Sunday, March 8, 2009

Price of Gold Falls!!!

Microsoft is hoping to entice Xbox Live Silver members to upgrade their accounts by offering a $10 discount. The promotion is for a limited time only, though the company has yet to confirm how long the offer will stay open for, and brings the price of a Gold subscription down to $39.99 – or something like $3.30 a month. This is still more than what many are willing to pay, especially when PC and PlayStation 3 owners get full access to online gaming for free, but at the very least the new price will be a tad more tempting to some.
With some 17 million paying subscribers, and a wealth of additional content up for sale or rent on Xbox Live, there really is no incentive for Microsoft to stop charging. However, could this be a sign that the company is considering a permanent price cut? Earlier this year they also began offering discounts through Amazon and other online outlets, though the price quickly jumped back up after a few hours in that occasion. Anyway, if you’ve been putting off upgrading for a while, now may be the time to hop on the Gold bandwagon.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Xbox 360 vs. PS3...Conclusion


So, which is better, XBOX 360 or PS3?

The answer is……. Neither! Look, each console has its “pros and cons”. If you primarily play online games, you will want to get an XBOX 360. If you have a nice HDTV and want to enjoy beautiful Blu-Ray movies, you will want to get a PS3. If you are an “achievement whore” you will want a 360. If you like to play import games, you will want a PS3. If you want to easily stream near-HD quality movies and TV shows, get a 360. It goes on and on. If you like Halo games, get a 360. If you are more of a Killzone kinda guy, get a PS3. If you want to spend less than $400, get a 360.
If you think the PS3 has “better graphics” get a PS3. If you think the XBOX 360
has “better graphics” then get an XBOX 360.

The fact is, the decisions that influence your purchasing decision are entirely up to you. What matters to you may not matter to the next person. But hopefully you have a clearer picture of “what matters” to you, and how the consoles compare after reading this article. If it’s exclusive titles, fine. Go with the console that has the games you like. If it’s “which multiplatform games play better on this console” the answer is… Well the 360 is a bit better, but the PS3 is improving in this regard (and buggy games do get patched).

I’ll finish off with some comments that are purely subjective. It is my personal opinion that it just ‘feels’ better to play games on the Xbox 360. After reading this entire article, the Xbox 360 has some advantages and some disadvantages, but for some reason I just like playing games on it better. I'm a huge fan of XBOX 360’s huge advantage of being the superior online gaming system. I like the controller better and can play the games for longer without the pain. Other people will feel just the opposite, and that is perfectly fine. I have my reasons, and you have yours. And neither of those should affect one another. That’s the whole point of writing this article in the manner that I have.

Xbox 360 vs. PS3...Really?

I will remain completely impartial for this article as well. I am going to keep things as objective as possible, leaving most everything else up to you to decide. If you expect me to tell you which console is the right one for you to buy, or which one “has better graphics” think again. Only you can know that. My goal is to provide you with enough information that you should be able to know clearly which one is better for you. So if you haven’t read our prior articles, you might want to do so first.


What a way to start things off! The prices of next-gen consoles have dropped dramatically since the PS3 was introduced. Last year, we were talking about $500 and $600 models of the PS3, and $280 and $350 versions of the XBOX 360. Console SKUs have changed a lot in the past year as well, especially in the case of the PS3. We have been tracking their changes hereand here, so you should go there to see what the latest features are. This is especially important with regards to the PS3, where features seem to be dropped rather than added with every SKU change.

In terms of price, the PS3 can be had for $399 for the 80GB version, and $499 for the 160GB version. It makes almost no sense to pay the extra $100 for the larger hard drive, as the consoles are otherwise identical (except for the fact that the 160GB comes with Drake’s Fortune and Pain, which may or may not make up for the extra cost depending on the type of games you like to play). If you really need the space, a 320GB laptop drive is no more than $80 these days, and it’s very easy to install into the PS3.

As far as the XBOX 360 goes, Microsoft have aggressively dropped the price on their console to the point where the low-end version without a hard drive costs $50 less than a Wii. It even comes with a full game (Sega Superstars Tennis at this time - obviously intended to compete with potential Wii Sports buyers) as well as a collection of XBLA games on disc. If you want to spend no more than $200, and are choosing between a Wii and a 360, the answer is obvious: if you like playing video games, get a 360. If you want to have something sitting around that your friends and family will play once in a while after a few drinks, get a Wii.

The ‘regular’ versions of the XBOX 360 (with a hard drive) are $299 for a 60GB version, and $399 for a 120GB Elite. Both versions come bundled with the same two games at this time; Lego Indiana Jones, and Kung-Fu Panda. So again, there is really not much reason to spend the extra $100, unless you really need the extra hard drive space. Unlike the PS3, you will need to spend that extra cash if you want the space, because the 360’s drive format is proprietary. So if you can justify the need for 120GB, get the Elite. Just be mindful that you aren’t getting much else besides a black paint job and an HDMI cable.

So the main contenders are the Playstation 3 80GB for $399, and the XBOX 360 60GB for $299. For many people, this is all that matters, and they could just stop reading here. After all, XBOX 360 sold over twice as many units at the beginning of the 2008 xmas buying seas as the PS3 (836K vs. 378K - Source: NPD).

One major issues with the XBOX 360’s price is that it still does not have integrated Wi-Fi in the box (no, not even the so-called “Elite”). If you need to use Wi-Fi to connect to the internet rather than cables, you will be required to spend around $100 for a proprietary Wireless adapter. That is absolutely ridiculous for a simple USB adapter that normally costs $20 or so. Here’s a tip: online import stores generally sell them for less, since XBOX 360 accessories cost much less in Asia.


If you pay attention to actual game developers, and not the angry fanboys, you will learn that no, the Playstation 3 doesn’t have “more graphics power” than the 360. The fact is, XBOX 360’s Xenos GPU itself has far more computing power than the RSX GPU that resides in the PS3. Does this mean the 360 has “better graphics”? I don’t know, that is a subjective matter, beyond the scope of this objective comparison, and entirely up to you to decide. If you like what you see on the PS3, then to you, it has “better graphics”. If you like what you see on the 360, then there you go. That is all subjective, and not the goal of this
article. The CPU power is another story however; on paper the Cell has a lot more potential than the triple-core Xeon that resides in the 360. Last year, I wrote,

…I fully expect the PS3 to win this category - eventually. To what extent, I’m not sure (very likely it’s only going to be the blockbuster first-party titles that take full advantage of Cell), and when this will occur, I’m not sure either. Obviously, one full year wasn’t enough.

One year certainly wasn’t enough, but were two? That’s a subjective matter,
and up to you to decide. For my money, not many games look better than MGS4 on
PS3, and Killzone 2 is looking really good. However, “Blockbuster” exclusives will almost always look
really good, and comparing one to the other is pretty much pointless.

If Killzone 2 is any indication, it looks like PS3’s Cell architecture is finally beginning to flex its muscle. It is possible that the 360 has already met its full potential, and the PS3 is still getting there, at least for AAA exclusives
are concerned. That is purely conjecture though, and that’s not what this article is about.

XBOX 360 had a huge advantage in most third-party games in 2007. We wrote that first of all,games aren’t really “Full HD” at this point. Games run in much lower resolutions in order to keep the overall quality and effects high. Make no mistake; you need a PC to play games with high detail, full HD graphics; both consoles lag far behind a well equipped PC. But I digress; when it comes to third-party titles throughout its first year, PS3 games were often late and featured noticeably lower quality graphics when compared to the same games on 360. Is that the case now? Sort of, but it’s not nearly as bad. Let’s take a look at some familiar multi-platform games of 2008:

  • Fallout 3 - looks essentially the same on both, but PS3 version lacks antialiasing. The PS3 version initially had bugs, but they have since been patched.
  • Bioshock - Despite coming out a year later, the PS3 version of Bioshock was pretty much a mess at first. Some of the textures are noticeably lower, and the framerate stutters often. A patch improved things, but the framerate is still lower.
  • Dead Space - The developers have been quoted that working with Sony is “challenging” so the old mantra of the Sony and Playstation being tough to work with hold true to this day. Thankfully, they were able to manage a good experience on both consoles, and both versions play about the same.
  • Soul Calibur IV - The 360 version runs in a 960p frame buffer, but Namco-Bandai decided to downsample the 360’s resolution down to 720p to smooth the image rather that utilize AA. However, the difference is not significant, so both versions look pretty close to the same (the 360 does have some extra lighting effects). Since you can download both Darth Vader and Yoda on either version, even that has become a moot point.
  • Devil May Cry 4 - Remember this one? It came out in 2008 as well. Unlike most games, this isn’t a port from one console to another. Rather, Capcom develops their games on a tri-platform engine (Framework MT), then compile them for PC, PS3, and XBOX 360. Antialiasing is present on the 360 version, since it is essentially ‘free’. To keep it running at 720p with a decent framerate on the PS3, Capcom utilized a pseudo-AA effect by shifting frames and creating a blur effect. It does smooth things out, but during fast moving scenes it tends to stand out.

In the end, I think we can say that multiplatform gaming is getting closer to parity, but it’s not quite there yet. The 360’s superior graphics power is especially applicable to multi-platform games
that do not get a lot of development time to make full use of Cell architecture,
and the XBOX 360’s GPU allows it to run at higher resolutions while eliminating jaggies with “Free” Antialiasing.

Furthermore, Playstation 3 titles tend to ship with bugs that get patched at a later time. This is nothing new to PC gamers of course, but definitely quite new to console gamers (and not exclusive to PS3 either - plenty of XBOX 360 games get patched as well).

You should also consider that many games require a mandatory installation on the Playstation 3, and in many cases load times are still about the same as a DVD would be. With the XBOX 360, you have the choice of installing a game to the hard drive, and when you do you will instantly notice faster load times and quieter operation. Comparing DMC4 load times
on an installed PS3 version to an installed XBOX 360 version is quite significant.

Game Selection

This was a touchy subject for many Sony fanboys who read last year’s article. They stated that it wasn’t “fair” to compare the game selection of the 360, which had an extra year’s worth of game releases. My answer to them is, it doesn’t matter which console came out first. These articles are about what is out there RIGHT NOW.Looking ahead into 2009, the future of exclusives on XBOX 360 seems somewhat questionable at this point. Little is known about many of the titles, and they have yet to have their desirability (or even 2009 release dates) confirmed. Some of the titles we’re looking forward to are Forza Motorsport 3, Halo 3: Recon, Star Ocean, and (maybe) Alan Wake. Mass Effect 2 is questionable at best. XBOX 360 is however getting some nice exclusive downloadable content, like GTA IV and Fallout 3 (hope you didn’t trade those in!). On the PS3 side, we have Heavy Rain, Infamous, God of War 3, Uncharted 2, Killzone 2, and White Knight Chronicles to look forward to. Gran Turismo 5 may even make it by the end of the year, but probably only in Japan. Those are some pretty big sequels right there, but much of it is conjecture at this point, so we can’t comment on it too much. In November, we’ll look at how each console’s year went ;)

Online Support

Sony has come a long way in the year since we last did this comparison. Can you imagine playing a game, and not having access to your friends list? And whether you like it or not, a lot of people can’t live without achievements. Sony has added these features to their interface, while maintaining free online access. It’s not as good as it sounds however; chatting with friends is still clunky as hell, and it’s still difficult to invite them to games (there is still no auto invite function).

Some games have added better interfaces (Burnout Paradise comes to mind), but in the end, PS3’s online functionality is very poor in comparison to XBOX Live. I guess you can still say “You get what you pay for” in this case.

Another issue is the fact that there are fewer people buying Playstation 3 games. Not only is the console being outsold by quite a significant margin by the XBOX 360 (4.62 million compared to 2.56 million in 2008 alone, and 9.15 million compared to 3.25 million in the lifetime of the consoles), it also sells less games per console. That means that you will find many more online games of Call of Duty 4, for instance, on the XBOX 360. Also, even your multi-console friends will probably choose to play online games on the 360, because of everything I mentioned here.

New Interfaces

Both Sony and Microsoft launched their big interface upgrades right before the holiday buying season, and if there was one thing that set the consoles apart, these new features are it. On the Microsoft side, the entire console interface has been retooled. I mentioned in last year’s comparison article:

I prefer the PS3’s interface to the bright, flashy, sluggish interface of the XBOX 360. Turning on the PS3 to watch a high-definition movie feels like a classy, almost ‘high end’ experience. In contrast, fire up the XBOX 360 and you are treated to a whining fan, screeching DVD drive, and bright flashy colours on your screen.

The “New XBOX Interface” or NXE replaces the annoyingly low-framerate, bright flashy interface with a sleeker system that actually works somewhat similar to Playstation’s “Cross Media Bar” or XMB. It still isn’t as “classy” as the default PS3 option, but it is a HUGE improvement. And if you don’t want to play around on it, simply hit your “X” button on the controller to gain access to all the functionality in a compact window.

Since last year, PS3’s XMB has added theme functionality (both free and commercial themes are available on PSN). NXE also has themes, and it actually does a better job of separating the content you are browsing from the theme itself. Some XMB themes that have light backgrounds are impossible to use because of the white text.

That brings me to Playstation @Home. If you haven’t tried it by now, you’ve surely heard about this ambitious project. Meant to be a sort of “Second Life” for video games, the “beta” launch of @Home can be considered a complete flop by all gamers (Sony fanboy or not). If you know nothing of it, let me try to describe it for you.

Picture this scene: A stark looking “futuristic” city garden, populated by zombies that all have the same blank expressions on their faces, same clothes and same hairstyles. Wherever there is a female zombie, she will be surrounded by at least 5 male zombies, all of whom are showing off their best dance movies. Also, bubble machines are everywhere.

That’s @Home in a nutshell. I am not even going to bring up the absurdity that is asking people to pay to make their zombies look slightly different. I was in the @Home closed beta for a while, and I can admit that it is somewhat fun to win special clothing and furniture by playing games (the Namco prizes are especially cool). The problem is, there is absolutely nothing to do with this clothing and furniture once you’ve won it, except wearing the clothing and placing the furniture on floors.

Since @Home isn’t exactly an interface replacement, we can’t really compare it directly to NXE. Instead, we can simply consider it as being an ‘extra’ to the PS3 that pretty much nobody is using at this point. It may improve, but right now it should absolutely not be part of the reason you decide to buy a Playstation 3.

NXE on the other hand improves the XBOX 360’s interface to the point where it is at least as enjoyable to use as XMB. Personally, I
hated the original XBOX 360 interface, so this new one is a huge improvement. Also, being able to install games to the hard drive (completely optional) is a really nice feature. PS3 games often require installation to bring load times up to DVD speed (or slightly faster). With NXE, you are beating DVD’s already quick load times (and quieting down the ridiculously loud DVD drive).

Playstation Network Store vs. XBOX Live Arcade

The initial interface of Sony’s online store was, to say the least, crap. However they revised it last year, and it is now very easy to find games, demos, and other extra goodies. There are even ‘branded stores’ for companies like Capcom who offer many titles.

Big titles like Mega Man and Street Fighter HD are available on both programs, and usually run well on both consoles. Both consoles have good indy support as well, with all the PixelJunk games and such on PSN, and games like Braid on XBLA.

Microsoft tends to do a better job of adding retro games, while Sony only occasionally adds the odd PS1 title, and has a few arcade games available. This is one thing that drives retro fans like
myself crazy; with hundreds of great games that can easily be made available on PSN for little cost, it’s frustrating that there are so few.

As far as demos go, both PSN and XBLA have time fee-based demo exclusivity. For XBLA, it’s in the form of XBOX Live membership, where if you’re a paying member (which all online gamers are), you get early access to demos. For Playstation Network, you have to subscribe to their “video magazine” Qore to get monthly exclusive demos, the value of which is questionable.


When I last compared the two consoles, the PS3 had just received an update allowing it to play DivX files using the AVI container format (in other words, the most common format used by people who “share” movies and TV recordings). Shortly after that, XBOX 360 received similar features.

As it stands, basic multimedia functionality of the two consoles in terms of playback is pretty much the same. One major advantage of the PS3 is that not only can it stream media, but you can store media on it as well. The 360 was only ever intended to be a “Media Extender” so you can’t do things like save your AVI files on the hard drive.

There have been rumors for the past year that Microsoft would begin supporting Blu-Ray on the XBOX 360 following the demise of HD-DVD. Those rumors have been pretty much completely squashed, so that leaves PS3 as the only Blu-Ray playing video game console for quite a while. And as a Blu-Ray player, the PS3 is fantastic. It supports all the latest features, and has responsive controls and high video quality.


Depending on your situation, this may be a HUGE deal for XBOX 360, something that you need to consider if you like to rent movies. With NXE, XBOX 360 added the ability to stream movies in near-DVD to 720p quality to users with XBOX Live Gold and Netflix Unlimited accounts. At a low monthly cost, users have access to over 100,000 titles, including movies and TV shows. Keep in mind however, that this feature is only available to US residents at this time.

With some effort, you can do the same with the PS3, but nothing beats turning the 360 into a media center that allows you to easily browse through thousands of movies and shows, and instantly start streaming them with decent quality. PS3’s Blu-Ray support is more geared for video enthusiasts, where Netflix streaming is more for the casual crowd. So it’s up to you to decide which is better for you.

Other Considerations

There are of course some other things that we need to consider when comparing the consoles that may not fit under certain categories. For some people, this is what will make or break their purchasing decision.

  • RROD. The issue has seemingly been taken care of, as reports of recent XBOX 360 models have been few and far between. However, if you are using a launch unit, the longer you play it, the closer you are to disaster. I am knocking on wood at this point, but it just seems that having your XBOX 360 die on you is not a threat, but an inevitability.
  • Import Gaming. I touched on this last year - the fact that the Playstation 3 is completely region free for PS3 titles makes it the easy choice for import gamers. If you are into playing the latest whacky titles from Japan, then the decision has been made for you pretty much. Furthermore, it’s very easy to create PSN accounts in other countries, allowing you to play demos intended for other regions. Without a credit card, you won’t be able to purchase PSN games, but this is still a nice feature to have.
  • Piracy. The PS3 still has yet to be figured out by modders, so pirates are still left with one choice between the two. That said, Microsoft is constantly battling piracy, in the form of completely banning consoles that play online with pirated games. The Playstation 3 will almost inevitably be cracked, but when it happens and how easy it’s going to be are unknown at this point.
  • Folding@Home. Again, not a big deal to most people, but folders who are on the fence about which console to buy will want to consider the PS3. Believe it or not, there are some pretty hardcore folders out there who care a lot about how many points they make.
  • PSP Connectivity. This function was added just after I wrote my last article, and it’s only gotten better since then. The interoperability between the PS3 and PSP is nothing short of impressive. Browse the console from anywhere, stream music and video, play games. It’s really cool. Unfortunately, the PSP has become somewhat irrelevant in the last year, due to a lack of.. any games worth playing at all.
  • Backwards Compatibility. If you are interested in playing your PS2 library on your shiny new PS3, forget it. Any system bought in a store today has absolutely no PS2 functionality whatsoever. Not even emulation. On top of that, PS2 emulation on the old 80GB version was extremely sketchy. If you really want a backwards compatible PS3, you need to buy a used 60GB or 20GB. In the meantime, Microsoft is expanding their backwards compatibility, and adding new Original XBOX games to their online library from time to time.
  • Display Connectivity. When I wrote last year’s article, you had to buy an Elite XBOX 360 to get HDMI output. Since then, every single XBOX 360 has HDMI output (even the $200 Core System) so this is no longer an issue. What may be an issue is that you will need to use a custom cable if you want to use optical audio with HDMI video. This costs around $40.
  • Open Source Operating Systems. Again, PS3 is the only console that officially allows you to install Linux on it. You can’t play PS3 games while in Linux, but you can switch back to the XMB easily. There is still a group that is working on a version of Linux that can be installed on XBOX 360.

Friday, March 6, 2009

To Gold Or Not To Gold, That is the question...

The price to upgrade to an Xbox Live Gold subscription from a Xbox Live Silver subscription got a little cheaper. Those who are looking to upgrade to Gold can now do so for only $39.99 for a one year subscription to the service. New ads advertising this can be seen on and on the Xbox 360 its self.

When contacted for comment by Joystiq, Microsoft says that it's "currently running a promotion in-dash that gives Silver members a special opportunity to upgrade to the full benefits of Gold membership at a reduced price for a limited time." No exact date was given as to when this "limited time" offer would end.

Buddy: You could go that route, or be a smart reader and get a 12+1 month Xbox Live Gold subscription off of like I did months ago. So, if you don't need renew soon, you might want to pay the same price for an extra month and grab one from Amazon.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Xbox Live "Should" Be Free, but why?

I’ve come across the argument that Xbox LIVE should be free quite often.  I can’t remember these arguments when Xbox LIVE first launched.  It’s likely due to the fact that there was no competition when it launched or rather no real alternative to gaming online with your console.  However, now that Xbox LIVE is the dominant arena for online console gaming, the arguments for “FREE LIVE” have begun.  Pay no attention to the ability to voice message/chat, the universal friend’s list, online features and whatever you do totally forget about the free system updates that happen.

I hope people understand why PlayStation Online is free.  It has to be free because if it weren’t, no one would pay for it.  If they presented anything other than “free” to compete against Xbox LIVE, they’d be toast.  The funny thing is that it’s still not comparable to Xbox LIVE even while offering it for free.  If it was the great alternative to Xbox LIVE that a few suggest, I’d imagine we’d hear a little bit more about it but we don’t.

Games for Windows - LIVE was just recently announced as being free and the uproar grew even louder.  Well, that’s PC online gaming.  It has always been free so there’s no reason why it shouldn’t have been to begin with.  But why were there rumblings soon after that Xbox LIVE has no justification to charge simply because GFW LIVE is now free?  It’s PC online!  When has it not been free in the PC realm?

I’m very interested.  I’m very curious about your reasons why Xbox LIVE should be free.  Convince me.  Help me understand this madness.  I’m all for getting things free don’t get me wrong but as far as I can tell, no one has a good reason that makes sense.  I feel that if Xbox LIVE were free, we’d hear a bunch of “if only Xbox LIVE had this or that then I would pay for LIVE if it had this”.  (which would be things it already has)

Some of the arguments that I will ignore are listed below.

- Because PC online is free
- Because PlayStation Online is free
- Because there are no dedicated servers
- Because Steam does (insert thing) for PC users

Xbox LIVE and PC online are two separate animals and shouldn’t be compared.  I understand what Steam does for PC but what does Steam do for console gaming?  Nothing.  That’s why that argument will be ignored.  Talk about the PlayStation Network if you must but I’d wager, based on several friends who don’t bother playing online with it, that it’s not what Xbox LIVE is in comparison.

So let’s hear it then.  I’d love to save my $4.17 a month too.