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…

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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.

Windows 8/RT on your iPad? Sort of, with Smartglass for XBOX

smartglass2The Windows RT environment (the old “metro” for those of us who liked that name) is a rather elegant and clean interface.  It is one that lends itself to a variety of devices, from smartphones, computers and tablets and the video game consoles, specifically, the XBOX.

During the last E3 game conference, Microsoft demoed ‘Smartglass’, its answer to the Wii-U and other handheld and console combos, like Sony’s ill-designed Vita and PS3. In a nutshell, Smartglass is a means to present secondary game play or other information from the XBOX to a second screen. It also lets you remote control your XBOX.

At is simplest level, Smartglass is an application that works with the XBOX. There are version for Windows 8, Windows Phone 8, iPhone and iPad and Android.  You can get the app from the respective app store.  Windows 8, during install, however, found my XBOX and automatically configured Smartglass.

I also checked out the iOS version for iPad.  smartglass4Boy, the Windows RT environment would work very, very well on iPads.  Forgetting for a moment that I was actually using RT on an iPad, I was really drawn into the application and found myself doing things that are actually easier with Kinect or a controller, like navigating the XBOX dashboard.

Since I do not yet have any SmartGlass enabled applications, I was limited to checking out things like the new browser and getting stats and other information. Using the iPad as a remote control was pretty cool and really useful for text entry since it will take advantage of the iPad on screen keyboard.

The new browser for XBOX is nice. I was able to browse to smartglass1sights I visit the most, like Facebook, the Verge and my own blog. Each rendered correctly and videos played correctly.  Using Smartglass on iPad made browsing really easy..but..here’s the thing, if I want to browse, I’m probably going to actually use the iPad for browsing and not the XBOX. However, the browser does open up more content for your big screen (like Vimeo and the commercial networks) so it does have SOME utility. And, if you do not have a secondary device, you CAN use the controller to enter the URL, but it is a pain. You can use Smartglass to set up favorites and pin them to the dashboard and THEN use the controller.

Osmartglass6ne of the things Smartglass will do is show you your most used/played games and apps.  The recents page will show you played or used recently and you can tap on the tile to restart the app or game.

Smartglass really shines with the XBOX store. You can browse the store on the secondary device while the XBOX is doing something else. You can purchase music, apps or video in Smartglass and it will show up on the XBOX.

smartglass5Smartglass also lets you manage your XBOX account and avatar. You can customize your avatar on the iPad and it is updated almost immediately on XBOX. I think I prefer this over customizing the avatar directly on the XBOX.  I can use the funky XBOX controllers for games, but anything else? Forget it, I have the worst time.  Using touch on the iPad is more intuitive and convenient.

Perhaps the easy access to your gaming achievements is the coolest thing about Smartglass. You get complete breakdowns, by game, of all of your XBOX achievements. Now, I love to play games, but stick mostly to the Call of Duty games on XBOX, but, I smartglass8can imagine, others play a plethora of games so this feature is probably going to be the most important to these users.

Overall, Microsoft did an excellent job of bringing the RT environment to iOS and making it useful. Smartglass is, very likely, the nicest looking and smoothest iOS app out there.  And, best of all, it is free.

Microsoft’s new tablet finally surfaces

Last week, Microsoft sent out invitations to the press for a surprise announcement to be made on June 18.  Microsoft managed to something it really has not done in a decade: drum up excitement and tons of press.  Speculation ran from a new XBOX (which would have been announced the week prior, at E3) to an XBOX branded tablet running Windows 8 RT.

surface_WebWell, the day arrived and the big announcement was…a tablet running Windows 8. Wait, not just one tablet, but two. One will run RT, the other will run Windows 8 Pro. The machines look impressive.  The RT device will run a Tegra 3 chip while the Pro tablet will have Intel inside. No word on battery life, availability or pricing (other than ‘competitive with other ARM devices’ for the RT device and ‘competitive with other ultrabooks’ for the Pro version.

So, what will they be called?  Surface.  Microsoft Surface. A fitting name, I must admit. 

Along with the tablets, Microsoft introduced it’s version of the Apple iPad cover. Like the Apple product, these covers will attach to the device magnetically.  The difference? An in-built keyboard and touch panel.  Called Touch Cover, they will be available in a variety of colors (including Lumia 900 blue.)

The Pro tablet also features, as an option, a pen for making notes on the screen. For storage, the pen attaches just like the cover: magnetically.

During the presentation, Microsoft briefly showed off Netflix for Metro.  No other third party apps were shown, but Office 15 will be included with the tablet.

Both versions are sheathed in a Magnesium shell.  The design is very clean and angular.  The Pro version has ventilation all around the device, so you are never covering up the vents for the Ivy Bridge processor. I’m guessing the RT tablet does not require much ventilation.

Microsoft’s success with the tablet depends on many things: Windows 8, Windows Phone, XBOX and Microsoft itself.  How it’s hardware partners take this news is another question. Microsoft has been working closely with Asus, Toshiba and HP with Windows 8 and corresponding tablets.  They did not announce who was building this device (Foxconn?) but, I’m sure, those hardware partners probably are not and are not overly happy either.  Just a hunch on my part.

So, is it going to be better than iPad? Worse? Well, it needs to be night and day better. I think the Touch Cover and the appearance of the device will be enough to garner attention, but it will be Windows 8 that will make or break the device. Judging from what I have see in Windows 8, I’m not sure the operating system will be the weakness, if any. Ultimately, though, these things need to be cheaper-and better-than iPad.  There’s no question they are already better than any Android tablet except, perhaps, the Nook and Fire, which don’t really compete anyway.

This will be one interesting holiday season, to be sure.

Both the Verge and Engadget have hands on reports.  Go here to see Microsoft’s official Surface website.

Surface tablet key specs

  • 9.3mm thick
  • 676 grams/23.85 ounces
  • 10.6-inch ClearType HD Display (“Full HD” on Pro model)
  • 31.5 watt hour battery (42 watt hours on Pro model)
  • Ports: microSD, USB 2.0, MicroHD video, 2×2 MIMO antennas (microSDXC, USB 3.0, Mini DisplayPort video on Pro model)
  • Storage options: 32GB and 64GB for Windows RT, 64GB and 128GB for Windows 8 Pro
  • Front and rear-facing “HD” cameras