Samsung’s Gear VR headset has been installed in a what is believed to be the first Virtual Reality popup cinema.
The VIVID VR Cinema has been constructed in Toronto, Canada, where a total of three different films were being shown — The Visitor, where a young couple prepares for the woman’s greatest fear to arrive; Imago, a title about a former dancer in a coma who’s aware of her surroundings; and Sonar, a movie about a drone that discovers a signal on an asteroid.
The cinema is small – only 30 seats. Each has a pair of noise-cancelling headphones and a Gear VR with a Galaxy S7 clipped to the back. Tickets cost $20 for the 40-minutes to watch the three films.
The movies have been carefully crafted to let their viewers to choose different narratives to focus on so even the plot is interactive.
It is expected that more of this type of entertainment will arrive when more content is available. It might be a couple of decades before the first Hollywood blockbuster though.
A bunch of tech firms including ARM and Symantec have joined forces to create a security protocol designed to protect Internet of Things (IoT) devices.
The group, which also includes Intercede and Solacia, has created The Open Trust Protocol (OTrP) that is now available for download for prototyping and testing from the IETF website.
The OTrP is designed to bring system-level root trust to devices, using secure architecture and trusted code management, akin to how apps on smartphones and tablets that contain sensitive information are kept separate from the main OS.
This will allow IoT manufacturers to incorporate the technology into devices, ensuring that they are protected without having to give full access to a device OS.
Marc Canel, vice president of security systems at ARM, explained that the OTrP will put security and trust at the core of the IoT.
“In an internet-connected world it is imperative to establish trust between all devices and service providers,” he said.
“Operators need to trust devices their systems interact with and OTrP achieves this in a simple way. It brings e-commerce trust architectures together with a high-level protocol that can be easily integrated with any existing platform.”
Brian Witten, senior director of IoT security at Symantec, echoed this sentiment. “The IoT and smart mobile technologies are moving into a range of diverse applications and it is important to create an open protocol to ease and accelerate adoption of hardware-backed security that is designed to protect onboard encryption keys,” he said.
The next stage is for the OTrP to be further developed by a standards-defining organisation after feedback from the wider technology community, so that it can become a fully interoperable standard suitable for mass adoption.
As announced earlier, Nvidia has officially lifted the NDA off its Geforce GTX 1060 allowing sites to publish reviews which also means that retailers/e-tailers now have the green light to start selling the new graphics card.
Based on 16nm GP106 GPU, the new Geforce GTX 1060 is the third Nvidia Geforce graphics card based on the new Pascal GPU architecture. The GP106 GPU packs 1280 CUDA cores, 80 TMUs and 48 ROPs and it will be coming with 6GB of GDDR5 memory with a 192-bit memory interface.
The new Nvidia Geforce GTX 1060 Founders Edition, which will be apparently sold only by Nvidia, will work at 1506MHz and 1709MHz for the GPU base and Boost clocks while memory will end up with a reference clock of 8000MHz, which adds up to 192GB/s of memory bandwidth.
The reference Founders Edition comes with a standard blower-style cooler which is somewhat simplified and lacks both heatpipes or vapor-chamber, mostly due to the fact that the GTX 1060 has a 120W TDP. The GTX 1060 needs a single 6-pin PCIe power connector which leaves it plenty of headroom for further overclocking.
Performance-wise, the Geforce GTX 1060 is on par with the GTX 980 4GB, and since it comes with 2GB more VRAM, it is a better choice. More importantly, the Geforce GTX 1060 is faster than the RX 480 in most cases, which is its direct competitor on the market.
Unfortunately, the GTX 1060 lacks SLI support, probably because it would kill the sales of the GTX 1070 and GTX 1080 graphics cards.
Priced at US $299 for the Founders Edition and coming with a MSRP of US $249, the Geforce GTX 1060 is quite impressive, offering more performance than the recently launched Radeon RX 480 and bringing that impressive Pascal power efficiency to the mainstream market.
Hopefully, this will mark the beginning of the price wars in the mainstream graphics card segment and will push the prices closer to the MSRP. Both the RX 480 and the GTX 1060 offer decent performance per buck so it will be a fight to the bitter end.
Pokemon GO hasn’t even finished its worldwide rollout, but it’s all anyone is talking about or reading about this week; it’s truly inescapable. I haven’t seen this level of mainstream attention for a gaming product since Nintendo’s original Wii, and that’s truly a good thing for Nintendo. The company could use a positive story after dealing with so much negativity from the Wii U’s failure.
As Rob Fahey pointed out today, it’s also hugely encouraging for the future of Nintendo on mobile. Whatever you think of Miitomo, what Pokemon GO has easily proved in only the span of a week, is that with the right approach Nintendo’s IP can do amazing things on a smartphone. I can’t wait to see how Nintendo brings its most cherished IP, like Mario and Zelda to the mobile space. And should the upcoming NX somehow fail, shareholders can rest easy knowing that the company can triumph on devices it didn’t manufacture.
After racing to the top of the charts in the US and Australia, and just recently in the UK as well according to App Annie, Pokemon GO has already helped add $9 billion to Nintendo’s market cap. The monetization potential for sponsored locations and real-world businesses is staggering to think about as well. App Annie says it could “easily envision” Pokemon GO generating $1 billion annually.
The big question surrounding Pokemon GO now, of course, is will it stand the test of time or burn out in just a couple months? The mobile market has been evolving and games can reach maturity much faster. Nicolas Beraudo, MD EMEA at App Annie, commented, “…the average time to maturity for new releases dropped over 60% from 2014 to 2015, a reduction from 50 weeks to 17. What this means is that there is a trend that publishers have to release more games than before to stay profitable.” Once Niantic and Nintendo finish the global rollout, however, ensure that server issues are fixed and possibly introduce more features, Pokemon GO may be able to stay successful for some time.
Another major lesson to be learned from this incredible Pokemon week is how easy it is for people to get into augmented reality. You don’t need an expensive PC or headset or to block out the world and ignore your wife and children to play AR games. People in the know have been telling me all-year long that AR is the technology with the truly mainstream potential. Former Epic Games executive Mike Capps tweeted, “Great, now I have to change my slides saying ‘AR overtakes VR usage by 2021′ and replace that with ’2016′ and hope nobody remembers.” Indeed, Pokemon GO has shown us all that the entire world can easily hop on the AR bandwagon, and with Magic Leap now saying it’s in “go mode” and CastAR still on track for a family-friendly AR system release in 2017, it won’t be long before everyone’s talking about how fun AR gaming is. VR, meanwhile, will no doubt get better and better and offer some incredibly compelling experiences of its own, but I have my doubts on whether its potential can ever match AR’s.
Elsewhere in news, a story that received a lot of play this week was how Warner Bros. settled with the FTC for paying online streamers to say positive things about its games. YouTube celebrity PewDiePie was mentioned – in hindsight probably unfairly – in almost everyone’s headlines. PewDiePie explained in a video response that not only were the videos in question labeled as sponsored by Warner Bros, but they were published at a time when YouTubers weren’t even legally required to disclose such arrangements. PewDiePie, to his credit, was disclosing the nature of those relationships before he even had to, and the media (GamesIndustry.biz included) completely failed to mention that not-so-small detail. Love him or hate him, I think it’s fair to say that PewDiePie’s been vindicated.
And in a story that we’ve been following since last week when the CS:GO Lotto site owners were called out for the unscrupulous people that they are, Valve finally came around and said to itself, “Oh hey, maybe it’s actually not so great that we’ve been sued and are being associated with online gambling.” Why it took the Steam platform holder so long to come out against the gambling sites and to deny any involvement is a mystery to me. It’s good that the company sent out requests to the gambling sites to cease operations through Steam, but as one GI.biz commenter already noted, Valve could be taking an even tougher stance and could very well be launching a lawsuit of their own. This story is far from over, and in the meantime, you should be aware that Twitch has taken notice and changed its terms of service to ban gambling-related broadcasts.
Nvidia is not going to come out of new competition from AMD and Intel that well, according to analysts Well Fargo.
The analysts have added up some numbers and divided by their shoe size and come to the conclusion that Nvidia’s growth days are numbered and it could face some serious problems from AMD in graphics and Intel in co-processors.
The report said that renewed competition from AMD in graphics and Intel in coprocessors could create headwinds to growth and possibly limit Nvidia’s ability to beat expectations in the near term.
While the analysts expected Nvidia to continue to grow its coprocessor business in the future rising competition from Intel will also stuff up its momentum.
“The Knights Landing family might help Intel regain some share in the HPC coprocessor market, though Nvidia has also introduced a new coprocessor family this year, its Tesla P100.”
At the moment Nvidia shares are probably worth a “significantly” less than its valuation range of $30-36.
We expect that the analysts who wrote this will be having to get their stagecoach moving fast if they want to evade the tribe of Nvidia fanboys who will want to put arrows in their hats.
A little birdie told us that Nvidia is giving its Volta the 16nm FinFET treatment. This product uses stacked DRAM too so it looks like the whole thing will be pretty bleeding edge.
Our same deep throat told us that the performance per watt is expected to increase tremendously. Although this might be vague, little is known about Volta other than it is arriving after Pascal so any information we get is news. The earliest we expect Volta is 2017.
It is interesting to see that the lag between the GPU manufacturing and mobile processor manicuring is getting bigger. We expect to see Apple and Qualcomm making their first 10nm chips this year and it is unlikely that the GPU guys can match them.
The next generation Nvidia Volta GPU will stick with TSMC’s 16nm FinFET at . AMD will use 14nm Global Foundries for its Vega HBM 2.0 powered card. This is also scheduled for 2017. AMD’s CPUs will go directly from 14nm to 7nm so there is a chance that GPUs will skip 10nm and go directly to 7nm. This will probably take a lot longer to happen.
GPUs are complex parts and it takes time to get them to work using new manufacturing processes.
Mobile SoCs will head to 7nm in late 2017 or early 2018 but it will be interesting to see what will be the next manufacturing nod for the GPUs.
A report from financial analysts Seeking Alpha has issued guidance on the share price of Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) and said the company’s outlook is quite bright.
The report said that only 11 months back AMD was one of the most shorted stocks in the USA largely as a result of falling revenues and losses.
But, said Bill Maurer at Seeking Alpha, all that has completely changed now. Analysts think that AMD’s share price is currently overvalued.
It all hangs on how well AMD performs when it releases its earnings next week.
The introduction of the RX 480 was supposed to help out on revenues but there’s a question mark over how well it’s contributed to the bottom line.
On the bright side, the arrangement it had with Nantong Microelectronics terminated in the quarter and that ended up meaning a net cash bonus of over $320 million.
The share price currently stands at over $5. AMD’s biggest phone the processors based on Zen architecture are promised to start shipping later this year. This should have an effect on the stock value.
LG Display has said that it is seeing signs of improvement in the display panel industry and expects its business performance to pick up in the second half of the year.
LG Display CEO Han Sang-beom said that times are a changing thanks mostly to the outfit’s cost cutting.
Panel makers have suffered from price declines in recent quarters due to weak sales of consumer electronics such as smartphones and televisions. But there are signs that things have bottomed out and panel prices for some televisions, tablets and monitors picking up in June.
This will be a great relief for LG which has had a tough time of it. It is expected to post a 96 percent fall in April-June operating profit to $15.72 million, according to the average forecast of analysts in a Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S/ survey. The fact that it backed Apple so closely over the years has also caused problems when iPhone sales dried up. Things are expected to be worse when the iPhone 7 comes out with very little new under the bonnet.
Han said flexible organic light-emitting diode screens were proving popular and LG Display was preparing to supply them to “major” Chinese clients for mobile products. The company currently supplies such screens, mainly for smartwatches, to LG Electronics and Apple.
“It’s clear that plastic OLED is a major trend. While the smartphone market has stagnated it is still a growth market, so we will focus on preparing capacity and developing products accordingly,” Han said.
The company’s second annual sales event, which was held Tuesday, saw customer orders surpass Prime Day 2015 by more than 60% worldwide and more than 50% in the U.S., the company reported.
“It was a huge success,” said Sucharita Mulpuru-Kodali, an analyst with Forrester Research. “It was a big day, by all accounts, with enormous growth. It reinforces that e-commerce continues to grow and that Amazon is a significant part of that growth.”
Amazon’s Prime Day is a one-day sales event for members of Prime, the company’s membership program. Products in nearly all of Amazon’s copious shopping categories were put on sale.
Despite some reports of customers’ having problems checking out after making their purchases, more than 90,000 TVs were sold, along with more than 2 million toys, 1 million pairs of shoes and hundreds of thousands of Kindle e-readers.
Amazon also received twice as many orders via its mobile app than it did during Prime Day last year. More than 1 million customers used the Amazon app for the first time during the sale, the company said.
For U.S. sales alone, Amazon reported that device sales were three times higher compared to Prime Day 2015. It was also the biggest sales day for Amazon’s Echo personal assistant and the company’s e-readers.
When it came to techie purchases, Amazon sold U.S. members more than 14,000 Lenovo laptops and more than 23,000 iRobot Roomba 614 Vacuum cleaning robots.
While it was a big day for the online retailer, one day does not outshine the rest of the year, especially with back-to-school sales, and then holiday sales, coming up.
“No single day is going to change the fortunes of any retailer,” said Mulpuru-Kodali. “It’s one day of 365 or 366 days in any given year.
It’s been more than five years since The NPD Group said it would start including digital data in its monthly reports on the US video game business. In those five years, not only has digital grown, but publishers, analysts, press and more have all thrown shade at NPD, questioning the relevancy of a service that only offers physical sales data in an increasingly digital era. Today, NPD is finally taking that first step to offer a more complete picture of the entire games market as it’s unveiled its digital point-of-sale (POS) sourced service, tracking SKU-level sales data on digital games.
“Following several years of beta testing, the Digital Games Tracking Service will allow participating clients to understand the size and growth of the digital market, and analyze attach rates and other important metrics. Combined with physical data available by NPD, these clients can gain a better understanding of the interplay between the physical and digital sales channels,” the firm explained in a press statement.
“As has been experienced across a wide variety of industries, digital has made a big impact on the overall gaming market, and we’ve risen to meet the demand for a reporting mechanism that tracks those sales in a timely and accurate way,” said Joanne Hageman, President, U.S. Toys & Games, The NPD Group. “With the participation and support of leading publishers – whose cooperation makes this possible – we are excited to launch an industry-first service that addresses a long-standing need.”
The usual report on physical sales data will now be combined with digital sales data and issued on July 21 instead of July 14; it’s expected to follow that cadence (the third data Thursday of the month) moving forward. Initially, NPD has gained the support of major publishers like EA, Activision, Ubisoft, Capcom, Square Enix, Take-Two, Deep Silver and Warner Bros. There are notable exceptions, however, like Bethesda as well as first-party publishers like Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo, but NPD analyst Liam Callahan promised that more publishers would be signing on as the service evolves.
“This has been several years of beta testing and we’ve been doing this in partnership with publishers, shaping the product, encoding the data the way the industry wants to see it. It’s really at the behest of or on the behalf of the publishers that we’re moving forward with this announcement… Really the goal is to bring a new level of transparency never before seen, at least in the US market. This is really the first step. We recognize that there’s still a ways to go, we want more publishers to join, we want to be able to project for people who are not participating. It’s an evolution, it’s something that takes time and our philosophy was really to start – if we waited to have every publisher in the world to sign up it would take forever. We’ll be improving this as time goes on,” he said.
Importantly, NPD will notate next to game titles on the chart that do not include digital data. Callahan wants the service, which is being produced with the assistance of EEDAR, to ultimately be able to project data even for non-participants but NPD isn’t starting with that ability just yet. Instead, it’ll focus on tracking revenue from full-game downloads across Xbox Live, PlayStation Network and Steam. Services like Battle.net and Uplay won’t be included at this point.
“EEDAR is excited to be part of this initiative with NPD and the participating publishers. Tracked digital revenues have seen annual growth of over 100% each year since 2012. In 2016, we’ve already tracked more digital revenue than we saw in 2012 and 2013 combined. This initiative is a great milestone for the industry which will allow publishers to make better business decisions with a broader data set,” added EEDAR CEO Rob Liguori.
Add-on content like DLC and microtransactions will be tracked as well, but that data will only be released to participants, not the media and public. “We’re waiting until that’s a little more fully baked for us to roll that out to the media. We’re doing things in stages,” Callahan said.
It may be frustrating for the media to not have a granular breakdown at the SKU level to see what portion of a game’s sales are digital versus physical, but NPD anticipates more openness as the service evolves.
NPD communications chief David Riley commented, “This is a closed service, the detailed data is only available to participants so if you’re a non-participating publisher you cannot see the data. The fact that we’re allowed to go out with something for the media is a huge step in the right direction. I think as the service matures and as the publishers get used to it and we get more on board, we have more history, we do some benchmarking, we can provide that, but what we wanted to do for multiple reasons, including appeasing the publishers was to combine full-game physical with full-game digital, keep away from the DLC, keep PC games separate because that’s a whole different ball of wax. It’s not comprehensive, but it’s the most comprehensive, we’re the first in the market to track this and we’re sort of very cautious.”
He added, “I expect a good old slamming from the industry press because of the limitations here but what we don’t want to do is open ourselves up by separating it at this time. We’ve just opened the gates right now. Just as you’ve seen a withdrawal [of data] on the physical side – we used to give units – this is sort of going to be the reverse I’m hoping and we can provide more over time.”
Working with the publishers is great, but there are numerous digitally released titles from indies which make up a growing piece of the industry pie. Will the service grow to track those titles too? “Indies are a big part of the industry in terms of their innovation and I think when I talk about our projection methodology and assets at NPD, that is part of how we can track everything, not just for publishers, including indie games and everything that’s outside the panel right now,” Callahan said.
“Some of those smaller games are published through a publisher or first-party so there are ways to get some of those with our publisher-sourced methodology, and otherwise we’re approaching it with developing a robust projection methodology. That’s certainly part of our plan, we’re not going to ignore the indie piece.”
In our previous conversations with NPD, the firm had hinted at possibly working towards the goal of global digital reports. That’s not off the table, but it’s not a focus at the moment. “US is our core competency… our vision is to expand this as much as we can in a way that makes sense for our partners. If that’s global that may be what we pursue. But we also want to do the best job that we can in projecting for the market and recruiting as many publishers as we can,” Callahan concluded.
There are signs that the falling PC market has opened its parachute and nearly hit rock bottom – unless you are Apple which is continuing to fall like a meteor.
The latest data from the beancounters at Gartner show that in the second quarter of 2016 the worldwide market declined by 5.2 percent compared to the same time last year. That would be a sign of more doom and gloom but for the fact that North America finally broke its streak of bad luck and has started seeing market gains once again.
According to Gartner’s analysts, one of the contributing factors to the quarter’s results were weakening currencies around the world thanks to increased instability. Brexithas not had time impact on these numbers, though the much weaker pound and a declining Euro are bound to have an impact on future sales.
North America was the only bright spot in the report, with the region shipping 15.2 million units during the quarter. That’s a 1.4 percent increase over the same period in 2015, and a positive sign for next quarter’s results as well.
Europe was down 4.3 percent, Middle East, Africa as well as Latin America, and Asia down 6.3 percent. South America saw a 20 percent decline compared to the same period last year. Political and economic instability are being blamed for this sharp drop. But, normally once the US starts buying, the other countries soon follow.
In terms of companies, Lenovo continues to be the number one PC vendor, with shipments totalling 13.2 million units worldwide. Coming in second place is HP, which saw modest gains over the second quarter of the year and gained on its Chinese competitor. Dell came in third, seeing healthy growth while Asus, Apple and Acer are battling out for the fourth place.
What was amusing is that for the first time Macbook and Mac sales saw a sharp drop as Apple fanboys apparently moved to other suppliers. It seems that they have realised that paying over the odds for a Mac Book which Jobs’ Mob can’t be bothered to update is a false economy. Apple itself has been more interested in marketing its Microsoft Surface Clones than its PCs.
If you look at adverts for Samsung’s new Galaxy you would be forgiven for thinking that the smartphone is waterproof. Unfortunately according to US consumer reports, it isn’t.
The Samsung advert shown in Italy ends with the dramatic placing of a Galaxy into a glass of water. Which looks impressive.
Consumer Reports performs an immersion test when a manufacturer claims that its product is water-resistant and the Galaxy S7 Active failed.
While the phone performed extremely well in other tests. Consumer Reports is refusing to recommend it because the water resistant claim is incorrect.
Samsung says its phone follows an engineering standard called IP68 that covers both dust- and water-resistance, and that the phone is designed to survive immersion in five feet of water for 30 minutes.
Consumer Reports placed a Galaxy S7 Active in a water tank pressurised to 2.12 pounds-per-square-inch, the equivalent of just under five feet of water, and set a timer for 30 minutes. When it removed the phone, the screen was obscured by green lines, and tiny bubbles were visible in the lenses of the front- and rear-facing cameras. The touchscreen was borked.
A second Galaxy S7 Active also failed the same test and neither phone worked properly again.
Samsung says it has received “very few complaints” about this problem, and that in all cases, the phones were covered under warranty. A spokes Samsung sang:
“The Samsung Galaxy S7 active device is one of the most rugged phones to date and is highly resistant to scratches and IP68 certified. There may be an off-chance that a defective device is not as watertight as it should be.”
The company says it is investigating the matter.
Advances in technology suggest they aren’t too far off in the future. Such devices could start showing up as early as next year or 2018, said Jerry Kang, senior principal analyst for emerging display technologies and OLED at analyst firm IHS.
Manufacturers are trying to launch them in devices like tablets that can fold into a smartphone-size device. It’s possible to use these displays in wearable devices, but reliability, weight and battery life need to be considered, Kang said.
Small folding screens will likely come before larger ones, mainly due to the economics of making such displays, Kang said.
The displays will be based on OLED (organic light-emitting diode), considered a successor to current LED technology. OLEDs don’t have lighting back-panels, making them thinner and more power efficient.
At CES this year, LG showed a stunningly thin paper-like display that could roll up. The company projects it will deliver foldable OLEDs by next year.
There are advantages to screens that can be folded or rolled up. They could lead to innovative product designs and increase the mobility of devices, Kang said.
For example, it could be easier to fit screens around the contours of a battery and other components. It will also provide a level of flexibility in how a user can change the shape of a device.
Displays that can fold and roll are an extension of flexible displays, which are already in wearables, smartphones and TVs. For example, some TVs have flexible screens that are designed so that they can be slightly curved.
Samsung and LG started using flexible AMOLED displays in smartphones in 2013 and are adapting those screens for wearables. Those companies are also leading the charge to bring displays that can bend and fold to devices.
Samsung has announced the introduction of the first Universal Flash Storage (UFS) memory card line-up, which it claims has capacities of up to 256GB and speeds up to 530MB/s.
The range is based on the JEDEC Solid State Technology Association Universal Flash Storage 1.0 Card Extension Standard. It is a bit of a mouthful, but it means that they are next-generation replacements for the micro-SD format.
Samsung’s internal testing, which may or may not be accurate, showed its top-end 256GB UFS memory card offers 530MB/s sequential read performance – some five times faster than ‘a typical UHS-1 micro-SD card.’ It can carry out 40,000 input output operations per second (IOPS), bringing performance in line with SATA-connected solid-state drives (SSDs).
Senior vice president for memory product planning and application engineering at Samsung Electronics Jung-bae Lee said that Samsung’s new 256GB UFS card will provide an ideal user experience for digitally-minded consumers and lead the industry in establishing the most competitive memory card solution.
‘By launching our new high-capacity, high-performance UFS card line-up, we are changing the growth paradigm of the memory card market to prioritise performance and user convenience above all.’
Yes he used the word “paradigm” so he had probably run out of real words to say about the device.
Performance drops below SSDs for write tasks. At 170MB/s sequential write performance is not bad and better than a micro-SD card. Samsung has said when the cards are coming out or how much they will cost.
Sony is over the hump. That’s the message that the company wanted investors and market watchers to understand from its presentations earlier this week. Though it expressed it in rather more finessed terms, the core of what Sony wanted to say was that the really hard part is over. Four years after Kaz Hirai took over the corporation; the transition – a grinding, grating process that involved thousands of job losses, the sale or shuttering of entire business units and protracted battles with the firm’s old guard – is over. The restructuring is done. Now it’s time for each business unit to knuckle down and focus on profitability.
It’s not all sunshine and rainbows, of course; even as Hirai was essentially declaring “Mission Complete” on Sony’s seemingly never-ending restructuring, the company noted that it’s expecting sales in its devices division (largely focused on selling Xperia smartphones) to decline this year, and there are concerns over soft demand for products from the imaging department, which provides the camera components for Apple’s iPhones among others. Overall, though, Sony is in a healthier condition than it’s been in for a long time – and it owes much of that robust health to PlayStation, with the games and network services division’s revenue targets rising by enough to make up for any weakness in other divisions.
When Hirai took over Sony, becoming the first person to complete the leap from running PlayStation to running Sony itself (Ken Kutaragi had long been expected to do so, but dropped the ball badly with PS3 and missed his opportunity as a consequence), it was widely expected that he’d make PlayStation into the core supporting pillar of a restructured Sony. That’s precisely what’s happened – but even Hirai, surely, couldn’t have anticipated the success of the PS4, which has shaved years off the firm’s financial recovery and given it an enviable hit platform exactly when it needed one most.
Looking into the detail of this week’s announcements, there was little that we didn’t already know in terms of actual product, but a lot to be read between the lines in terms of broad strategy. For a start, the extent of PlayStation’s role as the company’s “pillar” is becoming ever clearer. Aside from its importance in financial terms, Sony clearly sees PS4 as being a launchpad for other devices and services. PlayStation VR is the most obvious of those; it will start its lifespan as an added extra being sold to the PS4′s 40 million-odd customer base, and eventually, Sony hopes, will become a driver for additional PS4 sales in its own right. The same virtuous circle effect is hoped for PlayStation Vue, the TV service aimed at PlayStation-owning “cable cutters”, which has surpassed 100,000 subscribers and is said to be rapidly growing since its full-scale launch back in March.
Essentially, this means that two major Sony launches – its first major foray into VR and its first major foray into subscriber TV – are being treated as “PlayStation-first” launches. The company is also talking up non-gaming applications for PSVR, which it sees as a major factor from quite early on in the life cycle of the device, and is rolling out PlayStation Vue clients for other platforms – but it’s still very notable that PlayStation customers are being treated as the ultimate early adopter market for Sony’s new services and products.
To some degree, that explains the company’s desire to get PS4 Neo onto the market – though I maintain that a cross-department effort to boost sales of 4K TVs is also a key driving force there. In a wider sense, though, Neo is designed to make sure that the platform upon which so much of Sony’s future – games, network services, television, VR – is being based doesn’t risk all of those initiatives by falling behind the technology curve. Neo is, of course, a far less dramatic upgrade than Microsoft’s Scorpio; but that’s precisely because Sony has so much of its corporate strategy riding on PS4, while Microsoft, bluntly, has so little riding on Xbox One. Sony needs to keep its installed base happy while encouraging newcomers to buy into the platform in the knowledge that it’s reasonably up-to-date and future proof. Microsoft can afford to be rather more experimental and even reckless in its efforts to leapfrog the competition.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Sony’s manoeuvring thus far is that the company has managed to position the PlayStation as the foundation of such grand plans without making the mistake Microsoft made with the original Xbox One unveiling – ignoring games to the extent that the core audience questioned whether they were still the focus. PSVR is clearly designed for far more than just games, but the early focus on games has brought gamers along for every step of the journey. PlayStation Vue, though a major initiative for Sony as a whole, is a nice extra for PlayStation owners, not something that seems to dilute the brand and its focus. On the whole, there’s no sign that PlayStation’s new role at the heart of Sony is making its core, gaming audience love it any less.
On the contrary; if PlayStation Plus subscriptions are any measure, PlayStation owners seem a pretty happy bunch. Subscriptions topped 20 million recently, according to the firm’s presentation this week, which means that over 50% of PS4′s installed base is now paying a recurring subscription fee to Sony. PlayStation Plus is relatively cheap, but that’s still a pretty big chunk of cash once you add it up – it equates to an additional three or four games in the consoles attach ratio over its lifetime, which is nothing to be sniffed at, and will likely increase the profitability of the console by quite a few percentage points. In Andrew House’s segment of this week’s presentation, he noted that the division is shifting from a packaged model towards a recurring payments model; PlayStation Plus is only one step on that journey and it’s extremely unlikely that the packaged model (be it digital or a physical package) will go away any time soon, but it does suggest a future vision in which a bundle of subscriptions – for games, TV, VR content and perhaps others – makes up the core of many customers’ transactions with Sony.
That the truly painful part of Sony’s transition is over is to be celebrated – a healthy Sony is a very good thing for the games business, and we should all be hoping Nintendo gets back on its feet soon too. The task of the company, however, isn’t necessarily about to get any easier. PS4′s extraordinary success needs to be sustained and grown, and while early signs are good, the whole idea of using PlayStation as a launchpad for Sony’s other businesses remains an unproven model with a shaky track record (anyone remember the ill-fated PSX, a chunky white PVR with a PS2 built into it that was supposed to usher in an era of PlayStation-powered Sony consumer electronics?). But with supportive leadership, strong signs of cooperation from other parts of the company (the first-party Spiderman game unveiled at E3 is exactly the kind of thing the relationship between PlayStation and Sony Pictures should have been yielding for decades) and a pipeline of games that should keep fans delighted along the way, PlayStation is in the strongest place it’s been for over a decade.