In 2016, Sony — as an entire company — has a much different financial outlook. Nearly all of their divisions outside of PlayStation are operating either in the red or with a negligible profit, and now doesn’t seem the time for Sony to take huge financial risks with its only money-making division. Releasing the PS4 Pro at the same price that the original PS4 entered the market 3 years ago is, without a doubt, the most attractive way to incentivize current PS4 owners to upgrade and entice new users to adopt the higher-end models.
But to achieve that price point by excluding what many took to be an obvious addition seems like a detrimental decision.
Outlet, after outlet, after outlet took to reporting on the news. The reaction to that news was exclusively negative and with good reason. Without the ability to watch movies and television shows in 4k via a disc, users will be left to do their premium viewing via streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu. An option that, according to a study done in late 2015, is not possible for 80% of Americans! These stats only take into account a users bandwidth and do not take into account the ever-growing number of consumers who are faced with ISP data caps.
For a company that fought so fervently for physical media during the launch of the PS4 3 years ago, the abandonment of disc-based media in favor of the digital option that only 20% of the country has access to seems strange.
Sure, it may be future-proofing for Sony, but a company can only move so far past the current market before alienating those on whom they rely to make their product successful. It seems as though PlayStation has done a poor job navigating those waters. The decision forces the market to adapt, perhaps, quicker than it is capable. Technology may change quickly, but people do not. More importantly, ISPs do not, and the outlook for the general public’s access to reliable high-speed internet, free from data caps looks grim.
So much has to go right for a console launch to be successful, and one series of missteps can spell disaster — just ask 2006 Sony or 2013 Microsoft. No company will ever be able to deliver on 100% of the expectations, but the last thing they want to do is give people a reason to ask “Why should I even by this then?” and the competition the opportunity to exploit something you are missing.
That is exactly what Sony did on Wednesday, though.
Sony may be ready for the digital-only future to sweep the nation, but it is learning already that most people aren’t quite ready for the ride.