Monday, January 28, 2008

A new PlayStation 3 with Dual Shock on the way?

According to industry gossip site Ars Technica, Sony is going to do away with the current 80 gig PlayStation 3 and release one with a larger hard drive and the new Dual Shock 3 controller.

The current PS3 has a wireless controller with no vibration feature, something many gamers miss.

I think that wouldn't be a bad move, so long as Sony doesn't blast the price back up and keeps the current cheaper 40 gig model.

2007 was a big year for gaming; '08 even better?

Sales of video games, consoles soared in '07
Microsoft takes big lead over Sony, which plans several new releases
Last year was a very good one for the video game industry.

According to a report released last week by industry trackers the NPD Group, U.S. game and console sales hit nearly $18 billion. That was 43 percent higher than in 2006.

Hardware sales were up 54 percent. Console software sales were up 39 percent.

And those sales figures don't include PC games or online sales.

Nintendo's Wii console was the big winner with 6.3 million sold. Microsoft sold 4.6 million Xbox 360s despite a billion-dollar hardware failure controversy, and Sony, once the dominant player in the industry, moved 2.6 million PlayStation3 units.

The Wii sells for $250. The Xbox goes between $280 and $450 and the PS3 is $499.

"What these numbers tell me is that the closer you get to the magic $200 price point, the better your sales," said analyst Rob Enderle of consulting company the Enderle Group.

According to the NPD Group, Sony has sold 3.25 million since its November 2006 launch compared with 7.4 million Wiis, which Nintendo launched about the same time.

Microsoft released the Xbox in November 2005, a full year ahead of its rivals, and it has sold 9.15 million in its life span.

"Microsoft has a pretty serious lead over Sony," said analyst Van Baker at research company Gartner. "It's unclear whether Sony can catch up. By the end of this year, the game will largely be over. This is a critical year for Sony."

In 2008, Sony plans some releases that could generate "Halo"-level buzz: the final episode of the best-selling "Metal Gear Solid" series, new installments of "Kill Zone" and "Devil May Cry" games and "Little Big Planet," a new franchise that is getting early critical praise.

In November, Sony's PS3 had the greatest month-to-month increase in November unit sales of all the next gen systems at 70 percent. With software sales apparently about to ramp up, Sony still has time to get back in the race.

But it is an uphill battle. Microsoft has a better online experience, and recent deals to include network and movie programming via Xbox Live could make the 360 unit more attractive to potential buyers looking for a difference between Microsoft and Sony's offerings.

And Microsoft's "Halo 3" sold 4.8 million copies in 2007, despite being released in September. Microsoft gained a lot of momentum from that exclusive title. In 2008, as Sony makes a push to get back into the game, Microsoft needs to find another software title, like Halo, to help boost sales.

A few other notes:

• Xbox 360 had three games in top 10 of sales: No. 1 "Halo 3" (4.82 million); No. 3 "Call of Duty 4" (3.04); and No. 9 "Assassin's Creed" (1.87).

Sony had three PS2 games in the top 10, but no PS3 or PSP titles.

"Guitar Hero III" was fourth (2.72), "Madden 08" was seventh (1.9) and "Guitar Hero II" was eighth (1.89).

• "Guitar Hero" games did more than $820 million in U.S. sales, a single-year record for a game franchise.

• Nintendo had the No. 2 game ("Wii Play," 4.12 million); No. 5 game (Wii's "Super Mario Galaxy," 2.52); No. 6 (DS "Pokemon Diamond," 2.48); and No. 10 (Wii's "Mario Party 8," 1.82)

-- The Associated Press contributed.

NCAA game simulations are must-have software

New games show real court sense
College Hoops and March Madness have authentic feel to them
EA Sports 'NCAA '08 March Madness'With college basketball in full swing (and with the big Duke-North Carolina game coming up Feb. 6), I've been playing a lot of NCAA hoops video games.

Last month, I tested 2K Sports' College Hoops 2K8 and rated it an A. As I played EA Sports' NCAA '08 March Madness over the holidays and the past few weeks, it was hard to not compare the two.

Both games really get the look and sound of college ball.

In NCAA '08's case, the arenas, player models and uniforms have been re-drawn to look more realistic. EA Sports also utilizes the best announcer in college basketball, Dick Vitale; the commentary from Vitale, play-by-play man Brad Nessler and sideline reporter Erin Andrews lend credibility to the proceedings.

NCAA '08 has emphasized the big men this year with something called "Dynamic Post Control," giving players more control over post play. The big men have more tons of moves, although there are too many guys who come off like the second coming of Kevin McHale. I'd like to see average players have abilities more commensurate with their real-life counterparts.

But that's a small quibble.

The game has more than 70 classic teams, like the 1982, 1993 and 2005 Tar Heels teams, the '92 and '94 Duke teams, and even the N.C. State squad from 1983. You can pair them up and go at it.

I also liked having custom playbooks in NCAA '08 for every team, plus a new "Lockdown Stick" feature that allows you to play tough defense. But again, this could be more realistic, as I found some benchwarmers able to lock down other team's No. 1 options.

In NCAA, you'll notice players reacting differently to crowds at home and on the road. Your stud freshman might get 15 points per game at home but struggle in a tight road game. All this adds to the realism.

There's also a new feature called "Impact Moment," where you can direct your player to interact with his team, the other team, the crowd or the cheerleaders. You can use it only when your team's intensity meter is full. It can change the direction of the game -- for good and bad.

A deeper dynasty mode allows you to take over a team and run it from top to bottom over many years. That extends this game's shelf life immeasurably. You can also take control of simulated games at any point, play the high school McDonald's All-America game, or play in an online league with up to 32 players.

In the end, picking between 2K8 and NCAA '08 is a tough call. I think player movement is a little smoother in 2K8, while graphics and details are a little better in the EA Sports version. I rate them both an A and suggest you rent them first or try them in the stores before making a decision.

I don't think you'll go wrong either way.

Watch `Madden' on Gameplay

• DISH Network subscribers can watch the 2007 EA Sports Madden Challenge on Gameplay HD, a full-time gaming channel, beginning Feb. 2.

The 1 p.m. broadcast will introduce contestants; subsequent episodes will also air 1 p.m. Saturdays.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Technology makes golf easier for beginners

Golf gains thousands of new players each year.

But it loses just as many. The reason is simple: the game is hard. And frustrating.

Good news for newbies. Golf technology is on the way to make the game easier. Cobra Golf's new LV4 driver uses an extra large clubface to inspire confidence and technology is built into the clubface so golfers get good distance no matter what part of that face they hit the ball with.

Very few high handicappers hit a driver -- or any club -- in the center, where most have been designed to play best from. The result is low shots, shots that fly far right of the target, or shots that simply hit the ground quickly and roll to a stop about 30 yards in front of you.

Callaway Golf and TaylorMade have new drivers out where golfers can actually remove the shafts with what amounts to a screwdriver. This allows the golfer to use a really soft shaft to help hit the ball high or a stiffer one to keep it low, or something in between.

The beginning golfer could swap shafts out as he gets better, using an extra light, extra soft stick to hit it out there a little bit, and tailor it to his game as he (hopefully gets lessons) and improves.

Ball technology is also improving. TaylorMade's new line helps encourage off-center hits to fly further. Titleist has a line of balls designed to roll more and another in the same family designed to fly higher.

You can read more about golf equipment in my golf gear column by clicking here.

You can read the latest installment here.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Soulja boy not as fun and wholesome as you think

If you're a parent of young kids, like me, chances are your kids have come home singing the catchy "Crank That" song by 17-year-old Atlanta rapper Soulja Boy, who is scheduled to be in town this weekend. Soulja Boy self-published "Crank That," which later ended up at No. 1 on Billboard's Top 100 charts.

Soulja Boy's got a dance that goes with the song that entire teams and cheerleaders are doing on college and high school sidelines.

I guess I'm getting older because I couldn't figure out what Soulja Boy was saying in the song. I kept thinking it was "Soulja Boy ol'-N-E-oh" or something. At least that's what I heard my kids saying.

So when I checked out the lyrics I was surprised that "Crank That" was really a song about Soulja being sexually frustrated with a date. Keeping it as clean as possible, he talks about doing something called "Superman," which is basically performing a retaliatory solo sexual act on the date while she is sleeping.

And the nonsensical lyrics I thought I heard are repeated bluntly over and over again throughout the song. The version of this song too dirty to play on radio is even worse.

I get that rappers rap about what's going on in their lives and 'hoods. That's fine. I get that sex is part of life, but the way Soulja is being promoted as a wholesome figure with a fun dance -- particularly how young kids are picking it up -- bothers me.

I'm going to put the brakes on my kids singing and listening to Soulja Boy. Just thought you all might want to know what your kids are really singing about.

"Circuit-based" contact lens = superhuman vision?

Engineers at the University of Washington have created a flexible, biologically safe contact lens with an imprinted electronic circuit and lights.

They showed off their latest invention at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers' international conference in Livermore, Calif.

How could it change your life? Imagine tossing your flat screen and looking at truly hi-def TV in your eyes or playing a videogame that way. You could surf the internet, without a laptop, virtually anywhere.

The prototype device contains an electric circuit as well as red light-emitting diodes for a display, though it does not yet light up. The researchers tested the lenses on rabbits for up to 20 minutes and the animals showed no adverse effects.

The prototype does not correct the wearer's vision, but the technique could be used on a corrective lens, and all the gadgetry won't obstruct a person's view.

And researchers say a basic version of this technology could be ready fairly quickly.

Monday, January 14, 2008

New Honda Pilot full of techno-gadgets

For years, Honda's Pilot SUV has been a staple of Americana. It has earned Car and Driver Magazine's prestigious "5 Best Truck" award six straight years, from 2002-07. It's big, with room for eight and wasn't too terrible on gas. Monday, Honda unveiled a prototype for the newly redesigned Pilot that debuts late this spring at the 2008 North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

The prototype is boxier than the old Pilot and brings to mind several U.S. SUVs. Honda claims the new version has more interior room and some gas-saving gadgetry.

Honda claims a 6-foot man can comfortably park himself in the third room thanks to a redesigned platform. All 2009 Pilots will feature Honda-exclusive Advanced Compatibility Engineering (ACE) body structure and the most extensive use of high-strength steel in any Honda product to date.

The ACE body structure enhances frontal collision compatibility with vehicles of different sizes and bumper heights. A pedestrian injury mitigation design in the front of the vehicle is designed to help absorb energy in the event of a collision.

The Pilot's V^ entine will operate in a six-cylinder mode for power and four and three-cylinder modes during cruising to improve gas efficiency.

The interior is very futuristic with XM radio and iPod ports, satellite based navigation and Honda has also moved the gearshift to sit next to the radio controls on the dash, away from the steering wheel.

50 Cent, Mary J Blige in steroid controversy & Michael Jackson's new single

Came back to work today with my inbox full of emails.

Seems the New York Times released a story today saying that several prominent celebrities, including singer Mary J. Blige, rapper 50 Cent and movie producer Tyler Perry are among thousands of people whose names are turning up in an investigation into obtaining steroids or human growth hormones, an Albany newspaper reported on Sunday.

The Times said the Albany Times Union broke the story while reporting on an investigation conducted by the Albany County district attorney, P. David Soares.

A Blige spokesperson told the Times that Blige has never taken any performance-enhancing illegal steroids or any anti-aging steroids. HGH is sometimes used as an anti-aging drug. I'd hold off on making any judgments here, guys. Let's let this play out.....

Also making the rounds is a new single by Michael Jackson called "Don't You Walk Away." It's a slow club-burner with a nice midtempo beat. I think Jackson will have a hit with this one. It was distributed to several club DJs in the last few weeks. A reader sent me a link to a download of the song. No idea when it might be released.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Blu-Ray vs. HD-DVD...does it even matter?

There's a big battle going on between Blu-Ray and HD-DVD to see which format consumers will use to view HDTV movies in the future.

Blu-Ray now has more than twice as many major studios behind it and has a clear advantage. Sony, which lost VHS vs Beta in the '80s, looks like it is going to win a rematch.

Blu-Ray is Sony's baby.

But does it really matter which one wins?

In a recent USA Today interview, Microsoft head man Billy Gates believes that direct downloads over broadband are the future. His company's Xbox Live recently signed an agreement with ABC to allow customers to download ABC programming one day after it airs.

Netflix has plans to create a set-top box to allow customers to download movies over the internet instead of renting them in a store or via mail.

New Flash technology now emerging will allow people to store these HDTV films on a tiny high capacity hard drive, like the thumb drives some people wear around their necks now like necklaces. Some of the newer TV sets are already being made with USB ports in them.

You could, I'd imagine one day, download "Rambo 27" off the internet in high def onto your flash drive, walk over to the TV, plug in the drive and go. And, of course, these drives being smaller than HD-DVDs or Blu-Ray discs -- and with the ability, potentially, to house multiple movies on one drive -- could kill whichever disc format ultimately wins.

Gates seems to see it that way. He told USA Today he believes direct download over broadband, "over time will be the dominant way that people get their movies."

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Positive "Feedback" should zoom Jackson back up the charts

Earlier today, I posted a little commentary and two videos of Britney Spears latest song.

Apparently a lot of you out there are music fans. I've gotten tons of requests to post Janet Jackson's new music video, "Feedback," from her upcoming "Discipline" CD. The song has received critical acclaim and the video I'm sure will receive that as well. I haven't seen anything like it, and there's a little tribute to her brothers' pyrotechnical "Victory Tour" in there.

The video has Janet dancing in space and on planets. Gotta admit it's kind of catchy.

The video looks expensive and is different than anything in current rotation on VH-1, BET or MTV, and I'd say the single is one of the better songs to come out in the past 12 months. Janet's music, of course, hasn't been much of an issue, since she got away from her "Dream Street" sound of the early '80s and released "Control."

Each of her albums after that then have been solid.

Since the infamous Super Bowl incident, Janet has struggled to get heard the same way she used to. Whether or not "Feedback" will get her into rotation on MTV or heavy play on major radio airwaves is still a question.

The quality of this single and the wonderment of this video -- which got the internet abuzz the way Michael Jackson videos that postponed prime-time programming got folks talking in the late '80s -- is certainly not.

So here you go:

Britney's new video sad commentary on her life

Britney Spears' new video was originally controversial because some people believe her figure was digitally altered to look slimmer.

Britney's body is fine. It was fine at MTV's Music Awards. Too many of these starlets (see: Alba, Jessica) are told they need to be extra-thin and then begin to look too much like pre-preggo Nicole Richie instead of more like a healthy full-figured Britney.

Her new video, Piece Of Me, though ultimately is a sad commentary on her life. In it, she talks about how everybody wants a piece of her, and it's been that way since she became the it girl at 17.

Here's hoping Britney gets a break and gets her life back together.

Here is the official video:

Here is the remix video:

Monday, January 07, 2008

Next up: "Desperate Housewives" on Xbox Live

Coming to an XBox 360 near you, "Desperate Housewives" downloads.

At the 2008 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES), Microsoft head man Billy Gates and Microsoft President of the Entertainment & Devices Division Robbie Bach announced partnerships with Disney-ABC Television Group, NBC Universal and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc.

As part of that agreement, Xbox Live subscribers will be able to download hit ABC programming like "Desperate Housewives" and "Grey's Anatomy" directly to their Xbox 360 in high definition.

That service should be available later this month. It is essentially like a video-on-demand service from cable TV, and I'd expect Gates to try to continue this digital download push with other networks. It's a wise move that will help set up Xbox 360 as the center of the home entertainment network and gives it a boost over competition from Nintendo's Wii and Sony's PlayStation 3.

ABC content from ABC Family, ABC News, Disney Channel and Toon Disney will also be available. In all, more than 500 hours of content, in standard definition and high definition, will be available at launch. Viewers can download episodes the day after they air on TV.

-- Under the agreement with MGM, Xbox 360 will offer MGM’s movie library on demand, including “Rocky,” “Terminator,” “Legally Blonde,” “Silence of the Lambs” and “Barbershop.” United Artists, an MGM sister company, will also make select films available on demand.

New driving games heat up virtual track

Few video games can provide the pure thrill of road racing.

THQ's "MX vs. ATV" (available for most gaming systems) pretty much succeeds.

About my only complaint was the sound of the thing -- the engines were too car-like.

This was my first go-round with this series, which has won acclaim for its "Rhythm Racing" physics engine. I can say it's smart.

When you're trying to jump over things, you can't take a heavy vehicle over an area only a small motorbike would cross.

Driving and turning, the little things, seemed real. The vehicles seemed very real.

I didn't get the feeling that I get from many racing games, after about five minutes, that I'm moving an object across a screen from the right to the left and back again. I was engaged with this one, which allows you to take real-life riders from the MX and ATV circuits and go head-to-head.

The terrain looks good and the tricks you can pull off are pretty fun, too, but for me, this game came down to the racing and the driving.

Grade: B; rated E for everyone.

Review: Indianapolis 500 Legends

I put this one into the Wii and instantly I was thrown back to the '60s, one of the most revolutionary Indy 500 eras ever.You play as one of 15 famous drivers. The cars made me nostalgic; there are 34 to choose from. Tom Carnegie, who has called the Indy 500 for 61 years, handles play-by-play.

The attention to detail was dramatic, as was the racing itself. You get 33 cars on the track at one time. I got to race as old favorite A.J. Foyt in a 500-lap race. You can even pick which year you want to race in, from 1961 to 1971. You can choose "mission mode" and race in real-life situations that came up in past Indy 500s.

This is one of the best in this genre of the past two years.

Grade: A; rated E for everyone.

Review: Game Show

A cool online sports trivia game that I've enjoyed watching as much as playing. It's easy to join in. Sign up at and find out when the next game goes live.

You create a logo for yourself and play and unlock tokens to access equipment to create more personalized logos. (It's cooler to do than read about.)

There are leader boards where you can see how well you're doing against players nationally and regionally, answering the sports trivia questions. There are also raffles where you can use your tokens to win prizes.

Grade: B.

Review: Pursuit Force: Extreme Justice

I think the PSP is the best handheld game mainly because it comes the closest to re-creating the console and TV experience in the family living room.That allows you to play a complex fight game like this and not be left with crude action or crude graphics.

You're part of Capital City's special police force, the Pursuit Force, and you're trying to rid your city of crime, mainly five notorious gangs, including three new ones.

These gang bangers will have you chasing them over land, air and sea in 50 criminal cases covering seven district environments. I counted 12 vehicles to use. Sony claims 20 hours of game play. I wouldn't doubt it.

It'll take you awhile, even with 30 weapons, to clean up your city. Each gang has its own stronghold and one of them is a rogue police group.

Grade: B; rated T for teen.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Warner Bros deals HD-DVD a big blow

The war for the next generation DVD may be nearing an end.

Warner Bros will be Blu-Ray exclusively beginning in May 2008. Currently, the studio releases high defintion movies on Blu-Ray and HD-DVD. Those two formats -- Sony behind Blu-Ray and Toshiba behind HD-DVD -- are in a VHS vs. Betamax fight for the living room.

Warner Bros. Chairman and CEO Barry Meyer said his company's Blu-Ray switch is a "strategic decision focused on the long term and the most direct way to give consumers what they want."

Meyer also said one format must win soon.

"Warner Bros. has produced in both high-definition formats in an effort to provide consumer choice, foster mainstream adoption and drive down hardware prices," said Jeff Bewkes, President and Chief Executive Officer, Time Warner Inc., the parent company of Warner Bros. Entertainment. "Today's decision by Warner Bros. to distribute in a single format comes at the right time and is the best decision both for consumers and Time Warner."

Currently Universal and Paramount are the two studios that are HD-DVD exclusive. Warner, Sony, 20th Century Fox, New Line, LionsGate, MGM, Fox Searchlight, Miramax, Warner and Buena Vista are now behind Blu-Ray.