On Friday, FastMac began offering a slim Blu-Ray drive designed to fit inside several of Apple's most popular desktops and notebooks of the past several years, reaching back as far as the venerable "Pismo" PowerBook G3 -- though ironically blocking MacBooks and 15-inch MacBook Pros due to their extra-thin cases.
Labeled as the first upgrade of its kind for any of Apple's portables, the swap-in drive gave the eligible Macs not just a chance to play high-definition movies but to burn 50GB dual-layer Blu-Ray discs and boot from a Mac OS X CD or DVD.
While undoubtedly a relief for determined video editors and avid fans, the $800 upgrade path has raised as many questions as it answers. It highlights the seemingly widening chasm between Apple and next-generation disc formats -- revealing that a small but determined third-party firm was able to edge out a proclaimed media powerhouse and release slimline Blu-Ray hardware seemingly months in advance.
Apple has not been completely silent. The Cupertino-based firm has made several gestures towards both Blu-Ray and the competing HD DVD standard in recent years, building early support for the latter into DVD Player and its pro-level Final Cut Studio editing suite. Apple was also one of the first to back the H.264 video standard inherent to Blu-Ray with Quicktime 7. In fact, its investments in new formats run so deeply that it joined the board of the Blu-Ray Disc Association in March of 2005 to gain a controlling stake well before the first disc readers had touched store shelves.
Yet the Mac maker has never actually made a public commitment to the hardware itself, having refrained from shipping Blu-Ray drives despite the existence of Blu-Ray drives as an option since mid-2006. The backing of the standard has often been left to its primary champion Sony, which offered its VAIO AR-series portable with the drive option since May of last year. Drives by LG, Pioneer, and Samsung have similarly been offered in recent months and have found their way into desktop-class add-ons for Mac users before Friday's FastMac release.
With Apple's most recent Mac Pro update continuing to leave both Blu-Ray and HD DVD by the wayside, however, Mac users are left without any clear indications as to when their computer creator will finally embrace HD in its hardware and which format it will ultimately adopt.
The company's best near-term chances appear to rest in next week's NAB expo, where rumors would have Blu-Ray support added to the next version of Final Cut Studio, and possibly system-wide in the official release of Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard later this spring.