ps3 @ E3

After writing about the Playstation-3 so often I had to go to the E3 to have a look at it. The huge Sony booth featured lots of playable dev kits. Each of the games had a little scale with a sticker at the percentage how much it was finished below it. These were mostly between 30 and 50%.

To cut to the chase: 1080p can look awesome. Some Gran Canyon background textures were simply stunning. Of course Sony showed it’s protege device only on a couple thousand dollars worth of pixels. Who wouldn’t.

I am not a gamer, but even I was able to see that the PS3 does have more grpahics and CPU power than the XBox 360. It’s output looks nicer, but not by leaps and bounds.

And there is even more good news for Sony: They also showed BluRay Playback. That, if I am not mistaken, already out of the PS3 shaped boxes. I had no closer look at this. Both HD-DVD and BluRay have the bandwidth and the Codec to create some nice looking images on their HDMI outputs.

600 US$ dollars or 600 Euros (which is 773 US$ today) is the asking price for the console that will start selling in November. If Sony gets decent yields from their chip factories by then. Having playable dev boxes @ E3 is more than I expected at this point.

However:

The Playstation-2 dominated it’s market. Micosoft’s first XBox was an ‘also ran’ in terms of numbers and attention. That’s how Microsoft enters into new markets: Version 1 is horrible and they get slaughtered. The first Internet Explorer attempts were ridiculous compared to Netscape at the time. But they keep coming back, getting better every time, while the competition clings to the impressions that the first MS Version left them with.

Microsoft aims to have 10 Million XBox 360s sold by the time the Playstation-3 becomes available.

Sony hopes to repeat the disc synergy for a 3rd time: ps1 -> CD, ps2 -> DVD and now ps3 -> BluRay. While it might be, that the PS3 is an inexpensive BluRay player 600 US$ is still 600US$.
There are a couple of the top end consumers that afre affluent enough to buy any high tech device that comes out. (Those would be proably the only Origami clients right now) The first 10,000 HD DVD players were sold within a day to exactly this crowd. But the next 100,000 will harder push, and we will see about the first million. Of course Sony will sell a million PS3s quickly. After that things get ‘interesting’ though. HD TV set penetration is around 15%. 1080p native of those? None. Even normal 1080 resolution is very hard to find and super expensive. Leaves lot’s of flat screens out there. Biggest problem is, that they probably are not connected and configured in the way they should be. Not that people are stupid, it’s just that things got very complex in a short time. Your dad might have explained a carburetor to you, but would you call him if you have troubles with your HDMI connector and it’s DRM ‘features’ ?

Little known fact that nobody likes to talk about: 90% of all TVs (tube or plasma) look like crap. Nothing like the original image. Be it NTSC, PAL or HD. They all have their fair share of issues. Once analog crawl and ghosting were gone, there came compression artifacts, odd frame rate conversions and cheap image scaling issues to replace them.

This is not only the rambling of an old man, it also is a very real problem for Sony: As I said the PS3 looks pretty in 1080p @ E3. It will hardly look different in the average consumers household. And when you sell 200 Million units, then you have to sell pretty much to exactly those people. These people started buying HD since it became synonym with flat panels. They like flat panel TVs. Despite the fact that for TV content a tube for a third of the price can look much better. Right now. Of course that will change in a couple of years. So on the average consumer the PS3 looks as nice as the XBox 360. But the later one is 400US$ instead of 600US$ and it has a great online dimension that works and that all your friends are already on.

People buy consoles to play games. Microsoft probably can afford to drop the price for the Xbox by 50 US$ and offer some interesting deals when Halo3 comes out. They have the muscle to maintain momentum around the time of the PS3 launch.

The world that that PS3 enters in is a much more crowded one than the one that the PS2 came to see when you got it out of its box: Not only is the there the ubiquitous iPod, there is the cell phone (we had those back then, but they were not as cheap to use as now) and the internet. Broadband takes up time in peoples life. Specially in the gamer demographics. The music industry is looking at bad numbers and thinks that their problem is piracy. It actually is much simpler: There is just more competition for peoples time. The Beatles could be huge in the 60s, since there was simply not much more culture for young people. Rumor has it that people even played the B Sides of records in their desperation for content. (I wonder if some crazy record industry executive ever contemplated to bring back the B side by piggy backing one mp3 file on to another one)

Back to the PS3: It’s a Media Hub. Says Sony. The chips are there. That’s true. And the thing /could/ do it. But it wont, since Sony does not get it. The PSP is an amazing device. The hardware would be the greatest video iPod even. It even looks ok I think. It has wifi, a decent screen for it’s size. Still, it sucks. By now there is a web browser maybe some other devices and features. But Sony did not get any momentum for their little hardware wonder. They simply can not deliver the experience. People don’t find the magic. A comparison: I never use a Microsoft Media Center, I can imagine how it is. Apple’s front row is nothing on the technical scale compared to it. It’s ‘just’ a UI. A simple navigation that segways into a couple of components that Apple had anyway. Yet, everybody is looking at Apple to merge the computer and the TV. Sony is like Microsoft here: They are unable to achieve the status of being innovative, cool or to put it bluntly worth bothering with. Their crossbar UI is very nice looking and it works well. But you navigate into things with it that then frustrate. As deadly sin in this day and age.

The amount of accessible content that might be of interest to the a specific person has exploded within the last years.Mostly due to the internet, but not only. Netflix allows you to have access to a gigantic web collection, in two days I can have any book that I might care about. Music? Yeah, we got music, alright. And, again, this not just ’stuff’, these are the things that I care about.

Under these circumstances anything that fails to deliver on it’s promises will just be ignored. The PSP is cool, but it seemed awfully complicated to put content on it. So I ended up not investing any time in it. On the other hand there is my iPod shuffle: 50US$ refurb from Apple.com. Took 5 minutes to figure out what I needed to know about it. Probably not that long. (Why don’t they sell those things with a 30 second message from Steve Jobs prerecorded on it? “Hi, my name is Steve, and I owned this iPod before you. But don’t worry, I did not use the earphones.”. ). The shuffle served me well: It was a good deal. Money wise, but most importantly time and attention wise. The PSP having all the right hardware yet still being a lame device makes believe that the PS3 will repeat the same problem on a different scale. Sony is betting the company on the repetition of a old pattern (ps1 670MB CD, ps2 4.7GB DVD and now ps3 25GB Blue Ray). But the world of 2006 is different of that in 2000.

The world is changing so fast that the arrogance of the incumbent can be lethal. Microsoft experiences that from both sides simultaneously. Being the gaming console underdog they had to innovate and come up with concepts like Xbox LIVE. On the OS market they are actually the one ruling the world and therefor loosing their firm grip on it.

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