The show was anticlimactic. I am glad I went, so now I will no longer wonder what I am missing, but the show is much, much smaller than the Consumer Electronic Show (CES). I was there when it opened Monday and I saw everything by Monday afternoon. I do not want to give the wrong impression, it will still a great show and I enjoyed getting to see and play with many of the upcoming products, but it is not even close to CES.
Console WarsI took a good look at Sony’s and Microsoft’s response to the Nintendo Wii. Both looked decent, but neither looked spectacular. Sony’s response is called the Move and is simply a variant of the Wii controller. It has a colorful led bulb at the top and looks like a glow-in-the-dark microphone, but works just like the Wii. Each controller costs $50. Most games will use just one controller, but several games used two controllers (just as the Wii uses a controller plus a numchuck for some games). One advantage of the Sony system is that the extra controller could be used by another player by itself in another game (the Wii numchuck is useless by itself). The other advantage of the Sony solution is that the Playstation 3 has much better graphics (high definition) than the Wii (standard definition).
Microsoft’s response to the Wii was much different. Whereas Sony basically created their own version of the Wii on top of the PS3, Microsoft took a completely different path. The Kinect (the official name of the Natal project) is a $149 accessory that you attach to the Xbox 360. It is a fairly sophisticated camera with depth sensors (allowing it to "see" in three dimensions) and a microphone. In order to play Wii-type games, the player(s) simply move their hands. For example, in a racing game, the players pretend to be using a steering wheel. This sounds a bit lame, but worked just fine. More impressively, in a boxing game, players used their hands as if they were really boxing. This seemed to work much better than boxing games I’ve seen on the Wii (and of great benefit to adults, there were no artificial limitations on movement due to a short cord between the Wii controller and numchuck). $149 is much more than $50 for the Sony Move, but you only need to buy one Kinect no matter how many players you have compared to $50 to $100 (for games that take two controllers) per player for the Sony.
When it comes to gaming, neither Microsoft nor Sony seemed to hit a home run with their new products. Nothing I saw would convince most people who already owned a Wii to replace it with an Xbox 360 or a Playstation 3. On the other hand, for people interested in gaming consoles but who do not already own a Wii, Xbox 360, or a PS3 (however large this market segment may be after almost five years), now the Sony and Xbox 360 look much more compelling than the Wii. Not only are the graphics much better, but now both products can offer social gaming (easy to play games) that equal or exceed those on the Wii. If Nintendo wanted to be really radical, they should come up with a Wii simulator for the Xbox 360 and the PS3 –most of the money to be made in the industry is via software licensing and both the Xbox 360 and the PS3 have more than enough horsepower to easily simulate the Wii.
When it comes to gaming consoles, I do not expect Microsoft or Sony to have a great advantage over one another based on their new releases. People who already prefer Sony will continue to support them and people who prefer Microsoft will continue to buy from them. I do expect to see future sales of the Wii hardware platform to decline as late entrants now have two clearly superior platforms from which to choose. In addition to my radical suggestion of selling Wii simulation programs (which Nintendo will probably not follow), market forces will probably cause the Wii’s price point to drop to $99 in the foreseeable future (no later than Christmas 2011).
When it comes to the future implementation of technology, I think Microsoft has put some serious thought into the Kinect and this will pay many dividends in the future. While many will dismiss the Kinect as a gimmick, think about what Microsoft will learn from Kinect users. Microsoft will be gaining great experience in other ways of controlling the Xbox 360, which is just a computer for the family room. Different programmers will be experimenting with various gesture related commands. Likewise, the Kinect comes with a microphone and voice-enabled commands are already enabled. I expect that Microsoft will use the experience they gain from the Kinect for both future Xbox and PC platforms. I predict that the next version of Windows will recommend a camera and microphone be part of the PC and will come ready to accept voice and motion commands. I also predict that a videophone application will be released shortly for the Xbox 360/Kinect – perhaps part of Xbox Live. After all, Xbox Live users already have high bandwidth and with the Kinect, all required hardware will already be in place. The ideas in this paragraph are strictly my own, there was no mention of these applications at E3, but I think these are straightforward conclusions based upon the hardware.
Closing ThoughtsI am looking forward to the movie sequel to Tron, which comes out this December. There were several Tron related games coming out, including one for the Wii that looked great. Good thing my kids do not know I blog yet as this will probably be a Christmas present for them. The Lego version of Harry Potter looked like even more fun than the previous Lego titles if you have kids in the 12 and under crowd. There were some other neat things at the show too, but the most interesting item was considering the long-term impact I expect to see from the Kinect.
Category: Entertainment , Category: Home Theater , Category: Science and Technology