Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Is your Xbox 360 failing?

According to several published reports, gamers are having a hard time with some XBox 360 units.

Tech Digest reports that a survey of retailers shows as many as 30 percent of all 360s sold are being returned for repair. Microsoft claims the 360 is well within the industry fail rate of three to five percent.

Last year, Game Daily Biz quoted an insider from Electronic Arts saying the failure rate was 10 times higher than Microsoft was quoting. The source claimed that of the 300 consoles EA had received, 30 to 50 percent of them had failed.

In February 2005, Microsoft recalled power cords on 14.1 million Xbox consoles worldwide, following reports of injuries due to defective electrical components that could cause fire hazards.

Today, gamers are still saying the heat generated by the unit -- especially when certain games trigger all three CPUs for use at the same time -- is melting chip connectors, and when they send the unit back to Microsoft for repair, when it's out of warranty, the repair charges are into the three digits.

There's a website dedicated to discussing failed 360s and it's full of consumers upset at paying as much as $140 to repair a unit that costs $399.

Are any of you suffering from defective 360s or seen the three red blinking lights around your green power light? Wanted to hear some stories out there.

Friday, June 22, 2007

What's A'Diva Ti? Well, they sound great

Me? I'm not much of an audio nut anymore. Used to be. I had to have the latest and greatest speakers and receivers, and I'm sure my salesman, Lonnie Clark of Audio/Video on Independence (now Tweeter and not on Indy anymore) probably loved me for it. I'm sure I helped send his daughter to school.

Now I'm a video nut. I love to go to Best Buy and Tweeter and Circuit City to look at all the flat-panel LCD and plasma TVs (another discussion for another day), so when I got a set of Anthony Gallo speakers, I didn't have high expectations. I mean, I didn't know who Anthony Gallo was.

So of course, I google him and turns out the line of speakers he makes is quite well thought of. The A'Diva Ti 5-speaker system I was given to test has received rave reviews from a lot of fancy audiophile magazines.

Me? I think they're going to way too expensive to tell you all about. At just under $2,000, they're not exactly the $500 system you can get at Best Buy, but you can easily spend more than that on one set of speakers at Best Buy's fantastic Magnolia store in Concord, and at least to my ears, you still won't have a speaker set as grand as this. These are speakers you can grow old with.

Out of the box, you get five space-age looking speakers and a killer subwoofer. The silver round speakers, which kind of look like a giant eyeball, can be placed in-wall, in-ceiling or using more traditional methods, including placing them on stands which are included.

The 10-inch subwoofer has a 250-watt amp and will literally shake your walls. You can run the speakers through the amp or through an outboard receiver, the way I tried them. After letting them warm up for 50 hours, per Gallo's suggestion, I noticed the speakers sounding better than they did out of the box, and I was blown away out of the box.

They shined on video surround mode, making "Batman Begins" sound better than in my area multiplex. They handled DVD Audio and Super Audio CD, delivering quality I didn't think my receiver and DVD player were capable of outputting (I can only imagine these speakers paired with a dynamic receiver and DVD).

I let a friend, Winfred Cross, try the speakers. He writes about audio equipment for several online and print publications and I consider him about as much an expert in the field as you'll find in Charlotte.

He says, "These can handle anything you give them. Bass can be set with no boost or 3db or 6db increases. My neighbors appreciated the flat setting best.
You can find more expensive systems that sound better or you can put together your own, maybe for the same price. But why bother? Anthony Gallo Acoustics has done all the work to provide a system of outstanding clarity and quality. This is a no brainer."

These are available online at roundsound.com -- with a 30-day free in-home trial -- or at two Gastonia dealers, The Audio Shop and Alarm Sound.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Blockbuster to support Blu-Ray; have format wars ended?

If you're thinking of buying an next generation DVD player that supports high definition resolution, Blockbuster may've made your decision easier.

The video rental giant announced it will only rent Blu-Ray discs in its 1,450 stores when it expands its high-def offerings next month.

What does this mean?

There are two formats in the high definition DVD market, Blu-Ray and HD-DVD. It's very similar to the old VHS vs Beta war we had in the '80s.

In the videogame world, Sony's PlayStation 3, which has struggled in sales because of price, includes a Blu-Ray player inside the box. Recently, many big box stores are offering heavy discounts on Sony TV/PS3 combos, essentially playing up the PS3s ability to be a killer high definition DVD player, which it is.

Microsoft had supported the HD-DVD format with a $199 add-on to its Xbox 360 machines. It'll be interesting to see if the Bill Gates Company adds a new Blu-Ray drive.

Blockbuster has been renting both Blu-ray and HD DVD titles in 250 stores since late last year but officials said customers were renting Blu-Ray over HD-DVD titles about seven out of 10 times.

Part of that was choice. All major studios except one are releasing films in Blu-Ray format. Several of them, including Walt Disney, are only releasing Blu-Ray.

Universal Studios exclusively supports HD-DVD.

"The consumers are sending us a message. I can't ignore what I'm seeing," Matthew Smith, senior vice president of merchandising at Blockbuster, told The Associated Press. "When you walk into a store and see all this product available in Blu-ray and there is less available on HD DVD, I think the consumer gets that."

Smith said Blockbuster will continue to rent HD-DVD titles in the original 250 locations and online.

Most industry analysts are predicting this decision will help Blu-Ray win the format war. With Sony's new Blu-Ray player debuting at $499 and an impending drop in price for PS3 looming -- thanks to lower costs to make Blu-Ray players -- HD-DVD is in some trouble.

The North American HD DVD Promotional Group told the Associated Press that Blockbuster's decision was shortsighted and skewed by the success of films released by Blu-ray studios in the first three months of the year.

"I think trying to make a format decision using such a short time period is really not measuring what the consumer is saying," said Ken Graffeo, co-president of the group.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Gametap.com launches; game sales up again

If you want to play a huge library of games without a console or software, try GameTap. It's Turner Broadcasting's new online videogame network. It's essentially a mirror of the company's pay-cable channel that has been a wild success.

In 2006, subscribers played more than 20 million games from the GameTap "vault" - more than 54,000 a day.

Now the sister website has been launched, featuring Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Anniversary. Through a "game changing" deal with publisher Eidos, GameTap made the title available to its paying subscribers and for purchase at GameTap.com's new digital retail store on the same date it hit U.S. retail shelves.

"This is the first new deal with a major game publisher that will enable GameTap to feature the hottest games of today and tomorrow for subscription play in the same windows as traditional retail outlets," said Stuart Snyder, GameTap's senior vice president and general manager.

GameTap's library has nearly tripled in size since the network launched in October 2005, and GameTap has added over 500 games as well as more than 600 new content pieces to GameTap TV. Last quarter, subscriptions were up nearly three-fold, and the network has expanded into Canada.

The website version bowed on May 31 and offers more than 30 free games, with new ones being added each month. Launch titles included Metal Slug from SNK Playmore, Taito's Bust-A-Move and Space Invaders, Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Legend from Eidos, as well as Midway titles Joust, Robotron: 2084, and Rampage.

Visitors to the website will get original programming from GameTap TV, which features top music acts and celebrities weighing in on their favorite games, as well as original content like the GameTap Retrospectives series and the all-new Re\Visioned series, animated episodes that have well-known comic book artists and writers reinvent popular game icons.


After a sluggish April, the NPD Group, which tracks game trends, thinks May is going to be a great month for gaming. It's forecasting game sales to be up 15 to 20 percent in April thanks to titles like Spider-Man 3 and Mario Party 8. It thinks hardware sales will be up too, though the struggling PS3 unit will continue to flounder, it feels, until there is a price cut and the PS3 gets a "better differentiated software lineup, which are more likely 2008 events, in our opinion.

Are you ready for some football?

It's not too far away for game lovers. On July 17, EA Sports releases NCAA 08. Madden come three weeks later on Aug. 14. This year, 2K Sports is back in the game, with All-Pro Football 2K8, also releasing Aug. 14.

You'll remember that before Electronic Arts signed an exclusive agreement with the NFL a few years back, 2K was building serious momentum with its football title, but has not released one since it lost its NFL license.

The new game will use the likenesses of more than 200 retired NFL stars. Since they can't use real stadiums or team names, users will create teams and stadiums and uniforms, down the socks. There's no dynasty mode because there's no team history, but it'll be fun to see if 2K can recapture some of the audience it was building.

News N Notes

-- PQ2: Practical Intelligence Quotient 2 from D3Publisher of America, Inc. is available now. Players calculate their intelligence by using the PQ scoring system based on the number of moves and the speed with which they complete more than 250 puzzles.

-- Electronic Arts is planning SimCity Societies for Christmas. It allows players to construct not only the cities they desire, but create their cultures, societal behaviors and environments as well.

-- K2, Ltd., the creative minds behind Tenchu: Wrath of Heaven, have released Tenchu Z exclusively for the Xbox 360. The title is the first mission-based ninja stealth action game for the Xbox 360, and allows players to hone their stealth skills while slaying enemies to become the ultimate ninja. Patience and strategy, with use of the stealth kill system, is rewarded over a run-and-gun style of hand-to-hand combat.

-- NAMCO BANDAI Games announced today that NARUTO: Ultimate Ninja 2 has shipped. Ninja training and heated combat returns with the highly-anticipated sequel of the popular NARUTO: Ultimate Ninja. In the new game, fans will experience more than 60 challenging missions to complete and the ability to play as one of over 30 popular ninja from the series, including Kakashi, Sasuke, Kisame, Itachi, and Tsunade.

-- Carolina Hurricanes center Eric Staal will be the cover athlete and spokesman for NHL 08, Electronic Arts hockey sim. Staal, 23, has played four seasons and scored a combined 75 goals over the past 2 seasons, notched 100 points in 2006, and was voted into his first All-Star game in 2007.

-- Electronic Arts today announced a commitment to bring its portfolio of hit games to Mac OS X. The first EA Mac titles slated to ship this summer include Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Need for Speed Carbon, Battlefield 2142 and Command &Conquer 3 Tiberium Wars. Later this year, EA will ship Madden NFL 08 and Tiger Woods PGA TOUR 08 in sync with their worldwide launches

Friday, June 08, 2007

Poor PlayStation3 sales cost jobs at Sony

A few years back when Sony's PlayStation 2 was ruling the videogame universe, the company was seen as doing little wrong. It's long term dominance wasn't questioned.

Amazing how fast things can change.

Sony's high-priced PlayStation 3 has struggled to catch the PS2 audience and now the company is eliminating jobs because of it.

Sony announced Thursday that it's cutting positions to remain competitive, but didn't release numbers. Published reports said Sony was cutting three percent of its 1,600-person videogame workforce in its Foster City, CA, branch.

The job cuts in the U.S. follow similar cuts in Europe in April.

The PS3 went on sale in November, at the same time as Nintendo's Wii. The Wii, at $250, was more than 50 percent cheaper than the current version of PS3, which sells for $599.

Sony, which doesn't expect to post game business profits until 2009, has shipped 5.5 million PS3 machines in the fiscal year through March 31, fewer than the 6 million the company targeted.

Nintendo shipped 5.84 million Wiis worldwide in the same time frame.

In April, Nintendo sold 360,000 Wiis. Microsoft sold 174,000 Xbox 360s and Sony had just 82,000 PS3s sold in the United states.

In Japan, Wii outsold the PS3 by 5-to-1 in the month of May, when Sony announced a $563 million loss in the fourth quarter of its fiscal year, blaming PS3 development costs and lower-than-expected sales.

I have said this many times. The PS3 is the best game unit, but it's priced too high. With Sony recently dropping its Blu-Ray player to $499, down $100 from initial speculation, expect the PS3 to drop as well.

Sony is taking a hit for each PS3 sold. Published reports have that loss at anywhere from $200 to $350 per unit. But when Sony announced the cheaper Blu-Ray DVD player, it said costs to manufacture had dropped. That should mean costs for PS3 development should drop, too, given the PS3 has a built-in Blu-Ray player.

It's not too late, but PS3 needs some quality games that give gamers something they don't get from Wii or 360 and Sony's online experience needs to ramp up to match Microsoft's.

This needs to happen fast. Videogamers are notorious early adopters and once you've spent $1,000 on a system and games, it's hard to try to do it for another system.

The race is on.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Sony drops Blu-Ray price; Is PS3 next?

I can't say I didn't see this coming.

Sony has dropped the price for its new BDP-S300 Blu-Ray disc player from $599 to $499. That's half of what the first Sony Blu-Ray cost just six months ago.

And I think it means we'll see a cut in PS3 units, which come with a Blu-Ray player built-in, before summer is done.

This is all about competition of course.

Sony is in a Beta vs. VHS war with HD-DVD, another form of next-generation high definition DVD playback, pioneered by Toshiba. HD-DVD players are now selling for less than $300, though the sub-300 model is not capable of producing the highest quality HDTV picture (1080P), like Blu-Ray is.

Sony officially says the Blu-Ray price cut is due to falling production costs and growing demand.

Neither format is selling well right now but Sony can ill afford for Blu Ray to lose as it would stagnate sales of the PS3, which has yet to take off. So far Hollywood studios lean more towards Blu-Ray but I think both formats could thrive.

There are some new combo players that play HD-DVD and Blu-Ray but they're going for $800 or more.

This could be an important battle for consumers to watch with HDTV set prices falling by the month.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Is PlayStation 3 dead?

Is the PlayStation 3 in trouble?

Well, maybe.

According to industry research group NPD Funworld, console sales were up 56 percent in April, to $239.4 million.

The Nintendo Wii sold 360,000 units. The PS2 sold 194,000 and the Xbox 360 had 174,000 sales.

The PS3? Just 82,000. Worse, there were no PS3 titles on NPD's top 10 software chart.

And here's the bigger problem. Of all the major console and handheld game units in the U.S homes, PS3 is last.

There's PS2 at 38.2 million homes, GameBoy Advance at 35.7 million, GameCube at 11.7 million, Nintendo DS at 10.9 million, PSP at 7.4 million, 360 at 5.4 million, Wii at 2.5 million...and PS3 at 1.3 million.

A low installed base means there's less audience to buy software. I'm sure game makers like Electronic Arts just love that.

These are not good signs for what is, unquestionably, the best videogame console out there.

The problem, of course, is the $599 PS3 costs too much, but I don't think it's dead yet.

There are rumors of a price drop, by as much as $200, though I think a $100 drop is more likely. That'll help.

Last week, Sony introduced an update to the PS3 that will allow it to upscale PS2 games and DVD movies to 1080P resolution for HDTV. What that means is, if you have an HDTV, the PS3 will make your videogames and old DVDs look much better.

For HDTV owners, the PS3 is a bargain. You get games, you get an excellent Blu-Ray DVD player and now you get upconversion for older games and movies. With Blu-Ray players running up to $1,000, I would choose PS3 in a heartbeat. It makes for an excellent HD-DVD solution and can deliver some awe-inspiring graphics for gaming.

Even if you don't have an HDTV, if you're thinking of buying one, the PS3 is, to me, a must-have appliance.

Again, I think the biggest problem with PS3 is price. Once that comes down, Sony will be fine.