Monday, July 03, 2006


Good grief, I can't believe I didn't think of this sooner.

I've been missing something obviously about Sony. Staggeringly obvious.

Take a look at the admittedly incomplete list of proprietary devices or formats that Sony has introduced in the last fifteen years or so.

Mini-Disc (1991)--custom disc format, and used ATRAC audio compression, which is proprietary.
Sony Dynamic Digital Sound (1993)--a competitor to the Dolby Digital 5.1 standard.
Multi-Media Compact Disc (1994)--Sony's proprietary format for high-density optical storage, developed in conjunction with Phillips. Negotiations merged this format and Toshiba's Super Density disc format into what would become DVD.
Music Clip (1999)--Sony's first digital player, used ATRAC audio compression.
HiFD (1998)--a competitor to Iomega's Zip drive.
Memory Stick (1998)--proprietary memory device as a competitor to SD and Flash memory.
Super Audio CD (1999)--an optical disc format with higher fidelity than the CD.
PSP (2004)--Uses Universal Media Disc (UMD) media, a proprietary media format.

It's not really accurate to say that Sony's MMCD failed, because they (correctly) negotiated to avoid a format war. With all the rest, though, at least in the U.S, it's a long string of failed attempts to establish new formats. All right, the PSP isn't a failure, but using UMD's as a new format for movies has definitely failed.

To the best of my knowledge, the last time Sony introduced a format that became the de facto industry standard was the 3.5" diskette--in 1983.

So if you wanted to look at one Sony product area that has been overwhelmingly successful, what would it be? Playstation, of course. Playstation has been overwhelmingly successful. And both the original Playstation and the PS2 have one important feature in common: a non-proprietary disc format.

Think this is just a coincidence? I don't. Sony has been trying to strong-arm formats down our throat for a long time. And in the U.S., at least, they've failed miserably for almost twenty-five years.

Oh, and one other little thing. If you look at the products in that list, they were all more expensive than the competition. More expensive and using a new format that was proprietary to Sony.

Here's the thing: when you're in a format war, and your hardware is, without exception, more expensive, then the odds are very high that you are going to lose. That doesn't mean that the other format won't lose as well (just look at SACD and DVD-A for an example), but that is small satisfaction.

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