Archive for the ‘Video Gaming’ Category

E3 ESA Keynote – Doug Lowenstein and ESA Rally the Troops

Friday, June 9th, 2006

(This article first appeared in the May 22, 2006 issue of Jon Peddie’s TechWatch)

The twelfth annual E3 show officially opened, as has become tradition, with a State of the Industry keynote by Entertainment Software Association (ESA) president and chief cheerleader, Doug Lowenstein. Lowenstein reminisced briefly about the roots of the video game industry before launching into the central theme of this year’s keynote – namely that he believes the video game industry is becoming a transformational industry akin to the automobile, television, computer, and telecommunications industries of the twentieth century.


Doug Lowenstein, ESA president, says that video games will change the world.

The basis for his belief stems from research the ESA commissioned from Robert W. Crandall, a Senior Fellow of the Brookings Institution, and J. Gregory Sidak, a visiting professor of law at Georgetown University Law Center. Crandall and Sidak produced a white paper. The white paper based on the results of their research, released at the same time as Lowenstein’s keynote, is available at http://www.theesa.com.

The Crandall and Sidak white paper suggests that, while video games generate $10.3 billion in direct sales (software and hardware) in the U.S., they also generate $7.8 billion in sales of complementary products for a total impact of over $18 billion on the U.S. economy. The complementary products Crandall and Sidak cite include televisions (e.g. HDTVs for Xbox 360), gaming computers (e.g., Voodoo, Alienware), broadband services, CPUs and GPUs, mobile usage, movies based on video game IP, and advertising. A review of Crandall’s and Sidek’s research reveals that many of their conclusions are inferential or based on comments from industry players, such as IBM (one of the three CELL-chip partners, as well as owner of the Power-PC core used in the Xbox 360).

Nevertheless, Lowenstein took much of the research as fact. And while some of the assertions about how video game technologies are being presently being used elsewhere for training and research are sound, they either ignore or are ignorant of the reality that much of that same technology did not in fact originate in video games, but was developed earlier for military, cinematic, and CAD applications.

For example, Crandall and Sidak point to modern-day real-estate and travel websites as evolving from technology transfers from entertainment software, and in particular 3D video game technology, such as first-person shooters. However, that technology originated in CAD programs in the 1980s – the only difference is that due to a lack of computing power, such walkthroughs were typically pre-rendered, fixed-path (or variable path where each branch was pre-rendered) scenes. And virtual reality research, which, while having aspects of entertainment, originated more as an information sharing and communications technology, offered interactive 3D space walkthroughs before video games integrated that technology.

Likewise, they point to modern-day military training where combat simulations are used as a form of virtual training, and suggest that this is directly linked to video game technology. While in a micro view that is certainly true, in a macro view, much of the core technology, such as texture mapping and 3D world navigation, originated with military-funded simulators such as flight simulators developed by Singer and GE in the early 1980s.

What Crandall and Sidak miss is that 3D video gaming technology is evolutionary in the grand scheme of things, and not revolutionary. Without

a doubt, current gaming technology improves things like real-estate walkthroughs, military training simulations, and medical research and simulations in terms of increased real-time interactivity and realism, but the underlying principles have been there all along.

While the $7.8 billion in sales of complementary products attributed to video games may not be really accurate, and is likely inflated, one cannot also deny that video games and the technology that goes into them definitely do have both a technological impact and a sociological one on the lives of most of the people in the Western world.

Lowenstein used that premise to support his perspective that the video game industry will be a transformational industry. He pointed to the fact that by the year 2010, there will be 75 million Americans between the ages of 10 and 30 – something he calls the “millennium generation.” That’s as many as there are in the now aging baby boomer generation. And video game content and interaction are certain to provide a potentially broader perspective on a variety of subjects, ultimately making the millennium generation a political force to be reckoned with.

“Even today, ESA data shows that as many as 35% of American parents play video games, and 80% of those play with their kids. Video games are the rock and roll music for the digital generation, and Halo and The Sims and Zelda are their Grateful Deads and their Rolling Stones,” said Lowenstein, to underscore his point.

Lowenstein closed his keynote by reminding all in attendance that transformational industries have both good and bad components. For example, the automobile industry brought pollution and reliance on fossil fuels, television brought concerns about the sedentary life style of a new breed of man known as a couch potato, and telecommunications introduced issues related to the depersonalization of social interaction. On the bright side, Lowenstein said he believed that everyone would agree that the positives of past transformational industries overwhelmed the negatives, and that the coming years would hopefully see the transition of video games from pure entertainment into video games as a central feature in the economy, business, and education of America.

That certainly is a laudable goal, both on a U.S. level as well as an international one, but the roadblocks ahead, such as high console and title prices, the efforts to criminalize the sale of certain games to youngsters, and the stigma that game playing produces violent and aberrant behavior are serious, and may be difficult to overcome.

Alternative Input Devices at E3

Friday, June 9th, 2006

(This article first appeared in the May 22, 2006 issue of Jon Peddie’s TechWatch)

While the big hit of E3 was undoubtedly the Nintendo Wii and its unique and innovative game controllers, never let it be said that there isn’t someone else out there willing to build and offer a better mouse or other input device. And, as is usual at E3, the most interesting of these new devices were to be found in the exhibit “dungeon” of E3, also known as Kentia Hall.

Novint Falcon

Perhaps the most novel new input device (other than that of the Nintendo Wii) I found was the Novint Falcon (see image below), a 3D haptic input device a bit reminiscent of some sort of alien beast from a futuristic first-person shooter. To use the Falcon, you grab the round handle on the front and move it around. Each of the three arms of the Falcon is connected to electrical motors, which can each, individually, create a force on the handle. In combination, the force can be generated in any direction and at any magnitude (up to a certain maximum).


The Novint Falcon is a haptic input device that provides both force feedback and tactual sensation.

In demonstrations that Novint provided, the haptic response of the Falcon was quite realistic as I moved a ball cursor around a bumpy sphere and in and out of a gelatin surface. For gaming, the device can be used to simulate gun recoil (the handle has several buttons on it for use as mouse button substitutes) or feel walls and surfaces in the “dark” (think “Doom 3” or “F.E.A.R.”).

Novint’s goal is to be able to have the Falcon in gamers’ hands by 2007 for a retail price of under $99 for the USB version. That’s ambitious for a device of this complexity, when one considers standard retail channel multipliers. The Falcon is certainly innovative, but unless haptic support APIs become a standard feature that games utilize, there’s not much hope the device will be a gamer’s mainstay. But it sure is a cool device (www.novint.com).

XKPad’s Bodypad

Not being one for strenuous exercise, nor for fighting games, I did not spend much time with the Bodypad from XKPad (see image below), but it certainly promises to offer a very intense workout. In addition to strap-on wireless sensors for one’s limbs, there are button controls one holds in one’s fists that can be used to simulate pressing buttons on a typical game controller. By moving one’s limbs (or flailing them, in my case), signals are sent to the receiver, which parses them into controller signals and sends them to an attached PS2 or Xbox console. Cost is around €50, and it is available now from XKPad in France as well as certain on-line outlets (www.bodypad.com).


For those looking for a serious workout playing fighting games, the Body Pad might do the trick.

Sandio Game O’

And yes, there may be a better mouse, or at least that’s what the principals of Sandio Technology are hoping. The Sandio Game O’ (yes – that single

quote is part of the name) is a 3D gaming mouse. Built around an optical mouse core, the Game O’ adds a couple of additional buttons, as well as three joysticks/thumbsticks to the mouse – one on the left, one on the right, and one in front (see image below). Using the driver software for the Game O’, the user configures a joystick-to-keyboard translation. For example, the left joystick (which is a thumbstick for those of us who are righthanded) can be mapped to the traditional W-A-S-D keys used to move one’s FPS character forward, backward, left, and right.

Sandio is promoting the Game O’ as a 6DOF mouse, and I suppose if games supported real 6DOF input, the Game O’ could certainly be used for that purpose. But, the reality is that most games only require basic movement in one plane (forward/backward and strafe left/right), plus rotation in two planes (turn left/right and look up/down). Roll (which would be rotation about the view axis) is not a commonly used or required movement in games I am familiar with.


The Sandio 6DOF mouse features three thumbsticks in addition to normal mouse functionality.

In playing a bit of “Unreal 2004 Tournament” with the Game O’ I can certainly see how the device could be useful. In fact, with the Game O’, it’s possible to completely stop using the keyboard for game input, but it requires your dominant hand to be very agile.

The Game O’ should be shipping later this year for a price comparable to a high-end 2D mouse (www.sandiotech.com).

Splitfish dualFX

I first saw and played with the Splitfish dualFX PS2 controller (see photo below) at CES in January. It features a two-piece design that seems somewhat similar to Nintendo’s Wii controllers, even to the point where the righthand controller has a laser you point at the screen for character movement and targeting. However, there is no tilt sensing.

While the tooling is smoother than in January’s prototype, I still had issues using the laser pointer as my guidance device – perhaps because the controller’s thumbstick was too convenient to continue using, since that is what I am used to.


The Splitfish dualFX PS2 controller.

The gun trigger design for firing (replacing the PS2’s R1 button) was comfortable, and I found if I used the dualFX as a replacement PS2 controller and ignored the laser pointing, it felt pretty natural, and in some ways even better than a regular PS2 controller because my hands no longer needed to be wedged together.

The dualFX should ship in June. Retail pricing was not available (www.splitfish.com).

GestureTek

My kids enjoy the EyeToy on the Sony PS2, and were overjoyed when I told them that there would be a similar piece of hardware coming from Microsoft at the end of the year. That’s the Xbox Live Vision Camera. While no doubt there will be EyeToy-like games for the new Xbox camera, one thing that Microsoft has done differently is to license APIs and software from Canadian company GestureTek.


GestureTek’s technology will enable the Xbox 360’s forthcoming Xbox Live Vision camera to perform a wide range of functions including face tracking, as demonstrated here by Francis MacDougall, co-founder of GestureTek.

Those APIs allow a camera embedded or attached to a device to be used as an alternate input device, detecting motion and location of objects as a form of input. In addition to the well-known hand-waving form of camera input, however, the GestureTek technology includes both face tracking (see photo above), as well as delta motion detection. For the latter, I was given a demonstration in which the camera in a camera phone could be used as the basis for a joystick for a mobile game. Simply tilting the phone in any direction would cause appropriate input and motion in the game, and it was all done detecting direction of tilt optically via the camera.

More interesting was the suggestion that Microsoft was considering using the face-tracking technology as an input in games like “Halo 3”, but in subtle ways, such as tracking a player’s face to see if the player was trying to peek around a corner to see what might be there (and if you ever play FPS games, you will know that they require a certain amount of body English) and then simulating that action in the game. I am certainly looking forward to this and other innovative uses of visual input technology (www.gesturetek.com).

Microsoft

And speaking of Microsoft, while they were not in Kentia Hall, the company did introduce a new input device for the Xbox 360, in addition to the aforementioned Xbox camera. To complement the forthcoming racing game, “Forza Motorsport 2”, Microsoft will offer the Xbox 360 Wireless Racing Wheel, which features a steering wheel, gas and brake pedals, and a table mount (see photo below). While the wheel apparently

does provide some sort of force feedback, I was told that to use that you would want to plug it into a power source, otherwise the battery would drain very quickly. No price was announced, but it will be available in the fourth quarter of 2006 (www.xbox.com).


Microsoft’s forthcoming Xbox 360 Wireless Racing Wheel with pedal on left, and table mount (not a stick shift) on right.

Also of Note:


Sony’s EyeToy for PS3 offers an alternate input device. Here, a new card game, “The Eye of Judgment”, is demonstrated. Note you can see the demonstrator’s hand in the image on the monitor, overlaid by the system’s interpretation of the cards on the board.

Sony’s Entertaining New Future?

Monday, February 6th, 2006

(A version of this article appeared in the January 16, 2006 issue of Jon Peddie’s TechWatch)

Sony and Sony’s Chairman and CEO, Sir Howard Stringer, took the stage at CES 2006 to announce Sony’s new focus on being an entertainment company on all fronts. Stringer’s presentation served as the opening keynote for the show, and was preceded by an introduction by Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA). The CEA is the entity which puts on CES each year.


Gary Shapiro, President & CEO, Consumer Electronics Association

Shapiro’s message was mostly political in nature, underscored by his bringing forth Nevada’s U.S. senator, John Ensign. Both Shapiro and the senator had strong messages about not restricting the consumer electronics market nor consumer’s access to content and information. There was a subtle irony in these messages preceding Sony’s keynote, as Sony is a major proponent of DRM – witness the recent Sony BMG root kit DRM fiasco as a prime example.

Stringer’s opening message addressed the Sony BMG copy protection problem only in passing, suggesting that it was not Sony’s intent to punish consumers, but merely protect content and the rights of artists (a number of whom came out in recent months asking not to be protected in the fashion that Sony had chosen, incidentally). I had the sense from Stringer’s comments that it appears Sony was more upset that it was caught, rather than remorseful that they had done something they should not have. It probably did not help that Stringer read everything off of one or more of around a half dozen teleprompters scattered about the stage and above the audience’s heads, as that made his performance rather stiff and stuffy.


Sir Howard Stringer, Chairman and CEO, Sony Corporation, under Sony’s new motto – “Entertaining the Future”

Sony’s new mission, under the title “Entertaining the Future”, was the theme for the remainder of Stringer’s keynote, leveraging the brand that is Sony, based on four pillars, which Stringer dubbed e-Entertainment, Digital Cinema, High-er Definition, and PlayStation.

Sir Howard explained that the “e” in “e-Entertainment” stood not only for “electronic”, but also for “everyone”, in the sense that everyone can create, distribute, consume, and communicate, and thus e-Entertainment was personal entertainment, and in the context of Sony’s new mission this meant “recognizing and accommodating the needs of the individual, providing choice and convenience in all of the ways consumers use products.” Lofty goals, but as Stringer indicated no desire to diminish Sony’s DRM efforts, it appears that the choice and convenience provided are limited to what Sony wants to or is willing to provide.

Stringer paraded forth the new Sony Ericsson W810 Walkman phone as one example of e-Entertainment – it features a 2 megapixel camera, EDGE network data access, quad-band support, an MP3 player, and, oh yes, a phone. For some reason I can’t fathom, the audience was then subjected to a short portion of a Franz Ferdinand song played off the W810 via the sound system to demonstrate the sound quality of the new phone. I’m not sure I can tell the difference of music playback by a Sony Ericsson Walkman versus a $25 MP3 player from Taiwan or even a $399 iPod these days, but I could tell that it was a source of pride to Sony that their phone’s music playback sounded the way it did.

Also featured under the e-Entertainment banner was the slim Sony Cybershot T9 camera, which really is a nice piece of hardware (the media got to check out all of the things Stringer discussed at a media preview the night before), featuring image stabilization and better low light imaging. And there was the Sony HDR-HC1 HD camcorder too.

But the real star of Stringer’s e-Entertainment was the Sony Reader, a device not much larger than an oversized paperback book, which uses digital paper to allow people to read electronic books. The Sony Reader will ship by the end of March at a price of $299 to $399, and users will be able to view 7500 pages on a single battery charge. Internal memory will store up to a hundred books, with removable MemoryStick and SD storage adding hundreds more books and images which can be accessed at will. Initially, e-books will be available from Sony’s CONNECT store, price yet to be determined. Web content and blogs will also be downloadable to the Sony Reader.

Stringer brought out famed author Dan Brown, whose “The Da Vinci Code” would be among the first e-books available for the Sony Reader. Brown lauded the benefit of the Sony Reader to researchers, students, and travelers alike, although he did profess to still wanting to read real books in the comfort of his own home. One interesting point Brown did make was that devices like the Sony Reader would allow publishers to take risks on lesser known authors because the investment in e-book content was minimal compared to having to prepare a print run (see related blog entry).

The e-Entertainment discussion concluded with a demonstration of Sony’s LocationFree technology, where a Sony PSP on stage was used to view television (and change channels) in New York City as well as in Tokyo.

The next “pillar” Stringer covered was that of Digital Cinema, represented by Sony’s 4K digital projection system, based on SXRD high definition technology. For star support of Sony’s efforts in this venue, Stringer first brought out director Ron Howard and producer Brian Glazer, responsible for the forthcoming cinematic adaptation of “The Da Vinci Code”. They also read from teleprompters, but did reward the audience’s patience with a short clip from the movie, starring Tom Hanks. The clip was projected with the Sony SXRD projector, of course.

The highlight of the keynote, however, was when Tom Hanks himself joined Stringer, Howard, and Glazer, and did not read from the teleprompter, although he initially made believe that he did: “It’s a pleasure to be here with you today, Howard, to be able to deliver these heartfelt comments off of one of your new extraordinary Sony SXRD high-definition teleprompters.” Hanks continued to adlib and improvise, much to Stringer’s discomfort and closed by saying that Stringer should know that actors would do anything if money were involved – even doing podcasts. Stringer did not know how to respond to that.


Sir Howard Stringer, with members of “The Da Vinci Code” movie team: Actor Tom Hanks, Director Ron Howard, and Producer Brian Glazer

It’s not clear that having these stars on stage really helped Stringer get his point across that Sony’s Digital Cinema initiative will be revolutionary for movie theaters, however. But it was entertaining, and entertainment is what the new Sony is all about.

For “High-er Definition” Stringer trotted out sportscaster Greg Gumbel who sang the praises (courtesy of the teleprompter) of HD television broadcast for sports. The discussion moved over to HD programming from CBS and Sky TV, and then into Blu-Ray. Stringer explained why he felt Blu-Ray was the wave of the future in HD media technologies, and why a number of major studios including Sony Pictures, were supporting Blu-Ray. He also indicated that Sony was first to announce Blu-Ray support last year at E3 with the unveiling of the PlayStation 3.

Interestingly, at this point Stringer brought out Michael Dell as a supporter of Blu-Ray. Dell is a major competitor to Sony’s PC product line, arguably the main competitor, and according to Michael Dell, Dell has approximately 40% of the U.S. flat panel display market too. After Dell’s sales pitch for his company’s wares, Stringer closed by saying “if you want a really expensive laptop, buy a VAIO”. Stringer’s comment fell with a thud, as you might expect. Perhaps it was a planned answer to a comment from Dell that Dell didn’t make, but Stringer stuck with the telepompter script. Not exactly the sort of sales pitch I think Sony should be making (even though I agree, especially as an owner of several Sony VAIO laptops).


Michael Dell with Sir Howard Stringer

The last pillar of Sony’s new mission was “PlayStation”, and Stringer brought in Kaz Hirai, president and CEO of Sony Computer Entertainmnet America, to do clean-up. Sadly, Kaz had nothing new to share about the PS3. No dates, prices, or anything else that had not already been said elsewhere.

Sony’s keynote was really more of a sales pitch for Sony’s products, under the thinly veiled guise of refocusing on Entertainment as the core mission for the company. The only real interesting technological development in which Sony was differentiating itself from countless competitors was the Sony Reader. Other e-book systems exist, but none so far with the capabilities and ergonomics of the Sony Reader. Most of the other products discussed were ones Sony had already been shipping for a short while, or ho-hum upgrades to older products.

Sony does have an incredibly well known and well respected brand, and it would be foolish for them to not leverage as much out of the inherent goodwill the Sony name has as they can. And certainly, as both a content provider and a technology company, they have the potential at combining the best of both worlds. But, because of that Sony is also between a rock and a hard place with respect to DRM. On one hand, as a content provider, they feel they need to lead the DRM charge (even if the results are a catastrophic PR mess), while on the technology side, DRM stifles their innovative potential. Case in point is the the VAIO XL1 Digital Living System, which is limited to a physical 200 DVD media changer instead of the ability to rip and store however many DVDs the user has hard disk space for in the device.

In any event, in order to maintain its perceived role as a technology leader, Sony needs to continue to truly innovate, and do so in a very public fashion. However, having Sir Howard Stringer as their pitchman is not the way for Sony to get its message across to a broad audience. To paraphrase Tom Hanks, Sir Howard might be better off back in his Knighthood Club where all the “Sirs” get together to order pizzas and talk about the Queen and let someone more dynamic be the front man for Sony.

2005 and Beyond – Too Many Options, Too Little Time

Friday, January 20th, 2006

A version of this article first appeared in the January 2, 2006 issue of Jon Peddie’s TechWatch

I am a geek. I love my gadgets and video games. I write about them and use them. I am also an e-mail addict. And I procrastinate. All of those led to not writing my 2005 retrospective until the very last moment possible. But my faults aside, I blame it all on technology and the fact that there simply is too much of it out there that I want to buy or have already acquired.

Here’s an abbreviated list of technology I have acquired in the last year in no particular order: a T-Mobile Sidekick II, a couple of Creative Zen Micros, a third Xbox, a third and fourth Sony PS2s, a Sony DVD writer, an ADSL connection (maximum 256Kbps in, 96Kbps out – highest speed available where I live), a Packet8 VoIP connection, a 32” Samsung LCD HD-ready TV, Xbox 360 with all the bells and whistles, a Pentax OptioWP waterproof 5MP camera, a Sony PSP, a Motorola V-330 cell phone (T-Mobile Prepay), a second Canon S-500 camera, a DirecTV Receiver with Tivo, my own blog (blog.RichterScale.org), over a hundred video game titles for all sorts of platforms, a Nikon D2x professional DSLR, close to 100 music CDs, a strobe, and several lenses, a circular saw, a sander, a pocket digital multimeter, switchboxes galore, a couple of CRT TVs, a 60GB video iPod, DVD ripping software, video conversion software, a couple of Wacom computer tablets, a month-to-month subscription to Yahoo! Music, some fisheye security cameras and control systems, a Roomba, countless routers and switches, a new washing machine, and a new refrigerator.

In reviewing this list, the reason for acquisition of items tends to fall into one of six categories: 1) purchased because the previous technology incarnation of the device type failed to work properly (the video iPod is my Zen Micro replacement, for example, and the new fridge and washer replace broken ones too); 2) it was easier to buy a new one for a new location than lug one around with me (this applies, for example, to the extra Xbox and PS2 consoles); 3) because a family member needed one (e.g. the second Zen Micro – which also failed – for my wife, Pentax and Motorola phone for my daughter); 4) because it was something I needed (e.g. the power tools); 5) Because I thought it might be needed and could be fun to play with (e.g. the Sidekick II, my blog, Nikon DSLR, etc.); and 6) because I wanted it even though I had no real need for it but was willing to fabricate a need if pressed on the subject (e.g. the Xbox 360, the DirecTV receiver for my Texas office, etc.).

In reality most of these items are ones that I could have done without and still be happy and technology sated, never mind richer. Technology is not cheap. Nor does it seem to generally save time. I’ve spent too many weeks during 2005 trying to figure out how to maximize my use of many of my acquired technology items, and still only know a fraction of their capabilities. Even as I am writing this column I am getting distracted by e-mail, my son and daughter running into my office to get me to help them defeat the latest shadow monster boss in Kameo on the Xbox 360, and making a list of what DVDs I want to convert into MP4s so I can play them on my new video iPod during my upcoming travels.

Technology, while increasingly more capable and fascinating, has also at the same time become more and more complex. And ironically, the documentation supplied with much of the new technology that has come into my possession lately is thinner than ever, forcing me to Google for answers to figure out how something should work (e.g. “How to create play lists on my iPod without getting sucked into iTunes”), or why something does not function the way I think it should. And every chunk of technology has its own user interface, its own way of providing positive or negative feedback to users, and frequently too many exposed buttons to create problems with.

Of all the regular tech toys I have acquired this year, the simplest to use so far is my Roomba. I press the “Clean” button when the power light is green, and off it goes. When it’s done, it goes back to recharge itself.

The Roomba is the exception rather than the rule. The reason is that too many technology purveyors are trying to combine too many functions into unitary devices. Witness the latest generation of mobile phones – featuring cameras, video, digital TV, messaging, predictive word spelling, MP3 playback, and who knows what else. Oh, and you can use them to receive and make telephone calls too – at least sometimes. An exception to the thin manual rule, the manual that came with the Motorola V-330 phone was quite thick and took the better part of a day to parse and I still don’t think I understand everything the phone can do.

Microsoft spent the better part of the year trying to convince the media and anyone else who would listen that the Xbox 360 was designed to be easy to use by anyone in the family, including the proverbial female significant other who has in the past shunned game consoles. Well, my female significant other still leaves the room when the Xbox 360 gets turned on. And while I deem myself to be rather technically competent, I found the Xbox Live configuration of the Xbox 360 to be tedious and annoying. And, I believe setting the Xbox 360 up as a Media Center Extender to be beyond the skills of a normal non-techie computer user (since it’s the computer part of the system that does not work smoothly, at least at first).

I picture my parents as the typical non-techie computer users. Both are skilled Photoshop users, and know how to use e-mail, but anything dealing with hardware configuration or replying to computer-prompted technical questions on their screens scares the dickens out of them. The “user friendly” Xbox 360 would give them a heart attack. That’s why I am not planning on ever sending them one.

2005 was a year of many great developments in technology – ranging from cheap high capacity flash RAMs and truly amazing all-in-one cell phones to the Xbox 360 and 10+ megapixel cameras, but a large chunk of the population which can afford this technology are the same folks that pre-lit Christmas trees are designed for and marketed towards – people who want things that work out of the box and don’t require a lot of tinkering or playing with to accomplish their function. Just because a device can be made to do a bunch of cool things does not mean it should.

Unless technology makers can somehow simplify their devices, they will limit their markets to either the mostly younger folks out there who don’t mind being user interface guinea pigs or technology addicted folks like us who spend too much money on functionality we’ll never figure out but keep coming back for more, for some unfathomable reason. Call it a primal urge for or addiction to the latest tech toys. Or maybe it’s simply some variant of obsessive compulsive disorder?

What 2006 Holds

Bring pragmatic, I see 2006 as the year that I will need to build a larger living room. I have already started saving money for this expansion project. I simply have run out of space for game consoles, game controllers, battery charging stations (for the wireless controllers), as well as all the game and DVD content I want to have in my living room. And 2006 will bring us the $399 Sony PS3 (I predict a launch in Japan to coincide with E3 in May) and the $199 Nintendo Revolution (November 2006 U.S. release) to add to my living room. That will also require more ventilation – I may even need that now, as the larger-than-a-brick sized heat-generating power supply for the Xbox 360 is merely a taste of what’s to come with the Sony PS3, no doubt.

And speaking of the Sony PS3 – it will support dual HD displays, and that means I need to get a second 62” DLP to complement the current one – that’s at least another 5 foot extension of the living room right there alone.

And perhaps I should not stop at just one living room – after all, I have been enjoying playing over SystemLink on the Xbox with my son, so maybe a duplicate living room so that can continue (and so I can play my games in one living room while my kids use the other one) would be a good idea too.

Of course, none of these things make my wife very happy. She thinks we spend to much time playing games as is. The fact that she may be right is totally beside the point. After all, 2006 will be the Year of Next Generation Video Gaming, and we must welcome the year into our homes in proper style. For those folks whose Blackberry units stop working because of the injunction by NTP, as part of NTP patent litigation against Blackberry, playing video games will be the only way for them to get their frantic button pushing fix.

But the expense for the living room expansions, new consoles, extra HD displays, and batteries for all my new wireless controllers is not the only one I will need to budget for in 2006. 2006 will also be the year of the Split Cent. Microsoft will be revered by software and content makers world wide for bringing us Microsoft Points – a way to charge people fractions of a cent (typically many multiples thereof) for content they don’t need, but for some inexplicable reason are willing to spend vast amounts of “points” on, bringing the oft coveted (by mobile carriers) nickel and diming strategy widespread in the mobile phone business where people will spend $1.99 for a fraction of a song to use as a ring tone when that same whole song can be had from Yahoo! Music for $0.79, just to make a statement. And that sort of mobile phone expenditure pales compared to the sum of spending on lots of small amounts on things like text messaging, overage, e-mails, image transfers and everything else the carriers can get away with charging for.

Microsoft Points, and equivalent micropayment systems, will start becoming ubiquitous on devices other than mobile phone. Some smart entrepreneur out there will start giving away free PCs but you’ll have to pay in points for usage. 10 points to boot the system, one point per character typed in a document, etc. Renting software usage on-line a la “Live” is only the first step in being able to charge for everything a user does on a computer, bring back memories of how mainframe usage used to be charged for on timeshare systems.

But Google will still be free, and continue to be advertiser and stock market subsidized. Although Google Points will be available, and even offered as a reward to frequent Googlers, to be used on cool merchandise, like USB memory devices in the shape of a piece of sushi.

And while it won’t happen in 2006, but may a year or two after that, I suspect we will see Microsoft Points, Google Points, Nintendo Points, Paypal Points, etc. all traded on international currency bourses. In fact, with point-based MasterCard debit cards, it will be possible to shop anywhere in the world – in person or on-line, forsaking a national currency for a virtual one.

Of course, there will be the issue of point interoperability. AOL will no doubt at first refuse to accept Microsoft Points in trade for AOL Points, but when Open Source Points are created as a non-proprietary point system and Google announces that their Google Points are interchangeable with Open Source Point, the other big guys will work things out.

I am looking forward to 2006. It will leave me a lot poorer, but I’ll have fun spending my money. Better than being pointless, right?