Xbox 360, PS3, and IBM's salvation

2005-05-17

For those of you that are completely oblivious to the gaming and technology worlds, I'll shed some light on the more recent developments at E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo). The biggest announcements to come so far have been the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. Not only are these extremely powerful systems, they're also going to change the way we think about home entertainment.

The Xbox 360 was unveiled last week on MTV in a somewhat disappointing light with the influence of today's pop idols drooling over it. Since then, we've managed to get an ever increasing amount of detail as to what the system contains. Here are the basic specs: Triple core PowerPC processor at 3.2 GHz and a custom ATI graphics chip for a total system performance of 1 TeraFLOP. Impressive to say the least. On the software side, the 360 runs Windows Media Center Extender under the hood. All of the functionality of Windows Media Center Edition will be available provided that you have another Media Center box on the same network to host the data. Xbox Live, Microsoft's online gaming service will be a free service with every Xbox 360. A paid subscription to the service will yield a "Gold" level account with unnamed higher-level features.

Sony's Playstation 3 was debuted on Monday at E3 in an extremely Japanese fashion: Elegant graphics, music, and light shows with a narrative by the owners of the company, not the people that built the product as opposed to Microsoft's "hip and young" approach. Regardless of the presentation, the PS3 is also PowerPC based at 3.2 GHz using what they are calling a Cell processor. From my understanding, a Cell processor is basically a multiple-core processor with the ability to do IPC (Inter-Process Communication) on chip. From a computer architecure standpoint, this should be magnitudes faster. This is reflected by the initial specs released by Sony stating that the PS3 will be able to push 2 TeraFLOPs, doubling the performance of the Xbox 360.

As we have seen in the past though, big numbers on a spec sheet can be misleading. While the PS3 does have more power overall, 1.8 of those TeraFLOPs are in the graphics chip, giving programmers very little flexibility toward using the power for anything other than pushing graphics. The Xbox 360 focuses most of it's processing power in the system processor where it can be used in a truly multipurpose fashion. Time will tell if this really makes a difference or not.

From a graphics standpoint, both systems are going to be stunning. They both support full HDTV output in one form or another. The PS3 excels in this area with it's ability to drive two channels of HD output at 1080p whereas the Xbox 360 only supports one channel with a maximum of 1080i. For the uninitiated, this means that the PS3 can handle two displays at a "theoretically" higher resolution than the Xbox 360. In actuality, the number of people in the world with an HDTV are still fairly few and having two HDTVs is almost unheard of at this point. Again, time will tell if it really makes a difference. In my opinion, without the CPU power to create those graphics, the PS3 will fall behind with nothing to drive all of those overperforming output chips.

The biggest development to come from all of this in my mind is the fact that both systems are running PowerPC based architectures (with rumors of Nintendo's Revolution doing the same). There is also some fairly strong evidence to suggest that Microsoft and Apple are teaming up once and for all. I make the following contentions:

  • A PowerPC Xbox 360 means that Microsoft has ported Windows in some form to this architecture
  • Xbox 360 development kits are Apple G5 desktops
  • During the webcast of the Xbox 360 press release at E3, the stream cuts out for about five minutes with a message about "proprietary information", afterwards J Allard mentions Bill and Steve in the past-tense leading me to believe that they appeared on screen (or even on stage) together
  • Recent leaks state that the iPod will be able to sync/dock with the Xbox 360, this was confirmed during the webcast by an extremely obvious hint about "the ability to connect other vendors' players"

From these facts, I feel that it is safe to make an assumption that there is something brewing behind closed doors in Seattle and Cupertino. I'm sure that IBM is enjoying all of this, seeing that the architecture that they stumbled into is becoming dominant just about everywhere. I have to make a point of saying that I am definitely a proponent of the PowerPC architecture because it is RISC based and from a design standpoint is just better for many applications today.

Amidst all of these releases and platform confusion, the former king of the gaming industry Nintendo, is nowhere to be found. Some very obscure and small leaks regarding the dimensions and processor of the Nintendo Revolution have made their way to the surface but very little else. Either they're staying extremely tight-lipped about their new console, or they're having an "oh shit what do we do now!" moment.

Update: 5/17/2005 6:00 AM

  • Nintendo has a countdown on their website that will reach zero at 2:00 PM EST. A press release also available on their site claims a release party on Tuesday. I'll update this page as I know more.

Next post - Tasty Fruit, Art in another dimension, and lots of computers