Casting a spell on cable

A start-up in Kibbutz Mishmarot plans on revolutionizing the gaming industry. Its secret? The television.

playcast media logo 88 (photo credit: )
playcast media logo 88
(photo credit: )
A dynamic start-up is readying to become a major player in the competitive gaming industry. After four years of intensive research and development on Kibbutz Mishmarot, Playcast Media says it has figured out a way to revolutionize how people access and play video games. Their secret, however, relies on an old school device - the television. The Playcast service puts cable subscribers a click away from the highest-end "next-gen" video games available without the use of pricey external consoles. All you need is a universal video gamepad and the rest is at your fingertips. With more than $2 million invested, Playcast plans to release one of the latest developments in the video game world on multiple continents by the end of next year. "We have created the ability to take games off the shelf and within a fraction of a second they're on your television set without any local hardware," explains the company's CEO, Guy de Beer. The traditional hardware model requiring the purchase of expensive consoles and games has proved extremely profitable for the makers of the Sony PlayStation, Nintendo Wii and Microsoft's Xbox. But de Beer calls this model "a very significant barrier to the game experience." "The novelty to subscribers is that you don't have to buy the games," he says. Nor do they have to download content as it's done with Xbox LIVE. The company's new technology is already making waves locally. One of Israel's largest cable companies, HOT, is conducting a large-scale pilot program by offering 15 different games to 1,000 individuals for the month of August with plans to offer full access to all of its customers by early 2010. According to de Beer, some of the world's largest cable providers are evaluating the Playcast service, and its technology is currently installed in the US offices of one of the world's leading developers and publishers of video games, Electronic Arts. Playcast claims its technology is more innovative and quicker than that of its competitors. Keeping stride with the company is OnLive, also racing to reach the masses with a similar technology. But unlike Playcast, OnLive still requires an external console to operate. Playcast describes its technology as a high-end video processing system for VoD (cable or IPTV) that streams games in real-time as MPEG streams. The power needed to process gigabyte hungry PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 video games comes from a high density of servers that run the software remotely. In other words, cable companies will be able to offer games on demand through the already existing set-top boxes in millions of homes around the world. Playcast promises they have overcome the lag and latency problems that plagued companies toting similar technologies in the past. By using complicated algorithms - the meat of the company's patent - console-like game quality can be brought to regular televisions. Games produced by Disney, Activision and Electronic Art will be among those initially offered. "For the user, it's a whole new ball game, literally - imagine watching a football match on a cable sports channel and being able to trigger a version of FIFA or Pro Evolution featuring the same teams at the touch of a button...," Playcast's Alon Shtruzman told MCV, an online magazine covering the games business. With a couple of universal video game controllers and a subscription to the Playcast service, access to video games could be limitless. De Beer said there is no restriction as to how many games their service can offer. But their target audience is the mainstream so extremely violent and X-rated games will be left out, at least initially. For the HOT pilot project, the cable company is providing the gamepads that will work with the Playcast service. For countries like Israel where the gaming market is smaller, in part because of expensive hardware, de Beer says Playcast is offering an affordable alternative. If successful, the pilot project with HOT will help determine just how far the company's technology may be able to reach in the coming years. De Beer says the economic situation in the world and a down-turn in game consumption haven't stopped his company's progress. In fact, he argues, it's their technology with a modest price based on monthly fees that suits the times. The company and its Israeli and British investors are expecting to enter at least two markets in Western Europe and North America by the end of next year. -