Fall Gaming Update

Fall is officially here and there have been many updates to the major consoles as well as a few big game releases this summer. You’ll want to keep up on the new abilities of the major systems so you’ll be able to answer questions from customers, as well as new ways to integrate gaming into a theater.

xbox-one_boxThe Xbox One

There were a few issues with the Xbox One at release time, and some of the have been resolved, and some of them have, sadly, not. One particular issue has been irksome, particularly for custom installers: the Kinect cable length. Until this June, the Xbox required the use and purchase of the bundled motion sensor and were stuck with the 9-foot tether. This is STLL the case — although one upside is that Microsoft has started selling bundles without the Kinect and now gives GPU cycles back to the box when the Kinect is not being used. There are also no third-party extension cables from companies like Monoprice. Why? I interviewed a representative from Monoprice, and they say that Microsoft is working with them directly on the project. It’s that same partnership that is also slowing the normally speedy development cycle down.

large-hdThe biggest and best addition to the Xbox One software is the addition of external hard drives. Now that so many games are direct download purchases — as well as movies and music — the internal hard-dive can fill up fast. Now, you can connect a USB 3 external hard-drive to use with the system. You could even get fancy and connect a massive drive with RAID redundancy to impress and up-sell a client. Also updated is improved support for more video codecs like MKV. I’m not saying that you could play a hard-drive full of sketchy movies that were downloaded off the Internet (*cough* except you totally could *cough*). I wouldn’t mention this as an service to clients, obviously. The other great movie option for the Xbox is new support for DNLA servers. You can watch movies running on a DNLA enabled server on your home network. A desktop or laptop computer can now stream movies to the Xbox without having to download them to a hard drive.

There have been a lot of smaller UI changes, including better snapping and switching between apps, better friend management and the addition of free monthly games for Xbox Live subscribers. Great for families with kids who don’t want to shell out $60 every time they get tired of their current games. One other useful feature just launched last week includes the ability to cause the controllers to buzz when you’ve lost them in your house — a bit like the Find My iPhone feature on an iOS device (but no fancy map). The last feature that jumped out to me was the ability to put the box to sleep mid-game, and then have the game start up at the same point when the box wakes up.

xbox-one_tvFor installers, some of the best new features are those added to the Live TV app. If you remember, this app enables the Xbox to ride on top of content brought in from your DVR, as well as control AV devices in the room with blasted IR — either from leads or shot out of the Kinect to bounce around the room. This was always a minor, and somewhat poorly supported feature, but they have taken steps this October to improve integration with cables boxes in many markets (they are a bit vague about which ones) and add support to on-screen channel and programing guides to really replace your crappy cable box’s UI. I think for recorded programs, I’m not sure but you probably have to flip back to the DVR’s UI. Weirdly, it does not offer much support, other than pass-through, for their own media server product, the Windows Media Center. Probably an issue of separate departments not communicating with each-other.

The most successful non-launch game titles for the Xbox have been Titanfall and Destiny. Both multiplayer shooters — although Destiny has more or a story and cooperative game play (and Peter Dinklage providing narration). Both could be good titles to throw into an installation to show off a finished theater install.

cloud-gamingThe PlayStation 4

I’ll come out and admit it — but after 3/4 of a year using both consoles, I like the PS4 better. I just enjoy the controller, the UI and the game selection on Sony’s platform better. But, you’ll find that many customers are also pretty polarized on the platform issue and you’ll just have to ask what they want.

Sony’s most interesting addition to the PS4 is the cloud extension to gaming. Financially, it’s like renting a game for a low fee. Technically it’s more like the now-dead service OnLive. [EDIT: I wrongly pronounced OnLive to be dead, when in fact, they are still going strong. From new OnLive enabled gaming peripherals to pre-installed apps on Philips Android OS TVs and Samsung tablets. I’ll write a dedicated article about OnLive next month. Check out games.onlive.com.] A game is hosted and rendered out in the cloud — the resulting video is streamed to your device. The interesting thing about this method is that the device is just a thin client. You could play the same game on your phone as the PS4.

The other interesting thing Sony is doing with the now service is letting you play multi-player games with friends who have not purchased the game. It’s kind of a great idea for marketing games via word-of-mouth. Playing a game with a friend is going to be much more effective than any advertising campaign could ever hope for. The service will also offer a mode where you can “hand off” control of a game to a friend who wants to help. That particular feature does bring to mind many horrible kids I knew when I was 8 who insisted on “helping” to get more game-time when it wasn’t their turn.

wii-uThe Wii U

Even though Nintendo’s flagship console pre-dated the release of the Xbox One and PS4, it still lagged behind in interest and sales (unless you have a kid around 10 who loves Skylanders and Disney Infinity). But, this summer and fall have brought the “killer apps” that may make the system worth buying. First this summer Mario Cart 8 was released, which makes for a genuinely fun party game with many players. Mario Cart has always hit that sweet spot between accessibility and intense competition with multi-player.

This week comes the hotly anticipated Super Smash Bros. — a brawler where you can match up beloved Nintendo characters (including, randomly, the Wii Fit mannequin) as well as other third party-licensed characters like Sonic, Final Fantasy characters, Megaman and Pac Man. I personally know people who waited a year and a half to buy a Wii U just for this name.

I’d love some feedback if you have learned something you would want to share from game setups you’ve installed this year. From a cool room setup, custom signal routing to financial lessons you’ve learned from working in this space of the AV industry. Feel free to leave a comment or e-mail me at matt@ravepubs.com.