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September 7, 2006
PLAYSTATION 3 DELAY COMMENTARY

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Click here to check out the PS3 Technical Specifications

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This is it... PS3, yours in 2007.
There's little doubt that if you're a gamer you would have been pretty devastated this week to learn that Sony will not be able to produce enough Playstation 3's to supply Europe and Australia this Christmas. Well it's been a little over 24 hours since we first got word that Sony were set to delay the launch, and dramatically cut shipment numbers to Japan and America. In the following paragraphs we detail why the delay has occurred, and also some of the positives that may come out of this delay. Yes, I said positives...

So what happened, and why...

One must keep in mind that the delay in Europe and Australia wasn't the only news, but also that gamers in Japan and America will also be suffering. Japan is only going to launch with around 100,000 units, and America with 400,000 units. That American number is lower then the number of units the PS2 launched with as Sony are reminding us. But why would Sony, a Japanese company, short change Japan so much? We could speculate that this is due to a number of reasons.

Firstly the Japanese reception to the XBox 360 has been almost as bad as the original XBox which was a total flop. Sony may be concerned by a lack of 'interest' in next-generation in the Japanese market - a market where graphics, while important, are often overlooked for gameplay. Secondly there are very few Japanese developed PS3 games ready to go - certainly the majority of launch titles seem to be from Western developers, and their games often struggle to sell in large numbers in Japan. Finally, and this is a likely reason, with the PS3 being produced in Asia it will be quicker and easier to fly the units in to Japan then half way around the world to America, where there are probably lengthy import delays. Production of the Japanese units could be left until last, and then continue through the launch period without needing to change over manuals, boxes, BIOS chips and so on.

Despite what you may hear, the PS3's delay is not due to some big conspiracy or a strange ploy by Sony to deceive gamers. Sony are not announcing this delay only to 'surprise' us in November. With production yet to start on the systems there simply isn't enough time to make enough units, ship them, get them through the various customs and ports. It has been widely reported for some time now that the blue laser diodes use in the Blu-Ray drive have been suffering extremely low production yields, and it's a problem that has affected the availability of HD-DVD players and Blu-Ray players in America already. Sales of dedicated players would not even be near 100,000 units total to date, for Sony to have 2 million PS3's ready it was a massive hurdle to overcome - and one they obviously haven't been able to despite stopping shipments of all blue diodes to third parties making dedicated players for the last couple of months.

The European launch is complicated by the number of countries, the number of languages, and the time required to translate the games, manuals and so on. Europe has been, and always will be a problem territory for this reason. Imagine writing an game manual 1,000 words long, then being asked to translate it into German, Spanish, French, Dutch, Russian and Polish to name a few. Each language has to be proof read several times, each language requires a re-design of the manuals and possibly a change to the artwork. Oh, that's right that's the manual. You then have to change the language in the games, thatís another 10,000 words. Oh and don't forget the 3 hours of recorded speech too. The delay to Europe will give developers, and Sony with their manuals, more time to ensure everything is translated correctly. Then you need to look at the languages in the bootable menu within the PS3. The list goes on...

So what's the good news...

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Motorstorm could it now be a launch title.
Firstly the Playstation 3 will no longer launch with only a couple of titles (at the time of the announcement the launch looked like having about 12-15 titles). Now there will be many more - perhaps over thirty! Furthermore I would expect Sony and other third party publishers and developers to polish of the games a bit more from the American and Japanese releases as is currently the case with many PAL titles. We may even see some additional content. You can bet your ass that Sony will be going all out to ensure that there will be several other titles launching with the system - many of which were delayed into early 2007 in recent months. Heavenly Sword, Motorstorm, John Woo's Stranglehold, Virtua Fighter 5 and Virtua Tennis 3 could all be launch titles next March - and possibly be released in Europe prior to Japan and/or America.

Any new piece of hardware occasionally has bugs. With the European version being delayed it's possible that Sony may revise and refine the hardware further before release. That's speculation, but quite possible. I would certainly expect the PAL and Australian unit to have an updated BIOS upon release (not dissimilar to the PSP shipping with newer versions as they become available).

Click To Go To  Preview
Singstar will be a key online title.
The four month delay will give Sony Europe more time to fully test, implement and debug the online portal. Let's face reality. It was never going to be perfect from day one, but this extra time will give Sony Europe the opportunity to add more languages, check the load on servers in America and Japan to ensure ours have enough capacity, and fix any technical glitches to ensure the system is 100% operational upon release here.

Adding to the online services Sony will also have more time to increase the amount of content available. We all know that there will be downloadable expansions to games (such as songs in SingStar) but downloadable games, movies, trailers and skins should also be quite numerous due to the delay.

The number of people with HDTV sets should be much greater with record sales expected this Christmas. Right now the number of 1080p sets in Australia is very small - certainly not as big as in Japan or America, so the delay will give gamers a bigger choice a much wider range of TV sets. The number of sets supporting HDMI 1.3 will increase. HDMI 1.3 means you'll get the full 1080p video and HD audio. To get the best from the system you really need a HDTV, now you have more time to save for it!

It's possible, although unconfirmed and total speculation on my part, that the European and Australian PS3 may see a price drop before release - especially if the dollar improves. If not a price drop, we may have some additional items bundled such as a Blu-Ray movie, or, game. Thats my speculation though so don't read into it at all!

Finally the Blu-Ray movies launched in America are less then perfect with companies using MPEG2 rather then the more advanced MPEG4 or AVC. The interactive features are also severely lacking at this stage. Sony will, by March 2007 have the BD-Java encoding and presentation ready, as well as a dual layer discs, so presentation should be much better. This delay will also ensure that the Blu-Ray library of movies will be much larger at launch.

Summary...

We are disappointed by the delay, as are millions of gamers, but I's grateful that Sony didn't take the easy out by dropping the Blu-Ray drive at the last minute and reverting to the more traditional DVD drive - that would have been a mistake. While some companies are happy to have their hardware replaced within a couple of years (read: Xbox) Sony are in this for the long haul and a slight delay isn't going to affect them in the long run. Roll on March 2007...


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