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E3 News from Microsoft and Sony That Matters to Custom Integrators

Games aside, Microsoft’s big news at E3 was the introduction of Xbox One S. Sony focused on virtual reality.

“Press Day” at trade shows is when companies try to grab the headlines for the day’s news so that the attention once the show starts stays focused on their new products. The Electronic Entertainment Expo, popularly known as “E3”, is the video game’s equivalent to CES or the annual CEDIA show. It followed that same pattern, although the two press events yesterday belonged to Microsoft and Sony, given that Nintendo has not held a press event for the past few years.

Microsoft traditionally goes first, and what they announced yesterday will likely be important to your integrated home systems in a variety of ways. Just as important is what they did not talk too much about.

Xbox Adds HDR and More
Games aside, Microsoft’s big news was the introduction of Xbox One S. Yes, please note that it is white, 40-percent smaller than the original Xbox One, and has a built-in power supply so you don’t need to deal with an external “brick” anymore. More important, however, is that it will offer HDR for both game content and movies from the on-board streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Video. Oh, and did I mention that there will be HDR playback from the internal optical player, upgraded to UltraHD Blu-ray from the standard Blu-ray in the original Xbox One?

Microsoft’s Xbox One S is 40-percent smaller than the original Xbox One and adds 4K and HDR capability along with UltraHD Blu-ray.

The combination of a gaming console, streaming services hub, and an UltraHD Blu-ray player is significant enough. What makes this key is that the price for the entry-level Xbox One S with a 500GB drive will be $299 when it is released in August. That’s right, all of that for $100 less than the only current UltraHD Blu-ray player, Samsung’s UBD-K8400. Or, for the same $399 price as the Samsung model you will be able to buy an Xbox One S with a 2TB drive! (In between, the 1TB model will be $349.)

With the new compact styling and the high-value pricing, it is reasonable to see this product in many homes like mine where a game is rarely played.

Project Scorpio’s 6 Teraflops of Power
Looking down the road, Microsoft teased us with “Project Scorpio,” a high-powered console that will be added to their model line-up for “Holiday 2017.” With 6 teraflops of GPU power it is said to deliver “true 4K gaming at 60 fps.” Join us for next June’s E3 for more; that’s all they gave out now so as to presumably not hinder sales of the new Xbox One S.

What was NOT talked about at the Microsoft event? VR. Yes, there was passing mention that some of the games will be compatible with Oculus headsets, but that is about it. As you’ll soon see, the VR news came from someone else.

VR Comes to Sony PlayStation
In contrast to Microsoft, Sony Computer Entertainment (SCEI) took a decidedly different approach. The rumored “PlayStation 4.5” did not appear to fend off Xbox One S. The only mention of SCEI’s next console was a brief reference to an interview given last week to the Financial Times by Andrew House, SCEI’s president and CEO. Pricing, features, and availability were not even discussed and we don’t expect to hear more about “PlayStation Neo” this month. Maybe we’ll hear more about it — or even be able to buy it — later this year. Stay tuned.

Your intrepid author tries on the new Sony PlayStation VR. 

What was a major focus from SCEI was the main thing given short shrift by Microsoft: Virtual Reality. Previously previewed, we now know that PlayStationVR will be available on October 13 for $399. Note that the PlayStation camera, required for VR functionality, is an additional $99 for those who do not already own it, and the PlayStation Move controllers are another $99 for a two-pack bundle.

Sony promises that 50 VR-enabled titles will be ready at release, and the PS VR gear and games will play on all existing PS4 units. Depending on the title and distribution method, the games will range from $9.99 to $59.99.

PlayStation VR will be available at October 13 for $399 

How is the PS VR experience? I had an opportunity to try PS VR out, and the results were impressive. The images were bright and clear, and the motion tracking was excellent. As I moved my head from side to side or up and down, the view moved seamlessly.

I did not encounter any queasiness or motion sickness, although I did learn a lesson for anyone installing VR rigs. When you hear people say that you should be seated when using VR, believe them! Equally important, have the player sit in a chair that is not on wheels or casters but has a back on it. Why? Our demo had me sitting on a backless couch and when there was a grenade thrown in front of the “car” I was in, my natural reaction was to lean back. Oops! I almost fell over before I realized I had to sit up again.

There will be much more from E3 when the show floor opens today, and I’ll get more pictures and information on the games and hardware that we’ll feature in the August issue of Residential Systems.

Until then, Let the Games Begin!