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:

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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, CNNMoney.com staff writer
November 29 2006: 2:06 PM EST

zune.03.jpg

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) — 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:  http://money.cnn.com/2006/11/29/technology/personaltech/zune/index.htm?source=yahoo_quote


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."
http://biz.gamedaily.com/industry/news/?id=14518

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 http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2006/11/17

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.  
…t
his is beyond insulting. This is beyond ridiculous.  It is farcical."

Read the full commentary here:  http://www.penny-arcade.com/2006/11/17


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?

—————–
ORIGINAL POST:
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."
    http://www.joystiq.com/2006/11/20/ny-times-the-ps3-isnt-that-great/
  • 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."
    http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20061119-8249.html
  • 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.)"
    http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20061115-8233.html
  • 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."
    http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20061116-8239.html
  • 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."
    http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20061117-8242.html
  • 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."

    http://www.theinquirer.net/default.aspx?article=35838

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

November 17, 2006

UPDATE:  6:02PM
ENGADGET:  More information on PS3’s inability to upscale to 1080i.
http://www.engadgethd.com/2006/11/16/ps3-doesnt-do-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.  http://reviews.cnet.com/Sony_PlayStation_3_60GB/4505-6464_7-31355103.html

———-
ORIGINAL POST:
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."

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ORIGINAL ARTICLE:  http://www.dailytech.com/article.aspx?newsid=4971


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 http://support.microsoft.com 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.

READ MORE AT:  http://www.gamespot.com/news/6161547.html


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.

1up.com’s Review of Xbox 360’s "Gears of War"
Final Score: 9.4/10 – Editor’s Choice Award 

 

 

IGN.com’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