Ars Technica talks about how the fast pace of firmware releases for the Playstation 3 adds to the frustration of casual gamers. Being forced to update your system once per week or so makes people pissed off, and it’s worse for those who only play once in a while because it’s more likely that they will need to go through that every single time. I had a PS3 and I sold it for different reasons — I only used it as a Blu-ray player, as I prefer playing on the Xbox 360 — but I can talk about another, even worse, frustrating thing about Sony’s console: forced installation.
Unlike Steve Jobs, who claims that Blu-ray is a bag of hurt, I think that Blu-ray is great. I’ll take instant 1080p24 at 40-45 MBps over 720p at 10 MBps without hesitation. In fact, I had originally bought a Playstation 3 mostly as a Blu-ray player rather than as a gaming rig, and I recently sold that in order to get a simpler yet stand-alone player. It supports BD profile 2.0, so it can do all the fancy things such as downloading material off the internet, provide real-time updates about the characters of the movie you’re watching (if the disc supports that, of course) and so on.
Everything is great on paper, but falls short in practice. The reason? It’s slow. Really, really slow. And this is not just about my Samsung player, because the PS3 did the very same thing. Something is inherently wrong with BD-J. Certainly processing power is not lacking: decoding a 50-megabit stream in full high definition takes a whole lot of CPU. Can’t such big processors handle the new menus? And it’s not a problem with the network either: if 8 megabits aren’t enough for the menus, I don’t know what it is.
While the disc menus are still acceptable, BD Live in particular is unbelievably slow. It takes time to download the content, and that’s surprising considering how limited the interface is. I don’t know exactly how it’s developed, but a website with a similar interface would be measured in the tens (or hundreds at most) of kilobytes. Why the same thing has to take so much through BD-J is beyond me. Perhaps the bytecode is huge? (Or maybe Java sucks? Hmm… tough one there.) And then again, why is navigating the finally-at-last-downloaded interface such a pain? You press a button, and it takes well over a second to register. Again: this also applied to the PS3, so it’s not exclusive to my relatively low-end player, which incidentally also has “Internet applications,” and they are just as slow. Probably it’s just local BD-J stuff.
Oh, and as a side note: my parents’ Blu-ray player has no internal memory. Mine has 64 MB — megabytes — of flash. On the other hand, my ebook reader has a solid gigabyte. Why not toss in a little bit more so that users are not forced to use USB thumb drives to access online content? Perhaps they want to make it harder for users to notice how slow BD-J is?
The research company Ipsos ran a poll in the UK, and found out that “64 per cent of the users polled would rather have games on physical discs, while only 25 per cent would prefer digital copies”. The survey involved “over 1,000 Internet users aged between 15 and 50.” A detailed article about the findings is available at THINQ.
Such results do not surprise me in the slightest. I am a casual gamer, in that I usually buy a game every couple of months or so, and I usually purchase them from the UK, where they are much cheaper than in Italy. The reason I do that is that, since I never get games that have been just released, having to wait a week for the delivery is not a big deal. Savings versus instant gratification. (Disclaimer: that may not be the fact when GTA V comes out. Can’t help it.)