News from the virtual world:
— BUDGET BUSTED: During the 2006 holiday season, when everyone was scrambling to find a PlayStation 3, I stumbled across a pile in a toy store in northern Virginia.
The clerk told me he was unable to sell them to even the most desperate gamers — and all because of 40 missing gigabytes.
Sony introduced the PS3 in two flavors: one with 20 gigabytes of memory for $500, and one with 60 gigabytes (and a few other features) for $600. But no one wanted the cheaper model, and Sony spokesman Dave Karraker said the higher-end version outsold it 10-to-1.
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So the 20-gigabyte PS3 is being discontinued.
"Better to put resources toward the ones that retailers want," Karraker said.
There are still several thousand of the $500 consoles in stores, but once they run out, that's it. Now, what about that 80-gigabyte unit we've been hearing rumors about?
— WORLDWIDE WII: Nintendo has used the Wii's Internet capabilities to deliver a variety of non-game-related material you didn't realize you wanted on a console: weather forecasts, Associated Press news, even the silly yet addictive "Everybody Votes" polling channel.
Now, something you can really use when your PC is acting up: a full-blown Internet browser.
Nintendo's Internet Channel, developed by Opera Software, is so simple even your computer-phobic, "Wii Sports"-loving grandma can use it.
It has a nice, flexible zoom feature that keeps text readable no matter how big you make it, and it's easy to bookmark or scroll around pages with the Wii remote.
The only drawback is the lack of a keyboard, which makes typing Web addresses a hassle.
The Internet Channel is available as a free download through June 30; after that, it will cost about five bucks. But why wait?
— MESSAGE PARLOR: Microsoft, on the other hand, is about to introduce a keyboard for the Xbox 360.
The new device, a compact QWERTY keyboard that connects to the Xbox controller, is designed to be used with Windows Live Messenger, so you can IM your friends while they're fragging you in "Gears of War."
Xbox Live users will be able to download Microsoft's instant messaging program starting the week of May 7.
At first you'll have to use a chunky old USB keyboard or the clumsy virtual keyboard on your TV screen; the adorable new keyboard (which Microsoft charmingly calls a "text-input device") will be available this summer.
— THE ENFORCERS: Imagine you're 15 years old. (If you are 15, imagine you're 12.) What do you think would be most difficult to buy: an R-rated DVD, an "explicit content"-labeled CD or an M-rated video game?
Only 42 percent of underage buyers were successful in scoring a naughty game during "mystery shopper" excursions run by the Federal Trade Commission.
That compares with 71 percent for movies and 76 percent for DVDs, and it's a big drop from the 69 percent who were able to buy M-rated games in 2003, the last time the FTC conducted the test.
The FTC had measured praise for the Entertainment Software Rating Board, the industry panel that rates games for sexual or violent content.
"The ESRB continues to lead all three industries in providing clear and prominent disclosures of rating information in television, print and online advertising," the FTC said.
The commission was dismayed by the presence of ads for M-rated games on Web sites with substantial numbers of teenage readers. And questions were raised about mobile-phone games, many of which are unrated by the ESRB.
Overall, though, a decent report card for the black sheep of the entertainment industry.
— NEW IN STORES: Majesco puts a kid-friendly twist on sudoku with "Toon-Doku" (for the DS) and gives a Wii spin to a classic with "Bust-a-Move Bash!" ... "Valhalla Knights" (Xseed) is an old-fashioned dungeon crawl for the PlayStation Portable. ... Anime fans get "Eureka Seven Volume 2: The New Vision" (Namco Bandai, for the PlayStation 2). ... The week's worst title belongs to Eidos' "Pocket Pool," for the PSP.