A PC based console, a thought experiment

Discussion in 'Console Technology' started by MfA, Feb 11, 2010.

  1. MfA

    MfA
    Legend

    Joined:
    Feb 6, 2002
    Messages:
    7,008
    Likes Received:
    535
    I see people speculating the present console generation lasting another 5 year ... to me that seems a downright dangerous proposition. There are not a whole lot of people who could enter the console space in the meantime, with one big exception. Valve are IMO uniquely positioned to launch a console, or rather a PC acting like a console.

    I hear the cries of instability, exploits, unsuitable control schemes, piracy etc. coming from the peanut gallery ... but that's short sighted IMO.

    First lets handle the instability and exploits ... the box would run a locked down windows, any necessary system updates would be pushed on it by Steam not microsoft update. It would function as a virtualization host and it would come with Chrome OS as a default guest and allow users use to a real windows guest if they supply their own install and license. With the windows guest it would be a mostly functional PC (no real 3D support because that has to run through emulation, audio&video shouldn't be a problem though) but it still would not be able to affect the stability of the console as a gaming system (expert users could also dual boot, but that's not relevant to it's console use). Only games explicitly allowed by Valve are allowed to be installed, these might include some existing PC games but certainly not all (basically Valve would create profiles for specific install CDs these would take care of all the user input necessary to install the game, the installer would be sandboxed and hidden from the user, setup default UI mappings, create entries for the games in the dashboard etc. etc.).

    Unsuitable control schemes. They could divide up the games they support into a core set which has either been adapted by the developers to work well with a gamepad or which already worked well with one because they were good console ports, then there would be a set of games which worked well with gamepads but where the in game UI didn't necessarily understand them (the game would come with a default mapping for the game pad, including mouse emulation with the analog stick) and finally games which would require a full keyboard+mouse. I think they could launch with a pretty good line up in those two first sets (practically the entire steam line up with the last included).

    Finally piracy ... PC games seem lucrative enough without a solution beyond simply the convenience of using an online steam account to persuade people not to do it. Also I personally think the time is right for dongles to make a return but that's a matter for a different post.

    What would it cost right now? Dual core, 500 GB HD, 2 GB memory, HD5670 ... ~450$ assuming big system builders can get windows for 50$. Still a little expensive, but give it a year and build it with fusion and 350$ should be doable (shop prices with thin margins, not console prices with subsidies).
     
  2. DeadlyNinja

    Veteran

    Joined:
    Jan 3, 2007
    Messages:
    1,221
    Likes Received:
    4
    The old ass Black and White Gameboy lasted 8 years against more powerful color handhelds.
     
  3. MfA

    MfA
    Legend

    Joined:
    Feb 6, 2002
    Messages:
    7,008
    Likes Received:
    535
    Those didn't come with a competitive software library build in ... nor an assured stream of new releases on top of that, they wouldn't even really need to have many consoles sold to get dedicated integration from games ... they could just give the developer a discount on the steam fees.
     
  4. archie4oz

    archie4oz ea_spouse is H4WT!
    Veteran

    Joined:
    Feb 7, 2002
    Messages:
    1,608
    Likes Received:
    30
    Location:
    53:4F:4E:59
    Last time I checked, the Xbox was "PC-Based" wasn't it? :p Granted it didn't give you the option to install an arbitrary OS (legally), nor did it have a browser (which would resolve the chromeOS necessity). Ironically the PS3 does resolve those two problems (albeit Linux only on the fatty models), the lack of Valve support, and since it's PowerPC based I guess it wouldn't be considered "PC-based."
     
  5. MfA

    MfA
    Legend

    Joined:
    Feb 6, 2002
    Messages:
    7,008
    Likes Received:
    535
    PC is shorthand for Windows PC ... that's just how it is.

    The ChromeOS is also there to give it a bit more general purpose appeal. Web/email/open-office/irc/torrents/whatever. You don't want to let the user install random software in the core windows OS because the risk of getting screwed by local root exploits is just too great, it is after all still windows no matter how tight you lock it down.
     
  6. Fafalada

    Veteran

    Joined:
    Feb 8, 2002
    Messages:
    2,773
    Likes Received:
    49
    That's not exactly how people that run the businesses see it.

    For better or worse, PC as a platform isn't conductive to sustaining high-budget content with existing market models.
     
  7. MfA

    MfA
    Legend

    Joined:
    Feb 6, 2002
    Messages:
    7,008
    Likes Received:
    535
    It wouldn't be marketed on the basis of exclusives, it would be marketed on the basis that it makes the multiplatform games look better. That said, timing it with the release of Diablo 3 would not be an entirely bad idea.
     
  8. thop

    thop Great Member
    Veteran

    Joined:
    Feb 23, 2003
    Messages:
    1,286
    Likes Received:
    0
    They already made one and called it XBOX.
     
  9. flynn

    Regular

    Joined:
    Jan 8, 2009
    Messages:
    400
    Likes Received:
    0
    Why would anyone want to buy this instead of a normal PC?

    Would you define a minimum spec for the platform and let it evolve? Keeping a large stock of old CPUs/HDs/etc does not make sense financially if you don't control the manufacturing process, i.e. what happened to MS with the first Xbox and why NV was given the finger when the 360 was designed.
     
  10. liolio

    liolio Aquoiboniste
    Legend

    Joined:
    Jun 28, 2005
    Messages:
    5,724
    Likes Received:
    194
    Location:
    Stateless
    What I would find more interesting than using a console made out pc part (somehow already done) would be for Ms to use their next gen system as the deployment platform for their real next generation OS :)
     
  11. London-boy

    London-boy Shifty's daddy
    Legend Subscriber

    Joined:
    Apr 13, 2002
    Messages:
    21,888
    Likes Received:
    6,001
    It has taken me years to finally be free of Windows in my private life. Dragging it on to consoles would be a tragedy. Why would we want that anyway, current consoles OS's are far from perfect but mighty fine for what they need to do. Personally i find the PS3 OS very practical and trouble free, which is what a console should be.
     
  12. liolio

    liolio Aquoiboniste
    Legend

    Joined:
    Jun 28, 2005
    Messages:
    5,724
    Likes Received:
    194
    Location:
    Stateless
    I don't speak of windows XP/Vistta, Seven, but of a way more radical move to something new.
    Things like those rumoured projects: Midori, Singularity
    It has been convinient for the whole IT market to move through tiny evolution of windows but clearly Ms and the IT business will have to move to something new/different. It won't be easy (like the single=>many threads shift) but it has to happen.
     
  13. MfA

    MfA
    Legend

    Joined:
    Feb 6, 2002
    Messages:
    7,008
    Likes Received:
    535
    It doesn't act like a PC ... you can't fuck it up, you don't have to configure anything, games just work. From the user's point of view it's a console, only for the developer and publisher it acts like a PC.
    You don't define a minimum spec, you define nearly exact compositions. You can change the composition over time, but you need to keep the variations low to limit the amount of testing necessary and potential for screw ups.

    So components going EOL is not the end of the world, but you don't want it to happen too often.
     
  14. fearsomepirate

    fearsomepirate Dinosaur Hunter
    Veteran

    Joined:
    Sep 1, 2005
    Messages:
    2,743
    Likes Received:
    65
    Location:
    Kentucky
    [​IMG]
     
  15. MfA

    MfA
    Legend

    Joined:
    Feb 6, 2002
    Messages:
    7,008
    Likes Received:
    535
    This wouldn't be marketed based on exclusives, it would be marketed based on making the multiplatform games look better ... although launching it during the launch of Diablo 3 would not be a bad idea at all.

    If you really want to fix piracy on the PC though, I think it's possible. Lets forget about TPM/TXT/SEM, it's not standardized enough (TXT/SEM), weak and easily subverted with relatively simple hardware hacks (the lot of them, TPMs can be isolated and sandboxed, TXT/SEM depend on the integrity of non encrypted SMM code stored in a flash chip in the motherboard). For security we need a secure execution environment ... and the normal CPU ain't it (until all the TPM functions move inside the CPU).

    My suggestion would be to simply use dongles, not in the old way (keys and decryption only) but using them to actually execute small parts of the game code (with a bit of luck finding routines for secure execution could be automated with a profiler, they need to use a small amount of data and be relatively infrequent). Each game would come with a pre-order code freely redeemable for one or two dongles if you didn't order one before (tied to steam accounts or something). Together with online activation this should let you build a pretty secure system, if it does get cracked (which would require transistor level reverse engineering for a general hack, or blind re-implementation of the secure functions for a per game hack) and piracy is wide scale enough to justify annoying customers you can make a new dongle for new games (backwards compatible with the old one of course) and let people order new ones (again for free).

    A couple 100 MIPS worth of processing power could be put on such a dongle for a couple of bucks (cheap enough you could consider putting them in the game boxes for a short while).

    These things would also prevent account theft, so it's not a pure imposition on the honest consumer.

    PS. fearsome, could you use a smaller image?
     
    #15 MfA, Feb 12, 2010
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 12, 2010
  16. Prophecy2k

    Veteran

    Joined:
    Dec 17, 2007
    Messages:
    2,467
    Likes Received:
    378
    Location:
    The land that time forgot
    If the system has no exclusive games or content over what's released on PC then what's the point to the consumer who probably already owns a PC?

    Why wouldn't he/she just upgrade their current PC rather than drop $450 on this pseudo-console? If he/she is the kind of consumer that doesn't want the hassle of upgrading/fiddling around with a PC, then what would make he/she want to buy this product over a Sony/MS/Nintendo console with all the exclusive content available.

    I personally don't think "better looking" multiplatform games is enough of a selling point to make a consumer want to buy this, especially given the lack of any unique exclusive content to differentiate it from the competition.

    I don't think your theoretical Valve would sell many of these theoretical consoles.... that and they wouldn't have anywhere near pockets deep enough to complete with their bigger (richer, and more badass) opposition ;-)
     
  17. flynn

    Regular

    Joined:
    Jan 8, 2009
    Messages:
    400
    Likes Received:
    0
    Dongles don't work. Every dongle created so far was defeated. Either the program was patched or the entire dongle emulated. In modern operating systems where you can virtualize the hardware it's even easier to do the latter.

    There will always be someone with enough free time and motivation to reverse engineer such protection.

    If you want to make the system secure you need a custom CPU a la 360 and PS3.

    Your idea of a fool-proof OS for games is interesting though, but I don't see MS cannibalizing its own 360 business with something like that.
     
  18. MfA

    MfA
    Legend

    Joined:
    Feb 6, 2002
    Messages:
    7,008
    Likes Received:
    535
    Meh, people blow money on iMacs as HTPCs ... and those suck for games.
    The PC in general does have some unique exclusive content ... if WoW, SC2 and Diablo3 were console exclusives would you not declare them system sellers? The "it takes 1000s to get a PC capable of running modern games well" myth is still highly prevalent ... this box is as much about hiding that it's a PC as it is about getting it rock solid stable with idiot proof UI.
    If you sell at cost you don't need big pockets.

    They'd piss off Microsoft, but lets be honest ... Microsoft is already plenty pissed at Valve (and half of Microsoft is pissed that PC gaming still exists).
     
  19. MfA

    MfA
    Legend

    Joined:
    Feb 6, 2002
    Messages:
    7,008
    Likes Received:
    535
    I'm aware of one dongle which actually allows you to run program code on it ... Senselock, everything else is crap, hardware copy protection is a backwards market full of quacks.
    To virtualize the hardware you need to reverse engineer it first, not impossible but does require chip level reverse engineering (for a general hack, per game hacks could be feasible with lazy devs ... games which use poorly chosen functions might allow a chosen text attack to map those functions with LUTs, these LUTs could very quickly grow huge though, or eyeball what exactly the function is doing and reimplement it).
    It's not about free time, you need a lab with the equipment to take off the chip cover (which is specifically designed chemically and mechanically not to be taken off) and put probes in a <90 nm circuit.

    Classical dongles are the wrong example to look at, look at modern cable/satellite protection (and those can't even encrypt content for a specific smartcard, lack of a bidirectional channel, like is possible with online activation).
    If they tried to discriminate against a system builder who makes these boxes (and large volume system builders get Windows very cheap) they'd be in court very fucking fast. Apart from getting Windows at Windows Tax prices they wouldn't need any further help from Microsoft.

    PS. found another Dongle which allows secure code execution, Rockey6 ... still, not common.
     
    #19 MfA, Feb 12, 2010
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 12, 2010
  20. flynn

    Regular

    Joined:
    Jan 8, 2009
    Messages:
    400
    Likes Received:
    0
    Is the rest of your environment protected? Because if it isn't I could e.g. make an image of the HD, load it in VirtualBox, find a way to shoehorn SoftIce/Ollydbg into it (it's a Windows-based OS, right) and patch your dongle protection.

    You make a good point, but you need to secure the rest of the system as well then.

    Do you expect to make a profit on hardware? Because I could just open one of your boxes, see what's inside and clone it as everything's off the shelf, then sell it for $50 less.

    Note that I have nothing against your idea, I just don't think it's financially sound. Steam as a service makes a lot of sense to me, but tying it to hardware you can get elsewhere for less money does not.
     
Loading...

Share This Page

  • About Us

    Beyond3D has been around for over a decade and prides itself on being the best place on the web for in-depth, technically-driven discussion and analysis of 3D graphics hardware. If you love pixels and transistors, you've come to the right place!

    Beyond3D is proudly published by GPU Tools Ltd.
Loading...