Thursday, April 28, 2011
There are some new developments in the war between Toshiba's HD-DVD format and Sony's Blu-ray. Toshiba recently announced the release of a HD-DVD player capable of playing High Definition video in 1080p resolution, and Sony says that it will release a Blu-ray recorder in Japan by the end of the year. Both of these moves are meant to give each company an advantage in the competition to have their High Definition video disc format come out on top.
For anyone not familiar with this issue, Blu-ray and HD-DVD are both High Definition Television Digital Video Discs (DVD's) and are competing in the marketplace to become the dominant format. Both use blue laser technology to pack more data onto a disc than standard DVD technology- which uses a red laser- is capable of. The fact that they can deal with more data makes both formats up to the task of storing High Definition Video content, but there are some pretty major differences between them. For example each side of an HD-DVD can hold fifteen gigabytes of data or thirty gigabytes total, while a Blu-ray disc can hold twenty five gigabytes per side or fifty gigabytes total.
Looking at the difference in the capacities of the two formats, it should be a no brainer that the Blu-ray format should win out in this war, but it's not quite that simple. Blu-ray disc players tend to be more expensive than HD-DVD players, and each format has the backing of some pretty major players in the home entertainment electronics and computer industries. For example, Blu-ray has the support of a number electronics manufacturers including Sony, Dell, Apple, Philips, Sharp, HP, and many others. It also has the support of a number of movie studios including Paramount, Fox, Disney, MGM, and Warner The HD-DVD format has the support of only three studios- Warner, Universal, and Paramount. (Paramount and Warner are hedging their bets in this war by releasing titles in both formats.) The fact that so many more studios are backing Blu-ray is another factor that bodes well for it's triumph, but that gain is largely offset by the fact that Microsoft has is backing HD-DVD by providing support for the format through it's new Vista operating system and making the Xbox HD-DVD compatible.
The HD-DVD/Blu-Ray format war has had an adverse effect on the adoption of High Definition Television technology in general. Many consumers are waiting before buying a player in one format or another because they don't want to be stuck with the loser in a few years which is what happened to people who invested in Betamax video cassette technology over twenty years ago. As a result, backers of both technologies are angling to give their's a foothold, which is what we're seeing now.
The introduction Toshiba's new HD-DVD player that can handle 1080p will probably just make HD-DVD more competitive with Blu-ray, because Blu-ray players are already 1080p capable. At present though, this is something of a moot point because there isn't really anything to watch in 1080p resolution anyway. Sony's Blu-ray recorder could give the technology a leg up. After all, if you can record in a format, then you have something to watch in that format, which will make it more attractive.
What the industry really needs to do is create devices that are compatible with both HD-DVD and Blu-ray discs. The first one to do that will see immediately see huge profits and prevent any one format form monopolizing the High Definition Television DVD market.
Monday, April 25, 2011
The Nintendo GameCube is the current iteration of this long line of video game platforms, but unfortunately it doesn't really measure up compared to other modern video game platforms like the new Sony PlayStation 3, and Microsoft's Xbox 360. For example the GameCube has a processor with a speed of 485 Megahertz while the PlayStation 3 has a central processor with a clock speed of 3.2 Gigahertz which controls eight other processors, and the Xbox 360 has three processors running at 3.2 Gigahertz each! The differences in memory are just as large with the GameCube having a system memory of 40 Megabytes, while the Xbox 360 has 512 Megabytes of RAM. One thing that might offset the GameCube's slow processor and small memory to some extent is the fact that the processor itself is a 128 bit unit.
The GameCube also lacks a hard drive which both the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360 feature. While apparent deficiencies in hardware can be made up for to some extent by the unique hardware architectures and software, the lack of a hard drive put the GameCube at a stark disadvantage because of the way being able to store various data allows the user of a video game platform to customize the video gaming experience. For example the Xbox 360 allows users to create their own sound tracks to go along with games and then store that music on the hard drive. Apparently with the GameCube, there isn't that option, so the user is stuck with whatever sound comes with the software.
The GameCube does have a decent amount of networking capability. Besides the ability to support four players on a single unit, the GameCube has an optional 56 Kbps modem adapter and a separate broadband adapter. The broadband adapter allows for playing over DSL and cable modems, with Local Area Network play an option on some game titles. It also has parallel and serial ports as well as two Digicard ports and one Type III PCMCIA expansion slot.
Another thing that puts the GameCube at a huge disadvantage when compared to the PS3 and the Xbox 360 is the fact that it's disk drive is designed for Nintendo's proprietary eight centimeter mini DVD. Each mini DVD only holds 1.5 Gigabytes of data which is severely limited compared to the Blu-ray drive that comes on the PS3 which can access discs holding 54 Gigabytes and the Xbox 360's optional HD-DVD drive which can access discs holding 30 Gigabytes worth of data.
The fact that the disk drive only takes the eight centimeter discs also means that the GameCube 360 is not a multifunctional platform the way the other systems are. The inability of this platform to play CD's, DVD's and other media limits it to the realm of strictly being a video game platform while the PS3 and Xbox 360 are also CD and DVD players.
In all, while the Nintendo GameCube can't really compete with the other video gaming platforms on the market today, it seems to serve well as strictly a video gaming device.
Monday, April 18, 2011
A quick look at some video game systems shows that the games have grown up too. Microsoft's Xbox is a perfect example of this phenomenon. If the last video game system you played was an Atari or and Intellivision, you won't even recognize the new Xbox 360. This system is meant to deliver the best possible video game experience given today's technology and it uses that technology in full. It's central processing unit is made up of three separate processors each with a clock speed of 3.2 Gigahertz. It also has an ATI graphics processor that runs at 500 Megahertz that can process four times as many pixels a second than the original Xbox. (There isn't even a comparison between this and the Intellivision!) The Xbox 360 has 512 Megabytes of RAM which is shared among all of the processors.
The Xbox 360 is also designed to work with High Definition. As part of the standard for the Xbox 360 all video games have to support either 720p or 1080i resolutions and the wide screen 16:9 aspect ratio. Supposedly a High Definition Television set isn't completely necessary to play the Xbox 360. If that's true, one has to wonder what happens to the extra screen width when the Xbox is used with a 4:3 aspect ratio television. It's easy to imagine losing the right and left edges of the screen getting in the way of playing some games. Like with First person shooters, you might find yourself shot by someone just out of your view but who you would have seen with a 16:9 screen.
The Xbox 360 also come with a 20 gigabyte hard drive. The hard drive is removable and can hold music to be played as a soundtrack to be played along with games. (In the old days we were forced to turn on the CD player if we wanted a sound track.) Presumably the hard drive could also hold digital photos and other data. In fact, though the literature is quick to emphasize that the Xbox 360 is primarily meant to be used as a gaming platform, it can be used for a lot of other types of media too. For example it will function as an MP3, CD, and DVD player and display digital photographs off of DVD's and CD's. The fact that the unit includes three USB ports means that a huge number of devices including digital cameras, MP3 players, and computers with Microsoft Windows XP can be used with the Xbox 360. Other extras include wireless controllers with rechargeable batteries that can charge on the unit itself, and the ability to establish a wireless connection with your computer.
With all of this connectivity it seems that they only thing, the Xbox 360 won't do is replace the work station abilities of a normal computer.
Monday, April 11, 2011
One trend of television technology these days is to make televisions as small as possible. Many companies; including Sony, Dish Network, Toshiba, Samsung, Apple, and several lesser known companies; have produced portable video devices over the past few years. Generally these devices are designed to download video content from the Internet or a Digital Video Recorder to be stored on their hard drives and viewed when the user gets around to it. These devices are great for when their owners can choose in advance what they want to watch. They're particularly useful for people on the go who don't have a lot of time to sit around and watch TV at home, but may have the time watch on a subway, airplane, or while standing in line waiting for something.
Now, it's possible to get television content in real time thanks to new technology that allows people to watch television on their mobile phones. Like many other television trends this is especially popular in Japan where mobile phones are extremely popular and people use them for a lot of different things. For example, there are a little more than 90 million mobile phone users in Japan who, on average, replace their phones as often as every year and a half. Many Japanese mobile phone users are in the habit of using the devices to surf the Internet, check and send email, and for online shopping. All of these trends make Japan the perfect testing ground for this technology.
Unfortunately there are some serious barriers to this technology taking off. Not enough people use the service overall to really create a market for advertising along with the program content. Right now the program content for mobile phones is free, just like over the air TV broadcasts, but of course since the content has to travel over wireless network, it costs more money to provide. A lot of people in television broadcasting and the wireless phone markets are hoping for a way to somehow combine mobile phone TV service with e-commerce. If so, the the service would serve as a gateway to revenues from the tendency of the Japanese to shop on their mobile phones. If this actually works out it could serve as a unique market as more and more people have mobile phones capable of watching TV on. In any case, this is a unique example of technology that's emerged and gone public without having any concrete business model of how it's going to be paid for.
Of course, this also begs the question, why not pass on the cost of providing the content on to the mobile phone users who watch? The industry seems to be shying away from that option probably because of a combination of fear that that will alienate users of the service and the widespread agreement that once a business model is agreed upon and implemented, this step will be largely unnecessary.
Another development of this technology that we can expect is to see it included in other devices like GPS units and portable video game units. By extension, we may soon see dedicated mobile television devices or mobile television integrated into some of the portable video devices we see on the market now. In this sense, portable video devices really would be like home entertainment centers in miniature. You could either watch live television or a recording. It would be your choice.
Tuesday, April 05, 2011
Now, there is 3DTV for any home that wants it. When these TV sets were put into production, many families decided to refrain from buying them, due to the lack of 3D programming that was available at that time. While there was some 3D content available through the video on demand feature, there was not a large selection to choose from. Many families felt this was not enough to warrant the investment that 3D technology would require. However, that is about to change.
3D channels have hit mainstream America through Pay TV providers, with more on the way. It is said that 3D channels are being released, with more than 100 channels planned for broadcast in the United States by the year 2014.
Currently, the available 3D programming can only be found through video on demand, but these new channels will be more of the traditional channels that viewers are used to.
This means that it might be possible to watch episodes from a viewer’s favorite sitcom, or night time drama in 3D. Since these services are already offered on video on demand services, they can be used to watch exciting new Hollywood releases. With this technology, any movie can be transformed for 3D viewing.
There’s more! The most exciting application for 3D for some is the implications that it has for sports fans. With this technology, anyone can sit in their living room and feel like they are part of the action, literally.
These channels may be able to provide sports with coverage of games and sports related programming. However, true sports fans are more interested in 3D implications for live events. The amount of live event coverage in 3D is supposed to develop for home use as soon as 2011.
It is believed that the most popular forms of programming will be introduced in 3D first. This will help capture public attention and entertain the viewers that already have 3DTVs and subscribe to existing 3D programming. These categories may include music, movies, sports and documentaries. The amount of content will expand, as well, as the availability of channels become more prevalent.
3D has made its way around the world, with 3D programming in the United States, Asia and Europe. This is good news for International subscribers, since it offers possibilities for International programming within the United States, as well.
The factors that will influence the advancement of 3DTV, and its expanding channel selection, will include the expense of producing 3D programming. Pay TV providers have to balance these expenses with other operating expenses, while keeping their pricing fair and competitive for their subscribers. This balance will play a vital role in the quantity of available 3D content in the next year.