PS4 Tops Xbox One In February 2017 US Sales

Extending its win streak another month, Sony’s PlayStation 4 was the top-selling home console in the United States for February, according to NPD data released today.

Sony did not have a statement to share, but a representative confirmed that the PS4 was the No. 1 overall home console in the US in terms of sales for February.

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In its own statement, Microsoft said global Xbox One game hours in February jumped 11 percent year-over-year, while global unique multiplayer users reached 35 percent-plus growth compared to last year. Xbox marketing boss Mike Nichols called out Halo Wars 2, For Honor, and Grand Theft Auto IV (in backwards compatibility) as helping drive engagement on Xbox One during the month.

A week from today, the NPD Group will announce the top-selling games for February 2017. We’ll report back with more details as they become available.


Nvidia: Will The GTX 1080 Ti Hold The High End?


Nvidia’s GTX 1080 Ti is the new graphics champ according to reviews.

Unclear whether the 1080 Ti will fend off the challenge of AMD’s forthcoming Vega.

Nvidia scores a true Open Compute Project design win.

Rethink Technology business briefs for March 9, 2017.

Reviews are in for the Nvidia GTX 1080i

Source: Guru3D

In my March 1 Tech Brief I talked a little about the presentation by Nvidia’s (NASDAQ:NVDA) CEO Jen-Hsun Huang at the Game Developers Conference. It was mainly a preview of the GTX 1080 Ti high-end video card. I pointed out that the main purpose of the card seemed to be to head off the imminent threat of Advanced Micro Devices’ (NASDAQ:AMD) new Vega GPU architecture.

How successful Nvidia will be remains to be seen, but it appears that Nvidia has done what it can in the near term to boost performance of the Pascal architecture while keeping the price reasonable. The 1080 Ti delivers approximately the performance of the Titan X for a Founders Edition list of $700 vs. the $1,200 of the Titan X.

Reviews just came out today, and I looked at reviews from Tom’s Hardware, Ars Technica, AnandTech and Guru3D. My general impression is that Nvidia more or less delivered on its promise of a 35% performance improvement over the 1080 for 4K resolution gaming, currently the most stressful. At lower resolutions, the performance improvement was less, typically 15-20%.

How did Nvidia manage to equal the performance of the Titan X? More to the point, does this imply lower margins on the 1080 Ti? I thought that Tom’s explained this very well.

The 1080Ti uses the same GP102 chip as the Titan X. Nvidia increased the yield of the GP102 by building in more processing cores (called CUDA cores by Nvidia) than it actually uses. That allows it to selectively disable a block of defective cores while still maintaining spec performance. Out of 3,840 cores on the GP102 die, only 3,584 are enabled.

For the new Ti, Nvidia goes a step further and disables one of 12 memory controllers and some other circuitry, whereas the Titan X needs to use all of them. This further improves yield and lowers cost of the Ti. It’s the single disabled memory controller that results in the odd 11 GB of memory for the card vs. 12 GB for Titan X.

To compensate for the decrease in memory controller count, Nvidia ups the clock rate on the memory interface and takes advantage of some slightly faster memory from Micron (NASDAQ:MU).

So the lower price doesn’t necessarily mean lower margins for Nvidia on the Ti. In addition to the higher yield, normal learning curve at Nvidia’s foundry, TSMC (NYSE:TSM), reduces cost per wafer. The net effect is that Nvidia has probably been able to hold the line on gross margin.

Can the 1080 Ti Defend Against Vega?

It will be interesting to see how the Ti matches up against Vega in performance. Rumors have generally put Vega performance somewhere between the 1080 and the Titan X. The most specific information I’ve seen is a leaked benchmark of the Radeon RX 580 published by VideoCardz for the famous Ashes of the Singularity DX12 benchmark:

It’s actually not easy to find a set of results for AotS at 1080p, since most reviewers focused on higher resolution, but Ars Technica did assemble a set of results:

Often, test results can vary a lot between reviewers based on settings used. The leaked VideoCardz result indicates a Standard preset, while Ars Technica stated that it uses “high or ultra” settings for its tests. Given the performance margin for the Ti in the results, it appears that Nvidia’s position at the top of the high performance graphics market remains secure.

This probably leaves AMD having to price Vega well below the Ti. That could be difficult, given Vega’s use of High Bandwidth Memory 2 (HBM2). HBM2 offers very high performance, but it’s inherently more expensive since the memory is mounted within the GPU package.

Source: wccftech

Nvidia only offers the GP100 version of Pascal with HBM2, and this is only available in the Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) P100 accelerator for datacenter use, which lists for $3,600. If Nvidia has been able to offer better performance without HBM2, this is probably a competitive advantage.

Nvidia’s Open Compute Project Design Win

Microsoft’s (NASDAQ:MSFT) Project Olympus, which I profiled yesterday, also offered some very good news for Nvidia. Although Project Olympus mainly deals with generic open standards for detacenters such as rack and server specifications, Microsoft had a very specific proposal to use the Tesla P100 accelerator in a specific rack implementation.

What Microsoft proposed is being called the HGX-1 Hyperscale GPU Accelerator and it consists of a rack of 8 P100s:

The P100s are connected by Nvidia’s high speed NV Link interface rather than conventional PCIe. Unlike other Olympus announcements, the HGX-1 was designed around a very specific GPU architecture only available from Nvidia, and really does constitute a “design win.”

According to Kushagra Vaid, GM, Azure Hardware Infrastructure,

The HGX-1 AI accelerator provides extreme performance scalability to meet the demanding requirements of fast growing machine learning workloads, and its unique design allows it to be easily adopted into existing datacenters around the world.

Rethink Technology rates Nvidia a buy.

PS4 4.5 Update Out Tomorrow, Here’s Everything It Adds


The next major software update for the PlayStation 4, which contains a new Boost Mode feature for PlayStation 4 and adds support for external hard drives, is coming very soon. Sony announced today that the console’s 4.5 update, which has been available to testers for a while now, will be released for everyone tomorrow, March 9.

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The Boost Mode feature aims to improve the quality and performance of games that have not been patched to support PS4 Pro.

“This can provide a noticeable frame rate boost to some games with variable frame rates, and can provide frame rate stability for games that are programmed to run at 30 Hz or 60 Hz,” Sony explained. “Depending on the game, the increased CPU speed may also result in shorter load times. You can turn on Boost Mode by going to Settings > System.”

Boost Mode is “not guaranteed to work with all titles,” Sony explained. Additionally, the setting can be turned off so that the experience is that of a standard PS4.

The PS4 4.5 update also includes a tweak for PlayStation VR that makes 2D images look better on the virtual reality headset.

“If you’re playing a game in PS VR and you return to the PS4 home screen, you may notice that the resolution looks lower than normal on the TV Social Screen,” Sony said. “Following this update, you’ll find that the resolution of the system screen displayed on your TV is significantly better when you’re out of VR mode.”

Additionally, the resolution quality for PlayStation VR’s cinematic mode will improve with the update, jumping from 90 Hz to 120 HZ if your screen size is set to small or medium.

PS4 4.5 also adds voice chat for Remote Play on Windows PC, Mac, or an Xperia device. This can be toggled on and off by clicking the microphone icon on the tool bar, as seen in the image below.

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Also new with PS4 4.5 is an icon, shaped like a smartphone, that will pop up when a person is logged into PSN but is not actually using their console. This would be for instances where you’re logged in to PSN through the PlayStation App or the PlayStation Messages app.

Lastly, Sony announced that it is upcoming the PlayStation Message and PlayStation Communities iOS and Android apps with the following features, as written by Sony:

  • When you receive a Party invitation from your friends on PS Messages, now you can respond with a quick reply, “I’ll join later” or “Sorry, I can’t join,” when you want to get back to them ASAP.
  • On the Communities app, you can now easily check the PSN service status under Settings > View Status of PSN Services.
  • Also on the Communities app, iOS users can tell at a glance if there are any new posts in their community by checking the badge app icon (the number in a red circle at the top-right corner of the app’s icon).

You can read this PlayStation Blog post to learn more about PS4 4.5.

What do you make of the new features coming to PS4 through the update? Let us know in the comments below!

People Are Already Trying to Fix the Nintendo Switch’s Dumb Design Issues

Image: Thingiverse

The Switch, Nintendo’s new phablet console, was a big bet, but perhaps not a smart one. Despite being marketed as a step into the future, it launched with more hardware issues and irritating design flaws than playable titles. As such, fans who just plunked down $300 are already rolling up their sleeves to build solutions to make their shiny new investment work the way it ought to.

One of the biggest complaints about the Switch has been its flimsy, poorly-angled kickstand. The consensus is that it sucks. And because the charging port is located on the bottom of the console, it can’t receive power while propped in an upright configuration. Over on Thingiverse—a site for people to upload plans for 3D prints—there are three different stands that allow for charging, ranging from a pair of lightweight clips to a full-sized dock. (There’s an officially licensed stand from Nintendo, but that’s going to run an extra $30.)

The shallow joysticks and lack of a d-pad have also been frustrating for some Switch owners. Make these joystick extenders or this d-pad cover if that’s your gripe. (And these are legitimate gripes, especially for a hyped console where basically everything will cost extra.)

Detached from the main body of the Switch, many players found Nintendo’s pint-sized Joy-Con too small to hold comfortably. MyMiniFactory, another place to find 3D-printable designs, has plans for a more ergonomic add-on for people with adult hands who want to play Zelda without getting carpal tunnel. Of course, you could also ruin your Switch’s resale value by sawing the grips off the included controller holster thing and duct taping them to the console itself.

Image: imgur via Brain_mf

There’s been concern, too, that one of the major gimmicks of the 2-in-1 console—the Switch’s dock, which lets it seamlessly blend into a home entertainment setup—could end up scratching the screen. Luckily, the DIY fix for that doesn’t require owning a 3D printer, although it’s a bit silly to drop any amount of money on a product that damages itself, only to prevent it from being used as intended by adding pantyhose or a hand-made cozy.

Image: Reddit via tcran420

As YouTuber JerryRigEverything shows, the Switch’s screen isn’t made of glass or sapphire like most cell phones—it’s plastic. Let me repeat that: this $300 console, which is intended to be fully portable and withstand the damage of being constantly lugged around, has a plastic-covered screen. Nintendo’s consoles don’t lend themselves to home repairs, and having such a shoddy screen feels like a huge oversight.

Our own reviewer had so much trouble even tracking down a Switch that it should not be surprising how many “replica” Switch 3d printing plans are floating around. At least a non-articulating hunk of plastic does exactly what it’s intended to do and costs a fraction of Nintendo’s asking price. Even if Switches are flying off the shelves, it’s a bad sign when less than a week after launch, fans are already having to unfuck your bad design decisions.

4 Ways Nintendo Can Improve Switch to Prove Doubters Wrong
Nintendo Switch

The Switch$299.99 at Amazon, Nintendo’s newest video game system, merges home gaming comfort and portability to create a unique, eye-catching platform.

The nifty Joy-Con motion controllers foster the same casual-friendly gameplay that made the Wii a hit, while Switch’s tablet-style design and side-grip controller slots improve Nintendo’s Wii U vision. When you consider Nintendo’s dominance over the portable console market, it’s easy to imagine Switch following suit and delivering some truly excellent games. Still, it’s just as easy to be apprehensive about committing to the new console, especially with Switch launching in the wake of Wii U’s passing.

Leaving Switch’s Fate Up to Chance

From the system’s catchy reveal trailer, to its painfully detailed presentation, it is clear that Nintendo wants its audience to know exactly what Switch is, and what it can do. A quick glance at professional gaming outlets, or community-focused sites and YouTube channels, reveal Switch unboxing videos, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild reviews, and innumerable hot takes. Nintendo is pushing Switch in a big way, and it’s using the growing trend of gaming channels and online personalities to push the system into the eyes of the masses.

Nintendo Switch Games January 2017

One thing is certain: the Nintendo Switch launch is going to be big. But will the system maintain a steady burn, or be a mere flash in the pan? Switch could be a potent contender in current console market, if Nintendo plays its cards right. But to make Switch more appealing to gamers sitting on the fence, Nintendo should consider tweaking and improving the following four issues.

Switch Needs Strong Third-Party Support

To ensure the Switch’s longevity and success, Nintendo needs good third-party developer support. Yes, we’ve all seen the fancy graphic featuring dozens of developers on board with the Switch. Sadly, this means very little, as Wii U boasted similar partnerships prior to the system’s launch. Third-party Wii U support dwindled a few months after the system was released, and companies like EA abandoned Wii U software development entirely.

The video game industry changes constantly, so we can’t know what games ultimately come to fruition. But Nintendo needs to secure these partnerships to keep the Switch relevant. We know the system can’t compete with the hardware muscle that Sony and Microsoft have to offer, so Nintendo must keep the Switch appealing with solid software options. Because Switch is a portable/home console hybrid, one can hope that the system’s lineup of games mirrors that of the Nintendo DS and 3DS, which enjoyed excellent third-party support throughout their lifetimes.

Nintendo Switch

Nintendo does its player base a solid by making the Switch region-free. You can purchase and play Switch games from anywhere in the world, be they niche Japanese games or big-name multiplatform titles. Wii owners might remember Operation Rainfall, a social media campaign that urged Nintendo to bring several Japanese-exclusive titles to North America and Europe. Games like Xenoblade Chronicles and The Last Story made their way to Western shores thanks to the movement, but it might not have been as much of an issue had Wii not been region-locked.

The Switch is also getting a surge of indie games throughout the year; about 60 have been announced for Switch, including Yooka-Laylee, Pocket Rumble, Stardew Valley, Shovel Knight, and more. This is great news, as it gives Switch owners a tremendous amount of content to chew through in between big-name releases and exclusives. But these games alone won’t be enough to keep Switch afloat: it needs compelling software that goes beyond the indie scene. Third-party support from companies EA, Ubisoft, and Square-Enix, be it multiplatform ports or exclusive games, is extremely important for enticing potential would-be Switch buyers. Bayonetta 2 was a tremendous Wii U asset, after all. We can only wonder in excitement at what companies, such as Platinum Games, Capcom, and From Software, are cooking up for Switch.

Switch Needs Modern Online Functionality

The Nintendo Switch reveal came with the revelation of a new, online service to go with it. This service is free at launch, but will adopt a subscription model in autumn. While this may not sound very different from the services Sony and Microsoft provide, these companies have several years more experience with subscription-based online services, as well as incentives to encourage gamers to commit. PlayStation Plus’s free monthly game downloads and Microsoft’s Games with Gold are prime examples. A quick look at the official Switch online service page suggests Nintendo has a few odd kinks to work out.

The most positive aspect of Nintendo’s new service is the discounted offers on select games, which is a genuinely nice perk, given that Nintendo games don’t usually drop in price. But that’s about the only good thing to come from the announcement.

Nintendo Switch

One glaring issue is the bizarre monthly game download, which lets subscribers download one NES or SNES classic title for free, for a month. The caveat, however, is that you don’t get to keep it after that month is over. This is only worsened by the fact that these games are several generations old and easily obtained online via emulators. Sony and Microsoft both give you a selection of games to download and keep so long as you keep your subscription active. Sure, these monthly offerings aren’t technically free either, but it’s a nice perk, especially since you’re paying for online connectivity anyway.

What is perhaps even more bewildering is Nintendo’s use of a smartphone companion app for basic online features, such as party chat and game invites. We can only speculate about why Nintendo has opted for a companion app rather than designing these features directly into the Switch’s interface. Nintendo’s online approach is odd, and we can only hope that the company learns much from the spring and summer online beta.

Switch Needs a Bundled Game

There is no doubt that Wii’s runaway success was due to the console’s unique motion gimmicks and casual appeal. However, the silent hero in the Wii’s tale of glory is Wii Sports, the quirky, party-oriented sports game that came packaged with the console in some regions. Wii Sports epitomized the Wii experience: it used simple motion controls to great effect, while also crystallizing exactly what Wii offered.

Nintendo Switch is a portable console with two highly specialized Joy-Con controllers that can be paired together for use as a single classic controller or divvied up with a second player for co-op or competition. But the Switch doesn’t come packaged with any game to take advantage of the dynamic controllers or the console’s mobility.

Nintendo Switch

1-2-Switch is a party game that utilizes the Switch’s portability, as well as the two Joy-Con controllers for competitive dueling and party-style challenges. This makes 1-2-Switch the ideal candidate for a bundled game, but Nintendo has opted to sell the game separately and for $50, no less. The tremendous success of Wii Sports, even in regions where the game was not bundled with the system, is very likely coloring Nintendo’s decision to sell 1-2-Switch independently. Nonetheless, the game’s quirky humor, silly mini games, and Switch-exclusive tech would be better suited as a bundled title rather than a standalone game.

The two-player functionality of the Joy Cons, as well as their highly versatile motion and IR capabilities, alongside a pack-in game, would perfectly emulate the NES bundles of old: It would be a modern iteration of the NES Action Set bundle from the late 1980s.

Switch Needs More Memory

Nintendo Switch launches with 32GB of internal storage space for game data, but about 7GB of that is taken up by the console’s system software. This means you could easily use up what little memory the Switch is packaged with on a single digital game download. Alternative bundles with larger storage capacity would be ideal for those gamers who prefer to buy their games digitally.

Nintendo is avoiding the atrocious price gouging that PlayStation Vita owners suffer by making the Switch compatible with generic micro SDXC cards. As you may know, PlayStation Vita uses outrageously expensive proprietary Sony memory cards to store game data. With Switch, however, you can buy whatever size microSD card you like to replace the system’s default storage.

It’s also important to note that Switch uses cartridge-based software that doesn’t need to be installed onto the system, unlike PlayStation 4 which make installations mandatory for digital and physical games alike. Memory is less of an issue if you buy physical cartridges, so you can simply pop a new game into the Switch and play right away.

The issue here, however, is that not everyone wants to buy a physical version of the game. Many gamers prefer buying digital games, as they don’t take up real-world space and can’t be lost. Nintendo Switch’s game cartridges are tiny: smaller than a Nintendo 3DS cartridge. You can’t fault buyers for wanting to go digital to avoid having to keep track of these diminutive, yet highly valuable games cards. Again, an alternative bundle with greater storage options would be ideal going forward.

Plus, game saves are stored to system memory. They’re realitively small files, but add up over time. If Nintendo allowed users to move save data from the system memory to microSD cards, it would be a much welcomed addition.

Final Thoughts

Nintendo is no stranger to iterative system releases. The Switch’s spartan launch may not impress everyone right out of the gate, but I have no doubt that a Deluxe Edition is coming down the pipe, with a larger microSD memory card, a pack-in game, or both. We can almost certainly expect something like it later this year. Nintendo Switch has tremendous potential, and I sincerely hope that it delivers on all fronts, and that Nintendo improves its weak points in time for the holiday season.

With Borderlands 3 In Development, Gearbox Shows Off New Tech Demo

During a panel at the Game Developers Conference, Borderlands developer Gearbox Software provided a look at a tech demo. It reveals some of the techniques that may be used in a future game–like Borderlands 3.

Gearbox boss Randy Pitchford noted more than once that what was being shown is a tech demo, rather than an actual game. The talk provided some insight into the approach Gearbox has used previously to build the Borderlands games’ distinct look. You can check it out in the Twitch video below at the 1:11:13 mark (as pointed out by NeoGAF).

Pitchford started out by discussing the edge outlining Gearbox has used, saying, “We want to evolve this look for the future, to make it more natural and basically next-gen.”

He also talked about new tools that provide Gearbox artists with more flexibility. In particular, one “allows the scene to simulate in real time as time of day changes or conceivably we have different physics, if we, for example, were to explore different planets. There might be different physics, and the sun and the moons might be in different positions than we’re used to on Pandora.”

Pitchford never says this work is part of Borderlands 3, but given it’s an evolution of techniques used for past games in the series, it’s the natural assumption.

In two different scenes, a Borderlands-looking character is shown off. The first time, her back is to the viewer, while the second sees her conveniently positioned with her shoulder pad blocking her face. Pitchford said, “Don’t worry about the character,” but acknowledged that it was no coincidence that her face was obscured. That would seemingly suggest it’s a returning character from a previous game.

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Gallery image 1Gallery image 2

At the end, Pitchford showed a scene that “gives you a sense of what a future game from Gearbox might look like.” He also reiterated that what was being shown wasn’t specifically part of a game.

“This is not a video game; this is a technology demonstration of some ongoing research and development at Gearbox Software,” he said. “Some or all of the technologies that I demonstrated may be utilized by future Gearbox Software video games.”

He then extended an offer to work with prospective developers and technology companies, before addressing fans. “If you’re a customer that’s looking forward to a future Borderlands game, we’re working on it,” he said. “We’ll get you soon.”

Pitchford confirmed that a new Borderlands was in development last year, though it won’t necessarily be called Borderlands 3.

Nintendo Switch Review: To Buy Or Not To Buy, That Is The Question


This is part one of our Nintendo Switch review. Expect more aspects of the new video game console to be touched on in the future as more features are rolled out and more content is added.

Credit: Erik Kain/Nintendo

I’ve spent the past week playing around with Nintendo’s new console, the Switch, and there’s still tons of things I don’t know about it. With early, early hardware reviews like this one, think of it less as a complete review of the product and more as a guide to help you determine whether or not you should go out and buy the Switch at launch. Is this console worth your hard-earned money? Does it achieve its stated goals? At this stage in the game, will it provide you and your family with enough fun and entertainment to justify the sticker price?

Before we get started, let’s talk about what we don’t yet know about the Switch.

Known Unknowns

  • The Virtual Console is not available at launch. This means that anyone hoping to play older games on the Switch to fill up the content deficit will not be able to, at least for the time being.
  • There’s a big day-one update but we still don’t know what all that will entail, since day one has yet to arrive.
  • Nintendo will have a paid multiplayer service but it isn’t coming out for a while and we don’t know exactly how it will work. We do know that it’s cheap, and that you’ll use your phone for chat. I suspect that this is due to the system’s portable nature, so that you can still use the service when Wi-Fi isn’t available, but we’ll see.
  • How Nintendo accounts interact with your Switch remains something of a mystery.
  • We don’t know what the eShop will look like or how it will differ from the eShop on the Wii U.
  • How Switch consoles will network together remains up in the air. You’ll be able to network up to eight of them and play games together that way, which sounds amazing—like a return of the LAN party minus dragging around huge gaming PCs—but this isn’t something we’ve been able to test yet.
  • What sort of non-gaming apps will be available for the Switch, such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, Pandora and so on and so forth. We have no clue when, or if, any of these services will be available, though I can’t imagine Nintendo won’t add support for these in the future. Netflix on the go makes too much sense.
  • ???

So those are the big, lingering questions still swirling about the Switch just days before launch. For this reviewer, none of these question marks are deal-breakers by any means. For many consumers, these alone will be enough reason to wait and see. Now let’s move on to what we do know.

How it works.

The Switch is a portable/home hybrid console. The system itself is a tablet. It comes with two controllers called Joy-Cons, a “grip” to use these when not attached to the tablet, a docking station and a power cable and HDMI cable.

There are essentially three “modes” that the Switch operates in:

  • Portable mode is when the tablet is not docked to the TV and the Joy-Con controllers are attached to the tablet, essentially turning it into a high-definition portable gaming console. Games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild look absolutely lovely in portable mode, making this easily the best-looking portable console ever made. The screen is crisp and colorful and bigger than something like the PS Vita. It’s also far, far better looking than anything on the 3Ds.
  • Docked mode is when the system is docked in its station and attached via HDMI to a television set. In this mode, you’ll either use a Pro Controller, or detach the Joy-Cons and use them with the grip. The exact same games that work in portable mode will also work in docked mode, only on your screen. There aren’t enough games out there yet to say how performance will differ between these two modes, but Zelda definitely has more frame rate issues in docked mode. (More on that in my Zelda review.)
  • Tabletop mode is when the tablet is un-docked and set up on a table or counter or tray with either the kickstand or some other stand (which I recommend getting as the kickstand is somewhat flimsy) and the Joy-Cons are detached. This is where party games come into play, like 1-2 Switch. You’ll also be able to play games like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe in tabletop mode, with each Joy-Con serving as one controller.

Moving between modes is very easy, but it’s made easier by owning a Pro Controller. Going from docked to portable is as easy as lifting the tablet out of its cradle; the image seamlessly switches from the TV to the tablet. The only trick is then detaching the Joy-Cons from the grip and sliding them into the tablet’s sides, which results in an oddly satisfying little “snap” sound. This is not difficult, though you do have to press a button on the back of the Joy-Cons to release them. Having a Pro Controller means you’ll only have to detach the Joy-Cons when playing in tabletop mode rather than going from docked to portable.

Read More: Here Are Some Of The Amazing Things You Can Do In ‘Zelda: Breath Of The Wild’

My kids playing 1-2 Switch in the dining room. (Credit: Erik Kain)

What I Like About The Switch

I’ll get to the system’s issues down below. First, let’s talk about what the Switch gets right.

From a design perspective, the hardware is absolutely beautiful. Other than the kickstand, the tablet itself is sleek and feels great to hold, especially when the Joy-Cons are attached.

The dock is a little cheap feeling, but all it really does is attach the tablet via USB-C to the HDMI signal that’s then transmitted over to the TV. Beyond physically holding the Switch in place, there’s not much to the dock itself.

The Joy-Cons are small, and many people have said they feel cramped or oddly laid out, but I really don’t find anything about them I dislike. I thought I would be more cramped by them, or more annoyed by their size and layout, but it turns out they feel really good to use. I suppose mileage will vary a great deal here.

The Joy-Cons also have remarkable haptic feedback. In one 1-2 Switch game you’re tasked with holding a Joy-Con in the palm of your hand and tilting it. Inside it feels like little balls, or marbles, are rolling around as you tilt it, and you have to guess how many. The striking thing is that it really feels real. That’s how pinpoint accurate the feedback is. It’s quite astonishing.

I also like the motion control features, both in games like 1-2 Switch where you’re sword-fighting and quick-drawing, but also in a game like Zelda where you can aim your bow just by moving the controller. It’s subtle rather than in-your-face, and it feels incredibly natural in practice.

It’s very easy to use amiibo simply by touching one to the right thumbstick. In the Switch version of Skylanders Imaginators, for instance, there’s no portal at all. You simply touch the figurine to the thumbstick and they pop up on the screen.

The screenshot button is also pretty great, taking instant screenshots with a nice “click.” Someday this will also feature video recording, just not today.

That “click” is just one way that the Switch uses audio to supplement its visual design. Others include when you slide the controllers into place and hear the nice little “snap” sound. This is small stuff, but added up it makes a big difference.

Ultimately, the Switch is a sleek, accessible console that feels vastly different from anything else we’ve seen up to this point. It’s fantastic for party games, since it’s so easy to take on the go, and the convenience of being able to play a game docked to your TV at home, or on the bus, or at a picnic, or really wherever you want to is absolutely wonderful.

Read More: The Nintendo Switch Is A Technological Work Of Art

What Bugs Me About The Switch

I haven’t had the syncing issues that others have reported with the left Joy-Con controller desyncing in docked mode. Apparently this is happening when something gets in-between the controller and the Switch, blocking the line of sight between the two. Maybe that’s just never happened to me, or maybe it doesn’t happen with every unit. I don’t know. It’s another known unknown!

I’ve already mentioned the flimsy kickstand. It also keeps the tablet far too vertical for my comfort, making me worry that the slightest bump of the table could send the thing crashing to the ground. I recommend a third-party stand of some sort if possible, or a case that can double as a stand.

I’m also a little worried about how games will perform when docked, given some of the frame rate issues in Zelda. Then again, that game is vast and complex and there’s a lot going on at all times. Frame rate drops tend to happen in very busy scenes, with lots of waving grass and rain and so forth.

Perhaps the most troubling aspect of the Switch, however, is its price. $299 for the console is perfectly fine, but I think it should have been bundled with 1-2 Switch rather than come game-free. Then again, I think all consoles should come bundled with a game, just like the old days.

It’s really the accessories that make the Switch so expensive. Micro-SD cards aren’t cheap, and you’ll need them if you want to download games rather than just use physical cartridges. Add on a Pro Controller, a case, a charging grip (the one included doesn’t charge the Joy-Cons) and a game and you’re closer to $500 than $300 in short order.

But honestly, none of this is really that big of a deal to me. A new system is going to require new accessories, new games and so forth. What this offers in return—a portable console doubling as a home console, with potential to be the next big party game machine—is more than worth it.

Perhaps the biggest issue just in terms of sins of omission is the lack of Bluetooth support for audio devices. You won’t be able to use a wireless headset with the Switch, and the Joy-Cons don’t have headphone jacks either. There’s a 3.5 millimeter jack on the Switch itself, which is fine for portable gaming, but you’ll need to use an extension cable when docked. (And yes, you can this jack while docked, overriding the HDMI audio output.)

The USB-C input on the system is also in a sometimes annoying place. Located at the bottom of the tablet, it works great when handheld or docked, but makes charging while in tabletop mode impossible. Fortunately, the system should net you about five hours of battery time, more than enough for most gamers.

The One Scary Moment I Had With The Switch

I did have one very frightening moment with my review Switch unit. I’d been playing with it for several days without issue. Then, one afternoon, I went to play some Zelda and pressed the power button while the Switch was docked. It didn’t turn on. I took it out of the dock and tried again. Again, it didn’t turn on. I figured the battery must have died. Maybe it wasn’t docked properly or something like that. To be sure, I took the power cable out of the dock and plugged the tablet in directly. When I still didn’t get any power, I made sure the cable and outlet were working by testing it on my Google Pixel phone. It worked fine.

I charged it for a while longer, and when it still wouldn’t turn on I asked Nintendo for help. They had me hold the power button down for 15 seconds, let go and wait a second, and then press the power button normally. This didn’t work the first time I tried it, but it did the second time and I haven’t had an issue since. I’ve asked Nintendo what could have caused this and they have yet to reply. This was a very worrisome moment, both because I worried I had a lemon and that this could be a widespread issue for the Switch, and because I had many, many hours of Zelda saved on the system memory. Suffice to say, I was greatly relieved when it fired back on.

I have not heard of this happening to anyone else, though given that Nintendo had a solution readily in place for my problem, it must be an issue they’ve dealt with before. That’s something to consider, at least, when pondering a purchase.

Credit: Erik Kain

Read More: 5 Reasons Why You Should Buy A Switch At Launch


So back to the $299 question: Should you buy a Nintendo Switch at launch? After all, there aren’t going to be a ton of games available on day one. We’ll have to wait over a month for Mario Kart, until summer for Splatoon 2 and until the holidays for Super Mario Odyssey.

I would only say this: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is perhaps the most compelling launch video game ever released with a new console, or at least one of the best. I’ll have much more to say about that game in coming days, when my review (or reviews) post, but the TL;DR version is that I would buy a Switch just to play the new Zelda, and I wouldn’t bat an eye. But more than that, I think the Switch does what it sets out to do incredibly well. This is a truly next-gen machine. What it lacks in raw horsepower, it makes up for in slick design, ease of use and portability. There’s so much potential here for truly great, unique gaming experiences, I’m actually excited to see where this system goes.

Picture you and your friends, all equipped with your own Switch, playing competitive shooters together around a table, or working together in a co-op RPG, or racing in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. Imagine being able to take your party games with you over to family gatherings and friends’ houses. This is what I mean by potential. We may not have enough games to truly test out the Switch’s full capabilities, but I can see this becoming something truly groundbreaking.

Basically, the Switch can be whatever you want it to be. Want it to be a handheld console? It’s the best there is. Want to mostly play at home? No problem. Excited to do more co-op and party gaming? You can’t beat what the Switch offers. It’s not the graphical power-house that the PS4 is, and it won’t hold a candle to the Scorpio, but that’s beside the point, at least as far as this reviewer is concerned.

For these reasons, and just because I truly have enjoyed my time with the Switch, I give it a Buy on my Buy/Hold/Sell scale. For those of you who want to wait for more content or to make sure some of these big questions are answered first, Hold off by all means. It won’t hurt to wait, though you will be missing out on one of the greatest video games of the decade.

The Nintendo Switch launches this Friday, March 3. I can’t wait to hear everyone’s thoughts once they have one in hand.

If you have any other questions about the Switch, let me know in the comments or on Twitter or Facebook and I’ll do my best to answer them.

Xbox One And PC Getting Netflix-Like Subscription Service Called Xbox Game Pass

Microsoft has announced Xbox Game Pass, a service that offers “unlimited access to over one hundred great Xbox One and Xbox 360 titles” as part of a monthly subscription of $9.99 / £7.99 per month. The service is expected to launch “late Spring 2017” and will be available for Xbox One and PC.

As detailed on the website, games include Halo 5: Guardians, Payday 2, NBA 2K16, and Lego Batman. New games will be added to the catalogue of games available on the service “every month” as others are removed.

“Play games across multiple genres, from action/adventure and family favourites to shooters, sport, puzzle games and more. And with new titles added every month, you’ll always have a wide selection of great games to choose from,” the website reads.

Games are downloaded “directly to your console and play online or offline in full-fidelity, without any streaming or connectivity issues.” Those that subscribe will also be given a 20 percent discount on purchasing a game from the catalogue and 10 percent off “all related add-ons.” Discounts to add-ons are only available “while the base game is currently in the catalogue.” Xbox Live Gold is not required to play Xbox Pass games, though you’ll still need a Gold membership to play multiplayer in those titles.

“As we prepare to launch Project Scorpio this holiday, bringing the most powerful console ever made to the Xbox One family of devices, we continue to make platform improvements to connect the growing community of players on Xbox Live and add to a robust and diverse portfolio of games across Xbox One and Windows 10,” reads a statement from head of Xbox Phil Spencer.

Those that are part of the Xbox Insider Program will be able to test Xbox Game Pass “in the Alpha Preview ring starting today with a very limited number of titles.”

EA offers a similar service with EA/Origin Access, which lets subscribers play a selection of titles on Xbox One or PC at no additional cost. They are also frequently given access to new releases earlier than the general public. For example, subscribers will be able to play 10 hours of Mass Effect: Andromeda on March 16. The full game launches on March 21 (March 23 in Europe).

E3, the video game expo, will finally open to the public this year

The Electronic Entertainment Expo — better known as E3 — one of the world’s biggest video game expos, has always been closed to the public. If you wanted to get into this gaming Mecca, you had to join the video game industry. Or find a way to sneak inside.

But this year, for the first time ever, this California gaming dream is letting the public in. GameSpot reports that the show will sell 15,000 full-access, three-day tickets to the event, which runs June 13-15 at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

Not just anyone will be able to afford one of those tickets, mind — they’ll cost $150 a pop, a price that goes up to $250 after the first 1,000 tickets are sold. The Electronic Software Association (ESA), which runs E3, will sell them here starting this coming Monday, February 13 at 9 a.m. PT/12 p.m. ET.

Not that I expect them to stay at $250 for long! People have been dreaming of getting into E3 for years. You might find prices soar even higher on auction sites like eBay, due to greedy scalpers.

Even without scalping, it’s pricey: Tickets to Gamescom, a show in Cologne, Germany that’s roughly quadruple the size of E3 and welcomes the public, can typically be had for under 20 euros (roughly $20, £15 or AU$25). The Tokyo Game Show offers public tickets for 1,200 yen, or about $10, £8.50 or AU$14.

The bigger question is what E3 is going to be like when you actually get there. My colleague Dan Ackerman, a longtime E3 vet, has been asking the ESA to open up E3 for years. Even this past year, he argued that E3 is too good to keep it hidden away from the public.

But when I spoke to ESA comms VP Rich Taylor last year, he said opening up to the public would make E3 a very different show.

Since there’s a finite amount of space in the LA Convention Center where E3 is held, Taylor said E3 has had to cap attendees at 50,000 each year — a number typically reserved for businesspeople, press and a small number of guests (roughly 4,000-5,000 each year, Taylor said) of the exhibiting companies. Some of those folks may need to go.

More importantly, since E3 didn’t have to worry about mobs of general attendees, the ESA was able to pack exhibitors into fairly narrow rows.

“It changes a lot of things more than just a few more people in the hall, it changes the number of companies showing innovations,” Taylor told me last June.

And speaking as someone who snuck into E3 myself (it’s a fun story!) and has since attended many times as press, I’ve gotta tell you that E3 isn’t quite the place it used to be, and it might not be the way you imagine it in your head.

These days, a lot of the show has been designed with cameras in mind, not people. The lines can seem endless. Unless E3 changes an awful lot for 2017, the best seat in the house might still be your own couch at home.

Still, the 18-year-old me wouldn’t say no to a ticket.

PS4 Update 4.50 Will Add External HDD Support, Custom Wallpapers, Boost Mode & More



Update: Following multiple leaks from the beta, Sony has confirmed that PS4 Pro’s Boost Mode is included inside PS4 update 4.50.

“Boost Mode lets PS4 Pro run at a higher GPU and CPU clock speed for smoother gameplay on some PS4 games that were released before the launch of PS4 Pro (and has not been updated to support PS4 Pro),” Sony told Polygon. Basically, games with a variable frame rate “may benefit from a higher frame rate, and load times may be shorter in some games too.”

You can see more 4.50 features below.

Original Story: With beta codes now being emailed to those who registered, Sony has detailed “some” of the new features you can expect in PlayStation 4 system software update 4.50, which is codenamed Sasuke.

As detailed below, 4.50 will simplify the Notifications list, bring 3D Blu-ray support to PlayStation VR, and add two highly requested features – external HDD support and custom wallpapers:

External HDD Support

With this update, you have the option to store content to an external HDD. Just plug a USB 3.0 HDD into your PS4, and voilà, you now have more space on the console.

This is compatible with HDDs up to 8TB in size. You can download and install applications directly to your extra storage, and the saved contents are easily manageable through the settings menu.

Also, all the applications saved in the external HDD will appear in the Content Launcher of the Home Screen so it’s easy to keep track of what apps you launched recently.

Custom Wallpapers

This update adds the ability to set your favorite in-game screenshot as the background image for PS4’s home screen. Drop-shadows on text, and the option to dim the Function Area, will help keep the system icons and texts on the home screen clearly visible even if the background image you selected is super bright.

You can also edit screenshots using Photo Mode in Sharefactory to make your one-and-only custom wallpaper.

Quick Menu Refresh

As you may know, in the last system update we overhauled the PS4 Quick Menu feature (the menu that appears after a long press of the PS button on DualShock 4).

This update brings additional improvements to make it even more accessible. Now the Quick Menu will cover even less of your gameplay screen, and you’ll be able to access handy Party features via Online Friends, like creating new parties, inviting friends, and joining parties, without transitioning to the separate Party app. The goal is to keep you in the game — and not stuck in menus.

Simplified Notification List

Before this update, the Notifications app had a variety of tabs on the left-hand side, like Game Alerts, Downloads, Uploads, and more. We’ve condensed all of the tabs to a single simplified list, making it easier to see all of your notifications all at-a-glance.

You can also quickly access the Notification settings from the Options Menu to turn off or customize which pop-up notifications appear on your screen, so you’re only being notified about your top priorities.

3D Blu-Rays on PlayStation VR

If you’re a fan of 3D movies, and you own PlayStation VR, we’ve got good news — this update adds the ability to view 3D movies in stereoscopic 3D directly on the PS VR headset.

Additionally, 4.50 will allow you to post things like text, screenshots, and gifs directly into your Activity Feed, and you can tag games or other PSN users so they don’t miss your post. Live from PlayStation will also showcase screenshots people have uploaded as a Public Activity.

Sony’s John Koller adds that there are “more features included in 4.50,” and further information about the system update, including launch timing, will be revealed in the coming weeks.

One of those features may be a Boost Mode on PlayStation 4 Pro. According to an image (update: and new video) posted on NeoGAF, PS4 update 4.50 will allow older games without PS4 Pro support to have a higher frame-rate.

Someone translated the Japanese text and it reads: “When playing games that were released before the PS4 Pro, frame-rate etc might be able to be raised playing games. If any unexpected behavior occurs during the game, please turn off this option.”

Boost Mode has yet to be announced by Sony, so treat it as a rumor for now, but we may receive confirmation as more details about 4.50 leak out during the beta.

What do you think of 4.50 so far?