Xbox 360? PlayStation 3? OnLive? Psh. A company you've never heard of released the first-ever Linux-based gaming console today, and if this is the route that open-source is taking to your living room... count me out. Envizions Computer Entertainment's EVO Smart Console looks like the dark offspring of a PlayStation 2 and a home-theater PC -- only, instead of a baby, a penguin popped out.
Early adopters can pick up the Linux-based console starting today, with retail units expected to ship on April 10. The system will set you back anywhere from $280 to $350, with the price shooting up to $380 after April 17. Most games for the system will come shipped on SD cards at a cost of $20, although Envizions maintains that developers will be free to set whatever price they want for their offerings.
That's a pretty hefty price tag for a system, given the specifications of the machine. But I'll get to that in a second. The reason I approach this console release with a bit of mocking is because there is no way -- repeat, no way -- that this device is going to take off. The only console I can foresee it topping is Infinium Labs's Phantom, and if you know the story behind that, you'll know just how little a testament that is.
Face it -- this is an overpriced Linux box. It's overpriced as a PC, and it's complete insanity given that every single popular console on the market destroys the price-for-performance takeaway of the EVO Smart Console. Consider what you're getting in the package:
AMD Athlon 4850E 2.4 GHz processor
ATI HD 3200-based graphics
2GB DDR2 memory
120GB Hard Drive
That's not a very compelling offering versus the 3.2 GHz tri-core Xenons or 3.2 GHz Cell processors found in the console industry's big sluggers. And then there's the Nintendo Wii -- not quite as compelling, power-wise, but unmatched in its unique gesture-based offerings. But this is just the hardware; now consider the games. Awaiting you on the EVO Smart Console are thrilling titles like Big City Rigs: Garbage Truck Driver, Million Dollar Password 2009, and Fallout 3 -- the latter looking like total smoke-and-mirrors. Last I checked, there was no officially licensed version of Fallout 3 for Linux, nor would I ever believe that an ATI HD 3200-based Linux PC could output Fallout 3 in alleged 1080i/1080p resolutions.
I think it's amazing that the power of open source has helped a company create a fully-functional gaming console -- surely the ability to tap into inexpensive, working software as the foundation for the EVO Smart Console really helped Envizions Computer Entertainment pack as much hardware as it possibly could into this miniature PC. And I'm not picking on the company because I'm bitter and stingy. I only bring them up because I just know that someone, somewhere, is going to look at this machine and think it's the next big thing because it's based on the backbone of community-developed "free" software. As if, somehow, including Linux on a machine or tapping into open-source gaming makes a device the alternative music of the console market.
Well, it isn't. Linux and open source might fly in the PC space, where the power of open-source can actually do some good in the purposely inexpensive netbook market. But this just isn't going to work in the living room. Or at least, not as a gaming platform. I venture that Envizions Computer Entertainment would have found far greater success were it to have instead focused on creating an open-source all-in-one home theater device. You don't need superior graphical capabilities to stream movies. And I'm willing to bet that there are a lot more people who would be happy to purchase an inexpensive -- or even slightly more expensive -- home theater device, as your average consumer doesn't really understand the technical differences of that environment.
But when a company tries to push games like The Battle for freakin' Wesnoth over graphically superior titles like Halo Wars or Metal Gear Solid 4... I mean, come on. Consumers are pretty well-versed in the video game market. And even if they aren't, all they have to do is look at one TV to tell the difference between a beautiful current-generation console title and a bunch of overpriced Linux games. I'm glad open-source allowed Envizions Computer Entertainment to achieve their dreams in some minor capacity. But this is a wrong, wrong turn for living room Linux.