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Monday, December 11, 2006

Games Consoles – The Trojan Horse for Home Entertainment domination?

With Christmas fast approaching, at the top of many Irish consumers wish list would have been the Sony Playstation 3. However, due to manufacturing problems with a blue diode part needed for the High Definition Blu Ray disk player, Europe won’t be seeing the new Playstation this side of Christmas. Bad news for Sony and their fastidiously loyal customers, but great news for Microsoft who are using the opportunity not only to sell more Xbox 360s to the key “floating voter” (i.e. those not loyal to any particular console) but also to beef up their consumer base (as they are attempting to do in the US) by offering TV and film downloads as part of the Xbox live offering. It has yet to be seen whether Microsoft have pulled off a coup by launching their console earlier without a Hi-Def player – the very thing that distinguished (and delayed) the new Sony Playstation. Sony may well have scored an own goal by trying to bundle too much into their console as a unique selling point.

Although there is Playstation fever in both the US and Japan, Microsoft have made huge headway in the market – and in many ways the games console market is beginning to resemble the mobile phone market of the 90s. Both Microsoft and Sony infer that they have subsidised the cost of the console (much like the mobile phone operators did with the phones) in order to hook the customer into an endless revenue stream. However, according to Videogamesblogger PS3 loses up to $306 per unit while, Xbox 360 profits $76 per sale.

Microsoft clearly see their real revenue stream for the future in the games – many retailing at a hefty €69 a pop – as well as on-demand entertainment over broadband. They have also realised the collective power of network gaming and communication as the thing that will galvanise the Xbox users. Likewise, the fact that the Xbox is essentially a PC means that streaming of MP3 and video is made very easy – as Xbox 360 is compatible with the Microsoft Media Centre Operating system.

Although they have a broadband play also, Sony seems to have bet the bank on High Definition – or more specifically, their own proprietary version called Blu Ray. However, to enjoy the full fruits of your Playstation 3 you will require a top of the range high-definition television set. Likewise, Sony are banking heavily on the uniform adoption of their standard by both the Hollywood studios and the increasingly powerful broadcasters (think BBC’s Planet Earth on Hi-Def).

What is clear between these two warring factions is that they have their sights set on becoming integral and central to home entertainment. Although gaming is still the main USP, broadband internet access, communication, Hi-Def DVDs and video on demand will couple your television and games console in ways never imagined before. So one can see how the Games Consoles are becoming Trojan Horses for both Microsoft and Sony to gain dominion in the living room…and the rest of the home.

So let’s look at the merits of each:

Sony Playstation 3

The biggest downsides for the Playstation 3 are the price (considerably more then its rivals) and the fact that it will only be available in Europe in March 2007. However on the positive side (and what might make it worth waiting for), is that it has a sizeable storage of 60Gb, Blu-ray High definition player, USB ports, memory card slots, built-in wireless broadband connectivity and an internet browser with free access to the Playstation network.
It has a new controller – the Sixaxis and a new interface, very similar to that developed for the PSP handheld gaming console. It also supports interesting connectivity between the PSP and the PS3 pairing them in a unique way. The Network – Sony’s counterpoint to Xbox Live – will feature online gaming and downloadable games (for both the PS3 and the PSP), online chat functionality, internet browsing and music and film downloads. Down the line, Sony will be offering a fine array of added value offerings including the so-called HD EyeToy camera which will allow for video chats, user-created content (think Machinima in HD!), TiVo style television recording and online shopping (with Playstation overlord Ken Kutaragi hinting at virtual shopping malls).

Nintendo Wii

Nintendo Wii has played a smart game by being careful not to go head to head with the big players. If it was a mobile phone network, Wii would be 3. It is cheap, cheerful, funky and playing to a distinct demographic. Although it lacks the same integration with its handheld counterpart the Nintendo DS that the Playstaion 3 has with the PSP, it makes up for in terms of its unique and revolutionary Wii remote.
In many ways this is the feature that sets the Nintendo apart from either the Xbox or the Playstation and offers a new gaming experience. It is the kind of feature that will appeal to non-gamers or those who don’t go in for the violent first person type games that tend to define the sector. The Wii controller can allow you to play fishing games or more gentle sporting games. Suprisingly, Microsoft executive Peter Moore in a recent interview even inferred that consumers would buy an Xbox 360 and a Wii – as they are the same price collectively as the PS3.

Microsoft Xbox 360

With the advantage of being a year in the market it is hard to say whether Microsoft has eroded Playstation’s share or if they have simply upgraded their own market. With a price point being significantly cheaper then the PS3, the only differential is a slower processor and the absence of a high definition player. However, the latter is available separately – again as a proprietary HD-DVD player. At present, the early arrival of the Xbox 360 has ensured that it offers a wider range of games. The Xbox Live network (although subscription based) is already offering High Definition video downloads in the US and more intriguingly, smaller game downloads which may well open up the market for smaller game developers. Xbox game programming is near identical to the PC programming meaning that the barriers to entry are significantly lower.

So in terms of which console to buy, it really is a case that there is one for everyone in the audience…at a price. It is undeniable that the processing power of the Playstation 3 (which Ian Pearson, Futurologist at BT claims is 1% of the processing power of the human brain) will mean that the PS3 has real capacity to develop over its life span as programmers get to grips with its true potential. Likewise, those wanting to watch High Definition DVDs, you couldn’t ask for a better deal. However, the price conscious and cautious might well opt for the Xbox 360 which at present seems on par technically with the PS3 offering in terms of gaming. The outcome of the High definition wars will mean that Microsoft can offer a Blu-ray player as optional later down the line (although this is unlikely). Finally, for those looking for an alternative gaming experience – or simply are obsessed with the Legend of Zelda – the Wii certainly provides a much more active experience then the thumb and finger workout that the other two consoles offer.

posted by Neil Leyden @ 11:04 a.m.


At 3:59 p.m., Blogger Cian said...

Two links that might be of interist... editor points to confusing reporting of new console war

PlayStation 2 and PlayStation Portable continue to dominate Irish games charts


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