Cathode Tan - Games, Media and Geek Stuff
logo design by man bytes blog

Friday, June 18, 2010

2010 E3 Impressions

I'm not at E3, nor am I even remotely close enough to making a profit off of gaming in any sense to attend it anytime soon (nor do I figure The Girl would sign off on it as a holiday).

But I have Twitter, and opinions - and not afraid to use either. So, from what I can gather:

I think the main win here for the big N is that the 3DS appears, from all reports, to be everything Nintendo wants it to be. True 3D, no glasses, backwards compatible with DS but finally some real new tricks to give developers for 3DS only titles. As Nintendo themselves put it - this isn't just another rendition of the now what, four times redone DS? It's a new beast altogether, and whatever magic they put into the 3D screen sounds like it might pay off.

Wii-wise, there seemed to be some decent enthusiasm behind some of the new titles, but stance remains the same: the Wii's endurance is going to be tested in the next 12 months, as Kinect and Move hit the scene and now HD equipped casual gamers wonder about the only SD console remaining on the scene.

Speaking of that though: Microsoft's big push, Kinect, sounds like it is going to run into early adoption problems with the $149 price tag. I honestly think this is mostly perception: it seems closer to the Wii's $199 price tag, and the Wii has better brand power at the moment. So there will be a lot of people doing the apples to oranges comparison and just deciding to get the Wii instead.

Fair? I'm not sure it is - but I think Microsoft will need to get some impressive software reviews out there to get away from it. A Halo-esque flagship title would go along way to making it distinct ... or perhaps a better way to put is a Wii Sports that in no way resembles Wii Sports.

Sony's real advantage is position Move more like an accessory with a $99 bundle. How much of a difference in MSRP this is in reality when a second controller is what - another $49? And the MoveChuck is another $29? I think people who go to stores and buy the two products would quickly have similar totals.

Move sounds like it has the advantage of being more appropriate for compatibility with existing games, having those buttons and all. This could prove a serious boon to Sony in the long run. I may be more willing to pick up Move just to try Killzone 2 with the new controls - more so than I am just to replace my Wii Sports with an HD version.

3D Gaming
Sony made a big push on this and to be honest, I can only find it pretty bizarre. Prior to E3, Sony had started updated the PS3 software to handle 3DTV's. I jokingly sent the official PlayStation twitter the question if this was the kind of 3D that required $5 glasses or a $5,000 TV. This was their response:

3D TVs are starting to roll out now, they use "active shutter" glasses with embedded circuitry. In a year or two, most TV will be 3D & cheap

I'm assuming they mean "most" as in "most available". Let's not forget that HD only became truly commonplace (as in over 50% market) in the last year or so, something like half a decade after becoming commercially available. And if by "cheap" they mean "around the same cost as my current television" - then Sony's 3D revolution has already failed. I'm not about to replace my perfectly good TV for a single feature that only one thing attached to it would really offer.

Or to put it this way: I'm already doubtful paying the surcharge at the theater to see the 3D version is worth it, I'm not about to drop a grand to do it in my living room.

Nintendo seems to understand this: the 3DS is really the only part of the 3D platform I can get behind. It doesn't require glasses and I'm only replacing my already aging DS for less than a couple benjies.

Now, I've continually been asking why a new TV is even necessary - and even poked the Internet Bear a little about Sony showing the Killzone 3 demo on a 100 foot project screen (clearly not a 3DTV). It looks like an odd mosiac of technology limitations that actually makes this true, and I'll post a follow up on that later.

Valve on PlayStation 3

So Why Does 3D Need A 3DTV?

My earliest memory of 3D is watching the decidedly un-spooky yet relatively funny Three Stooges "Spooks", which had a wide variety of object on wires dangled in front of us.

And that was on our old, decidedly non-HD television. So when Sony starts beating the pulpit that you need a TV to experience games and movies off the PlayStation 3 in 3D ... should I believe it?

Well, like so many things in technology - the answer is: sorta. Let's go backwards from the new technology to the old Stooges technology.

Active Shutter Glasses
This is the 3D of choice for television providers. It works by having a signal sent to glasses which alternates the right and left lenses being closed at a very fast refresh rate. The advantage to this tech is that it doesn't put any filter between your eye and the screen, only alternates them - and hence you don't get the muted or distorted colors that other glasses provide.

It is also the technology which requires the most hardware. Since each frame is alternated, you halve your refresh rate. So if your isn't a 120hz television (and many HDTV's in the home today are not), you won't get the 60hz that most moviegoers are used to viewing. Also, something needs to send that signal to the glasses. In theory, you could have an add-on device if you television is 120hz or more ... but hardware providers are focusing on new sets, not add-ons.

However, the technology that is distinct 3D from HD isn't that expensive, so new 3D ready sets should resemble HD prices in the relatively near future.

Polarized Glasses
Also called "passive" glasses, polarized lenses are what cinemas like IMAX used, and I'm guessing what Sony must have used at E3 to show off Killzone 3. These glasses rely on having an image displayed with two different polarities, and quite like those old red and green glasses from the Stooge days ... only one lens allows one kind of polarity to pass.

Since each lens requires a polarized screen, colors are muted when using the passive glasses. However, the big reason you aren't using this at home is because it's suited for projection screens. Flatscreen TV's are already polarized to properly display their pixels and don't really have the capacity to split the views. Existing projection sets may also require additional

Whether games and movies could be made to send out a mode for projection TV's, though - I don't really know. But it doesn't sound like Sony has any plans to offer such a feature.

Anaglyph Glasses
These are the old school, two color, Stooge glasses. The advantage is that they work on nearly anything that can display more than two colors. The bad thing is that they are well known for all the problems 3D can have: ghosting, eye fatigue, washed out colors, etc. So I think there's an unspoken concept of the "new 3D" that they don't want to support the "old 3D".

So the big question is...
Would the availability of anaglyph, which has been used to bring 3D to your home as recently as Coraline, outweigh any of the problems traditionally associated with it? Anaglyph poses two problems for TV makers like Sony: it's a substandard experience and they don't sell any new TV's with it. So having software which supports both active shutter and anaglyph is a cost which would only reduce sales - potentially not the best business strategy.

So the answer might be: you could do anaglyph 3D gaming on your TV, but there's a chance it might make you want to vomit.

I can't feel like I'm missing much. I have yet to see 3D is use where it is really a game changer. Interesting, sure - but maybe by the time I'm ready to retire the not-so-old plasma ... we won't even be using googles anymore.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

TV You Might Have Missed (or are missing, or are about to miss...)

Lost is gone. I've accepted the end, and I've dealt with the grief. I've moved on. Amazingly, the TV still works fine. Here's some shows that either just ended, or is ending:

Spartacus: Blood and Sand
When the first season of this show ended, I had the sudden realization of just how densely packed the narrative had turned out. This is Shakespeare meets soap opera - plenty of well written drama even in the middle of the blood and boobs. The acting is solid, the production is generally good when it doesn't imitate 300 too much. If you've dismissed this show because of the gratuitous use of nudity, you're missing out.

Though yes, there is plenty of nudity.

I've raved about this show before, but with the recent season finale - I can't help but recommend it again. It just feels like a good, gritty novel playing out on your TV and I'll say it again - Timothy Olyphant was genetically engineered by a secret government agency to play a cowboy. This was one of the most tightly produced first seasons I may have ever seen, the show just hits on all cylinders from the first scene of the first episode and rarely misses a beat until the conclusion.

Happy Town
Having nearly given up on high concept shows in general, I gave Happy Town a bit of suspicion ... though comparisons to the somewhat campy yet utterly fun Harper's Island helped make the case.

The show is good - it takes itself more seriously than Harper's ever did, but the core mystery is unique and engaging. The characters are strong and the writing doesn't try to follow the ensemble formula, but only focusing on characters as they are important to the current plot. Also, they aren't quite as paranoid as certain other shows about giving reveals to the viewer, and the story is an interesting combination of things you know and don't know, and what various characters know and don't know.

Sadly, Happy Town has already been cancelled. I'm hoping we get at least a full first season and something other than a complete cliffhanger - the show deserves it.

Party Down
Available via Starz and Netflix Instant at the moment - this comedy from some of the people originally responsible for Veronica Mars is just over the top excellent. The second season is about to wrap and while we weren't sure where the misfit bunch of wanna-be writers and actors slumming it as caterers would go ... it has only gotten better since the first episode. The show has a low-budget, indie kind of feel - but the writing and acting are top notch. The only downsides of this show is the short length of the season.

What's the rest of the blogosphere watching?