Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo: HD @ E3

Normally, UAV wouldn't pay much attention to the Electronic Entertainment Expo, otherwise known as E3, being held at the Los Angeles Convention Center, May 17-20, 2005. But at this year's show, there were some announcements that perked up my ears a bit: new game consoles from the Big Three (Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo), at least some of which will have high-def capabilities, making them much more interesting to home theater buffs.

Perhaps most interesting is Sony's new PlayStation 3, which is based on a new processor called Cell that was jointly developed by IBM, Sony, and Toshiba. With a computational speed of 2 teraflops (2 trillion floating-point operations per second), Cell is being touted as a super computer on a chip. Accompanying the Cell CPU is a new graphics processor, code named RSX, which is the result of a collaborative effort by NVIDIA and Sony. Also included in the PS3 is a BD-ROM drive to play Blu-ray Disc ROM titles.

With all that horsepower and a Blu-ray drive, you'd think the PS3 might be able to play HD material, and you'd be correct. In fact, I hear it will only output 1080p from its dual HDMI outputs—which is somewhat puzzling when you consider that the Sony's finest RPTV, the Qualia 006, can only accept a 1080i input. Also interesting is the ability to use the two HDMI outputs to create a 32:9 image on two side-by-side 16:9 displays. Of course, all of this depends on game developers creating titles in HD, but it seems they don't have much choice. (The PS2 can also play HD games, but there are very few titles that take advantage of this capability.) The PS3 is scheduled to ship by spring 2006.

Not to be outdone, Microsoft announced the latest version of their game console, the Xbox 360. It's powered by a custom PowerPC-based CPU that can perform up to 1 teraflop, and it also has HD capabilities—16:9 720p or 1080i. (The previous generation could also play HD games, but few titles are available.) It can play DVDs with progressive output as well as most other currently available forms of optical discs from its dual-layer DVD-ROM drive. With a built-in Ethernet port and WiFi capabilities (802.11a/b/g), it can also stream content from a networked Media Center PC. The Xbox 360 is due to ship by the 2005 holiday season.

Nintendo announced their latest game console, dubbed Revolution, but details were skimpy. It is expected to be no larger than three stacked DVD cases, making it the smallest of the new consoles, and it will be powered by a new IBM processor, code named Broadway, and a new graphics chip from ATI. It will have a DVD-ROM drive (which will play DVDs but, apparently, not CDs), built-in WiFi, and an SD memory card reader. Whether or not it will have HD capabilities has yet to be revealed, and shipping is scheduled for sometime in 2006. The company said the device would be demonstrated at next year's E3, which indicates that the Revolution is lagging behind the other two entrants in the high-stakes game-console sweepstakes.

In any event, gaming will soon get a lot more attractive for those of us who prefer seeing high-def images in our home theaters, no matter what the source.