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Nintendo Needs HDTV; They Just Don’t Know It

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Of the few details leaked about the Nintendo Revolution, one of them seems to drawing harsh, strong, and brutal criticism: The lack of Hi-definition TV support. Some of you are thinking it doesn’t matter. It does, and more so than you would think.

You’re thinking about the current state of HDTV. You’re not thinking about the future. Everyday, that 12% market penetration inches closer to 13%. Eventually, it’s going to be 14% and so on. The prices have come down. You can find a decent mid-range set under $500. It’s hard to even find a standard definition TV in stores anymore. People are upgrading, and it’s happening quicker than you think.

Nintendo on the other hand, is not. They’re doing the same thing they have done the two previous generations: Falling behind. The N64 used cartridges, which alienated third party developers. The Gamecube failed to support DVDs and online play, save for Phantasy Star.

While the argument is there that online play isn’t what companies expected it to be and DVD support isn’t necessary, then why are they included both of those in the Revolution? They know it’s important, and in actuality, they knew it mattered in the Gamecube, charging people for an online adapter and then not supporting it. Yet, they go and announce no hi-def for the Revolution.

Is this a suicidal move? No, it’s just Nintendo. Before fanboys begin crying that HD isn’t that important to gameplay, it is. It has nothing to with being a graphics-first gameplay-second person. In fact, I did another editorial on just how unimportant graphics can be. However, in the case of high-definition, it does make a difference.

You won’t see a difference unless you’ve seen a game running in full 720p or 1080i glory. Enemies in the distance are easier to identify. Small platforms are easier to make out. Bullets are easier to make out as they move towards you. Shimmering and aliasing isn’t a problem. It may not make a game better; it makes it more immersive.

We’re entering into another generation of insane graphical capabilities. PC games can run games in ridiculous resolutions like 1800 x 1200. Consoles, like the Revolution, are stuck in 640 x 480 right now. It’s a major difference, and once you’ve seen it, you can’t go back. With all the detail being pushed now, it’s almost a necessity.

Nintendo’s PR people went to work overtime, claiming they want to be low cost. Hey, that’s fine. To actually include HD support, to at least have it there and available, is going to cost them a meager few dollars on each console. They’re right to say that it costs developers more. Why not include it for those publishers/developers that have the money to do it? It hasn’t raised the cost of current generation games that support it and according to most third party companies, the price is going up anyway.

They also claim only 1% of Gamecube owners bought the component cable necessary for 480p support on some games. There’s a reason for that. They made the cable only available online, buried it on their site, and charged $30 (plus shipping) for it. There’s hardly even mention of how to actually enable the feature (hold down the B button when booting up) in the Gamecube’s manual. They even took out the neccesary port from newer Gamecubes.

Say all you want about how you don’t need a HDTV. You don’t, at least not yet. Within the life of the Revolution, HDTV has a very strong chance of catching on. When Best Buy or any other electronics retailer is demonstrating the new consoles to sell as an add-on to a new TV buyer, what systems will be connected? Not the Revolution. EB Games has already put hi-def TVs in their kiosks. It’s starting right now, and in a year when the console launches, it’s going to be even more prevalent.

As a die-hard gamer, I know better than to buy a console simply because of a sales person. However, the majority, the people who make Madden and GTA a best seller every year and play for a few hours each week, don’t. They buy what’s hot, what’s cool, and what they can show off to friends. Zelda means nothing to them. Nintendo will not have that market, nor are they trying to capture it. They’re trying to embrace a market they still feel exists, and while it does, it’s nowhere near in the same numbers as it was in their heyday. It’s also nowhere near where it needs to be to base a console launch on.

Nintendo is still a player. Their handhelds are fantastic, still owning the market share with the tough competition from Sony. That’s keeping them alive right now. While I feel they’re too proud to ever become just a developer (what many people are predicting), you have to question their business tactics. This new development is just another strange move for a company so focused on the past.

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About Matt Paprocki

Matt Paprocki has critiqued home media and video games for 13 years and is the reviews editor for Pulp365.com. His current passion project is the technically minded DoBlu.com. You can read Matt's body of work via his personal WordPress blog, and follow him on Twitter @Matt_Paprocki.
  • http://spaces.msn.com/members/dorksandlosers Tan Hoang

    I think Nintendo was right that online play wouldn’t be as popular as Sony or Microsoft thought it would be. I don’t think HD penetration would be as high as many would think, but the audience that buys HDTVs are more likely to be the same audience that buys video game consoles. To me, it’s a 50/50 chance of Nintendo blundering or correctly predicting the future. Most likely, the next Revolution will be HD supported, not this one.

  • http://www.cheapassgamer.com CheapyD

    You make some good points here…

  • http://www.cgl.uwaterloo.ca/~revane/ Edwin Vane

    A correction first. HD does not solve the problem of shimmering and aliasing, it only reduces it.

    You claim HD capable games are not more expensive than other games. Why do you think that is? Retailers/developers will just sell games at the max cost to maximize profits.

    Third party developers say the cost of games are going up anyway? The drive toward ever-better graphics is the most likely culprit. Other next-gen consoles are going the way of HD and look how expensive the projected costs of their games are. I can’t claim that is soley the result of HD capability but the prices are pretty high nonetheless.

    I’d rather prefer developers make the games fun to play instead of packing them with more ‘special effects’, driving development costs ever higher. Then again, I’m still a student and don’t have tons ‘o cash.

    That being said, I agree with Tan. It’s hard to say at this point if not including HD is a fault. I know HD TVs are way out of my price range and many others I’m sure.

  • http://www.breakingwindows.com Matt Paprocki

    Of course the drive towards better graphics is driving the cost up. It’s also the need for voice actors, larger development teams, licensing costs, and an overcrowded market. They’re going to cost more regardless of the HD support. PC games support multiple resolutions, and have for years, yet their price remains at $50. All of that requires programming.

    And yes, it doesn’t solve the aliasing, but it makes it a neglible issue.

    I don’t understand your second comment at all. It contradicts itself.

    Of course gameplay is more important, and like I said, that’s something a higher resolution will help. The days of mistaking enemies for other non-dangerous objects will be over.

    Look around for HD sets or wait a year yet. You’ll start seeing sets under $300 in no time. And yes, it’s a flaw, especially when you’re two closest competitors are pushing it so hard. The simple fact is: There’s NO reason not to include it.

  • http://www.gerardodia.com Falsoman

    I think HD is a great matter and it will be really important in the future. But it is not really a matter in the pressent. There is apparently this 12% penetration in the US and more in the Japanese market and of course this will increase with price drops. But you are forgeting that this is not worldwide numbers. That numbers does not apply on Latin america, where it is still too expensive to have high definition tv. This will change but i will give it at leas another 4 years to have a great penetration of HD in all america making it a real issue for the next generation.

    Also you are forgetting Europe where there is no standard for HD-TV so there is a big issue because you need it before suporting the tecnology there. It may be using the same as Japan and america, but who knows. NTSC-PAL TV and DVDs are different signals and different resolutions.

    Another factor it’s that you can push better framerate and more filtering, lighting, polligons,shaders,phisics and particles with less resolution.

    Better resolution is a big extra, but in a near future i don’t think it is gonna be a decisive factor. Just the novelty for console users.

    Greetings from Mexico. Sorry about the grammar.

  • http://www.breakingwindows.com Matt Paprocki

    Your grammar is fine.

    As of right now, this very moment, no it’s not. In a year when the Rev launches, that number could be 20%. Like the first commenter said, these are the people most interested in new things, including game systems. 20% would be a big market to miss. And in four years, the Rev will still be on the market, likeley hitting its prime.

    I know the world numbers aren’t as strong. There are three main parts of the gaming world: US, Europe, Japan. Europe has had RGB for years, and most gamers there grew up playing computer games. HD isn’t going to be a major leap for them like it is elsewhere. Japan and the US are the markets that need this.

    Can’t much for Mexico, but I would be interested in learning. There’s not much (if anything) written on the gaming situation there.

  • Doug Smith

    As for the idea that HD makes the problems of aliasing easier to deal with, this is just plain not true. Check out the reviews of the Xbox version of GTA:SA and you’ll see that the graphics did not survive even the minor jump to 480p well. By all accounts the jump made the aliasing problems MUCH worse. I do think that Nintendo is probably making a mistake by ignoring HD, but I think it is a minor mistake. I have a lot of confidence in Nintendo’s ability to produce a console that perfectly fits their needs within the context of their games. Gamecube in 480p kicks a lot of ass. Nintendo’s biggest problem is marketing, and this shunning of HD only makes that job harder.

  • http://www.breakingwindows.com Matt Paprocki

    That’s 480p Doug, not true HD. That also could be a programming thing. A 1080i jump would have made a world of difference.

  • spin_cycle

    um this is just me thinking here but, if nintendo’s new innovative revolutionary controller DOES in fact end up including some form of visor or eyeglass system (just speculation of course) and the hookup to the tv or pc monitor is just for a passer by being able to view what the main player sees, then technically you wouldn’t really need HD at all because small LCD’s (for a visor) cant actually do HD and why go HD and up the price simply for a passer by who isn’t actually plying…just me speculating the different resons they might take the route of no HD…

  • Doug Smith

    If you want another example of bad aliasing and HD, check out Gran Turismo 4. The aliasing in the 1080 mode is MUCH worse than it is in the normal or the progressive scan mode. I can’t play it in HD because of that, and this is supposed to be a major showcase game for the PS2. HD does not always make for a better videogame picture, at least in this generation.

  • http://spaces.msn.com/members/dorksandlosers Tan Hoang

    Nintendo isn’t really shunning HD, it is merely trying to look at the market and see what it will be in the future. Nintendo is looking at it, I think, from the perspective of the US government. A few years ago, the government mandated that all television signals be HD by 2007 or 2008. Many cable companies scurried to adjust and spent billions. Can you cover it? No, or at least not to the many people who don’t own an HDTV or compatible set. The government, in hindside, did a good thing by mandating technology change. Although now it seems that the government is willing to push that date to further by maybe 2010. TV sets take maybe 10-20 years to die off, and prices aren’t really that great to entice people to upgrade. Revolutions will come out early 2006 and that means that another console won’t come out until 2008-2009? They will still be ahead of that real HD market. Everyone touts technology and its grand change on society. But adoption time always affects technology effects.

  • http://spaces.msn.com/members/dorksandlosers Tan Hoang

    And how many games will really use HD to its potential? If you look at the PS2 or X-Box, only a handful of games really push the limits of those tech specs that Microsoft and Sony praise. Halo 2 and Ninja Gaiden come to mind for the X-Box and PS2 – nothing comes to mind as jaw-dropping.

  • http://www.breakingwindows.com Matt Paprocki

    The Revolution will be around far longer than that, assuming it succeeds. The console life span should at least be five years. If it comes out in late ’06, it will be 2011 before it’s run the full course.

    Keep in mind companies are still producing VHS, but how many people are going out and buying VCRs? HD owners are the tech savvy type. They’re also the main market for games, 18-34. Again, there’s not a reason to ignore it. I see your point, but Nintendo should have stated that (if it is their reason) instead of making things up to cover themselves. It only makes them look more out of touch.

    Doug: GT4 may have more to do with the PS2s ability than anything else. I haven’t played it yet. It’s notorious for jaggies. Try Dragon’s Lair 3-D on the Xbox. Full 1080i and amazing. Terrible game though, sadly.

  • Doug Smith

    My point is that there are lots of examples in this generation of games that don’t look much better just because they are in HD. “Programming issues” or flaws in a system’s abilities aren’t very good excuses, either. There are going to be lower end developers who’s work doesn’t really need the extra pressure of having to create a playable game at HD resolutions. There will be framerate issues with some of these games, guaranteed. I think part of Nintendo’s thinking is that widescreen 480p(which many ‘cube games already run in) will allow them to make sure that their games look very good and run at a decent framerate. At the beginning of every hardware generation we are told that framerate issue will be a thing of the past, and that has never been true. It won’t be in the next generation, either. A more cautious game standard than full HD might just allow Nintendo to produce better running games, especially early in the life of its console.

  • Bill

    Well think of it this way: Nintendo didn’t officially support online play, but it could have if it wanted to. This may just be another case of this. In other words, Nintendo’s PR people might say all they want about how HD isn’t important, but the engineers may probably still put the capability to do HD in the silicon. All the rumors I’ve read about are pointing towards the Revolution having extremely large frame buffer caches, which is just what it takes to do HD content.

    So who knows? This may just be Nintendo’s way of injecting some controversy into their announcements just to keep themselves in the news. This console generation will be quite interesting indeed because all three console manufacturers seem to be engaging in both exciting and questionable business tactics.

  • Alex

    Hasn’t nintendo already said that you will be able to connect the revolution to a computer monitor? That means that some revolution games could be even higher resolution than HD.

  • Jamie

    A next generation console with previous console technology?

    Whoever made this decision should be fired.

  • http://xraystyle.blogspot.com Bryan McKay

    Alex, as for games having a higher resolution than HD on a computer monitor, you’d need a pretty big monitor for that. Native resolution on my 23″ Apple Cinema HD display is 1920×1200, exactly HD resolution. Most monitors don’t go up much higher than this.

  • cartman414

    Some nice, balanced dialog going on here. I like.

    A rebuttal to the PC example though: the difference between PCs and consoles is that for consoles, developers have to work within set parameters for optimizing games to run well under various resolutions, meaning, for one thing, tradeoffs between texture detail, graphical effects, the current resolution setting, and the like, in order to get a steady framerate (preferably 60 fps in many kinds of games). For PCs, they can leave it up to the end user and whatever video card they might use, not to mention whatever effects they might want to turn on or off.

  • http://spaces.msn.com/members/dorksandlosers Tan The Man

    Very true. But consoles are cheaper than full spec-laden computers. The masses are cheap and will buy the cheapest one. It sucks because there haven’t been many top quality games for the computer. Even I was a little disappointed with Half-Life 2.

  • Kay

    Well, I just want to say that i cant help but notice that nintendo is falling behind. and all of the other consoles i think are focusing morw on technical sepcs instead of actual game play. The graphics may be good, but if the game is weak there is no point in even playing it, unless you are a person who is graphic crazy.

  • http://www.breakingwindows.com Matt Paprocki

    Consoles have always been focused on technical specs. It’s what impresses people, even if they don’t understand what half of them mean. Can’t forget the days of 16-bit:

    16 megs of action!
    256 colors!

    That all didn’t mean a thing to gameplay, but it was plastered on every single box. SNK made sure each and every home AES cart had the over-inflated meg count on every box. This must work, because people buy this stuff.

    There are always quality games from the main competitors, regardless of the specs. They wouldn’t release a console if they didn’t have them, even if they seem to be focusing at times.

  • Thomas Martin

    I agree with the article and each of you all’s comments. I believe Nintendo is dwelling on the past, because back then, It was very easy to come up with a new idea that’s totally different from other ideas. Now and days, all games and consoles are almost the same thing, due to having several similarities. Honesty, I’m not a fan of Sony, Microsoft, nor Nintendo, but without Nintendo and their unique paths, the video game industry will end or become boring quicker, due to the fact of playing alot games with the same features and nothing new.

  • Ross

    I would like to say that they probably wont even need HDTV because the controllers are ment to be really good and they said that no other console is going to be able to do what there going to with the revolution.

  • Ralph

    Disagreed. This next generation is not going to be about graphic capabilities, analysists are even predicting Xbox360 may inherit more third party support than PS3 because its specifications aren’t as high. Nintendo is using basic DVD’s and no HD, which will mean it will be easier to develop for.
    It’s not about who has the most powerful system (PS2, the least powerful of all came on a mighty number one) it’s who has the best games to drive the system. Nintendo has a chance.

  • eyeball226

    About HD-TV market penetration. There is no HD-TV in Europe, it just isn’t used. People may start buying them for gaming but there will be less of a reason for using them as there is no service.

  • http://www.gamejunkie.com Scott Vieth

    There is a web site working towards getting the word out to change Nintendo’s mind, it’s here

  • Ender

    All I know is I would be at ease with the next gen systems being ready for any kind of market variations. I mean, if Nintendo isn’t sure whether or not the future market will be largly HDtv owners or not, wouldn’t it be frugal of them to include compatability since it does only cost about 2 dollars more per console. If they lose money, they don’t lose too much, but if including compatability does hit home they’ll stand to make much more than they possibly could have lost. Tell me who’s going to Not buy a console because it DOES have HD-tv compatability. deuce!