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Sony Camcorders – Once the King, Now the Jester

In the early 2000's I worked at Best Buy and was impressed how much better Sony camcorders were than the competition. Faster focus, better zoom, better durability, Nightvision, and so on. They were the only brand I've ever bought: a few 8mm ones, a miniDV, and finally an HDR thingy in 2013. That's where the problems started.

First, I was pretty annoyed that nightshot was no longer a feature on the cameras. If you didn't already know, taking video in darkness tends to make videos of darkness and that's not very useful. Still, by now we have good cellphones with lights on them so it wasn't too much trouble to use them together I suppose. But the main issue wasn't a missing feature; it's durability.

Sony HDR #1 - Cause of death - tiny splash
(See online!)

A few years back, I went to a water park with my family. I'm not a moron – I know this camcorder isn't an underwater version, but it was a water park and I couldn't avoid every errant splash. Because I've never had to treat my Sony equipment daintily before, I didn't think much of it and wiped the water off, but was surprised to find the screen go dark after a few minutes.

I did a little testing and realized the screen still works, but the backlight burnt out. There's no way it would be cost effective to repair so I just bought a new one instead:

Sony HDR #2 - Cause of death - tiny splash
(See online!)

Granted, the camera lasted for many years (mostly because I barely use it since phone cams are so good now), but every now and then you want to make sure you're capturing in the best light and have a solid zoom. That was the case when I went to the beach this summer. Once again, an errant splash and, one again, the camera is dead. This time, it's telling me that the battery has to be the "right kind" which brings up two problems:

  1. The camcorder broke again with a tiny splash of water
  2. Sony is using some kind of "DRM" brand management to force you to buy only their brand of batteries

DRM is often useless, overbearing, and downright offensive. Coupled with the absurd fragility of modern Sony camcorders, I can see that times have changed and the faith that I once had is clearly misplaced. Assuming I don't just stick with my cellphone (which somehow seems to know how to make better video devices than a company who's made cameras and camcorders since the 1980's), maybe I'll try Canon. They were always #2, but it seems that Sony has voluntarily flushed themselves into that position.

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Sony will let you Play the EU version of a game, but won’t tell you it’s incompatible until it’s too late

Horizon Zero Dawn - Easily one of the greatest games I've ever played.
(See online!)

I first became interested in this game when I heard of the concept: bows and spears versus big robot dinosaurs. There's clearly much more to it than that, but I never regretted it playing it. Besides beautiful graphics, and exceptional gameplay, it has one of the best stories I've ever seen. Finding out what happened and how gave me tingles. This is a rare treasure to be sure and I highly recommend giving it a try if you have even a little interest in the descriptions or reviews you've read (click the pic to go to Amazon and learn more if you wish).

That said…

I received the game as a gift a few years back. Since then, there has been DLC released that adds game content and it has been long enough that I thought it might be fun to play again. So, during a week's vacation I took this last Christmas-time, that's what I did. I bought the DLC, though it was strangely difficult to do and downloading it was a pain, but off I went and fired up the game. It was just as great as I remembered.

Look for the TEEN rating sticker. If it says PEGI with a colored number instead like this one, it's a European disc
(Image used under: Fair Use doctrine)

I had a good time, but as I neared the end, I wondered why the DLC content hadn't activated yet. I looked around, read some guides and did some testing: hours of time to eventually learn the problem: I had a European version of the game.

Well crap.

So, I understand why companies want to region lock games and it isn't always about greed and making more money. It can be about exclusive content, meeting legal standards and so on. Whatever. The point is that all of that should be invisible to the customer and if they're not going to be compatible with other types of content (DLC, exclusives, extras, etc.), a little warning would be nice.

Whoever bought it for me as a gift clearly didn't know the difference and why would they? I didn't know the difference either until I did deep digging online. The game installed and played fine without any warnings or tips or indications of any kind that it was the wrong region. Even when I tried to install the DLC content, it didn't explain the issue, it just failed with a generic error.

You'll take store credit and be grateful for it! You're lucky we're even giving you that! (basically what Sony told me)

With no indication of a real problem vs a random glitch, I went online to buy it, but still Sony didn't warn me the version of the game and DLC weren't compatible and happily charged me for content I couldn't use. Then, when I called to customer service for a refund, they made it sound like they were doing me a huge favor by giving me – not a refund, but an in-store credit.

What should Sony have done?

Customers aren't experts on game systems, programming, laws, or any of the other factors that drives how the Playstation system, store, and network operate (nor should they be). All they are responsible to do is buy games and play games and it's in Sony's best interest to keep it that simple.

They could have sent up warnings at three points in the process (install, in-game DLC purchase, online DLC purchase). They could have just directed me to the EU store for the DLC. They could have sold me the EU DLC directly. They even could have blocked the install and play of the EU version of the game.

Here's the US version of Overwatch. Notice the "T" rating in the corner instead of the number that the EU uses.
(See online!)

Any and all of these would have been preferred to making people jump through hoops. Not only did I have to waste my time and money, if I ever want to play the expanded content for one of my favorite games, I'll have to re-buy the whole thing (because the save games are apparently also incompatible which means I'll have to start over too!). And for what? Preventing all of this would have only required a trivial bit of computer code like this:

if (region = EU) then:

That they couldn't be bothered is surprising below the standard I would expect from a company who's been doing this for this long. Regardless, be careful and don't make the same mistake that I did.

You shouldn't have to know or care about this, but until Sony puts in the effort to make this work seamlessly, be careful. If you get a Playstation game, make sure it has a US-looking rating (which uses letters while the EU uses numbers.)
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PS3 Versus the World

Sony has been going crazy trying to keep clever users from unlocking the PS3 to run homebrew (like the Wii hack which I love!).

First of all, companies are trying everything they can, but in the end it won't amount to much. Consider that all it takes is one person anywhere in the world to figure out the encryption codes (not the real name, but it's simpler) who then shares it online (like in this hilarious example where a user tricked a Sony spokesperson into sharing a PS3 related code to his audience of thousands on Twitter!).

And yet companies get increasingly difficult and stupid about trying to protect their games which only makes things harder for the legitimate users (obligatory comic referencing this concept). All I can say is good luck Sony.

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Next Generation DVD Format War Nearly Over

(Image is in the Public Domain)

Historically, Sony has been on the losing end of format wars, but in this case, they appear to have won. Two of the major movie studios have decided to go with the Blu-Ray DVD format over the HD-DVD.

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Sony Settles for $4.5 Million for their Illegal CD-Virus

Sony literally hacked US citizens and got a slap on the wrist.
(Image used under: Creative Commons 2.0 [SRC][Mod][Comp])

Consumer Affairs reports a settlement with 39 states for Sony's use of a "rootkit" to try and prevent users from copying their music. This forced DRM was detected by computer experts and quickly raised a stir.

Most importantly,

Sony said it was "pleased" with the settlement and said it would stop using copy-protection software that cannot be easily removed from consumers' PCs
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Fake Word-of-Mouth Advertising from Sony Goes Wrong

Hey there fellow kids. Who wants a PSP fur Realz?
(Image used under: Fair Use doctrine)

In an amusing example of fake marketing, Sony created a fake website called "alliwantforchristmasisapsp" where two employees of their marketing firm pretended to be young, hip gamers who blogged about wanting a PSP.

According to the 1-up article on the debacle:

The tide began to turn against Sony's initiative after popular webcomic Penny-Arcade publicly outed the chicanery in a deliberate move to force a little transparency up ins. The Internet was quick to kick the

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DLC or "Downloadable Content" generally refers to addons you can purchase for games on computers or game systems. Sometimes this can be fair in terms of price vs value, but they can also be predatory.