Friday, October 27, 2006
Sony's PlayStation 3: A superior experience
I had a chance earlier this week to attend a special "preview event" set up by Sony in anticipation of the release of the hotly anticipated PlayStation 3.

Mind you, this isn't the first time I've had a chance to see a PS3. Having covered new media for CNN's Entertainment unit for the past couple of years, I remember when Sony first unveiled their "next generation" console in 2005. Back then it was merely a box with an oddly shaped controller filled with promises of superior graphics and super-fast gameplay that would make a bid to be at the "center of your living room."

A year later, following a series of delays that forced Sony to push back the release date to fall 2006, gamers got their second look at next-gen console. This time, the funky boomerang-shaped controller was replaced by much more familiar model, and this time, it would be wireless -- a nice upgrade from the Playstation 2. As promised, the graphics were indeed superior and the gameplay -- at least on the demos that I got a chance to play -- was pretty damned impressive.

During the past few months, as game developers have been readying the release of their latest games, I've been lucky enough to be invited to play some of their demo versions and experience them on both the XBox 360 and the Playstation 3. And again, the Playstation 3 -- with its potential to deliver its graphics in resolutions up to 1080p -- looks and feels incredible.

So yesterday, when I visited the Ace Gallery in Beverly Hills, I was looking forward to seeing what else the PS3 could do.

The preview was very cleverly set up to look like an art installation. The stark white room was lined wall-to-wall with several 48-inch Sony monitors. In front of each monitor, a plexiglas pedestal supported the shiny black console and a single wireless controller. Sure, there was a beautiful pre-recorded presentation, which (thanks to the high-definition monitors) was lovely to watch. But after nearly 18 months of the high-energy dog-and-pony show, what I was really interested in was the chance to poke around the PS3's interface.

If you've had the good fortune to be able to spend some disposable income on Sony's PlayStation Portable and enjoyed that set, you're going to love the PS3. The interface is identical: a linear menu with all of the various system functions. Video thumbnails for game trailers, movies and other media. Full-color photos with a sweet little slideshow feature when you go deeper into it. It's quite the home page. (I'm told that this display will eventually be carried by all Sony TV's in the very near future. Way to streamline your products, Sony.)

As for how it works, the PS3 appears to deliver on everything Sony promised. Sony's Cell Broadband Engine speeds up the gameplay. The available 60-gig hard drive means it can hold as many MP3s and photos as some of the higher-end iPods on the market. Wireless Bluetooth-enabled controllers, HDMI (for that hi-def monitor you're going to mortgage the house to buy).

The PlayStation 3 appears to be incredibly expandable, meaning that despite the impressive gaming and hi-def Blu-ray movies you'll be playing and watching you apparently won't even be scratching the surface of what the system can do. And that all depends on what game developers and Sony's people do to take advantage of all the technology.

Of course, to get the full experience -- or, at least, the full experience "right now" -- it's going to cost you $599 for the system with all the goods included. Sony is offering a lesser set-up at $499 but conventional wisdom when making this kind of tech investment is to spend the extra $100 and get the complete package. And again, you're going to need an HD-ready, 1080p-capable TV -- which, depending on what brand you choose, could set you back an additional $3,000.

It's quite the price to pay for the average person. But Sony is clearly not interested in the average person. They're catering to a specific clientele who wants a superior gaming and entertainment experience.

Then again, most average people I know who play video games would like the same superior experience. Honestly, if I had the disposable income, I'd plunk my money down right now. But the adult in me (who sounds an awful lot like my father) is saying that I've got other more immediate things to concern myself with like paying the mortgage, filling up my SUV and putting food on the table. Of course, the kid in me (who speaks for me most of the time) says now that I'm an "adult," I should be able to do whatever I want to with my money.

In the meantime, while those two sides are duking it out, I guess I'll be playing with my good old PlayStation 2 ... and justifying spending more than I would on a house payment on video games. Superior experience indeed.
Thursday, October 26, 2006
Heroes are hard to find fault with
A friend of mine recently told me he had seen "Flags of Our Fathers." He didn't like it.


"Because I didn't want to know," he replied.

That is, he didn't want to know that the flag-raising was actually the second that day, or how the Iwo Jima veterans had doubts about the way they were used for the war effort, or about the sad story of Ira Hayes. He wanted his heroes to remain whole. He wanted the efforts that surrounded them to be pure.

He wanted a John Wayne movie. An uncomplicated John Wayne movie.

I wonder how prevalent his opinion is. "Saving Private Ryan," somewhat revisionist in the gritty, bloody way it showed the horror of the Normandy landing, was still an old-fashioned war movie in many respects. "Flags" is more cynical. War comes in shades of gray. And warriors are only human.

"Private Ryan" was a huge box office success, making more than $200 million in North America. "Flags," though armed with good reviews, had a decent but not blockbuster weekend, making $10.2 million. Box office isn't the only yardstick of a film's success, but it doesn't hurt. I wonder how "Flags" will fare in the future. ...

This weekend features two wide openings -- "Saw III" and "Catch a Fire" -- and a number of limited releases, including "Babel," "Shut Up and Sing," "Death of a President" and "Conversations with God."

"Catch a Fire" stars Derek Luke and Tim Robbins as a wrongly accused, then radicalized South African workman and the police officer who enters his life. You can watch a behind-the-scenes video feature here (Windows Media) and here (Quicktime). (Both are links for high-speed connections.) "Saw III" is, well, more of the same. ...

More than a year ago, "Dilbert" cartoonist Scott Adams lost his voice. It wasn't laryngitis -- his voice simply stopped functioning. How he got it back is the subject of a fascinating post on his blog. ...

And let's have a moment of ominous silence for Tommy Johnson, the "Jaws" theme tuba player, who passed away October 16. He will be missed -- and he'll probably be coming up on "Wait Wait, Don't Tell Me" this weekend.
Wednesday, October 25, 2006
Welcome to the Marquee
Welcome to The Marquee, the new blog from’s Entertainment section. We hope you’ll find it, well, entertaining – or at least not sleep-inducing. (We take no credit for sleep incurred after midnight.)

Madonna’s appearance on “Oprah” was taped yesterday and aired today, with the one-time Material Girl stressing motherhood over celebrity. David Banda, the 13-month-old she hopes to adopt, is “amazing,” she said. She also complained about media attention to the whole episode. Defamer, as it usually does, expressed skepticism and a “Daily Madonna” post at Big Pictures Celebrity Pix noted that the singing star isn’t usually so publicity-shy. On the other hand, Hollywood blogger Janet Charlton put her opinion in all caps: STOP PICKING ON MADONNA.

Want to chime in? Click here or leave a comment at the bottom.

It ran a few days ago, but if you haven’t seen it, the Washington Post has a terrific profile of “Doonesbury’s” Garry Trudeau by Gene Weingarten. The cartoonist has earned praise for his storyline featuring B.D., the Walden football coach who lost a leg in Iraq.

And if you haven’t taken the Ken Jennings quiz yet, try your hand. All of the questions come from Jennings’ book “Brainiac” with the exception of the last -- one that Jennings couldn’t answer.
Occasional musings and gab about the world of entertainment.
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