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Classic Front Row, Sofa articles from the days.


The Beginning Of The End Or The End Of The Beginning?

Sometime in the year 2000 it's expected that 20th Century Fox and/or Disney will introduce rental pricing for DVD.

What does this mean for DVD advocates? For some, it's the beginning the end, and for the others the end of the beginning.

VHS became the video powerhouse it is today primarily because of two things.

The first was porno. VHS recorders were available for some time before they really started to sell, and what really kicked the numbers up was the availability of hard-core porn at home. Your standard issue perverts no longer needed to gather up their trench coat and head for the theater, they were now able to bring Deep Throat and other adult classics home and peruse them at their leisure.

The second thing which drove VHS player sales was video rental. The studios were opposed to the idea of renting their movies to the public, primarily because of piracy issues, but eventually came around when video revenues started to become a significant portion of their income. Now, a film isn't green lighted before the domestic and international video markets are taken into account.

DVD has gotten this far because of a relatively new force in the market. Sell-through.

A number of years back, some of the studios (most notably Disney) figured out that if they priced their VHS videos at less than $30, people would buy them for their home library. Using this technique, coupled with the moratorium on their titles, Disney has made billions of dollars off of home video revenue.

When the DVD group came up with the DVD standard, a part of that standard was to offer sell-through pricing. As such, DVDs have been priced very low (with a few exceptions), and even titles which were only available for rental on VHS (i.e. The Matrix) are available for purchase on DVD. Very soon this will change.

Now that the DVD market has gotten larger, the studios are beginning to look very seriously at the idea of rental pricing. The concept is very simple, and goes something like this:

If a DVD is priced for sell-through, at a suggested list of $29.95, the studio probably sells that DVD to the distributors at a price of around $12 (most retailers don't sell at suggested list, instead selling for a significant discount off list). The cost of the DVD is around $3 after packaging, etc. is taken into consideration, possibly as high as $5 when marketing is considered (although that's usually piggybacked on the VHS marketing). If the studio sells 50,000 copies of the DVD in question, then they make around $450,000. No small lump of change to us, but very much pennies in the bucket to a studio like 20th Century Fox (when you consider they're used to talking about millions of dollars).

Even the best selling DVD on the market, the Matrix, has probably brought in around $8 million for Warner Brothers. A big chunk of change, but consider that they've been selling the VHS at rental pricing ($100 ) and have probably sold close to the same number of VHS copies as DVD. That equals around $80 million.

Eventually, everything is priced for sell-through (usually six months to a year after rental pricing is introduced), but fiscally it makes great sense for the studio to price for rental initially on some titles. It can make even more sense when revenue-sharing (allowing stores to buy multiple copies of a title at a discount, in exchange for a percentage of the rental revenue) is taken into account.

More popular titles (i.e. Disney animated titles) are priced for sell-through right from the get-go. Less popular titles (especially straight-to-video titles) are priced strictly for rental, with sell-through prices taking a long time to come into effect.

So what does this mean for DVD owners?

Well, in some ways it means the party's over. No longer will you be able to buy that obscure horror title for under $30. In other ways, it's just beginning.

The increased popularity of DVD (as evidenced by more than 500,000 players sold into retail through September) will mean more movies will be released on the format. The introduction of rental pricing policies will also mean more obscure titles will be released on the format. Unfortunately, most of us won't be able to afford to buy them.

Still, is it really that painful to wait an extra six months before buying the DVD of Hellraiser XVIII? More popular titles like Star Wars (if it ever comes out on DVD), The Sixth Sense and The Matrix will always be priced for sell-through initially. The studios lose too much heat with rental pricing on these types of titles. Less popular titles will be priced for sell-through, but honestly, most of us are probably renting those titles anyhow.

The only people this change will be really bad for are mom and pop video stores, who will lose the ability to recoup costs on rental DVDs very quickly. Sadly, it once again becomes Blockbuster's territory, and that's a shame.

And so it DVD grows, expect to see more changes like this, but it's all good for the format in the end. And besides, now those porno people can watch Deep Throat frame-by-frame. How can rental pricing be worse than that?

Last week's quote of the week was identified correctly by Daniel Morrell, who identified the quote as coming from Network. He joins the elite group of people who have answered a quote of the week correctly twice.

This week's quote is from a film which is not as popular as some other like-minded films, but should be. First person to get it right wins a copy of Mars Attacks!

Man #1: I'm not dead.
Man #2: What are you then?
Man #1: I'm Alive!

Anyone who's seen the film should recognize the's a pretty intense film. If you know where it's from, email me at


Eye Patches, Peg-legs and Parrots

Hundreds of years ago, pirates were seen as people with an eye patch, a peg leg and maybe a parrot on their shoulder. Nowadays, it's typically a clean cut guy, with a daytime office job, and a very fast Internet connection.

If you've seen a movie, there's a bootleg version of it available easily off the Internet The quality can vary widely; some copies have people's heads in the way of the screen and a soundtrack replete with coughing and MTM chatter, others are made on professional telecine equipment, and rival the quality of any big studio home video release, but one thing remains consistent. They're cheap, and they're readily available.

The availability of pirate videos on the Internet becomes apparent when you type in a simple URL like

, and a website actually shows up. The aforementioned website doesn't have feature length films, but instead specializes in music video and rarity videos. They claim the films they have are noncommercial in nature, and that nobody has the legal right to them. When you look at copyright law in any industrialized nation, you see that copyrights are held by the creator of the material, and can only be relinquished when the copyright is actively released (i.e. "I release this video to the public domain") to the public. They're clearly in violation of that law, but still they flaunt their warez openly and without fear of retribution.

Now, video piracy is not always a bad thing. Glenn Erickson over at The DVD Resource page ( recently wrote a great article on how bootleg copies of films represent a way for studios to obtain previously lost material for classic films. Also, if it weren't for the proliferation of multiple VCRs in the average North American household, I would say that "sell-through" pricing of video titles may have never become a reality. Overall, though, video piracy is very bad for the industry.

It's also worth mentioning that most bootleg copies of films are terrible when it comes to quality. Most people who own DVD players at this point are interested in having a high quality representation of their favorite films. The tenth-generation VHS copies or low-resolution Video CDs offered by the bootleggers don't offer much for the videophiles out there.

The only reason Divx lasted as long as it did, and received the studio support it did, was because of its high-end video encryption technology. Divx was essentially pirate-proof, at least as a digital format. In order to pirate a film available on Divx, the person pirating the film would have to record the film back to an analog device (i.e. a VCR), then create a digital master from there. Making extremely high-quality dupes this way is not feasible. The studios like the idea of having their work protected against bootleggers, and are willing to back any company which can offer them greater encryption.

Video piracy is another one of the shopping list of reasons why we haven't seen as many films on DVD as we should've by now. It's no secret that some of the biggest studios (Fox, Paramount) held out as long as possible before embracing DVD not just because of the size of the market, but also because they had legitimate copyright concerns. DVD does have some encryption technology built in, but it's not that hard to circumvent. I've found several freeware and shareware programs for ripping the video content off of commercial DVDs. They then create raw MPEG2 files on the computer's hard drive which can be used as a 100% digital master for pirate DVDs.

Using this software, digital pirates can have a perfect copy of a film just released on DVD in the US available in Hong Kong, Thailand, or anywhere else in the world in as little as a few hours. With a highspeed connection to the Internet, it isn't even necessary for these pirates to physically send packages around the world, they can simply transmit the files.

What's worse, is that these pirates take advantage of the rental pricing window currently in place on most movies released on VHS. A film like Pushing Tin, for example, is released as a rental on VHS (copies cost upwards of $100 to purchase), but as sell-through on DVD ($35). The pirates pick up a copy of the DVD, digitally rip the files, and can create region-free copies of the DVD for distribution around the world, plus they have a digital master from which they can make flawless VHS copies. It's no wonder the studios are worried about this.

To make matters worse, once a digital master exists, it can spread around the Internet and be available globally pretty much instantly. This flawless "copy" of the film can be distributed to millions of people in very little time, and the results could be devastating at the box office. This is not a reality right now, primarily because of quality issues (most bootlegs are still very low quality) and because of the amount of time it takes to download a copy of a film. As Internet connections become faster, and DVD-ROM drives become more common, not to mention the proliferation of digital delivery to movie theaters, we're going to see video piracy spread like wildfire. It will become as much of a problem for the film industry as software piracy has been for the computer industry.

In Hong Kong, for example, video piracy has become so rampant that it is threatening the legitimate film industry. Because of the damage done by piracy, the average film budget has been cut by seventy-five percent. If something isn't done about video piracy on a global scale, you can expect the US market to eventually follow the same path.

Of course, the big question is, what can be done about it?

The first step, of course, is to crack down on the pirate video distributors. These are the people who do the most damage, because they're intention is to make money off the bootlegged product they're distributing. As such, they're selling hundreds or thousands of copies, and each copy they sell hits the studios in the pocketbook. Whether they're selling their product in a booth at a flea market, or via a site on the Internet is irrelevant. They should be stopped, and quickly.

From there I think the onus is on the studios to offer good product at reasonable prices. So far, DVD has been pretty good on this front, with a few notable exceptions (Disney, Fox). As long as people can get "the real thing" at a decent price, they will. The majority of people feel a need to be honest and aboveboard, and the best way to encourage people to stay that way is by offering consumers real value.

The major film studios have a small window of opportunity they can use to reduce the effect of piracy. If they're smart, they'll take advantage of that window while they have it. If they're not, then we can look forward to a future filled with low-budget, no frills films, because that's all the studios will be able to afford to make.

Last week's quote of the week was correctly identified as coming from Fritz Lang's Metropolis by David Sutherland. Now, David's a nice guy, so rather than having me send him the copy of Twister which he won, he asked that I sent it to his parents. Geez...what a nice guy.

This week's quote is from a more recent film. The quote's pretty easy. The first person who gets it right wins a copy of The Fugitive.

Woman: But what of all those sweet words you spoke in private?
Man: Oh that's just what we call pillow talk baby, that's all.

As usual, if you know where it's from email me at


Kings' Corpse Controversy

Ever since people started going crazy with guns in high schools, post offices and shopping malls, there's been a lot of talk about violence in popular culture. Pundits have been quick to lay blame on the multitude of violent movies, video games and television shows easily available to people of a less than stable nature.

The latest salvo was fired in this ongoing debate last week, when the latest film from David O. Russell (Spanking the Monkey, Flirting With Disaster) was about to be released.

The movie is Three Kings, starring George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Ice Cube and Spike Jonze. The controversy arose because of a report which stated that Russell had used a real corpse for a scene where Clooney's character explains the downside of "action" to the other characters. The corpse in question is used to demonstrate the damage a bullet does to the human body when it penetrates the skin.

The controversy, of course, swirled around the use of a real corpse in a movie. Lots of questions were bandied about very quickly, including questions about where he got the corpse, was using the corpse legal, and would audiences walk out on the film if they knew it was a real corpse.

Alas, the controversy died down just as quickly once Russell commented publicly that the comment he made was nothing more than a joke. A sarcastic answer to a dumb question. He revealed once and for all that the shot in question was made with a prosthetic. As a side note, having seen the movie, I'm baffled as to how the question could arise in the first place. We're talking about a shot which shows the interior of the human body being damaged by a bullet flying through it. When's the last time you saw a nice "in body" camera?

The reason I say "alas" up above is because anything which creates discussion about violence in cinema is a good thing. I'm certainly not saying using a real corpse would be a positive move, but it would create discussion. Discussion about desensitization to violence, the overabundance of violence in films and the irresponsible way in which violence is used.

If Three Kings had been the commercial and critical success it currently is, even with the corpse intact, then we'd be seeing a discussion of another type We'd be forced to look at ourselves and determine if we went to see the movie because it was responsible cinema, or because it was a big budget pseudo-snuff film. And if we saw it because of the latter, we'd have to question ourselves as to whether the film had changed us in a positive or negative way (and seeing a bullet tear through a real corpse would probably change just about everybody).

Still, the quick kafuffle gave Russell a brief moment in time to talk about violence in cinema, and a lot of the things he said made sense.

Russell spoke out about how he believed in responsible violence in cinema, and how every shot in Three Kings counted. He's right. The violence in Three Kings is kept to a minimum, and used sparingly, but effectively. Bullets tear through flesh leaving more than an artificial wound, but also an emotional impact upon the audience. Three Kings truly represents the forefront in responsible violence on film.

The most interesting thing about this whole controversy, though, is that nobody blinks twice at artificial violence in cinema. The only thing which caused this story to make headlines were the words "real cadaver". Had it been known that a prosthesis was used all along, the violence in the film would've gone unmentioned, and only those people who went to see the film would've known about the anti-violence message each bullet shot carries.

Maybe it's exactly this kind of desensitization to violence which is the problem. I personally have no problem with violence in film, as long as it's used with a purpose. It's the same as sex. Throwing a nude scene in just for the sake of having a naked actress (or actor) on screen pulls the viewer out of the movie. It's jarring and unrealistic. Violence is the same way. If it's simply used as eye candy to keep the audience from falling asleep, then it desensitizes us. It causes us to not blink when real violence happens in the world, and that can be a bad thing. If it's presence in a movie serves a purpose, to drive the story forward, to make an emotional impact, to awaken the audience to the horrors of violence, then I feel it can be a great cinematic tool.

Mark Wahlberg said it best himself, "When I first saw it, I got grossed out. I don't even want to pick up a gun again. I see violence on TV, and I don't look at it the way I did before."

It's time for filmmakers to stop using violence as filler, and start using it as a responsible tool. I'll be the first to say that the presence of violence in cinema is a reflection of society, not the other way around, but that doesn't mean the film can't be used to change the prevailing violent attitudes in our culture. The studios should take a chance and give us what we need, not necessarily what we want.

Last week's quote of the week was answered correctly by Daniel Morrell, who was the first to correctly identify the quote as coming from Very Bad Things. He has a shiny new copy of The Fugitive on the way to him.

If you want to receive a copy of the DVD of Twister, starring Helen Hunt, Bill Paxton and some great special effects, be the first one to email me at with the source of this quote:

Son: "It was their hands that built this city of ours, Father. But where do the hands belong in your scheme?"
Father: "In their proper place, the depths."

I'll warn you, this is easily the hardest quote I've used to date. The film is very (very) old, and probably hasn't been seen by a lot of people who are still alive. I chose this quote because the film in question has a great social message which still holds true to this day. If nobody gets it, the contest will carry over to next week.




Way back in 1997, before there was such a thing as a Sega Dreamcast or a Playstation2, there was an announcement from an unknown company called VMLabs. VMLabs had a technology which they claimed would revolutionize the video game industry. It would eliminate a lot of the hassles associated with video gaming, and replace them with a standardized platform with great developer support. That technology was originally code-named Project X, and eventually renamed as NUON.

VMLabs has a pretty decent pedigree in the video game industry. It was founded by Richard Miller, who previously worked for Atari. Miller was responsible for the Atari Jaguar, a powerful, but ultimately unsuccessful video game platform. The other two senior positions are filled by Nichols Lefevre, previously of Commodore, Atari and Sega, and Bill Rehbock, who was responsible for library development for the Playstation during his tenure at Sony.

The NUON from VMLabs represents the first of the DVD based video gaming units, and should be out sometime in the year 2000. The business model for the NUON, however, is quite different from that of the Playstation2 (or for that matter, Sega Dreamcast or Nintendo Dolphin). VMLabs has decided to take a page from the 3DO school of thought, and license their technology to outside manufacturers. They have, however, learned from the mistakes that 3DO made, and adjusted their business plan accordingly.

First, a little history.

The 3DO Multiplayer was the brainchild of former Electronic Arts founder Trip Hawkins. Trip thought the whole idea of having competing video game "platforms" was ridiculous, and that video gaming wouldn't truly become mainstream until a common platform existed. 3DO's mandate was to create that standard, then license the hardware technology to outside manufacturers. 3DO would make its money from licensing fees, and of course from software.

Now, as you've probably determined from the lack of a 3DO Multiplayer in your home, the idea was a resounding failure. The biggest problem was the cost of the hardware. At $700, it was just too expensive to take off. The only company which licensed the hardware from 3DO was Matsushita. Eventually, 3DO sold off the entire hardware design for the second generation of 3DO Multiplayer (M2), along with 3DO's entire hardware division. The M2 was never released as a consumer product. 3DO reorganized and became a (still successful) software developer and publisher, following in the footsteps of Trip Hawkins' earlier venture, Electronic Arts.

VMLabs has learned at least some of the lessons 3DO taught the industry.

First and foremost, video game manufacturers (Sega, Nintendo, Sony, etc.) rarely, if ever, make any money selling the hardware. They make the money off the software. So, the challenge becomes finding a way to make your platform attractive to hardware manufacturers.

VMLabs found an interesting way around this problem. They're selling the NUON as a low-cost alternative to MPEG2 decompression. This means that NUON hardware will potentially be sold in cable boxes, satellite television decoders, and of course DVD players. If the cost was less than, or at the very least comparable to current MPEG2 decompression solutions, then NUON would be attractive to hardware manufacturers.

VMLabs eventually found Toshiba, their first hardware partner, in May of 1999. Toshiba plans to introduce their first NUON-based DVD players sometime in the year 2000.

Another problem was the inherent cost of the 3DO technology. It was expensive to build. NUON is essentially a replacement part, allowing hardware partners to remove some other (expensive) technology and replace it with the NUON technology. If VMLabs' plan works out right, eventually having NUON technology in your DVD player (or cable box or satellite decoder) could actually be less expensive than not having it.

The presence of a hardware partner doesn't mean a lot at this point, because there's still no software. To get around that issue, VMLabs has signed deals with a number of developers, including Acclaim, GT Interactive and Digital Leisure. Several pieces of NUON software should be ready to go at the time of the hardware launch.

The deals which have been struck with VMLabs do not make their battle any easier, though. The NUON technology will be entering a crowded marketplace.

The Sega Dreamcast has just had a successful launch, and the odds are pretty good that the games Sega has will be more attractive to gamers than the product available with the NUON. To compound this problem, Sony's Playstation2 should be hitting the market in the year 2000 as well. Between these two products, and the constant reduction in DVD player pricing, NUON is hit hard in its two core markets.

The video gaming side is covered quite amply by Sony and Sega (and eventually Nintendo, as well). DVD players keep coming down in price, so as long as the NUON is not being mass produced, it's not getting any cheaper. Also, new developers are not exactly flocking to the NUON. So far, Toshiba is the only major hardware partner, and the list of software developers is not exactly overwhelming.

New hardware partners are also going to be hard to come by.

Matsushita has partnered with Nintendo on the Dolphin, and will be releasing a more expensive version of that system which plays games and movies (the same market as NUON). You can bet Nintendo and Matsushita's deal includes a disclaimer covering exclusivity. Matsushita will not be partnering with VMLabs any time soon.

Sony has, of course, the Playstation2, and as long as VMLabs intends on invading the Playstation2's market, Sony has no interest in competing technology. One only needs to look at how long Sony kept selling Betamax units in the face of VHS to see how unattractive competing formats are to the electronics giant. Unless VMLabs actually manages to conquer the market with NUON, Sony will not be interested.

Phillips has been burned on this kind of thing before, with their own billion-dollar baby, the CDi. Don't expect Phillips to get on board unless VMLabs backs up the money truck.

Other manufacturers will be cautious, at best, and unresponsive at worst. Unless VMLabs is going to offer hardware manufacturers a piece of the software pie (which is unlikely, since most of VMLabs' profit would be expected to come from software), the big boys like Samsung, Pioneer and Kenwood are not going to get on board. There's just not enough in it for them, given the risk involved.

Couple all this difficulty with the fact that NUON is starting to look pretty old by today's standards (it was initially revealed in 1997, after all), and you see that VMLabs has an uphill battle in a crowded arena.

Also, VMLabs doesn't exactly glow with stability. A visit to their website reveals press releases with broken links, nonfunctional email addresses, and a public relations firm which can't be contacted. These are the type of things which make me doubt VMLabs' ability to survive until their hardware launch in 2000.

Still, the existence of Toshiba as a hardware partner does offer a glimmer of hope. Toshiba wants a way into the video game market (It wouldn't surprise me if Toshiba owned a significant chunk of VMLabs - because VMLabs is privately held, shareholder information is unavailable), and the NUON offers them a way to do it. If they put their considerable marketing money behind this platform, it could just beat the odds and become a success.

Also, it's worth noting that the most popular games of all times are typically the ones which don't appeal to the hard-core gamer, but instead to the average Joe. Games like Deer Hunter and Myst easily outsell games like Command & Conquer and Warcraft, even though both of the former titles are loathed by gamers. The software developers which are onboard with NUON tend to be those kind of mass-market companies. Companies like Hasbro Interactive (Monopoly, etc.) and Digital Leisure (Dragon's Lair, Space Ace) are not as interested in hard-core gamers as they are the average person. NUON could become a success in spite of gamers, rather than because of them.

The NUON represents an interesting, if not entirely convincing, piece of technology. It has the potential to really hit the mass market, but lacks that special "spark" a product of this type needs to get off the ground. Ultimately, it'll be up to the public to decide between competing technologies like the Sega Dreamcast, Sony Playstation2, Nintendo Dolphin, and of course VMLabs NUON.

Last week's quote of the week was answered correctly by Ron DeVoe (no relation to the band). He was the first person to correctly identify the quote as coming from Robert Zemeckis' Contact starring Jodie Foster and Matthew McConaughey. For being the first in with the quote of the week, Ron gets a copy of Harrison Ford's great action film, The Fugitive.

This week's quote is from a lesser seen and lesser known flick.

"Your kid is one crutch short of a telethon."

As usual, if you know where the quote is from, email me at


Playstation2 II (Or Is That Too?)

Last week's editorial on the Playstation2 definitely got the attention of a number of people. I don't think we've ever had a single article get so many hits here at DVDFuture. Hundreds of you read the article and then sent me emails about it.

It seems about 90% of the people out there who read the article are as excited about the possibilities it represents as I am, and the other ten percent just bought a Dreamcast. I thought I'd take the opportunity this week to respond to a number of comments from readers, debunk a few rumors about the Playstation2 and address the comments that say stuff like, "you're one biased dude".

David Houston was the first person in with a negative comment, "well written, just a tad biased on that PSX2 article. Remember, some of your readers don't have affiliations with Sony and after reading reports on the Dreamcasts launch your views are already shown to be false."

I will say, for the record, I have no affiliation with Sony (and neither does the site). I'm merely a person who is excited by the grand possibilities of new technology. The article is a positive article because I harbour no negative association about Sony or any of the other videogame companies. I wrote it based around the information provided by Sony following their announcement, as well as a number of other news sources. The reason we haven't covered the Dreamcast in the same way, is that the Dreamcast has nothing to do with DVD. When Nintendo gets around to announcing some real Dolphin specs, we will be covering it (for now, the only thing they've said is that it will be DVD based and it will be "as powerful as what our friends at Sony have".)

I haven't seen the system up close and personal as of yet, but I have seen the plethora of screenshots and MPEG movies making the rounds on the Internet. The fact of the matter is, this thing does live up to to the hype, and it's a monster. Given the overwhelmingly positive response to the editorial from last week, I'd say Sega will have their hands full trying to compete with this thing. The only things Sega have over the PS2 out of the box are price, online gaming and, by the time the PS2 launches, a decent library of games. The responses I've received indicate that price isn't a factor (and the price of the PS2 will drop before it launches in North America), Sony is going to have a huge launch library (as evidenced by the list of titles in development), and online gaming not being included out of the box is more than compensated for by the ability to play DVD movies (which is very important to a lot of people).

On the price front, I'd also like to point out that the Playstation2 is backward compatible with all the original Playstation games and peripherals. This won't mean a lot to the hard-core gaming public (they're not afraid of buying new stuff), but for the average Joe, it means they won't lose their investment in hardware and software which has been made with the Playstation.

Leon Parsons' email in regard to the Playstation2 did a nice job of summing up the majority of the email I received, "I think that the PSX2 WILL be big. All the screen shots, specs and industry comment I have seen has all been positive and the DVD angle is a killer."

Not all of the contradictory emails I received were of the "you suck, Sega R00Lz" variety, though.

Richard Ameen sent me an email pointing out that Sony's stated claim of 75 million polygons per second is a best case scenario, with all effects turned off. Absolutely correct. It's also worth mentioning that Sony's figures indicate with all effects turned on the system is capable of twenty million polygons per second. This is without artificial intelligence, physics engines, or anything of the sort. Most of the industry people (i.e. game developers) I've spoken with in the last week have indicated that a real world figure of ten million polygons per second is realistic with a game engine running behind it. Twenty million could be achieved for real-time cut-scenes.

To put twenty million polygons into perspective (no pun intended), consider the following: If a game is running on a television set at 720x482 resolution (fairly standard television resolution), that's 347,040 pixels per frame. If the game is running at sixty frames per second (the most a standard television can handle, and even that can get tricky), that means 20,822,400 pixels per second. Effectively, each polygon could be ONE PIXEL in size, and the Playstation2 could keep up. If we cut that number in half (to allow for in-game characters, etc.) the game could either run at 30 frames per second, or have to put up with some polygons which are two to four pixels big. The fact of the matter is, that in-game graphics which look like pre-rendered scenes are a very real possibility.

A developer talking to Next-Generation online said it best after the original announcement on the specifications for the PS2, "if your artists suck, it's going to become really, really obvious."

Sony has also stated that most of this graphical prowess will not be used for raw polygon pushing power, but instead to offer previously effects which would never have been considered on a game console before. Real world physics (i.e. hair looks like hair when the wind is blowing, with individual strands being blow around), depth of field (easy to spot in the screenshots for Gran Turismo 2000), motion blur, and curved surfaces.

Richard went on to discuss the Dreamcast, and how it's capable of around three million polygons in-game. Absolutely correct again. Although, like the Playstation 2, three million polygons is a best case scenario. To put this into perspective, if you were using exactly the same models on the Dreamcast, you'd get a frame rate of around nine frames per second. This isn't enough to simulate real motion. Still, if you cut down the models so they run at good speed, the graphics on the Dreamcast are very good. They're just not photo-realistic. It's also worth noting that the Dreamcast uses a modified PowerVR2 chipset for its graphics, and one of the advantages of the PowerVR over other graphic chipsets is that it only draws forward-facing polygons. Unlike other systems out there, the Dreamcast only draws what you're seeing, and the rest is chopped out. This can help performance immensely.

My problems with Sega aren't technical, but from a business perspective. The Dreamcast is a very good machine (and heads and tails above anything else currently available in a game console). The problem is Sega's huge debt. They're carrying billions of dollars of debt, and can't afford to compete with Sony and Nintendo. They sunk $100 million into marketing the Dreamcast, and so far the results have been astounding (the machine has already sold more than 400,000 units). The problem is, Sega needs the machine to sell millions of units before Christmas in order to stay afloat. If the North American figures follow the Japanese figures (which is rare, but does happen), this initial flurry of sales will be followed by a huge drought. If that happens, Sega will not survive. The Japanese launch is a failure (they had a great start, but then sales died off in a big way, much like the Nintendo 64). If the North American launch follows suit, Sega may no longer exist. Honestly, their best course of action after the Saturn fiasco would've been to jump into software. The hardware game is not their bag, and now they're in a position where they can't compete. To put it another way, both Nintendo and Sony have billions of dollars in the bank doing nothing but earning interest. When they launch their next generation consoles, you can bet Sega's $100 million marketing budget will seem wimpy in comparison.

Another good point Richard made was that the Playstation2 is very difficult to develop for compared to other game consoles. Because of the complexity of the architecture, developing for the PS2 requires real A-class talent, and it's going to be expensive. Of course, this hasn't kept the developers away. Sony has announced more than a hundred companies developing projects for the PS2, and to ease in development, Sony has also developed the middleware project. Middleware allows smaller (or less talented) developers to buy raw engine code for various things from a third party supplier. For example, if you don't want to write your own physics engine, you can simply buy one. It's not cheap, but in some cases it's probably cheaper (and more effective) than reinventing the wheel. Nintendo is following a similar approach with their next machine. As hardware gets more complex, it's inevitable that writing software for it increases in complexity, too. I suspect first generation Playstation2 games will only look marginally better than second and third generation Dreamcast games. As time goes on, the technical gap between the two will become more and more apparent.

OK. Enough on the technical stuff, let's kill some rumors

Probably the number one question I received was regarding the PS2 playing dual-layered discs. About a week before the PS2 was officially revealed, a rumor began circulating that Sony would keep the PS2 from encroaching on their stand-alone player market by crippling it, and not allowing it to play dual-layered discs. This rumor has been incredibly persistent, but Sony has stated for the record that the Playstation2 is not crippled in any way when it comes to DVD movies. To put it another way, dual-layered discs play just fine.

Another thing which I neglected to mention last week, but which Sony has also revealed, is that games will be able to be encoded in Dolby Digital or DTS 5.1 sound. This means, of course, that the new Resident Evil game for the Playstation2 will be that much more frightening.

The Playstation2 is fully backward compatible with the original Playstation because it uses a "Playstation on a chip" as its i/o controller. This means it's 100% backward-compatible, but unfortunately it doesn't improve the original Playstation games in any way. Also, backward compatibility is the primary reason why only two controller ports were included (cost is the other factor), anyone who has a multi-tap knows that if Sony had built it in, some older games wouldn't work.

John Freiman sent me a note pointing out that the firewire (iLink) port on the PS2 may not be a "full blown" firewire port, but instead be like the one on some of Sony's computers, which can only capture stills. I did some checking on this, and the port will be capable of grabbing full-motion video. Sony kept the costs down by having the Emotion Engine do the compression on the fly, though (it should be plenty fast enough). As far as devices plugging into the unit are concerned (i.e DV camcorders), the firewire port is just your ordinary every day capture device.

I received an email from a guy by the name of Blake (no last name provided), which pointed out that the majority of Sony's games are developed by third party companies, and that unlike Nintendo and Sega, they don't develop their own stuff. This was very true at the time of launch for the original Playstation, but Sony has changed their ways in the past few years. They've developed some great stuff internally (Parappa The Rapper, Um Jammer Lammy, Gran Turismo), and bought some of the companies which provide the best games for their system (Psygnosis, 989 Studios). This doesn't include exclusives they've signed with companies like Universal Interactive (Spyro, Crash Bandicoot) and SquareSoft (Final Fantasy series, Ehrgeiz, Tobal, etc.). Even if Sony had no internal development (which, of course, they do), they have the money to lock up the exclusive for the games people want to play. And as I've been reminded time and time again in the past week, the hardware means nothing without the games to back it up.

Sony has also revealed a business model using the PS2 technology in set-top cable boxes in the New York area to provide movies on demand and games on demand. Essentially, they're going to be building a special box for that region which is a Playstation2 without a DVD drive but with a high bandwidth Internet connection. It'll be used for DVD quality pay-per-view movies, and to allow people to play Playstation and Playstation2 games over a cable line. The project will be on-line in 2001 in New York, and if it's a success it'll spread across the continent.

I also received an email from Paul Mais talking about the NUON. The NUON is another DVD based gaming system (sort of). It occurred to me that we haven't covered this here at DVDfuture at all, so I'm going to do some research and return with an in-depth article on it next week.

Last week's quote of the week was answered correctly by everyone and their dog (well over two hundred people got it right), but the person who got their answer in first was Ed Brunelle. Bonus points to a fellow who goes by the name "Big Dog", though, who not only answered correctly, but sent me a sound file of the clip in question.

After being buried under so many correct answers last week, I thought I'd make this week's quote a bit harder:

Woman: "Occam's razor. You ever heard of it?"
Man: "Hack-em's Razor. Sounds like some slasher movie."

As usual, if you know the answer, email me at For the first time, I'm going to track down a prize for the winner (what it'll be, I don't know, yet).

I'll finish off this week with two quotes from readers.

"I've never, ever bought or even wanted a game console before (I spend all my money on PC games and DVDs), but with the release of PS2 (which I now know a little more about due to your article), I am going to be waiting in those long lines at the stores next year!"
-- Chad Tanaka

"...interesting info on Playstation 2...if they'd just put a washer/dryer or a mini-fridge into it, it would be the ultimate appliance!"
-- Boris Harmic