Tuesday, July 19, 2011
Footage seen in UK for first time
Rarely have we been so excited about three 30-second video clips as we were at the Digital Entertainment Group Europe event held in Disney's offices last night. For the first time on UK soil, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment played actual footage of the forthcoming Blu-ray editions of the Star Wars movies.
Admittedly, we didn't see much. And because of its exclusivity and sensitivity, we weren't allowed to take photographs or video footage of the screen itself (just wide shots). But what we did see was enough to get us as excited as a 7-year-old given his first Darth Vader costume on Christmas morning.
The first two clips we saw were from?Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (featuring Yoda and some clone troopers flying over the battlefield during the Battle of Geonosis), and the Obi-Wan Kenobi / Anakin Skywalker final fight in?Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.
Obviously, as both movies were filmed and stored digitally, they look absolutely perfect - taking full advantage of the crispness afforded by the 1080p resolution of Blu-ray. It depends on the TV's calibration, but on the new Panasonic plasma at the DEGE event the colourfields of both scenes offered, perhaps, the greatest initial impact.
Whatever your thoughts on the content of the prequel trilogy, it is unlikely that you will ever have seen them look more vibrant (and we include HD runs on TV and, even, a majority of cinema presentations).
The pi?ce de r?sistance, however, came with the clip from?Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. Taken from the opening sequence of the Special Edition version of the movie (where the Star Destroyer engulfs Princess Leia's starship), the moment when you first see C3PO in full 1080p is stunning. His golden shell gleams with such fine detail and shine that you'd swear the movie was made this year rather than 1977.
In short, from our fleeting but much welcomed previews, Lucasfilm has done an awesome job with the Blu-ray transfer. 12 September is rapidly becoming a landmark date.
We'll bring you more on the Star Wars: The Complete Saga Blu-ray as its release day approaches.
Monday, July 18, 2011
EXCLUSIVE: Disney too
Ultraviolet, the cloud movie format championed by nigh-on all of the major studios, is "very close" to making its consumer bow. It will undoubtedly be of massive benefit to film fans as it will offer cloud-stored versions of a movie they have bought on Blu-ray for streaming to multiple devices whenever they want. And, even better, the license to do so will be included in the price of the initial disc.
That means that major releases in the near future will include a Blu-ray (3D or 2D) disc, most likely a DVD copy, and instead of a time-limited digital copy to download and play on a portable device (the present system), a digital version of the film that is stored in the cloud enduringly, ready to be downloaded or streamed on up to 12 registered Ultraviolet devices - from TVs and Blu-ray players to smartphones and tablets.
There are also plans to introduce a pay model for those not wanting to buy a physical copy, just the rights to the Ultraviolet version. It is the movie industry's unified cloud solution and has the backing of just about every major studio and consumer electronics firm, including 20th Century Fox, Warner Bros, Universal, and Samsung.
Everyone, that is, except for Apple and Disney.
So, as things stand, you won't be able to view UV content natively on an iOS device, or, indeed, be able to watch Disney classics or Pixar movies using the service. However, according to Ultraviolet major player 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, it's only a matter of time before those two tech and film giants will have to get involved.
Speaking to Pocket-lint in an exclusive briefing, Danny Kaye, executive vice president of Global Research & Technology Strategy at Fox, explained that both Disney and Apple will eventually sign up to the Ultraviolet consortium:
"All but one [of the major studios] have signed on... And that doesn't mean that they won't," he said, hinting that Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment will ultimately offer UV versions of its catalogue.
How about Apple though, so far the Cupertino company has resisted the allure of Ultraviolet in favour, presumably, of its own cloud video plans? "That also doesn't mean they won't," said Kaye. "From my perspective, when you're well established you sometimes take a 'wait and see'."
But he doesn't expect the tech giant to wait long. Its rivals may get a massive and telling head start if Apple's the only one not supporting the new cloud format:
"If you just take smartphones as an example, Android now enjoys quite a market advantage," Kaye told us. "And the same thing's going to happen in tablets. We also have all the other hardware that's a part of this ecosystem - the majority of hardware and software companies will create very strong competition, just like it has with Blu-ray. And we'll see what happens as we go forward.
"[Ultraviolet is supported by] all but one of the studios, just about every major consumer electronics manufacturer, several major retailers already, and over 70 other technology companies," said Kaye. "It's one of the largest consortia ever, especially across industries. And when that happens, you succeed."
Fox: Apple will adopt Ultraviolet cloud movie format originally appeared on http://www.pocket-lint.com on Fri, 15 Jul 2011 13:06:00 +0100
AppPowered range takes off
Griffin's AppPowered range has really taken off now...literally, with the launch of the Helo TC infra-red controlled helicopter.
The chopper is designed for indoor use, but where it differs from the ubiquitous array of indoor RC helicopters that you've seen before is that it is controlled using your iPhone.
It uses an app and a flight deck module to turn your iPhone into the control panel for the 'copter, giving you two control methods: using multitouch to guide your vehicle with the virtual throttle and flight controlled joystick dubbed "the cyclic", or you can make use of your device's accelerometer for the "Tilt-to-Fly" setup.
It charges via USB and you should get around an 8-minute flight on a full charge. It comes packed with replaceable main and tail rotor systems for when you inevitably crash and burn, and it can store three flight plans for a quick demo of your skills.
It's not the first time that we've seen an iOS controlled flying toy - the Parrot AR.Drone has been wowing geeks for a while now - but at ?34.99, it is a much more affordable option.
The Griffin Helo TC will be hitting shops just in time for Christmas.
Improvements for the next generation
Web rumours suggest that the PS4 will go into production by the end of 2011 and that it will launch in 2012.?However, with announcements made at the 2011 E3 show in LA limited to the PS Vita, it seems unlikely that?the PS4 will be here this year or next. It seems more likely that the PS4 will be announced at E3 2012 with?a launch date pencilled in for 2013. Whatever happens, we've been wracking our brains to come up with a?spec wishlist for the PS4 - whenever it arrives. Read on to find out what we want to see from Sony's?next-gen console.
More motion sensors
Word on the street is that the PS4 will be getting built-in Xbox Kinect-style motion sensing technology that?enables you to become the controller. It seems a bit strange that, having ploughed so much?money and effort into its Move controller, Sony would be moving to a completely new type of motion?sensor technology so soon, but it's always good to have another option on board.
It's also a good feature?to have for family gameplay time so that you can all partake in silly dancing-based games that require?you to jump around like a fool. Once the kids are safely tucked up in bed you can revert to your controller?for the far more serious business of stealing cars and shooting pimps in GTA IV. Or you can do it for real and let the PS4 motion sense you.
While it's always nice to see the power ramped up with a new console, the PS3 packs a considerable?punch already. The consensus of opinion is that the PS4 will carry on using the same 3.2GHz CELL?processor that made its debut in the PS3. Using the same processor means that Sony should be able to keep production costs down - something that was a major issue when the PS3 launched. This would also be good news for developers as it means that?they won't have to get used to a different processor when it comes to designing their games. We would be surprised if the CELL chip doesn't see at least a couple of minor tweaks before the next-gen console. Unless someone invents a super-CELL processor in the meantime, then we're content to see the impressive CELL working it's magic once again.
While the current PS controller is perfectly functional, we'd like to see a little more from the new version. In the past, each new controller design has really just shown a few minor improvements rather than any real innovations. Top of the list is comfort. We want the controller to be weightier so that is sits more comfortably in the hands, with a little extra grip. It would also be nice to include control sticks that don't wear the skin off your thumbs during a lengthy gaming session. Is that too much to ask? A few extra treats, such as a built-in accelorometer or even some sort of touchpad control, as found on the PS Vita might be an idea, too.
There isn't much news on the GPU front so far, despite a few rumours, which have since been quashed by?Sony. The manufacturer developed the PS3's RSX chip in colloboration with Nvidia, but the internet?rumourmill suggested that Sony would be dumping Nvidia and jumping into bed with Intel with the PS4. Not?true, countered Sony.
Whatever the case, naturally we'd like to see some sort of step up in graphics processing. As the on-board CELL processor is capable of taking some of the graphics work itself, the PS4 can get away with a reasonably mid-range GPU (anything too high-end would push the price up too much). Web rumours suggest the Nvidia GTX560 chip as the most likely GPU for the PS4, but seeing as the PS3 uses a proprietary chip that was developed specifically for the task in hand, we're not sure that Sony would switch to generic graphics card. We'll just have to wait and see.?
1TB hard drive
On the PS3, the maximum built-in memory capacity available is 320GB so we'd like to see some?improvement in this respect. In fact, what we want to see is a massive 1TB of hard drive memory. As?technology moves on and games become more complicated, we need more memory available, not only to?store downloaded titles, but also to store our gameplay as we go along as we don't want to have to?worry about it getting full up and interrupting our hectic gameplay schedule (we don't have an actual?schedule. Well, most of us don't). We also need plenty of room for our HD videos and we reckon that 1TB would do nicely.
While we'd like to see a flatter design, rather than the convex bubble-shaped chassis of the PS3, we're?aware that this particular design feature comes to down to keeping things cool. More space is needed within?the cabinet for airflow as the advanced processors used today are much more likely to overheat than those?used on older models. We know we're not supposed to pile things on top of our games consoles anymore,?in order to keep the airflow going, but we would like to be able stand the PS4 on its side so that it takes up?less room. While we can already do that with the PS3 if we want, Sony advises that it's best to lie it flat.?Spoilsports.
PS Vita/tablet integration
We've already talked about some improvements that we'd like to see on the current PS3 controller, but how about going the whole hog and making use of a Wii U style touchscreen-based controller? Integrating the recently announced PS Vita would seem like the obvious option. We've also heard rumours about some sort of Google partnership which could pave the way for some integrated Android features. It's also possible that this could point to some sort of dedicated Android tablet that could be used with the PS4 either as a controller for games, or as a sort of remote control for home cinema functions.
This may be a slightly crazy idea, but how about backwards compatibility - not just with the PS3, but with?ALL previous PlayStations. Although novel, this concept is something of a double-edged sword. You might have a shed load of old games that you cling too as if your life depended on it, but will you ever?really play them again? Once you've started playing more recent games with better graphics on a massive?TV, you soon realise that your old games will be not only painfully to look at, but also unbearably tedious.?Still, it would nice to have access to a few old cult classic from the PS2 whenever we feel the urge...
Better Blu-ray audio processor
The inclusion of a built-in Blu-ray player on the PS3 was a masterstroke by Sony and was a key element in?its victory over HD DVD in the high-def format war. Now that objective has been accomplished and Blu-ray is the standard HD disc format, it's debatable whether the PS4 will actually include Blu-ray capability at all - if it doesn't, it would certainly keep the price down. However, if it does then we'd like to see a better audio processor to cope with the Blu-ray soundtracks using high-def audio formats like Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio.?
MKV playback support
Video file format support in the PS3 is generally pretty good - with MPEG-4, AVI, AVCHD, DivX and WMV all being catered for. However, the PS3 doesn't support MKV file playback. Although there are ways to watch your MKV files on your PS3 by using convertor software, this can be a time-consuming process so we'd like to see native MKV support built into the PS4 from the off. It's possible that Sony may be reluctant to include MKV support due to its popularity among illegal downloaders, but we'll wait and see what happens.
The PS already features a Blu-ray player as well as LoveFilm streaming, but there have been suggestions that Sony might push the home cinema offering even further with the inclusion of a built-in DVR for recording programmes straight from the TV (or set-top box). However, this is?something that would?inevitably?push the price up so Sony may decide to stick to gaming capabilities to make?the PS4 as affordable as possible. The same goes for the Blu-ray player.?
More USB ports
It's likely that any USB ports on the PS4 will support the latest 3.0 standard rather than the USB 2.0 ports rocked by the PS3. This should result in a speedier connection - handy for backing up your data more quickly. It would also be nice to have more USB ports, to inprove the paltry two connections offered by the PS3 - four would be nice.
As with any major console launch, the speed at which the public buy into the new technology on offer is likely to come down to launch titles (although this probably won't make as much difference to the die-hard fans who are prepared to queue overnight to get their hands on the kit first). As there isn't even a confirmed launch date for the console yet, obviously we don't know much about the games that will be available. But we can tell you what we'd like to see. Driving games are high up on our list, so Gran Turismo and GTA V would be nice and maybe a spot of footie from FIFA 13. Metal Gear Solid 3D (complete with a wireless 3D visor) and new versions of Fallout, Wipeout and COD would also be great to see, as would Infamous 3 (or maybe even 4). We'd be very surprised if Sony didn't have LittleBigPlanet 3 lined up for the launch.
Seattle's PopCap Games was acquired by Electronic Arts for up to $1.3 billion, including $650 million cash up front.
PopCap's breakout hit "Bejeweled" established the modern casual games industry that's centered in Seattle starting in 2000. The studio went on to produce a series of blockbuster games that have been played by more than 1 billion people, making it one of the most successful and respected studios in the games industry.
Executives at the companies said Redwood City, Calif.-based Electronic Arts will continue to invest in PopCap and grow the company, which now employs 500 people, mostly in Belltown.
"Our goal right here is they keep doing what they do, that they do so extremely well, and there's just some natural synergies we can bring to the table that we can expand and make these guys bigger and stronger and more powerful."
The deal gives EA an especially strong presence on Facebook, where the combined company trails only Zynga, and on Apple platforms where EA and PopCap accounted for six of the top 10 selling games last year.
PopCap was considering going public this fall but employees and founders were wary of how that would change the company's culture, said John Vechey, one of three developers who started the company in 2000.
"The IPO was fraught with risk, it was scary, people were going to start thinking about the stock price all the time. Most employees were worried about that internally," he said.
"Now, instead of getting a couple hundred million in the bank for us to spend, we get world-class publishing" on platforms including mobile devices and social networks, he said.
"I think for us it accelerates what we were going to do by many years - we're going to be seven years faster to achieving world gameplay domination," he said.
Vechey said the deal was "a highly competitive process" with multiple companies interested in PopCap.
EA is paying $650 million in cash plus $100 million in common stock that's going to the PopCap founders and its chief executive, Dave Roberts.
Additional payouts of up to $550 million will be made if PopCap achieves profit goals over the next two years, although the maximum payout would require the company to increase its profits by ten times over the next two years.
PopCap sales cross $100 million last year and it netted about $15 million. (Its growth is shown on the chart below, presented by EA.) To start getting bonus payouts from EA, it needs to grow profits to at least $110 million. To get the full $550 million, it needs to increase earnings before taxes and interest to $343 million over the next two years.
Last year EA's digital business had $833 million in sales, while PopCap did just over $100 million, 80 pecent of which was digital content.
"It adds 10 percent to our digital business right off the bat," Brown said.
EA stock fell about 3 percent to $23.40 in after-hours trading, after the deal was announced at 1 p.m.