Sony Releases System Update 4.10 for PlayStation 3

Sony released new firmware for the PlayStation 3 today.  System Update version 4.10 (not yet mentioned on the update website as of this writing) claims browser improvements as its biggest feature, so I decided to give the browser a test run after I installed the new firmware (in order to be able to log on to the PlayStation Network).

Admittedly, the browser has come a long way since it was introduced on the PS3.  It is now comparable to a good mobile browser, which is to say that it's not perfect, but it's more than adequate for rendering most web sites.  Does it render every page perfectly?  No, but it's about as good as most smartphones or tablets.

A rendering error in the PS3 browser.Most of the problems in rendering revolve around fonts.  The CSS layouts are presented well enough, but the limited selection and sizes of fonts in the PS3's repertoire give it fewer options for finding the perfectly-sized font to fit the designers vision of how the web page should appear.  As a result, some text sections overflow their boundaries or don't line up exactly where they should be.

The browser does have a plug-in that supports some Flash content, but not all of it.  Flash animations and transitions worked fine in my testing, but Flash video did not.  This means that Flash-heavy sites like Cartoon Network will produce mixed results.  The more complicated or recent the Flash content, the less likely it is to work.

Of course all of this belies the question of whether browsing on a PS3 is worthwhile.  I don't use my console for surfing the web.  If I'm on the sofa, it usually because I want to watch something else on TV.  In that case, I would use a second screen like a smartphone or tablet to do some light surfing without taking myself away from the show.  And if I need to do any heavy lifting on the web, I want a computer with a full keyboard.  Unlike video content, web pages aren't any more appealing to me at forty inches than they are at thirteen inches.

Furthermore, web pages on the PS3 load slowly.  This is likely because the PS3 was optimized for pushing polygons and doing linear algebra and vector arithmetic, not network transmission.  And trying to type on the PS3's onscreen keyboard is a chore.  As a result, I probably could bounce through a series of web pages faster with a good smartphone than with the PS3.

Apple set a new standard for what mobile web browsing could be with the original iPhone and other non-computer browser makers have been playing catch-up ever since.  As an additional feature that's included with the cost of admission to PS3 ownership, the browser works pretty well.  But it is a questionable replacement for people who are likely to have better options for surfing at their disposal.

OnLive Expanding to Tablets and Phones

OnLive is doing it again.

The leaders in cloud gaming have now created an app that allows games to be played on a touch-screen tablet. Previously, there was an app for the iPad which only allowed viewing the OnLive interface. It was good for browsing the available games list or lurking on other games in progress via the Arena. That's great, but nothing beats being able to play your own games.

Soon that dream of playing AAA games on a handheld may be real. OnLive has already released an app for Android and will soon have one for iOS and Amazon's Kindle Fire. Some of the games will be redesigned specifically with touch controls; other games will be able to make use of OnLive's forthcoming Universal Wireless Controller. The new controller looks just like the old one that came with the Microconsole, but it supports Bluetooth and comes with a USB dongle that will allow it to connect to PCs, Macs, some tablets and smarthphones, and some televisions. This will allow you to have the console experience while using whatever display you have in front of you. The new controller will cost $50 and be available on December 9th.

The OnLive streaming technology should work over both Wi-Fi and 3G networks as long as the latency isn't too high. On slower connections the software will adjust and reduce the quality of the images on the fly which shouldn't pose too much of a problem on the smaller, lower-resolutions screens of most mobile devices. Although OnLive also claims that their software won't use as much data watching YouTube videos, people don't routinely watch YouTube videos for 30 minutes at a stretch over a cellular connection. It will be up to the user to manage his 3G data use.

XBOX 360 Console Bans

Major Nelson, Microsoft's XBOX game advocate, has reported on his blog that XBOX Live has begun aggressively enforcing bans against users with modded consoles.  The mods, of course, allow the use of bootlegged game discs. This bootlegging is bad for publishers on Microsoft's console, and hence bad for Microsoft. This doesn't represent a change in official Microsoft policy, just that enforcement has been stepped up.

[On a side note, this is one of the key reasons that Sony wanted Blu-ray in their latest console. Bootlegging PlayStation 2 discs was as easy as pie, and Sony didn't want to get burned again this time around. By putting games on Blu-ray, they get better encryption, images too big to transfer easily online, and discs that most of us still don't have the equipment to copy. Sorry to those of you who think otherwise, but it has little or no impact on graphical quality in games...not sure who started that myth.]

Of course this happens a couple months after I got my XBOX 360 modded. Of all the consoles I have owned, the 360 is the only one that has ever been modded. Why? Because after about 38 months of ownership and very delicate use, my XBOX 360 contracted the dreaded red ring of death (RROD) and stopped working. Microsoft informed me that I was just outside my warranty and told me that it would cost me $100 or so to get it fixed.

I didn't want to spend that much to get a three-year-old console fixed when I could get a newer one with more features for about $200. So I went to Craigslist and looked for a used system to buy. I was ready to pull the trigger when I came across an ad from someone who offered to repair the console for $50. Long story short, I take my console to this kid's house with $50, and two hours later he handed me my working console complete with mods. I never missed a day of gaming while waiting for the repairs to be done.

To be honest, I haven't made much use of the modding. I have maybe six bootleg games with dozens of legitimate games 360 in my library. To be sure, if I like a game or album or movie, I'm gonna buy it. But Microsoft refusing to continue supporting its early adopters after they bought a console with known defects is ridiculous. I jumped on board the XBOX 360 bandwagon long before most people, and my reward is that I paid more for a louder console with no HDMI port and a predictable hardware defect. Oh, and now I might get banned from XBOX Live. Thanks, Microsoft.