The cat’s out of the bag. Sort of.
Project Natal is officially called Kinect, but we don’t really know more than we did before, with the exception of the launch title lineup. What we do know, however, that Microsoft is serious about Kinect (as strange as this thing sounds) and the Xbox 360 is moving closer to general entertainment than ever before. Sony should take the challenge seriously. The PS3 platform needs some adjustment and upgrades.
I have to admit that - I am writing this article before the Microsoft E3 keynote – that I am somewhat confused by Microsoft’s Kinect launch. Kinect has been covered in secrecy for months. Hours before its glamorous launch at LA’s Galen Center, there were two major leaks – one in the shape of a USA Today article that was published ahead of schedule and that leaked the product name as well as launch title lineup and one that pretty much confirms a new, perhaps slim, Xbox 360.
The Kinect presentation Sunday night, which must have cost millions of dollars, considering that Microsoft hired Cirque de Soleil and 76 artists who were preparing for the show for four months, appears to also have left attendees somewhat confused. I believe that “weird” was the most common word I have read as the description of the event. If there is one message to take away so far it is that Kinect is worth real money to Microsoft and it is willing to spend serious cash to let us know how much more entertaining this human interface versus a traditional controller can be.
The redesigned Xbox 360 should not be really surprising to you – at least if you have read my article quoting Steve Ballmer that there will be a new Xbox 360 in 2010 and you were not among those smarties who said that I must have had tomatoes in my ears while eating lunch – and if you did not believe Major Nelson / Larry Hryb when he suggested that I simply made the story up and/or Steve Ballmer had no idea what he was talking about. No hard feelings, Larry.
What is important to note is that Microsoft has a refreshed platform with a new value proposition ready for Christmas 2010. We can be certain that Microsoft will be throwing lots of money into marketing and sales to make sure the Xbox 360/Kinect bundle will sell like sliced bread. So far, we have no idea what Nintendo and especially Sony will show to defend themselves against what should be seen as Microsoft’s most challenge for its rivals yet.
However, Sony has a few opportunities and I would hope that the company will not shoot itself in the foot again, but exploit its chances to create a few interesting years of competition in a new video gaming era – and era that may be remembered as the time when got controllers that did not cause carpal tunnel or tendonitis anymore.
Here is what Sony needs to announce.
This is a no-brainer. We already know, courtesy of Engadget, that we will get at least two new PS3s with larger hard drives. The two consoles that surfaced in FCC documents will reportedly feature 250 GB / 500 GB hard drives. There will also be PS3s with 802.11n and Bluetooth 2.0+EDR connectivity. Since we were talking about two debugging units in those consoles, we can also expect some core hardware changes, most likely an updated RSX GPU. Nothing spectacular, but a decent refresh to promote a Move bundle.
Kinetic will be expensive. Whether it will be the previously reported $149 price tag or the more recent $189 rumor, Sony will have the price advantage camera, if the Move bundle including camera and game will come in below $100. $79 sounds even better. Compared to Kinect, Move could even be pitched as a budget solution, even if it does not look that much better than what Nintendo has had for almost four years now. It appears that Move is getting game reviewers finally excited, but I am not convinced that Move has the marketing appeal of Kinect and can attract as much consumer interest. And, conceivably, Kinect could be better than move and PS fanboys will just hate the fact that Sony has not come up with Microsoft’s idea, but decided to improve what has been out for four years – Nintendo’s Wii controller. The only way to counter Kinect may be price - and content.
3D, 3D, 3D
Ah, content. Sony’s greatest promotional opportunity during the entire lifecycle of the PS3 may be 3D. Right now. The Xbox 360 will catch up, no doubt, but it is a USP for the PS3 in this week. Can we please see a decent number of announcements of 3D entertainment – 3D Blu-ray and games? I am sure there will be 3D games, albeit I can already imagine that Sony will fall into the old trap of showing us dozens of FPS titles and not a true diversity of titles that will surprise us. Personally, I find it amazing how much Sony screwed up the launch of the most influential game on the PS3 - GT5. It is scheduled for Q4 now, which means it will be four years late. And think about that: Q4 will be a time when 3D is pitched. Imagine GT5 in 3D – now that would have justified the 4-year delay. But we now that this is just a dream and we need to wait for GT6 3D, which may not arrive before 2015. If we are lucky.
GT5 would fall into this category as well. But the PS3 really needs some attractive content, not the kind of me-too content, that makes the console special again. We have heard rumors about upgrades to the Playstation Network – which could feature early access to movies or games. Remember how Netflix changed the entertainment experience on the Xbox 360 and then on the PS3 and Wii? Creativity and a few deals along this way to make content available you just can’t get on the Xbox 360 would go a long way – especially if Microsoft is moving closer to a general entertainment experience as well.
Don’t hold your breath on this one. It’s just a rumor right now and an unreliable one in addition to that. You’ll need $300 just to get started these days with the PS3. Then add a few bucks for the right cables, and about $100 for the Move controller. And if you buy a TV that measures up to the PS3’s potential, you are looking at another $2500 for a 3D TV. Dropping the PS3’s price by $50 or $100 is marginal in that respect, but a $249 console or even a $199 console on the shelf looks better than a $299 console and could help Sony to move a ton of units this holiday season. However, it is unclear if the PS3 production cost is low enough and if Sony is ready for such a decision. Plus we would suspect that the company counts on Move as being a sufficient sales catalyst to avoid a painful price drop this year. But there is no doubt that a $199 PS3 slim with 3D capabilities would look like an enticing Christmas present.
Wolfgang Gruener is a technology journalist and analyst. He was managing editor for the Tom’s Hardware news section from 2003 to 2005, before launching and acquiring TG Daily. Today, Wolfgang works with startups and publishes his thoughts and analysis on critical and emerging technologies and products at Conceivablytech.com.