Orbis might be bad news for Internet-less gamers

In light of the fact that Microsoft has stated a giant, red NO! to the Xbox 720 appearing this year at CES, there have been new rumours this morning surrounding the ongoing development of the new Playstation console, codenamed Orbis.  Some people have put the codename with the Vita, and it roughly matches the Latin “Orbis Vitae” which translates to “the circle of life”. I know, I know, complicated, isn’t it? I don’t know why no-one just Googled for images of the Sony Entertainment Network logo. I mean, how on earth can you miss it?

There's an orb! Right there, see? Who wants to bet that's going to be in the PS4's boot logo?

But anyway, what’s so special about Orbis, and why all the fuss? Firstly, there are many sites out there musing that the next console might have an AMD x64 chip inside replacing IBM’s Cell. While this may look good on paper, it begs the question of whether PS3 game support will be broken when the PS4 launches. Initially game designers had to start PS3 development essentially from scratch, as IBM’s Cell was unlike any X86 processor out there. Microsoft’s Xbox was first developed off of parts commonly found in off-the-shelf hardware, but the 360 had hardware specially designed for it. If compatibility is broken with Cell-coded games, a lot of gamers won’t have a reason to move to the new console.

I certainly won't have a reason to upgrade.

Secondly, it’s also rumoured that AMD is working on a special version of their Southern Islands graphics family. Which version is unclear, but it may be a reworked version of the HD7870. This brings a new spin to things which I didn’t expect to hear. If you head over onto this thread on our forums, you’ll see a press release from the International Telecommunications Union. In it, it’s mentioned that the H.265 standard is expected to be validated and supported from January 2013 onwards. The H.265 standard includes support for resolutions higher than 1080p, and in fact scaled up to ultraHD-8K resolutions of 7680 x 4320. While that is hugely impressive, take a look at the proposed update which includes the Digital Cineme-2K resolution. That’s actually been commonly embraced for years now in IMAX theatres with lower-quality projections. More expensive IMAX theatres use a resolution much higher than ultraHD-8K.

If the PS4 is going to include a Southern Islands GPU, then we can expect it to also support Digital Cinema-2K resolutions. Most HDTV sets can’t even comprehend this size without blowing off a few caps. With the stronger graphics muscle, 3D games might also finally be able to play in HD, rather than scaling down to 720p to provide better performance. According to Kotaku all the above is true, and there are even Dev kits for the new console in the hands of select developers already.

But what’s really interesting is this whole online activation and connection-required-to-play thing that Miklos reported earlier this morning. It bugs me that Sony is considering sinking to the same level as Microsoft, in fact. Not even Nintendo is going this route, and we’ve seen nary a pipsqueak of the Wii’s issues with second-hand game sales. And the more I hear of it, the more I’m drawn back to PC gaming even though I love my console exclusives like Uncharted, Gran Tourismo and inFamous (even though I have ADSL, its the principle of it that I have a problem with).

It’s actually quite similar to the way many companies are approaching the issue of piracy. Steam has an Offline mode but needs to check in with the mothership after six weeks. Microsoft’s Windows 8 will phone home every six months to verify that the software is still legitimate. Samsung’s Route 66 navigation software does an online check every week to see if the software license was bought legally. Why are customers without an internet connection left to play alone in their sandpit?

Cutting out all this kills any hope Sony will have that there will still be loyal customers in emerging countries willing enough to put down cash for a basic internet connection to allow them to play the games they bought. Sure, Americans, East-Asia, European and other first-world countries with better broadband internet won’t have a problem, but we certainly will. It’s almost as shocking as the Europe-based GAME stores chain closing down 227 stores because no-one in the industry will do consignment orders, leaving customers with third-party chains and online retailers as their only options. What on earth are these people thinking?