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Last Updated: Friday, 27 April 2007, 14:41 GMT 15:41 UK
Game consoles' web strategy
By Marc Cieslak
Reporter, BBC Click

Once upon a time a video games console was a simple machine that only allowed you to engage in innocent pixellated mayhem. Nowadays the latest generation of home consoles have got their sights set way above a simple gaming experience.

PlayStation 3
Sony's PS3 contains a high definition Blu-ray player

From high definition home visuals to innovative controllers, the latest generation of videogames consoles have raised the bar in terms of gaming experience.

But if users navigate around the menus for a while they discover that these machines have much more to offer than just racing super cars, or vaporising alien hordes.

All of the current generation of games consoles have online capabilities. This is nothing new - the old Xbox and PS2 allowed online multiplayer gaming - but the new machines have got much grander ideas, surfing the web for instance, or downloading video.

The Xbox 360, the Wii and the PlayStation 3 all have slightly different online capabilities. The Wii accommodates online multiplayer and comes equipped with the Opera browser, which allows browsing through Nintendo's dedicated Wii channels. But because the Wii lacks a hard drive, downloadable material is at present limited to additional gaming content.

Microsoft's machine does have a hard drive, and the suits in Seattle have built on the success of their online gaming platform, Xbox Live, with the 360.

Initially a multiplayer gaming experience, its horizons have broadened in the last year. Xbox Live has seen the introduction of Marketplace, where content can be downloaded or purchased by users.

"Microsoft's Xbox offering is a slick, sleek online service," said John Houlihan, of Computer and Video Games.

"It's a closed system for playing games on the Xbox 360, but it also offers a great deal of digital content, like movies, videos and even some music."

Sony may have sold millions of PS2s but its old machine lacked a strong online strategy. Wisely, Sony's boffins thought it might be a good idea to dip their toes into this new-fangled online nonsense with the PS3.

The PS3's online capability differs from the 360's in that it offers a web browser, so you can surf the web.

To enable you to search or type, a T9-style predictive text keyboard appears on screen and can be used with the six axis joypad or USB keyboard and mouse.

"The PS network offers a pretty similar experience to Xbox Live," said Mr Houlihan, "with one vital difference, and that's that it's an open network not a closed one. You'll be able to play games, chat with your friends, see what they're doing online, but you're also allowed out into the wider web through its internet browser."

Online stores

And in what can charitably be described as an homage to Xbox Marketplace, the PlayStation store offers much the same services as its rival - simple free download games, movie and game trailers and old PS1 and 2 games are all for sale.

Xbox 360 elite
The Elite machine is due to go on sale in the US

So far so similar, but both Microsoft and Sony have big plans for these online stores and it is thanks to each machine's respective hard drives.

Already available in the US, Xbox's Video Marketplace features pop videos, high definition trailers and, most importantly, TV and movie downloads.

TV content is purchased and remains on the 360 hard drive, movies on the other hand are rented, and erase themselves from the hard drive after 14 days.

While pop video and TV show download times are relatively short, waiting for a movie to come down the line can take what seems like an age.

To cope with the increased storage demands that Microsoft envisage users will need they have announced the 360 Elite, a machine with a bigger 120GB hard drive.

People like to sit in their living rooms, they don't want to be locked away upstairs in their office in front of the PC
John Houlihan, Computer and Video Games.

So far the PS3 store does not include full TV or movie content but Sony has already announced its intention to include downloadable high definition movies in the not too distant future.

And as far as storage is concerned there are rumours that an 80GB hard drive is in the pipeline.

Sony is also planning its own social networking Second Life hybrid, called Home.

Microsoft also has plans to launch a streaming high definition IPTV service later this year, which John Houlihan thinks will be extremely important to Microsoft.

"Over in the U.S. it's launched and seems to be working fine. Although there is no set date here I think we can probably expect to see it in Europe before the end of the year.

"It really fits in with this whole on-demand model. People are moving away from standard TV, they want to see what they want to see at their convenience."

These online aspirations are clearly serious attempts from the console manufacturers to take their machines beyond the confines of gaming. But call me old fashioned, can I not do all of this downloading, video messaging and gaming on a PC? Mr Houlihan does not think that is the point.

"People like to sit in their living rooms," he insists. "They don't want to be locked away upstairs in their office in front of the PC.

"The new words are social networking and I think that these new consoles allow the user to do this in the comfort of their living rooms, which makes it a much friendlier, warmer experience."

So videogames consoles might just hold the key to bringing the web to a wider audience in the living room.

Xbox revamp aims at digital home
28 Mar 07 |  Technology
Sony unveils net service for PS3
20 Oct 06 |  Technology
Xbox Live aims for million gamers
08 Jan 04 |  Technology

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