HolidayBuyer's Guide

Week in review: Play it again

Attendees descending on E3, the game world's biggest conference, may be feeling a little deja vu.

Attendees descending on the gaming world's biggest conference may be feeling a little deja vu.

The Electronic Entertainment Expo kicked off in Los Angeles with Sony announcing that its oft-delayed PlayStation 3 game console would hit store shelves in North America on Nov. 17, a breath before the holiday shopping season kicks off.

The PS3, which is based on the Cell processor, will play CDs and DVDs, and will include a Blu-ray drive. It also includes built-in Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity, as well as Ethernet compatibility. Further, it includes Dolby digital surround-sound functionality and supports high-definition video.

The PS3 will come in two configurations: one version with a 60GB hard drive that will cost $599 and a second with a 20GB hard drive that will come in at $499. Those prices are significantly higher than Microsoft's Xbox 360, which has two versions--one with a 20GB hard drive that costs $399 and another with no hard drive that retails for $299.

If Sony's announcement sounds familiar, that's because the company told us much the same thing at last year's E3, where the company declared that the next-generation game console would be in our hands by now.

Many CNET News.com readers were unhappy with some of PS3's technical specs and debated the value of the Blu-ray drive.

"Not only is the price offensive, but Sony's insistence on the stupid Blu-ray in every system is another perfect example of Sony trying to impose a new media format on the market," one reader wrote in News.com's TalkBack forum.

Many anticipated that Nintendo would also unveil specific pricing and availability information for its forthcoming next-generation console, the puzzlingly named Wii (pronounced "we").

Instead, we got the first detailed demonstration of the Wii controller, a two-handed, motion-sensitive system that enables players to mimic actions on-screen with the movement of their hands. Users playing a tennis game, for example, will be able to serve by raising their controller above their head and swinging down. Similarly, fighting games will allow players to swing swords or shoot arrows with hand movements.

The game world also got a blast from the past from Microsoft, which touted new partnerships that will bring classic games such as "Ms. Pac Man" and "Paperboy" to the Xbox 360's Live Arcade feature. The company announced deals with Konami, Midway, Sega and Namco to breathe new life into old titles such as "Dig Dug," "Sonic the Hedgehog" and "Root Beer Tapper."

One could also take a trip down memory lane via E3's "interactive game museum," which was a hit with attendees eager for a chance to play their favorites from yesteryear. Those at the "museum" could take a peek at some mighty old handheld games and get their hands sweaty playing on old consoles like Mattel's Intellivision or on classic arcade machines like Galaga.

Washington watch
The Beltway Boys had our attention this week, mostly because they were keeping close tabs on us.

Social-networking sites like MySpace.com, LiveJournal and Facebook are the potential targets for a proposed federal law that would effectively require most schools and libraries to render those Web sites inaccessible to minors, an age group that includes some of the category's most ardent users.

A group of Republican congressmen endorsed new legislation that would cordon off access to commercial Web sites that let users create public "Web pages or profiles" and also offer a discussion board, chat room or e-mail service.

That's a broad category that covers far more than social-networking sites such as Friendster and Google's Orkut. It would also sweep in a wide range of interactive Web sites and services, including Google's Blogger, AOL and Yahoo's instant-messaging features, as well as Microsoft's Xbox 360, which permits in-game chat.

Meanwhile, President Bush tried to quell a growing controversy over an electronic surveillance program he authorized, saying it is designed to track terrorists and not to intrude on the private telephone conversations of Americans. Bush said Americans' privacy is "fiercely protected," but he did not directly respond to an article published on Thursday in USA Today that said the National Security Agency is secretly collecting the phone call records of Americans' domestic calls, using data provided by AT&T, Verizon Communications and BellSouth.

Ever since news of the surveillance program became public in December, the president and members of his administration have stressed that it was limited to intercepting phone conversations and e-mail messages where one party to the conversation was outside the United States. In January, Bush assured Americans that "one end of the communication must be outside the United States."

However, Capitol Hill politicians reacted angrily to the report. In a sign that political opposition to surveillance conducted by the National Security Agency may be growing, a wide range of top Democrats took aim at the program throughout the day and called for immediate hearings to investigate the president's eavesdropping and data-mining efforts.

Pennsylvania's Arlen Specter, the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, vowed to force executives from AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth to show up at a hearing and answer questions about data they quietly handed over to the NSA without court approval.

The goods on Google
Google unveiled an update to its Google Desktop product, as well as several new products designed to enhance information gathering on the Web. At its annual press day, the search giant took the lid off Google Desktop version 4, Google Notebook, Google Trends and Google Co-op.

The new version of Google Desktop lets people use small interactive applications from within the product's Sidebar without having to download software or open up a browser. Google Desktop 4 is integrated with other Google products to let people use the Sidebar to, for instance, easily see when their friends' birthdays are via the Orkut social network or see events they have scheduled on a particular day via Google Calendar.

Google executives also downplayed their battle with Microsoft but said they are keeping an eye on their larger rival's plans for embedding Web search functionality into Vista, its delayed next-generation operating system.

Asked during an executive question-and-answer session about the company's concerns about Vista, Google co-founder Sergey Brin said Microsoft had behaved anticompetitively in the past when the Netscape browser was giving Internet Explorer stiff competition in the mid-1990s.

"We just see the history of that company behaving anticompetitively and...not playing fair," he said. "So I think we want to...look at the areas where that power can be abused."

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer responded that Google seems to want special treatment on Internet Explorer. His remarks centered on the default search engine in the Web browser. Right now, when people update their version of IE, the software won't change their default search settings.

"If you pick Yahoo, it will stay on Yahoo," Ballmer said.

Google, however, has complained about how the system works. The complaints could be taken as a disguised way to help that company grow its segment in search, Ballmer suggested.

Also of note
A judge ruled in favor of Apple Computer in its long legal battle with Apple Corps, the record label launched by The Beatles...BitTorrent, creator of file-sharing software that for some has become synonymous with piracy, struck a landmark distribution deal with a Hollywood studio...TiVo inked an agreement that will let subscribers get videos on their digital video recorders in a deal that effectively lets select Web sites get onto your TV...Yahoo and Telemundo Network Group plan to merge their U.S. Spanish-language Web sites to try to expand their reach into the growing Hispanic market and bolster their presence among advertisers.

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