The Week in Geek: Sony’s risky low-end HDTV consumer play

By Jonathan Blum and Seth Elkin
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The sports cliche “there is no offseason” is true for sports video games, too. In a couple of weeks, we’ll begin a three-month period that will see a flurry of new sports titles. Some of the release dates might strike you as odd, but they’re designed to lure in fans before the seasons begin. By the time we get past baseball’s all-star break, July 9-11, the football season will be under way for gamers with the July 17 release of EA Sports’ engaging college football game, NCAA 08. A week later, we get a new NASCAR game from EA. The new Madden NFL game comes Aug. 14.

By putting out its two football games in July and August, EA Sports has helped plant football into the collective consciousness of sports fans starting in the middle of the summer – just ask around at your local video game shops, especially if you live in a college town. And EA will have a challenge in August when 2K Sports releases its new All-Pro Football 2K8 on the same day that Madden hits stores. The 2K game is compensating for its lack of an NFL license by using the likeness of more than 200 former players, including all-time greats like John Elway, Jerry Rice and Johnny Unitas. We’re always wondering aloud about what will happen when sports gamers can create their own alternative leagues. This new 2K game will start to let that happen in a way that hasn’t happened before. What’s important to know is that many fans – especially the younger ones who are avid gamers – have their perceptions of the teams and leagues shaped by the virtual games they play on their Xboxes and PlayStations. It’s another conduit that broadcasters can use to reach their audience.

While we’re on the subject of gaming, we saw a thought-provoking story this week where a game developer said he thinks the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 are too complex. The head of Square Enix says he’s high on the hand-held gaming market. This whole question of complexity is the reason the Nintendo Wii has been doing so well. It’s popular because it’s easier to use than its competitors. And it has created an entirely new entertainment experience for consumers, because there are many Wii games that simply cannot be played sitting down. We love Tiger Woods PGA Tour for the Wii. And next weekend in Brooklyn, there will be a Wii tennis tournament called – wait for it – Wiimbledon. We think there’s tremendous growth opportunity in these interactive entertainment experiences.

This is a story that has already gotten major play in the press this week, but we still think it’s rather amazing: Sony is going to start selling a budget line of televisions at lower-end big-box stores like Wal-Mart and Target. Obviously, we don’t have to tell anyone in the TV industry about Sony’s stellar reputation. But it’s also no secret this company has been struggling on multiple fronts, while other Asian electronics makers, like Samsung, have been making major strides. The fact that once-mighty Sony has gotten to the point of creating a budget line of TV isn’t good news. Emerson, Aiwa, Sony – which of these things doesn’t belong?

In other tech news, Apple’s quest for tech world domination continues as word comes that iPhone users will need to have an iPhone account. The Championship Gaming Series held its draft … Who needs TV stations when you can stream live cell phone video to the Web? … Toshiba slashes HD DVD sales forecasts … YouTube to test video fingerprinting.

And finally, Escapa. Think you’ve got hand-eye coordination? Think again.

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