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Games Entertainment

In Search of the Digital Uberdevice 176

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the it-could-happen dept.
Decaffeinated Jedi writes "News.com offers up an in-depth three-part article discussing the game industry's race to develop an all-in-one digital 'uberdevice' to combine gaming, television, computing, and other consumer technologies in a single box. The article looks at the past, present, and future of such trends, arguing that these developments in the world of home gaming consoles 'could have multibillion-dollar consequences for industries as diverse as computing, consumer electronics, entertainment and communications, while redefining household entertainment.' Of course, the article also concludes by noting the fact that consumers have thus far shown relatively little interest in adopting such all-in-one convergence boxes. Could constantly improving technology, the ongoing exodus of young males from primetime television, and a revitalized marketing push turn the tide, or is the search for an 'uberdevice' just hype?"
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In Search of the Digital Uberdevice

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  • by way2trivial (601132) on Sunday December 14, 2003 @11:26AM (#7717083) Homepage Journal
    and how many people can do this at once.

    In my home office, I have a TV, I have a computer.. while I watch tv, the wife does email or Diablo..
    while I slashdot, she watches Friends.. -- how many UBERdevices would I require?

    the only way this works is one uberdevice per person.

  • give it a rest (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TedCheshireAcad (311748) <ted@fc.ritAUDEN.edu minus poet> on Sunday December 14, 2003 @11:26AM (#7717087) Homepage
    Will they knock it off already?

    A cell phone is a cell phone.
    A PDA is a PDA.
    A laptop is a laptop.
    A music player is a music player.

    Only large, bulky, overpriced devices come out of attempts to breed any of the above.
  • by AlphaDecay (150156) on Sunday December 14, 2003 @11:28AM (#7717100) Homepage
    Considering 99% of the time that such convergence devices have lower quality components - I'll never go as far to just purchase the device, I'll still buy individual components that I need.

    For example, the XBox/PS2 can play DVDs, without progressive scan etc. and often are more finicky in general DVD playback.

    The XBox can also do jukebox type activities... Sans playlists, song ratings, multiple file formats and ID3 tag sorting.

    The multifunction device might work for the unwashed non-technical masses, but I'd like to have all of those features and more in my entertainment system.

    --AlphaDecay
  • All in one is bad (Score:5, Insightful)

    by cowscows (103644) on Sunday December 14, 2003 @11:33AM (#7717149) Journal
    Why would I want an all in one device? So when my video game console breaks, I can't watch cable or listen to music either? So that if I decide to take my gamecube over to a friend's house for a LAN game, my roommate can't watch a movie because I had to also take the DVD player?


    Or maybe every time I want to listen to mp3's, I feel like dealing with an interface complicated enough to do not only that, but also record tv, download games, and make me a tuna fish sandwich.


    It'll be great! Sony will come out with the playstation 6, but instead of just going out and buying a new console, I have to also pay for a new DVD player, DVR, and microwave, because it all comes together.

    Yeah, let's just bundle everything together. We all know how well that works in the software world.

  • by Agent Green (231202) * on Sunday December 14, 2003 @11:34AM (#7717158)
    Here's what I've got at home:

    * Sony Playstation 2
    * Hugues DirecTivo receiver (w/ two inputs, of course)
    * Sony STR-DE995 receiver
    * Numerous additional specialized components...including a VCR.

    It's just not possible for any one company to take all of those functions and shove them into one box. What am I to do when my core receiver dies? Toss the whole thing? I think not...and I'm definitely NOT going for that service plan shit.

    This is an example of an industry which has traditionally done very well with specialized components that do their jobs very well, much like any good UNIX command...and then can be combined into whatever the enduser wants and needs.

    This is like the search for the single "holy grail" system...and it's not going to happen. The huge amount of diversity only limits the market for such a device.

    If I felt like adding an XBox to the collection tomorrow, it wouldn't look out of place...but it would look kinda silly connected to my uberdevice stereo/dvd/cd/ps2/vcr combination unit.

    Besides, fitting all the features into one box would be prohibitively expensive...and to make something like this affordable would only result in the sacrifice of features.
  • The simple answer (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Genghis9 (575560) * on Sunday December 14, 2003 @11:36AM (#7717179)
    "...or is the search for an 'uberdevice' just hype?"

    It's just hype

  • We already have it (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ph4rmb0y (711836) on Sunday December 14, 2003 @11:41AM (#7717220)
    Its called a PC.

    Anything less will be err less. The only thing consoles have going for them is that they are cheap. They are cheap because they are designed for one purpose - gaming. Whats the definition of a PC? A general purpose computer that you can:

    Play Games

    Do general computing stuff

    Watch TV

    Communicate on the Internet

    Isn't that the 'uberdevice'?

  • The real problem (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ortholattice (175065) on Sunday December 14, 2003 @11:45AM (#7717246)
    I'd settle for an Uberdevice that replaces all my AC adapters. These annoying things tend to hog 2 or 3 outlets due to their size, and it seems such a waste to have reconvert the AC over and over again for every device. They tend to become disassociated with their parent units over time, and my house is littered with orphan AC adapters that I don't know whether to throw away or not because I no longer know what they were for. And then there are the units with different milliamps but the same kind of plug, that you don't know what goes where (after a cleanup to untangle all the wires) without consulting the manuals, which of course have disappeared (another subject). And let's not get into orphaned and missing remotes...
  • by 91degrees (207121) on Sunday December 14, 2003 @11:47AM (#7717263) Journal
    Q: What can you sit on, sleep on, and brush your teeth with?
    A: A Chair, a bed and a toothbrush.

    Some thing we don't want to combine. If a tool does a job, then let it do its own job. Don't try to force another tool to do the same thing.

    There are certain things that lend themselves to each other. However, computers and televisions are not two of these things. While they are very similar from a design poiint of view, the way we use these devices is quite different, and so are our demends for these items. I for one would prefer a smaller computer. However, I want a much bigger TV. The main difference seems to be A TV is a passive form of entetainment that several people can enjoy at once, whereas a computer typically only has one user at a time.

    Certainly some things should be combined. A PVR and digital decoder can be combined, and these seem to be very popular. It would be nice to also combine these with a television. This does not mean that everything else also makes sense in this respect. My DVD player does not need to be networked. I just want it to play DVDs. If I want to play a DVD on my computer, I'll get a DVD-ROM drive.

    We can combine these things. But should we?
  • by Bob9113 (14996) on Sunday December 14, 2003 @12:32PM (#7717680) Homepage
    Entrepreneurship is the act of finding a problem that has no solution in the current market, developing a solution for that problem, and making that solution available (hopefully at a profit).

    Marketing is the act of taking a product and attempting to increase existing consumer demand for that product.

    Marketing without entrepreneurship doesn't work (despte all the marketroids wishing really hard that it would). This strikes me as one of those cases. Entrepreneurship requires the existence of a problem, and the lack of a solution. Here we have the reverse case - people aren't asking for an entertainment convergence device, as evidenced by the fact that there are already solutions on the market that aren't selling.

    A quick editorial comment on why: The components advance at a different rate. Integrating those components means that when you want to get the latest Playstation, you have to upgrade your television (or whatever the converged device is). All upside for Sony, all downside for the consumer. As long as Sony (or whoever) is letting the marketing people make decisions that should be left to the entrepreneurs, these things are going to keep popping up.
  • by Gldm (600518) on Sunday December 14, 2003 @12:32PM (#7717683)
    The problem with putting everything in one box is the weakest link problem. Whenever any one thing breaks or becomes obsolete and you want to upgrade, you usually need to throw out the entire box. PCs get around this with standard parts but the average joe or my mom is not going to go grab a screwdriver and pop open a PC to install a new video card. Think they're going to swap hard drives and tuner cards on a set top PVR so they can reccord HDTV now? No. If this kind of thing was really appealing to consumers, every TV would have a VCR and a DVD player. Do they make these? Yes. Are they popular? Not really. They made TVs with radios back in the day too, do we have them now? A few.

    What's really going to kill this is WIRELESS. If all the devices in the house can interoperate over 802.11g, bluetooth, etc, then you HAVE a "virtual uberdevice". It's just a matter of getting the functionality to be seamless, and that'll take some work. Once you can stream your video files from your PVR to any TV in your house, stream your TV's captured input to your PC to edit, stream your ipod's mp3s to your stereo etc, then who needs to put it all in one box? Intel is working on putting RF in silicon so this kind of thing will be pretty cheap to add to any device. Multiple devices will probably be more expensive overall, but easier to upgrade. Will there be all in ones? Yeah, and I'll probably buy one for my mom because she'll never care to upgrade it. But anyone who swaps TVs or DVD players every couple years (gotta have that progressive scan!) or upgrades their PC at least once a year will probably go for seperate networked appliances.

    The downfall of this is getting it to work right and interchangeably. I expect Sony or someone to show up with this idea fairly soon but screw it up so that only THEIR brand devices work with each other. Then the market will bemoan this for a year or 2 until someone like Intel or MS comes up with a standard. Apple/Sony/Phillips will then come up with competing standards, and after another 3 years of fighting one of them should either win out or all devices will support all the standards because it's become cheap enough.

    So we should see it around 2007-2009. Probably about the time everyone's swapping out their obsolete DVD players for HDVD players and people are buzzing about upcoming Xbox3/PS4.
  • Re:And then what? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by EvilSporkMan (648878) on Sunday December 14, 2003 @12:48PM (#7717817)
    Hmm...I think that a top-of-the-line computer from a year or three ago, a portable music device, and a current video game console would give a better price/functionality ratio than any convergence device, since I prefer console gaming, I know about emulation, and I ph33r corporate lockdown of my computer. Also, I find that video game consoles tend to be MUCH cheaper than the necessary extra expenditure to get a computer capable of equivalent gaming
  • Re:give it a rest (Score:2, Insightful)

    by telekon (185072) <canweriotnow@gmailDALI.com minus painter> on Sunday December 14, 2003 @12:53PM (#7717855) Homepage Journal
    Well, sure portable convergence devices are a great thing. I want something 2mm thick that's indestructible with broadband wireless networking, every media codec imaginable, a terabyte of storage and a hi-res color plasma screen.

    But at home, I like my boxes and boxes and boxes. I want 8 computers, an xbox a ps2 a stereo etc etc etc. It's just the damn wires that are the problem. Keep separate devices, put the R&D money into figuring out cheap wireless substitutes for the 2.6 * 10^13 wires that are perpetually the bane of my existence.
  • by DavidinAla (639952) on Sunday December 14, 2003 @01:14PM (#7718041)
    Conventional wisdom is that devices converge, but the opposite has actually tended to be true. For instance, when the computer first appeared on the scene as a mainframe, it didn't converge with other office devices such as copiers or time clocks. Instead, computer categories divided -- into mini-computers and then personal computers and then further divided into laptops and desktops. There are all sorts of specialty devices now, and we STILL have the old mainframes around in various forms.

    Going back to what an example of convergence would have been if we were looking at it long ago, you could make a technical argument that the computer and the copier DID converge, because today's copier IS a sophisticated computer in many ways. (Even a time clock is a simple computer instead of an old-fashioned mechanical device.) But just because computer technology is incorporated into a copier, that doesn't mean it's a general-purpose converged device. Instead, it's a copier and we don't even think about the computing power instead.

    Devices are defined by what users believe they are, not what they're actually capable of. Just because a cell phone can take a picture doesn't mean that the customer thinks he's buying a camera when he gets one. To him, it's still a phone. Over time, people might come to think of a camera as being a natural feature of a phone, but it's STILL going to be considered a phone.

    In the same way, it would be natural -- if convergence were really the way the market worked -- that we would all have one device that was a television, radio, CD player, DVD player, speakers, etc. Instead, we tend to have a separate TV, receiver, maybe an amplifier, a CD player, a DVD player and separate speakers -- all wired together. (I suspect the distinction between a DVD player and CD player might eventually go away, but only because they use the same form factor as far as the user is concerned. The user would just consider it is disc player.)

    Convergence sounds like such a reasonable idea when you hear companies laying out their grand strategies, but it just doesn't seem to work that way in the real world. Iconoclastic marketing gurus Al Ries and Jack Trout have written a lot about this subject from the viewpoint of marketing and have explained why divergence is a more natural direction for markets than convergence. Although their arguments were counter-intuitive to me from a technical perspective, I believe they're right based on both history and human psychology.
  • by plastik55 (218435) on Sunday December 14, 2003 @01:35PM (#7718218) Homepage
    Convergence devices will not take off until they fit in your pants pocket.

    Just like cell phones didn't take off until they fit in your pocket,
    Just like PDAs didn't take off until they fit in your pocket,
    Just like Game Boys were only for kids until they made one that fit in your pocket,
    Just like mp3 jukeboxes didn't take off until there was one that fit in your pocket.

    I look at the current convergence devices like the Clies and I wonder... I can carry my Palm in one pocket and the iPod in the other, and yet if I buy a device to serve both tasks it will not fit in either pocket. Where will I carry it?

    HOWEVER this does not apply to cameras. Most of the components of the mythical convergence device can be miniaturized, but camera optics can't really. There needs to be an adequate aperture and a long enough focal length or any picture you take is going to look like dim blurry crap. I'f I want to be taking pictures I will carry a proper camera. So I would like my convergence device without the crappy camera please.
  • by CapnCarrot (655580) on Sunday December 14, 2003 @02:05PM (#7718481)
    . . . for people that want to save space. For example, a printer/fax/copier/scanner won't work as well as buying one of each. But if you've got only a square foot of space for peripherials you'll opt for the combo. So Uber devices will probably make their way into dorm rooms and their ilk.

    And of course those that are easily flummoxed by technology. I'm sure you've heard laments like "S-Video this, Component that, recievers, formats, scan this, scan the other thing, I just want it all to WORK!" Well the Uber device is here for ya, bud. Plug it in and you're ready to go.

    Will they replace piecemeal systems? Unlikely. People that want optimum performance will still be able to buy individual components. I wouldn't be surprised if piecemeal components didn't get more expensive though. Making lower cost another attraction for Uber systems.

  • by starnix (636547) on Sunday December 14, 2003 @02:19PM (#7718595)
    This is stupid. So with an 'uberdevice" if it breaks I can't watch tv, use the internet, listen to music or cook a burrito? What I'm saying is seperation of purpose is a fairly good thing. Ever hear of "Jack of all trades master of none"?
  • Why? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Tom7 (102298) on Sunday December 14, 2003 @04:08PM (#7719416) Homepage Journal
    Why do they only want to sell me one device?
  • Just Hype (Score:3, Insightful)

    by CowboyRobot (671517) on Sunday December 14, 2003 @04:47PM (#7719740) Homepage
    At any time during the past 50 years, we could have been using TV/radio combination devices rather than the separate components we use now.
    Combinations only make sense when one component is used exclusively with another. TV/VCR combos work because there will never be a situation when you would need the VCR independently.
    But how many times have you had the radio and TV on at the same time? Or the TV, computer, and game system on at the same time? If those things were combined, you would have to interupt the game to IM your friend - and instead of just turning your head toward the TV to see what's going on, you'd have to switch modes on your one screen.
    In general, I think people want more screen real estate, not less, yet combining these devices means reduces the area.
    It seems more 'efficient' to have devices that do double- or triple-duty, but in reality it's as practical as those combination salt/pepper/sugar shakers that some people have.

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