How The PlayStation Move Is NOT A Wii Remote

I just played SOCOM 4 with the newly-named PlayStation Move controller. And now I know how the PlayStation 3's motion-sensitive controller is not just a me-too Wii controller.

For those who need the basics, the PlayStation Move is a remote-like motion-sensitive controller with a sphere at the end. The sub-controller is an off-hand controller being offered for some Move games. The Move controller connects to the PS3 with the help of a PlayStation Eye camera, which detects the Move's colored sphere, while tilt sensors in the move transmit their position data to the PS3.

But at first glance, the whole thing seems like just another version of the Wii Remote and Nunchuk.

Not quite. There are key differences:

-Fewer buttons: The Move controller is actually even more streamlined than the Wii Remote. Nintendo's Remote still offers/confuses a new player with a d-pad, plus, A, minus, 1 and 2 buttons as well as a home button and B trigger. The Move has its own home button and underbelly trigger, but just five other points of button input. That makes the controller actually feel a little naked and therefore likely even less daunting to a new player — unless they need their controllers to look like TV remotes.

-No wasted batteries: The Wii remote sucks up AA battery juice. The Move and its companion sub-controller are rechargeable via the same mini-USB connection used to charge the PS3's main controller.

-A smarter controller: I played SOCOM 4, a third person-shooter, with the Move pointed at the TV like a gun and the sub-controller in my left hand to command character movement. Wii games that were controlled with Remote and Nunchuk could be befuddled if the player pointed the Remote away from the screen. If you were playing a shooter and aimed just off the screen, the game's camera might start spinning or the game would pause and ask for the player to point at the TV again. The combination of camera sensors — the Sony Eyetoy on top of the TV detects the presence of the Move — and a gyroscope prevented SOCOM 4 from getting confused. When I moved my controller to point off of the TV, the gyroscopic sensors kept track of my movement. The same thing happened when a SOCOM developer blocked the Eyetoy camera. The precision of the controller diminishes in these situation. but the PS3 doesn't lose track of the device.

-No wire!: The Wii Remote and Nunchuk are tethered by a short cable. The PS3 Move and its subcontroller are not.

-No off-hand gyro: The Wii Nunchuk has a sensor that detects motion, more crudely than does the Remote. The PS3's version of the Nunchuk, does not have a motion sensor, according to a developer I was speaking to. There's a chance that is not final, but that is the case with the controllers at Sony's showcase event today. But that's why two-handed boxing-style games were shown with two Moves. On the Wii, those kinds of games are handled, with supposedly less precision, with a Remote and Nunchuk.

-The colored ball: The colorful sphere at the pointing end of the Move is the thing that the PlayStation Eye uses to detect the presence of the Move. The color changes. In the demo I played with SOCOM 4, the sphere was orange. Why? Because the software detected that there was no orange in the background. If we had been in a different room, the color would be different. The Wii's signature hue may be white, but this varying color at the end of the Move will likely prove to be the Move's visual trademark.

-The Z: Without a Wii MotionPlus, the Wii Remote cannot accurately sense depth.The Wii's sensor bar doesn't know how close the player is standing to their TV, nor can it recognize movements toward or away from it. The PS3, however, can detect such movement in the Z-plane. It does this thanks to the sphere at the end of the controller. If the player moves the Move toward themselves, the PlayStation Eye camera sees the sphere shrink and therefore knows the controller has been moved in the Z-plane. Clever. [UPDATE: Readers point out that a standard Wii Remote can sense some depth. I have even played games — a long time ago — that ask for the Wii remote to be pulled in or out. I never found that detection to be all that precise and believe the PS3 Move, based on how the tech was described to me, should be able to detect Z-plane movement more effectively, without needing to be pointed directly at the TV, as the Wii Remote must be.]

Those are the differences, all less obvious than the similarities. The PS3 Move is being shown to support shooters and table tennis, fistfighting and co-op platforming. These may be familiar templates to Wii gamers who have sampled Metroid, Wii Sports, and Super Mario Galaxy. But at the nitty-gritty level, some of the PS3 Move's difference offer some nice feature improvements — maybe a drawback or two — and something that isn't quite the Wii-too it appears to be at first glance.

And, hey, the Sony person showing me SOCOM didn't even make me wear the controller's wrist strap. A Nintendo person would never let me get away with that.

The Move is out this fall, price and launch games to be revealed.