Posts Tagged‘tv’

Quantum Break: The End of Time.

The links between games and other forms of media have always been…cumbersome. Movie tie-ins are that first that come to mind and are often derided as being low-quality cash grabs. Similarly games that included full motion video (like the Crusader series) were met with criticism, often for their relatively low budget and quality of acting. However those perceptions haven’t stopped those kinds of games from being developed and indeed many games, like Defiance, sought to expand on the idea further. In similar vein Quantum Break, from Remedy Entertainment, attempts to integrate an episodic TV show with a player-controlled narrative. Whilst the mix-media approach has definitely come a long way there are numerous unfortunate decisions which marred the overall experience that Quantum Break was aiming to provide.

Quantum Break Review Screenshot Wallpaper Title Screen

You are Jack Joyce (Shawn Ashmore) brother of renowned physicist William Joyce (Dominic Monaghan) and long time friend of Paul Serene (Aidan Gillen) a prominent businessman. You haven’t spoken to either of them in years however as you’ve been travelling the world, getting yourself into all sorts of trouble. Then out of the blue Paul contacts you and arranges for a first class flight back home. He needs your help but he won’t tell you what for. The events that unfold from that pivotal moment when you arrive back home will change the course of time as we know it, with you at the centre.

There’s no denying that Quantum Break is an extremely pretty game, making use of every inch of computing power you can throw at it. Unfortunately the film grain effect can’t be switched off meaning that no matter how high you crank the graphics there will always be a little fuzz everywhere. Additionally, due to the fact that it’s a Universal App (only available on the Windows store, which I’ll get into more later) there’s a few graphics options that will either not work or cause major issues. G-SYNC appears to cause it to use software rendering only as my graphics card reported a mere 7% usage when it was on. Disabling it however allowed Quantum Break to flex its muscles a little more although I did have to tone down a few settings in order to get it to run properly. This is even after the massive patch that was released so there’s still some work left for Remedy to do to make Quantum Break run a lot smoother.

Quantum Break Review Screenshot Wallpaper Industrial Area

From a core mechanic perspective Quantum Break is a 3rd person, cover-based shooter that integrates a whole host of abilities centred around time. You’ll be able to freeze enemies in place, blow them up and zip your way around the battlefield. You can carry a maximum of 3 guns, one of each type (pistol, regular and heavy). There’s also a few time based puzzles that will need solving although they only use a few of the half dozen abilities you’ll be imbued with. You’ll also have a decent amount of sway over how the story progresses which, interestingly, have a direct impact on events in the show. Most of these come in the form of major decisions made at critical points however there are collectibles around the world which will change the show in small and sometimes incredibly amusing ways. So at its roots Quantum Break might be exactly revolutionary but it does manage to do many things well that others have done badly in the past.

Seasoned shooter players will likely find little challenge in Quantum Break’s combat as the treasure trove of abilities, especially when they’re upgraded, make you almost invincible. After about halfway through the game the only way the game challenges you is by throwing more of the same kinds of enemies at you which doesn’t really ramp up the challenge significantly. The only real challenge is ensuring you have enough ammo for the gun you like as the amount you can carry for most guns is ludicrously low. If you’re so inclined you can mix things up a bit by using the various environmental traps however it’s usually easier to just take out enemies directly. Suffice to say that Quantum Break doesn’t really trend much new ground with its core mechanics but I get the feeling that was largely intentional.

Quantum Break Review Screenshot Wallpaper Time to Fight

If you’ve been reading much of the news around Quantum Break you’ve likely heard about how broken the release is and, unfortunately, my experience was no different. Buying the game in the Windows Store was a true pain as the download would seemingly stop and start randomly. As it turns out it was pre-allocating the disk space, something it couldn’t do at the same time it was downloading it (Steam has managed to solve this problem, however). The aforementioned G-SYNC issue was the cause of much frustration as was the various issues induced by the games varied performance, even with the frame rate cap on. Whilst other games have shown that being a Universal App doesn’t have to be a bad thing it certainly hasn’t helped Quantum Break. Whilst there has been a commitment to iron out most of these issues in future updates in July that does little to help the problems happening now. That and the fact that everyone will still want everything on Steam anyway.

The mixed media approach of Quantum Break is done quite well with big name actors gracing both the in-game and television series world. Whilst the story is little more than your usual sci-fi doomsday scenario guff having a little influence over what happens in the show is a nice touch. The little collectibles, like the audio book you can play over the radio (which then happens in the series), are a real nice touch too. I have to take points off for the ending screaming “HEY SEQUEL” so loudly that it hurt my ears however, as that’s the one unforgivable sin that any story teller can make. Overall I think Quantum Break shows that game/movie/tv series hybrids can work, they just need the same level of investment and polish on both sides to make the whole experience work well together.

Quantum Break Review Screenshot Wallpaper Monarch Solutions

Quantum Break evokes a time long gone past, when full motion videos in games were a novelty and production budgets were low. Instead here we have a game that’s staffed by big name actors and large production budgets. The game is nothing new, mixing together power ups and cover based shooting to give us an experience that we’ve likely all seen before. The TV show, and its integration with the events in the game, are done well enough that I feel that Quantum Break largely achieved the goals it set for itself. However the overall experience is marred by technical issues, some of which stem from the fact that it’s on Microsoft’s new Universal App platform. Overall it’s a good but not great experience, one that’s worth a look in if you’ve got a craving for the mixed-media experiences of years gone by.

Rating: 8/10

Quantum Break is available on XboxOne and PC right now for $79 and $59.99 respectively (Only on Windows Store for PC). Game was played on the PC with approximately 9.5 hours of total play time and 93% game completion.

Curved Screens Are a Waste of Money.

Consumer electronics vendors are always looking for the next thing that will convince us to upgrade to the latest and greatest. For screens and TVs this use to be a race of resolution and frame rate however things began to stall once 1080p became ubiquitous. 3D and 4K were the last two features which screen manufacturers used to tempt us although neither of them really proved to be a compelling reason for many to upgrade. Faced with flagging sales the race was on to find another must-have feature and the result is the bevy of curved screens that are now flooding the market. Like their predecessors though curved screens don’t provide anything that’s worth having and, all things considered, might be a detrimental attribute.

samsung_curved_uhdu9000_front

You’d be forgiven for thinking that a curved screen is a premium product as they’re most certainly priced that way. Most curved screens usually tack on an extra thousand or two over an equivalent flat and should you want any other premium feature (like say it being thin) then you’re going to be paying some serious coin. The benefits of a curved screen, according to the manufacturers, is that they provide a more theatrical experience, making the screen appear bigger as more of it is in your field of view. Others will say that it reduces picture distortion as objects in the middle of a flat screen will appear larger than those at the edge. The hard fact of the matter is that, for almost all use cases, none of these attributes will be true.

As Ars Technica demonstrated last year the idea that a curved screen can have a larger apparent size than its flat counterpart only works in scenarios that aren’t likely to occur with regular viewing. Should you find yourself 3 feet away from your 55″ screen (an absolutely ludicrous prospect for any living room) then yes, the curve may make the screen appear slightly larger than it actually is. If you’re in a much more typical setting, I.E. not directly in front of it and at a more reasonable distance, then the effect vanishes. Suffice to say you’re much better off actually buying a bigger set than investing in a curved one to try and get the same effect.

The picture distortion argument is similarly flawed as most reviewers report seeing increased geometric distortions when viewing content on a curved screen. The fundamental problem here is that the content wasn’t created with a curved screen in mind. Cameras use rectilinear lenses to capture images onto a flat sensor plane, something which isn’t taken into account when the resulting image is displayed on a curved screen. Thus the image is by definition distorted and since none of the manufacturers I’ve seen talk about their image correction technology for curved screens it’s safe to assume they’re doing nothing to correct it.

So if you’ve been eyeing off a new TV upgrade (like I recently have) and are thinking about going curved the simple answer is: don’t. The premium charged for that feature nets no benefits in typical usage scenarios and is far more likely to create problems than it is to solve them. Thankfully there are still many great flat screens available, typically with all the same features of their curved brethrens for a much lower price. Hopefully we don’t have to wait too long for this fad to pass as it’s honestly worse than 3D and 4K as they at least had some partial benefits for certain situations.

Please Valve, do for Other Content What You Did for Games.

I’m a big lover of Steam. Whilst it had a rather rocky start, something that was exacerbated by the fact that I was still on dial up, since then the platform has managed to make me part with many of my dollars and I have done so gladly. Sure part of this is due to me moving up in the world, no longer being a poor uni student whose only indulgence was his World of Warcraft subscription, however Steam providing titles at a very reasonable price has also led me to spend more than I would have otherwise. So when rumours start to spread that Steam might be bringing things like music, TV shows and movies to the platform you can imagine the excitement I have at that prospect.

Steam Music UIThere’s been talk of Steam expanding beyond it’s current games and software market for some time now, ever since Valve announced the Steam Music overlay at the beginning of this year. There’s also already a few movies on the platform, like Free to Play and Indie Game: The Movie, and whilst they’re specifically about games it’s not much of a stretch to think that they’d extend the platform further. The only precedent not set so far is for TV shows however it’s not much of a stretch to see the same system working for that kind of content. There’s still a few questions to be answered about the service (When will it debut? How will its costs compare to other services? ) however if Steam can do for what it did for games for movies, TV and music you can bet your bottom dollar that it will be an incredibly positive thing for consumers.

The reason, for me as an Australia at least, is that there’s really no other alternative available to us. I was excited when Dendy Direct was announced, mostly because I’m a fan of their cinemas, however their pricing is nothing short of insane with a single season of a show costing anywhere from $20 to $40. Other services available here are either similarly priced or simply don’t have the catalogue of shows that many of us want to watch. Even if the services available here do have the shows they’re either significantly delayed or released in such a way that’s incongruent to the way they were released overseas, like Netflix original series being released weekly instead of all in one hit.

There’s always the geo-unblocking tools to get us Netflix of course but that’s really only a stopgap to a better solution.

We’re getting closer to a proper solution though as there’s been at least one notable entrant into this field that’s not completely bullshit. AnimeLab, run by Madman (the Australian anime distributor), offers up complete anime series for any and all to watch for free, including ones that are only just being released in Japan. Whilst I’m sure the free ride won’t last forever it does show that there’s demand for such a service in Australia, even within the niche interest area that is anime. I’m hopeful that this will encourage other services to start considering branching out into Australia sooner rather than later as it honestly can’t come fast enough.

COSMOS: A Classic Revisited.

Carl Sagan was a great man. A long time advocate for the sciences he inspired a generation of new scientists with his influence, from the simple things like his lectures at Cornell to the wondrous television program called Cosmos. As someone who only fully came to the world of scientific thinking later in life I was completely unaware of his works until some years ago and was surprised at how well Cosmos stood the test of time. Since then however things what were mearly theories have matured into scientific facts and boundless new ideas have been created. Thus it was time for a new generation to be inspired by the wonders of science and none other than Neil deGrasse Tyson has taken up the task of doing so.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kBTd9–9VMI

Whilst the first episode is somewhat light on in the science department it serves as a basis from which the rest of the series will build upon. It pays homage to Carl Sagan’s legacy whilst not being bound by it, creating its own identity that’s distinct from that of the original works. I’d highly recommend you follow it as it will not only be amazing watching but it will also serve as the first steps you can take towards getting a deeper understanding of the universe we exist in.

Piracy Doesn’t Harm Sales? Fancy That…

We Australians do love to pirate things. Those of us who live here can tell you why: we’re either gouged extensively on the same products sold overseas or we’re subject to incredible delays. The Internet has helped to remedy both these things however with the former being solved by having access to the same shops that everyone else does and the latter eliminating most long delays. Still, even though we’ve come this far, we’re still subject to the same scarcity that just doesn’t need to exist with certain goods, especially ones that can be purely digital.

Our tendency towards piracy hasn’t gone unnoticed by the rights holders overseas but all they’ve done in response is send scorn over our way. There’s been a couple shining examples of what they should do, like the ABC offering episodes of Dr. Who on iView before it shows on TV (that’s no more for this season, unfortunately), but few seem to be following their lead. It seems that, at least for the near future, Australia will be viewed as nothing more than a pirate haven, a drain on the creative world that does nothing but take.

Or will it?

Game of Thrones

Any avid TV watcher will be aware of the blockbuster series Game of Thrones which just aired episode one of season 3. Whilst the numbers aren’t in yet it’s shaping up to be the most pirated show ever yet again with Australia making up a decent portion of that. You would think then that its publishers would be aghast at these numbers as the current executive thinking is that every download is somehow a missed sale, robbing them of untold millions that should be in their pockets. However an interview with HBO’s President of Programming Michael Lombardo reveals that they’re doing just fine in spite of it and in fact are kind of flattered by it:

“I probably shouldn’t be saying this, but it is a compliment of sorts,” HBO programming president Michael Lombardo told EW. “[Piracy is] something that comes along with having a wildly successful show on a subscription network.”

Last month Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, the actor who plays Jaime Lannister in the show, said that although people watch the show online, he hoped they would still go out and buy the DVD or Blu-ray. And guess what? According to HBO, they do.

“The demand is there,” Lombardo said. “And it certainly didn’t negatively impact the DVD sales.”

I think you could knock me over with a feather after I read that.

There’s been a lot of research done into whether or not piracy, with respect to the online kind, is an overall negative influence on creative industries like TV, music and video games. Preliminary studies have shown that music pirates tend to spend much more than their non-pirating counter parts and that appears to extend to other industries. Lombardo’s revelation that the rampant piracy experienced by their flagship series didn’t hurt their DVD sales fits in with this idea as well and it’s incredibly gratifying to see people at the executive finally admitting that piracy isn’t as big of an issue as they’ve made it out to be. Of course he’s well aware that such a position isn’t popular, even within his own company, but at least the seeds of dissent are starting to take root and hopefully it will continue on from there.

History has shown that attempting to eliminate piracy is a fool’s errand and the only reliable way to combat it is to provide a product that is competitive to what they offer. Valve, Netflix et. al. saw this for their respective industries and their success is a testament to the fact that people will pay good money once the price is set at the right point. Companies who attempt to fight this are going to find themselves routinely outclassed by these upstarts and it’ll only be a matter of time before they find themselves on the wrong side of a bankruptcy hearing. So other executives should take note of Lombardo’s stance and consider taking the same view of their own right’s portfolios.

 

Intel Could Be Your Next Pay TV Provider.

One thing that not many people knew was that I was pretty keen on the whole Google TV idea when it was announced 2 years ago. I think that was partly due to the fact that it was a collaboration between several companies that I admire (Sony, Logitech and, one I didn’t know about at the time, Intel) and also because of what it promised to deliver to the end users. I was a fairly staunch supporter of it, to the point where I remember getting into an argument with my friends that consumers were simply not ready for something like it rather than it being a failed product. In all honesty I can’t really support that position any more and the idea of Google TV seems to be dead in the water for the foreseeable future.

Intel Smart TV

What I didn’t know was that whilst Google, Sony and Logitech might have put the idea to one side Intel has been working on developing their own product along similar lines, albeit from a different angle than you’d expect. Whilst I can’t imagine that they had invested that much in developing the hardware for the TVs (a quick Google search reveals that they were Intel Atoms, something they had been developing for 2 years prior to Google TV’s release) it appears that they’re still seeking some returns on that initial investment. At the same time however reports are coming in that Intel is dropping anywhere from $100 million to $1 billion on developing this new product, a serious amount of coin that industry analysts believe is an order of magnitude above anyone who’s playing around in this space currently.

The difference between this and other Internet set top boxes appears to be the content deals that Intel is looking to strike with current cable TV providers. Now anyone who’s ever looked into getting any kind of pay TV package knows that whatever you sign up for you’re going to get a whole bunch of channels you don’t want bundled in alongside the ones you do, effectively diluting the value you derive from the service significantly. Pay TV providers have long fought against the idea of allowing people to pick and choose (and indeed anyone who attempted to provide such a service didn’t appear to last long, ala SelecTV Australia) but with the success of on demand services like NetFlix and Hulu it’s quite possible that they might be coming around to the idea and see Intel as the vector of choice.

The feature list that’s been thrown around press prior to an anticipated announcement at CES next week (which may or may not happen, according to who you believe) does sound rather impressive, essentially giving you the on demand access that everyone wants right alongside the traditional programming that we’ve come to expect from pay TV services. The “Cloud DVR” idea, being able to replay/rewind/fast-forward shows without having to record them yourself, is evident of this and it would seem that the idea of providing the traditional channels as well would just seem to be a clever ploy to get the content onto their network. Of course traditional programming is required for certain things like sports and other live events, something which the on demand services have yet to fully incorporate into their offerings.

Whilst I’m not entirely enthused with the idea of yet another set top box (I’m already running low on HDMI ports as it is) the information I’ve been able to dig up on Intel’s offering does sound pretty compelling. Of course many of the features aren’t exactly new, you can do many of the things now with the right piece of hardware and pay TV subscriptions, but the ability to pick and choose channels would be and then getting that Hulu-esque interface to watch previous episodes would be something that would interest me. If the price point is right, and its available globally rather than just the USA, I could see myself trying it out for the select few channels that I’d like to see (along with their giant back catalogues, of course).

In any case it will be very interesting to see if Intel does say anything about their upcoming offering next week as if they do we’ll have information direct from the source and if they don’t we’ll have a good indication of which analysts really are talking to people who are involved in the project.

TV On The Internet a Fad? Son, I’m Going to Take That Crack Pipe.

I learnt a long time ago that one of the biggest factors in pricing something, especially in the high tech industry, is convenience. For someone who was always a do-it-yourself-er the notion was pretty foreign to me, I mean why would I spend the extra dollars to  have something done for me when I was equally capable of doing it myself? Of course the second I switched from being a salaried employee to a contractor who’s time is billed in hours my equations for determinting something’s value changed drastically and I begun to appreciate being able to pay to get something done rather than having to spend my precious time on it myself.

The convenience factor is what has driven me to try and find some kind of TV solution akin to those that are available in the USA. Unfortunately the only thing that comes close are the less than legal alternatives which is a right shame as I would gladly pay the going rate to get the same service here in Australia. I’m not alone in this regard either as many Australians turn to alternative methods in order to get their fix of their favorite shows. What this says to me is that teh future of TV is definitely moving towards being a more on demand service like those provided by Netflix and Hulu and less like traditional TV channels.

Some industry executives would disagree with me on that point, to the point of saying that watching TV on the Internet is nothing short of a fad that will eventually pass. There’s been a couple clarifications to that post since it first went live but the sentiment remains that they believe people who abandon their cable subscriptions, “cable cutters” as it were, are in the minority and once economic conditions improve they’ll be back again. I can understand the reasoning behind a cable exec taking this kind of position, but it’s woefully misguided.

For starters Netflix alone counts for around a third of peak bandwidth usage in the USA.  To put this in perspective that’s double all BitTorrent traffic and triple YouTube, both considered to be hives of piracy among the cable cartels. This is in conjunction with the fact that people are using their Xboxs to watch movies and listen to music more than they’re using them to play games, usually through online services. Taking all of this into consideration you’d be mad to think that the future is still in traditional pay TV services as there’s a very clear trend towards on-demand media, provided through your local Internet connection, is what customers are looking for.

There’s two reasons to explain why cable companies are thinking this way. The first, and least likely, is that they’re simply unaware of the current trends in the media market space. This is not entirely impossible as there have been a few examples in recent times (BlockBuster being the first that comes to mind) who simply failed to recognise where the market was moving and paid the ultimate price for it in the end. The far more likely reason is simple bravado as the cable companies can’t really take the stand and say that they’re aware of the changing market demands but will do nothing about it. No for them its best, at least in the short term, to write off the phenomena completely. In the long term of course this tactic won’t work, but I get the feeling none of them are playing a particularly long game at this point.

As I’ve said many times before media companies and rights holders have fought tooth and nail against every technological advancement for the past century and the only constant in every one of them is that in the end the technology won out. Eventually these companies will have to wake up to the reality that their outdated business models don’t fit into the current market and they’ll either have to adapt or die.

Have Money, Want Content, Will Spend.

I spent the better part of my youth pirating nearly every bit of software I wanted. It’s not that I was doing it on principle, no it was more that I didn’t have the cash required to fuel my insane desire for the latest computer hardware, software and everything else that I had my eye on back then. Sure you can argue that I should have just gone without instead of pirating but in the end they were never going to get money from me anyway. For those software and games developers that did make a decent product they’ve since received a well paying customer in the form of my current self who spends lavishly on collector’s editions and any software that he needs.

One area I’ve never paid a dime for (although I happily would, as I’ll explain later) is TV shows. I was a pretty big TV watcher as a kid, even going to the point of recording shows that I couldn’t watch in the morning (because I had to catch the bus) so that I could watch them in the afternoon. As I discovered the wonders of playing video on your PC I started to consume most of my media through there as it was just so much more convenient than waiting for a particular show to come on at a certain time. Australia is also quite atrocious for getting new shows as they’re released, usually coming to our shores months after their release to the rest of the world, if they do at all. However whilst I might be able to get everything for free it’s still somewhat of an inconvienence, especially when I see a service like Steam that has no replica in TV in Australia.

It’s not like these services don’t exist either. The USA has things like Netflix and Hulu that stream TV shows to users and the latter will even do so free of charge. From a technical standpoint there’s no reason why these services can’t work anywhere in the world, they’re just another set of packets travelling alongside all the others. However both of those services employ heavy geo-fencing, the process by which anyone connecting to it is identified by region and, should they be outside the USA, be blocked from viewing the content. Primarily this is because of licensing agreements that they have with the content providers who want to control which content goes where. For places like Australia however this just leads to people pirating the content instead of watching it on TV or buying it in stores, something I’m sure they’re not entirely happy about.

This issue came up recently when a bunch of ISPs got together and proposed a new system to deal with copyright infringement. On the surface it looked like long time supporters of privacy were caving under pressure from rights holders but it’s actually anything but. More its an idea to make the discovery process more open and focuses on educating the end users rather than punishing them. Whilst I don’t like the system proposed I did like the fact that they recognised rights holders needed to do a better job of providing content to Australia residents. The fact of the matter is many turn to piracy for the simple reason that they simply can’t get it anywhere else. A service like Hulu in Australia would be wildly popular and would be as good for the rights holders as Steam was for the games industry.

Steam has shown that convenience and service are what drive people to piracy, not strictly price. Of course Steam’s regular fire sales have made sure that people part with more cash than they usually would but the fact is that they deliver a product that’s on the same level of convenience (sometimes better) than the pirates do. Right now rights holders are still delivering products that are less convenient (and sometimes, even worse overall) and so the piracy option is far more attractive. I know this is asking a lot of an industry that’s feared technology for the better part of a century but in the end the problem doesn’t lie with the pirates, it lies with them. 

Deep Blue, Watson and The Evolution of AI.

I’m not sure why but I get a little thrill every time I see something that’s been completely automated that used to require manual intervention from start to finish. It’s probably because the more automated something is the more time I have to do other things and there’s always that little thrill in watching something you built trundle along its way, even if it falls over part way through. My most recent experiment in this area was crafting the rudimentary trainer for Super Meat Boy to get me past a nigh on impossible part of the puzzle, co-ordinating the required key strokes with millisecond precision and ultimately wresting me free of the death grip that game held on me.

The world of AI is an extension of the automation idea, using machines to perform tasks that we would otherwise have to do ourselves. The concept has always fascinated me as more and more we’re seeing various forms of AI creeping their way into our everyday lives. However most people won’t recognize them as AI simply because they’re routine, but in reality many of the functions these weak AIs perform used to be in the realms of science fiction. We’re still a long way from having a strong AI like we’re used to seeing in the movies but that doesn’t mean many facets of it aren’t already in widespread use today. Most people wouldn’t think twice when a computer asks them to speak their address but going back only a few decades would see that be classed as the realms of strong AI, not the expert system it has evolved into today.

What’s even more interesting is when we create machines that are more capable than ourselves at performing certain tasks. The most notable example (thus far) of a computer be able to beat a human at a certain non-trivial task is Deep Blue, the chess playing computer that managed to beat the world chess champion Kasparov albeit under dubious circumstances. Still the chess board is a limited problem set and whilst Deep Blue was a super computer in its time today you’d find as much power hidden under the hood of your Playstation 3. IBM’s research labs have been no slouch in developing Deep Blue’s successor, and it’s quite an impressive beast.

Watson, as it has come to be known, is the next step in the evolution of AIs performing tasks that have only been in the realms of humans. The game of choice this time around is Jeopardy a gameshow who’s answers are in the form of a question and makes extensive use of puns and colloquialisms. Jeopardy represents a unique challenge to AI developers as it involves complex natural language processing, searching immense data sets and creating relationships between disparate sources of information to finally culminate in an answer. Watson can currently determine whether or not it can answer a question within a couple seconds but that’s thanks to the giant supercomputer that’s backing it up. The demonstration round showed Watson was quite capable of playing with the Jeopardy champions, winning the round quite with a considerable lead.

What really interested me in this though was the reaction from other people when I mentioned Watson to them. It seemed that a computer playing Jeopardy (and beating the human players) wasn’t really a big surprise at all, in fact it was expected. This was telling about how us humans view computers as most people expect them to be able to accomplish anything, despite the limitations that are obvious to us geeks. I’d say this has to do with the ubiquity of computers in our everyday lives and how much we use them to perform rudimentary tasks. The idea that a computer is capable of beating a human at anything isn’t a large stretch of the imagination if you treat them as mysterious black boxes but it still honestly surprised me to learn this is how many people think.

Last night saw Watson play its first real game against the Jeopardy champions and whilst it didn’t repeat its performance of the demonstration round it did tie for first place. The second round is scheduled to air sometime tomorrow (Australia time) and whilst I’ve not yet had a chance to watch the entire round I can’t tell you how excited I am to see the outcome. Either way the realm of AI has taken another step forward towards the ultimate goal of creating intelligence born not out of flesh, but silicone and whilst some might dread the prospect I for one can’t wait and will follow all developments with baited breath.

Three Screens and Platform Agnosticity.

For all their faults Microsoft have done some really great work and brought a lot of innovative ideas to fruition. Sure their strategy of embrace, extend and extinguishrightfully earnt them the reputation of being an evil company but despite this they’ve continued to deliver products that are really head and shoulders above the competition. From emerging technologies like the Surfaceto dragging others kicking and screaming into the world of online game consoles Microsoft has shown that when they want to they can innovate just like anyone else can. One of those innovations that, in my opinion, hasn’t received the press it should is the idea of the Three Screens and a Cloud form of computing which Microsoft started talking about almost 2 years ago.

The idea itself is stunningly simple: that the computing experience between the three main screens a user has (their computer, phone and TV) should be connected and ubiquitous. Whilst I still detest using the word cloud computing for anything (it feels like magic hand waving) the idea of all these screens being connected to a persistent cloud back end unlocks potential for innovation on quite a large scale. The devil is in the details of course and whilst such an idea is something to behold the actual implementation of this is what will show whether or not Microsoft knows what it’s talking about, rather than just drumming up some hype with a new industry buzz term.

Microsoft is already making headway into implementing this idea with their Live Mesh range of online services. I’ve been a big user of their remote desktopfeatures that have allowed me to remote in via anywhere with a web browser. They’ve also been hard at work making their Office products more accessible through Office Web Apps, which provide a pretty good experience especially considering they’re free. Their current strategy for getting on the TV sees to be centered around improving the Xbox Live experience and integrating it with the upcoming mobile platform Windows Phone 7. Time will tell if they’ll be able to draw all of these platforms together to fully realise the Three Screens idea, but they’re well on their way to delivering such a service.

Stepping away from Microsoft’s work the idea of a computing experience being agnostic to the platform you’re on has been a fascination of mine for quite some time. You see I make my money based around virtualization which has its roots in the idea of removing dependency on a platform from the software. More recently I’ve been diving into the world of virtual desktops which give you the novel ability of taking your desktop session with you, needing only a USB key for the user. There are quite a few companies offering products that implement this idea but more recently some have taken it a step further like CITRIX and their search for a Nirvana Phone. Realistically I see no reason why you couldn’t interact with that same session directly on the phone or on a TV if you so desired, getting us dangerously close to realising the Three Screens idea.

Although Microsoft is credited with the soundbite that captures this idea they’re not the only ones working towards unifying a computing experience across platforms. Google has made serious inroads into the mobile sector and just this year announced that they would be coming to the last screen they had missed, the TV. They’ve also taken the first steps to integrating the phone and computer experiences with the Chrome to Phone extension for their browser. Whilst Apple had been some what lax about their foray into TV they have since revampedthe idea to be more like their other iOS based products, signalling that they too are looking to unify the user experience.

At it’s heart the notion of Three Screens is of freedom and ubiquity, with users data empowered through it’s ability to transcend restrictions that once plagued it. The true realisation of this idea is still yet to be seen but I know that the unification of the three key computing platforms is not far away. With so many big players vying for dominance I’m sure that we’ll see a platform war of the likes we’ve never seen before and hopefully from that the best products and services will arise victorious, to the benefit of us all.