E3 Roundup: XBox One vs Playstation 4 – Price vs. Promising Lineup

PS-Four-vs-XBox-One

Gamers struggling to make a informed decision on whether to buy an Xbox 1 or PS4 this Christmas are not alone – but you will be glad to know both console makers laid their cards on the table at last night’s E3.

Both console makers gave a firm launch window of Winter 2013 for Europe and the US – basically November. The biggest headline from both shows was: price. Microsoft unveiled that their new console would cost $499/£425 – which on the face of it is quite pricey. Compared to the Xbox 360 launch the price point it’s a scary one. For example when the first Xbox 360 launched 8 years ago the base model was a mere £209, admittedly, though you didn’t get a lot of functionality for that price. When Microsoft wrapped up their presentation they unveiled their price-point and collective gasp echoed across the show floor like an icy wind.

Sony on the other hand unveiled an incredibly competitive price point of $399/£349. But that didn’t actually get the biggest cheer from the gaming fraternity. Oh no. Jack Tretton then went onto fully explain Sony’s stance on the thorny issue of DRM, he confirmed that the company wouldn’t be employing any form of draconian secondhand game policies. So if you want to lend a game to friend: you can. If you want to trade a game in at a retailer: you can. If you want to play any PS4 game offline: you can. Basically Sony made a massive song and dance that their console, on paper, is faster, it’s cheaper, and isn’t looking to completely re-write the whole paradigm of game ownership. Now, in the interest of impartiality, you can do almost all of that with Microsoft’s system, too, but their solution is a lot more convoluted and requires games to be online at least once every 24 hours, whilst secondhand games can be traded in depending on whether third party publishers get a cut of the trade-in fee – but it’s their decision, if they want to block trade-ins they can though – a worrying trend as we move towards a digital era.

Both console makers showcased as veritable smorgasbord of incredible titles coming exclusively to each console. It’s clear Sony won the battle of price and DRM, but there’s no doubt that they didn’t have a stronger software lineup compared to Microsoft’s own war chest of games. Games like Dead Rising 3 and Titanfall (from ex-Call of Duty devs) are exclusive to the Xbox One and look like hardcore games that will shift units fast. In almost every area of gaming both companies had exclusive titles; Microsoft showed of Forza 5, the latest installment of their biggest racing title, Sony’s answer was Drive Club, but on the face of it just can’t compete with Forza’s scope and vision.

Trying to decide which console to get is an exercise in futility, but now there are some big difference between the two consoles. Sony has also confirmed that their console will be region free, this means you can import a US console, for example, for a cheaper price and play games from Japan on it. Microsoft’s console on the other hand isn’t region free – again another big difference.

It’s clear that Microsoft and Sony have two different visions for their respective consoles. Microsoft is going for a walled-garden system akin to Apple’s iOS, with full control. They want to move the console into the world of the digital era, and, along with it, change the way we buy and consume games. This means games are intrinsically linked to your profile – much like they are on any digital store. Whilst Sony has stuck to its guns and will continue with the current model of open trading of games and the traditional ownership model – much to the delight of hardcore gamers.

E3 on the whole was great for both Microsoft and Sony – Microsoft clearly had the stronger software lineup with Titanfall, Forza 5 and Ryse, all shooting for the lucrative launch window. Whilst Sony nailed the all-important price point and DRM model, though their software lineup didn’t eclipse Microsoft’s with Killzone: Shadow Fall, Drive Club and The Order.

It’s clear that many gamers are still on the fence when it comes to choosing their next console, and that won’t change until they can get their hands on the controller, the system and, most importantly, the games. But on the face of it Sony’s decision to undercut Microsoft’s price point could well be the smoking gun for many. After all with such a dire economic outlook a cheaper price point is likely to secure a lot of those floating gamers who have yet to make their decision.

Will Microsoft rethink its price point? Unlikely. Will they rein in some of their draconian DRM? Quite possibly, but it’s been long suggested that their decision on DRM was at the behest of publishers unhappy at losing revenue to secondhand sales. So quite how Sony has managed to negotiate a different model does seem a bit puzzling, though, Sony’s decision to charge for online gaming could see a cut of that money going to publishers now – but at the moment that’s just pure speculation.

XBox One vs Playstation 4: Next-Gen Console Showdown

XBox-One

To the naked eye there doesn’t seem to be that much of a difference between the Xbox One – which finally got its unveiling last night – and Sony’s PS4. Both consoles rely on the same PC-like X86 architecture; both the console makers have gone to the same suppliers for CPUs, GPUs and the rest of the console’s components – so what actually are the differences?

Well, one of the main differences between the Xbox One and PS4 is the vision for what each console can do. Sony went out hard on addressing problems developers had with the last PlayStation – so they’ve looked to address problems such as the difficultly in which games are made. Microsoft doesn’t have such worries, they have decades of experience in creating the tools to create great consoles games easily, so they’re vision is to conquer the living room and the TV.

A Glimpse of the TV of the Future

Last night, Microsoft painted a vision of how their Xbox One will change the way we watch TV forever – that’s right, the first segment of the unveil was their plan for dominating the lounge, and in turn the TV. They want to achieve this by have two HDMIs ports on the console, one for input and one for output. The crucial addition is the HDMI input. This means users can connect their subscription TV set top box through a Xbox One, which in turn will be seamlessly overlaid onto the Xbox One’s dashboard.

What this essentially means is the realisation of proper, superfluid, multi-tasking between apps, Live TV, Skype, games – you name it. During the presentation Microsoft bigwigs showed as number of novel ways this could change the way we watch TV forever. One example was snapping an NFL fantasy league app directly to the Live broadcast to create a new level of engagement, another way was calling up info about a film you’re watching and snapping it to the side of the film whilst it’s still playing. Now, this might not sound that revolutionary, but what impressed me the most was the speed in which you could change from game to TV to Skype or combine different apps altogether – basically seamless doesn’t really do it justice.

But there are obviously concerns – what if you don’t have Sky box within range of your Xbox One? How do you connect it to the console? Or can this feature be done with a standard freeview box? What if your TV signal comes from a built-in freeview via coaxial? All of these points remain unanswered. But if Microsoft manages to achieve its vision it could be a real game changer.

XBox-One-Racing

Microsoft has said it is “anticipating a global launch over time”.
“Our goal is to enable live TV through Xbox One in every way that it is delivered throughout the world, whether that’s television service providers, over the air or over the Internet, or HDMI-in via a set top box (as is the case with many providers in the US),” it says on the Xbox news site. “The delivery of TV is complex and we are working through the many technologies and policies around the world to make live TV available where Xbox One is available.”

The Real Difference Could be in the Architecture

One of the main differences between the two consoles is the software it will be running, Microsoft explained they’ve gone for an innovative system whereby there is actually 3 operating systems, the first is a new version of Xbox 360 OS; its soul purpose is to run games, the second is the Kernel from Windows 8; this is used for surfing the web and apps; and then there’s a third OS that allows instant switching between the two. Essentially it’s a bit like a double clutch system, the console is constantly able to switch between the two without any delay whatsoever. This means you can switch from TV to a game as if you were changing a channel on your TV. It’s that instant. No loading games, no loading apps, nothing.

Kinect 2.0

The other major difference between the two consoles is Microsoft’s continued support for Kinect. Every Xbox One will come with the camera. According to Microsoft several upgrades have been made to the camera. So it can now handle 6 players at once, with much higher levels of accuracy, and without any lag. They didn’t actually show any new Kinect games, but they did show off the camera’s improved voice recognition, and wide-angle field of view, which Microsoft said, would work in all living room layouts.

Detailed by Microsoft corporate vice president of Xbox Live Marc Whitten at yesterday’s Xbox One presentation, the new Kinect “understands the slightest rotation of wrist, shift balance, transfer of motion, and when you’re exercising it can read your headbeat.”

XBox-One-CoD

Battle of the RAM

Another subtle differences between the consoles can be seen in the way each console addresses RAM, Sony has decided to the give the PS4 8Gb of GDDR5 RAM, which is usually the preserve of high-end graphics cards. Microsoft has decided to go another way and has chosen cheaper, DDR3 RAM – which on face value doesn’t seem like a fair fight. But Microsoft has also added what is referred to as “secret sauce”, an extra pool of ERAM, which is highly expensive and will look to address the differences in capability and bandwidth.

Until we see multi-format games side-by-side it going to be hard to predict how these slight changes manifests themselves in the actual look and performance of a game. But it could easily be the case the Sony’s OS isn’t as efficient as Microsoft’s and therefore needs more memory, but just as conceivable is PS4 multi-format games will look better due to the extra memory on offer – basically we just don’t know, and to honest, no-one does.

Discussing the making and capabilities of the Xbox One during a video feature for Engadget, Greg Williams said: “We purposefully did not target the highest-end graphics. We targeted more as a broad entertainment play and did it in an intelligent way.”
Williams went on to say that Microsoft has approached development of the new console “strategically”, with hardware that’s “truly unique”.

XBox-One-Game

The Elephant in the Room

Instead of discussing games, though, the gaming community descended into farce after the initial unveil last night regarding the thorny issue of used games. At first Microsoft inferred that games would be tied to user accounts – so if you want to lend a game to friend he would have to pay to access both the single and multiplayer, unless you sign into your account on their console, over the course of the evening various Microsoft sources begun to send out conflicting messages.

“Microsoft corporate vice president Phil Harrison has suggested that customers who activate a pre-owned retail disc for the Xbox One will need to pay the same price as the original buyer to access the content.
When asked by Kotaku whether the secondhand owner will be “paying the same price we [the original buyer] paid, or less” Harrison responded “let’s assume it’s a new game, so the answer is yes, it will be the same price.”
Harrison also said that owners can trade their secondhand games online, however the company is “not talking about it today”.

The resulting confusion saw Larry Hyrb, head of Xbox Live, write a blog post about the confusion.

“We know there is some confusion around used games on Xbox One and wanted to provide a bit of clarification on exactly what we’ve confirmed today. While there have been many potential scenarios discussed, today we have only confirmed that we designed Xbox One to enable our customers to trade in and resell games at retail.
“Beyond that, we have not confirmed any specific scenarios,” he added.
“Another piece of clarification around playing games at a friend’s house – should you choose to play your game at your friend’s house, there is no fee to play that game while you are signed in to your profile.”

The crucial word there is “your” profile – so lending of games seems to be off the cards, and with it renting games, too. If this is true, and Sony doesn’t go the same draconian way of controlling the second hand market, then this could be one of the major differences between the two consoles.

In truth Microsoft’s unveil was a bit light on games, but the vision they painted was an impressive one, everything from the seamless integration of social aspects of content discovery to the absolutely stunning multi-tasking did look mighty impressive. In two weeks time it’s E3 and both Microsoft and Sony have promised to share a lot more on their respective next-gen consoles – but after round 1 we’d have to call it a score draw.

Nintendo Wii U review of reviews

The Nintendo Wii was like a firework of its generation of consoles – it burned incredibly brightly and shot up fast and then kind of fell away. Opening up the casual gaming market (the same market that has been such a boon to smartphones) was in many ways a genius move, but certain casual gamer-centric decisions like making the Wii an underpowered, family friendly standard definition console alientated a lot of “hardcore” gamers. The casual nature of casual gaming left a lot of Wiis gathering an awful amount of dust.

Fast-forward six years and the all new Wii U is hitting the shops. Nintendo used to be kings of the console so will their bigger, faster, better offering have enough to wow the crowds back?

Wii-U

Kyle Orland over at Ars Technica is pleased that the Wii U addresses one of the major failings of the Wii.

One thing is clear, at least—the HD graphics on the Wii U are at least on par with those of current HD systems. I loaded up the opening cut scene for Mass Effect 3 simultaneously on both my Xbox 360 and the Wii U, switching TV inputs to compare the rendering between them. If there was any difference in the quality, I couldn’t make it out.

The Wii’s detractors would often complain about the system’s underpowered hardward – making it somehow less of a gaming machine than the XBox or PS3. Nintendo have finally caught up – with the previous generation of console.

I’m willing to believe the Wii U is more powerful than the older HD consoles though, primarily because the system is also pushing a lag-free wireless image to the Wii U GamePad while it generates those HDTV graphics. Sometimes that touchscreen image is just a mirror of what’s happening on the TV, but often it’s a totally different viewpoint of the same scene, or a different scene entirely. I’d have to imagine ignoring the touchscreen altogether might actually give developers more horsepower to spend on the image being pushed to the TV

GamePad

One of the most innovative things about the Wii was the Wii-Mote a motion-based gaming system that was wildly popular and copied by both Sony and Microsoft. After 6 years of resting on Wii-mote laurels, David Piece at the Verge notes that Nintendo is bringing something new to the table with the GamePad.

The GamePad is huge, about 10 inches long and fairly thick and wide as well. Fortunately it only weighs about a pound, and thanks to ridges underneath your fingers in the back is quite comfortable to hold as long as it’s in both hands — it’s a little awkward in one hand, especially when you hold it in portrait mode. It’s made of black plastic, and is glossy on the front and matte on the back. The glossy part is incredibly fingerprint- and smudge-prone, just like the console, and Nintendo might have been better off using the matte material everywhere. The whole thing feels a little cheap and flimsy (a common occurrence with Nintendo consoles) though it’s plenty sturdy in use. The build quality is one of many sacrifices Nintendo seems to make in the name of creating a lighter, smaller GamePad. Most tradeoffs I could live with, but not the battery, which insisted on dying after only about three hours of gameplay — Nintendo obviously sacrificed battery size to keep the GamePad light, and it overshot the balance a bit. I had to have the GamePad’s charger, which includes yet another huge brick, accessible at all times when I was playing, because as you’ll see there’s basically no Wii U without the GamePad.

Back at Ars Technica Kyle Orland has issues with the launch titles.

But if the Wii U is capable of generating graphics more detailed than those of other current systems, the launch games I’ve seen so far don’t do a great job showing that off. First-party titles like New Super Mario Bros. U and Nintendo Land capture the company’s signature bright, cartoony style, but they come across as high-definition versions of games that would have been possible on the original Wii.

However T3 have some kind words about some of the titles.

The Wii U’s launch line-up is strong, covering everything from triple-A big-hitters to cheaper indie downloads, single-player adventures to multiplayer feasts. Nintendo Land – A great intro to the Wii U’s inputs a la Wii Sports, this comes bundled free in most packages. Includes 12 meaty mini-games themed round Nintendo classics from Donkey Kong to Zelda. New Super Mario Bros U – Sure, it’s a 2D platformer (Galaxy will have to wait), but the breadth of its multi-terrained world is stunning and collaborative multiplayer engaging.

Wii-U-GamePad

Consoles stopped being gaming machines a long time ago and the orginal XBox media centre hack was (at least for me) a revalation. So how does the Wii U fit into this new media hub landscape?

Although the deluxe Wii U shipps with Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video, and YouTube apps all preinstalled, Cnet uncovered a major failing.

Unfortunately, one section where the Wii U majorly fails — compared with other consoles — is media playback. Truth is, there is none. Even with all of its USB ports and SD slot, users cannot play their own media on the console. Throw this into the missed opportunity category.

So what’s the verdict? Techrader manage to sum it up the best.

For Nintendo fans looking to finally enter the HD era, the Wii U may seem like a beacon of light in an endless downpour – and if you’re coming from the Wii, it will be quite impressive, indeed. Not only are the publisher’s own properties sleeker than ever before, but third-parties can finally deliver the great games they’ve been making for other systems in recent years. But gamers who already have an Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 may struggle to see much of the appeal for now. Many of the Wii U games are lightly enhanced ports, with just a few noteworthy originals. And the online interface and streaming media options aren’t quite as polished or robust as what’s seen elsewhere. It’s difficult to point to a brilliant, system-selling game that justifies a new console purchase. There’s great fun to be had on the Wii U right away, but we struggle to call it an essential purchase for those still enjoying games on other platforms.

PS Vita: A hand holding guide to your new handheld

Its been just over a week since the widely successful launch of Sony’s new handheld Playstation Vita. We’ve been spending hours on our new shiny piece of tech and in the process have collated a load of tips, tricks and how-to’s. Were here to do all the boring research so you can spend more time enjoying the best mobile gaming experience money can buy.

 PS-Vita

1. Customisation is king.

If you want to personalise your PS Vita you can. Much like an iPad or iPhone  you can press and hold any of the app icons and move them around. You can’t make group folders, but you can move all similar apps to the same screen and keep your new PS Vita nice and tidy.  You can even change the background colour or image by tapping the theme icon in the bottom right of each frame. Get creative and design your own background images (which you can transfer to your PS Vita via PS3)

2. Let there be light.

Unlike the PS3, the PS Vita has been designed form the ground-up to multi-task – so if you want to change the brightness on the stunning OLED screen mid-game you can. Press and hold the PS button and a quick-access menu will appear which enables you to adjust the brightness and even set up a custom soundtrack – so you can listen to the delights of the Prodigy whilst thundering around New York on Wipeout 2048.

3. Peace of mind.

Like any device there’s always a chance than you might drop it or worse break it. Now we can’t prevent that, but we help you save your precious save data. Connect you PS Vita to your PS3 via the USB cable provided, open up the content managed on the you PS Vita and select the the Back Up option to back up all your PS Vita’s game data and gain a little extra peace of mind.

4. Say cheese!

One of the coolest features we’ve stumbled upon with the PS Vita is the ability to take some screenshots of your in-game achievements. All you have to do is press the Start and PS button at the same time and if you done it right you’ll see the screen flash white and will hear the snap from the camera.

5. PSP games with 2012 lick of paint.

As you may well know the PS Vita is backwards compatible with over 250 PSP games. But did you know you can make them look better? Well if you load up a PSP game you can press and hold the touchscreen it will bring up a sub menu which allows you to enable “bilinear filtering” and “color space” which will give your classic games a new lick of paint and smooth out some of those 2005 jaggies. Experiment with your PSP games to find your favorite combination.

6. The Panel of your dreams.

Not only can you customise your background, but you can add a custom panels to add a little bit of flair to your PS Vita. To change your PSN panel, navigate to Settings, PSN, Account Information, and Panel to choose from a wide assortment of artwork from first and third-party games.

7. Remote Play goodness. 

One of the most exciting features on PS Vita is Remote Play. With this new feature you can log into to your PS3 remotely to access a video, start a Playstation store download and even play games. Remote Play is still in its infancy and further down the line you’ll be able to play full PS3 games via your PS Vita. While that’s not here just yet, the PS Vita is compatible with any PSone games you may have on your hard drive, along with a handful of classic PSN games such as PixelJunk Monsters, PixelJunk Eden, and Peggle.

8. Bluetooth is the business.

The PS Vita supports high-quality stereo Bluetooth audio output – so if want to chat to friends or give a bit of trash talk you can. In the Settings menu, touch Network and Bluetooth Settings and you’ll be able to pair your headphones to your new PS Vita.

9. Let there be silence.

Some people like soft jazz, others prefer silence. If you want to turn off PS Vita’s toe-tappin’ menu music, you’ll find the option in Settings > Sound & Display > System Music. While you’re there, you’ll notice an AVLS option. This limits the maximum volume when using headphones — perfect if you share your PS Vita with a little one.

PS Vita: High end handheld gaming but strictly for the hardcore

Alright, okay. Calm down! Chillax! What’s all the hubbub about this bloomin’ PS Vita thing then? Well, with on-the-go gaming now done primarily on the good ol’ smart phone device, many other great tech and gadget websites have been arguing that it’s a little bit silly to be producing a brand new hand-held console in the rather sultry shape of the PS Vita. Indeed, first reviews have split opinion right down the middle.

PS-Vita
Image courtesy of iFixit.com

What do we think? We all know (yeah, that’s you as well…) that in this…. wait for it… poor economic climate (sorry… the phrase was necessary) that people (even avid gamers) don’t have as much time as they might usually, or as much money to spend… yeah, so money’s the main problem. Anyway, with that in mind, it begs the perfectly valid question: “Is a device that costs over £200 really going to make a difference and entice people part with their cherished pennies?” The answer, quite honestly is… maybe.

At first glance, this thing looks a lot like the PSP and the operating menu is a bit like the Wii (nice and clean with lots of room for manoeuvre) – don’t worry though, because the Vita is in fact, a lot bigger than the former, which in the gaming world is good… because it makes things a lot easier in terms of both readability, and playability…. you already knew that.

The reason why the PSP is worth bringing up here though, is because the Vita actually showcases the evolution of Sony’s very first hand-held baby – as such, it deals with a lot of the problems that were evident within that. This upgrade (kinda like the Robert Patrick’s T-1000 robot to Arnie’s The Terminator) is not so easy to damage – it has a strong reinforced shell which makes it much more durable and comfortable to play on the go.

Not enough for you? You’d like some other wonderful qualities? Since you asked, the Vita features the awesome double header of the PS3’s Dualshock controller which will lead to some delightful motion-sensor-related action, alongside a very credible attempt to recreate the dual analogue sticks, which though smaller (obviously), do most certainly help to reduce the desire that the PSP had to kill your thumbs. That is always a good thing, yeah? We really like our thumbs here at LG.

Another positive thing about the Vita is its diversity. It has the ability to stray into smartphone and tablet territory; there’s a wide multi-touch front screen (a teeny weeny bit larger, but equally as responsive as the trusty iPhone), and it’s got rear and front VGA (640 x 480 pixels) cameras that seem to work very nicely; a favourite feature for many people who will actually use them to full potential for in-game usage and photo manipulation.

One of the best options of course, has to be the Near GPS location service (pretty nifty) – it’s a multi-layered tool for locating other gamers as well as allowing the user to access a variety of movies, music and picture files that can easily be imported from home. Nice work. Did we mention the charming five-inch OLED display (which is particularly awesome), oh, oh also the four hours of quality battery life and audio (best experienced via headphones). No? Well, they’re treats that you are more than deserving of, dear readers.

The numerous game titles can either be bought in old’s cool (old school…) boxes or, in the deceptively… erm flashy new PS Vita flash-card format (which, before we slag it off, you can rather handily save games on), or downloaded from the PlayStation Network to an annoyingly tiny PS Vita memory card (’bout the size of your phone’s sim). The very unfortunate thing (which a number of other reviews have noted) is that both of these cards need to be attached through some of the most challenging access points that you are likely to find within the gaming world… collective sad face.

Some other quite negative points to take into account before we finish, are the fact that for one, there’s no storage internally, and even more astonishingly, the largest memory card available at launch will be 16GB at a cost of £45 – might be a tad too much, eh?. Also, each game that you play has to be terminated in order to start another… that’s a definite downer, but it could be worse , at least you won’t have loads of games running at once and clogging up your precious memory… nobody likes that. right?

In summary, the PS Vita is expensive, but with 25 games confirmed for the launch (including Uncharted: Golden Abyss and Wipeout 2048) it’s set to keep avid games busy for a good long while, and (perhaps) establish itself as an innovative new cross-media platform.

The Vita is going to be available from February 22 at £230 for Wi-Fi-only, and £280 for 3G model.

Zone – console gaming on the cheap

Everyone loves a bargain. Unfortunately, when that bargain happens to look like something more expensive with much worse functionality, people are bound to be disappointed. Enter the Zone 3D, 60 and 100.

Each of Zone’s products closely resembles a market competitor: the Zone 3D is Playstation-like, the 60 is all Wii (complete with accessories) and the 100 has a more-than-passing resemblance to the Xbox 360. Still, if you can’t afford any of the main consoles, you can always buy one of these and hope your friends are stupid. It’s a shame, because if they didn’t try to look like the major consoles, they’re not without some positives.

Zone

Zone 3D

Still in development, the Zone 3D should have between 20 – 30 3D games. This’ll be bolstered by around 80 bonus 2D games, meaning that everyone should find something to gauge their interest.

We played a skateboarding gaming, which responded well to the wireless controller. The graphics and gameplay were about on-par with a Playstation One. The 3D is powered by anaglyph – the old style green and red offset with compulsory goggles. It does mean you get 3D gaming without buying any special (expensive) kit, but it’s not the most impressive.

The system is available in the summer for around £50.

Zone 60

The sequel to the original Zone 40, the new system has bumped up the graphics to 32-bit. We didn’t see any 3D, so expect lots of SNES-style gaming. It didn’t look the best on the HD LCD TV was saw it on, but it’s not finished yet so it’s hard to pass judgement. There will be around 25, 32-bit games, the rest 16-bit ports from the old system.

We got to play a Table Tennis game on beginner mode, and thoroughly thrashed the opponent by simply mashing the A button. Although it looks like a Wii, swinging the remote was completely unnecessary for our victory. On the other hand, there’re plenty of accessories to tack onto the remote, which was half the Wii-fun. Summer, £50.

Zone 100

This one was out of batteries when we got to the stall, but simply it looked like a white Kinect. The benefit is that you can plug it into the TV without plugging in a power cord, so it’s highly portable. The downside? Running out of battery while gaming is frustrating.