Connected Home Devices

No other vendor offers the combination of timely, consistent and accurate tracking of 22 different product categories spanning audio, video and computing,

July 8, 2014 10:25 dwatkins

Google’s widely anticipated Android TV software platform was unveiled at its annual developer’s conference in San Francisco last month, marking the technology giant’s third shot at taking control of the living room TV experience. While early impressions are positive particularly surrounding its gaming and cross device capabilities, for Android TV to become a universally adopted TV platform then Google will come back up against the challenge of securing premium Pay TV and Multichannel TV content for the platform. Google, as well as Intel and Apple know from bitter experience that those deals are far from straightforward. Further insight and analysis on this topic can be found for subscribers in our published report here: Google Brings Android to the TV


June 13, 2014 16:57 MGoodman

Joining a crowded streaming music scene that already contains Rhapsody, Pandora, Spotify, Apple and Samsung, Amazon unveiled Amazon Prime Music in the US. Prime Music provides access to more than one million songs to all Amazon Prime members, at no extra cost.

 

Key Prime Music features include:

 

·         Access to over a million songs delivered ad-free

·         Hundreds of expert-programmed Prime Playlists

·         Prime members can download music to their phone or tablet to listen offline

·         Amazon will use previous purchase behavior to recommend songs to customers

According to Amazon, Prime members in the U.S. can start listening to Prime Music immediately at www.primemusic.com. Kindle Fire HD/HDX devices will get Prime Music in an automatic, over-the-air update while mobile phone users can download the latest Amazon Music app from the Android and iTunes appstores.

 

Prime Music does, however, have a few warts. Specifically, it has fewer songs than services like Spotify or Rhapsody, and at least at the moment due to a disagreement over royalty payment, has no deal with top-ranked Universal Music Group. That means that popular stars such as Katy Perry, Taylor Swift and Jay-Z are not available on Prime Music.

 

This move is indicative of the rise in popularity of streaming and the decline of digital downloads. According to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), U.S. sales of downloaded songs slipped 1% last year to $2.8 billion while streaming music revenue grew 39% to $1.4 billion.

 

Amazon is developing a very robust on-demand service, spanning multiple media formats that offer much more than the competition. For a $99 annual subscription fee, Prime members have access to:

 

·         Free two-day shipping on eligible items to addresses in the contiguous U.S.

·         Unlimited streaming of movies and TV episodes, including five new kids and five new comedy/drama pilots for members in the U.S. and Puerto Rico.

·         Unlimited, ad-free access to Prime Playlists and more than a million songs for members in the U.S. and Puerto Rico.

·         The ability to borrow from over 500,000 from the Kindle Owners' Lending Library.

·         Early access for members in the U.S. to download a new book for free every month from the Kindle First picks.

·         Access to Prime Pantry, where members can purchase and ship to addresses in the contiguous U.S. low priced grocery, household and pet care items for a flat delivery fee of $5.99 for each Prime Pantry box.

Making Prime more attractive to Amazon users is in Amazon’s best interests. According to Morningstar, “Prime members spend “approximately twice as much" as their non-Prime counterparts each year, shop more frequently and buy pricier items.”

 

In addition, Amazon offers the Kindle Fire HD/HDX tablet and Kindle Fire streaming media player. The only thing missing from their device portfolio is a phone? Wait, doesn’t Amazon have a big press event scheduled for June 18th……..?


June 12, 2014 20:42 esmith

Though I had a lot of interesting discussions and briefings at E3 (to be covered in a separate written insight soon), and had the opportunity to play some very beautiful and innovative console games to be released in the months to come, I wanted to briefly touch on VR at the show.

I had the chance to demo Hot Shot on Oculus Rift, now owned by Facebook. It was a very simple game with a simple mission: Walk down a hall while dodging bullets, pick up a gun, and shoot your enemies. The graphics were nothing spectacular. The room was black and white with red bullet trails and enemies. Despite this very simple display, the experience was so immersive and captivating that I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. It was also a very disorienting experience, especially noticeable walking around after the five-minute demo I got. There were several other games available for play and it should be noted that Oculus does need to connect to a PC for processing power.

Across the show floor, I was able to try out Sony’s Project Morpheus, connected to a PlayStation 4. I played Street Luge and The Deep, which both had very similar immersive qualities, but I must say that The Deep was truly amazing. Even though I knew I was playing a game of sea exploration in a shark cage, I felt a physiological fear response that I don’t think is possible on a traditional gaming platform. I was shooting my flare gun at the shark for fun while it swam around me, but once it ripped the door off the cage, I found myself standing very still, not shooting, and really hoping the shark would just swim away.

Developers with whom I spoke seemed very excited about having the opportunity to be trail blazers on this new platform as opposed to writing the next iteration of a first-person shooter. The VR developer is free to nearly remove the controller from the equation and really focus on the player’s point-of-view as the main control within the game. The head-tracking abilities of both systems are key to the immersive experience, and Project Morpheus builds on that by tracking the movements of the DualShock4 and Move controllers.

Needless to say, VR is not going to enjoy significant consumer success in the next 12 to 18 months. Price will be a massive hurdle for any device vendor to clear in the consumer market. A stable of content or at least a few must-play games on the platform will also be crucial in attracting interest. I get the impression that developers are still experimenting with what relevant applications VR can have in gaming as opposed to just throwing any type of game into a VR headset and expecting it to be fun or functional in this new medium. Finally, solutions for movies, training, and health are just a few examples of the wide reach that VR could play outside the gaming world once the technology is further refined.

Virtual Boy, this is not.

- Eric Smith


June 12, 2014 14:12 esmith

The Nintendo Digital event was filled with games, colors, and fun. In a way, it was everything one would expect from a Nintendo E3 broadcast, but that doesn’t mean that there weren’t gasps from the audience as some fan favorites were revealed.

“There’s nothing wrong with having a little fun.” – Reggie Fils-Aime, NOA President and COO

Through the campy presentation, Nintendo announced a heavy release schedule of exclusive games that they hope will carry the momentum of Mario Kart 8 sales through the holiday season. Some of the big exclusive titles for 2014 release included:

 

  • Super Smash Bros. coming to 3DS in October 2014 and a broader holiday 2014 release data for Wii U
  • Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, an action puzzler, has a holiday 2014 release window for Wii U
  • Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire will release on 3DS in November 2014
  • Bayonetta 2 will come to Wii U in October 2014 and will come bundled with the original Bayonetta, which previously only released on Xbox 360 and PS3
  • Hyrule Warriors, a Dynasty Warriors title with Zelda characters, will attempt to sate the need for Zelda titles in 2014 with an October release for Wii U in the US

 

Super Smash Bros. was an intense focus for Nintendo throughout the show. Mii characters can now join the game as Mii Fighters with moves that rival traditional Super Smash Bros. characters and add an element of personalization.

Nintendo will use the Super Smash Bros. Wii U release to debut its NFC toys-to-life figures, called “amiibo,” with other first and third-party titles to follow, such as Mario Kart 8, Mario Party 10, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, Disney Infinity 2.0, and Skylanders. By placing a character on the Wii U Game Pad, a two-way NFC link is established to transfer player stats and skills specific to that game and brings the character to life in the game. As the character grows through in-game experiences, that data is sent back to the amiibo. No pricing is available at this point, but the figures are incredibly detailed as currently displayed and certainly have a collectible aspect to them – now where have we heard “Gotta Catch ‘em All” from before?

There were several games set for 2015 release which bear mentioning as well:

 

  • Yoshi’s Woolly World, a side-scroller stylized in yarn for Wii U
  • Zelda (perhaps titled World of Zelda?) will get a new title on Wii U
  • Kirby and the Rainbow Curse comes to Wii U
  • Xenoblade Chronicles, which stood out among other Nintendo releases with its epic anime movie look, comes to Wii U
  • Mario Maker, a level creator for Super Mario Bros. on Wii U
  • Splatoon, a new third-person shooter IP, will release in 2015

 

Nintendo has definitely found some new religion on getting first party titles to consumers as there is now a steady pipeline of classic games and new IP for this holiday season and through 2015. The core gaming community got a few long-awaited announcements like Zelda and Star Fox; Splatoon offers a family-friendly online multi-player shooter; and, though details were scarce overall for Mario Maker, it has potential for greater social gaming on Wii U.

There was also serious attention given to utilizing the Game Pad more effectively with games from the NFC standpoint with amiibo, using the gyroscope for intuitive POV control with games in development like Star Fox or the Projects Giant Robot and Guard, or using the second screen for more immersive co-op play without a split TV screen. Nintendo is far from giving up on this generation, though there is still debate whether gamers have moved on from Nintendo at this point.

As intimated earlier, my coverage of E3 won’t stop with these first-party vendor overviews. EA and Ubisoft had press conferences which tie into how the next generation consoles are evolving; I had some time to explore the show floor and have some initial thoughts about gameplay with new console platforms; and, there was plenty happening behind the scenes to cover. I have a written insight and perhaps one more blog entry planned on the topic.

- Eric Smith


June 10, 2014 16:23 esmith

The day started off with a full frontal assault on the senses from Xbox diving into 90 minutes of nothing but game. They set out to show that they had learned from their mistake of not catering first and foremost to core gamers at the console’s launch. Trailing PS4 by about 2 million units, the presentation screamed reboot.

The Xbox One Reboot

“We are humbled and amazed by your comments…you are shaping the future of Xbox and we are better for it.” – Phil Spencer, Head of Xbox

After plainly displaying gratitude and deference to the core gaming audience, Xbox showed game after game on the massive screen at the Galen Center. Some of the major 2014 exclusive titles included:

  • Forza Horizon 2 launching exclusively on Xbox One on September 30, 2014
  • Dance Central Spotlight launching exclusively on Xbox in September 2014
  • Fable Legends beta launching exclusively on Xbox One in Fall 2014
  • Sunset Overdrive launching exclusively on Xbox One on October 28, 2014
  • Ori and the Blind Forest, a new side-scrolling IP from indie developer Moon Studios, will launch exclusively on Xbox One in Q4 2014
  • The Halo Master Chief Collection launching exclusively on Xbox One on November 11, 2014

The Halo Master Chief Collection is a remastered set of the first four Halo games on one disc in 1080p/60fps with all content unlocked so players can explore the story in whatever order they wish. This will also include content from the Halo TV series as well as a beta demo of Halo 5: Guardians prior to its 2015 launch.

Exclusive titles announced without release windows were:

  • Phantom Dust will be an Xbox One exclusive title
  • Scalebound, a new IP called from Platinum Games (creators of The Wonderful 101) will be an Xbox One exclusive title
  • Crackdown will be an Xbox One exclusive title

We excited about the future of “the new Xbox” – Phil Spencer, Head of Xbox

The tone couldn’t be any clearer: Microsoft has heard the howls of gamers and it is repenting. There was absolutely no mention of streaming media, save for the brief mention of the Halo TV series. This was an intensely focused show for hardcore gamers: It was loud, flashy, and gory.

 

Sony Goes Beyond Software

Sony capped the night off with a wide-ranging presentation – vastly different than Microsoft’s in my opinion. It was more deliberate, less focused on games, and frankly less stunning. That being said, Sony certainly didn’t disappoint. In fact, the event got better as time passed.

“PlayStation is the best place for gaming” – Andrew House, SCEI President & CEO

It struck me as strange that Sony would lead off with Destiny, a game that launches concurrently on PlayStation and Xbox on September 9, 2014, but it was a good chance to show off the new Destiny bundle with a white 500GB PS4. Major exclusive PlayStation 2014 titles included:

  • Infamous First Light will be a new stand-alone DLC, an exclusive launch for PS4 available in August 2014
  • Little Big Planet 3 will launch exclusively for PlayStation on November 14, 2014
  • Entwined, a new artsy tunnel flying IP by Sony San Mateo and Pixelopus, launched exclusively and immediately on the PlayStation Store for $9.99
  • The Last of Us will be remastered for PS4 and launches exclusively on July 29, 2014

Sony also brought some key non-software announcements for 2014:

  • Powers, an original TV series based on the comic of the same name, will be released in the US in December for PSN members (first episode only) and PS+ subscribers (all episodes)
  • PlayStation Now will launch as an open beta for the North American market on July 31, 2014 exclusively for PS4. PS3, PS Vita, and select Sony TVs will join the beta shortly thereafter
  • PS Vita TV streaming and remote gaming device was previously only available in Japan, but Sony announced that it would arrive in North America and Europe in Fall 2014 with pricing tiers that match exactly with Amazon’s Fire TV

Perhaps it was the jet lag, but the first half of the presentation left me a little underwhelmed on the software announcements. That was all rectified by the 2015 and beyond pipeline:

  • Bloodborne, a creepy new first-person shooter IP by Hidetaka Miyazaki and From Software, launches exclusively on PS4 in 2015
  • Far Cry 4 launches on PS4 with a very unique feature: Co-op play invites can be sent to friends on PS3 and PS4 even if they don’t own the game

Announced without a release window were two games that could steal the show

  • No Man’s Sky, a new IP from Hellogames, launches first on PS4; it literally offers an infinite number of environments (each player starts the game their own unique planet) for gamers to explore
  • Grim Fandango’s remaster launches first on PS4 and PS Vita

Finally, Sony announced that over 25 free-to-play games will debut on PS4 in the next 12 months backing up claims by Shawn Layden, the new SCEA President & CEO, that Sony “is committed to making PS4 the best destination for free-to-play.” Many of these games looked very good on a big screen.

All in all, it was an exciting first day with some neat surprises, stunning graphics, and innovative game play. I’m eagerly looking forward to what Nintendo has to offer as a follow up to its competitors and will continue to post updates as the days progress at E3 here and on Twitter (@esmith_SA). Of course a lot more happened in public and behind the scenes; the details of which I will publish in a written insight shortly after the show ends.

- Eric Smith

6/11 EDIT: I managed to leave out the October 28, 2014 release of Sunset Overdrive on Xbox One.


May 13, 2014 10:19 dmercer

Our latest research highlights the importance of Ultra HD (UHD) in television’s future. Global Ultra HD TV sales reached 1.7 million units last year, although the vast majority of these were sold in China. Sales in the US and Europe will begin to pick up this year, and 4% of all flat panel TVs sold worldwide in 2014 are expected to be UHD-ready. DigitalEurope, Europe’s industry body for consumer electronics manufacturers, is preparing to approve logos which will provide consumer confidence in UHD TV during the latter part of 2014. By 2020 ownership of UHD TVs will have reached a third of US homes and 22% in western Europe.

 

UHD is at the beginning of a growth curve and there are already signs that commentators are nervous about its future. The less enlightened ones point to 3D TV as evidence of recent failures, but Strategy Analytics was always cautious about 3D TV (see 3DTV Opportunity? Look to the Cube Tubers! ), and while 3D-enabled TVs still sell relatively well there is of course very little 3D-originated content. Other UHD concerns centre on pricing, lack of content and lack of need.

All of these concerns are unjustified and Ultra HD will be successful for several reasons. Viewers don’t need to wear glasses (always one of the primary objections to 3D TV), the experience of true Ultra HD content is a real step up from regular HD, UHD TV prices will fall steadily towards regular HD levels, and the content and distribution industries are already gearing up to support video in the new format.

For these and other reasons we expect Ultra HD to become the next HDTV, but it will take time and inevitably some observers will comment on the supposedly slow uptake in the next few months and years. The reality is that the TV industry has to work to different timescales from the internet world, even though some early 4K content will come from internet content players like Netflix. While we’ve seen a couple of early announcements about 4K broadcasting it’s likely to be 2016 before the major pay TV broadcasters like DirecTV and Sky start major rollouts of their 4K services.

Content producers are already gearing up for the 4K future and a number of trials of 4K sports productions have taken place. A few games at next month’s World Cup finals will be captured and distributed in 4K, although it’s not clear yet where they will be watched – my bet is that a few cinema outlets will carry them. Content people will talk about learning the new language demanded by 4K: camera positioning and techniques will change because viewers can see much more detail from a greater distance. Personally I find the ability to watch the entire football pitch without an editor interfering with close-ups quite compelling and as close to “being there” as it is possible to get with today’s technology. We’ll see over time whether that’s something that becomes commonplace once UHD broadcasting begins.

I’ll be chairing two panels on Ultra HD next month in London and Dubrovnik – it would be great to see you there:

Connected TV World Summit

New EU Market

David Mercer

 


April 30, 2014 13:15 esmith

Well, that didn’t take long.

Less than a month after China set its guidelines for entrance into its game console market after a 14 year-long ban, Microsoft announced that it will launch the Xbox One in September 2014. Keen observers may note that Xbox One also launches in Japan during the same month, though I’m sure Microsoft is expecting to far surpass its market position in Japan.

For starters, Japanese brands aren’t as revered in China as they once were, partly due to more choice from domestic brands and partly due to geopolitical flare-ups in the last several years. This is as true for automobiles as it is for consumer electronics. The pre-launch PR war that left Microsoft bruised would be largely irrelevant in China.

Furthermore, Microsoft is approaching the Chinese market with a focus on being culturally relevant. By necessity, Microsoft invested $237 million into BesTV New Media, a local IPTV and OTT video provider, to produce and distribute its consoles from the Shanghai Free Trade Zone. This joint-venture was actually created last September, when the lifting of the game console ban was first announced, and will support efforts to recruit Chinese developers to bring culturally relevant games to the platform. In addition, several BesTV apps will come preloaded on Xbox One consoles sold in China and will even be available for users abroad who are looking for Chinese video content.

Lest game consoles corrupt Chinese youth, the Chinese Government has set restrictions on what content would be allowed in games. A few of the reported restrictions are as follows:

  • Anything that harms the nation’s reputation, security, or interests
  • Anything that instigates racial/ethnic hatred, or harms ethnic traditions and cultures
  • Anything that promotes or incites obscenity, drug use, violence, or gambling
  • Anything that harms public ethics or China’s culture and traditions
  • Anything that insults, slanders, or violates the rights of others

 

The joint-efforts of Microsoft and BesTV to bring Chinese game developers into the mix may serve the dual purpose of creating games that locals actually want to play and ease the process of getting game content beyond regulators and into the market faster.

Though game consoles have been banned for 14 years in China to protect the moral fabric of its youth, a small portion of households have purchased game consoles on the grey market, as is the case in many emerging markets. The difference now is that the best features of Xbox One are available only when connected to the internet and authenticating with Microsoft servers. As mentioned before, Microsoft’s partnership with BesTV will boost its ability to bring relevant OTT content into the home through native apps, a nod to China’s heavy use of OTT multimedia.

Certainly, Microsoft stands to grab a significant chunk of market share in China due to all of these factors, but the size of the legitimate Chinese game console market will be the biggest question mark. I’m currently skeptical that Chinese console gamers will ditch their grey market consoles and pay the premium for a legit next gen experience. I’m less optimistic that price-sensitive F2P and freemium gamers on mobile and PC make this jump. On the other end of the spectrum, core PC gamers in China are likely to stick with their current machines which can already stream OTT video and play games that millions of other Chinese gamers are already playing.

Still, if just a fraction of a percent of gamers jump into the newly created white market for game consoles, Microsoft and other future entrants could have a golden opportunity to revitalize the global game console market just as pundits are writing its obituary.

- Eric Smith

November 20, 2013 05:28 esmith

Microsoft set up shop in New York last week and held more intimate sessions with analysts and media in a smaller venue with less pomp than the Sony event several stops away. I left the briefing feeling very excited about what Xbox had to offer regarding media and was hoping to dive into a deeper gaming experience when I got home. Before getting any further, Microsoft has advised that Xbox One is still in beta testing, even at the time of writing (11:45pm EST, 11/19/13).

Duly noted. It took forever to set up Xbox One at home. It took three times just to boot to the right screen to begin the first 509MB update, which completed within ten minutes on a modest Wi-Fi network with 25Mbps downstream cable service. The system was still buggy after this update but cleared up completely after another 329MB update was pushed out on Sunday. Another 333MB update that pushed out on Tuesday brought the system to near launch readiness with app availability and sharing features that rival the PS4. I am told that multiple updates will not be pushed like this after launch and this is only a product of the system being in beta testing.

Once Xbox One was up and running, I was immediately taken with its multimedia capabilities. The new Kinect camera is incredibly powerful. How powerful you ask? It can: 1) See in night-vision, some kind of topographical vision, as well as regular old-fashioned light; 2) recognize faces of people it knows once they are in view; 3) track people moving through the room based on their skeletal profiles; 4) sense your heartbeat; 5) distinguish between real people and 2D images of people on screens; and, 6) it has its own cooling fan to help do all that.

Skype on Xbox One was an instant classic at home for the entire family. Skype on Xbox One (requires a $60/year Xbox Live Gold subscription) is a vastly superior experience to Skype on other devices. Users can sit on the couch and casually Skype with their friends displayed on the TV screen while the Kinect camera tracks movement in the room and zooms in and out to include everyone present. During testing, a friend on the receiving end noted that the presentation felt “more natural” and that it felt like there was a cameraman in our living room shooting a news interview.

Voice commands are another cool feature of the Xbox One that makes the experience feel more natural. I found myself eschewing the controller in my hand for the easier, “Xbox Go Home” or “Xbox Go to Music” voice commands, mostly because it’s largely bug-free and could detect my commands over sounds from the TV or elsewhere in the room. There are often times when the voice commands need to be repeated, and some cases when the commands are misinterpreted, but the fix is quite simple for both situations: Xbox One can be told to “Stop” or “Stop listening,” and you go back to holding dominion over one of the machines in your life. This feature did make it into a few of the games I previewed, where you command comrades or distract enemies with sound while controlling your character with the controller.

Xbox One’s control over TVs and Set-top Boxes (STB) with the OneGuide Electronic Programming Guide was fantastic in demo. Being able to switch out of games immediately into live TV or being able to snap a sidebar of fantasy football stats alongside live TV was incredible. Alas, for cheap cord-cutters like me, this is not available. In addition to needing an Xbox Live Gold subscription, users must have a Pay TV subscription to use OneGuide. This isn’t Microsoft’s fault, but this does showcase the perilous environment in which Xbox One finds itself as it tries to take over the living room.

Unfortunately, the games available at launch were not wildly impressive. They required incredibly long install times, long load times, and nothing particularly stood out about the graphics. At the time of writing, the gaming felt very lonely as opposed to the PS4 “What’s New” timelines or the social sharing that comes so easily on PS4. More features are being rolled out as the November 22 launch date approaches, so this is by no means a final verdict. At the time of writing, SmartGlass had just been released into the wild and it definitely has potential to boost the depth Xbox One’s gaming capabilities.

I get the distinct feeling that Microsoft may have tried to make Xbox One something for everybody. The more features that are unlocked during beta testing, the more optimistic I am about Microsoft achieving that goal. There’s an argument in our latest Game Console forecast, to which I still ascribe, that Xbox unit sales will begin to match those of PS4 in the later years of the console war as more people see Xbox One in action delivering content to the living room in addition to a comparable gaming experience to PS4.

The question Microsoft needs to answer is, will there be too many paywalls erected – Xbox Live Gold has its perks with gaming, but it’s a little frustrating to hide the coolest multimedia features behind it while OneGuide is also restricted to Pay TV customers – that diminish the value proposition of Xbox One’s media streaming capabilities? Also, will Microsoft be able to keep up with the gaming innovations coming out of Tokyo, and to some extent, Kyoto?

This blog series will be followed by an insight piece available to clients after both systems are launched and we have a chance to assess the early days “not in beta” in a larger context with our market data.

- Eric Smith


November 14, 2013 14:42 esmith

Sony held a two-day pre-launch event on November 11 and 12 in advance of its November 15 release of PlayStation4, taking over the Standard High Line hotel in midtown New York City. And by “taking over,” I mean cloaking every corner of the hotel in the iconic triangle, circle, X, and square of the PlayStation controller, filling half of the tower’s floors with game developers to provide walk-throughs and insights on launch titles, and a separate floor dedicated to hardware and UI introduction by staff and executives. The event drew upon the confidence that Sony has built through its nine-month campaign to introduce its next gen console to the world.

Upon visiting the developers of Killzone: Shadow Fall for a demo, it was quickly clear that the PS4 was built primarily for gamers. The graphics were so rich and engaging while the gaming experience was highly customizable and adaptive. The developers noted that the technological jump from PS3 to PS4 was so great that they were only limited by their imagination in terms of how many options they could give players, how many characters could be onscreen at once, and how much the environment could be manipulated by the player. In contrast, the jump from PS2 to PS3 was much less noticeable and they quickly ran into technical boundaries when developing their first games.

Next generation isn’t a label only limited to the graphics though. Sony is staking its claim on social gaming by allowing players to post videos of their gaming exploits on Facebook, screenshots on Facebook and Twitter, and to broadcast live gameplay (with 15 to 20 seconds of latency) through Twitch and UStream. Users are instantaneously notified of their friends’ activities in a section called “What’s New” on the home screen, creating a feedback loop wherein users further explore games or buy new ones with just a few button presses.

Despite boasting very smooth menu transitions and game loading, the console did freeze up for a tense minute in the middle of the guided hardware and UI introduction. Other than that minor hiccup and some latency in the Music Unlimited App (PS4’s music streaming service), the consoles on display performed well and seamlessly transitioned from task to task. After bringing a unit home for testing, I found a few other issues that didn’t work as well in the real world as they did during the event. First, the PlayStation Camera was a bit temperamental, having trouble picking up and tracking movement during games. Second, the PlayStation App intended to turn iOS and Android devices into second screens in some games did not function as it did during demos.

A 323MB firmware update is needed out of the box, but this was not a big hassle even considering my modest home network. Using a home Wi-Fi network (with an older router, mind you) on a 25Mbps downstream cable connection, the update stalled out once, and then downloaded again and updated without incident in about ten minutes.

The entertainment apps available at launch in the U.S. are adequate, including Amazon, Redbox Instant, Netflix, Crackle, Hulu Plus, NHL and NBA channels, and users may rent or purchase content from the PlayStation Store. There are just few too multimedia apps available at launch to stay captivating, but in the end, I expect more apps to get certified for PS4. The system should become a good substitute for smart TV for those with dumb or even (gasp) non-connected TVs – the UI is clean, easily navigable, and brings a full-screen immersive app experience to the TV.

One change that may shock current PS3 and PS Vita users is that online multi-player is only available to PS4 users who subscribe to PlayStation Plus, at a cost of $49.99 yearly. Certainly, there are other advantages that come with the Plus subscription, not the least of which is 1GB of cloud storage for game downloads, but turning online multi-player into a luxury may be an issue for some gamers. From a business perspective, though, Xbox has been doing this for years and PlayStation may have finally decided that they were leaving too much money on the table.

All in all, I was impressed with the system and stand by the forecast we published just a few weeks ago showing PS4 edging out Xbox One in global unit shipments in the first years of availability. PS4 delivers a quality gaming experience that will impress its current fan base while winning some conquest sales from former Xbox 360 fans. In the coming days, I will review the Xbox One and the competitive environment in which next gen consoles find themselves in more detail.

- Eric Smith


September 19, 2013 10:43 dmercer

I recently posted the following comments on an analyst forum:

 

The connected home vision is failing because of classic standards v. competition barriers. What may be in consumers' interests (single platform, open standards) is not being delivered by vendors and service providers who want to grab as much territory for themselves as they can.

The other dynamic is retail v. service provider: the fact is many consumers will be happy to pay for someone to manage this stuff - SPs just have to work out what they want and which model works, not that that's easy... But in the meantime consumers are putting together their own systems off the shelf, hence the confusion and complexity.

The home networking challenge in my view is something of a myth. Techies always talk about the best solution, while consumers just get on with what works. Right now that's WiFi/cellular, with a little bit of coax/Ethernet thrown in. There's no reason why the "home network" should ever need to migrate to a single connectivity standard.

I've followed this for 25 years and I can't say the vision of seamless interoperability will be realised in another 25. But progress is being made, building on the growth of semi-smart devices like phones and PCs. It's a story of continued fragmentation rather than unification, but that doesn't mean consumers won't get access to a growing range of new smart home capabilities in the near to medium term - that's clearly already starting to happen.

David Mercer