Why It's Sad Sony Lost the Videogame Hardware Race at E3

E3's biggest loser? It's Sony. They've been lagging behind for years overall, but to lose at hardware, their strongest suit? What a pity.

Look at all three companies that define the industry. Microsoft is a software company, so Xbox has the best software and services, like Xbox Live, Zune and Windows Media Extender. Nintendo is fundamentally a games company, so they make the best games (or at least, the greatest quantity of amazing, if iterative games). Sony is a consumer electronics company, so they excel at hardware: The PlayStation 3 is defined by Blu-ray and its Cell processor; the PSP blew out the DS in terms of specs, not software. Raw hardware power.

So how the hell has Sony lost the hardware race two years running at E3? Squandering their most valuable brand, PlayStation, is a spectacular failure that doesn't bode well for a glorious return to the Sony of old.

In the Home

True to Sony form, PlayStation Move out-rawrs the Nintendo Wii's motion controls on paper, using the PlayStation Eye camera to track the Move controllers more accurately, with real depth-mapping. (And the technical demos of the hardware are just straight up neat.) But like Mark says, it's just Wii HD. It's derivative, not powerful. You wave sticks around. (It's not even superior to the Wii, at least in some game demos: "The combat? Laggy. And I never felt like my punches were registered the way I threw them onscreen.")

The home console hardware that garnered the most attention—judging by people's reactions, the lines at E3, and our own experiences—is Microsoft's completely controller-less Kinect, which seemingly promises something completely new. You are the controller with Kinect. That's killer hardware.

But wait! PlayStation 3 does 3D! The Xbox 360 does it, but Microsoft has kept it basically a secret, and the Wii doesn't have the capability to do "real" 3D at all. But guess what? No one will use 3D—at least not this generation. Sony's 3D advantage is a waste of hype because it necessitates the purchase of a $2000 3D-capable TV and $150 glasses, even though you just dropped a grand or more on an HDTV just a couple of years ago. It'll be a nice bonus for certain games, but nobody will design an experience entirely around 3D to sell, because there's such a small market of potential customers in this generation.

In the Lap

Nintendo's 3DS highlights the miserable position of the PSP and the complete bomb that was the PSP Go. When the PSP was announced in 2004, its hardware power shamed the DS. Last year, instead of a true successor to the PSP, Sony released the PSP Go, a sleeker, completely disc-less iteration of the PSP. Great idea (sort of), botched execution.

Now, Nintendo, the same company whose most cutting edge home console is stuffed with 10-year-old guts, is beating Sony on hardware with the 3DS, which has horsepower comparable to a Wii. And it's 3D!

Viewed in the context of Sony's massive, company-wide push on 3D (an impressively unified effort for Sony), the real swift-kick-to-the-nuts aspect of the 3DS is that it will probably be the first mass 3D piece of consumer electronics. It's cheaper, easier, portable, and you don't need glasses. Sony, the gigantonormous hardware company, just got punked by Nintendo, the short-sighted game company.

Taken together, Kinect and the 3DS paint a gloomy picture, not just for PlayStation, but for Sony and their entire worldview. For Microsoft and Nintendo, hardware is simply a means to an end. In the past, that meant they had out-maneuver Sony's hardware with killer games or services. Now, that ethos has driven them to produce better hardware. Sony didn't just lose at their own game; they've lost their reason to exist.

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