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Definition Transition

The HD transition is still a work in progress - and it's happening more slowly than expected.

Published as part of our sister-site GamesIndustry.biz' widely-read weekly newsletter, the GamesIndustry.biz Editorial is a weekly dissection of one of the issues weighing on the minds of the people at the top of the games business. It appears on Eurogamer after it goes out to GI.biz newsletter subscribers.

The reshuffling of console offerings and price points by Sony and Microsoft in recent weeks has had a number of consequences - some more surprising than others. UK commentary has tended to focus on the unexpected price rise for the 360 Arcade model, which has actually raised the base level cost of entry to the current-gen console market, but another move which has raised eyebrows is the decision to bundle very basic AV cables with both the slim PS3 and the new Xbox 360 Elite model.

What this means is that, several years into the console generation which was meant to herald the glorious arrival of high definition, not a single console system is presently being sold with an HDMI cable in the box. Microsoft, at least, bundles a cable which can output component, which does enable some HD resolutions - the PS3 Slim simply doesn't come with any HD-capable cables at all.

Vocal consumers have voiced disbelief at the move, and many in the industry haven't been far behind. After all, years of visiting friends' houses to discover previous generations of console hardware plugged into perfectly decent TVs with dreadful composite cables or, worse, RF adapters, have taught us that most consumers will use whatever cable comes in the box and never bother buying a new one. Aren't Sony and Microsoft selling themselves - and this entire generation of hardware and software - short?

Perhaps not. From the perspectives of these companies, they want to include the cable which will be of most utility to the largest group of consumers possible, and it's clear that whatever research they have done suggests that the majority of consumers don't need - or rather, can't use - an HDMI cable. Neither firm wants to put an assortment of cables in the box "just in case" - each additional cable erodes millions from the firm's profitability, after all.

So something - and I'm going to assume that it's detailed research, rather than a cost-saving hunch - leads Sony and Microsoft to believe that the lion's share of their consumers aren't going to be plugging their consoles into HD-ready, HDMI-equipped TVs. But this is late 2009 - hasn't the world gone HD yet, as we were all led to believe it would?

Supporting evidence that all is not well with the HD transition comes from Epic Games' Mark Rein, who told Eurogamer earlier this summer that "over half the users who played Gears of War 2 so far do not have HDTVs".

Gears of War is a core gamer franchise, beloved of early adopters and the soi disant hardcore. If less than half of those users are playing on HDTVs, what must the percentages be like for games like FIFA and Pro Evolution Soccer - let alone Singstar and Buzz, or popular movie tie-in titles?

Listening to the vocal minority of upstream gamers who post on internet forums and make their voices heard, one would think that HD had reached a high degree of market penetration and that SD television remained only as a rapidly disappearing relic of the past. The reality, however, is that the landscape for HD television is still extremely fractured.