news / tech talk

Gaming Consoles

by Lee LeClair
As seen in Inside Tucson Business

Later this year, another technical revolution will begin. November of this year to be specific. It will gain momentum in spring of next year and snowball quickly until it’s a part of a large percentage of consumer homes. As a business owner, you may want to take a moment and consider its implications.

What is the revolution? It starts with Microsoft’s Xbox 360 due in November of this year. It continues with Sony’s Playstation 3 in spring of next year. Why is yet-another-game-console a revolution? I’ll start with the technology but that’s not the real revolution. These game consoles will be more powerful than your computer, waaay more powerful. It doesn’t matter if you have or buy the most state-of-art PC or Mac available either. They will blow away anything you could buy unless you own a small country. The Xbox 360 will have a custom triple-core 64bit PowerPC CPU; essentially three Mac G5 CPUs in one game console. The Playstation 3 will have a miniature parallel-processing super computer; a 64bit Mac G5 CPU controlling 7 parallel processing CPUs each with their own dedicated memory. The sheer processing power of these devices is literally 10 times more powerful than the fastest PC you could buy today. But that’s not the revolution.

Microsoft has invested billions to develop their customized triple core CPU (dual core CPUs are barely starting to hit the consumer market now from Intel and AMD). Sony’s new Playstation 3 processor, called the Cell processor, is an effort of Sony, IBM, and Toshiba. It cost even more to design because it’s a from-scratch design. It has already been demonstrated to play 48 separate mpeg2 video streams simultaneously. Yet they are opening the chip design specifications to the open-source community to ease free software development for it – something very unlike the trifecta of proprietary Sony, patent-happy IBM, and Toshiba. When they sell this incredible hardware, it is quite likely that both Microsoft and Sony will lose money on each game console they sell. All this power and openness, but that’s not the revolution.

So what is the revolution? Owning the next phase of mass market home entertainment. Microsoft and Sony are stepping up to the plate for nothing less than this goal and they are doing it with game consoles. How will it work? It will go down like this: at Christmas, your kids will pull out all the stops and hammer you to get the Xbox 360 – the very pinnacle of gaming performance and released at the same time as Halo 3, a massively popular and long-anticipated game built for this console. In the spring, Sony’s slick marketing machine will be cranking up and you’ll see some really cool advertising just as you’re getting your Christmas bills (almost) paid down. A huge wave of Playstation 3’s will get into homes. Once these things are in your house, you’ll quickly find that they have eaten your DVD player, DVD burner, CD player/burner, and TIVO/DVR. It has those functions built-in plus it outputs video in High Desolution (HD) format. Hard drive? Got it. Wireless controller? Already there. Stores and plays all your music (CDs, mp3s, itunes, etc.) with really cool shuffle and visualization features? Yep, plus it’ll download them for you. And on top of that, you can surf the Internet. No need to get up and check something out at your desk, it’ll probably be able to do it in a picture-in-picture. It might have taken some marketing to persuade you to try a new-fangled do-everything appliance, but they didn’t have to. They snuck in on your kids game console. And from there, they will have unprecedented abilities to advertise and control your media experience. TV will become just a part of the entertainment system instead of its centerpiece.

So what does this mean to a business owner? I believe it means that the Internet will become an even bigger, standard part of the consumer advertising, shopping, and research experience. If you’re thinking of a long-term strategy for your business, think about what this will mean in the next 3-5 years. Think about how your business might benefit from this or at least what you should be doing to survive in this brave new world. It is starting this November.

Lee Le Clair is the CTO at Ephibian. His Tech Talk column appears the third week of each month in Inside Tucson Business