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AIAS' Olin: Blu-ray Not Long-Term Advantage For PS3
AIAS' Olin: Blu-ray Not Long-Term Advantage For PS3 Exclusive
August 28, 2008 | By Leigh Alexander, Staff

August 28, 2008 | By Leigh Alexander, Staff
More: Console/PC, Exclusive

Is the console war reaching a turning point? The PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, for one thing, are reaching graphical parity, while software exclusivity, formerly a great differentiator, is becoming more and more rare.

Speaking to Gamasutra recently, Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences president Joseph Olin -- whose organization puts together the DICE conference and Interactive Achievement Awards yearly -- pegs another console advantage that might lose its relevance as the space evolves.

"I look at Blu-ray being the obvious short-term differentiator, but if everything goes to digital download -- and over time, it will -- then the Blu-ray device no longer has the same competitive advantage, or the benefit is not as strong as the feature is," says Olin.

But how long will it take for digital distro to be a large enough force in the space that it blunts the advantage of a disc player, and how long will the growth of downloadable games keep accelerating?

"Perhaps maybe five years? Maybe seven years? I think the challenge with digital distribution is more because of piped-to-the-home bandwidth than the technology within the systems," says Olin.

"Digital copyright issues have been resolved, largely. The cable companies have certainly shown that you can digitally encrypt and prevent theft of intellectual property over broadband. If they can do it, certainly our industry can do it."

Despite any remaining gating issues, says Olin, the current generation is becoming more and more accustomed to content delivery on demand, and that trend will drive the games space as well.

But, of course, the PS3 has other movie-centric advantages beyond the obvious. Olin concedes that, in his opinion, conventional DVDs running through the PlayStation 3 look better than the competitive players such as on the Xbox 360.

"The PS3 has a nice upscaling chipset that really does make a standard-definition DVD look a little bit crisper and better," he says. "Is that enough to get you to buy one [console] versus the other, as opposed to someone who is buying it for a game franchise?"

The AIAS president concluded of the increasingly homogeneous nature of the next-gen war: "Over time, I think you've always seen software drive hardware selections... if [the game franchises are] all available on everything, it's sort of hard to know."

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Leo Gura
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For significant console sales coming from digital distribution, I don't see that happening until at least the next generation. The problem isn't bandwidth, it's changing casual consumers' retail habits -- which will take time.

Stephen Gurnett
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For me, digital downloads are only worthwhile for 'small' games, say sub-500mb, sub-10 games. When it comes to consoles I can't imagine choosing digital distribution over a physical disk for some time (for a AAA title), yet I have no problem doing so on the PC. Probably because console games have some value as trade-ins which is almost non-existent on the PC (though PC games are cheaper than console games in the first place so it balances out) and PC games tend to have much less shelf space than consoles around here so finding a game that isn't The Sims can be difficult.

In the UK, many people have bandwidth caps on their broadband which would make downloading a 9GB DVD game unfeasible (never mind a 50GB Blu-Ray). Besides, at current speeds I could get the train into town, buy the game from the shop, have time for lunch and a haircut, and still get home in plenty of time to watch the download finish.

Digital downloads often feel like a way to eliminate the second-hand market and place extra controls on gamers. For it to be viable I'd also have to be assured that I would always be able to re-download my games, that I would be able to play them even if my account was banned, and that transferring games to a new account would be painless. In an ideal world I'd also like to have the ability to loan a game to a friend (temporary account transfer?) - surely it's not technically impossible but I can't see it happening.

John Palamarchuk
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If this guy is talking about digital distribution and PS3 vs 360, why does he completely ignore the fact that I can put any 2.5 inch SATA hard drive in my ps3, but can't do this in the 360? I'm stuck with my lame 20gb launch 360, yet my PS3 is a 300gb monster, which no doubt will probably be a 1000gb monster in 5 years when 2.5 inch HDs exist at that size.

I know why he doesn't mention this hard drive fact...look at his picture, you think he's a gamer? No, too busy sailing his yacht...

Ken Koontz
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Definitely digital downloading for games will not be around for quite some time. As large as console games are today, they will only continue to get larger in data size. But I think as far video media goes that change is at hand.

With products like Apple TV and growing popularity of video streaming, investing in new disc technology doesn't seem to be viable. And like john said above the ability to add a hard drive to the PS3 makes it much more impressive than its Blue-ray tech in my opinion. Granted Blue-ray looks amazing but what value would the consumer place on a product that can play a library of high quality movies and fit on a 2.5 inch hard drive. Backup your movies onto another hard drive for safety or a portable drive for mobility.

It just seems obvious to me that the next next-gen systems (assuming they continue this effort to consolidate home entertainment into their machine) would be an oversized ipod on crack.

E Zachary Knight
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For about 85% of the video market, iPod and DVD quality are just fine for them. They could care less about HD quality and Bluray. What they want are more variety in content.

The nay sayers about digital download are thinking in terms of HD distribution when standard definition is what people are used to. They are comfortable with that.

I think that rather than focusing on increasing storage size, people need to be focusing more on compression and quality of storage. Also on the transfer scene.

Of course that would require more money to research and develop than most companies are willing to spend. Most companies want return on investment sooner rather than later.

E Zachary Knight
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To clarify, I would like someone to develop the technology to have a bluray movie fit on a standard dvd size disk. Memory footprint wise.

Dario Hardmeier
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Personally, I do not understand why people find large local storage still so important - we are on the verge of being able to stream high quality video content, meaning any visual application can be streamed (provided a suitable network connection is available) in realtime in a few years - games, applications, videos, you name it.

So the real question should be who can access purchased content on what terms..

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"we are on the verge of being able to stream high quality video content, meaning any visual application can be streamed (provided a suitable network connection is available) in realtime in a few years"

There are still parts of the world - such as New Zealand - where these internet connections are not even available to the public. "Full-speed broadband" in these parts is generally around 2Mbps (megabits, not bytes) and not expecting anything faster anytime soon.

Peter Park
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With the rumors of next-gen Xbox360 *game* in the works (i.e. next major Halo game), we can presume that 360's successor will be released in about 2~3 years. By that time, digital distribution may have become a major feature. Xbox3...720? probably will have large storage device, hopefully upgradable with generic devices, and be more capable to play games than PS3. PS3, when this time comes, will probably still have more than a couple years to live, and become obsolete...

I now like the fact that 360's lifecycle is likely be shorter than PS3's. Not that PS3 is bad or anything...

Ryan Schaefer
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The problem with the ps3 has never been the hardware or the movie features; it simply doesn't have the software library that the 360 does. Sony was a little TOO focused on pushing blu-ray, they should've been more concerned about games since the ps3 is, above all, supposed to be a gaming console.

I think Microsoft went the right way with the 360 by focusing on games and how to make the gaming experience better with a solid online infrastructure. The fact that it plays dvd's and streams content from pc's is just a nice extra, not a big selling point.

E Zachary Knight
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@ Anonymous 28 Aug 2008 at 1:33 pm PST

I live in the heart of the US and that is about all that I can get in my area. So I feel for you.

Dario Hardmeier
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@Anonymous & Ryan Schaefner:

Quite right, but compare today's available bandwith to that 8 years ago - then factor in statements made by Sony about their projected lifetime of the PS3 being about 10 years. Surely it is possible that the next generation of consoles will face the technical feasibility of realtime streaming of arbitrary visual content.

If you are still sceptical, check out services such as Google Docs; hard drives are becoming the same as RAM ist today: a simple way of temporarily caching centrally stored information. The same might apply to local CPUs, which in future could be reduced to the task of de- and encoding data streams between the server host and the client machine.

Dario Hardmeier
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@Anonymous & Ephriam Knight...

sorry about the confusion of names

Victor Bunn
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As mentioned, bandwidth and storage are the 2 reasons digital distribution isn't going to replace disk based media anytime soon in my opinion. When I can download a HD movie in 10 to 30 minutes on average onto a 10TB HDD I bought for $150 then come talk to me.

Just out of curiousity, are there people that STILL believe PS3 doesn't have a game library? Wow, I thought I was on Gamasutra...not Joystiq.

Personally, I think streaming is a good option but not having the option to store my content is ridiculous. Not having the option to backup or run it locally is even worse. Hence...larger HDD support and the speed to not have to wait

Isaac Lanier
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Yes. I can see digital download in the movie scetor. We got TiVo, and on demand.

Now with games, your gonna need that 300 gb HDD or 1000gb depending on how much you buy games. Me I will be simply out of luck. I trade my games in and out. Mass Effect Beat it, its gon( Gears, Lost Oddessy, etc) 1 games will get me 3 if its thats easy to beat. Thats 1 used game.

I can download a used games? take it back in 7 days to get another used game.

I buy a uesed game about a week before what i want come out. return the used game pay the difference 10$. Just to make sure i dont spend the money on something else.

Isaac Lanier
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With GTA 4 and Ninja Gaiden 2 I return and re-bought GTA 4 2 times before I got Ninja Gaiden 2.

Yannick Boucher
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So ? Sony is poised just as well as anyone else (and better, if they can really make that synergy work properly) for digital downloads, so why is everyone always talking as if Blu-Ray is all Sony has ? Not impressed by his view.

Geoffrey Mackey
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Late again...One problem with Live arcade games is the easy transfer ability (or lack of). There needs to be an easy way to tackle this problem. Right now it's easy to drop by a friends and bring a disc. It has to be SUPER easy to get YOUR digital game on a foreign system.