Day one of CES is currently underway, but yesterday both Sony and Microsoft held press conferences to show off some of their consumer electronics-related lineup. Read on to find out what the GameSpot editors thought about both conferences, the continuing integration of entertainment services, and what was conspicuously absent on the gaming front.
Tor Thorsen - Senior News Editor
Sony's CES 2011 conference was more notable for what it didn't show than what it did. Nowhere to be seen was the PSP2, the existence of which has been common knowledge for months. In fact, the PSP was invisible at the event, save for a few slides of models playing games on the platform.
Also MIA was the so-called PlayStation Phone, rumored to be called the Xperia Play. When Steve Walker, head of marketing of Sony Ericsson, took the stage, he proclaimed that his company was working on the "most entertaining smartphones in the world!" Then, though, he introduced the Xperia Arc, a flashy phone…with none of the dedicated buttons or gaming emphasis the Xperia Play appears to have.
As for Microsoft's conference, it was all about bragging rights. The Kinect is now a bona fide success, selling 8 million units worldwide--3 million more than Microsoft's own lofty targets. After a banner year, thanks to the introduction of the Xbox 360 Slim and Kinect, the Xbox 360 has now sold more than 50 million units worldwide. Xbox Live also hit a new milestone, topping 30 million users.
However, as far as new gaming initiatives go, Microsoft's briefing was a little underwhelming. The company's big unveil--Avatar Kinect--was spoiled by a leaked slide earlier in the week and looks to be something between the Mii Plaza and PlayStation Home. However, the fact that the Kinect will soon be able to recognize your facial expressions--including arched eyebrows--is both impressive and unnerving.
Ricardo Torres - Editor-in-Chief
Even though it's been years since CES was the main showcase for video games, we've seen publishers--especially Microsoft and Sony--flirt with dropping big news and showing off new things to the assembled masses. That said, this wasn't a very flirty year. Sony had the lower profile of the two, with some recapping of news that's known, dropping some minor news bits on its Qriocity streaming service, and using the PlayStation 3 to showcase 3D photos. The press conference was more focused on the company's 3D and services push of which the PS3 and gaming are part of but not central to. Things almost got interesting when a Sony Ericsson rep showed up to talk about an "exciting" new phone…the Xperia Arc. Granted the CES crowd isn't a gaming audience, but during the past few years, Sony's been better about showing the hardware's multimedia functionality and highlighting games in the press conference. No mention of the Move (which is Sony's play to the casual market and a good fit for the CES crowd), the PSP phone or the PSP 2 (which is the kind of new that tech these people eat up and has also been leaked to all hell) was odd and made for an underwhelming press conference, although big TVs are always nice to see. I'll just gloss over the Elvis/Cirque du Soleil closer…
Microsoft, on the other hand, had a much more balanced keynote address in terms of highlighting its gaming hardware. Given the broad range of electronics covered by CES, Microsoft was smart about hitting some key beats with its PC, mobile, and gaming offerings. The Xbox content news--while not mind blowing--shows that it sees the Kinect as its play to the casual mainstream market (and it's easily the most successful one it has ever tried), so it is leaning into it. Avatar Kinect isn't exactly mind blowing, but it shows Microsoft evolving what can be done with the technology. While I don't think my friends or I will be starting our own talk shows, I can definitely see casual folks having fun with it. I'm actually more intrigued by the potential of it because, if you're a role-playing-game gamer, you'd have to wonder what could be done with that tech in an RPG. I do anyway because, if it's accurate and not a chore to implement, it might be pretty slick to have facial expressions factor into conversations in chatty RPGs from BioWare and Lionhead, for example. The additional Xbox Live features Microsoft touted are old hat if you're a current owner, but the Kinect support gives them the wow factor the CES crowd responds to. The bottom line is that Microsoft is all about the Kinect--not just the device but the technology and possibilities around it--so I expect it to figure out ways to implement it all over the place.
The Windows phone presentation was a good showcase for a neat product. Clearly, the lady demoing it loved her phone, and some of the gaming stuff worked well. The Fable Coin Golf thing definitely merits further investigation to see if there are limits to how much gold you can earn from it. If there are no limits, I'll be tempted to play Fable III again and see if, cryptic spoiler alert, I can have enough cash to deal with the pricey endgame bill. My big thing for phones is always battery life, so I'm less dazzled by a phone having a mountain of cool features and functionality if I get 30 minutes of battery life on the lowest brightness setting.
The PC showcase--always one of Microsoft's strengths here--was what I expected: tons of cool stuff. The different form factors, Windows on a chip, and the slick new surface all had the crazy "from the future" vibe that gets people excited for technology.
Overall Microsoft and Sony's keynote addresses were pretty thin on exciting hotness for the gaming crowd, but there were some interesting bits if you looked. That said, I expect we'll be hearing about some gaming stuff from both companies in January and February.
Sarju Shah - Hardware Editor
Two big keynote addresses, four hours later, and there wasn't terribly much new for us gamers. Sony hammered on two big points--3D and its push into networked devices and services. Here's hoping that Sony doesn't wander down the same proprietary path it always tries. I'm actually a little stunned at the big push toward 3D. The whole last year, consumers didn't really walk toward the technology--and for good reason. The glasses are expensive and company specific, 3D HDTVs aren't all that cheap, and the content is mostly nonexistent. Sony's trying to change that with an all-3D TV channel and a slew of 3D devices that let you create pictures and videos. But until the industry settles on a cheap and standard method to convey these visuals, 3D will remain a niche product.
Sony is talking the network talk, but I've yet to see it walk. The PlayStation Network works well enough, and PlayStation Home, despite its big user counts, is still pretty sparsely populated. We'd know by now if Sony had any decent traction with either of these services. It's clear Sony's still learning the ropes in comparison to Apple and Microsoft. Maybe the company will hit on the right formula this year. Microsoft spent half of its keynote address blowing its horn--and for good reason. Windows 7 has been a monumental success, and the Kinect blew the company's expectations out of the water with 8 million sales worldwide.
The really fun part of the keynote address for me was seeing all the new computers that are coming out. The new designs based around AMD's Fusion and Intel's Sandy Bridge chipsets are fantastic. If you haven't seen the Samsung 9 series--check it out! Microsoft Surface looked cool last year, but it was clear that the technology was far from being a consumer-level device. Surface will likely still be in the realm of big companies for a while longer, but we're one big step closer to having it replace your coffee table. Pixelsense, the touch technology behind Surface, truly wowed by supporting up to (and probably more than) 20 fingers at the same time and the fact that you could slap a piece of paper onto it and have it scanned--yikes! The local multiplayer gaming possibilities you could get from that are tremendous.
Microsoft also showed off the next generation of Windows running on SoC, or silicon on chip. To keep it brief, Windows will come to all manner of devices--printers, handhelds, computers of all sizes--and it will likely run quite well. This means your computer and your cell phone could be one and the same--walk around and use a mobile OS, plug in a display, and boom, you're running a full-fledged computer. Fun things are down the road, and hopefully, they're not too far away.
Shaun McInnis - Editor
Listen, I'll be honest with you. I went into this year's Sony press conference hoping for another star-studded musical performance. I mean, last year Sony gave us Taylor Swift. Taylor Swift! She's America's sweetheart! This year, we got Seth Rogen. Don't get me wrong, I love Seth Rogen--but he's no Taylor Swift. I mean, in a way, you can also think of him as America's sweetheart. Except he's Canadian. And not really that sweet. But he did bring a super awesome car on stage! So that was cool.
Oh, and games. Yeah, this year's pair of press conferences wasn't all that big on games, was it? I suppose the big news was Microsoft's sales figures for Kinect. Its initial forecast was to sell 5 million units by year's end, which it didn't do. Instead, it sold 8 million. Considering the buzz around Kinect from my friends and family, that didn't really surprise me all that much. And I guess the Windows Phone 7 stuff looked pretty cool, but as an iPhone user, it didn't grab me all that much. Though, I will say, some of those new Windows 7 tablets looked awesome--especially that sliding Samsung one. I would not mind owning one of those.
Giancarlo Varanini - Editor-at-Large
It's weird that gaming is still pushed to the periphery of these press conferences at CES. Yes, I know that during the past decade or so, CES has never really been about gaming and that it's mostly an opportunity for these massive companies to showcase new displays, phones, computers, vacuums you can play chess with, and all of that business. It is called the Consumer Electronics Show for a reason. But the reality is that video games are kind of a big deal these days, and they're often the reason people reach to turn on their TVs, pick up their phones, sit at the computer, or play chess with their vacuum. Why not embrace that and show how gaming has duly influenced consumer electronics by using it to connect the dots for an audience that includes a healthy mix of people in the know and people who are not?
Both Sony and Microsoft did this to some extent. Sony showed off a 3D trailer of Uncharted 3---because, you know, 3D is all the rage--and Microsoft talked about gaming being a key part of its business, the success of the Kinect, and Fable golfing on the Windows phone. But it's not enough. In fact, Sony still seems to be kind of embarrassed to talk about games while in the CES setting, like it's a part of its business that it's not completely proud of, despite the fact that it's a huge reason that the Blu-Ray format still exists. For Microsoft, it's more of a just a missed opportunity. Here, you have this great piece of technology in the Kinect, which is essentially going to be a major pillar of your platform in its twilight years, and you don't show anything that really demonstrates what it can do outside of menu navigation and a chat room for avatars? Quite honestly, the Kinect deserves better than that, and when you have a mainstream audience at your disposal, it just seems like a missed opportunity to potentially sell an even greater number of people on the promise of what the device can deliver with controller-less gaming.
I understand the need to keep things simple--both companies only have so much time to get through a massive portfolio of products. I don't even think I really expected either company to reveal anything grand in regards to gaming. I just hate that despite how successful the video game industry is, it's still treated like some secret shame as opposed to something that has contributed to the sale of HDTVs, the broad success of app sales, or even the movement to make a system on a chip. Last time I checked, you don't really need an integrated CPU/GPU to use Excel.