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Google TV: Hands On with Sony Blu Ray

So my hiatus was brief... but I will keep this short to stay in spirit!

Today I got the Google TV (Sony's Blu Ray product). It's remarkable. Quick thoughts:

1. Set up is very, very easy.

2. This is truly a merging of internet and television. The 'picture-in-picture' functionality is the most clear example.

3. The UI is super intuitive. No instructions needed - I am sure there are tons of things to discover, but usage is obvious.

4. The ability to integrate with all providers AND use it without changing TV inputs is game-changing.

5. The Sony remote looks clunky... but it isn't. It is intuitive, easy to hold and great to for browsing / content input.

6. It's bad news for universal remotes (like Logitech): this is bluetooth and controls television, cable and Google TV. Unless you buy Logitech's Google TV product, there isn't a need for an expensive supplemental remote.

7. It's a ton of fun. Can't overstate this.

Netflix Streaming Arrives on Playstation 3

I have been a Netflix subscriber for a few years - sometimes very active and other times 'pausing' my account. I was excited to have Netflix (finally) arrive on Playstation 3 because it is a potential solution to what many Netflix subscribers suffer from (including me): laziness and hassle. All things being equal, on-demand streaming certainly provides a better experience than mail rentals (which is why Comcast On-Demand is so great). So I was interested in three things about the Netflix / PS3 integration:

1. Activation and integration 2. User experience on the PS3 system 3. Picture quality

#1 and #3 were terrific - Netflix walked subscribers through the activation process clearly and easily. And the picture quality and movie controls are excellent. For starters, a disc arrives that has thorough instructions on the envelope, sleeve and disc:

netflix ps3 disk

Once you insert the disc into the system, you are asked to activate the unique code on When you visit the site, you are immediately prompted to do the same:

netflix ps3 activation

A couple seconds later, the system activates and you arrive at a slick UI with movies from your online queue (which seems to be the best way to manage content):

netflix on tv

The picture quality is crisp and the streaming was quick, uninterrupted and only required a slight delay before the movie started. A few hours after the movie's competition, Netflix follows up via email to ask about the picture quality and experience - a surprising but welcome email (excellent customer communication):

netflix email follow up

So what needs improvement? The finding experience (recognize a theme in usability issues across the web? iTunes, eBay, Facebook, etc all suffer these issues) is nearly unusable. The best way to find (search isn't even an option) and manage content is through - which historically is a leader in UI.

With full online support clearly available on the PS3, there is an opportunity to merge the two experiences with a Netflix-lite module that users can opt to browse through.

Very promising start that certainly makes my subscription more valuable / productive.

Sony PSP Go Launches... But the Time has Passed

Let me preface by saying that, while I do not consider myself a video game buff, I am the proud owner of a Sony Playstation 3 (used both for Blu Ray and infrequent gaming). It is important to say this because my remarks about the PSP Go - Sony's latest version of their portable gaming device - are neither rooted in a dislike for the hardware nor the for the gaming content.

Simply put, the PSP Go is entering the market at a time dominated by mobile devices. Its two core usages are for gaming (leveraging Sony's content and game developers) and high quality video. But unless Sony's device is staggeringly better than what can be done on the iPhone (and others like the Palm Pre), users will not:

- carry another, heftier device - pay premiums for content and titles - change their viewing habits (how much better would video need to be to turn in your iPhone or iPod Touch for another small viewing screen?) Sony PSP Go

Perhaps if the Sony Go was introduced two years ago, it could have won market share during a time when consumers did not believe everything (work, phone, gaming and video) could be done in a single device. But today - we know it is possible and we know that the trend will continue:

- devices are getting better - gaming content is dramatically improving (just look at Zynga) - major gaming titles and developers are focusing their attention on mobile (currently the primary reason for gamers to want a PSP Go) - in the near-term economic climate, users appear willing to sacrifice quality for pricing (ie a <$10 game via the App Store vs. a $40 Sony title) - Apple and others are opening up to allow peripheral development / integration... which could significantly enhance gaming quality

iPhone Game Play Goes Retro; Gets Mixed Results

In late March, I wrote that the next step for iPhone game developers was to go 'backwards' by mimicking control pads found on old gaming systems like Nintendo NES and GameBoy:

Well the iPhone has really gone retro by releasing Sonic the Hedgehog with a two-button control pad. TechCrunch's Jason Kincaid isn't a fan: "I’m not a fan of the control scheme some developers are adopting to port these classic games, which typically consists of a virtual joypad in the bottom left hand corner of the screen with a few virtual buttons on the right side. Visually the buttons successully mimic the gamepads of yore, but they lack any tactile feedback at all, which gets frustrating when you’re trying to dodge bullets or leap from cliffs and you accidentally hit the wrong button."

Similar feedback was given in the comments from my earlier post. Commenters pointed out that some other games have virtual "d-pads" that have similar issues:

"It's already out there. Though having used these apps, this setup is still difficult to actually play with. There's no tactile feedback to the buttons, making playing very difficult."

If tactical feedback is the primary issue, perhaps the pad / buttons need to be more prominently displayed and provide more obvious visual feedback upon touch.

... Or you could always buy the new Sony PSP that featured a slide-out controller pad, carry yet another device in your pocket and purchase more expensive games. My bet - iPhone developers will figure it out and users will get accustomed to it.

The Next Step in iPhone Gaming: Nintendo NES

At the break of the new year, I listed 20 predictions for Digital Media in 2009. The third prediction was: iPhone Gaming Will Progress Beyond Novelty

At the time of that article, the biggest application was iFart which, while not a traditional game, represented what one of three game types to successfully hit the iPhone:

1. Accelerometer based games (SGN is the king here) 2. Role playing games / storyline games (such as iMob and SGN's Agency Wars) 3. Novelty games (iFart, Beer Pong)

I find games like iMob and Agency Wars fascinating because they are perfect for the iPhone: always connected, progressing storylines and ideal for several short play sessions.

I also think that what SGN has built for with their accelerometer-based sports games is terrific - bringing together the Wii's form-factor with the connectivity of mobile (and now Facebook Connect).

But I want more. I find the current gaming offers interesting.... but mostly ephemeral. Nothing, for instance, I would shell out $9.99 or $29.99 for... after all, Playstation 3 games now run $59.99 - and I spend a lot more time with my iPhone.

The next generation of iPhone gaming needs to look back to the original Nintendo. Place the original track pad and A/B buttons on the iPod's touch screen... and use traditional gameplay navigations that have been a staple of controllers for ages:

iphone-game-575 Even though it is less sexy than developing against the iPhone's accelerometer, gameplay would be richer and longer-lasting. Super Monkey Ball is fun... but the novelty wears off soon there after - particularly when the controls aren't terrific.

Imagine connected, online equivalents of Super Mario 3 or Zelda that play on the iPhone and tap into Facebook Connect... it might not be sexy (and I might be dating myself) but it would be powerful. And with the creativity and horsepower developing against the iPhone - why can't the next Mario, Zelda and Metroid emerge?

Update: To be clear, I am not suggesting that the iPhone bring back Nintendo games (see comments); rather, the point was that Nintendo-inspired controls would introduce more compelling games on the iPhone.

Why Would You Ever Purchase Video Games Off Amazon?

This morning, Motley Fool asks whether it is game over for Game Stop as Toys "R" Us in encroaching into their territory of video game buying / selling / trading. ... who cares?

I continue to ask why you would ever shop at Game Stop? Or Toys "R" Us or the Playstation Store (now closing) and so on for Video Games?

I just bought MLB The Show 2009 for Playstation 3 on Amazon. It arrived on 'opening' day, was discounted by 5-10% and didn't include taxes. Furthermore, it was entirely hassle free: a few clicks on and it arrived at my front door.

And Amazon now has a trade in program to save an additional 10% (which is about what you would get at Game Stop... if you want to extract the maximum value of trade ins, you are best served on eBay or


The same question stands for purchasing DVDs at Borders and Barnes & Nobles. They cost nearly double the price of that found on Amazon and have far worse selection. Unless you need a movie specifically at that moment - these purchases makes no sense.

Sony Closes Metreon Playstation Store

Sign of the economic apocalypse part 153:Sony's landmark Metreon Playstation store is closing.

I walk by the Sony Metreon every day on my way to and from work. And I have certainly noticed the decline in foot-traffic and visitors inside the Playstation store (which sits on 4th Street and Mission). I am surprised, however, that the closure will only affect the Playstation store - after all, the Sony store beside it has always been empty (economic downturn or not). The store is well laid out - but it baffles me as to why you would ever purchase anything directly from the Sony Store when you can buy it online and save dramatically on price and tax. It's akin to buying a movie at Borders or Barnes & Nobles - why would you ever pay $29.99 for a DVD or more for a Blu Ray?

2009 Predictions: iPhone Gaming Will Replace Nintendo and Sony

My 20 Digital Media Predictions for 2009 series continues with a story (The Dream iPhone) that tangentially sits atop Techmeme at the moment. Most of the talk about the below iPhone v2 mock ups are about the full keyboard. My initial take was around the Nintendo-Gameboy-like controller: A/B buttons and control pad:

While I do not think that mocked up 'joystick-lite' is the solution, it brings me to one of my 2009 Predictions:

iPhone Gaming Will Progress Beyond Novelty

I've written before about the iPhone's rapid destruction of handheld gaming systems (sorry Sony PSP, Nintendo DS, and others). Portable gaming systems are struggling as the iPhone (and others) offer full gaming consoles within a phone, messaging system and internet device. How can the PSP and DS compete?

Right now, they are only competing on game quality, which comes in two forms:

1. Production quality (titles, graphics, etc) 2. Control quality (the DS for instance offers a more engaging, hands-on experience)

Currently, the iPhone is taking market share because its price point and ease of use. It has yet to truly compete on game quality because, like it or not, the games are all novelties. The games have solid graphics (not amazing - but consumers don't expect a portable PS3) - but the game-play is generally weak: tilt the phone and move jerkily right, left, forward, backward. This is fun for a little - but doesn't offer longterm game-play. In the current format, will a Mario Brothers or Madden Football exist? Simply put: no.

But in 2009, game-play will be solved and we will be willing to fork over $10.00 - $25.00 for big titles that offer extended play.

Someone will figure out how to add a control pad atop the screen. Someone will figure out how to layer that with the accelerometer. Someone will figure out how to make successful titles like Madden Football, Metroid, Mario, Little Big Planet, etc iPhone compatible. The Gameboy solved it for years and iPhone developers will do it in 2009... beating Nintendo and Sony in the process.

Video Game Consoles Up 26%; iPhone Killing Portable Gaming Devices?

Strong numbers were announced today from The NDP Group that show significant year-over-year growth in video game console purchases: +26% in October '08 vs. '07 for consoles, software and accessories. However, portable gaming consoles (like the PSP and Nintendo DS) fell 14%. This clearly is an outcome of devices like the iPhone which are now full gaming systems in their own right... with publishers developing high-quality content specifically for the platform. What is the benefit of buying a PSP or Nintendo Wii when, for the same price, you can have an iPhone which has cheaper content, is social (phone, sms, email, etc), smaller and sexier. This trend will continue....:

"The video games industry grew an impressive 18 percent year-over-year in the first month of the critical fourth quarter," she wrote. "With 10-months under its belt, the video games industry is still poised to top $22B in annual sales in 2008.

"The sales results are mixed this month, however. The console portion of the market made significant gains at 26% across hardware, software and accessories, while the portable side of the market stalled, declining 14%. Year-to-date the portable segment of the market is still up 7%."