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Sony reps discuss new firmware possibilities

Recording game footage to PSP, secrets of PS3 Flash support, PS3 screen capture, and more discussed.


Munechika Nishida has posted his latest Random Tracking column over at Impress Watch. The focus for volume 74 of the technology column is on the present and future of Sony's PS3 and PSP firmware.

Nishida got commentary from four key personnel at Sony: Naoya Matsui, head of PS3 product planning; Koujiro Umemura, who's in charge of updates and other network platform issues; Masaki Takase, who's in charge of the PS3 firmware, and Shinji Noda, who heads up the PSP's firmware.

The major feature of the recent firmware updates, direct access for the PSP to the PlayStation Store, was issue number one for the column. Matsui explained that direct access has always been planned since the conception of the PlayStation Network. He suggested that users considering the store's purpose for the PSP to the same as that of the PS3, adding that direct video distribution is planned at some point.

Also notable with the latest firmware updates is Flash 9 support for the PS3. This, Matsui said, was one of the most heavily requested features, with users asking for compatibility with Nico Nico Video, a popular Japan-only rival to YouTube. Sony wanted Flash 9 not just for Nico Nico Video support, though. Umemura noted that the PS3 browser couldn't view many sites, including game home pages, because of the lack of Flash 9 support.

Takase disclosed that development on Flash 9 support began late last year and was actually progressing back during an April issue of Random Tracking, although it could not be talked about at that time.

To get Flash working, Sony ended up taking an implementation of Flash offered by Adobe and customizing it for the PS3. The reason Sony was able to get this tech from Adobe, Umemura said, was because Sony and Adobe have a long standing relationship.

Takase dug a bit deeper into the tech behind the Flash support. Playback for H.264 videos through Flash is handled exclusively through an SPU. By separating the video processing from the processing of the page, it's easier to increase video framerate, Takase explained.

Takase made note of a variety of general speed improvements to the PS3 web browsing experience that coincided with the implementation of Flash. At a basic level, you could say that the system has seen a three times speed increase, he said. Javascript speed has also seen a considerable improvement of about 2.8 times according to Sony's own benchmarks. While not as fast as something like Google Chrome, Takase believes it's faster than general browsers like IE7.

More than processing limitations, the problem with using the web on the PS3 is memory. Originally, the PS3's OS took up 56 megabytes of memory, but this was reduced following the 2.20 firmware update to 43 megabytes, Umemura noted.

Sony does have somewhat of a partial solution to such limited memory, though. Following version 2.0 of the firmware, the PS3 supported virtual memory on the hard disk. The inclusion of the hard disk as standard with every PS3 unit was a great help, said Umemura.

Missing from all this talk of Flash support and speed imporvements is the PSP. Getting Flash 9 running on the portable may be difficult. As Noda explained, the PSP is extremely resource limited, causing Sony's engineers to constantly worry how they'd implement future features.

He brought up the recent full-sized virtual keyboard support, which is a feature that European and North American gamers wanted. This was difficult to implement, he said, because the keyboard has to appear above other apps like games or browsers.

Another difficult -- and possibly impossible -- area is full-screen output of PSP games to the television. PSP games are currently output to televisions in windowed form, taking up just the central area of the screen. Having the PSP output full screen would require some sort of processing on the system's part, so Noda feels that this is a feature that would be impossible to implement without some sort of hardware support.

The new firmware does allow users to output Game Archive titles full screen. This works because the original PlayStation software is running under emulation, and Sony was able to update its emulation software.

Takase shared a few bits on one of the more mysterious areas of the PS3 firmware update, the screenshot capture feature. This, like the video capture feature that was implemented in firmware 1.90, is something that has to be implemented on a game-by-game basis.

According to Takase, the screen capture feature will grab screenshots at the resolution at which the current game is running, and store the images as a PNG file under the Photo section of the XMB interface.

With this and video recording, the developers hinted at the possibility for more network connectivity for the PS3. While YouTube is currently the only officially supported upload site for movies, game makers can chose to support whatever service they wish. Umemura said that he would like to support as many image and video share sites as possible.

Screen capture is something that's already available as an API (a set of programming tools) for the PSP. Video capture support is planned as well, said Noda.

The sky appears to be the limit when it comes to firmware updates, but there's one area that Umemura appeared to give a clear "no" to. Sony is about to launch its new Ad-hoc Party service, which lets the PS3 act as a proxy and matching server to enable net play in select PSP titles. Owners of the 20 gigabyte PS3 appear to be out of luck for this service, as their system lacks wireless networking. Umemura said that it would be difficult at present to allow 20 gig owners to attach a wireless LAN adapter via USB and use the service.

For answers one area of the less game-related areas of the recent PS3 firmware update, Nishida managed to speak with Sony's Software Platform Division 2 head Hideyuki Agata. This division handled the image quality area for software development, and Nishida's question was about the new updated chroma upsampling routines that the PS3 firmware uses. Explained Agata, Sony is using a form of chroma upsampling that's well suited for movement. The method Sony is using is original to the PlayStation 3, but Sony is not making the technological specifications public.

BDMV Format Blu-ray discs cannot use the chroma upsampling functionality. Agata said that if this is something users request, Sony will look into implementing it.

Similarly, videos viewed via DLNA (this is where you stream movies over from your PC) and videos stored on your memory card or hard disk do not support chroma upsampling. This is because there are some slight differences between the upscaling for videos in these formats and videos read off disc.

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