COMMENTARY: Why I love my Zune

November 29, 2006

With all the hateful and vitriolic commentary going through the ether, I admit that my personal faith in the Zune project was beginning to waver… what, with:

  • PlaysForSure Rights-protected music being incompatible with Zune
  • Weight & size of Zune being slightly bigger than an Apple iPod
  • Look of the Zune being less aethetically pleasing than other media players
  • Missing features like "WiFi Broadcast DJ" that were originally promised

…yep – even this kool aid drinker started falling off the wagon, so to speak. 

Then the reports came in from folks like the guy at the Chicago Sun Times that just hated the device.  And the comments made by some other critics started to filter in screaming, "I can’t migrate my iTunes Music Store music!"  and "It’s a total version 1.0 product!"  I admit started to feel rather sad like we’d failed again.

Then I got one.  My own Zune.

It’s a small package with a rather strange moniker inside:  "Welcome to the Social."  <insert doubtful smirk here>  But then I noticed a few things as I turned it on, installed the Zune software, and even more things as I saw some other people using it.

First of all, during the Zune desktop software installation, it makes mention of a little known fact:  The Xbox 360 can leverage the same music that you have on your Zune.

Secondly, two gals in our office got Zunes.  They spend every other day swapping music files and samples between each other between cubicles… even though they’re down the hall from each other.  They really do love the ability to share their media.

Thirdly, this isn’t a fluke.  I saw two high school girls doing the exact same thing.  They owned Zune players and with the typical human instinct, "pointed" their Zunes at each other every time they transferred a file.  I was going to tell them that they didn’t need to "point" the devices at each other but it was clear they were having way too much fun so I decided not to butt in.

Oh?  You still think it’s a fluke?  Still think the Zune folks didn’t know what they were talking about?   Alright then… I’ll ask you, "What color do you think is going to be the least popular amongst the Zune’s sold:  White, Black, or Brown?"

If you guessed "brown", you’re not just wrong – you’re DEAD WRONG.  Brown is the most popular color we sell.  Now guess what color Zune all the girls I’ve talked about own?  Yep.  That’s right.  Brown. 

Shows you what you know, ‘eh?

I’m secretly one of the most critical people there are when it comes to our products.  I know EXACTLY what’s wrong with a given product… but I also know exactly what I find useful about it as well.  And the Zune?  There’s an overwhelming amount to like about this product.  The WIRELESS SHARING OF MUSIC & VIDEOS really is a big deal. 

This has been a serious re-education in how to form an opinion.  Start with the facts and what you know 1st hand, not 2nd hand opinions & critics commentary.  After all, if it were up to the critics, shows like "American Idol" would have never made it on the air:  TV critics originally panned the show as being banal and lowest common denominator.  For the record, "American Idol" is the #1 TV in the nation getting more than a 32 million viewers per episode and having the largest 18-45 viewership amongst all shows easily topping popular shows like 24, Lost, Desperate Housewives, Grey’s Anatomy, CSI, and Heroes.

So to hell with all you haters.  I’m going to make the world’s biggest, highest quality Windows Media library known to mankind with the best content I can find for Zune… not these lousy podcasts that you see all over the place mind you but GOOD content.

Oh.  And by the way, check this out:


Don’t cry for the Zune just yet

Microsoft’s challenger to the iPod takes second place in digital audio player market in first sales week, according to report.

By David Ellis, staff writer
November 29 2006: 2:06 PM EST


NEW YORK ( — Reports of lackluster sales of Microsoft’s Zune that surfaced earlier this week might be a bit premature.

Microsoft’s newest MP3 player, which launched just over two weeks ago, took second place in the portable digital player market in its first four days of sales, according to numbers generated by the market research firm NPD Group.

"Considering it is a new brand, it’s a very good first-week showing," said Ross Rubin, director of industry for NPD Group.

Taken from:

How much do you want to bet the Sony Playstation 3 1080i problem can’t be patched?

November 29, 2006

If you have a HDTV incapable of projecting 720p – only 480i/p, 1080i – which is pretty much the majority of HDTV buyers out there, Sony Playstation 3 games look like utter crap.  The video is rendered in memory in 720p but since your monitor can’t do 720p, it downgrades the video quality to 480p and sends it out the component cables where your TV upscales the video to 1080i.

Sony, with their typical arrogance, muttered something about people having "outdated" TVs.  What?  Try telling that to a guy who bought a Mitsubishi Diamond DLP Projection 75" Big Screen HDTV for $10,000, and that’s before the 5:1 Bose Surround sound system. 

To quote my friend, "F-ck you very much, Sony."

To recify the problem, some product manager blurted out that they’d be somehow patching the Sony Playstation 3 with a firmware upgrade to allow the Sony Playstation 3 to upscale video from 720p to 1080i in memory before it gets sent to the component out.  I read this and I said to myself, "They’re gonna do this, real-time, in software?  No dedicated hardware or chips to rapidly convert the content?  Seriously?" 

As I understand it, the Xbox 360 renders most games in memory at 720p then uses HARDWARE (chips) to upscale the video to 1080i/p in real time so there’s no latency.  So to anticipate that the box will do this in software is pretty questionable.  Yeah, yeah, yeah… they’ve got the glorious Cell processors and all that jazz but again, for one of these processor to do the job of something a specialized chip does on the Xbox 360… is highly unlikely.

Then this came out.

SCEA Comments on PS3 Resolution on Older HDTVs
Sony has contacted us to let us know that they may have spoken a bit prematurely. SCEA’s Dave Karraker, Sr. Director, Corporate Communications, informed GameDaily BIZ that they currently cannot confirm that this 1080i issue will be resolved via a firmware patch. The official line is now that they are "looking into the issue and haven’t stated any actions that will be taken regarding it."

To me, this close to the other shoe dropping.  Having to hedge your bets through a statement to the public and saying that, "we’re not sure that we’re going to have a solution that will allow you to upgrade your existing purchase," creates doubt in the mind of consumers.  The fact that they’re willing to risk this tells me that:

  1. They really aren’t sure they can do this or if it’ll work.
  2. They are hoping this will somehow wash over wihle people still clamor to get a PS3.

How much do you want to bet that they never get this problem solved… until they start shipping new consoles with the issue fixed in hardware?

The Truth about the Playstation 3 Launch

November 20, 2006

I don’t even need to write anything.  Penny Arcade has already done it for me:

Maximum Moisture
Note above the Xbox360 in hand along with the copy of Gears of War
Taken from

And I quote:

"The launch is full of…  well, Launch Titles.  It sounds like Insomniac did what Insomniac does – deliver spit-polished hits. Past that, you’ve got Genji (rank), Untold Legends (just… no) and Gundam (daemonic). Everything else is something that: 
(a) already came out, and
(b) most likely runs better or has more features on existing equipment.  Seriously, read the reviews.  
his is beyond insulting. This is beyond ridiculous.  It is farcical."

Read the full commentary here:

Dear Sony: Who the hell does your PR?

November 20, 2006

UPDATE 11/22/2006:
This has officially turned into madness. 

I want to be clear about something here.  This is NOT a commentary on greed or responsibility on Sony’s part.  I don’t believe that people’s wanton desire for the console is a bad thing at all and I don’t think that Sony did anything wrong is releasing it’s console with such a limited supply.  That’s their prerogative.

This is a commentary about:

  1. The horrendous PR job their company has done and
  2. The ridiculous lawlessness and lack of civil order that is occuring throughout the world 

ATTENTION LAW ENFORCEMENT & STORE OWNERS:  There are idiots everywhere that are going to cause trouble.  You know that chaos is a possibility.  You know that this spectacle is something that brings you patrons and is essentially free advertising for your stores… why aren’t you better prepared?

It’s interesting to see there’s another big brand out there with really, questionable PR.  Seriously Sony… who’s responsible for your press relations?  I never thought I’d see the day where another tech firm’s PR department was twice.. no, check that… THREE TIMES as bad as ours.  At least we have the excuse of being a monster company with PR concerns all over the board:  Sony only has this one product that’s coming to market now that they have to concentrate on, and they’re handling it with all the grace of a bull in a china shop.

Next to Sony, Microsoft PR is 24k gold.

  • NY Times: The PS3 "isn’t that great"
    "Measured in megaflops, gigabytes and other technical benchmarks, the PlayStation 3 is certainly the world’s most powerful game console. It falls far short, however, of providing the world’s most engaging overall entertainment experience. There is a big difference, and Sony seems to have confused one for the other."
  • Boston’s mayor says Sony’s launch wicked wrong
    "Sony’s PlayStation 3 finally launched last week, but as predicted, supplies were extremely limited. Many stores received only a few units, and in some places, long lines combined with inconsistent preordering standards led to some very unhappy gamers. In some places, this anger led to violence. Now, Boston mayor Thomas Menino is planning to send Sony a bill for an incident that happened at Copley Plaza’s Sony Style store."
  • Analyst: PS3s to be in even shorter supply
    "An analyst claims that Sony’s projections for the North American launch may be too optimistic. Sony had announced that the PS3 launch would see North America receive 400,000 machines. However, according to Lazard Capital Markets analyst Colin Sebastian, Sony will only be able to deliver 150,000 to 200,000 consoles to the US market at launch, approximately half the number the company has predicted. (Sony’s estimates are for all of North America, and Sebastian’s figures are for the US only, so the figures may not be quite as bad as they first appear.)"
  • Sony taking big hit on each PS3 sold; Xbox 360 in the black
    "Market research firm iSuppli has torn down the PlayStation 3 to see what’s inside. In doing so, iSuppli confirmed what we reported back in February: the PS3 is expensive to manufacture and Sony is taking a serious hit on each console sold."
  • PlayStation 3 launches in US to huge demand
    "If you listen to reports on the PlayStation 3 launch in the major media and on other websites you get a grisly picture: people are getting robbed and shot at, are rioting inside Wal-Marts, and of course each store is only getting a few systems."
  • Hot 360 titles and PS3 problems exposed
    "Sony has had a few problems since the PS3’s release last week.
    Backwards compatibility was never Microsoft’s strong-point with the 360, and the new Playstation is suffering similar problems.
    "We are trying to get there as quickly as possible," said SCEA President and Chief Executive Kaz Hirai. Spokespeople from Sony said the issues were mostly related to audio glitches and Playstation 3 controller mappings which may not exactly correspond with what the developer intended with the original controllers."

WOW. If your TV can’t display 720p, don’t buy a Playstation 3.

November 17, 2006

ENGADGET:  More information on PS3’s inability to upscale to 1080i.

CNET:  Holy crap! CNet says it also does not upscale DVDs. So it appears one can definitively say that the PS3 has no upscaling capability, period — it can’t upscale 720p games to 1080i, and can’t upscale DVDs at all.

I’m shocked at this.  It would appear that this is true from various discussions I’ve read although we have yet to hear from Sony on the topic: 

"PS3 won’t internally upscale game visuals to 1080i." 
(Translation:  If you lack 720p, you’re screwed because it’ll downconvert all your game visuals to 480p quality which is what will be displayed on your TV regardless of what resolution you have available and thus your expensive 1080i TV investment is useless.)

What Sony’s doing is frankly bizarre.  They assumed that everyone in the world owns a 720p capable HDTV set, which is asinine considering up until 2005 it was very rare to find HDTVs that supported anything except 480i, 480p, & 1080i. (Notice the lack of 720p in that list)  I fall into this category with my 65" Mitsubishi Big Screen HDTV.  I mean, just think about it:  People that spent $10,000 on their TV sets between 2001 and mid 2005 – a significant investment mind you – will get horrific picture quality because they can’t get anything other than 480p out of a PS3 on their TVs.

This isn’t a "small number of people" either.  Every Audio/Video enthusiast I know has TVs that they purchased back in 2005 or before – particularly DirecTV owners that I know that all loved the digital quality they were able to enjoy on their big screens, regardless of whether it was 480p or 1080i.

Basically, it would appear that if you don’t have 720p capability on your set:

1) The PS3 takes its games and within its hardware, downscales the visual to 480p.  Most if not all PS3 games are designed for 720p rendering and if you don’t have 720p, the PS3 hardware won’t upscale the video to 1080i/p.

2) The PS3 then sends the 480i/p content to the TV which then upscales the video image to 1080i, which of course always looks awful.

The net-net:

"If you don’t have a TV with 720p output capability i.e. a TV purchased within the last year, and you want 1080 resolution – don’t buy a Playstation 3."


The Problem with Wikipedia

November 14, 2006

Penny Arcade did a comic that shows very simply why I treat Wikipedia as nothing more than a online graffiti site.  It’s heralded by flower-power-kumbaya-let’s-all-get-together-and-join-hands community activists as the ultimate collaborative "worksite" for keeping the collective knowledge stored through the cummulative efforts of many, many people.  The idea is that everyone can contribute & edit, everyone has the same rights, no one gets rejected, content is monitored by a higher authority, and in the end, the correct content will "win out" after all is said and done.

This of course had another name a couple decades ago:  Communism

And it didn’t work out so well for the Soviet Union for the same reasons that Wikipedia doesn’t either.  (Yes, yes… I know the Soviets didn’t actually have "true" communism but that was the original intent) It’s a nice altrusitic idea I suppose but in practice communism failed because it relied on the premise that everyone’s focus was on what was best for society as a whole and that no one individual had their own agenda.  It empowered the government, which did have their own agenda, with dictatorial oversight which created what we now know as "fascism".

The "Good Intentions" Encyclopedia
Same goes for Wikipedia.  Everyone gets a say and at any given moment, that "say" is considered by the current reader as gospel.  Why?  Wikipedia, as an information source, positions itself that way.  It of course never declares that its content is accurate but the mere fact that they are ‘striving’ and ‘have the intention to’ (albeit through essentially a trial and error process) evolve its content to complete accuracy gives the site credibility in people’s minds perpetuating mistruths all the while this "evolutionary process" is fleshing itself out.

And as Saint Bernard of Clairvaux said, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

The Bigger Problem
But the bigger problem to me is that in the mean time, while things are evolving and getting shaken up, anyone can write anything they darn well feel like:  Impune the reputation of an individual or an organization, slant the criteria of the content so that it favors one opinion over another, provide links to content that expands far beyond the scope of the topic and leads the reader down the editor’s agenda – all the while presenting the content as completely factual.

There have been many a person, product, or company that have had their reputations essentially RAPED by Wikipedia for long periods of time, but because no one is going to notify the impuned about the offense, the individual or company has to constantly be on the lookout for people writing mistruths about them in Wikipedia.  Is this fair?  This wouldn’t be as big a problem if Wikipedia was less of a supposed authority and was less popular, but because Wikipedia waves off all responsibility of the content onto its creators, most of the time people that have had their reputations damaged walk away from Wikipedia with nothing more than a correction and an apology.

There is NO CONSEQUENCE for people that post incorrect content on Wikipedia.

There are people that say, "Well, that’s the reader’s problem if they accept it as truth."  I completely disagree.  Just because someone accepts a mistruth or a lie doesn’t excuse another from the initial deceit in the first place.  If someone robs you and you don’t file charges, it doesn’t make the robbery "right".

"Wikis" are a different thing entirely
Wikis are databases of information that are completely separate from Wikipedia.  Wikipedia is a large form of a wiki.  Anyone can host & create their own Wiki using a server and some software.  In fact, companies like Microsoft have been doing this in some form for years:  It’s called a Support Database.

When you call into Microsoft, we store content into Clarify, our help desk application which tracks support incidents and stores the collective knowledge of the discussion and problem online so that I or anyone else at Microsoft can retrieve the content and learn from it in the future.

How is this different from Wikipedia?  Well, if I open a case and put incorrect content in it, I’m on the hook for it.  Translation:  MY JOB IS ON THE LINE.  It doesn’t matter that I had the "best of intentions"… the content is still associated with my employment and if it’s wrong, I’m held liable.  And I’d kind of like to remain employed.  Content that is questionable as opposed to fact, is significantly highlighted as such and people are ware of conjecture and subjective material rather than objective material.

In turn, ACCURATE information is often rewarded – most often with accolades or fame.  A good support technician is often well known based on the good content they publish in the support database.

This by the way is one of the reasons content on takes such a while to get posted.  The content has to be trimmed, rewritten, edited, filtered by legal, and then posted – and this is not an easy task.

Wikis work well if personal responsibility and integrity is maintained in the database.  Without it, it’s a giant free-for-all without consequence and there’s nothing protecting people or products from libel.

The Game Console War
Need more proof?  Take a look at the war going on on Wikipedia between PS3 fanbois, Xbox360 fanbois, and Wii fanbois.  Immature, irresponsible people have been hacking up the entries on Wikipedia to slant people toward one particular console or another.  Again, since anyone can edit the content, it’s a constant battle to correct the content, erase vandalism, and maintain order.

Wikipedia closes Wii, PS3, Sony entries
Virtual vandalism the latest weapon in the next-generation console wars.
By Emma Boyes, GameSpot UK
Posted Nov 13, 2006 3:28 pm PT

Web encyclopedia Wikipedia–which allows anyone to write or edit its entries–has locked down its pages relating to Sony and Nintendo’s next-generation consoles after continued vandalism.

A series of less-than-impartial edits over the last few weeks has led to the temporary lockdown to "protect" the entries, in the hope that the virtual vandals will lose interest by the time the pages are reopened to changes.

Users have been hijacking the site’s entries to add what Wikipedia refers to as "funny" edits. Top of the list is the Nintendo Wii–a name that pranksters seem to find especially entertaining.


Xbox360’s “Gears of War” Video Reviews

November 13, 2006
Gears of War has been kicking butt and taking names on every single review site on the Internet.  And I’m not talking about the small rinky dink little mom & pop shops… I’m talking the credible monster monoliths like Gamespot, IGN, 1up, etc.
It’s a sure fire guarantee of utter fun on a console.  Sure there are other games that are enjoyable to segments of the population but not other game this generation has caused this much of an uproar over being truly "next gen".  No game since Halo 2 and Grand Theft Auto San Andreas has caused this much of an excitement ripple in the fabric of gamer space, and it’s only available on Xbox 360.
Do I sound like a hype machine?  Alright.  Watch the videos for yourself.  Here are 4 of the biggest sites on the Internet and their video reviews of Gears of War.’s Review of Xbox 360’s "Gears of War"
Final Score: 9.4/10 – Editor’s Choice Award’s Review of Xbox 360’s "Gears of War"
Final Score: 9.6/10 – Editor’s Choice Award 


Gamespot’s Review of Xbox 360’s "Gears of War"
Final Score: 9.5/10 – Editor’s Choice Award 


G4TV Xplay’s Review of Xbox 360’s "Gears of War"
Final Score: 5/5 – "OMFG

Food Network introduces “Video Center” in Windows Media

November 13, 2006

Food Network has launched their Video Center player "Tyler’s Ultimate Holiday Menu Planner" which allows people to watch recipes being created with links to the text recipes.  It includes, among other things a Turducken.  Yum.

Oh yeah… and it requires Windows Media Player which is embedded into the web page.  None of that lousy quality Macromedia Flash Video for the Food Network… no sirree!

It’s beautiful.  Check it out here:

UCLA Sports Web Sites… how did I miss some of these?

November 13, 2006

I only go to 3 web sites for my news these days:

  1. (aka
  2. (aka
  3. (aka the Official Sports web site of UCLA)

The first 2 are pay for web sites.  They provide insider information on the Bruins that really can’t be gotten anywhere else.  And since it’s a pay for site, you know that only folks with some cash are going to be on the Premium forums, eliminating the morons that don’t have jobs and spend all day long posting babble.

But to expand my horizons, I decided to check a few others out.  It’s been several years since I’ve done that and, well, I must say there’s some real doozies out there… a few that I’ve even added to the ol’ Internet Explorer 7.0 Favorites list.

    Who the hell is this guy?  I gotta say, he’s my kinda guy.  He’s a serious Bruin alum, that’s for certain and he’s really into Sportsbook betting… and he apparently loves photos of smokin’ hot women and isn’t afraid to post them.  In fact, the photos don’t seem to have ANYTHING TO DO with his actual blog posts.  He just… puts photos of smokin’ hot women into every post.  C’mon, you just gotta love that!
    If you ever want to get some perspective, this is the place to go.  This guy is the source of all hatred & loathing.  If you think you’re angry at the Bruins, you gotta check out this site.  Imagine a torrent of sheer, unadulterated anger eminating from one person:  That’s Bruinsnation. Suddenly, things won’t look so bad.
    All this seems to be is a summary of links to UCLA-related articles written in major paper publications throughout Southern California, which in it of itself is somewhat useful, although I don’t give most publications – including the LA Times – much credibility.  When it comes to bias and unbalanced reporting, the Los Angeles Times is about as bad as they come.
    A.k.a. UCLA Hoop Scoop, this is a great blog that contains both factual and subjective content about the Basketball team.  Nice bit of content… surprised he hasn’t made it a pay-for site though.  I guess he has to bring up readership.  Back in the day, there was a site called "Bruin Hoop Report" that I used to love to read similar to this but alas its gone and dried up.

The Supposed “Dark Side” of the Playstation 3 Launch in Japan

November 12, 2006

Imagine launching a product that everyone desperately wants.  In a perfect society, fair distribution through traditional supply & demand economics, moral treatment of fellow human beings, and a complete state of law & order would be in full force.

But we don’t live in a perfect society.  And in the case of the Playstation 3 just as with high-demand concert ticket sales, people are willing to go to extreme legnths to get a console – even so far as to wait overnight in the rain just to get one.  Even in Japan, a country known for it’s high employment rates, stricts guidelines of law & order, fair & orderly queuing, and ethical treatment of the indigent, when it comes to the hardcore economics of the PS3’s supply & demand, all walls fall to the mighty yen.

Now apparently, Japan’s launch was noted by an article in Kotaku has being "marred" by the hiring of Chinese Nationals many of which were apparently homeless, to wait in line to get a console and turn it for a profit though the cooperation of coordinating "auction bosses" who orchestrated the mass purchases through these people.

To be blunt, I’d be the last person to defend Sony.  They’re a competitor and I’m not gonna sit around pity the economic troubles they’ve gone through.  But in the same vein, I’m not going to piss all over them for the wrong reason.  I think it’s sad that people – any people, not just the homeless – have to wait in terrible conditions to obtain something as luxurious & unnecessary as a console. 

But the truth remains:  The mere fact that people are WILLING TO DO THIS is an indication of how high the demand is for these consoles.  And with high demand, comes extreme levels of effort.  Everyone knows this.  Sony’s just putting out a product.  And if people are willing to wait in line for days… willing to brave the cold & rain… willing to hire people to do the waiting for them… willing to push, shove, and otherwise fight for the product, then who’s fault is that really? 

These Chinese Nationals that they talk about that are "poor" and "homeless" are getting paid hard cash for waiting in line by supposedly "unscrupulous Japanese businessmen", to which I say hogwash.  Would those men have jobs otherwise?  Sony created an opportunity, the businessmen put up money for the investment and hired these Chinese Nationals to wait in line effectively sharing in the PS3 resale profit, and the Chinese folks spend their time making money for their efforts.

I see nothing wrong with this – the folks that cry about this need to get out a little more and see that the world is filled with opportunity if you choose to see it that way.  I don’t believe you’ll hear any of these Chinese whine about getting cash for their services. 

And besides – this happens all the time in the US.  In Hawaii, now housing projects start building up and there are "completion dates" upon which people can go up to the model house and purchase a house at the builder’s set rate.  What many people do is hire students, retirees, out-of-work individuals, to simply sit in line all day… all night… for weeks on end, just for the opportunity to buy one of these new houses, on the premise that once they buy the house at the set rate, they’ll be able to flip the house at market rate, which in Hawaii is usually double the original price.  Does this sound familar?

People that blame Sony for "building a compelling product", one so in-demand that it causes bizarre behavior, are for the most part simply fooling themselves.  The problem doesn’t lie primarily with the manufacturer:  The problem is mainly with the point-of-sale. 

If the stores themselves were smart, they’d go WAY out of their way to make the line-waiting experience palatable.  Free coffee.  Heaters.  Literature.  Coupons.  Discounts on food across the street at a local diner or better yet, a food vendor on site for the night.  Something to show that they give a damn.  If you’ve ever waited in line for tickets to a concert, or for seats to a highly anticipated basketball game, or for the opportunity to purchase a game console, you know that if a store were to show they understood our plight, well goddammit, they’ve have my heart and even if I didn’t get a console, at least I didn’t have as wretched an experience as the guys that waited in line at the Circuit City across town.

But your local electronics store is run by grown up versions of Beavis & Butthead.  No seriously – these guys and gals couldn’t find their way out of a paper bag.  I’ve waited in line for Xbox360’s twice now (yes, employees have to go through the same ordeal as everyone else) and both times were excruiating experiences that rivaled my old days in college when I would camp outside of the basketball pavillion for good floor seats to the game against "Duke" or "North Carolina".  Cold, wet, windy, harsh, no bathrooms, a lot of posturing, and not a lot of guarantees.  

These stores had management that not only didn’t do anything to help folks out as they sat outside their business residence waiting for the opportunity to "be a customer", they basically perpetuated the problem by not immediately telling the people in the back of the line that "WE GUARANTEE THAT YOU WON’T GET A CONSOLE.  DON’T WAIT IN LINE."  Instead they would say, "We can’t guarantee that you’ll have the opportunity to get a console" instead of squashing the hopes of these individuals.

The fact is, if they undersell – THAT’S NOT A PROBLEM.  If they oversell – THAT’S A PROBLEM.  It’s very simple.  But they constantly choose to sell a FUZZY number of consoles, giving some people unqualified hope and that’s just not right.  Meanwhile, the store gets publicity through the line of people that wind around their parking lot, all freezing in the cold, all hoping desperately for just one console for themselves or their kid.

And by the way:  It’s also the store’s fault if things get out of hand.  Violence, crime, and law-breaking… of course these are all ridiculous outcomes of these highly coveted product releases.  But is that Sony’s fault?  Heck no.  It’s the store’s premises… the store’s sale… the store’s customers… it’s the store’s responsibility to ensure that sales are done in an orderly fashion and that customers don’t get mugged in their parking lots for their consoles.

Well, I didn’t say that exactly.  The problem is that people wait in line at the point of sale (Bic’s Cameras, for example… or Best Buy in the US) but that there’s artificial ceilings in play, enforced by the sellers & the manufacturers. 

Sony sets a mandatory price on consoles of $600 so stores have to sell them for $600 – no more, no less.  Consequently, one store can’t differentiate themselves from another in the same way that one car dealership can differentiate themselves through not just better service but better prices.  The the consumer, Best Buy looks just as good as Circuit City being that prices are the same everywhere for a PS3.

Some try to differentiate themselves in other ways.  Gamespot for example will sell consoles through bundles only, meaning that in order to get a console, you have to get it with 4 console games, and extra controller and some other gear at a price far higher than $600.  Some folks don’t want to buy this much product and that’s their choice – but it lowers demand to the level of supply that exists.

This isn’t rocket science.  The concert ticket folks have dealt with this problem for years and there are tried and true methodologies for dealing with "scalpers".

    Allow store to vary the price of consoles.  Take eBay out of the picture.  If the price varies with the market, then no problem!  Supply & demand, right?  If Michael’s parents can’t afford the price – TOUGH.  That’s economics.  People don’t have a right to game consoles… just the equal opportunity to buy them at market rates.
    Make bundling mandatory.  This is similar to price variation except, now the consumers get more for their buck… they just have to fork out more bucks at one time to get one.  Can’t afford it?  Well TOUGH.  Again, Econ101 – Supply & demand.
    Wanna know how to stymie a ticket scalper?  Release them at random intervals.  No schedules, no known quantities.  Simply one day, a store might get 40 units… then two weeks later 5 units… then 3 days later 60 units.  If people believe there’s a possibility that stores might get one "any day now", then they’ll believe they have a choice instead of paying outrageous mark-ups that the scalper uses.
    You’d like to buy one?  Fine.  Drivers license or Passport required please.  That’s right.  Some form of unique ID.  Oh yes, and only one per customer… WORLDWIDE.  Is that fair?  Damn right it is.  Would it end scalping?  Not necessarily but it would sure as hell slow it down.  When 50% of all units are going to eBay resellers, selling consoles 1 per person is a darned good way to slow things down.

Here’s the full article:

Mary Jo Foley: The voice of rationality re: Allchin’s Windows Vista AntiVirus comments

November 10, 2006

Uh… this has thrown me for a loop.

Jim Allchin made a side comment that his son is currently running Windows Vista on his workstation at home without any Antivirus software.  The press immediately started interpretting this as meaning, "Microsoft says:  Don’t buy antivirus software for Windows Vista!" 

This has caused not just a ridiculous level of hysteria but also initiated a bunch of "conspiracy theories" like, "Microsoft is trying to stick it to McAfee & Symantec for their campaign to get APIs into the kernel to bypass PatchGuard".

Wow.  Notorious mudslinger Mary Jo Foley seems to be the only voice of rationality on this topic.  She calls out the media for intentionally misinterpretting Jim Allchin’s comment as tacit approval to not use antivirus software in an attempt to create havok.

I’ve never reference a Mary Jo Foley article so I’m a little stunned by this… but that being said I have to applaud Mary Jo Foley for being the voice of rationality in a cesspool of panic-inducing media further enhancing the Culture of Fear they create around Corporate IT.

But that’s another topic entirely.  Here’s her blog entry.

Apple “fired” the Apple Guy in those Macintosh Commercials!

November 8, 2006

OMG – no seriously, this is too funny to be true. 

According to the article in Radar Online, Apple’s current "Mac Guy vs PC Guy" commercials make people think "Mac guys" are smarmy elitists while "PC guys" are sympathetic everymen.  So they fired Justin Long, the actor that plays the "Mac Guy".

Personally, I think they’re just plugging holes in a dam that needs to be rebuilt from scratch. Apple’s ads make fun of the very people they were trying to court because frankly, I think we all feel a lot more like the "PC Guy" than the "Mac Guy". Working a 8AM-to-7PM job, busting our humps trying to make a living while worrying about economic inflation, if we’re contributing enough to our 401k’s, and whether we should do 30 year fixed or 15 year interest-only ARMs. Working in Excel whether we like it or not, getting dressed in a suit-and-tie, talking about matters that frankly have nothing-to-do with our home life but everything-to-do with how we put food on the table for our families – these are the kinds of things that aren’t fun but pay the bills.

And others that have sort of recognized this have "taken to the airwaves" via the Internet.  Witness the number of Mac commercial parodies doing reversals on Apple’s advertising campaigns.  (See my blog entry called, Apple Advertisement Parodies Galore)  There are far more parodies out there supporting the "PC Guy" than there are actual Apple commercials featuring the "Mac Guy".  These ads make people with Macintoshes look like slacker trust-fund babies that edit movies and take digital photos all day instead of working for a living.

And speaking of "working for a living", "PC Guy" actor John Hodgman, still has a job.


Radar Exclusive:
Apple Ditches ‘Mac Guy’ In New Ads

[Picture:  SO LONG, STUD John Hodgman, movie star Justin Long]

Apple’s "I’m a Mac" campaign is almost perfect: It’s funny, memorable, and efficiently lays out the advantages of Macs over PCs. It’s only defect: Virtually everyone who watches it comes away liking the "PC guy" while wanting to push the "Mac guy" under a bus.

Small wonder, then, that as Apple prepares a new batch of commercials, "Mac guy"—aka Justin Long, of Dodgeball and Herbie: Fully Loaded semi-fame—is nowhere to be found. A rep for Long confirms that his days as an Apple pitchman are over: "Every ad you see Justin in is for that previous time period only," she tells Radar. "There’s no long-term deal with him." She adds (somewhat implausibly, perhaps), "Justin’s a movie star, not a commercial guy."

Meanwhile, the campaign’s other principals, director Phil Morrison and journo-humorist John Hodgman, are both returning for another round of spots, according to sources. Reps for Morrison and TBWA\Chiat\Day (Apple’s ad agency) all declined to comment, and Hodgman’s rep could only confirm that new ads were in the works.

Why was Long dropped, specifically? Perhaps for striking people as a "smug little twit," in the words of Seth Stevenson, ad critic for Slate. Long, he adds, is "just the sort of unshaven, hoodie-wearing, hands-in-pockets hipster we’ve always imagined when picturing a Mac enthusiast…. It’s like Apple is parodying its own image while also cementing it." Of the polymathic Hodgman, who has drawn acclaim for his work on The Daily Show and NPR’s This American Life as well as his book, The Areas of My Expertise, Stevenson writes, "Even as he plays the chump in these Apple spots, his humor and likability are evident."

Shouldn’t a computer company have known that geeky is the new cool?


My favorite comic – Ctrl-Alt-Del by Tim Absath

November 8, 2006

I’ve been meaning to write about this topic for a while (video game comics) and I just always forgot.  This desktop background that Tim Absath of Ctrl-Alt-Del made sent me over the edge.  This is SO cool.

Ctrl-Alt-Del’s Gears of War Background

If you want different resolutions of the background, get them here:

Now – on to the topic of gamer comics online.

As a gamer, I’ve seen a huge amount of press go to Penny Arcade, which in it of itself is a damned funny online comic – assuming you’re really into the gaming scene.  For years, I laughed my ass off at some of topics, not the least of which was comics like this one.. 

In fact, Tycho & Gabe created this image for Gears of War just like Tim did:

Penny Arcade’s Illustration of Gears of War’s Marcus Fenix 

But frankly, I’ve discovered that half the stuff in Penny Arcade is hard to get "other" people (my wife, coworkers, etc.) to relate to because it’s so "insider" and without people to "laugh with you" about a given comic, it’s just not as much fun.

hat’s why I ADORE Ctrl-Alt-Del Online.  It’s the illustrated version of my humor.  For example, this is Tim’s comic that essentially explains (according to my friend Ara) "why physics matters".

On top of his weekly comics, Tim’s got his own animated comic going now and for $2.95 a month, you can get access to the episodes.  And it’s worth every penny, so if you like what you see at Ctrl-Alt-Online (take a look at the comic archives here) you might want to check out the cartoon at

NEWS: XBox 360 gets European Football/Soccer exclusive!

November 7, 2006

What’s the #1 sport in the world?  Hint:  It ain’t American football, Basketball, or even Baseball.  That’s right… it’s football, or as we Americans call it, "soccer". 

And Xbox 360 has an exclusive on it
Pro Evolution Soccer, the only next-gen FIFA-licensed soccer game is exclusively on Xbox 360.

For those of you who don’t quite understand the ramifications of this, let me spell this out for you in terms you might better comprehend.  Y’know how Electronic Arts has an exclusive lock on NFL Football with Madden 2007 meaning that only Electronic Arts can produce NFL football-based video games?  Now imagine that through some agreement, they only produced Madden NFL games for Xbox360 and Sony Playstation 3 would never get any NFL football games made for it.  EVER.

Gettin’ the picture now?

Now imagine that Madden NFL Football wasn’t just an American/US-only phenomenon.  What if the Madden NFL Football franchise were a WORLDWIDE phenomenon and, in fact the only sports video game that the world outside of America really cared about was Madden NFL Football… so much so that as a video game manufacturer, you coud exceed your Madden US game sales predications by just concentrating on countries outside of the US.

Is it becoming clearer how big this is?  

Now put the cherry on top:  Imagine that your primary competitor won’t even be releasing their console outside of Japan & the US until 3 months after the holiday season.

Why should you care about this?  Isn’t this just sis-boom-bah rah-rah crap from Microsoft?  Not exactly. 

See, if you’re an Xbox360 console owner, the more Xbox360’s that get out there, the more lucrative it is for companies like Namco, Konami, Activision, Ubisoft and Electronic Arts to build great games for it.  Because there are more consoles out there, the larger the potential market is for their game.

"The Marketshare Difference"
From the perspective of an Xbox owner, this is what killed us in the last generation – Xbox Classic versus Playstation 2.  Microsoft did it’s absolute damnedest to provide huge, huge incentives for game manufacturers to develop for our console.  Seriously – that poor Xbox Marketing team sold their first-born children and whored themselves out in the name of Xbox owners to try to get game manufacturer’s to at least PORT games over for use XBox owners to buy. 

For example, here’s a list of things that I know were done… and remember, I’m not an insider on this stuff so there’s tons of other things that were done to incent game developers to build for our platform.

  • Discounted Licensing:
    Microsoft’s game licensing for Xbox was rumored to be 60%-70% less than Sony’s for Playstation 2.  Every game manufacturer has to pay a licensing fee to Microsoft for each game they sell on the system.  In turn, they sell the game console itself at a heavy loss in anticipation of making it up in volume game sales.  This is the fundamental way a game system company makes money and this includes Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft.  This is also known as the "razors for razorblades" model.
  • Comarketing & Advertising:
    Microsoft paid or subsidized the media advertising for many big name 3rd party titles like Dead or Alive 3.  Much in the same way that Intel pays for Dell’s TV advertising for using Intel processors and sticking the "Intel inside" logo and sound in the ad, Xbox did the same thing in order to minimize the cost of marketing an Xbox title.
  • Seed Funding:
    Microsoft helped fund game development.  From what I’ve heard, in order to ensure that the game had enough money upfront to get things moving, some 3rd party developers had their costs offset by Microsoft to ensure that the game was built with adequate quality but still in a timely fashion.
  • Minimal SDK Costs:
    Microsoft’s game development tools & libraries had minimal entry costs to them, allowing even the most poor developer to get up and running with relatively little capital.  I think the tools were $25,000 in total, and if you think that’s a lot, you should know that "Shinobi", the tools for the Playstation 2, cost something like $250,000.
  • Architectural & Business Changes:
    Microsoft often bent over backward to accommodate the demands of certain developers.  While there were others, the most famous of these was Electronic Arts and their lack of adoption of Xbox Live.  Electronic Arts refused to build in support for Xbox Live because they wanted complete ownership and control of the login & matchmaking process of their gamers.  In addition, they were irked by the fact that Microsoft built competing sports games that did support Xbox Live. So Microsoft rearchitected Xbox Live so that users could login to Electronic Art’s "servers" instead of Xbox Live’s to initiate online game play, and in addition, they ELIMINATED their entire Sports line of games – known then as the Xbox Sports Network.  (Football, Basketball, Golf, Baseball, Tennis, Hockey, etc.)  All of this just to get Madden on Xbox Live so you could play online with friends.
  • Developer-focused Tools
    It’s well known that XBox’s development tools are a generation more productive and easier to use than Sony’s, which makes sense considering we know development & programming infinitely better than Sony.  After all, it is our business.  Most game developers will tell you that it’s a genuine pleasure to build software on Xbox’s Game Development tools because the tools are written to always make things easy and flexible for the developer.  Sony?  Not so much.  Developers usually have to conform their programming practices to that of the Sony SDK and this is even more so with the new Cell architecture of the PS3.
  • Spendthrift Userbase:
    Xbox gamers spend more on games.  Xbox Classic was marketed and sold to a very different customer than Playstation 2.  The average Xbox owner was between the ages of 18-35 while the average Playstation owner was between the ages of 13-25.  Because the intended userbase for Xbox was older, more educated, and wealthier, it was natural to assume that more games would be bought per console than on Playstation 2 – and this turned out to be true.  Xbox’s "attach rate for games" as they call it, was close to 7 games-per-console-sold compared to Playstation 2’s 2.5 games-per-console-sold.  A single Xbox console resulted in nearly 2.5x as much "game revenue" than a single Playstation 2 console.

…but none of that held a candle to the the "marketshare difference".  This refers to the fact that, in the end, Playstation 2 had arguably 4x-5x the marketshare as Xbox 360.  Sony consistently reported worldwide sales numbers that drastically eclipsed Xbox Classic’s worldwide sales numbers by 300% or more.  And it showed – game sales for the different consoles were decidedly higher on PS2 than they were on Xbox.

So the bottom line was, because there were so much more PS2’s on the market than Xbox’s, a game developer could assume that they’d make substantially greater sales by developing for the PS2 instead of the Xbox.

The Tables are Turned
Oh, but not today.  Xbox360 has 6 million consoles sold worldwide and because Playstation 3 hasn’t shipped yet, there’s still ZERO marketshare for Sony.   Of course this will change once PS3 is launched in mid-November but Sony themselves have admitted that they only havve 500,000 consoles for the launch.  To put this into perspective, this is 150,000 units fewer than Xbox360 had at launch, and you know what that turned out like.  (In fact, it’s been reported in Japan that Sony is backing off even that number by at least 20,000 consoles)

Now Sony has estimated 2M units by the end of the calendar year.  While this would exceed Xbox360’s launch shipments, it remains to be seen whether or not this is realistic. 

It also remains to be seen if PS3 demand, with it’s $600 price tag , remains constant.  While the initial sales will obviously be fanatical gamers, it would be interesting to see if Playstation’s core market – the 13-25 set has $600 of disposable income to spend on a next-gen console, especially with the number of people having recently bought a PS2 at $99 price tags.

The bottom line is that coming into the Christmas/Holiday season, XBox360 has a 6 million unit sales lead on it’s competitors.  It is highly anticipated that it will pick up not just sales by individuals interested in buying the console on it’s own merits (estimated at ~3M units) but also sales from individuals that could not get a PS3 due to the shortage but wanted a rich & mature next-gen game library available to them this winter unlike Nintendo Wii.

INFO: What it takes to release an Operating System

November 7, 2006

I ran into someone yesterday that said:

"Sounds like Windows Vista’s finally releasing.  It took you guys long enough."

While I realize that this might sound a little defensive or overly sensitive, I don’t think many people can fully appreciate everything that goes into developing & supporting an Enterprise-ready desktop operating system.  I often hear "other" folks claim that their operating system is "better" because you can tweak this that or the other… or I heard that someone’s operating system is somehow "more intuitive".  The fact of the matter is, developing an operating system that meets consumer’s needs is one thing.  Developing an OS for developers is another. 

But developing one for corporate customers, as well as developers & consumers is QUITE ENTIRELY a different thing.  Do you think centralized USB-port lock down or volume-level encryption is a critical concern for consumers?  How about Kerberos authentication leveraging generic "industry standard" low cost smart card technology?  All while providing super-well documented APIs & IDE environments with rich services to make developers & architects more productive?  All while making sure that F.E.A.R. and Gears of War – two high performing 1st person games – run flawlessly on the new OS?

Here’s just an "off the cuff" list that I’ve typed up.  I’m missing literally hundreds of areas but this is just what I can think of off the top of my head in 30 seconds.

  • First party books & references  (MS Press)
  • Third-party books & references (Macmillan Publishing, SAMS Publishing, Wrox Publishing, Addinson Wesley, etc.)
  • Distribution (Retail, System Builder, Volume License, Developer)
  • Compatibility – Hardware, Software, Devices & Peripherals, past OS & Development libraries, APIs, 3rd party libraries, connectivity, etc.
  • Release Management for Downloading software for millions of Enterprise Customers (and scaling for the task!)
  • Product Support for consumers, developers, enterprise IT
  • Logo testing for software & hardware
  • ISV/IHV Development & Support
  • Upgrade/Migration Support
  • Localization (Translation into multiple langauges)
  • Training courses & certification programs
  • Whitepapers
  • Case studies/Customer evidence
  • Press tours – Wall Street Journal, Gartner Group, Paul Thurott’s Web site, Windows Magazine, CNet, G4TV, USA Today, etc.
  • Launch plans – 40+ cities worldwide, hundreds of thousands of attendees
  • Eval software & materials
  • Partner/System Builder training & consulting
  • Marketing collateral – Datasheets, Whitepapers, Powerpoints, Quick Reference, Pricing
  • Advertising – Radio, Billboard, TV, Magazines, Newspapers, Online
  • Application Testing
  • OS Documentation – Developer docs, Consumer docs, Deployment/Management/Security docs & other Enterprise whitepapers or books
  • Security evaluation (Government-required)
  • Legal certification
  • Software Development Kit
  • Retail preparedness & training
  • Web/Online presence & content
  • Microsoft Update integration
  • Worldwide field sales training

And these are just the categories that I can think of off the top of my head in the last 30 seconds. 

Now imagine multiplying everything above by several dimensions.  For example, having tor accurately translate everything – books, whitepapers, the OS itself and it’s menus, online help, the web site, documentation, etc. – into many, many different languages. 

How many?  This is a list of the languages that we will be supporting with Windows Vista:

  1. English (N)
  2. German (N)
  3. French (N)
  4. Japanese
  5. Spanish (N)
  6. Italian (N)
  7. Dutch (N)
  8. Brazilian
  9. Chinese Simplified
  10. Korean (KN)
  11. Russian (N)
  12. Chinese Traditional (Taiwan)
  13. Chinese Traditional (Hong Kong)
  14. Swedish (N)
  15. Danish (N)
  16. Finnish (N)
  17. Norwegian (N)
  18. Arabic
  19. Hebrew
  20. Polish (N)
  21. Portuguese (N)
  22. Turkish
  23. Greek (N)
  24. Czech (N)
  25. Hungarian (N)
  26. Slovenian (N)
  27. Slovak (N)
  28. Thai
  29. Croatian
  30. Romanian (N)
  31. Bulgarian (N)
  32. Serbian Latin
  33. Estonian
  34. Ukrainian
  35. Lithuanian (N)
  36. Latvian (N)

Does it make your head spin?  It should.  I don’t believe any other OS comes even remotely close to the level of language support that Windows does, and we’re not even talking about covering consumers, developers, enterprise customers, etc.  My point is that this is truly a tremendous job and when an OS like Windows Vista gets released, there are far more than programmers involved.

It’s all these things that make Windows the leading operating system in the world.

Why is Gears of War unique to the Xbox360? Simple answer: 512MB GDDR3 Memory

November 6, 2006

There’s been a lot of hub bub over the past week about comments made by Epic Vice President Mark Rein saying that there’s basically no way that Sony’s Playstation 3 could handle Gears of War, primarily because the Playstation 3 only has 256MB of memory compared to Xbox360’s 512MB.  (

Y’know, leave it to Sony to tell a leading game designer & development house what their own software code & libraries could and could not accomplish.  Remember that Epic doesn’t just make Gears of War – it’s the creator of the #1 middleware product for this generation of video game development – Unreal Engine.  It powers among other games, the upcoming Stargate Worlds MMORPG, Too Human, Bioshock,  (THQ, Atari, Gearbox, HiRez, Vivendi, Buena Vista Entertainment, Midway, Namco, Silicon Knights, Sony Online … even Electronic Arts has purchased a license to use Epic’s technology which is unheard of considering they have their own engine in-house, having purchased Renderware)  And bear in mind that Epic has made Unreal Engine 3.0 available on both the Xbox360 & PS3 but specifcally declaring that their own engine doesn’t have the same power on Sony’s platform that it has on XBox360.

It’s pretty obvious that Epic’s basically hurting themselves by making this statement – but this dude’s not a marketing or PR guy.   He’s a developer by trade and facts are facts.  See, that’s what’s concerning Sony.  Game developers that have licensed the Unreal Engine, now have to seriously be concerned as to whether or not their game will perform adequately on the PS3 when they port their game code from Xbox360 to PS3.  Having multiple processor threads available for graphics computation is great and all – but just ask Nintendo:  Good game play is a lot more than multithreaded graphics.

So don’t let the FUD in the press cloud things.  In fact, if you want written proof about why Gears couldn’t be delivered on the PS3, it’s actually available.  The proof of the truthfulness of Mark Rein’s statements has to do with Epic’s active involvement & influence with the Xbox360’s original design & architecture.  They specifically made crucial recommendations around the amount of GDDR3 RAM/memory that a game developer would need.  This is documented in "Xbox Uncloaked" by Dean Takahashi, on page 280: 

[For those of you who haven’t picked this book up yet, shame on you!  I’ve put this section from Dean Takahashi’s eBook here to give you a glimpse of Epic’s role in the development of the Xbox360 – pick up the book at Amazon here for just $24.95.]

The Xbox team had convened to rethink another big decision: how much main memory to put into Xenon. The financial model and the current plan called for 256 megabytes of a special kind of fast graphics memory, dubbed graphics double data rate 3, or GDDR3. Over the years, that item alone was costing Microsoft an estimated $900 million based on its estimate of how many consoles it would sell over time.

At the time that Greg Williams and other engineers specified the amount in 2003, that seemed like a lot, Allard said. They maintained some flexibility, designing the box so that it could use anywhere from 128 megabytes to 1 gigabyte of memory. The 1-gigabyte number was clearly out of reach, but with prices coming down, 512 megabytes was reasonable.

“Competitive intelligence suggested that we needed to be flexible on the amount of memory,” said Greg Gibson.

The game developers wanted more. The average amount of main memory in a PC was rising. They argued that Microsoft had scrimped in other ways, making the hard disk drive optional and including a DVD drive instead of an HD DVD or Blu-ray drive. Tim Sweeney, the graphics wizard at Epic Games, lobbied hard. He created a series of screen shots for what Epic’s game, Gears of War, would look like with 256 megabytes of memory, and what it would look like with 512 megabytes. Clearly, the 512-megabyte solution looked far better. With it, Epic could implement “high dynamic range” images. These were images that improved the realistic feel of games because they could show both low-light and bright-light images in the same picture. The effect could create images such as the rays of the sun shining through some dark clouds.

Robbie Bach said that he wasn’t going to just make a decision based on the best guesses that the team punted upward to him. He wanted the team to provide its own answer. The team worked through its process and came back with the recommendation.

“There were enough zeroes on the cost of it that I ultimately had to decide,” Bach said. “We decided to go ahead.”

It was a $900 million decision. Microsoft would have to make arrangements with both Samsung and Infineon Technologies, two of the biggest memory-chip makers, to produce more GDDR3 chips. When the crew at Epic Games heard the decision, they hooted in celebration. But again, rather than spend more money over the life of the program, Microsoft decided to find cuts in other parts of the program. It scaled back some of its other plans in the spreadsheets, and then moved to make more decisions. Nobody knew it at the time, but by doubling the amount of memory, Microsoft had made one of the most fateful decisions on the entire Xbox 360 program.

…there’s a lot more about the other hardware decisions they made in the book so if you find this interesting, you should pick up a copy!

It’s gonna be a “Wonderful Life” for the Xbox360 this Christmas!

November 4, 2006

Yeah baby.  2 million units is what Wedbush is predicting for XBox360 sales to look like in December. (And actually more than that – see below)  Why is this exciting?   It’s exciting because these are the precise numbers that PS2 had in it’s second holiday season and it’s the reason PS2 had just a substantial jump on the original Xbox in marketshare.  That’s right – XBox360 turned around and stole a play right out of Sony’s playbook:  Get to market first with great technology and give game developers a reason to produce great games on your platform through sheer volume instead of your competitor’s.

Through September, NPD data shows that Xbox 360 hardware sales in the U.S. were 2.7 million units. Wedbush Morgan expects monthly sales of 250,000 units in October, 750,000 million units in November, and between 1.5 – 2 million units in December. Wedbush comments: "Sell through of Xbox 360 hardware could be higher if the supply situation for the PS3 falls well short of demand, with many holiday gift givers likely substituting purchases of the 360 in place of the PS3."

In other news, it’s already been reported that PS3 may not make even the reduced shipment quantity that Sony announced for both the launch and the holiday season concluding on December 31st.

Reports emanating from Japanese newspaper Nikkei Keizai Shimbun suggest that Sony has been forced to cut its day one Japanese allocation for the PlayStation 3 by 20 percent to just 80,000.

When originally announced in September, the day one launch allocation for the PlayStation 3 was put at 400,000 for North America and “about” 100,000 for Japan. Sony Computer Entertainment America co-chairman Jack Tretton later described the figures as “more of a target”.

“Emergence Day” for HD-DVD: The Xbox Team on Developing the Xbox360’s HD-DVD Add-on

November 4, 2006

This is too cool not to post.  As you know, I’m a huge follower of the HD-DVD vs Blu-Ray war going on and for the first time in a while, I believe Microsoft has a serious cross-division winner with the Xbox360 HD-DVD drive.  Why?  Because the thing works with Windows Vista-based workstations as well – and not Windows XP.

This means that Windows Vista users will be able to buy this HD-DVD drive and watch HD-DVD quality movies in full fidelity on their Windows Vista desktops – or better yet, their LAPTOPS while on the road.  And when you’re done with it, and if you have an Xbox360, hook it up to your console and watch HD-DVD movies and content on your big screen at home.

The Xbox Team goes over the intracacies of developing the HD-DVD drive for the Xbox360.

Taken from the Official XBox Team Blog:

What takes 4.7 million lines of code, partner teams from all over Microsoft, and millions of dollars to create? The Xbox 360 system software? Nope. This is just the HD DVD player.

The Xbox platform team (us) is experiencing its own emergence day as of late; we’ve been hard at work for the past 8 months straight bringing the fall system update to fruition. I haven’t even posted since August. Daryl’s already gone over a lot of the features and changes that are in this release. I’ve personally been working on the Xbox 360 HD DVD player (which, by the way, reached the #1 best seller slot on’s video games category) and I thought I’d go over some of the technical difficulties it takes to bring HD DVD to market.

There’s a perception that HD DVD is just DVD with HD content, but once you look at things more closely, it’s clear that HD DVD is a different beast altogether. The Xbox platform team became serious about HD DVD last year, when Microsoft as a company threw its endorsement behind the standard.

The Xbox 360 HD DVD Player, for the most part, is an entirely software based implementation. Other players on the market have specialized chips (called DSPs) that decode things like H.264, MPEG, VC1, DTS, Dolby Digital, and other codecs. Much like how backwards compatibility for Xbox 1 works on Xbox 360, the heavy parts of HD DVD are all done on Xbox 360’s triple-core CPU.

If DVD is an audio/video pipeline with some navigation data (go to the menu, start playing, etc.), HD DVD can be considered a runtime environment where audio/video playback is just one major feature. So let’s break down that 4.7 million lines of code. I don’t have the numbers for each component, but each of these is a very significant chunk:

  • Video Codecs: H.264, MPEG-2, VC1
  • Audio Codecs: Dolby Digital+, DTS, TrueHD, LPCM, MPEG
  • iHD: The HD DVD runtime engine.
  • GDI: Drawing stuff like menus
  • AACS: Cryptography/DRM stuff
  • MF: Audio/Video pipeline

That’s a lot of stuff. Some of the acronyms may not be recognizable. GDI is the Graphics Device Interface, which has been a mainstay of the Windows operating system for many years, providing facilities to draw stuff on screens. MF is Media Foundation – a framework for audio/video pipelines that was being built for Windows Vista. The Windows teams in charge of the above components all pitched in to make them work on Xbox 360 while continuing to work on other Windows projects (Vista, CE, etc.) – quite a task.

A lot of the codecs existed in code at Microsoft before the Xbox 360 HD DVD Player was being built. However, it was all code that was optimized for PC platforms (windows/x86) and not Xbox 360’s PPC core. This meant doing a lot of optimization. In this regard, the Xbox 360 implementation of H.264 can be considered a crowning achievement. For this computationally expensive codec, a hybrid approach was taken. Since GPUs are very good at parallelized workloads, stuff that could be parallelized is computed there, while the stuff that can’t is better suited to the CPU and is done there.

Unlike DVD, where typical players pass the audio data from the disc through to your receiver, HD DVD requires that players mix sounds from menus and such in with the audio being played for the movie. The 360 player software decodes all the above codecs in software, mixes anything that needs to go together, re-encodes it into Dolby Digital and then sends that to your receiver. So, don’t be alarmed when your receiver still says "Dolby Digital" even if you’ve selected DTS in the menus.

All 6 of Xbox 360’s hardware threads are hard at work while playing back an HD DVD. At the moment, the player software pushes Xbox 360 harder than any other (save, perhaps, Gears of War during some particularly busy parts of the game).

If I’d have known how much work it was going to be bringing the 360 HD DVD Player out this year, I may not have signed up last year, but now that I can watch HD movies, it’s hard to go back to crummy old DVD 🙂

Zune web site launches!

November 2, 2006

Zune is Microsoft’s upcoming portable Media Player.  You can preorder at Amazon.

The Zune web site launched and is alive!

Also there’s a site dedicated to the Zune Marketplace where people can buy music for Zune.

And there’s a really cool description of Zune Pass – the all-you-can-eat online service for downloading music.  No more paying-per-song.  Now you can get anything and everything for a monthly subscription, and as long as you keep your subscription up, your music’s available!

Silicon Knights Dyack: X360 and PS3 Are Equally Powerful

November 1, 2006

Someone finally said it. 

Xbox360’s 3 core PowerPC processor with 512MB of RAM & its high performance graphics bus is on equal footing to the Playstation 3’s cell architecture, with 1 core processor and 7 smaller cell processors using 256MB of RAM and slower bus.

If I’m a game developer, and the processing capabilities between each system are about equal, but we’ve made it easier to develop to the 360 through our tools, while the PS3 is $200 more than an Xbox360 for consumers, and Xbox360 already has a 5M units-sold headstart…


GameDaily BIZ: Dyack: X360 and PS3 Equally Powerful