Battle for the living room…Apple, Microsoft, Sony and Roku have sharpened their swords, so look out!

The battle for the living room is, once again, heating up. The question, however, is this: does joe and jane consumer really want it? 

For the next battle, we have Microsoft’s XBOX One, Sony’s PS4, Roku, Apple TV and a host of other boxes from Western Digital, Cisco and others. In addition, there’s a slew of cheap (under $100) Android based gaming consoles that, because they are Android, will likely also offer other services in addition to the gaming aspect.

Apple it readying a new release of iOS, iOS 7, that will also run on the Apple TV. iTunes Radio will be a feature of the update to Apple TV as will the new AirPlay. You will be able to stream your iPhones screen and audio to your HD TV via Apple TV. A sly way to give Apple TV yet even more reason to live.

Roku has introduced new versions of its hockey puck player and added gaming in the mix.

Microsoft, of course, has the XBOX One. The One has a ton of entertainment features and on line video features. With the XBOX Video and Music store readily available, plus agreements from Comcast, Warner and Verizon, the XBOX One can replace your cable box.  The Blu-Ray drive will allow the XBOX to play all of those discs in addition to DVD. At $499, it is the most expensive option out there.

Sony, of course, has its PS4. The PS4 is very much like the XBOX One in its feature list, but does not have quite as much to offer in the online arena and there are no deals with cable companies to offer cable programming via the console. What they do have, however, are enough popular services, like HULU and Netflix to keep anyone happy. Plus, the PS4 is $399, less than the XBOX One.

Perhaps the slyest of the sly are those Android based game consoles. I use the term console loosely as some of them look like over sized USB sticks and plug into the TV’s HDMI port.  These things will sport one of the more recent flavors of Android, cost under a hundred bucks and will work with true game controllers. However, since they are Android, that means they will be offered with minimal entertainment choices (perhaps Netflix and/or Hulu) or will be easily hacked to do so. I suspect these little boxes or sticks will gain a lot of traction because of the price and the fact that Android is the most popular phone platform.  And the games…the games are familiar and many, if not most, are free to play. Who wouldn’t want to play Candy Crush Saga or Plants V Zombies on their HDTV?

This will all boil down, however, to one thing: adding one more box to the TV.  Microsoft is betting that its offering will replace two or more other boxes. Same for Sony. Apple just wants its ‘hobby’ to mature. And the others? Those could be the ones that actually make it. Roku is very popular, but still not a household word, yet I think it stands a better chance of succeeding where Microsoft, Sony and even Apple will not. My five year old step son figured out how to use Roku in a matter of minutes. Most of the similar products are just as easy to use. They have to be.

Personally, I am amazed that the public were convinced enough that they needed some kind of video player/recorder and a video game console to the TV. The ease with which people accepted these devices will, surely, not be duplicated.  Even though HDMI is just ONE cable, people now must remember to hit the HDMI source button on the remote to ‘switch’ to that device. If the set has more than one, then that’s a real problem for many, who are easily confused and just want ‘channel up’ or ‘channel down’.  (By that same thought, Microsoft was smart to incorporate the HDMI passthrough for cable boxes.  The IR blaster part, however, could cause other problems.)

We’ll see how this battle plays out. We are in the early stages, so…take cover and keep your eyes open. The battle lines have been drawn.

Sony’s PS4 scam at E3 and new Nintendo titles

ps4So, apparently, Sony pulled a fast one over the public in its E3 keynote address introducing the PS4. During the keynote, they stated that there would be no DRM and no restrictions on used games. What they FAILED to mention, however, was, like Microsoft, that third party publishers were free to place restrictions upto and including the prevention of resale of used games.

What appeared to be a slam dunk for Sony’s PS4 is now a ‘oh really? Huh.’ This bait and switch tactic is old, tired and Sony should be ashamed.

During an interview, Jack Tretton, President of Sony Computer Entertainment of America, stated that they (Sony) would provide the platform and publishers were free to impose any business model they wish. Meaning, Electronic Arts could, theoretically, only allow certain games to be resold or otherwise transferred from one person to another, all or none.  Strike 1. (And, for the record, EA has publicly stated that they have no immediate plans to do so on either the XBox ONE or the PS4.)

And, that $399 price? Well, it does not include the Sony Eye, which is the motion tracking piece of the pie. So, for the PS4 to be feature complete with the XBox One, you have to purchase the Eye for $69 US, which brings the PS4 right in line with Microsoft’s offering. Strike 2.

Lastly, Sony last big advantage over Microsoft, the free online multiplayer component, is now going to be a paid service. You must buy Sony’s equivalent of XBox Live Gold in order to play multiplayer games online.  Strike 3, your out!

So, why would I want either of these consoles?

Nintendo announced a bevy of games for both Wii U and 3DS.  Included in those titles are a new Mario Kart for the Wii U, Super Mario Brothers for the Wii U, two new Zelda games and a new Smash Brothers title.  The Wii U online play is free, it is now an HD console and it is cheaper than the other consoles. It’s looking better and better…

Tech Nerdvana: Xbox One, PS 4 and iOS 7

It’s been a big few days in the world of tech and for geeks like us.  Microsoft showed off more of the follow up to both Windows 8 and the XBOX 360, Apple unveiled iOS 7 and Sony shows off its me-too prowess with an unveiling of the PS4. Me too seems to be the prevailing train of thought for all three companies: elements of each other’s tech and that of other companies have made it into each of these products.  There’s even a nostalgic flare to some of them.

I have already talked about some of the changes to Windows 8, so I’ll talk about. No, I will talk about the XBOX One, iOS 7 and a little PS4.

First, however, lets get iOS out of the way. 

iOS7webOSMultitaskAs it is from Apple, it has already been ably covered here and here. However, I want to through my two and half cents in as well.  So…here goes…

First, from what I’ve seen, it looks fantastic. They have taken the better parts of the current flavor of iOS, mixed in some Windows Phone/Windows 8 and even a bit of webOS.  The operating system appears to be a little more customizable, though not much more. It has a flatter, cleaner appearance and, best of all, it is backward compatible all the way back to the iPhone 4, iPad 2 and iPod Touch gen 4.

One of the more frustrating aspects of iOS is its poor multitasking. Well, it looks like that has finally been rectified by borrowing a page from the webOS playbook. Multitasking is handled more like the ‘cards’ feature of Palm’s webOS. You get a horizontal scrolling view of the open apps and you can then flick through them from side to side and flick up to dismiss an app. This is pretty much how webOS handled it.iTunesRadio

One of the more vaunted services that Apple fankids have wanted (though they poo-poo the notion from others) is some kind of Zune like subscription service. Well, Apple unveiled its iTunes Radio, an ad supported free Pandora like service. It will be available on all iOS 7 devices. An ad free version is available to iTunes Match customers.

There are other interesting aspects of iOS 7, like some of the photography related features (filters, better panoramics and more. Hit up one of the links above to find out more. 

I have to admit, I am actually looking forward to upgrading my iPhone 4 to this version of iOS.

Apple also showed a bit of its ridiculously named OS X Mavericks.  Not much to say, other than the AirPlay capability of adding a large screen TV as a second or THIRD display via Apple TV looks pretty nice.  APPLE.COM has more on the new OS and the complete keynote by Tim Cook and company.

Now, onto the video games.

E3 started and, with it, the two big keynotes from Microsoft and Sony.  I’m going to be brief with both, especially Sony, but want to hit what I think are the highlights.

First, lets just get Sony out of the way.

They ‘revealed’  PS4 waaaaay back in FEBRUARY. However, they really didn’t say too terribly much and did not even show off the hardware. They talked games and showed the controller. This time, they were more revealing. The console was on display and…it’s very similar to the XBOX ONE. Yep. SO, it seems both companies have taken a page from the 1970’s consumer electronics design playbook (which lived well into the 1980’s) and came up with retro designs, sans the faux wood. Hey, that might make the PS 4 look a little better.

Ok, Ok, enough ragging on Sony (it’s so much fun.)  This time, however, PS 4 looks a little interesting. The style and the guts are, dare I say, pretty cool…

Inside, you will find a beast of a machine:

  • An eight-core X86 AMD Jaguar CPU ps4
  • 1.84-teraflop AMD Radeon graphics engine
  • 8GB of GDDR5 memory
  • Hard-drive storage (not SSD)
  • Blu-Ray drive
  • Three USB 3.0 ports
  • 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi
  • Ethernet
  • HDMI
  • Bluetooth 2.1
  • optical audio and analog AV out

Sony says there will be no restrictions on used games and you will not be required to ‘phone home’ like you will on XBOX at least once a day to play your games…the games that you bought either on disk or download.

The graphics from this monster look impressive and the game line up looks equally impressive. Oh, and the most impressive part? The retail price is going to be…$399.  Ummm…Microsoft…

Speaking of Microsoft

xboxoneMicrosoft unveiled the XBOX One several weeks prior to E3. The hardware looks great, the entertainment features look great, it is based on Windows and is, essentially, a beast Windows computer. Don’t let that fool you, this thing does not work like your standard desktop. Boasting three operating systems (XBOX OS for the games, Windows 8 kernel for the entertainment and apps and a controller to keep the two working together. It wants to be your internet appliance, your video game console and your entertainment and set top cable box. A bit ambitious, yes.

The games, like PS 4, look stunning.  Fluid motion, realistic water and fire (something that is difficult to do) and consistently high frame rates. But, with all of the goodness, come the badness…

The console requires that it be online at least once a day (in and of itself, not much of an issue since you will likely have it connected to your home network anyway) and the there are a ton of restrictions on games once you acquire them: can only be given away once, publishers get to decide if the games can be resold, etc. Rather draconian. And, then there is the price: equally monstrous at $499. And, with these two downsides (price, game restrictions) I think it likely that Microsoft just handy Sony the ‘win’ for the next gen consoles.

As much as it may pain me to say it, I’m thinking I might be inclined to get a PS 4 long before an XBOX ONE…if at all.