Sony shows off motion controller, prices PSPgo

Sony held their Electronic Entertainment Expo Press Conference yesterday, and it was rather fun watching them deal with the fallout from the PSPgo leak of last weekend. To his credit, Sony's Kaz Hirai was able to joke about it, saying they had a few names for the new device, one of which is "the worst kept secret of E3."

That got a chuckle from the crowd, but what didn't was the price: $250. For comparison's sake, the PSP-3000 goes for $170. The PSPgo adds 16 gigs of flash memory, removes the UMD drive, and of course has the sliding screen. It is 50% smaller and 40% lighter, but does that justify 50% more expensive? No one but Sony seems to think so. Sony seems to think they can price the new device up in the iPod Touch range, but without the touch screen and accelerometers of the Touch, the two devices don't seem comparable.

Back to better PSP news. The PSN Video Store will now be directly accessible from the PSP, all new games going forward will be offered in a digital format (with UMD versions of most available as well) and there's an update to the (PC based) content management software for the device called Media Go. All of these features will work with the cheaper PSP-3000 as well as the PSPgo (the 3000 doesn't have flash memory but supports Memory Sticks).

After Microsoft wowed the audience with Project Natal, Sony must have been nervous about showing off their new motion control technology, which uses a wand (or two) that has internal motion sensors, buttons, and a glowing orb on the end. It works with the Playstation Eye camera, which tracks the orb(s) as the player moves the wands in 3D space.

It doesn't sound as impressive as Project Natal, but it seemed to work really well. The first part of the demo (the entire demo is embedded below) took place in a virtual room that had a TV in it. On the TV was a video feed of what the Playstation Eye was seeing, so you could see the person doing the demonstration at the same time you could see the virtual wand moving around, and it was clear that the virtual movements mirrored the real world movements very accurately. At one point the demonstrator used the wands to write on a pad of paper in the virtual world, and the claim was made that there was sub-millimeter accuracy at the point of the 'pencil.' It certainly looked as sharp as, say, writing with a mouse in a paint program.

It doesn't have voice commands and we didn't see any virtual children, but the entire demo was live, as opposed to much of the Natal demo being pre-recorded video. The Sony tech (which doesn't seem to have a name) is due out Spring of 2010, whereas Natal's launch date isn't more concrete than "not in 2009." How this new battle between Sony and Microsoft plays out is anyone's guess. The Sony tech felt more aimed at traditional game playing, while Natal seemed really interesting as an overall user interface for the Xbox.

In any case, both Sony and Microsoft seem to be poised to overtake Nintendo when it comes to motion control technology. At its press conference, Nintendo showed the Wii Motion Plus controller again (due out next week) and teased a curious bio-feedback device called the Wii Vitality Sensor (which looks exactly like one of those sensors they stick your finger into at the hospital), though no applications using the Sensor were shown. No other hardware news came out of Nintendo this year.

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