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Brier Dudley's Blog

Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

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January 14, 2013 9:39 AM

CES: Finding console clues - a PlayStation 4K?

Posted by Brier Dudley

With all the hoopla at last week's Consumer Electronics Show, you'd never guess it was missing a few hugely important products that are about to be released by two of the industry's biggest players.

I'm talking about new versions of Microsoft's Xbox and Sony's PlayStation that are expected to debut later this year. They're potentially the hottest consumer-electronics products of 2013, but there wasn't a peep about them at the annual gadget mecca.

Bill Gates unveiled the first Xbox at the 2001 CES, but this year Microsoft declined to participate. It's planning to make a splash at the E3 game conference in June, when it will presumably will reveal the third generation of its console.

Sony had its usual huge presence at CES, but said nothing about its new PlayStation, showing only the PS3 that first appeared in 2006.

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This cone of silence -- and the variety of other new products on display that bring digital entertainment to TV sets -- raises questions about how much demand there is for expensive new game hardware.

Will people pay $300 to $400 to upgrade their consoles, or put that money toward a higher-definition TV with a quad-core processor that streams online movies and connects directly to cloud gaming services?

People are still buying lots of consoles, and Nintendo's Wii U is off to a pretty good start. But overall game-hardware sales in the U.S. declined 27 percent last year, to $4 billion, down from $5.6 billion in 2011, according to NPD research.

We're either at the low point of a hardware cycle, or interest is waning because there are other ways to expand the capability your TV.

I'm betting that it's mostly just a low tide. Especially after seeing clues at CES about the direction console-makers, particularly Sony, are taking. They made me think that the new consoles could be exciting and useful enough to extend their run for another five years or more.

Sony employees went silent whenever I asked about the PlayStation 4, but they showed a lot of technology that seems likely to be in the console, or at least complement the new hardware.

One of them accidentally mentioned to me a 4K video player that will be revealed later this year. My guess is that the PS4 will have this capability, similar to the way the PS3 arrived at the dawn of the Blu-ray era with a Blu-ray drive inside.

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Sony lucked out in the naming department, with the PS4 arriving with a wave of 4K TVs coming out this year. The number refers to the roughly 4,000 lines of resolution the new displays have, nearly four times higher than 1080p high-definition sets. These TVs are called "ultra high definition" but Sony emphasizes the numeral 4.

Getting the most out of a 4K set today is tricky. There aren't 4K videodiscs or other media yet.

Online video services such as Netflix are gearing up to stream 4K content, which will be compressed to minimize the burden on your broadband service. The new 4K TVs can also digitally upscale 1080p content coming out of Blu-ray players.

But for uncompressed, unscaled 4K video, you stream the content from a hard drive containing the big video files. Sony began selling 4K sets last fall and loans buyers a server -- basically a PC -- that comes loaded with movies. (It's the least they can do when you pay $25,000 for an 84-inch set.)

Sony showed a prototype of a new version of this server last week. It was a round, metal box similar to the hat-box-shaped Sony Vaio Media Center PCs that Sony discontinued a few years ago. (It's pictured above and below, in a side view).

A representative wouldn't tell me anything about the capacity of this device, but I overheard a Sony executive showing it off to a group of VIPs. I'm pretty sure he said it will ship with 50 terabytes of storage capacity, preloaded with 90 movies to start, and can store up to 400 movies.

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Sony can do this in part because it owns a major movie studio. It has been distributing 4K films for a while, delivering them on hard drives that are plugged in to digital projectors at the theater.

My guess is that Sony is working on some sort of memory device for storing and distributing 4K movies -- perhaps a solid-state memory cartridge? -- and the PS4 will be one of the first players. Either that, or Sony will to extend the technology developed for its 4K media server to the console.

Sony spokesman Philip Jones wouldn't talk about this with me when he showed me around the booth.

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But Jones did point out some interesting things that you can do with a 4K TV and the current PlayStation. For instance, you can display photos on the screen with 8.3 megapixels of resolution, compared with about 2 megapixels of resolution you'll see on a current high-def TV.

That may not sound like much, but it tracks with the trend that Apple, Samsung and others are driving toward higher-resolution displays on phones and tablets. It all coincides with the broad enthusiasm for digital photography.

You don't need a PlayStation to display photos on a TV, but the console does have pretty nice photo-handling software.

Sony also has been dabbling in ways to let PlayStation owners play games side-by-side and see different action on the same set, when wearing 3-D glasses. Last year, it introduced this capability on a PlayStation-branded TV. At CES last week it was showing this feature on a wall-sized display.

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Also highlighted in Sony's booth this year were various ways to use tablets and laptops to navigate and control a TV. The company also showed the Web tablets that it bundles with its 84-inch 4K sets, to browse and control the TV and server.

Combine some of these capabilities with even more vivid games enabled by the next generation of game consoles, and there may be hope yet for the traditional video game business.

I wasn't the only one snooping around Sony's booth and the rest of CES for clues about this technology, by the way.

On the plane ride home, I sat near a Microsoft employee who works on planning new Xbox products. When I floated my idea about the PS4 piggybacking on the move toward 4K TVs, he said he wasn't that enthused about 4K TVs.

The Xbox guy was more excited about video-streaming hardware components shown by Broadcom and others. Using the new 802.11ac flavor of Wi-Fi, Broadcom's new chips can stream content at up to 867 megabits per second. Broadcom refers to this fast wireless as "5G" technology.

I didn't make it to Broadcom's booth, but the company was showing how this hardware can connect four tablets to a TV set.

All four could simultaneously stream content, enabling them to be used for multiplayer gaming.

I'll let you do your own speculation about what that means for the next Xbox.

Comments | Category: Bill Gates , Digital TV , E3 , Gadgets & products , Games & entertainment , Microsoft , Nintendo , PlayStation , Sony , Tablets , Video games , Wii U , Xbox |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

October 22, 2012 10:19 AM

Windows 8 spurs new PC designs: Flip, slide and jumbo

Posted by Brier Dudley

If you're going to buy a new computer in the next year or two, the decision will be more complicated.

It also will be more fun, with all sorts of new models that will make you think differently about what a PC is, what it does and how it works.

A catalyst for this change is the radical new design of Windows 8, which works equally well on a touch-screen tablet, a traditional laptop or an all-in-one desktop PC.

Helping things along are tiny processors that enable PC makers to build full-power machines in cases less than an inch thick.

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New hardware designs were pushed by Intel, which seeded the market with prototype designs developed largely in Oregon. Microsoft also developed prototypes and decided to build its own tablets to raise the bar and showcase its platform.

The PC industry had to do something because lots of people were starting to think the most exciting option for their next computer was an Apple iPad.

Looking ahead, I'll bet computer shoppers will be more intrigued by the new Windows-powered machines that will go on sale starting Friday.

Even the expected arrival of a mini iPad this week won't be enough to keep people away from the new and different PCs and Windows-based tablets.

That is, if shoppers aren't too confused by all the options they'll face, not to mention the hurdle of learning a new operating system. The thinnest and funkiest new touch-screen computers will cost more than old-fashioned PCs, which also will come with Windows 8.

A PC tower and monitor -- or a lower-end, standard laptop -- may still be the cheapest options for a Windows 8 computer. The next step up will be to systems with a touch-screen display, which is especially nice with Windows 8, but not mandatory.

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PC makers are building new "all-in-one" desktops around Windows 8, including designs that finally will approach the sleek case design of Apple's iMac. (Here's my review of a Sony all-in-one with an early version of Windows 8, which talks about the learning curve for new users; at left is HP's Spectre One.)

Windows 8 will bring a flood of tablets that may look similar but have big differences. Some will be full-power PCs that run most software made for Windows. Others will be iPad-like "Windows RT" models based on smartphone-type processors that run only new programs designed for the platform. The latter includes Microsoft's own line of Surface tablets.

Dozens of thin, new laptops are coming. Intel is aware of about 70 new models in the works that are thin and potent enough to carry its "Ultrabook" brand. That's in addition to the 70 or so models with Windows 7 that launched since the summer.

Then there are the crazy new Windows 8 hybrids and convertibles PCs that flip, fold and slide into different shapes.

This is just the beginning. Even more hardware changes are likely in mid-2013, when Intel will launch new processors requiring PC makers to design another wave of new machines.

For starters, here's a quick guide to some of the different Windows 8 PCs on their way to the showroom. They say the rainy season is a good time to shop for convertibles, so let's check out some of the new models:

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The Jumbo Tablet: Sony calls it the Vaio Tap 20, but it's really a humongous tablet with a 20-inch diagonal touch-screen display (top photo and above). On its stand, it's a nice all-in-one PC that tilts back to use like an easel. Removed from the stand, it runs on a battery and can be carried around the house or used to play digital board games. It starts at $880 and comes in black or white.

The Ferris Wheel: The Dell XPS 12 (below) is called a "Ferris wheel" design by Intel because of the way its display rotates. Dell calls it a "flip hinge touch-screen display." Spin the screen, fold it flat and your laptop becomes a 12-inch tablet. It starts at $1,200.

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The Channel Slider: The touch-screen display on Toshiba's Satellite U925T tilts back and slides forward in a channel, covering the keyboard and turning it into a 12.5-inch, widescreen tablet with an Intel Core i5 processor and 128 gigabytes of solid-state storage. It starts at $1,150.

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The Surf Slider: Sony also has a "channel slider" called the Vaio Duo 11, but it calls the convertible mechanism a "Surf Slider." It starts at $1,100.

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The Twist: Laptops with screens that twist and flop down over the keyboard to form a tablet have been offered since Windows XP Tablet Edition debuted a decade ago. New models are being offered with Windows 8, including the Lenovo Twist S430u, with a 12.5-inch screen and starting at $849.

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The Tent: Lenovo has drawn kudos for its Yoga laptop with a 360-degree hinge that folds the display back until it becomes a tablet. You can also fold it around 300 degrees and pitch a "tent" that stands up by itself. A Windows 8 version with 13.3-inch screen starts at $1,099. An 11.6-inch version with the more-limited Windows RT software will start at $799 and arrive in December.

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Microsoft's future may hinge on Windows 8, and your next computer may be all about the hinge.

Comments | Category: Dell , Gadgets & products , HP , IBM , Intel , Microsoft , PCs , Sony , Tablets , Windows 8 , iPad |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

September 13, 2012 8:09 AM

Nintendo Wii U out Nov. 18, starts at $300 (updated with video)

Posted by Brier Dudley

Nintendo finally revealed details of its upcoming Wii U, which will start the next generation of video game consoles amid growing competition from online and mobile games.

The company will begin selling the console - which features a tablet-like controller with a 6.2-inch touchscreen - on Nov. 18 for $300. That's for a model with 8 gigabytes of storage.

A "deluxe" version with 32 gigs of storage and a set of "Nintendo Land" games will cost $350.

"The wait is almost over - in just 66 days, Wii U will arrive with the strongest lineup of software in Nintendo history," Reggie Fils-Aime, president of Redmond-based Nintendo of America, said in a release.

Fils-Aime revealed the launch details at an event in New York. Nintendo first unveiled the system in the summer of 2011.

With the Wii U, Nintendo is also boosting the development of console games that use auxiliary screens to create new control schemes and modes of play. Microsoft's working on a "smart glass" system to connect wireless devices such as phones and tablets to the Xbox 360, and Sony's using its handheld Vita as an auxiliary screen for the PS3.

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The Wii U pricing is just under the $399 entry level price of an iPad, but above the $200 price of a basic Xbox 360 console and $250 price of Sony's PlayStation 3. Sony and Microsoft are expected to unveil their next consoles in 2013.

Nintendo also revealed a video application for the Wii U called TVii that connects the console to streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu and Amazon.com, plus live TV broadcasts and TiVo DVRs. It takes advantage of the console's high-definition output and ability to use the GamePad as an auxiliary display and remote control.

With high-def output that the original Wii lacked, plus action-friendly control inputs, the Wii U is attracting triple-A titles such as "Call of Duty: Black Ops II," "Mass Effect 3" and "Assassin's Creed III."

Other games coming to the Wii U include "New Super Mario Bros U," "Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate," "Bayonetta 2" and "Lego City: Undercover."

Also featured on the console is an upgrade social and message system to connect players with friends and others using the Wii U.

The $300 Wii U will come in white with a single white GamePad controller, a sensor bar for receiving controller signals and an HDMI cable. The "Deluxe Set" comes in black and also includes a GamePad charging cradle and stand.

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Here's Nintendo's demo video:

Here's a Nintendo image of its Wii U title "Game & Wario":

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Last but not least, "New Super Mario Bros. U" featuring players' Mii avatars:

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Comments | Category: Gadgets & products , Games & entertainment , Microsoft , Nintendo , PlayStation , Sony , Tablets , Video games , Wii U |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

September 5, 2012 3:09 PM

Sony's first 4K TV is actually $25K

Posted by Brier Dudley

If your high-def TV set just isn't high-def enough, Sony has just the thing.

Kicking off the next boob tube upgrade cycle, Sony today announced that it will begin selling this month its first "4K" TV with 4,000 lines of horizontal resolution.

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These sets have four times the resolution of a 1080p set, but their 8 million pixels aren't cheap.

Sony said its debut 4K set -- the 84-inch LED XBR-84X900 -- will cost $24,999 when pre-orders begin Thursday. It will be available in stores in November.

The set also has 3-D capability, 10 speakers and network connectivity. Sony also has added it's "SimulView" technology, which lets PlayStation gamers play side by side without a split screen -- when using 3-D glasses, each player sees different action on the screen.

Sony rounded the resolution up a bit. The set has 3840 by 2160 resolution, but 4K sounds better than 3,840.

Hollywood already is shooting movies in 4K, with help from Sony and others. Sony also has outfitted nearly 75 percent of the world's movie theaters with 4K digital projectors. And the company developed a chip that upscales lower resolution content to 4K.

It's easing the 4K transition at home, as well. For $25K, Sony delivers the TV, sets it up and provides a three-year warranty.

Maybe it should also include a dropcloth:
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Comments | Category: 3D , Digital TV , Gadgets & products , Sony , Video games |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

July 30, 2012 9:52 AM

Review: Windows 8 on Sony's new touch PC

Posted by Brier Dudley

The phone call made me think twice about Windows 8.

"It's driving us all crazy," my displeased wife said the morning after I'd swapped the family computer with a Windows 8 test machine.

As an experiment, I had loaded a preview version of Window 8 onto a sleek new Sony touch-screen desktop computer. Then I switched it with the Windows 7 system in our living room and left for work. The call came within an hour.

The Sony looks terrific, with a big, bright screen that's perfect for displaying and touching the blocky "Metro" style apps that are the Windows 8 signature. (Shown here in a picture by Seattle Times photographer Greg Gilbert.)

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Looks only go so far, though. The software switch can be jarring to people who haven't been closely watching the changes coming to Windows. I belatedly realized the need for a quick tutorial to ease the transition.

My family kept a Windows 7 laptop nearby as a backup.

But they grew attached to the Windows 8 system and were upset a week later, when I brought it into the office for a photo shoot.

Now I'm wondering if that's how consumers will react after Windows 8 goes on sale Oct. 26: Initial shock and frustration, a shakedown cruise and then gradual acceptance -- with Windows 7 systems kept on hand, just in case.

Much of the attention given to Windows 8 has been on tablet computers, where the software is expected to finally give the PC industry a fighting chance against the iPad and other tablets that are cutting into sales of traditional computers.

Yet Windows 8 is also bringing major changes to desktop computers, which are still a mainstay in homes and businesses around the world.

Starting this fall, computer buyers will face not only a radically new operating system but new hardware, including unusual new desktops and laptops controlled with touch-screens, as well as keyboards and mice.

I've said before that Windows 8 may change perceptions of tablet computers. Notions of a "desktop" computer will also be updated this fall.

The nicest Windows 8 desktop options will be "all in one" systems that do away with the boxy computer tower. They're basically a large monitor with the computer hardware stuffed in back and a DVD drive on the side.

Apple's iMac is the best known all-in-one. Windows PC makers have experimented with this concept for years, initially pursuing a market for "kitchen computers" that serve as a family console.

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Now the category is really taking off. All-in-one sales should grow 20 percent this year, while the overall market for traditional desktops grows just 0.2 percent, according to research firm IHS iSuppli.

Sony stopped making tower systems a few years ago, and now the only desktops it sells in the U.S. are in the TV-like L Series.

I saw a prototype at the Consumer Electronics Show in January and guessed it was designed for Windows 8. A product manager confirmed last week that that was the plan with the hardware.

The L Series went on sale last month, with Windows 7, but Microsoft will give buyers an upgrade copy of Windows 8 for $15.

(To fast forward to October, I loaded the release preview of Windows 8 on a virtual hard drive on the Sony, using the great instructions that developer Scott Hanselman posted at hanselman.com. This gives you the option to start a PC in either Windows 7 or 8.)

Sony also is getting a jump on the long-awaited Apple TV set. The L Series is a full-blown Bravia TV set, with 1080p resolution, a remote control, a tuner inside and a coaxial cable jack on the back. To use it as a TV, you press a button and it bypasses the PC functions entirely. A different button starts the system as a PC.

It's also a boom box, with a subwoofer and two speakers. Ports include USB 3.0 and HDMI in and out.

The base L Series lists for $1,300 and comes with a 24-inch widescreen display, an Intel Core i5 processor, 6 gigabytes of RAM, a 1 terabyte hard drive.

Sony loads the system with video, photo and music editing software.

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In Windows 7, Sony provides a Mac-like horizontal menu bar with big icons for its proprietary applications. A Sony product manager wouldn't discuss how these apps will be presented in Windows 8, but they would benefit from using Microsoft's modern design template.

For the touch-screen, Sony uses an advanced system that tracks 10 fingers, not just one or two. Still, it was sometimes balky in my test in both Windows 7 and Windows 8 modes.

It's still early to be nitpicking things in Windows 8 -- especially since I glued preview software into a loaner PC, then ran beta apps. But there were a few frustrations and the domestic-learning curve was steeper than I expected.

The first hurdle was the user account system, which prompts you to sign in before using the computer, and binds apps to users. That's fine on a tablet or a phone, but doesn't translate as well to a shared home computer.

Microsoft hasn't provided many details on how Windows 8 apps can be shared among users.

My sense is they won't be able to be shared the way they are on a Windows 7 system with multiple user accounts.

That means people sharing a computer may need to buy copies of apps for each user or have everyone share an account.

New users will need a quick tutorial on navigating the new operating system because it's so different.

Mostly they need to learn the new controls, especially the sideways flick that calls up the essential controls -- dubbed charms -- which surface along the right side of the screen.

That's where you'll find the all important "home" button that you use all the time, just like the button on an iPad, to exit apps and get back to the desktop.

Photo handling wasn't as good as I expected. I wanted to "pinch and zoom" photos everywhere with touch controls but couldn't, and found myself going back and forth between different photo apps too often.

New mouse and touch gestures used with Windows 8 aren't the same, so at times it feels like you're learning two languages at once. For instance, I frequently moused the cursor to the lower left corner to call up the "start" button, but I couldn't do this when touching the screen.

There are a few Windows 8 features that work fine on tablets but don't translate as well to the bigger screen. When you're holding a tablet, it feels natural to flick with a thumb and call up the charms, but it gets tiresome to extend your arm out and then flick the side of a big display. Perhaps the addition of "charms" keys to keyboards will help.

The new browser has its address bar at the bottom of the page. This works well on a 10-inch tablet but I disliked it on a 24-inch desktop, where it's out of the line of sight.

That said, the Metro desktop style works well on the big screen. It makes the PC seem modern, fresh and accessible.

It's easier to find and launch applications when each one has a matchbox-sized button on the desktop.

I'll bet people end up using a bigger variety of applications because they are more visible and enticing.

We'll have to see how much tuning and tweaking Microsoft and PC makers do between now and the arrival of Windows 8.

I hope they get it right because I can see one of these Sony desktops becoming my family's next computer. And I don't want to get another one of those calls.

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Here are some stats for the base Vaio L Series:

Processor: Intel Core i5-3210M, dual-core, 2.5 gigahertz with "Turbo Boost" to 3.1 GHz, 3 megabyte cache.

Display: 24-inch diagonal LED touchscreen, 1920 by 1080 resolution.

Memory: 6 gigabytes DDR3 1600 MHz installed, 16 GB max.

Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 4000.

TV tuner: Bravia NTSC/ATSC tuner, maximum resolution 1920 by 1080p.

Storage: 1 terabyte, 7,200 rpm SATA drive.

Optical drive: Slot-loading DVD player/burner.

Camera: 1.3 megapixel HD web camera.

Ports: Three USB 3.0; 3 USB 2.0; Memory Stick/SD card slot; HDMI in; HDMI out.

Wireless: Bluetooth 4.0, WiFi 802.11b/g/n.

Dimensions: 23.15-inches wide, 16.19-inches high by 6.78-inches deep.

Software: Windows 7 Home Premium, Office Starter, Kaspersky Internet Security trial, Sony Vegas Movie Studio HD Platinum, ACID Music Studio, Sound Forge Audio Studio.

Warranty: 1 year.

Comments | Category: Gadgets & products , Microsoft , PCs , PlayStation , Review , Sony , Windows 7 , Windows 8 |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

June 26, 2012 1:38 PM

Sony's "Last of Us" best of show at E3, Wii U and Halo 4 tapped

Posted by Brier Dudley

Game critics covering the recent E3 show gave their collective "best of show" award to "The Last of Us," a new cinematic action video game title Sony is developing for the PlayStation 3.

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The game follows a mercenary smuggling 14-year-old girl from a quarantine zone in a futuristic, post-apocalyptic vision of America. It's being developed by the Naughty Dog studio behind the PS3's hit "Uncharted" franchise. It goes on sale Dec. 31.

"The Last of Us" also received Game Critics Awards for "best original game," "best action/adventure game" and "best console game," as chosen by a group of 34 publications at E3.

Nintendo's Wii U was named "best hardware/peripheral" and Microsoft's "Halo 4" won "best action game" and "best online multiplayer game."

Here's the full list:

Best of Show: The Last of Us (Naughty Dog/SCEA for PlayStation 3)

Best Original Game: The Last of Us (Naughty Dog/SCEA for PlayStation 3)

Best Console Game: The Last of Us (Naughty Dog/SCEA for PlayStation 3)

Best Handheld/Mobile Game: Sound Shapes (Queasy Games/SCEA for PSVita, PS3)

Best PC Game: XCOM: Enemy Unknown (Firaxis Games/2K Games for PC, PS3, Xbox 360)

Best Hardware/Peripheral: Wii U (Nintendo)

Best Action Game: Halo 4 (343 Industries/Microsoft Studios for Xbox 360)

Best Action/Adventure Game: The Last of Us (Naughty Dog/SCEA for PlayStation 3)

Best Role Playing Game: South Park: The Stick of Truth (Obsidian Entertainment/THQ for PC, PS3, Xbox 360)

Best Fighting Game: Injustice: Gods Among Us (NetherRealm Studios/WBIE for PS3, Xbox 360, Wii U)

Best Racing Game: Need for Speed Most Wanted (Criterion Games/EA for PC, PS3, Xbox 360)

Best Sports Game: FIFA Soccer 13 (EA Canada/EA Sports for PC, PS3, Xbox 360)

Best Strategy Game: XCOM: Enemy Unknown (Firaxis Games/2K Games for PC, PS3, Xbox 360)

Best Social/Casual Game: Dance Central 3 (Harmonix/Microsoft Studios for Xbox 360)

Best Motion Simulation Game: Dance Central 3 (Harmonix/Microsoft Studios for Xbox 360)

Best Online Multiplayer: Halo 4 (343 Industries/Microsoft Studios for Xbox 360)

Best Downloadable Game: Unfinished Swan (Giant Sparrow/SCEA for PlayStation 3)

Special Commendations for Graphics: Star Wars 1313 (LucasArts for TBD Platforms); Watch Dogs (Ubisoft Montreal/Ubisoft for PC, PS3, Xbox 360)

Special Commendation for Sound: The Last of Us (Naughty Dog/SCEA for PlayStation 3)

Special Commendation for Innovation: Watch Dogs (Ubisoft Montrea`l/Ubisoft for PC, PS3, Xbox 360)

Comments | Category: E3 , Games & entertainment , Microsoft , Sony , Wii U |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

November 17, 2011 11:39 AM

"Call of Duty" vets start new Bellevue game studio

Posted by Brier Dudley

A new game studio in Bellevue surfaced today with plans for an online title targeting the "hardcore social gamer."

U4iA Games is developing what it calls an "online-only, hardcore fremium, first-person social game" that will be released in 2012.

Studio founders previously worked on core games such as "Call of Duty" and "Doom," plus "Guitar Hero," "Spider-Man" and "Tony Hawk's Pro Skater."

They already have 14 employees at offices in the QCB office park on 156th Avenue Northeast.

"U4iA Games is grounded in the insight that core gamers desire robust, social gaming options on social networks and mobile devices," Dusty Welch, chief executive, said in a release. "Playtime and dollars are starting to migrate from console to casual and/or mobile gaming and a new segment is emerging - the Hardcore Social Gamer."

Welch and and co-founder and chief creative officer, Chris Archer, earlier worked at Activision.

Archer moved to the Seattle area from Los Angeles last year to head Sony Online Entertainment's Bellevue studio, then Sony shuttered it in March. He was offered a position at Sony's studio in San Diego but opted to start a new studio instead.

A combination of self-funding and angel investment raised $1.5 million to start the studio, which is now raising $5 million in funding.

Comments | Category: Games & entertainment , Sony , Startups , Video games |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

October 18, 2011 12:16 PM

Sony TV recall: What to expect

Posted by Brier Dudley

If you're among the millions of Sony Bravia TV owners affected by last week's recall, here's what to expect from the process.

I went through the process this morning to be sure that the 40-inch LCD set I bought at Costco a few years ago won't overheat and catch fire.

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The first step was scheduling an appointment through Sony's Web site, which unfortunately requires that you block out four to eight hours to wait for the technician. Sony contracts with a service agency that mostly handles PC repairs for companies such as Lenovo and Dell.

My appointment was for between 8 a.m. and noon, and the tech called around 8:30 to say he'd be there after 10. He arrived at 10:30 and the actual process took about 30 minutes. The appointment took a bit longer because the tech's meter failed and he had to run down to Radio Shack for a new one.

Most surprising was how big the components are inside an LCD set that's only three or four years old. It's amazing that the industry is able to produce such sleek, inch-thick sets nowadays. It's similar to the way phones have become slimmer and faster over the same period, but with displays ten times smaller.

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The recall is actually a test to see that two pathways on the circuit board have between 42 and 60 ohms of resistance. If so, the set's fine and nothing needs to be done. Otherwise you're looking at having parts replaced during the visit.

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There was no problem with my TV and it wasn't a huge problem to unhook everything and dismount the set. Fortunately the adhesive strips in the Nintendo Wii sensor bar still worked after pulling it off for the servicing, and everything's back in place.

My only gripe is that you can't narrow down the scheduling window. Sony shouldn't make people sacrifice four to eight hours to wait for a brief service call to fix a potentially dangerous manufacturing defect.

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August 17, 2011 1:51 PM

Sony lands NFL on PlayStation 3

Posted by Brier Dudley

The $50 PlayStation 3 price cut on Tuesday was just the start of Sony's fall blitz.

Today, the company announced a partnership with DirecTV to stream NFL games to the console.

Both Microsoft and Sony have added sports programming to their consoles to broaden their appeal as entertainment hubs.

The Xbox 360 streams ESPN3 sports content for free, to people who already have some sort of cable subscription, and Sony earlier gave the PS3 apps for subscribing to MLB and NHL packages.

Now, PlayStation owners can stream out-of-market games via DirecTV's Sunday Ticket service for $339 per season, or $50 if they're already DirecTV Sunday Ticket subscribers. Up to 14 games will be streamed via broadband on Sundays.

It doesn't sound as if the Sunday Ticket service is coming to the Xbox this year, at least.

"This isn't an exclusive deal but right now there aren't any plans to bring it to any other game console makers this season," said DirecTV spokesman Robert Mercer.

He added that the plan was to "work with a single partner this year so we have a point of focus to make sure PS3 customers have a great experience."

DirecTV has been pushing to extend the NFL package beyond its set-top boxes and now distributes it to connected devices such as smartphones and Web tablets.

The company also worked with the NFL to display subscriber's fantasy football teams and scores on-screen while watching games, if they're using the NFL.com fantasy service.

Meanwhile Microsoft's NFL presence this year may end up being its logos plastered all over the Seahawks stadium. A spokesman declined to comment.

Screenshots of the DirecTV service on the PS3, showing its icons, and the normal display:

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June 13, 2011 3:49 PM

Game sales plunge, Xbox gains, NPD says

Posted by Brier Dudley

Video game sales dove 14 percent in May, nearly erasing the 20 percent gain seen in April, according to NPD's latest report on U.S. game sales.

It was the worst showing since October 2006, pulled down by a slim lineup of new games, the firm said.

The research firm politely waited until after the E3 show to release the data, which would have cast a shadow over the event and changed the tenor of its press coverage.

Total sales were $743.1 million, down 14 percent from $866.8 million last year.

Game software sales were $400.1 million, down from $503.8 million in May 2010. But the report only includes physical games, hardware and accessories and not digital downloads, NPD analyst Anita Baker noted in the release.

"Keeping in mind that these sales figures represent just the new physical portion of the market for video game hardware, software, and accessories and not the growing portion of the industry that is comprised of digital format content distribution, May 2011 was the lowest month of sales for the industry since October 2006. A light slate of new releases is at the heart of this month's performance."
"Overall, the Xbox 360 platform has contributed 34% of year-to-date revenues (across hardware, content and accessories) generated by new physical retail sales, gaining 7 share points over last year."

Baker said there were 42 new titles, but SKU, last month, compared to 58 in May 2010 and 72 in May 2009. This in turn reduced promotional activity and advertising, "which undoubtedly affected not only planned but impulse purchases."

All platforms saw declines except the Xbox 360, which was about flat - posting a 1 percent gain. The Xbox has accounted for 34 percent of physical game sales year-to-date, a share increase of 7 percent over last year, NPD said.

Microsoft said the Xbox 360 platform accounted for $265 million in retail sales in May.

Sony's PlayStation 3 and PSP also gained during the month and Nintendo's 3DS sales were "light" though NPD's expect a bump with the "Zelda" game for the 3D handheld.

Here are May's top 10 games in retail, in order of sales:

L.A. Noire (360, PS3)
Brink (360, PS3, PC)
Lego Pirates of the Caribbean: The Video Game (Wii, 360, NDS, PS3, 3DS, PSP, PC)
Portal 2 (360, PS3, PC)
Mortal Kombat 2011 (PS3, 360)
Call of Duty: Black Ops (360, PS3, Wii, NDS, PC)
Zumba Fitness: Join the Party (Wii, 360, PS3)
NBA 2K11 (360, PS3, Wii, PS2, PSP, PC)
Just Dance 2 (Wii)
Lego Star Ware III: The Clone Wars (Wii, NDS, 360, PS3, 3DS, PSP, PC)

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June 10, 2011 10:07 AM

Alleged Sony PSN hackers busted, face Spanish inquisition

Posted by Brier Dudley

Authorities in Spain have arrested three people accused of perpetrating the attack that stole user information from Sony's PlayStation Network and led to an extended shutdown.

Sony shut its network - the cornerstone of its connected entertainment strategy - on April 20 and is still working to fully restore the system. Last week more than 90 percent was back and on Thursday it restarted the Qriocity video service everywhere execept Japan.

Police found a server that had also been used to attack banks and energy companies, according to a New York Times report.

Presumably that means the attackers will face more than the dreaded comfy chair:

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May 31, 2011 9:50 AM

Sony says network "fully" back, but not quite

Posted by Brier Dudley

More than a month after a security breach, Sony today said it will have its PlayStation Network "fully" restored by the end of this week.

That's just in time for E3 game conference events, which begin Monday.

But "fully restored" is an overstatement. The company said the network will be completely back in the Americas, Europe and Asia "excluding Japan, Hong Kong and South Korea."

From its release this morning:

"Details for Japan, Hong Kong, and South Korea as well as the remaining services on Qriocity will be announced as they become available."

The company also said it's still working to restore the network's online video service and some elements of its Qriocity music service. The "unlimited" Qriocity service will be back for PlayStations and PCs is back, but not other Web-connected Sony gear.

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May 16, 2011 5:36 PM

Sony's apology gifts: Free games, movies, music

Posted by Brier Dudley

After restarting its PlayStation Network over the weekend, Sony today announced freebies it's offering users to make up for the nearly monthlong outage.

The gifts are on top of the 12 months of an identiity theft protection service that Sony is offering to some 77 million users affected by its compromised network. It remains to be seen whether the gifts are enough to restore faith in the network and avert class-action lawsuits.

Users in North America are being offered two free games from a list of five older titles, including "inFamous" from Bellevue's Sucker Punch Productions. The games will be available once the system is fully restored, and users will have 30 days to download their choices.

Other choices are "Dead Nation," "Little Big Planet," "Super Stardust HD" and "Wipeout HD + Fury."

Sony is also offering PSP portable owners two free games from a list of four: "Little Big Planet," "ModNation Racers," "Pursuit Force" and "Killzone Liberation."

Sony is also giving network users access to a selection of free movies over one weekend. The titles and timing will be announced later.

Network users will also get 30 days of free access to the premium "Plus" service and Plus subscribers will get 60 days of free subscription.

Users of Sony's "Music Unlimited Premium Trial" subscription service will get an additional 30 days of free premium service, and subscribers to the premium and basic services will get a free 30 days of service plus time lost during the outage.

Sony's also giving away 100 free virtual items to use in its PlayStation Home virtual realm. New free content will be added soon, hopefully including padlocks.

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May 4, 2011 10:55 AM

Osama bump for Sony's Navy SEALs game?

Posted by Brier Dudley

Sony's not saying yet whether the company's seen a boost in sales of "SOCOM 4: U.S. Navy SEALs" after Sunday's action in Pakistan.

But I'll bet the game - released on April 19 - gets a boost from newfound appreciation for the Navy commandos.

SOCOM 4 was created by Zipper Interactive, a Sony-owned studio in Redmond led by people who previously worked on military simulation programs. Zipper consulted with SEALs as it developed the franchise to make it more realistic.

The game, for the PlayStation 3, follows a SEAL team on a dangerous mission in Southeast Asia. It's an intense, hyper releastic action game in which players control a squad working through foreign terrain. It can also be played with the PS3 motion-tracking controllers, which can be mounted in an accessory rifle frame.

Asked if sales jumped after Sunday's SEAL assault on Osama Bin Laden's compound in Pakistan, Zipper President Brian Soderberg referred me to a Sony spokeswoman, who said the company is still working on extracting sales data for the game.

Sony apparently isn't planning to release an Abbottabad map pack for SOCOM 4.

"At this time, there are no plans to develop any future content based on the event," said Jill Webber, public relations manager for Sony Computer Entertainment America.

A screenshot:

Abandoned_MP_00009 Online.jpg

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April 26, 2011 2:23 PM

Sony PSN update: Maybe back in a week, personal info stolen

Posted by Brier Dudley

Sony provided an update on the PlayStation Network outage that began last week, leaving millions of players and several Seattle-area game studios in the lurch.

The company said "some services" should be restored within a week. In the meantime, users should be extra careful about online scammers trying to obtain more personal information.

Sony shut the network down Wednesday after its security was pierced and an intruder gained access to users' personal information. In today's update, it said the intruder obtained users' passwords, network handles, email, birthdates, billing addresses and security questions.

Credit card info may also have been stolen, according to a message being sent to users. An excerpt:

While there is no evidence at this time that credit card data was taken, we cannot rule out the possibility. If you have provided your credit card data through PlayStation Network or Qriocity, out of an abundance of caution we are advising you that your credit card number (excluding security code) and expiration date may have been obtained.

Sony encourages users to change their logins and passwords when the system is restored. If the same logins and passwords were used elsewhere, they should probably be changed there as well.

Sony hired an outside security firm to investigate what happened and is rebuilding its system to make it more secure.

The shutdown came in the middle of a beta test of "inFamous 2" from Bellevue's Sucker Punch Productions and just after the launch of "Socom 4: U.S. Navy Seals" from Redmond's Zipper Interactive.

It's also a black eye for Sony's broader effort to develop cloud services, including the Qriocity online music and video service that debuted in the U.S. in February. It may also make buyers of new Web-enabled TVs from Sony and others think twice before connecting the sets to online services and using their remotes to enter credit card numbers.

UPDATE: Sony's also getting heat for taking so long to disclose that personal information was obtained by the intruder.

The company tried to clarify things with another statement, saying that it learned of the intrusion April 19 and shut down the network, but forensic analysis took several days and it took until April 25 "to understand the scope of the breach."

Sony's probably losing sales of about $10 million and profit of $3 million per week the network is down, which isn't much for an $88 billion company, Wedbush Morgan analyst Michael Pachter told Time magazine. But Sony better get it fixed soon.

"They can't afford to be down longer than another week, because they will start to appear incompetent," Pachter told the magazine.

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April 26, 2011 9:51 AM

Sony unveils Android tablets, the new ultimate remote?

Posted by Brier Dudley

Building on its relationship with Google, Sony revealed two new Android-based tablets the company will begin selling this fall.

The "Sony Tablets" are based on Android 3.0 "Honeycomb" and will have 3G and 4G wireless capability. They have distinctive curved cases and what Sony calls an "off-center of gravity form factor" that "offers stability and a sense of lightness."

Two models will be released - a traditional 9.4-inch slate and a funky folding model with dual 5.5-inch displays.

Displays on the folding "S2" model can be used as a single large screen or to display content on one screen and use the other as a keyboard or for email. It looks like a replacement of the clutch-like Vaio P "lifestyle PC" that debuted in 2009 and is now being marked down by Sony.

What may make the devices stand out are the Sony online entertainment services that the devices are designed to access, including the PlayStation mobile gaming service (if the network is restored by then ...) and digital books distributed through Sony's Reader store.

Sony's also giving the devices infrared technology so they can work as universal remote controls for A/V devices including its Bravia TVs and video components. They're also DLNA compatible so they'll be able to select content on a home network and output to large screens and wireless speakers, Sony said in its release.

The release quote from Kunisama Suzuki, senior vice president and deputy president of Sony's new consumer products and services group:

"Sony Tablet delivers an entertainment experience where users can enjoy cloud-based services on-the-go at any time. We're aiming to create a new lifestyle by integrating consumer hardware, including Sony Tablet with content and network."

I wonder if these devices will also work as consoles for the next generation of Google TVs made by Sony. What would really be cool, though, is if Sony started bundling one of these tablets with new TVs, similar to the way HP tried bundling a tablet with printers.

sonytablets.jpg

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March 31, 2011 1:48 PM

Sony shutting Bellevue game studio, axes "The Agency"

Posted by Brier Dudley

Sony Online Entertainment is closing its Bellevue game studio and two others and laying off 205 employees.

The company also said that it's killing "The Agency," a massively multiplayer online spy game for the PC and PlayStation 3 that was being developed in Bellevue.

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Sony hired several former Microsoft game developers to start the studio in 2004. The next year they began work on "The Agency" (pictured).

Sony spent millions on the game and at one point employed more than 100 developers at the Bellevue studio, which hosted high-profile media events to drum up interest in the game a few years ago. But the game's release was repeatedly delayed, key leaders of the studio left and Sony hasn't said much at all about the game recently.

A spokeswoman wouldn't say how many employees are left in Bellevue. The company's also closing studios in Tuscon and Denver and transferring their projects to SOE's San Diego headquarters. Altogether it's laying off 205 employees across the three studios.

A Sony statement said the company's closing the studios and killing the game so it can focus on its "PlanetSide" and "EverQuest" franchises "while also maintaining its current portfolio of online games."

"All possible steps are being taken to ensure team members affected by the transition are treated with appropriate concern," it said.

Sony continues to operate Zipper Interactive, a Redmond studio that's about to release a new version of its "Socom" action game for the PS3. The company also has close ties to Sucker Punch Productions, a Bellevue studio that created the PS3-exclusive "inFamous" franchise.

The Bellevue studio that's closing occupied around 15,000 square feet in an office park alongside Highway 520 near the site of the original Dixie's BBQ.

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March 7, 2011 10:06 AM

Sony's new 15-hour laptop, with Sandy Bridge & SSD

Posted by Brier Dudley

PC makers are finally releasing some cool new systems based on Intel's delayed Sandy Bridge hardware.

Sony today is announcing a Vaio laptop that boasts up to 15 hours of battery life, when coupled with an optional "Sheet Battery" that forms another layer below the case.

Without the $100 sheet battery, their stated battery life is 7.5 hours.
Sony_VAIO_S_Series_Black_w__optional_sheet_Battery_LOW_lg.jpg
Without the battery, the laptop is an inch thick and weighs 3.8 pounds. It has a 13.3-inch diagonal screen and a case made from aluminum and magnesium. It starts at $970 and is available in the spring.

The Vaio S can also be had with dual solid-state drives -- 128 gigabytes apiece -- but that adds a crazy $550 to the cost. If you really want to burn up the expense account, Sony also is offering a Blu-ray read-write drive as a $500 extra.

Dell's also rolling out new Sandy Bridge laptops, including an "ultraslim" model coming next week, and Apple's Sandy Bridge MacBooks surfaced on Feb. 24.

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January 27, 2011 4:57 PM

Zipper's "Socom 4" for PS3 out April 19, finally

Posted by Brier Dudley

Sony has high hopes for the next big shooting game from its Redmond studio, Zipper Interactive.

It's launching "Socom 4: U.S. Navy Seals" on April 19, extending Zipper's venerable franchise, which has sold more that's sold more than 12 million copies.

"Socom 4" can be played online with up to 32 players at once and can run in full definition 3-D.

One effect of the 3-D is that game information appears to be displayed on a glass pane in the foreground, like a heads-up display in a cockpit, that gets spattered with blood as the player is injured.

"Socom 4" also works with Sony's "Move" motion controller and showcases its precise aiming capability, an edge Sony needs to compete with Microsoft's Kinect system. The game was supposed to launch with Move last fall but the release was delayed to give Zipper more time to polish and tune the game.

Players work with a small squad and international forces, blasting through a vivid Southeast Asian setting that destructs as the action unfolds.

"I think this really brings immersion to a new level," Travis Steiner, lead designer at the 150-person studio, said during a preview event Wednesday.

The game also received an improved system of squad control, with simplified commands for issuing commands during battle.

Here are a few new screenshots:

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January 26, 2011 11:44 AM

Sony game phone, PSP2 on tap: Android + AT&T

Posted by Brier Dudley

Sony fans are on the edge of their seats waiting for tonight's announcement about the next generation of the PSP handheld device that the company is expected to announce at an event in Tokyo.

Some details have already surfaced. A report in Japan's Nikkei newspaper said the device will have a touchscreen and connect to NTT DoCoMo's 3G network in Japan, finally giving the PlayStation Portable truly mobile, connected gaming, according to Kotaku.

What I'm curious to see is whether Sony releases a single device tonight -- the PSP2 -- or several devices, a PSP 2 plus the long-awaited Sony PlayStation phone.

I've heard from someone who has already received one of the Sony Ericsson PlayStation phones. It's based on Google's Android operating system with game controls.

One interesting tidbit shared during our chat: The PlayStation phone will connect to AT&T's wireless network in the U.S.

Whether this gives Sony enough to compete with Nintendo's hot 3DS handheld remains to be seen. But it will definitely make Android a more interesting gaming platform.

A PlayStation spokesman declined to confirm any of the details, saying people have to wait for the press conference. It's taking place at 3 p.m. in Tokyo, so word will emerge this evening.

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January 19, 2011 11:07 AM

Nintendo 3DS here March 27 for $250, Sony challenger looms

Posted by Brier Dudley

Nintendo finally shared details today of its 3DS handheld player's launch in the United States.

The 3-D version of its DS handheld, with an adjustable, glasses-free display, will go on sale March 27 for $250. It will be offered in two colors - Cosmo Black and Aqua Blue.
Nintendo_3DS_Aqua_Blue_highres.jpg
Nintendo unveiled the device at last June's E3 game conference and shared details of its Japan launch at a Tokyo event earlier this month. It announced the pricing at a New York press conference this morning.

Meanwhile Sony's going to release a new version of its PlayStation Portable device on Jan. 27 and a game-oriented Sony Ericsson touchscreen smartphone in February, according to a Bloomberg report.

Both companies are refreshing their handheld lineup in the face of growing competition from gaming on the iPhone and other smartphones, but Nintendo's still doing pretty well with the DS platform. Since it launched in late 2004, more than 47 million DS systems have been sold in the U.S. alone, including 2.5 million in December.

"Nintendo 3DS is a category of one - the experience simply doesn't exist anywhere else," Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime said in today's press release. "You have to see Nintendo 3DS to believe it. And it's like nothing you've ever seen before."

Nintendo's 3DS will come with several games and applications pre-loaded on the device. They include the "Mii Maker" avatar creation application, a music playback system that lets uses manipulate songs played thorugh the device and "Face Raiders," a shooting game in which players shoot at funny versions of their face captured with the device's cameras.

The 3DS also taps into the fitness game trend by functioning as a pedometer when in sleep mode. Users earn "play coins" for steps they take, and can trade coins for extra content in certain games.

A Web browser will be offered separately through a system update, Nintendo said in its release.

Nintendo's also packaging the device with six augmented-reality cards. Here's how they're explained in the release:

When the two outer cameras are pointed at the cards, they read the cards and superimpose images and animations onto the scene. So users shouldn't be surprised if they see a dragon popping out of their kitchen tables. Developers can also use this technology to add creative new experiences to their games.

The augmented reality dragon makes an appearance about 2 minutes and 20 seconds into this Nintendo 3DS concept video:


Perhaps the focus will now turn to Microsoft, to see how its Windows Phone 7 platform - which has ties to Xbox Live - will compete for the attention of mobile gamers and game developers.

Here are some of the 30 games that will be available between the March 27 launch and the E3 conference in June (the "launch window" provided by Nintendo):

Pilotwings Resort, which has players soaring acrobatically over Wuhu Island

Nintendogs + cats, a new version of the Nintendo DS classic with a feline enhancement

Steel Diver, a side-scrolling submarine adventure that gives the illusion that the player is peering into an aquarium.

Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor Overclocked from Atlus

Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition and Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D from Capcom

Madden NFL Football from EA Sports

The Sims 3 from Electronic Arts

Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 3D from Konami

Lego Star Wars III: The Clone Wars from LucasArts

Ridge Racer 3D and Dual Pen Sports from Namco Bandai Games America Inc.

Super Monkey Ball 3D, Thor: God of Thunder and CRUSH 3D from SEGA

Bust-a-move Universe from Square Enix.

Samurai Warriors Chronicles and Dead or Alive Dimensions from Tecmo Koei America

Asphalt 3D, Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Shadow Wars, Combat of Giants: Dinosaurs 3D, Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell 3D, Rayman 3D and Rabbids Travel in Time from Ubisoft.

Nintendo 3DS games "in the works" include The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D; Star Fox 64 3D; Kid Icarus: Uprising; and new installments in the Mario Kart, Animal Crossing and Paper Mario series.

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November 17, 2010 9:08 AM

Hulu Plus launches, cuts price -- look out Comcast and Netflix?

Posted by Brier Dudley

After lots of testing, the hit online video site Hulu today launched its Hulu Plus pay service for $7.99 per month.

The price is $2 less than originally planned and undercuts, by a dollar, the entry cost of Netflix, Hulu's biggest competitor in the market for streaming premium video content.

Since 2008, Hulu has streamed current and past TV shows and movies to PCs free, a service that in October drew nearly 30 million viewers who spent an average of 208 minutes on the site, according to comScore.
47381-hi-Roku_TV.jpg
What differentiates Hulu Plus is the availability of full seasons of current TV shows, such as "Glee," "Modern Family" and "The Office," provided by the networks that started Hulu. It's now offering more than 240 seasons of TV shows with 2,400 episodes.

The availability of network shows has made Hulu a useful service for consumers moving away from cable TV services, although the free version of Hulu may lose some of its appeal if the site moves more premium content behind its pay wall.

Hulu is taking its time with the Plus launch, though. For now the premium service will only be available on streaming media devices made by Roku (shown above) and Sony's PlayStation 3 game console. The company said that covers more than 50 million devices in the U.S.

It's aiming to be as ubiquitous on Web-connected TV devices as Netflix. Hulu Plus will be available "in the months to come" on the Xbox 360, TiVo Premiere DVRs and Internet-connected TVs and Blu-ray players made by Vizio, LG and Panasonic.

Hulu Plus is also coming soon to Western Digital's WD TV Live Hub Media Center and WD TV Live Plus Network Media Player.

Later, it's coming to mobile phones, tablet computers and additional devices.

Here's a list of devices supporting Hulu Plus.

Hulu's management team includes a number of veterans of Amazon.com, Microsoft and other Seattle tech companies. It's based in the Los Angeles area but is opening a Seattle office this year.

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October 12, 2010 2:51 PM

Sony's GoogleTV lineup: $400-$1,400

Posted by Brier Dudley

At a press event in New York today, Sony is showing off its lineup of GoogleTV products, including a Blu-ray player and Wi-Fi TVs with the Google software built in.

I'm not there but am watching the live coverage and company releases. The Sony products look nice but they're expensive -- more than double the price of its standard Blu-ray players, which also connect to Internet video services.

Similar to the $299 Logitech Revue set-top box unveiled last week, the Sony products have a Google search tool used to search for shows and content coming through a cable connection, stored on devices in the home and on the Web. The Google software also supports applications, such as the ubiquitous Netflix, YouTube and Twitter apps.
Sony_NSZ-GT1_with_rmt_lg.jpg
Sony's Googley Blu-ray player costs $399 and has a striking white case that reminds me of the short-lived Vaio media centers and "hat box" home theater PCs the company sold about six years ago.

New LCD Sony TVs with Google software range from $600 to $1,400 -- $600 for a 24-inch screen, $800 for a 32-inch, $1,000 for a 40-inch and $1,400 for a 46-inch. They have a new look for Sony, with curved corners, as opposed to the squared off look of its recent Bravia sets. Its Googleized TVs look more like computer monitors.

The TVs are also roughly double what you might pay for a flat-panel TV without the built-in wireless and Google software.

Also in the box is a wild new remote control with a built-in keypad and a control scheme borrowed from Sony's PlayStation game console.

Sony_NSG-MR1_remote_CW_lg.jpg

Inside the Blu-ray player and the TVs is an Intel Atom processor similar to those used in netbooks. It's on a chip that also handles video processing; in effect they're small PCs inside.

The Sony products will be in its "Style" stores this weekend and Best Buy the following weekend.

Sony said the player and TVs will be able to access the Android app store in early 2011, so buyers can add additional apps.

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September 20, 2010 12:11 PM

Sony Move review, with photos

Posted by Brier Dudley

Here's my take on the Sony Move for the PlayStation 3.

In short, it's pretty fun and has potential for action games. Teens and older players may prefer it over the Wii if given a choice. It's a nice addition to the mix of motion-control systems available this year.

But the Move requires more fussing than expected, including frequent calibration. Using the Move with an on-screen keyboard is also tedious and challenging.

It's also expensive to get started, if you don't already have a PS3. But there's a big variety of games available and in the pipeline so Move probably won't have as slow a start as the console did when it first launched.

Today's column:

It's strange and cruel to have the most amazing toys arrive when we can least afford them.
MOVE_SCHAMP_BNDL_3D_98262 clip.jpg
This happened during the Depression, when Bugatti and Alfa Romeo blended gorgeous design and bleeding-edge technology to produce the greatest sports cars in history.

Now, as poverty reaches record levels in the U.S., it's Sony and Microsoft releasing dazzling new video-game systems that see and track players and project them into high-definition action on the screen.

Sony's Move and Microsoft's Kinect systems are a leap forward for home entertainment and may change the way televisions and other electronic devices are used in the future.

It began Sunday when Sony released the Move for the PlayStation 3.

Continue reading this post ...


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September 9, 2010 5:23 PM

Sony boss on Move vs. Kinect, PS3 and PlayStation sales

Posted by Brier Dudley

Sony on Thursday called out the 15th anniversary of the PlayStation, which will be marked by a series of promotions on the PlayStation Network.

It comes as Sony is about to launch the Move motion control system for the PlayStation 3, setting up a holiday sales battle with Microsoft's upcoming Kinect system for the Xbox 360.

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Sony said it sold more than 377 million PlayStation consoles and more than 2 billion software units since the line debuted in 1995. In the U.S., PlayStation sales are more than $63 billion over the last 15 years, or about 40 percent of the overall video game market during that period, the company said in its release.

Peter Dille, senior vice president of marketing at Sony Computer Entertainment America, shared a few thoughts on the PlayStation's milestone and competition before getting his slice of cake.

Here are edited selections of the conversation:

Interesting sales statistics in the anniversary news release ...

"Another stat that jumps off the page -- when we got involved, the business was $2.5 billion; now it's close to $20 billion. It's amazing the growth we've seen. We'd like to think we've had a share in driving that growth."

How are you feeling about the Move vs. Kinect competition this holiday season, especially now that you've seen Microsoft's Kinect in action?

"Our perspective has become much more bullish as we get closer to launch. We've had a chance to get people playing our system ... The feedback we've gotten has been unanimous and tremendous. It's, 'I see what you mean about this precision thing.' Our pre-orders continually are ramping up with consumers, retailers want to get more product."

Do you expect a supply crunch with Move hardware?

"We're hopeful that it's a hot product. Based on the retailer feedback, they'd like to get more than they have at this point. That's a high-class problem to have."

What's going to be the biggest Move title?

"The title that we feel really represents the great spectrum of experiences is Sports Champions." [The game comes with the $100 Move starter bundle.]

Does this talk about the PlayStation brand signal more products coming soon -- maybe a new mobile device?

"No new mobile launches this year."

Will you be extending the brand to other company's hardware that runs PlayStation games?

"Our strategy is to maintain the PlayStation brand on Sony devices and provide experiences that are exclusive and proprietary."

How concerned are you about launching Move in the current economy? Will people be able to afford it?

"Every marketer in the country should be concerned and is conscious of the economy we're living in. Having said that, we know many families might have had to forgo the big expensive vacation; you may not put a second addition on the house, But what we also know is families are looking for value."

Are you going to promote it differently to reach more casual players?

"We'll be buying different media and showing up on programming you might not have seen."

Will you spend more this holiday season on marketing?

"Close to last year, but the mix is different."

Are you going to spend more promoting Move than Microsoft spends on Kinect?

"I don't think we'll ever outspend Microsoft."

How is the premium PlayStation Plus network doing?

"It's right in line with our expectations."

Any plans for more hardware price cuts this season?

"We're pretty comfortable with $299. We feel like it's a true sweet spot. Since we announced that last year, we've been challenged to keep the PlayStation in stock."

The PS3 seems to have turned the corner. Will Sony now start investing more in game development and maybe buying more studios?

"You can't buy a new studio every week."

How are you going to celebrate the PlayStation anniversary internally?

"Several big cakes. It's hard to make cake for 1,800 people."

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September 9, 2010 3:23 PM

NPD: Game sales fall to 2006 levels, "Halo: Reach" bump soon

Posted by Brier Dudley

Apparently kids bought school supplies instead of video games last month.

Or maybe they were saving money for "Halo: Reach" and other blockbusters coming soon.

The industry saw its worst August since 2006, with sales down 10 percent to $819 million, according to NPD's monthly report. Hardware sales were down 5 percent and software sales were down 14 percent.

Among the consoles that did sell, Xbox led the pack, with 356,700 units sold in the U.S. last month. Sony's PlayStation 3 sold 226,000 units and Nintendo sold 244,300 Wiis and 342,700 DS handhelds.

"Madden NFL 11" was the top-selling game, with the Xbox version taking first place and the PS3 version taking second. "Super Mario Galaxy 2" was third, followed by "Mafia II."

NPD analyst Anita Frazier expects 2010 sales will reach $18.6 billion to $20 billion, with a late boost from "Reach" and the new motion-control systems coming to the Xbox and PS3.

She noted in the release that the Wii had its softest month since its debut, while the Xbox and PS3 posted year-over-year gains. Xbox sales were down from July, though.

"That said, with 'Halo: Reach' coming to market next week, if hardware sales react in a similar fashion to what was experienced when 'Halo 3' was launched in September 2007, September could be a huge sales month for Xbox 360 hardware," she said in the release.

Frazier noted that there are about three times as many Xbox 360s compared with the launch of "Halo 3" "so the potential audience for 'Reach' is significantly larger."

"Between the size of the potential audience, the quality of the game previews, and the hefty marketing program behind the game, we can expect big numbers to be reported with September results," she said.

Comments | Category: Halo , Microsoft , Nintendo , Sony , Video games , Xbox |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

September 7, 2010 10:33 AM

Google TV in autumn, Chrome tablets coming, CEO says

Posted by Brier Dudley

The TV platform that Google is developing with Sony, Intel and Logitech will debut in the U.S. this autumn, Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt told reporters at a Berlin trade fair.

Schmidt also said Google will be announcing deals with computers makers to use the company's Chrome operating system on tablet computers, according to a Reuters report.

A number of tablets have already appeared with Google's Android operating system, which was designed primarily for phones, but the Chrome OS has been mostly vaporware so far.

It's a little confusing because Chrome is also the name of Google's browser.

Samsung is mulling whether to add Google software in its TVs, according to a Bloomberg report from Seoul. Samsung is already selling TV sets with similar capabilities, including an application platform for developers.

Google is having a press event Wednesday in San Francisco but it sounds like an update to Google search technology and not the Chrome tablet announcement Schmidt previewed.

The Reuters report said Schmidt declined to comment on the music service Google's expected to announce soon. He did say he was "angry" that Google Street View camera vehicles collected private data from WiFi networks, prompting action by German regulators.

"I was very angry about that," Reuters quoted Schmidt as saying.

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August 12, 2010 3:30 PM

Video game sales down in July, Xbox flies with new console

Posted by Brier Dudley

Microsoft is crowing over the monthly NPD report on U.S. video-game sales, which show a 118 percent jump in Xbox console sales during July.

That was the most dramatic gain in a month when overall game sales were down 1 percent, to $846.5 million. July's usually relatively slow but hardware sales were 12 percent higher than July 2009, while game software sales were down 8 percent.

Microsoft sold 443,500 consoles, more than double sales in July 2009.

"It's a great position to be in and this isn't really even our busy season," Xbox spokesman David Dennis said.

Xbox also beat July sales of Nintendo's Wii (253,900), Sony's PlayStation 3 (214,500) and even Nintendo's DS (398,400).

But don't read it as a new trend. The Xbox sales were helped by a launch bounce that may not happen again until the Kinect goes on sale in November.

Xbox sales in July were boosted by the release of the new slimmer and quieter model (shown, with Kinect). Retailers also slashed the price of the previous consoles, which could be had for under $150 during July.
newxbox.jpg
Sony had the same launch effect last September, when PS3 sales doubled after a $100 price cut and the release of a slimmer model. The company sold 491,800 units that month.

Microsoft also cleaned up in the game accessory category, where the 1600 point Xbox Live card was the best-selling accessory for the fifth month running.

Another bright spot for the month was PC games, which rode the success of "Starcraft II" to a 103 percent gain, dollar-wise.

Apparently anticipating Microsoft's shining in the closely watched NPD report, Nintendo on Tuesday talked up Wii sales. It said 30 million units have been sold in the U.S. since its launch in November 2006.

Nintendo said that "further establishes Wii as the fastest-selling console in the history of the industry, reaching this milestone 15 months faster than the next best-selling console."

Sony also issued a statement today on the NPD report, noting that PS3 console sales have posted monthly sale gains for 12 consecutive months. They're up 76 percent since July 2009 and 45 percent year-to-date in the U.S.

Here are the top 10 games for the month:

NCAA FOOTBALL 11 - 360
NCAA FOOTBALL 11 - PS3
CRACKDOWN 2 - 360
SUPER MARIO GALAXY 2 - WII
LEGO HARRY POTTER: YEARS 1-4 - NDS
RED DEAD REDEMPTION - 360
LEGO HARRY POTTER: YEARS 1-4 - WII
DRAGON QUEST IX: SENTINELS OF THE STARRY SKIES - NDS
NEW SUPER MARIO BROS. WII - WII
CALL OF DUTY: MODERN WARFARE 2 - 360

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July 15, 2010 3:30 PM

NPD: Game sales down 6%, but Xbox, PS3 sales up

Posted by Brier Dudley

Sales of video game software in the U.S. fell 15 percent to $531 million last month, according to the monthly NPD report.

But that was offset partly by sales of game consoles, including big gains for Microsoft's Xbox 360 and Sony's PlayStation 3. Game hardware sales were up 5 percent to $402 million. The number of console units sold was up 35 percent in the month.

Total industry sales during June were $1.1 billion, down 6 percent. But NPD analyst, Anita Frazier, is expecting the year to end with a bang and may match last year's $20 billion in sales.

"Given the strong slate of content still to come, and the release of the Move and Kinect controllers, which I believe will spark additional interest in gaming, I think we could see the total year new physical retail sales come in at $20 billion," she said in NPD's release.

The best-selling accessory last month was the Xbox 360 1,600 point card.

Here are the top 10 games sold in the U.S. last month. Notably missing is the new Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11 game, which sold 68 percent fewer copies than last year's edition did in its first month, NPD said in the release.

RED DEAD REDEMPTION - 360
SUPER MARIO GALAXY 2 - WII
RED DEAD REDEMPTION - PS3
NEW SUPER MARIO BROS. WII - WII
JUST DANCE - WII
WII FIT PLUS W/ BALANCE BOARD - WII
TOY STORY 3 - NDS
UFC 2010: UNDISPUTED - 360
LEGO HARRY POTTER: YEARS 1-4 - WII
UFC 2010: UNDISPUTED - PS3

Here are June's game hardware sales by unit:

PS3 304,800
PSP 121,000
Xbox 360 451,700
Wii 422,500
DS 510,700


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July 7, 2010 2:10 PM

Game update: Zombie's "BlackLight" out, movie next

Posted by Brier Dudley

Zombie Studios' action shooting game "BlackLight: Tango Down" is debuting on Xbox Live today, the start of a multimedia media franchise for the venerable Pioneer Square company.

Highlights of the game -- which is being pitched as a blend of "Blade Runner" and "Call of Duty" -- are its weapon customization system and a "hyper reality visor" imaging system loosely based on systems used by real soldiers.

blacklightscreen.jpg
"BlackLight" is being sold for $15 as a downloadable game on Xbox Live Arcade. Versions for the PlayStation 3 and PC will appear in a few weeks on PlayStation Network and the Games for Windows Live service.

What's most notable about "BlackLight" may be its business development. Even before the game was done, Zombie reached deals to produce "BlackLight" comic books and a movie being developed by 20th Century Fox.

Zombie has been making military-themed games since it began in 1994, including the government-funded "America's Army." Chief Executive Mark Long is a retired major who worked in military research and development before entering the game business.

"BlackLight" won a few kudos from critics at the E3 show last month in Los Angeles, but didn't make it into the upper tier that won coveted Game Critics Awards chosen by 31 publications.

Bellevue's Valve was the local champion, with its "Portal 2" winning "Best PC Game" and "Best Action/Adventure Game."

Nintendo's 3DS -- the 3-D version of its DS handheld game system -- won best of show and best hardware, beating Microsoft's Kinect and Sony's Move controllers.

The Northwest can also lay claim to the best sports game of the show - NBA Jam, which was devleped by Electronic Arts Canada in Vancouver, B.C.

Other Game Critics Awards:

Best Original Game
"Dance Central" (Harmonix/MTV Games/Microsoft for Xbox 360)

Best Console Game
"Rage" (id Software/Bethesda for PC, PS3 and Xbox 360)

Best Handheld Game
"God of War: Ghost of Sparta" (Ready at Dawn/Sony Santa Monica for PSP)

Best Action Game
"Rage" (id Software/Bethesda for PC, PS3 and Xbox 360)

Best Role Playing Game
"Star Wars: The Old Republic" (BioWare Austin/LucasArts/EA for PC)

Best Fighting Game
"Marvel vs. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds" (Capcom for PS3 and Xbox 360)

Best Racing Game
"Need for Speed Hot Pursuit" (Criterion Games/Electronic Arts for PC, PS3 and Xbox 360)

Best Strategy Game
"Civilization V" (Firaxis/2K Games for PC)

Best Social/Casual Game
"Rock Band 3" (Harmonix/MTV Games/Electronic Arts for PS3, Xbox 360, and Wii)

Best Motion Simulation Game
"Dance Central" (Harmonix/MTV Games/Microsoft for Xbox 360)

Best Online Multiplayer
"Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood" (Ubisoft Montreal/Ubisoft for PC, PS3 and Xbox 360)

Special Commendation for Graphics
"Rage" (id Software/Bethesda for PC, PS3 and Xbox 360)

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July 1, 2010 3:13 PM

NPD: Video game sales down 5% but platforms strong

Posted by Brier Dudley

Video game sales in the U.S. fell 5 percent to $823.5 million last month, but it was still the industry's third best-selling May on record, NPD said in its monthly report this month.

Console sales were flat and sales of handheld players fell. Overall hardware sales were down 20 percent while game software sales rose 4 percent.

But the Xbox 360 and PS3 platforms were strong, with the Xbox contributing the biggest share of industry sales so far in 2010. Sony's PlayStation 3 saw the biggest percentage growth, with sales of hardware, software and accessories up 32 percent in May.

Nintendo hardware outsold them both, though, moving 334,800 Wiis and 383,700 DS handhelds, compared with 194,600 Xboxes, 154,500 PS3s and 59,400 PlayStation Portables.

"Red Dead Redemption" on the 360 was the top selling game with 945,900 units sold last month. The top 10:

RED DEAD REDEMPTION - 360
RED DEAD REDEMPTION - PS3
SUPER MARIO GALAXY 2 - WII
UFC 2010: UNDISPUTED - 360
UFC 2010: UNDISPUTED - PS3
WII FIT PLUS W/BALANCE BOARD- WII
NEW SUPER MARIO BROS. WII - WII
ALAN WAKE - 360
POKEMON SOULSILVER VERSION - NDS
SKATE 3 - 360

Microsoft and Sony sent boasts to accompany the report. Samples:

Microsoft: "Xbox 360 continues to outsell the PlayStation 3 at retail for the fifth consecutive year and every single month of 2010. ... Half of May's best-selling console titles are on Xbox 360."

Sony: "In May, we experienced our tenth consecutive month of year over year growth, and it is clear that the demand for PlayStation 3 and its incredible content is not subsiding as evidenced by an increase of 18% in PS3 hardware sales and revenue increase of 58% in PS3 software sales since last May."

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June 25, 2010 11:09 AM

Report: Hulu coming to PlayStation, Xbox

Posted by Brier Dudley

Bloomberg is reporting that Hulu and Sony are working to put the TV and movie service on the PlayStation Network, a deal that could be announced next week.

Hulu has been working toward a shift from free, ad-supported videos to a subscription model. Bloomberg's story said the service would carry a fee for users of PlayStation's free online network.

It didn't mention that Sony's preparing to launch a paid version of the PSN that will cost $50 and include premium offerings, such as games and video content. I'll bet premium PlayStation subscribers will get some kind of deal on Hulu, perhaps even free access, at least to start.

Bloomberg noted that Hulu is also talking to Microsoft about distributing a $9.95 per month service through Xbox Live, as reported earlier by Reuters.

Maybe the competition between the game networks will help keep Hulu's price down, or result in deals for Xbox and PS3 owners after Hulu starts charging.

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June 16, 2010 6:24 PM

E3 Photos: Crazy games, lines, cars and more

Posted by Brier Dudley

LOS ANGELES -- A few random photos from E3.

Welcome to L.A.:
DSCN1999.JPG

One for the scrapbook:
DSCN2000.JPG

Yes, the game will have unlockable beards. Really.
DSCN1990.JPG

The line to see the Nintendo 3DS, on the platform under the red bar
DSCN2023.JPG

Continue reading this post ...


Comments | Category: E3 , Gadgets & products , Games & entertainment , Kinect , Microsoft , Nintendo , PlayStation , Sony , Xbox |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

June 15, 2010 11:56 AM

E3: Sony mocks Kinect, prices Move at $50, pitches 3D

Posted by Brier Dudley

LOS ANGELES -- Sony had a tough act to follow at E3, after Microsoft's Kinect and Nintendo's 3-D DS.

It started off with some snark -- actor Kevin Lambert mocking Kinect by asking on a video, "Who wants to pretend their hand is a gun? What is this -- third grade?"

Then the company jumped into demonstrations of 3-D games for the PlayStation 3, including futuristic shooter "Killzone 3."

Snowflakes and blood spatters on the player's visor enhanced the 3-D effect, which was especially strong when flying a jetpack using motorcycle-like throttles in the foreground.

"What titles like 'Avatar' are doing for 3-D movies, titles like 'Killzone 3' will do for 3-D games." said Kaz Hirai, the former PlayStation boss heading up Sony's online entertainment services group.

Sony finally specified the price of its Wii-like "Move" motion controllers, which will go on sale Sept. 15 in Europe, Sept. 19 in the U.S. and Oct. 21 in Japan.

The basic controller will cost $50, a secondary controller will be $29.99 and a bundle with a controller, sports game and the required Eye receiver will cost $99.99. A PS3 bundle with the Move controller and Eye will cost $399.99.

Sony pledged to have 15 to 20 Move games ready at launch more than 40 by the holiday season.

Not ready until next spring, though, is "Sorcery," a great looking adventure game that Sony developed to showcase Move. The controller is used like a magic wand to cast spells, fireballs and other magical weapons at ogres and other enemies.

DSCN1982.JPG

The company also is going to price Sony-created Move games at $39.99, which could put pressure on Microsoft to keep its Kinect games below $60.

There was no update to the PSP handheld game player, as some had expected. Instead Sony plans to step up its marketing of the device with a new ad campaign and have 70 new PSP titles by December.

Despite repeated jabs at Microsoft, Sony mentioned toward the end of its event that it's adding a paid tier to its online PlayStation Network, which has always been free.

Sony's "Plus" network will charge $50 a year or $17.99 for three months of access. Subscribers will get exclusive game content, early access to demos, discounts on products and some full games. The subscription material will be available as long as the subscription continues.

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June 15, 2010 10:00 AM

E3: Nintendo unveils 3-D DS, plus Miyamoto on 3-D gaming

Posted by Brier Dudley

LOS ANGELES -- New James Bond, Zelda, Mickey Mouse and Donkey Kong games announced at Nintendo's E3 press conference were just a prelude to the really big news.

There is indeed a 3-D version of the Nintendo DS and it not only plays 3D games, it also has dual camera lenses for taking 3-D photos. Nintendo's also partnering with Disney, Warner Brothers and DreamWorks to bring 3-D movies to the device.

All without glasses.

Nintendo declined to say how much the device will cost or when it will go on sale, though it's previously said it will be available by the end of March.

In person the 3-D effect is actually pretty good and far less cheesy than I expected, especially in a "Metal Gear Solid" game with tropical foliage that took advantage of the depth effect.

The 3-D version of Nintendogs is cute but doesn't seem as 3-D or interactive as Microsoft's "Kinectimals," which is almost freakishly realistic when you're moving your hands around to pet a vividly rendered, purring tiger cub on a big screen TV.

A slider on the device adjusts the amount of "3-D ness," from maximum to 2-D. Sliding while a game is running appears to move a rear plane forward and backward.

The 3.5-inch diagonal upper screen is 3-D. The lower of the two screens is not, and is the only one that has touch capabilities.

Here's Nintendo President Satoru Iwata holding it up at the event. The slider is on the right side of the upper screen:

DSCN1973.JPG

The DS 3-D also has an interesting wireless feature. When it senses a connection through a hotspot, it automatically downloads updates and new features to games, so there's something fresh to surprise players.

Most of the major game studios signed on develop 3-D games for the upcoming DS using new tools from Nintendo.

I asked Shigeru Miyamoto, Nintendo senior managing director and creative guru, if studios will want to build 3-D games for other devices after they've figured out the DS. Could the next version of the Wii console have 3-D capabilities, giving developers another place to use the 3-D game skills they build on the DS?

"It's hard to say right now," Miyamoto said through a translator.

The term "3-D" is actually confusing since earlier games, such as 1996 release 'Super Mario 64,' were also characterized as 3-D, he said.

Now the advance is 3-D visuals that add depth to the screen.

"Really where I think that's going to change games is that when you have these fully rendered worlds and you couple that with 3-D visuals, then it becomes readily apparent to the end user how to navigate that world because they have a sense of spatial relationship, that spatial relationship between all of the objects around them," he said.

"So people who have had a hard time navigating in what we used to call these 3-D games are going to be able to appreciate these 3-D effects and play more easily. It also brings a greater sense of realism to the worlds as well."

Miyamoto's highest profile current project is "Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword," one of several new games based on Nintendo's library of hit franchises coming to the Wii over the next year.

Fans in the audience at Nokia Theater didn't seem to mind when Miyamoto had wireless problems that interrupted his demonstration of an archery feature in the new Zelda. Other tools include a drone-like beetle that flies around, providing aerial views and shooting, and bombs that are dropped in attacks and to clear pathways.

Fans also sighed with disappointment when Nintendo said it won't release the game until spring 2011.

Also coming next year is "Mario Sports Mix," a wacky sports game featuring Nintendo's iconic character.

This year's lineup includes a remake of James Bond action game "GoldenEye" going on sale in November. It has eight playable Bond characters, including Oddjob, the villain with a deadly bowler hat that's tossed with a flick of the Wii controller. The game's playable with several players on a split screen or multiple players online.

Nintendo's biggest hit this year may be "Disney Epic Mickey," an exclusive Wii game developed by Disney that has the mouse playing through a world created from 80 years of Disney characters and settings. Mickey's tools are paint and paint thinner, for erasing or restoring color to characters, objects or the environment.

Players have to decide whether to solve problems by erasing things or to work toward restoring and saving "wasteland." Sort of like a Disney version of "Grand Theft Auto."

A new Wii version of "Donkey Kong" goes on sale for the holidays, and Nintendo's cuddly "Kirby" character is reborn in a game with an original fabric design. "Kirby's Epic Yarn" characters are made of bits of yarn bent into their shape and the landscape they work through is fabric, with zippers that open and weaving that unravels.

Reggie Fils-Aime, president of Redmond-based Nintendo of America, said pundits were wrong to predict last year the Wii's momentum was starting to wane. He said the console set a record for game system sales in December, and more games have been sold for the Wii than any other console since its launch 43 months ago.

"Underlying all those false assumptions about Wii is a mistaken belief that many new owners just play Wii Sports or Wii Fit for awhile and then lose interest, but that simply isn't the case," he said. "The reason is the popularity of intermediate or bridge games that usher new players toward the world of gaming."

Examples of such bridge games are Mario Kart, which sold more than 22 million copies, and "New Super Mario Bros.," which sold more than 14 million.

Fils-Aime's confidence continued after Sony announced later in the day that its Wii-like Move controllers for the PlayStation 3 will go on sale Sept. 19 for $50, or $100 for a kit with a controller, an "Eye" receiver and a sports game.

Neither Sony's Move or Microsoft's Kinect motion controller have as much appeal as the Wii, he said in an interview.

"What we were able to do was deliver compelling experiences to the consumer that were easy to get into, easy to enjoy, fun to play," he said. "What I am interested to see is what our two near-end competitors do to tick off all those three boxes, because I haven't seen it yet."

So he doesn't see Microsoft and Sony introducing fun, easy motion game systems?

"What I see is two companies that are trying to emulate what we've done," he said, adding that "I don't see the content that's going to wow the consumer."

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June 9, 2010 11:12 AM

Xbox director starts E3 trash talking on Twitter

Posted by Brier Dudley

With the E3 game conference less than a week away, the industry titans are getting their talking points ready.

Xbox director Aaron Greenberg got the ball rolling today with a tweet that slapped Sony, saying that Xbox exclusive "Halo 3" has outsold all of the top PlayStation 3 exclusives:

Just in from research team (NPD): Halo 3 has outsold Resistance 1 + 2, Uncharted 1+2, Killzone 2 and God of War III COMBINED....wow

But how does "Halo 3" stack up against "Wii Fit"?

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May 24, 2010 10:42 AM

SID confab: 3D surging: iPad "cannibalizing" Kindle, netbooks

Posted by Brier Dudley

Apple's iPad is "cannibalizing" sales of e-readers like the Kindle and Nook and netbooks, DisplaySearch analyst John Jacobs said this morning at the SID conference in Seattle.

Jacobs predicted 10 million iPads and other slates will be sold in 2010.

The research firm expects "slates will take a healthy bite" out of the e-reader market.

But that's still just a fraction of the growing market for devices with displays in the range of 4" to 12.5" -- including slates, e-books, netbooks, mobile Internet devices, game players and portable DVD players. Jacobs said that market will see 40 million to 80 million units sold per quarter.

Jacobs followed Sony Electronics President Stan Glasgow, who talked up the potential of 3-D in TVs and other devices, including Sony cameras and computers.

Sony surveys found that 38 percent of consumers will buy a 3-D TV within a year and 67 percent say their next TV will be 3-D, Glasgow said.

Content will be key to uptake, he said, noting Sony efforts such as its work with sports broadcasters (he played a 3'D clip from the Masters during the speech) and upcoming Sony 3-D movies, including "Spiderman 3D," "Men in Black III" and "Green Hornet." Glasgow said the 3-D business aims won't distort the movie's artistic development, saying that Sony's mantra is that the "technology must serve the story."

But a 3-D preview of "Resident Evil Afterlife" -- a movie coming out in September -- had all sorts of 3-D tricks like martial arts throwing stars spinning toward the viewer.

Glasgow called on the display industry, gathered in Seattle, to follow three principles:

-- "Don't let inferior quality own the marketplace."
-- Work together and with broadcasters and cable and satellite companies to adopt a set of 3-D standards "that makes sense for consumers."
-- Companies in the business are going to have to put effort into educating consumers about the benefits of 3-D.

Meanwhile, Sony expects the 3-D TV market to grow to 100 million units globally over the next three years.

Comments | Category: 3D , Digital TV , Gadgets & products , Kindle , Sony , e-readers , iPad |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

April 29, 2010 11:08 AM

Q&A: Bungie chief on Activision deal, Microsoft & Sony bids

Posted by Brier Dudley

Here's an edited version of a quick interview I had with Bungie President Harold Ryan on the Kirkland studio's new partnership with Activision Blizzard, giving the Activision exclusive rights to Bungie's next game after "Halo: Reach."

Did Microsoft make a bid to publish your new franchise?

We've been in discussions with Microsoft. We still continue to have a great relationship with those guys.

Ultimately for us the balance between being exclusive to either first party, whether it be Microsoft or Sony, to really engage with a globally engaged partner like Activision was a major component of not choosing Microsoft or Sony.

Will you move the studio to Santa Monica?

There is not a chance we'll move the studio to Santa Monica.

Will you share details of the new game before "Halo: Reach" goes on sale?

You should expect that were focused on Reach.

When will you release the new game?

It will be sometime. I know its going to knock everybody's socks off.

So, 2011 perhaps?

I wouldn't commit to a date.

Will your next franchise be bigger than "Halo"?

Absolutely.

Incrementally or exponentially?

Exponentially ... we've spent a lot of time laying out plans that took what we learned over the next 10 years.

Does Activision have exclusive rights to additional franchises developed by Bungie over the next decade?

This particular deal we're focusing on one franchise. There's potential for new franchises that we come up with for Activision.

Will this mean a big increase in employment at the studio?

We're going to continue to do what we've been doing since we left Microsoft (and work to) attract the best people in the industry. We're not currently planning to take on major acquisitions or anything that would drastically grow us.

Do you have enough resources to build multiple franchises at once now?

We have enough people to do two things at once but what we're planning for our next IP (intellectual property) is super aggressive and it's going to be the biggest thing ever.

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April 19, 2010 9:40 AM

Video: Sony PS3 Move demo, plus Q&A Zipper's SOCOM 4

Posted by Brier Dudley

Here's a video from Sony's event in Seattle showcasing the PlayStation 3 Move system and SOCOM 4, followed by today's column - a Q&A with Brian Soderberg, president of SOCOM developer Zipper Interactive.

For its noisy shootout with Microsoft this fall, Sony is turning to one of its big guns in Redmond.

Sony is counting on Zipper Interactive to produce a blockbuster game for the PlayStation 3 this fall, when it's releasing a new version of its hit "SOCOM" military-action franchise.

The game will help showcase a new PS3 motion-control system called Move that's expected to cost about $100.

Move is going head-to-head with Microsoft's Project Natal control system for the Xbox 360 in the crucial holiday season.

Both companies are hoping these exotic new control systems will refresh their maturing consoles as the economic recovery takes hold.

They're also hoping for the kind of success that Nintendo has enjoyed with the Wii, attracting players turned off by complicated control systems, while also inspiring game studios to create new forms of immersive entertainment.

Zipper and "SOCOM" helped Sony leap ahead in the past.

When the PlayStation 2 introduced a network adapter enabling online play in 2002, the first "SOCOM" game was released to showcase this capability. The "SOCOM" franchise went on to be one of the PS2's biggest hits, selling more than 10 million copies, and Sony bought Zipper in 2006.

"SOCOM 4" is still early in development, with no price or release date set yet, but Sony has been showing it to fans and reporters in events across the country, including one in Seattle earlier this month.

During that session, I caught up with Zipper President Brian Soderberg, who co-founded the studio in 1995 after working on military-simulation systems. Here is an edited excerpt of the interview:

Q: What was it like to make a game with Sony's Move motion-control system?

A: Well, it actually was quite easy. I was a little skeptical after playing the Wii because it's very casual game and "SOCOM 4" is more of a core game. Although really, we're shooting for a more accessible game. I think the Move does that for us â€" it's much easier than trying to get both thumbs going.

Q: I'm curious about how physical the game will be, like with physical attacks?

A: We're still researching additional gestures. I know we're going to do some close-quarters moves like rifle butts and maybe bayonet style. Other things you can investigate is grenade throw and things like that.

Q: I wonder how people will feel about intense games like this and motion controls. When you start killing characters with your motions instead of just your thumbs, is it going to be a different psychological experience?

A: I think it will. It's interesting, when you walk by our offices and you see people playing with it, they actually seem a little more immersed, because it is more like a gun.

I think it actually opens the door for more immersion and obviously when you start doing gestures you're getting more physical and more into the game.

Q: How far can you go this direction? Is there some kind of boundary you don't want to cross, having people do these things physically?

A: I don't know about boundaries. It feels like there are really no boundaries that you have now. You have full 3-D motion and such accuracy and precision; you can pretty much do anything. Anything you can do with two hands, you can start to make that the interface to your game.

Q: It's like we're at a crossroads with entertainment, with these new systems taking us into the next realm.

A: I think this really is. It's just what are the developers going to do to take us to that next level.

Q: How will Sony's motion system do compared with other motion systems coming out this year?

A: Sony took their time and they did some really neat things. Their thing was to be super comprehensive with the full 3-D space recognition, plus the full three axis recognition, plus the precision and very low latency. It makes it possible to play all these core games, besides casual games, with such precision. I think the core game players are maybe going to embrace this as well.

Q: Do you think Microsoft's Natal system is sharp enough for aiming and motion in core games, or do you think they might just have minigames that show off Natal capabilities?

A: The minigames, casual games, are the obvious things that would be easy to do with that system. I'm not sure how you start doing guns in it. Maybe they're going to have add-on controllers, additional peripherals, added into it.

Q: Is it hard to keep your team motivated to build the fourth edition of something?

A: I always think that. I always think they're going to get tired of it. But when I actually check around the team a lot of them are really rabid "SOCOM" fans too, so they get really excited about it.

Q: I hear this version's going to be more cinematic.

A: Definitely. Besides the usual emphasis on AI [artificial intelligence] and replayability and being able to do things from different directions, the single-player will have a very cinematic story. As you play through you'll actually learn things about what's going on with your enemies and your teammates. There will be some cool surprises, that sort of thing.

We did some really cool things with the cinematics. Rather than just doing motion capture where you hook up the guys and capture the motion, at the same time we also captured the voice so we did dialogue and motion together. ...

Q: So they basically acted it out?

A: They basically were actors, yeah. We capture everything. We even did some digitization of the camera moves as well, so we had a handheld camera and a professional cameraman to actually do the motion. It really makes a difference; it makes it really feel like a movie.

Q: I understand this material will appear not just in cinematic sequences but during game play as well?

A: Absolutely. As much as we can. First of all, it's going to run in the actual game engine, so it's not like movies [playing at certain points during the game]. As much as we can, we will not take the camera away from the player. You'll be going through the environment and you'll just experience these cinematic events. ...

Q: How is business? We heard dreary reports about the game industry over the past year and now all sorts of interesting new things are coming to market. Are we into a new cycle?

A: It seems like it's turned around to me. Sony's really bullish on the future and we have some really big titles ... just came out. There are some big titles coming out and I think Sony's really doing well so I think the business is turning around.

Q: Do you think people have money to buy these new games and motion systems?

A: I think so. These new games that have been coming out recently have some pretty big numbers with what they sold. I think things really are turning around.

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April 15, 2010 3:35 PM

NPD: Video game sales crawl back, up 6 percent

Posted by Brier Dudley

After a long cold winter, video game sales perked up in March, posting a 6 percent gain to $1.52 billion, NPD reported in its closely watched monthly report.

It's the first overall sales increase for the industry outside of a holiday season since February 2009, the firm said.

But year-to-date sales are still down 7 percent, to $3.96 billion.

Nintendo's Wii and DS still sold the most units by far, and the Xbox 360 kept bragging rights over the PlayStation 3.

Here's the monthly tally of U.S. console sales:

PS2 118,300
PS3 313,900
PSP 119,900
Xbox 360 338,400
Wii 557,500
DS 700,800

Price cuts helped unit volume. Console prices were down 16 percent in March and software prices were flat.

Sony's "God of War III" was the top selling game with 1.1 million copies sold, followed by Nintendo's "Pokemon SoulSilver Version" with 1.02 million units sold.

The PS3 version of "Final Fantasy XIII" was the third best-selling title, outselling the Xbox version 828,200 to 493,900.

The reverse was true for fourth-ranked "Battlefield: Bad Company 2," which sold 825,500 copies of its Xbox version and 451,200 for the PS3.

Here's the top 10 list for March:

GOD OF WAR III PS3
POKEMON SOULSILVER VERSION NDS
FINAL FANTASY XIII PS3
BATTLEFIELD: BAD COMPANY 2 360
POKEMON HEARTGOLD VERSION NDS
FINAL FANTASY XIII 360
NEW SUPER MARIO BROS. WII WII
BATTLEFIELD: BAD COMPANY 2 PS3
WII FIT PLUS W/ BALANCE BOARD WII
MLB 10: THE SHOW PS3

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April 8, 2010 6:18 PM

Sony PS3 team in Xbox country, showing Move, Socom 4

Posted by Brier Dudley

If you're wondering about the flashy posters and black-shirted security crew at the Sole Repair Shop arts venue on Capitol Hill tonight, it's a marketing event promoting the Move motion control system coming to the PlayStation 3 this fall.

Sony brought a group of developers and demo games to show the system to local fans and press. A highlight was demonstrations of "Socom 4," a Move version of the franchise developed by Zipper Interactive, a Sony-owned studio in Redmond. Socom 4 will launch around the same time as the Motion system in the fall.

Here's Zipper Game Director Seth Luisi demonstrating Socom 4 with a Move controller:

sony1.JPG

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March 11, 2010 4:55 PM

NPD: Xbox 360 tops dreary February game sales

Posted by Brier Dudley

Retail sales of video games sank in February, falling 15 percent to $1.26 billion, NPD reported today. Game hardware sales fell 20 percent, software was down 15 percent and accessories were down 1 percent.

But there was a silver lining for Microsoft, whose Xbox 360 was the best selling console of the month for the first time since September 2007, when "Halo 3" was released. The company sold 422,000 consoles last month, compared with 360,100 PlayStation 3s sold by Sony and 397,900 Wiis sold by Nintendo. The handheld Nintendo DS sold 613,200 units.

I wonder if next week's arrival of Sony's "God of War III" will give PS3 the top spot in March.
"Bioshock 2" on the 360 was the top selling game, followed by "New Super Mario Bros. Wii" and "Modern Warfare 2" on the 360. NPD said "Modern Warfare 2" has become the third best-selling game ever, with just under 10 million units sold since its launch in November.

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March 11, 2010 11:11 AM

Video: Sony's PS3 Move, with a Wiimote

Posted by Brier Dudley

Sony finally shared details of the new PlayStation 3 motion control system that's going to battle it out with Microsoft's Project Natal (and the Wii) this holiday season.

The word from San Francisco, where it was shown last night at the Game Developers Conference, is that it's fun to play.

But it sure looks familar -- just like Wii controllers, including a primary controller topped with a ball that reminds me of the Jack in the Box antenna globes. A secondary controller is pretty close to the Wii nunchuck, but with Bluetooth wireless instead of a cable.

Starter kits with a sensor and a game will cost less than $100.

Here's a Sony video with game demonstrations via Joystiq, which has a big roundup on the gadget.

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January 14, 2010 3:32 PM

Game sales down 8 percent in '09, Nintendo and "Warfare 2" score

Posted by Brier Dudley

The closely watched monthly game sales report from NPD is bleak today -- total U.S. retail sales of video games hardware and software were down 8 percent for the year to $19.66 billion.

But analyst Anita Frazier noted it's still been a good decade with more than 250 percent growth in sales at retail since 2000.

Through the year, PC game sales were down 23 percent and overall game software sales were down 11 percent, the firm said this afternoon.

From the release:

Aside from portable hardware, which experienced a 6 percent increase in revenue in 2009, all video game categories experienced declines, with the largest decline coming from console hardware (-13 percent). Console software and portable software both experienced declines of 10 percent, while video game accessories experienced a 1 percent decline.

Sales picked up a bit in December, when a 16 percent year over year increase in console sales contributed to an overall 4 percent sales increase.

One of Frazier's prepared comments:

"December marks just the fourth month of the year where the industry saw an increase over last year. January and February were both up, and since the decline that began in March, only September experienced growth. The big sales this month, particularly on the hardware front, is a positive move for the industry headed into what will hopefully be a recovery year in 2010."

Nintendo sold the most hardware in the month -- 3.81 million Wii consoles and 3.31 million DS handhelds -- while Sony edged out Microsoft, selling 1.36 million PlayStation 3 consoles vs. 1.31 million Xbox 360s.

Nintendo also claimed six of the 10 best-selling games during December. Valve's "Left 4 Dead 2" made the list at No. 9:

NPD games.JPG
For the year, "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2" on the 360 was the best-selling game. "Halo 3: ODST" came in ninth, and Nintendo titles dominated the rest of the list:

npd2.JPG

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January 6, 2010 4:24 PM

CES: Sony upgrading PS3 to play 3-D games and movies

Posted by Brier Dudley

LAS VEGAS -- Sony Chief Executive Howard Stringer reiterated plans to upgrade PlayStation 3 game consoles with firmware downloads to play 3-D movies and games.

All you'll need is a 3-D television, such as the company's new 3-D Bravias going on sale in the summer, bundled with two pairs of 3-D glasses.

Preview demonstrations of the system will be given soon at Sony stores, such as the one in Seattle's University Village.

Stringer started his CES press conference by announcing that the company has reached an agreement with the Hendrix Experience estate to license the late Seattle guitarist's catalog and will re-release the material, including some that hasn't been published before.

Then he introduced Sony's current star, Taylor Swift, who gave a performance that was recorded in 3-D.

The company introduced a new "monolithic design" series of Bravia TVs going on sale in March and new Blu-ray players and home theater systems.

Then it rolled out the Dash Web appliance -- a "personal Internet viewer" designed "to view your favorite parts of the Internet at a glance," Sony Electronics President Stan Glasgow said.

Kaz Hirai, president of Sony networked products and services, said the company sold more than 3.8 million PlayStation 3 units during the holiday season and talked up new games coming to the system.

But Hirai's big announcement was that Sony is broadening the 3-year-old PlayStation network developed for the PlayStation and PlayStation Portable, using its infrastructure to bring new services to other Web-connected gadgets.

"We're also extending our premium video service to even more Sony devices," he said.

The network will support a new premium video service debuting next month, delivering movies to PlayStations, Blu-ray players, Web-connected Sony TVs and Windows PCs.

Hirai said the network now has 38 million registered users around the world, boosted by the sale of 3.8 million PS3 consoles during the holiday season.

Glasgow introduced 17 new camcorders and announced that new models will finally support the SD memory card format, in addition to Sony's Memory Stick cards. Sony HAD held back on supporting SD, a format backed by its competitors Panasonic and Toshiba.

"It's all about providing consumers with choice," he said.

Among the cameras is a new pocket HD camcorder called "Bloggie" that's designed to easily upload videos to social Web services.

Also new is a Cybershot camera with a "party mode" that automatically takes candid photos during a party when it's set on dock.

Glasgow also introduced the obligatory green product, a new Vaio W series "Eco Edition" with a case made of recycled CDs and DVDs. It ships in a package made from recycled plastic bottles.

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January 6, 2010 4:02 PM

CES: Sony's home Web device unveiled -- "not a tablet"

Posted by Brier Dudley

LAS VEGAS -- Sony's press conference at CES is just about to start -- promising lots of 3-D, including a 3-D showing of Jimi Hendrix performing at Woodstock -- but execs are already sharing details about one of the company's new products -- a Web and media playing device with a 7-inch touchscreen and a WiFi radio.

Called the Dash, the device runs software from Chumby that displays widget versions of Web applications -- from a library of more than 1,000 -- as well as the software that Web connected Sony TVs use to display widgets.

Sony chumby.jpg

It's a little hard to describe. You could call it a supercharged alarm clock that displays basic info from the Web, but don't call it a Web tablet, said Andrew Sivovi, director of the program for Sony Electronics.

"It's not a tablet PC," he said, explaining that it has a relatively low-power processor that helps keep its price at $199.

Sivovi said tech enthusiasts may be aware of wireless Web information appliances like the Chumby, but they're still largely unknown to the general public that Sony's going after with the product.

It plays music from services such as Pandora or from memory devices attached to its USB port, but won't stream music from a home network, server or Sony's wireless home audio devices.

The Dahs goes on sale in April.

Microsoft's answer may be the SilverPC Evolution 5500, a similar sized touchscreen TV remote/Web appliance that uses Windows Sideshow technology to display information from a home PC.

We'll see if anyone pays attention to these little Webby gadgets. Neither one displays 3-D content.

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January 5, 2010 1:00 PM

CES: 3D networks from ESPN, Discovery

Posted by Brier Dudley

You'll be able to watch more than "Avatar" and "Up" on the new 3D televisions being unveiled this week at CES.

TV networks are lining up to offer all sorts of 3D content later this year, including ESPN. Disney's sports network is going to launch "ESPN 3D" in June and broadcast at least 85 sporting events in 3D in the first year, according to this USAToday report.

The article notes that you may need a new set-top box to get the 3D broadcasts, and there may be a premium charge for the extra dimension. That may be hard to digest if you're already paying a premium for high-def, but sports fans are used to ponying up for the latest broadcast services.

From the article:

Paul Liao, CEO of the CableLabs consortium of cable operators, says that while 3D movies are paramount to the success of 3D in the home, live sports "will engage the consumer to a degree that has been unprecedented."

ESPN's debut 3D event will be a June 11 World Cup soccer match. Sony and FIFA announced Dec. 3 that they're working together to broadcast matches in 3D.

Sony's also working with the Discovery Communications and Imax to produce a 3D network that will begin broadcasting in 2011. They disclosed details today, ahead of Sony's CES press conference on Wednesday, according to this New York Times report.

David Zaslav, the chief executive of Discovery Communications, said in an interview that the 3D move is part of "this overall quest that we're on for closest-to-real."

"With Sony promoting it on their sets and Imax promoting it in the theaters, and all of us contributing content, we think we can have something that will be pretty strong for consumers," Discovery Chief Executive David Zaslav told the paper.

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October 19, 2009 3:35 PM

Video game sales rise on Xbox 360, "Halo 3: ODST"

Posted by Brier Dudley

Research firm NPD said video game sales emerged from their rut last month, posting a 1 percent gain, pulled up by the "Halo" franchise, Xbox platform and hardware price cuts.

With 1.52 million copies sold after its Sept. 22 launch, Bungie's "Halo 3: ODST" helped make last month the second best-selling game month since "Halo 3" sold 3 million copies in September 2007.

Sony's PlayStation 3 sales more than doubled sales over the previous year and took the top-selling console spot for the first time, after its price was cut to $299.

But Microsoft's "Xbox 360 platform contributed the most to industry unit and dollar sales as sales of 360 hardware, software and accessories comprised 32 percent of the month's revenues,'' NPD analyst Anita Frazier said in the release.

Total industry sales in the U.S. were $1.28 billion, up from $1.27 billion the year before. But year-to-date sales are still down 13 percent.

Here are the month's top-selling games, according to NPD. Shown are title, platform and units:


Halo 3:ODST, 360, 1,520,000
WII Sports Resort w/ WII Motion Plus, WII, 442,900
Madden NFL 10, 360, 289,600
Mario & Luigi:Bowser's Inside Story, DS, 258,100
The Beatles Rock Band, 360, 254,000
Madden NFL 10, PS3, 246,500
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2, 360, 236,000
Batman Arkham Asylum, PS3, 212,500
Guitar Hero 5, 360, 210,800
The Beatles Rock Band, WII, 208,600

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October 8, 2009 12:00 AM

Sony unveils Win7 showstopper: world's lightest laptop

Posted by Brier Dudley

Sony is announcing what looks like the flashiest new Windows 7 computer so far: A carbon-fiber laptop that's only a half-inch thick and weighs 1.6 pounds.

The company notes that the Vaio Series X is "roughly the width of a cellphone."

The Series X has a carbon-fiber chassis, 11.1-inch diagonal LCD display, solid-state hard-drive and a built-in 3G wireless radio.

It also has an aluminum keyboard frame, GPS and multi-touch touchpad, supporting gestures to zoom, flip, rotate and scroll what's on the screen.

Mike Abary, senior vice president of Sony's Vaio PC group, said in a release that the X Series is a "game changer -- altering the way people use and think about their PC."

Sony is taking pre-orders for the system, which will be in stores next month.

The Series X also lightens the wallet: Prices start at $1,300.

sonyx.jpg

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August 25, 2009 4:50 PM

Xbox 360 price cuts looking likely (UPDATE: confirmed)

Posted by Brier Dudley

Microsoft won't comment on the "rumors and speculation," but the latest batch of images look like more than rumors: Images of upcoming ad circulars show Xbox 360 prices falling by $50 to $100.

A pretty convincing Best Buy ad shown at Kotaku lists the 360 Pro for $249 and the Elite for $299.

That was a pretty quick response to Sony's $100 price cut and redesign of the PlayStation3 last week.

Blogs are also seeing info on Xbox price cuts at Wal-Mart and Meijer but still, an Xbox spokeswoman declined to comment this afternoon.

Now it's time for a $200 Wii.

UPDATE: Microsoft confirmed the price drop via official Xbox blog Major Nelson, who said the price drop takes effect Friday. His breakdown of U.S. pricing, old and new:

Xbox 360 Elite was $399.99, now $299.99
Xbox 360 Pro was $299.99, now $249.99 (While supplies last, being phased out)
Xbox 360 Arcade $199.99, stays $199.99

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August 25, 2009 11:09 AM

Sony's eBooks get app to work with libraries

Posted by Brier Dudley

Maybe now it's an actual competition between Amazon's Kindle and Sony's forlorn "Reader" e-book.

Sony today announced a new larger-screen model going on sale by Christmas for around $399. The Reader Daily Edition (aiming to deliver newspapers, perhaps?) has a seven-inch-wide touchscreen and includes 3G wireless service from AT&T.

New_Reader_no_Cover_2pg_F_lg.jpg

But it's Sony's new software and services that are going to change the dynamic.

Sony also said it's partnering with OverDrive, a company that distributes electronic books to libraries, so Reader users will be able to "check out" free digital library books that expire at the end of the lending period. That's a much bigger deal than the earlier announcement that Sony's working with Google to bring public domain material to the Reader.

If you're a heavy book buyer looking for a digital reader, Amazon's big selection may still pull you in.

But the Kindle will be marginalized if e-books from Sony and others get enough books from a wide variety of sources, especially free and current titles from libraries. Would Amazon ever make it easy to borrow instead of buy books on the Kindle?

Here's another picture from Sony, showing it's current Reader lineup, including the Daily at right:

Reader_Comparison_v2_F_lg.jpg

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August 18, 2009 11:39 AM

Sony introduces slim PS3, cuts price to $299, adds reader to PSP

Posted by Brier Dudley

Microsoft's Xbox 360 may finally get some serious competition from Sony this holiday season: Sony just announced that it is introducing a redesigned version of its PlayStation 3 -- the "slim" model that's been rumored for months.

Sony is also lowering the current console's base price by $100, to $299.

The PS3 slim will go on sale in September for $299, with a 120 gig hard drive in its 33 percent smaller case. Microsoft's standard 360 costs $299 and has a 60 gig drive.

Sony also announced at the GamesCom conference in Germany that it will add e-reader technology to its PSP handheld device, and introduce digital comics from Marvel and other publishers in December.

It may take more to reinvogorate sales of any console nowadays, however. Game sales have fallen for five months in a row, including a 37 percent drop in hardware sales last month, according to NPD. The research firm said Sony sold 121,800 PS3's in the U.S. last month, while Microsoft sold 202,900 360s and Nintendo sold 252,500 Wiis.

Pricing - plus an initial lack of games - kept the PS3 a distant third in the race between the current generation consoles. Since it launched in late 2006, Sony sold 8.05 million units in the U.S. through July, compared to 15.73 million 360s and 20.89 million Wiis, according to NPD.

But Sony is upbeat and expects the PS3 will see a 30 percent sales increase from the combination of a lower price, hardware refresh and a strong lineup of games from developers who finally have the hang of the system's unique Cell processor.

"We do expect a substantial lift," said John Koller, director of hardware marketing.

Console price cuts have historically prompted a 40 percent to 60 percent month-over-month jump in sales, according to NPD toy and game analyst Anita Frazier.

But it's also a gamble for Sony, which lost $1 billion in its last fiscal year - its first annual loss in 14 years - and expects to lose another $1.26 billion in the current fiscal year ending in March.

Koller said the PS3 was made smaller by using a new cooling mechanism, a new power supply and shifting to 45 nanometer chips from the previous 65. The size of the external power block is also reduced, and the system uses a third less power, Koller said.

angle1.JPG

Sony also did away with the power switch on the back, moving its function to the pause/resume button on the front. I'm just glad they added real buttons for pause and eject; on the previous model you just press lit but undefined spots on the case.

A Microsoft spokesperson wouldn't say whether the company plans to cut Xbox prices in response but noted that its entry level model costs $199. (That's without a hard drive; models with a drive start at $299).

"We do not believe today's news will have a significant impact on Xbox 360 sales and our platform will be the entertainment center in the home for long into the next decade," the spokesperson said in a prepared statement. "That said, Xbox 360 is a constantly evolving product and we remain focused on transforming home entertainment with another amazing lineup of blockbuster and exclusive games, new entertainment and social experiences through Xbox Live, and a whole new ways to play with 'Project Natal.'"

Microsoft may have to do something new for the holidays. Its $299 console not only has half the storage capacity as the "new" PS3, it doesn't have a Blu-ray drive like Sony's console.

Not that many people use all the storage (or Blu-ray ...) but the PS3 could look better to comparison shoppers. It also looks like a bargain compared to the $399, 120-gig Xbox 360 Elite model.

Mr. Slim's ports, shown in closeups:

Continue reading this post ...


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July 9, 2009 12:00 PM

Michael Jackson estate haggling won't stop Beatles Rock Band

Posted by Brier Dudley

In case you had concerns, the upcoming "Beatles Rock Band" video game won't be delayed by the sorting out of Michael Jackson's estate.

Game publisher Harmonix told IGN the game will still be released as planned on Sept. 9. "Beatles Rock Band" is the one Microsoft promoted at the E3 conference last month by including Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Yoko Ono and George Harrison's widow in its press conference.

Cash flow may have been one of Jackson's recent issues, but his brilliant 1985 purchase of most of the Beatles music catalog gave him an asset now worth around $1 billion, according to this Reuters story which contributed to the IGN story which was nabbed by Joystiq.

Jackson sold half ownership of the catalog to Sony but probably would have made a bundle on the Beatles resurgence the game will bring this fall. I wonder why Sony didn't use its stake to get some sort of PS3 exclusive.

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June 2, 2009 11:09 AM

E3: Sony unveils new $249 PSP Go; prototype motion controller

Posted by Brier Dudley

LOS ANGELES -- The rumors were correct: Sony today introduced a new, smaller PSP with a sliding screen.

But Sony pulled out a few surprises, including exclusive PlayStation 3 titles and an early prototype motion controller that works with the PlayStation Eye camera accessory.

The wandlike controller going on sale in spring 2010 has a globe on one end that's tracked by the Eye, which also captures images of the player and renders them inside a game on the screen. In a subtle dig at Microsoft's Project Natal motion sensor, the Sony developers highlighted its potential with action games and said their experience with the Eye found that buttons are nice to have for titles such as shooting games that need a trigger.

Closer to reality is the new handheld. Called the PSP Go, it's designed for "the digital media consumer,'' said Kaz Hirai, executive vice president of Sony Networked Products & Services.

The $249 device, which goeson sale Oct. 1 in the U.S. is half the size of the original PSP and comes with 16 gigabytes of flash memory, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and a slot for a memory card.

"Ultimately the PSP Go is one more proof point that PlayStation offers the future of entertainment," Hirai said.

kaz.JPG

The device is also designed to make the PSP more of a media device, with new services and an application called "Sense Me," which will analyze users' music library and produce playlists "based on the moods you select."

New games for the device include a version of the "Gran Turismo" racing franchise coming Oct. 1 and a "Metal Gear Solid" sequel in 2010.

"For users of digital content it represents an object of desire as well as an object of functionality," Kirai said.

The original PSP will continue to be sold and the line's being refreshed with a new pink colored "Hannah Montana" edition.

PlayStation boss Jack Tretton, CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment America, started Sony's E3 press conference with jokes about all the press leaks about new hardware, then gave kudos to Seattle studios, including Sucker Punch and Zipper Interactive.

Sucker Punch's "inFamous" is "this summer's biggest blockbuster title," he said.

That was followed shortly afterward by a full-size demo of Zipper's "MAG," with 256 players connected in Redmond, Los Angeles and San Diego to show the massively multiplayer online PS3 combat game going on sale this fall.

Tretton also announced a few new exclusives for the PS3, including espionage game "Agent" coming later this year from Rockstar North (won't that confuse people with Sony Online's "The Agency"?) and "Final Fantasy 14" from Square Enix coming in 2010.

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April 29, 2009 1:43 PM

New videos of Sony PS3 games from Seattle: inFamous, MAG

Posted by Brier Dudley

Here are a few videos of the Sony PlayStation3 games I wrote about Sunday and Monday. There were released today when Sony lifted a press embargo on news they shared with reporters last week.

Among the news tidbits: Sony's going to bundle the initial "inFamous" packaging with special keys to access a beta version of the upcoming adventure shooter, "Uncharted 2: Among Thieves."

Play them full screen for the best effect.

The latest "inFamous" teaser video, shown last week in Seattle, via Sony:

The new "MAG" trailer, shared via Joystiq:


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April 27, 2009 8:54 AM

More from "inFamous" boss on Xbox rivalry, comics and the PS3

Posted by Brier Dudley

Here's a fuller version of the Q&A with Sucker Punch's Chris Zimmerman than the abbreviated one in today's paper. Among other things, he talks about the PS3-Xbox rivalry covered in Sunday's story:

Continue reading this post ...


Comments | Category: Games & entertainment , Microsoft , Sony |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

April 16, 2009 3:22 PM

Sucker Punch finishes electrifying "inFamous" for PS3

Posted by Brier Dudley

It's vacation time for Bellevue studio Sucker Punch Productions, which just finished its new superhero action game inFamous yesterday after more than three years of development.

Sucker Punch announced that the software was released to manufacturing yesterday.

The PlayStation3 title goes on sale May 26. It's already received tons of kudos and now Sony's applying its marketing booster cables.

In the game, an explosion turns a messenger into a superhero who can use electricity as a weapon. The trailer:

Comments | Category: Games & entertainment , Sony |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

March 16, 2009 3:00 AM

Video clips of "Flower" on Sony's PlayStation3

Posted by Brier Dudley

Here are a few videos of "Flower," the fantastic new PlayStation3 game that's the subject of today's column.

They give you a little taste of the game, which is stunning on a big screen:

Comments | Category: Games & entertainment , Microsoft , Nintendo , Sony |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

February 18, 2009 3:35 PM

Check out Brandon Roy's Husky purple PS3, Obama consoles

Posted by Brier Dudley

Sony stocked the players' lounge at last weekend's NBA All-Star game in Phoenix with a bunch of PlayStation 3 consoles, then let players customize systems for themselves.

Of course it was a publicity stunt - I saw these first on the PlayStation blog - but some of the consoles are pretty cool. Maybe these guys have a future in industrial design.

Here's a sample, including Brandon Roy's Husky purple PS3:

roy.jpg

The Celtics' Paul Pierce went with President Obama's "Hope" theme:

obam.jpg

Then there's the LeBron James edition:

lebron.jpg

Comments | Category: Gadgets & products , Games & entertainment , Sony |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

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Gadgets and games | Fun stuff I've written about lately includes Apple's iPhone, Hewlett-Packard's HDX laptop and Microsoft's Halo3. Also on the radar are new digital video boxes such as the Tivo HD and the Vudu.