Originally Posted by AutoWobble
So how does Microsoft get away with a disc-less console?
Optical media is so much cheaper on a per gig basis compared to alternatives like flash media and SSD's that they have almost no choice but to stick with optical media. Particularly since game sizes are growing and I think we all expect things like lossless audio, 1080p native graphics, and such to be standard in the upcoming generation.
Even Nintendo, often a generation behind, is confirmed to be using a single layered disc with 25 gigs of capacity (Widely assumed to be based on Blu-Ray tech) and Sony has had higher capacity optical disc since the Playstation 3 launched. And multiple disc releases on the 360 have been growing in number and MS even modified their disc format recently, in part, to open up more space on their DVD-9 disc for developers to utilize. So we're going to need even more space than DVD-9 offers which swings the equation even more in favor of optical media for the coming console generation
Flash media exists for handhelds since the special needs of handhelds make it worth the premium. Game sizes are much smaller (Vita cards are 2 and 4 gigs, for instance) which helps keep the media viable despite its premium cost, durability is more important due to their portable nature, power consumption is obviously crucial and optical drives are battery suckers compared to flash media, minimizing load times is of greater importance due to the short and quick natire of much portable gaming, and keeping the size of the system to a minimum is important.
On a console, these points don't have nearly the same level of importance and we're facing a generation where AAA games are going to be far larger than the 8 gigs or so they average today. That points to optical media since something like a 50 gig double layered Blu-Ray disc cost just pennies to manufacture while just 8 gigs of flash memory cost far more and will always be the more expensive of the two due the nature of the technology.
Short of a new type of technology that we don't yet envision, optical media is not only the past and present for physical game distribution, but the future as well. The popular alternatives that get mentioned from time to time are no where close to being price competitive and will remain in the domain of handhelds.
The big question with the Xbox 720 isn't if it's going to go all digital (I'd bet my life on that not happening) or if it's going to be disc-less (It isn't an option simply out of pure economics, as long as they physically distribute games in the forseeable future, it's going to be on optical media since optical media cost a mere fraction of the alternatives), but just what type of optical media will it be using. That and if it will be backwards compatible (Another consideration in regards to the type of media since compatibility with most people's 360 content obviously points towards needing an optical drive) are the two big questions I have about it.
Originally Posted by AutoWobble
Maybe the disc-less console is the standard version for those with broadband who don't feel the need for a disc drive, and there will be another version ($100 more?) that includes an add-on disc drive. Is that insane? That seems insane. But this speculation is so much more fun than whatever we ultimately end up with!
I could envision such options, particularly if my prediction comes to fruition and all games see a same-day digital release where the gamer that wants to go all digital won't be missing out on any games. Although I wouldn't count on such a large price difference since a disc-less Xbox 720 is going to need far more storage space than one equipped with a disc drive.
Sony already provided gamers with that option a generation ago in the handheld arena with the PSP Go (Which if I'm not mistaken cost more than a PSP 3000 did at the time, in part, due to its 16 gigs of built in flash memory). So it would be foolish to dismiss this as a possible option in the console world with this upcoming generation although I don't see the same level of benefits. On the PSP, losing the drive reduced the size and weight of the unit and the convenience of all your games residing on the system's memory was great (And reading the games off flash memory was beneficial for loadtimes and battery consumption). It was a significant benefit for the gamer that didn't mind losing the ability to play UMD's and having a somewhat limited selection of games (And oftentimes a delayed release for games that did get released digitally)
What do you gain in the console world by trading off your option of using a disc? Someone mentioned reduced noise, but you get the same benefit on a disc console by playing a download. Even you hardly need a disc-less console or a download to be able to enjoy a game without the sound of the drive thanks to the option to install disc (often mandatory on the PS3, and an option on all 360 releases for years now). Beyond not having to change disc (A positive for convenience, no doubt, but hardly as important for a console as it was for a handheld where it allows your game library to travel with you), I don't see much of a benefit with such a SKU with this coming generation. And two such different SKU's increases the manufacturing cost of the platform.
I suspect every Xbox 720 will be able to play physical Xbox 720 games.