Highlights from videogame console makers‚Äô press events at the E3 Expo in Los Angeles:
Sony: In welcome news for 3D home entertainment developers, Sony Computer Entertainment said it planned to ‚Äúbreak the mold on 3D pricing this year‚ÄĚ with a $499 bundle that includes a 24-inch, PlayStation-branded 3D display, along with a pair of active-shutter glasses, an HDMI cable, and a copy of the upcoming ‚ÄúResistance 3‚ÄĚ videogame (via PC Magazine).
In related news, analysts are anticipating that Sony‚Äôs forthcoming ‚ÄúUncharted 3‚ÄĚ could be the videogame industry‚Äôs watershed 3D title (via The Hollywood Reporter). The game, developed by Sony-owned studio Naughty Dog, is set for a Nov. 1 release.
Sony Computer‚Äôs Jack Tretton also took time during the company‚Äôs press conference to reiterate his apology for the data compromises that the PlayStation Network suffered from hackers in May.
Nintendo: The company‚Äôs ‚ÄúWii U‚ÄĚ system, set for release in 2012, will employ a motion controller that itself houses a 6.2-inch touchscreen. Nintendo thus looks to add new second-screen functionality to game developers, while incorporating some tablet-to-TV tricks for sharing photos and online videos.
Wii U games will ship on high-density, 12cm optical discs, but the disc format will be proprietary and not based on Blu-ray, according to reports.
Microsoft: The Xbox 360 maker has offered few details of its promised live TV integration later this year. The company also plans to offer YouTube video playback via the system, along with voice-activated Bing searches for TV shows and other entertainment content (via Variety).
Sony Corp. plans to realign its core businesses into two groups ‚ÄĒ one focused on consumer products, the other on professional products ‚ÄĒ as its board of directors mulls an eventual successor to chief executive Howard Stringer.
Kazuo Hirai, current head of Sony‚Äôs gaming unit, will now oversee all of the company‚Äôs consumer electronics businesses, in a likely preparation for Stringer‚Äôs post.
Stringer ‚ÄĒ who has extended his commitment with Sony, adding the title of president as part of the reorganization ‚ÄĒ told reporters in Tokyo that he had discussed a succession plan with the Sony board (via The Hollywood Reporter). While the board has not yet made a final decision, Stringer said, assigning greater responsibilities to Hirai represents ‚Äúan opportunity for the board to watch Hirai-san and to judge his performance.‚ÄĚ
In its announcement of the reorganziation, Sony credits Hirai with leading “the turnaround of the games business [and expanding] the PlayStation Network ‚ÄĒ which now boasts more than 74 million registered accounts worldwide.”
Meanwhile, Sony‚Äôs new Professional & Device Solutions Group ‚ÄĒ which includes broadcast and professional products, as well as semiconductors and batteries ‚ÄĒ will be led by Hiroshi Yoshioka, Sony‚Äôs executive deputy president.
Nintendo announced today that it will release its next-generation handheld gaming device, the 3DS, on March 25 in Europe and March 27 in the U.S. Games for the $249 device will feature simulated 3D graphics that can be seen by the naked eye; Nintendo expects publishers to release more than 30 titles between the March launch and the game industry‚Äôs E3 trade show in June. In Europe, Nintendo also has inked exclusive deals with content companies such as Eurosport to wirelessly stream 3D videos to devices. More at Engadget.
Meanwhile, new unconfirmed details are surfacing today regarding a rumored game-playing smartphone from Nintendo archrival Sony.
Sony plans to unveil the device in February, according to Bloomberg. The company will first announce an updated PlayStation Portable on Jan. 27, along with a new strategy for networked entertainment services. Bloomberg cites anonymous sources familiar with the plans.
First launched in a ‚Äúpreview‚ÄĚ version in July, the Hulu Plus subscription service is now generally available, with the online video site dropping its monthly price to $7.99 to step up its competition with Netflix.
In a blog post Hulu says that current subscribers who joined during the preview period would receive a credit for the difference from original $9.99/month price.
As of today, the Internet TV service is available on devices including Roku boxes and PlayStation 3 consoles; Hulu said Plus would come to a range of other devices, including Blu-ray players from Panasonic and LG Electronics and the Xbox 360 system, in the months to come.
In other Internet TV news, the Vudu movies-on-demand service is set for debut on Sony‚Äôs PlayStation Network next week (via ZDNet). The Walmart-owned company will begin offering its 4,000-film catalog to PlayStation 3 users on Nov. 23, with two-night rentals starting at $2.
Vudu also unveiled plans to upgrade its user interface by the end of the year, sharing snapshots of Vudu 2.0 on its corporate blog.
Videogame software sales for the month of October rose 6% year-over-year to $605 million, while accessory sales for the industry increased 18% on the introduction of Sony‚Äôs PlayStation Move motion controller, according to NPD (via Bloomberg).
The gains were not enough to offset a 30% annual decline in both console and portable hardware unit sales, which brought overall industry revenue down by 4% during the month.
The Xbox 360 system, however, did see a year-on-year sales gain in October ‚ÄĒ perhaps in anticipation of Microsoft‚Äôs Kinect, which went on sale Nov. 4. Microsoft separately reported that sales of the Kinect topped 1 million units in the device‚Äôs first 10 days (via Information Week); the company expects to sell 5 million Kinect systems by year‚Äôs end.
Sony Computer Entertainment first said that the purportedly leaked images of a long-rumored PlayStation Phone ‚ÄĒ published last night by tech blog Engadget ‚ÄĒ were ‚Äúdefinitely false,‚ÄĚ before modifying its stance to ‚Äúno comment‚ÄĚ (via Wired). Nevertheless, Engadget today adds more details about a device which it maintains is ‚Äúmost definitely real.‚ÄĚ
The combination gaming handheld/smartphone, Engadget says, would likely run on the Android operating system, and feature a Sony Marketplace that enables users to purchase digital games. Save a slot for microSD cards, there appears to be no physical media support on the prototype device. The phone, Engadget reports, would tout 1 GB of solid-state storage; that capacity seems quite low when compared to Apple‚Äôs iPhone 4, which starts at 16 GB.
Engadget, citing sources ‚Äúclosely connected to the project,‚ÄĚ speculates that Sony is readying the PlayStation Phone for a 2011 launch.
Overall game console sales have been sluggish this summer, but Sony Computer‚Äôs Kazuo Hirai is not worried, telling Reuters at the Tokyo Game Show that PlayStation 3 sales are on track to reach the company‚Äôs target of 15 million units through March 2011. Sales for Sony‚Äôs April-September fiscal half were likely just above forecast, Hirai added.
A full 80% of the 38 million PS3 units sold globally so far are linked to Sony‚Äôs online PlayStation Network, Hirai also noted.
Sony‚Äôs Move motion controller for the PlayStation arrives in the U.S. tomorrow. The company also will begin offering playback capability of Blu-ray 3D discs on the PS3 a part of a software update next week.
Microsoft says it will market the Kinect motion/voice sensor in November as a $149.99 accessory for the Xbox 360 console. The company also will sell a new version of the Xbox 360 system bundles with Kinect for $299.99.
The pricing matches pre-announcement reporting by game blog Gamasutra ‚Äď which earlier this month quoted analysts as stating that a price point over $100 has potential to ‚Äúseverely limit sales.‚ÄĚ But the price might be OK, Wedbush analysts Michael Pachter and Edward Woo said, if Microsoft expects constrained supply during launch.
Sony‚Äôs rival motion control platform for PlayStation, the Move, arrives in September with a price point of $99. That price includes a camera, controller, and Move-enabled videogame.
UK-based videogame business magazine MCV catches up with Sony Computer exec Andrew House on whether the company‚Äôs disc-less portable system, PSPgo, has been a sales success. House demurs on PSPgo sales figures, replying that the device was more of a market experiment that wound up proving the staying power of packaged media. ‚ÄúOne of the reasons we launched PSPgo was to understand where that consumer behavior was going. We were getting signals from consumers that this was the kind of device that they wanted. But we need to recognize that consumers like their packaged media library.‚ÄĚ Sony is expected to develop another generation of PSP hardware, more details may be forthcoming at E3 next week. By MCV
The current generation of videogame console hardware has outsold the last by more than nine million units to date, according to the NPD Group.
Overall console hardware revenues declined 13% during 2009, a year that saw significant price drops on Sony‚Äôs PlayStation 3, the Nintendo Wii, and Microsoft‚Äôs Xbox 360. The price cuts have spurred unit sales growth, however: overall hardware sales for the month of December increased 16% year-over-year.
The month was the first in which Sony ‚ÄĒ which reduced the price of the PS3 by $100 in September, to $299 ‚ÄĒ sold more than one million PS3 consoles. The Wii, whose price fell to $199 ahead of the holidays, ¬†also experienced its biggest-ever sales month in December, with 3.8 million consoles sold.¬†NPD
Executives convening at Blu-Con 2.0 in Los Angeles today are trading insights and observations on the state of the Blu-ray Disc business. Among them:
‚ÄĘ Studio chiefs expect home entertainment consumers to shift back to a sell-though model as the recession eases, according to a Video Business tweet from one of the conference‚Äôs keynote sessions.
‚ÄĘ Meanwhile, Home Media Magazine relays Sony‚Äôs statement¬† that the PlayStation 3 console still comprises 60% of the Blu-ray hardware market. Separately, Best Buy‚Äôs Mike Vitelli notes that portability is the format‚Äôs biggest challenge.
Netflix is gaining another digital link to living-room TVs, in a deal with Sony to offer the company‚Äôs ‚ÄúWatch Instantly‚ÄĚ streaming service via Web-connected PlayStation 3 consoles.
Beginning next month, Sony‚Äôs PlayStation Network will offer Netflix streaming at no additional cost to Netflix subscribers who also own the console.¬†For Sony, the agreement brings to the PS3 an enhancement that Microsoft has offered on the rival Xbox 360 console since November 2008. Microsoft integrates Netflix access within the paid version of its Xbox Live network.
Initially, at least, there is a catch with the Sony-Netflix service: users must rent a special Blu-ray disc from Netflix, load it into their players, and access the streaming service via the disc‚Äôs BD Live features.
Streaming has proven to be popular with Netflix subscribers. About 42% of Netflix‚Äôs 11.1 million subscribers streamed at least 15 minutes of a TV show or movie during the company‚Äôs third quarter, up from 22% in 2008, CEO Reed Hastings told analysts in a conference call last week.
Unlimited streaming comes as part of Netflix‚Äôs $8.99 monthly subscription plan. New-release films and current TV seasons are largely absent from the service. But that could change if current discussions between Netflix and studios lead to a new home entertainment release window scheme.