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Monday, April 09, 2007

Anther Slant On PC Versus Console

Yet bad habits are slipping in. Regular firmware updates add functionality, sure, but some will find the prompts confusing. Also game patches are an unwelcome consequence of consoles going online and providing developers with a second, third or fourth chance to get their game code right. You could argue that if a developer finds a new way to get their multiplayer code running quicker then it's a good idea to send it out as a post-release extra, but it's a slippery slope - toward the point where you expect a game to have a new patch everytime you load it up.

Maybe that's what the founder of Trion World Network meant when he said about the days of the console being numbered - it wasn't a jingoistic, pro-PC rant, it was an acknowledgement that consoles are turning into PCs, bad habits and all. Or vice versa, of course.

Just what are we supposed to put beneath our TVs these days?
-- Consoles: "days are numbered," says PC developer I've not heard of. But does he have a point? [Guardian Gamesblog]

This is starting to sound a lot like an ongoing debate I used to have with a friend: PDA's versus cell phones. Who wants to do any serious computing on a keypad, I would say. Who wants to lug around modems for connectivity, he would say. Where's the software, I would say. Get me a drink, he would say. And on and on and on.

The funny thing was that we had both assumed the same thing - eventually the convergence of PDA's and cell phones would make the pointless debate completely moot. It essentially has worked out this way - cell phones and PDA's are a blended marketplace now (and I'm humorously trying to upgrade my cell phone to one with a proper keyboard). This is a natural evolution of products which share similar functions in similar spaces. If people are going to carry around a gadgets - slowly those gadgets will merge. Now MP3 players are joining the fun.

So when Media PC's became an honest to gosh distinction in terms of OS and hardware, as opposed to the vanilla "multimedia computer" (which, for the youngin's, used to mean it came with a proper sound card) and as computers and televisions begin to share form factors and functionality, this convergence - which has been long discussed by both console and PC makers - is finally coming.

When high def television becomes the standard - it will either be nearly complete or explode into action. Once the majority of living rooms has a television that can support the kind of resolution required for proper browsing of the web or using desktop application (and not simply big icon, big font rotary directories for browsing media) ... the need for having a spare computer in the study for checking email will become neglible.

When I went to a Netscape conference so, so many years ago, someone showed a smoke-and-mirrors demo of using a web browser integrated with television. Watch a sports game, pause the game, look up a player online for stats, check your email and some other scores, and then continue watching the game. At the time it was farfetched and nearly laughable.

Now, it's just a corner away.

So which device will power this kind of couch potatoe empowerment? Well, I'd say it will be similar to the argument I had before. The answer will be both. Eventually it will be hard to distinct between a PlayStation and Media PC because they'll be remarkably similar in design with simply different OS and configuration. Viewed in this way, the 360 Elite and PS3 are actually remarkably similar products - slightly before their time but geared to prime a market which will be eager to control their high definition content via a computer.

Proper PVR capabilities are next. Once the transition between playing games, getting information, and watching television is seamless - it will be a lot harder to tell the difference between a PC and a console.

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