Tag Archives: playstation

Microsoft’s Xbox One almost invisible at Gadget Show Live

I looked in on London’s Gadget Show Live this morning. It was the usual frustrating experience: the things that were interesting were surrounded by hordes of visitors so you could barely get a look.


Here is what I found curious. Microsoft is the lead sponsor, but the Xbox One was shown only on a tiny stand near the back of the hall. Here it is – all of it.


By contrast, Sony had a huge stand for PlayStation 4. Apologies; my snap does not show the scale well.


That said, Microsoft had its own massive stand, but for Windows, with a strong push for Surface tablets and a reasonable presence for Windows Phone.

However, if you look at the demographic of the show, with lots of kids even on a Friday, it is better suited to gaming consoles than to relatively expensive tablets – though to be fair, the Windows tablets seemed to be attracting a fair amount of attention.

I had a chat with a guy from Sonos at its stand. Will Sonos support high resolution formats (better then CD quality)? This is almost a trick question as I’m not sure you can hear the difference; but there is nevertheless strong demand for it in the slightly crazy world of high-end audio. Apparently there are ways to do it now, but the Sonos engineers are working at bringing full support into the range.

Sonos has apps for iOS and Android; what if I have a Windows Phone? No support yet but again I got the impression that this is being looked at. There is a public API so third-party support is also possible. They appear also to be considering a Windows 8 store app though nothing is confirmed.

Panasonic had a rather lovely 4K display running full resolution video – only £5,499 – as well as a 3D display which looked great though it requires glasses. Don’t bother with 4K unless you have a 42″ or bigger screen, I was told by a Panasonic guy.


I also watched a bit of Gadget Show Live in the Super Theatre. Sorry, but I thought it was dreadful. Little innovation on show, slightly risqué humour despite the presence of many kids in the audience – “I’ve got a new girlfriend, you should see her Nokias” said a robot comedian, for example. I may be in a minority as the show overall seemed to go down OK.

Talking of the robot comedian, it was controlled by a Windows 8 tablet strapped to its back. After three or four jokes something went wrong and it had to be controlled manually, reducing the robot to little more than a fancy powered loudspeaker. Never mind.

NVIDIA’s GPU in the cloud: will you still want an Xbox or PlayStation?

NVIDIA’s GPU Technology conference is an unusual event, in part a get-together for academic researchers using HPC, in part a marketing pitch for the company. The focus of the event is on GPU computing, in other words using the GPU for purposes other than driving a display, such as processing simulations to model climate change or fluid dynamics, or to process huge amounts of data in order to calculate where best to drill for oil. However NVIDIA also uses the event to announce its latest GPU innovations, and CEO Jen-Hsun Huang used this morning’s keynote to introduce its GPU in the cloud initiative.

This takes two forms, though both are based on a feature of the new “Kepler” wave of NVIDIA GPUs which allows them to render graphics to a stream rather than to a display. It is the world’s first virtualized GPU, he claimed.


The first target is enterprise VDI (Virtual Desktop Infrastructure). The idea is that in the era of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) there is high demand for the ability to run Windows applications on devices of every kind, perhaps especially Apple iPads. This works fine via virtualisation for everyday applications, but what about GPU-intensive applications such as Autocad or Adobe Photoshop? Using a Kepler GPU you can run up to 100 virtual desktop instances with GPU acceleration. NVIDIA calls this the VGX Platform.


What actually gets sent to the client is mostly H.264 video, which means most current devices have good support, though of course you still need a remote desktop client.

The second target is game streaming. The key problem here – provided you have enough bandwidth – is minimising the lag between when a player moves or clicks Fire, and when the video responds. NVIDIA has developed software called the Geforce GRID which it will supply along with specially adapted Kepler GPUs to cloud companies such as Gaikai. Using the Geforce GRID, lag is reduced, according to NVIDIA, to something close to what you would get from a game console.


We saw a demo of a new Mech shooter game in which one player is using an Asus Transformer Prime, an Android tablet, and the other an LG television which has a streaming client built in. The game is rendered in the cloud but streamed to the clients with low latency.


“This is your game console,” said NVIDIA CEO Jen-Sun Huang, holding the Ethernet cable that connected the TV to the internet.


The concept is attractive for all sorts of reasons. Users can play games without having to download and install, or connect instantly to a game being played by a friend. Game companies are protected from piracy, because the game code runs in the cloud, not on the device.

NVIDIA does not plan to run its own cloud services, but is working with partners, as the following slide illustrates. On the VDI side, Citrix, Microsoft, VMWare and Xen were mentioned as partners.


If cloud GPU systems take off, will it cannibalise the market for powerful GPUs in client devices, whether PCs, game consoles or tablets? I put this to Huang in the press Q&A after the keynote, and he denied it, saying that people like designers hate to share their PCs. It was an odd and unsatisfactory answer. After all, if Huang is saying that your games console is now an Ethernet cable, he is also saying that there is no need any longer for game consoles which contain powerful NVIDIA GPUs. The same might apply to professional workstations, with the logic that cloud computing always presents: that shared resources have better utilisation and therefore lower cost.

New Sony PlayStation Network hack: not as bad as you may have heard

Sony’s Chief Security Officer Philip Reitinger has reported a new attack on the PlayStation network leading to headlines stating Sony hacked again. Has the company not learned from the incidents earlier this year?

Actually, it probably has; the new hacking attempt does not exploit any weakness in Sony’s network unless you consider any system reliant on username/password to be weak – not an unreasonable opinion, but given that the likes of Apple and Amazon and PayPal still use it, hardly fair to single out Sony.

If you read the statement carefully, it says that somebody obtained a large list of username/password pairs and ran them against Sony’s network. Further:

given that … the overwhelming majority of the pairs resulted in failed matching attempts, it is likely the data came from another source and not from our Networks

Because of the large number of PlayStation users, there were still 93,000 successful matches, which to its credit Sony says it detected – presumably there was a pattern to the attack, such as a limited range of source IP numbers or other evidence of automated log-in attempts.

If Sony is right, and the list of passwords came from another source, there is no reason why the hacker might not try the same list against other targets and this is not evidence of a weakness in the PlayStation network itself.

As Reitinger notes:

We want to take this opportunity to remind our consumers about the increasingly common threat of fraudulent activity online, as well as the importance of having a strong password and having a username/password combination that is not associated with other online services or sites. We encourage you to choose unique, hard-to-guess passwords and always look for unusual activity in your account.

It is good advice, though can be impractical if you have a very large number of online accounts. Something like PasswordSafe or Keypass is near-essential for managing them, if you are serious about maintaining numerous different combinations.

From what we know so far though, this is not evidence of continued weakness in the PlayStation network; rather, it is evidence of the continued prevalence of hacking attempts. Kudos to Sony for its open reporting.

Sony PlayStation network hacked, some disclosure, questions remain

Sony has posted information about the “illegal intrusion on our systems” that has caused the PlayStation Network (PSN) to be closed temporarily. PSN is necessary for playing online games and downloading music and videos.

Sony has disclosed that:

Between April 17 and April 19 2011 an attacker gained access to “user account information”

The information includes:

name, address (city, state, zip), country, email address, birthdate, PlayStation Network/Qriocity password and login, and handle/PSN online ID. It is also possible that your profile data, including purchase history and billing address (city, state, zip), and your PlayStation Network/Qriocity password security answers may have been obtained.

The information might include:

While there is no evidence at this time that credit card data was taken, we cannot rule out the possibility. If you have provided your credit card data through PlayStation Network or Qriocity, out of an abundance of caution we are advising you that your credit card number (excluding security code) and expiration date may have been obtained

The remainder of the information is mainly generic advice on fraud prevention. Many comments to the blog post make the reasonable point: why were they not informed earlier?

How many users are on PSN? The number 75 million is widely reported. In January Sony claimed over 69 million PSN members.

It is easy to say that Sony should have operated a more secure system. Making a judgment on that is hard because there is a lot we do not know. Was this information encrypted? Sony says passwords were stolen, which may mean they were unencrypted though that is hard to believe; or that they were encrypted but likely to be easily decrypted, which is perhaps more likely. On the other hand the fact that encryption is not mentioned in the post tends to suggest that none of this information was encrypted.

The scale of the incident makes it remarkable but the fact of network intrusions and personal data being stolen is not surprising, and likely much more of this happens than is reported.

The state of internet security overall remains poor and what we see constantly is that security best practices are ignored. Convenience and the desire of marketers to grab as much personal data as possible constantly trumps security.

Here is Kim Cameron, Microsoft’s identity architect, writing in 2005:

We should build systems that employ identifying information on the basis that a breach is always possible. Such a breach represents a risk. To mitigate risk, it is best to acquire information only on a “need to know” basis, and to retain it only on a “need to retain” basis. By following these practices, we can ensure the least possible damage in the event of a breach.

The concept of “least identifying information” should be taken as meaning not only the fewest number of claims, but the information least likely to identify a given individual across multiple contexts. For example, if a scenario requires proof of being a certain age, then it is better to acquire and store the age category rather than the birth date. Date of birth is more likely, in association with other claims, to uniquely identify a subject, and so represents “more identifying information” which should be avoided if it is not needed.

Cameron’s thoughtful and excellent “laws of identity” lack take-up within Microsoft as well as elsewhere; the CardSpace system that was built to support it was scrapped.

An example of the low priority of security around the web is the prevalence of “password security answers” as Sony describes them. This is additional information that allow you to recover an account if the password is forgotten, especially if the email address associated with the account is no longer in use. Contrary to the impression given by the forms that require the information, these questions and answers reduce your security in order to ease the burden on support. They break Cameron’s laws of identity by providing the third party with information that it does not need, such as mother’s maiden name, though of course you can provide fictional answers and in fact I recommend this.

Personally I am also one of those people who never tick the “save credit card details” box. I am happy to enter them every time, rather than hand them over to a system of unknown security. Some sites do not let you make purchases without saving credit card details; as I recall, Amazon is one of them, and Apple another. This means the consequences of security breaches at these companies are greater, though I imagine they also make more sales since the friction of the purchasing process is reduced.

I am not optimistic that internet security will improve in the near future, though I guess that major breaches like this one are a force for reform.

Update: In a new post Sony says that credit card data was encrypted but personal data was not. I am surprised if this included passwords; but the IT world is full of surprises.

First impressions of Microsoft Kinect – great hardware waiting for great software

The moment of magic comes when someone walks through the gaming area and Xbox flashes up the message that they have signed in. No button was pressed; this was face recognition working in the background during gameplay.

So Kinect is amazing. And it is amazing: it is controller-less video gaming that works well enough to have a lot of fun. That said, I also have reservations about the device, though these are first impressions only, and feel it is let down in a big way by the games currently available.

My device arrived on the UK launch day, November 10th. It is a relatively compact affair, around 28 cm wide on a stubby stand. The first task is positioning it, which can be a challenge. You are meant to place it above or below your TV screen, at a height of between 0.6m to 1.8m. I was lucky, in that our TV is on a stand that has space for it; the height is fractionally below 0.6m but it seems to be happy. Alternatively, you can purchase a free-standing support or a bracket that clips to the top of a TV. I imagine there are some frustrated first-day purchasers who received a device but cannot satisfactorily position it.

You also need free space in front of the set. Our coffee table got moved when the Nintendo Wii arrived, so the 6ft required for one-player play is not a problem.  Two-player is more difficult; we can do it but it means moving furniture, which is a nuisance. Overall it is more intrusive than the Wii, but less than Rock Band or Guitar Hero with the drum kit, so not a deal-breaker.

Microsoft takes full advantage of over-the-wire updates with Kinect. After connecting, the Xbox, the device firmware, and the bundled Kinect Adventures game all received patches; but the procedure went smoothly.

Kinect is a sophisticated device, a lot more than just a camera. There are three major subsystems in Kinect: optical, audio and motor.

  • Motor is the simplest – the stubby stand also contains a motor assembly that swivels the device up and down, enabling it to allow for different positions and to find the optimal angle for players of different heights.
  • The optical subsystem includes two cameras and an infra-red projector. The projector overlays a pattern on the field of view. This allows the first camera, a depth sensor, to map the position of the players in three dimensions. This lets the system detect hand movements, for example, which are usually closer to the camera than the rest of the body. The second camera is a colour device more like the one in your webcam, and enables Kinect to take pictures of your gaming antics which you can share with the world if you feel so inclined, as well as presumably feeding into the positioning system.
  • The audio subsystem includes no less than four microphones. The reason is that Kinect does voice recognition at a distance, so needs to be able to compensate for both the sounds of the video game and other background noise. Using multiple microphones enables the audio processor to calculate the position of sounds, since each microphone will receive a sound at a fractionally different time.

These sensors systems are backed by considerable processing power – necessary because the Xbox itself devotes most of its processing to the game being played. The trade-off in systems like this is that the more processing means more accurate interpretation of voice and gestures, but taking too much time introduces lag. As I saw at the NVIDIA GPU conference in September – see here and here for posts – very rapid processing enables magic like robotic pinhole surgery on a beating heart – and like Kinect, that magic is based on real-time interpretation of physical movement. Kinect is not at that level, but has audio and image processor chips and 512MB RAM, along with other components including for some reason an accelerometer, mounted on three circuit boards squashed into the slim plastic container. See for yourself in the ifixit teardown.

But how is it in practice? It certainly works, and we had a good and energetic time playing Kinect Adventures and a little bit of Joy Ride. Playing without a controller is a liberating experience. That said, there were some annoyances:

  • Kinect play is more vulnerable to interference than controller gaming. If someone walks across the play area, for example, it will interfere.
  • In the Kinect system, there is no such thing as a click. Therefore, to activate an option you have to hover over it for a short period while a progress circle fills; when the circle is filled, the system decides that you have “clicked”. It is slower and less reliable than clicking a button.
  • The audio system enables voice control which seems to work well when available, but most of the time it seems not to be available. Considering the amount of hardware dedicated to this, it seems rather a waste; but presumably more is to come. Controlling Sky player by voice, for example, would be great; no more hunting for the remote.
  • The Kinect seems to work best when you are standing. For something like a driving game, that is not what you want. Apparently seated gameplay is supported, but does not work properly with the launch games; so watch this space.

Launching stuff before it is really ready seems to be ingrained in Microsoft’s culture. Is Kinect another example? To some extent I suspect it is. I recall the early days with the Nintendo Wii as exciting moments of discovery: the system worked well from the get-go, and the bundled Wii Sports game is a masterpiece. The Kinect games so far are less impressive.

In fact, my overwhelming impression so far is that this is great hardware waiting for software to show what it can do. The 20,000 Leaks mini-game in Adventures is not very good – you are in a glass cage underwater and have to cover leaks to stem them – but it is interesting because you have to use head, hands and feet to play it. It could not be duplicated with a conventional controller, because a conventional controller does not allow you to move one thing this way, and another thing that way, at the same time.

It follows that Kinect should enable some brilliant new gaming concepts. I’d love to see a stealth adventure done for Kinect, for example; there are new possibilities for realism and excitement.

As it is, the Kinect launch games show little imagination and seem to be heavily Wii-influenced – and if you compare Kinect with Wii on that basis, you might well conclude that the Wii is better in some ways, worse in others, but cheaper and with better games, and without the friction of Kinect’s somewhat fussy requirements.

Such a comparison is not fair to Kinect, which in concept and hardware is a generation ahead of Wii or PlayStation Move. It now awaits software to take advantage.