PS3, DivX, and You

By Mike on 10:53 am

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Ok, so now the PS3 and the Xbox 360 have been given DivX playback capability. DivX is based on MPEG-4 ASP as is Xvid. However, Xvid is not compatible. Like AVC, DivX is a lossy compression technique. It allows you to shrink large video files down to a more manageable size for playback from a hard drive, CD, or DVD. DivX is far less efficient at encoding video than AVC is, however, it has the primary advantage of being faster to encode. After experimenting with DivX playback, I've noticed a few things.

First of all, the 2gb file limit on the PS3 is false. I've noticed that DivX files larger than 2gb burned to a DVD will play. I had a two hour long TV show that I had recorded (at DVD quality) which weighed in at about 6gb (MPEG-2) before compression. I used DivX to squeeze it down to 3.6gb and burned it to a single layer DVD. I popped it into my PS3 and selected the disc from the video menu and found the file. The PS3 indicated that it was corrupted data. I assumed the file was too big but I tried it anyway and sure enough, it played back perfectly. It is possible that the 2gb limit is for locally stored video. According to DivX themselves, in order for a player to receive their certification, it must be able to play files up to 4gb, which the PS3 will do. DivX is a great way to quickly move TV shows recorded on your DVR to your PS3 or Xbox 360. DivX also allows you to encode video up to 1080p resolution for HD video.

In order to encode files, you need the DivX encoder. They "generously" give you a 7-day trial of DivX Converter, then you'll have to buy DivX pro afterward. However, they do offer an open source encoder called Dr DivX which is available from the official DivX Labs. The latest (and only) version available is still in the Beta stage but uses the latest DivX 6.8 codec. It's not as streamlined as the commercial version and novice users may find it overwhelming. However, it gets the job done and is well laid out with lots of encoding features. As with all open source, it's free and community maintained. To use it, all you have to do is select a video file, select your encoder settings, and click encode. You also have the alternative to used more advanced options such as audio encoding settings, custom resolutions, and custom cropping.

2007 Christmas Gamer's Guide

By Mike on 11:30 am

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Not many more shopping days left for all you people out there, and lazy bloggers. I had actually meant to post this earlier but things get hectic this time of year. If you're reading this, chances are you are a gamer or know a gamer and you might be wondering what to buy them for Christmas.

TV Top Consoles:
There are currently four TV top consoles worth looking at. The Xbox 360, PS2, PS3, and the Wii. The Wii is an excellent gift for any gamer on your list since its fun and simple games appear to causal or first time video game players. It's graphics are a little dated but its well suited for those who don't have an HDTV. The Wii is backwards compatible with Gamecube games and features lots of retro content on the Virtual Console. Great for the kids. However, it's December 18th and if you haven't picked up one of these bad boys already, forget about it. You can still find them on eBay but expect to pay on average $350 or more, far higher than the $269 MSRP. If you do go that route, don't expect it to ship before Christmas, and beware of shipping scams (eg. overcharging).
The next up is the Xbox 360, which comes in three flavours. The Elite with its 120gb HDD, the Premium (aka Pro) with its $20gb HDD, and the Arcade with its 256mb memory card. There really isn't much difference between the three units other than storage space. They cost $499, $399, and $299 respectively. All come bundled with two games. ItThe Xbox still does suffer from quality control issues though. However, it's games have broad appeal to both causal and hardcore gamers. Its also the cheapest way to get into high definition gaming. It is also backwards compatible with Xbox games.
Next is the PS3. It currently comes in a 80gb model and a 40gb model. The 80gb is backwards compatible with Playstation 2 games. It's a beast of a console well suited for hard core gamers. It's best described as a home theater system due to its excellent media and web capabilities. It features a built in Blueray disc drive for watching HD movies. A multi-memory card reader also allows you to quickly upload digital media. It does however lack a widely appealing game library and is the most expensive. It costs $499 and $399 respectively. Some older 60gb models are still available and cost $449 at retail. The 60gb features the best backwards compatibility with PS2 games.
Lastly is the Playstation 2. It's seven years old but still going strong. It has a strong game library and is still widely supported by Sony and developers. It's also the cheapest console of the four. It comes in three varieties. All are based on the slim design. You can get it in black or silver sans game for $130. The Sing Star 2 bundle is $150 and comes with the Sing Star 2 karaoke game and two microphones. The PS2 is well suited for children and casual gamers on a budget. Plus, it already has a full library of great games such as Gran Turismo, God of War, and Okami.

MMN Tech's Pick: Out of these three, I would have to go with the Xbox 360 as your best bet. It's strong library and HD gaming capability will make it a lot of fun and it has the broadest appeal of all consoles. You really can't go wrong with it if you're buying it for somebody else.

There are two handheld consoles that you need to worry about. The Nintendo DS and the Sony PSP. The DS stands for double screen. It's a two screened game boy that uses 64-bit graphics. It's essentially a portable Nintendo 64. The DS is a pure gaming system that has broad appeal. It also has excellent wireless networking capability for web surfing or linking up with other gamers for some multiplayer action. Great for both adults and kids who want to indulge in some casual gaming on the go. You'll get games like Nintendogs and Pokemon for the kids, and adults will enjoy BrainAge. The stylus and dual screens add a new dimension to gaming, something Nintendo has made its name on lately. However, it lacks media playback capability. As of writing, the DS can't play music or videos since it has no onboard storage. The DS sells for $140.
The PSP doesn't directly compete with the DS since it's targeted at a different market. Nintendo wants to attract kids and casual adult gamers while Sony wants the adult lifestyle and hardcore gamer market. The PSP features a single 16:9 aspect ratio screen. The system itself is capable of near PS2 graphics though be it somewhat cut down. It uses memory cards for onboard storage and Sony's proprietary UMD discs (like mini DVDs) for games and feature films. The PSP has the best media capability out of any digital media player I've seen and it certainly has the best graphics. Load times are a little long for games though since it uses an optical drive compared to the DS's flash cards. The new Slim & Light has some nice features and sells for $170 for the just the system. For $199, you can get either the Daxter or Battlefront bundle. The Daxter bundle is the best deal since it includes a 1gb memory card along with the game. The Battlefront bundle lacks the memory card but includes a Darth Vader lithographed PSP. The PSP has some pretty decent games too.

MMN Tech's Pick: You really can't go wrong with the PSP since its a music player, movie player, and game system all in one. Even if the person doesn't like the games, they'll still get plenty of use out of it.

PS3 Firmware 2.10 Coming December 18th

By Mike on 10:26 pm

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Well, looks like PS3 owners are in for another update. Firmware 2.10 is coming tomorrow, at least in the UK. This update adds much awaited DivX support.

Quoted from PSU, features include...

Voice Changer

The Voice Changer feature has been added to voice / video chat. Visit the Voice Changer guide in Help & Support under PS3 at for more details.
Using this feature, you can change the tone of a voice that is input from an audio device such as a microphone. High and low-pitched tones can each be adjusted to five preset levels. You can vary the tone when using voice / video chat under Friends.


* You can now select [Type 3] as an option under Settings > [Music Settings] > [Bitmapping]. This bitmapping process was developed specifically for the PS3TM system to enhance audio playback.


* DivX and VC-1 (WMV) have been added to the types of files that can be played. *
* Blu-ray Disc Profile 1.1 is now supported. **
* [BD Data Utility] has been added. ***

*To play VC-1 (WMV) format files, you must go to Settings > [System Settings] and set [Enable WMA Playback].

- Copyright-protected files or files that were encoded by using DivX 3.11 cannot be played. - Files that are 2GB or more cannot be played.

So we have the latest BD profile and the ability to play WMV and DivX. I suspect that the 2gb file limits may have to do with politics of the MPAA (and piracy fears) but this can easily be circumvented by splitting video up into multiple files. It's unknown whether the Mpeg-4 ASP based open source codec Xvid will work. Nothing much else interesting about this update. DivX seems to have the advantage of faster encoding.

Source: PSU

Update: DivX seems to work. I encoded a movie using Dr DivX and it seems to play fine on the PS3. The one advantage DivX has over AVC is that it encodes faster. Xvid however, which is a DivX derivative, does not work on the PS3.

5 Things that Need to Change in Gaming

By Mike on 7:47 pm

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Is 2008 going to be a banner year for gaming or are we in for another 1983 style crash? Gaming has certainly improved and the systems we're playing on are more powerful than ever. However, there are some major issues that need to be solved.

5. Eliminate In Game Advertising
Ok, in game advertising has its place. Seeing ads on the boards in sports games adds to the realism of the game. However, I don't want to see ads for Burger King or whatever in first person shooters or driving games. The worst ones are the ads that have absolutely nothing to do with the game itself. They simply become an eyesore. EA is infamous for doing this. In game ads have not made games cheaper. They are of no benefit to the gamer, only to the developers. In game ads have to go.

4. Graphics Aren't Everything
I've seen too many games that are all graphics flash but have no game substance. While games look better than ever, there are a lot of visual wonders that are quite frankly crap. We need to focus on the core aspects of the game such as programing, gameplay, and storyline then move up to graphics. Not graphics first, blow the entire budget, and release a sub-par game.

3. Better Quality Control at the Programming Level
As I mentioned a while ago, there are many quality control issues in game programming. PC games are especially notorious for this but since they can be easily patched, the issue tends to fly under the radar. However, PC gamers shouldn't be forced to wait for patches ad infinitum to fix problems that should not have made it into the final product. What ever happened to game testers? The problem is that distributors are putting harsh time constraints on developers and games get released before they're finished properly. I would also like to inject that the inclusion of DRM into games, especially PC games, is bad programming as they often cause more harm to legitimate users than anything else.

2. Encourage Small, Independent Developers
I fear that big companies like EA, UBIsoft, and Activision buying up small developers will end up harming the industry in the long run. Some of the best games have come from small independent developers. However, with companies like BioWare being bought up by the big three, the quality of the games released tends to decline dramatically. Another issue is that big distributors tend to suck the creativity out of games. Distributors like to play it safe but that's why their in house games suck so much. It's good to be independent.

1. Make Gaming More Accessible
Wii has proven that if you make it easy, they will come. PC gaming has always been expensive but there's no reason that you can't make games that run well on non-SLI, Core 2 Extreme systems. While they are visually stunning, they aren't accessible to people. From about 2001 to 2006, it was entirely possible to comfortably game on a $500 system. That trend seems to be reversing. We also need to revive some genres to give better variety. Not everybody likes MMOs, first person shooters, and car racing games, yet that's all we seem to be getting. Kudos to Telltale for bringing back the adventure game. Those are what I'm talking about. Games that are fun, easy to get into, and don't require IBM's Bluegene to run.

PSP Firmware 3.80 Coming December 18th

By Mike on 5:25 pm

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Well, looks like gamers are in for a new PSP firmware. Looks like it's going to add some interesting features. Unfortunately, most of those features will be usable by Japanese PSP owners only, though North American and European PSPs will have them included anyway.

First off, Yahoo BB Mobile Point service will be activated for Japan which gives Japanese PSP owners access to the Playstation Spot. They can use this to download demos of upcoming games. According to IGN, the Spot service will be available for non-Yahoo customers since it doesn't require a password.

Secondly, Japanese PSP owners will be able to use the upcoming 1seg digital TV tuner. This will allow you to record TV programs directly to your PSP. However, the 1seg service is only available in Japan. I expect similar services will appear in North America and Europe after the analogue TV shut down. This is interesting as the PSP will be the first mobile console to include TV capability since the Sega Game Gear.

Lastly, a new feature will allow all users to listen to streaming internet radio using their PSP. This includes North American and European PSP users. You'll be able to do this through an Internet Radio Player. I'm curious to see what exactly this entails. Whether it's only for over the air internet radio stations, whether commercial services like XMRO will be available as well, or whether Sony will have their own service.

The release date in Japan is set for December 18th. No word on North America or Europe. Also no word on what users on this side of the Pacific can expect. Whatever the case, 3.80 seems like it will be a big update.

Source: IGN

Console Wars: Who's Really Winning

By Mike on 2:50 pm

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We can debate console sales until the cows come home but who is really winning the console wars? Well, it turns out none of the current generation of consoles has taken the top spot. Neilsen, famous for their TV ratings studies did a study on game use. They measured the total number of minutes people spent playing games and divided them up by percentage.

According to the study, gamers spent 42.2% of their time with the Sony Playstation 2. Here's the ratings from IGN.
Videogame Console Usage (April-November 2007)
1. PS2 – 42.2% of usage minutes
2. Xbox – 13.9
3. Xbox 360 – 11.8
4. GameCube – 7.1
5. Wii – 5.5
6. PS3 – 2.5
7. Other – 17.1

This only includes TV top consoles, not computer games (which I believe would likely rank top spot if that were factored in), or handhelds.

This certainly says something about the PS2. I remember the excitement over it when I was in Grade 10. Hard to believe that was seven years ago and still harder to believe its still going. As past history has show, consoles usually die a quick death in key markets (North America, Japan, Europe) when the next generation comes out. In fact, all sixth generation consoles are still holding strong, with the Xbox 360 being the only well used seventh generation console.
Also of note is the fact that the Wii ranked so low in time used despite it selling like hot cakes.

Source: IGN

Top Ten: Gaming as an Art

By Mike on 4:50 pm

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The vast majority of games out there ride on realism. Namely the most realistic looking graphics. Sure, there's a lot of those out there and some of these games are frankly garbage. Then there are games that take your optical experience to a whole new level. For this edition of Top Games, we'll look at the top ten games that belong in an art museum. These are in no particular order and are all games I've played.

Okami (2006, PS2/Wii?)
If we're going to talk about gaming as an art, I have to mention Okami, where the game IS art. Probably one of the strangest games I've played, Okami is very similar to games in the Zelda series. It's almost like a cross between Twilight Princess and the Wind Waker. Like Wind Waker, Okami uses a technique known as cell shading, which allows for 2D characters to be rendered in a 3D environment. That environment being traditional Japanese watercolour paintings. The "Celestial Brush" allows you to actually draw things on the screen to change the environment, as if you were the actual painter. The game also brilliantly blends in Japanese mythology. Okami is one of the most stunning, artistic, and innovative games that I've seen on any platform. There are rumors of a Wii version coming out soon that will take advantage of the Wiimote for controlling the Celestial Brush. The PS2 version is very difficult to find in traditional stores but is readily available online.

Grim Fandango (1998, PC)
Another bizarre (in a good way) game that borrows artistic elements from another culture. In this case, Mexico and the artwork surrounding the Day of the Dead. Grim Fandango is very similar to Okami in terms of how it's story was laid out, playing on Aztec and Mayan mythology while incorporating elements from modern Mexico. All "human" characters in the game resemble "calacas", which are paper mache skeleton dolls made for the holiday. Non-human "demons" also exist in the game. One of the other stunning aspects is the recreation of a 1930s art deco environment. You'll see the smooth art deco lines of the Empire State Building and similar represented in a beautiful 1930s environment, with some Aztec influence mixed into the style.
Grim Fandango is a LucasArts adventure game. In fact, it was one of the last. It's also the only one that uses analogue control rather than point and click. It can still be found and works with XP.

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (2003, Xbox/PC/Mac)
KotOR 1 has sometimes been criticized for having substandard graphics for the time of its release. For the character and weapons models, yes, I would agree with this, but not for the environments. The team at BioWare must have tried really hard to make the person feel as though they were actually in the Star Wars universe. It's obvious when you see how some of the worlds look. Kotor really takes advantage of lighting effects. The sun setting on Dantooine is probably one of the most impressive environments in game, but every world has its own unique beauty. From the clean lines of Mannan to the tropics of Lehon. Everything has been carefully designed and detailed making it the nicest looking Star Wars game yet. The Widescreen Gaming Forum has a patch that allows it to be played at HD resolutions. Definitely a must for the PC version.

Flight Simulator X (2006, PC)
Flight Simulator has always been known for being cutting edge. It falls in as an art form for doing something few games have ever done. That is making the entire world your playground. All seven continents, all countries, tens of thousands of airports all carefully mapped. The soaring mountains of the Himalayas to the teal waters of the Caribbean and Hawaii. Cities like New York, London, Paris, and Las Vegas spring to life. You can literally fly around the world. Flight simulator sets the benchmark for realism in gaming. FSX adds a whole host of new feature such as cars driving on the highway, more realistic water and trees, and realistic aircraft. The only problem? FSX requires a beefy system. Don't expect a smooth experience without high end graphics and at least a mid range gaming CPU.

Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask (2000, N64)
The Zelda series is unique in the sense that each new adventure outdoes the previous one. Majora's Mask was no exception. It was the sequel to the fantastic Ocarina of Time, which I would classify as at least one of the top ten games ever made. Though OoT was great, it was visually bland at times, at least in comparison to the sequel. MM takes advantage of (and requires) the 4mb expansion pack, which doubled the N64's system memory, which allowed for more stuff to be displayed on the screen at the same time. Majora's is a much more colourful adventure who's visuals were so expertly crafted and detailed that everything feels right. Even small things like your items and weapons are so much more colourful and detailed. Majora's is easily the best looking game for the N64.

Sam & Max Series (1994, 2006-2007, PC/Mac)
I lumped the entire Sam & Max series from Hit the Road right to Ice Station Santa. Our two buddies started their gaming life in 1994 as a LucasArts adventure game based on the characters created by cartoonist Steve Percel. LucasArts dropped the sequel for Hit the Road in 2003. Many people who worked on it left and joined Telltale Games. So far, seven more Sam & Max games have been produced in an episodic format. So why include this as an art game? Well, Sam & Max did something that few other games like it did. It took comic characters and transplanted it into a game without it sucking balls. All eight games masterfully recreate the wackiness of the comics right down to the smallest details. The series also gets big points for reviving the adventure game genre but that's for a different top ten.

Comix Zone (1994?, Sega Genesis/SNES?/PS2/PSP)
While Sam & Max expertly transplanted comic characters into a game, Comix Zone transforms the game into a comic. The game came out in the Genesis's hey day of the mid 90s. The best games for consoles always tend to appear late in their life. Essentially, your character Sketch Turner is sucked into his own comic creation and charged with fighting his own super villain. Along the way, Sketch eventually becomes his own super hero. The game is a punch-em-up game that puts the action right in the comic panels. The game feels like you're actually in a comic book. Comix Zone is included in the Sega Genesis Collection for the PS2 and PSP.

Ecco the Dolphin (1993, Sega Genesis/Sega CD/PS2/PSP)
Ecco the Dolphin is perhaps the most difficult game I've ever played. I've never made it beyond the first couple of levels, and I know I'm not alone. Few people have actually seen the end of the game without cheats. This was at a time where battery backed saves were still uncommon. In the game, you, Ecco, must save your pod from an evil entity. The game recreates an undersea environment which is hauntingly beautiful, especially for the time. Coupled with the haunting score, this game is definitely a museum piece. It was released with it's equally impressive sequel Tides of Time on the Sega Genesis Collection for PS2 and PSP. Fortunately, the collection supports saved states so you can store your progress without having to use complex passwords.

Company of Heroes (2006, PC)
PC gaming has always been on the cutting edge and WWII based games have always been along for the ride ever since Wolfenstine 3D so many years ago. CoH reinvented the real time strategy genre complete with the most realistic looking graphics we had ever seen. The game makes you feel in the war. Once again, it gets the expert detailing award. That's rare in the top down view world of RTS games where units usually appear very simplistic. The environment scores big points for being historically accurate.

Orbiter (2006, PC)
I was racking my brain for the last one on the list and this one came to mind. One of the interesting things about it is it's a free game, created and developed by a British physicist to simulate realistic space flight. To the causal observer, the graphics are vastly outdated for a 2006 "game". Actually, whether it's really a game at all is debatable, though it does have missions to play. Graphics are roughly equal to what Flight Simulator 2000 was. So why would I include it. Well, it expands on what Flight Simulator did by making the whole solar system your playground. The planets are all realistically textured using high resolutions. Ground texturing is simple but you'll spend most of your time in space anyway. Considering that this was all put together by one man and a handful of dedicated modders on a non-profit basis, I'd say that's pretty impressive. Few home made games will ever get to this point. The game can be downloaded from

TiVo Coming to Canada and DVR Info

By Mike on 4:19 pm

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Surely you've heard of TiVo. It's a digital video recorder that's been available in the United States since 1999. The company that sells the device plans to have it for sale in Canada in the next couple of days at a price of $199 for the box, plus a monthly subscription fee of $12.95 per month, though prepaid plans are available. Basically, the device allows you to select programs, records them like a VCR, and then allows you to play, pause, rewind, or fast forward TV. Americans claim this has revolutionized their TV viewing experience since they never miss their show, can fast forward through commercials, and all their stuff is in high quality.

So what is a DVR anyway? Well, think of a DVR as a VCR on steroids. Rather than using magnetic tape and FM analogue recording, DVRs store video digitally on a hard drive built inside the unit. The devices themselves have never gained a lot of popularity in Canada. Most Canadians that own one get theirs through their TV service provider. However, such units are very expensive. A basic DVR (also known as a PVR) from Bell ExpressVu costs $299 for the standard definition model and a whopping $599 for the HD model. It can store up to 200 hours of SD video so we can assume it has a 250-500gb hard drive built into it. Most people aren't going to be willing to pay that so VHS and DVD Recorders have remained the dominant means of recording TV.

Problems with VHS and DVD Recorders:
VHS has numerous problems. Namely it can't record in full 480i, it uses roughly 320 lines of vertical resolution versus 480 used in SD broadcasts. Noise introduced with analogue cable systems is more noticeable though programs recorded from digital sources over S-Video will be close to commercial VHS movie quality. Sound quality of VHS is also quite low, about equal to FM radio. VHS tapes gets stretched as it's played causing it to warp, further degrading playback. Lastly, one has to fast forward or rewind through the tape to find the shows they want, which is inconvenient.
What about DVD-Rs. Many commercial DVD recorders are available which essentially resemble your typical set top DVD player. but include a burning drive. The player allows you to record programs onto a DVD disc at either 480p, 480i, or a reduced resolution for longer playback. Recording time is two hours on standard play, which is comparable with VHS. While DVD offers higher resolution playback, it can't record HD programing in HD. Also, it's always more convenient to have everything in once place. Some DVD Recorders do have a DVR integrated in them.

What should I look for in a DVR:
A PCI video capture card and at least 40gb of hard space is a cheap way to get a DVR. If your computer was bought/built after 2005, chances are it has a DVD writer too. Most modern HDTVs have VGA, DVI, and HDMI ports so you can connect your computer to them. 40gb can store 17 hours of DVD quality video. If money is no object, new 1tb drives can store 425 hours of SD video. Such a big drive will cost at least $260. However, cheaper 500gb drive can still store up to 212hr of video and only cost around $100 for the cheapest units. This will store more than most stand alone DVRs.
As for stand alone units, in Canada, we're pretty much limited to what cable and satellite providers charge. The new TiVo is one option but it's monthly use fee spoils it's usefulness. The largest stand alone unit can store 250gb and this isn't the one available in Canada. We'll most likely get stuck with the 80gb model which TiVo claims can store 80hrs of video, though likely not at DVD quality. The Canadian model will also not be able to record HD broadcasts, unlike some of the US models. The HD model will likely come out eventually.
As for other models, a quick search of Best Buy only turned up two DVR/DVD Recorder combo units from Pioneer. This is a good brand and the units upscale SD content to fit HDTVs, the price on them is very high. $450 for the 120gb model. All other units are sold directly through cable and satellite providers and are usually combined with the decoder box. As mentioned before, these are also very expensive.

If you want a DVR, going the PC route is still the best way to go. You can have as much or as little space as your wallet will allow by going this route. You can also stream your recorded programs to media servers like the Playstation 3 and convert your favourite shows easily for watching on your mobile device. This is the best way to go for Canadians who want digital video recording.

Asus Eee PC: Road Warrior or Road Kill?

By Mike on 3:51 pm

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There's been a lot of talk about low cost laptops lately. The OLPC foundation started the whole thing when they endeavored to make a $100 laptop for use by children in developing countries. Of course, other companies began to wonder if it made sense to produce ultra-cheap laptops for the consumer market. In comes Asus with the Eee PC.

Asus came out with the Eee PC in the last month or so, and it starts at $299 US. All models come with a 7 inch screen with 800x480 resolution, an Intel GMA900 graphics processor, and an Intel Celeron-M ULV-353 running at 630mhz. For connectivity, all models come with 10/100mbit ethernet, 802.11g wifi, Realtek audio processor, memory card reader, three USB 2.0 ports, two PCIe based expansion ports, and the usual headphone, VGA, and microphone connectors. The system weighs in at 2.03 pounds, measures 225 × 165 × 21~35 mm, and comes in Pure White, Lush Green, Sky Blue, Blush Pink, or Galaxy Black. The operating system is Xandros Linux running the KDE desktop, but Windows XP can be installed as well.
The base model, the 2G Surf, comes with a 2gb solid state (flash based) hard drive and 256mb DDR2-400 memory. The 4g Surf comes with a 4gb SSD drive and 512mb memory, costing $350 US. The Eee PC 4G comes with 4gb SSD and 512mb of DDR2-667 while the 8G comes with an 8gb SSD drive and 1gb DDR2-667. The top models cost $400 and $500 respectively.
The two higher end models feature upgradeable memory while the lower end ones do not. The two low end models come with a four cell 4400mAh Li-ion battery while the higher end ones have four cell, 5200mAh Li-ion batteries. Asus claims battery life is 2h 45min and 3h 30min for each pack respectively.

Processor and Graphics:
Lets rip this thing to shreds. First of all, I find the Eee PC to be grossly over priced for what it is, but I'll get back to that later. The screen itself is only 7 inches at a resolution of 800x480, which is not much more than DVD video resolution of 720x480. This is the WVGA resolution which is antiquated these days. The typical XGA resolution (1024x768) that's been used in PCs for the last 10 years has 1.5x the resolution. Even the older SVGA at 800x600 would still be pretty cheap. Furthermore, a lot of modern programs require at least a resolution of 800x600 to run. All models feature an Intel GMA900 integrated graphics chip. This is fairly basic. It has an output resolution of 1600x1280 over the VGA port so it can be plugged into a monitor and displayed at a more reasonable resolution for desktop use.
Next is the processor. It's been under-clocked from 900mhz down to 630mhz. The processor is quite slow for today and might not be able to run a large number of modern applications available for XP (should the user install it). Older programs and games should work though.

The base model EeePC only has 2gb of flash memory acting as it's hard drive. This is far too little memory considering that both XP and Xandros eat up at least 1gb, leaving very little for the user to install software on. Cheap mechanical drives would have added more to the weight and power consumption but would add a lot more storage space. A 20gb 1.8'' mechanical drive is not much more than a 4gb SSD drive. You can get up to 8gb which is still too small for today. Even 40gb can be limiting these days. It's also worth noting that the exact life span of SSDs is not exactly known, but we do know they wear out faster than mechanical drives.
Another flaw is the fact that the Eee PC doesn't include any sort of CD/DVD drive. Fortunately it does read flash cards but to install any software, you'll need to buy an external DVD/CD drive. This adds to the end user's cost when it would be easier to include one.

Battery Life:
Considering Asus has included many energy saving features such as down-clocking the processor and using solid state drives, battery life for the Eee PC is surprisingly short. 2h and 45min maximum life is not a lot. When my laptop was new, it was getting six hours on a 4400mAh battery. Even two years of heavy use only has it down to 5hr. That's on a computer that's far superior to the Eee PC in ever aspect except size and weight.

Operating System:
Like any PC, the Eee PC allows you to run either Linux (preinstalled) or Windows. The Eee PC comes with Xandros. Based on what I've seen, it appears very Windows like. However, like all Linux distributions, it's an OS intended for power users. Those who are not very computer literate will be quickly overwhelmed by the terminal interface. They'll want to install Windows XP instead. XP is sold separately. The Eee PC does not meet the hardware requirements for any version of Windows Vista and therefore can't run it.

At only two pounds, the Eee PC is about as portable as you can get without resorting to a smart phone (like the Blackberry or iPhone) or pocket PC. However, lack of an optical drive and limited hard drive space make force you to carry around external units to compensate. This is a huge limit to portability if you have to resort to that.

The Eee PC ranges from $299 to $500 US. In the case of going from the 4G to the 8G, you're spending $100 for 512mb more memory and an additional 4gb HDD space. Solid state drives are a poor choice if someone is looking to make a cheap system. Dollar per gigabyte, mechanical drives, even 1.8'' ones used in the iPod and similar devices, are far cheaper.
I have a 2005 iBook G4 that includes a 1.33ghz PowerPC G4 processor, 1gb or DDR, a 40gb HDD, 12'' 1024x768 screen, CDRW/DVD combo, 6hr max battery life, and OS X Leopard. These systems regularly sell on eBay used for around $500. This means you can get a far more powerful laptop used for the same price as the top end Eee PC. The EeePC is grossly overpriced for the antiquated hardware it uses.

Things aren't looking good for the Eee PC. It's antiquated and overpriced. Who's this for. Well, people who like to do a lot of work on the go will like the Eee PC since it's smaller than a sheet of paper and very light weight. It should be plenty for drafting up letters, surfing the internet, instant messaging, and the like. I can see university and college students liking it. The Eee PC is an interesting experiment in ultra portable systems and it is an improvement over PDAs and smart phones. However, if you're willing to trade a little portability, you can still find very portable used laptops for around the same price. In fact, you can even get a new one. Dell right now has some laptops on sale for $499 that are AMD Sempron 3600 based. Though not as portable, they're the same price and offer you a whole lot more.

Unless you need must have the absolutely smallest system available, the Eee PC is simply too overpriced and archaic. Asus however does plan to address some of the limitation. One example is increasing the screen resolution to 1024x600, which should make it compatible with all Windows applications that meet the other system requirements. Another new development is the Everex Cloudbook which is another ultra low cost Linux based option which includes a VIA CPU and 30gb of HDD space.

How To: Turning Your Console into a Desktop PC

By Mike on 4:37 pm

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A lot of people might be surprised to know that today's consoles are essentially made up of desktop PC parts crammed into the little box. Well, it's not that simple but you can use your game console as a desktop PC.
Surely you've heard of Linux. It the third major desktop operating system core behind Windows and Mac OS. Linux is Unix based and is therefore very similar to Mac OS X, though not as streamlined. There are four consoles today that are capable of running Linux. These are the Xbox, Xbox 360, Playstation 2, and Playstation 3. The PS2 and the PS3 are best suited for running Linux. In order to run the OS, the console must have a built in hard drive to store it on, and not all PS2 models do. The 360 has a limited Linux project known as Free60, but Microsoft seems to be trying to discourage Linux on the 360 (for obvious reasons). Software updates for the original Xbox have also made installing Linux on it more difficult.
One thing worth noting is that Linux isn't one operating system but is rather a group of operating systems all based on a single core (aka the kernel). You will need to find a Linux distribution.

For this article, we'll be looking at installing Linux on the Playstation 3. The PS3 is the easiest system to install the OS on. Sony actually encourages the use of Linux on it's console and allows you to switch between it and the XMB through the system settings menu. First, you'll need a distro. For the purpose of this article, we'll be using Xubuntu. Xubuntu is an offshoot of the well known Ubuntu OS. Most Linux distros are open source and therefore free to download. Xubuntu is a light weight variant of Ubuntu that is used for low memory systems. Since the PS3 only has 256mb of system memory, Xubuntu is ideal. You can also use Ubuntu or Kubuntu if you want but they consume more memory. Kubuntu uses the KDE desktop which is more Windows like. Ubuntu uses GNOME while Xubuntu uses the Xfce desktop, which is similar to GNOME. First you'll need to download the distribution of your choice for the processor your using. The PS3 uses the Cell processor so we'll need a distribution programmed for it. You want Xubuntu 7.10 (Gutsy Gibbon) for PS3. Go to this page.
Then click "Playstation 3 Desktop CD". Download it to your PC's desktop and burn it to a CD. The download is roughly 500mb.
You also need a keyboard and mouse to install and use Linux on any of the consoles mentioned. Since most have USB ports, any USB mouse and keyboard should work. Wireless, non-Bluetooth versions are best to use.

For installation, PSUbuntu provides an excellent list of instructions on how to setup the Playstation 3. Linux is pretty easy to setup but involves some extra steps that Windows doesn't. Follow their instructions for installation and setup carefully.

When using an HDTV or computer monitor, you'll need to adjust the video mode. Learn how to do it here.
If you get stuck, consult their forums.

Now, lets go over what you can and can't do with Linux on your PS3. Keeping in mind that the PS3 really isn't meant to be a home computer, it does have some limitations. First of all, there are no drivers available for the RSX graphics processor so 3D games and Compiz desktop effects are out of the question. The PS3 is also limited to 256mb system memory so memory hogging programs are out of the question. Numerous other glitches limit audio output to stereo sound through the RCA connector only, allows only WEP encrypted Wifi, and sporadic access to the BD drive. Some AV codecs are also missing due to patent issues but can be downloaded separately. DVD-Video for example cannot be played. Look into PSUbuntu for how to enable it.
What can you do then? Well, you can surf the internet, write and read emails, use office suites, and playback more exotic audio and video files such as OGG Vorbis and Xvid. AV files stored on a memory card can be read and played no problem. Open Source codecs such as OGG Vorbis are included with the OS though I recommend you download and install the open source VLC Player through the "install/uninstall" menu under system settings. The web experience is also a little better than the PS3's XMB browser. You get the popular and fully functional Firefox browser included with your distro. The only problem is that Adobe doesn't have a flash version of PowerPC/Cell editions of Linux so flash based sites won't work well. While the PS3 won't replace a proper desktop or laptop PC/Mac, it will provide you some basic functions that make it well suited for an HTPC setup in a bedroom or living room where a typical computer is not practical.

Now that I've covered Linux on the PS3, what about Xbox? Well, as I said, Microsoft doesn't exactly make it easy. Sony has always bragged that the PS2 and PS3 can run Linux and has based a lot of marketing on that fact. Microsoft is not so helpful. Microsoft doesn't like Linux for obvious reasons, despite claims to the otherwise. They want you to buy brand new PC with a shiny copy of Windows Vista along with your Xbox 360. Running home brew software on the Xbox is difficult and complicated. To use Linux, you need to be pretty computer literate as it is. Installing it on the 360 is not a strait forward process like it is on the PS3. You can visit the Free60 Wiki to find out more. They're the ones leading the Linux on Xbox 360 project. However, I would recommend you not even think to attempt this unless your a computer power user who's already experienced with Linux and home brew.

The original Xbox also needs some extra steps and has some limitations. You're limited to only 10gb of HDD space which is shared with the game OS where as the PS2 allows you to use a dedicated drive and the PS3 allows you to allocate up to 70gb (on the 80gb model) for the "Other OS". Damn Small Linux is a good distro choice. XDSL is an Xbox specific version of this desto, which weighs in at only 50mb. Like the Xbox 360, this one requires some modding of the system hardware. You need to flash the BIOS with a home brew one. If you don't know what I'm talking about, then don't try to install Linux on this system. Here's the instructions.

The PS2 can also run Linux as mentioned. Sony released a Linux kit for it which included the OS, keyboard and mouse, VGA connector, network adapter, and a 40gb HDD. The kit is no longer officially sold in the USA but some copies are likely still floating around. Linux will work on all PS2 models with a HDD bay, which excludes the new slim models.

Lastly, what about Wii? Can Wii run Linux? The answer is no, for now. A project known as is working on it but Linux is not working on the system yet.

Is PC Gaming Becoming a Rich Man's Sport?

By Mike on 7:03 pm

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Crysis was released the other day to much fan fair, receiving high ratings on review sites. However, this game exposes one of the major problems with PC gaming today. That being that you need a high end computer to properly enjoy the game. Gamespot noted that Crysis would bring even the most powerful PCs to its knees. From a marketing perspective, this does not seem to make much sense. This severely limits the number of people who can play the game. People who are unwilling or unable to pay $2000+ for a high end, SLI/Crossfire PC with high end graphics cards and processors. Now, I understand that PC gaming has always been on the cutting edge, but perhaps game developers are pushing us to close to that edge, shutting out the vast majority of a massive market.

When asked if Crysis would come to console, Crytek noted that neither the Xbox 360 or PS3 were capable of running the game. Both consoles have much faster CPUs than what you would find in a typical PC and contain GPUs (Radeon X1800 and Geforce 7900 based respectively) that were considered to be high end only a year ago. nVidia still considers the 7900 to be a high end GPU on their website. Game developers need to lay off a bit and start focusing on making their games enjoyable on a typical gaming PC. This was true at one time, it's time they got back to it. PC gaming should not be just a rich man's sport.

The Best Star Wars Games: Part 3

By Mike on 12:14 pm

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Rounding out some more of the best Star Wars games in part 3.

Episode 1: Racer (1999, N64/PC)
On the outside, Episode 1 Racer appears to be a very simple game with rather weak production values. The title screens and menu are very simplistic. Racer as the name suggests is a racing game. You fly the pod racers seen in The Phantom Menace. The game allows you to play as several different racers with their respective pods which have their own strengths and weaknesses. Of course, little Anakin is there too in his trademark blue and white racer. Other pods and characters can be unlocked as you win races, such as Sebulba's. Other characters from the movie appear as well such as the Boonta Eve racers, the announcers, Watto, Qui Gon and Jar Jar. Fortunately, Jar Jar does not have a speaking role in the game. Like most racing games, you race, you win money, then you can use the money to upgrade or repair your pod. Parts can be bought from Watto's shop, or from his junk yard.
Things take a turn from other racing games when you actually get into the race. The tracks are stunning and the racing is faster than any other game you've played. You frequently race at 400-600km/h and there's little margin for error. Because the pods "float", they have a floaty feel to them which is vastly different than hard surface racing games. The tracks themselves pose more of a threat than your fellow racers more often than not. The game doesn't stick to Tatooine but travels to various other worlds. Except for Tatooine and Malestare, all other tracks are located on original words never before seen or mentioned in Star Wars. Track environments range from urban, under water, jungle, ice, and sky. Due to the fact that the racers float, the game includes some of the most impressive jumps in racing. The game's controls are simple so it's an easy game to get into. While appearing rather simple, Episode 1 Racer ended up being one of the best racing games for the N64. Unfortunately, no sequels were made. Racing elements have been incorporated into some other Star Wars games as mini-games but never to the same degree.
Update: Seems I was wrong. There was a sequel. It was called Star Wars: Racer Revenge and was only released on PS2. It was not developed in house as Episode 1 Racer was, but rather by Rainbow Studios. Obviously not well known, or perhaps its just because I don't follow game magazines and websites enough. Gamespot gave the game a fairly good review but noted it was far too short a game and had little replay value. Might be worth renting if you haven't tried it yet.

Rebel Assault II: The Hidden Empire (1995, PC/Mac/Playstation 1)
Rebel Assault II is yet another sequel that out shined the original. In the game, you reprise the character Rookie One from the first game. Rebel Assault 2 however uses all-original material and is considered to be canon by LucasFilm, while the original is ambiguously canon. The game is well known for its use for full-motion-video, or FMV. In 1995, CDs were becoming the dominant medium for software storage due to their high transfer rates and data density in comparison to floppy discs. However, most games were still under 50-100mb where as an entire CD could hold 700mb of data. Developers used the rest of the storage space for high quality sound tracks and FMV. Rather than animated cutscenes, Rebel Assault 2 used live actors and the original costumes and props from the movies. This added strong production values to the game, driving a strong story line.
As for the game itself, it's best described as an arcade style rail shooter. Your character or ship moves along an imaginary rail while you shoot at targets. You have some control of your direction but this is limited compared to first person shooters and flight sims like Jedi Outcast and TIE Fighter. The courses themselves are pre-rendered which accounts for the excellent graphical appearance for a 1995 game. Objects in the game however are rendered as you go by the game's engine. The basic story was to discover and dismantle an Imperial project that would see cloaking devices on their fighters. The game takes you through several missions including shootouts and space combat. It's just another classic that every gamer should have in their library. I doubt it would work with XP or Vista though. If you have a Playstation (any model/generation), why not pick up the Playstation 1 version if you can still find it. There were no more sequels in the Rebel Assault series, which is unfortunate.

PS3 2.0 Coming November 8th

By Mike on 1:26 pm

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Sony has finally announced official details on firmware update 2.0 for the Playstation 3. So far, they've announced the ability to turn on the console using a PSP, custom photo and music playlists, XMB themes, Playstation news ticker (RSS?), and Trend Micro Web Security. PSU is reporting it will be out Thursday (November 8th).

This is far from what estimates placed the update as being, however, past firmware updates for any Sony console have never included as much as 2.0 was rumored to include. I expect more of the rumored features will be added in the 2.xx line. It's also possible that all features for update 2.0 have not been announced yet. Stay tuned.

Check out the Playstation Blog for more info.

How To: HTPC Basics Part 1

By Mike on 12:52 pm

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Home Theater PCs are very popular right now among tech enthusiasts. Their one major advantage is to squeeze all your major home theater components into one unit that you can quickly pair up with a speaker system and TV. In this series, we'll look at the basics HTPCs.

There are a variety of different types you can choose from. You can buy one from a store pre-built, get one custom made at your local computer shop, or you can build your own. All HTPCs have several things in common. They must be small, they must offer complete systems, and most importantly, they must be silent. That last part is the most difficult.

There are a variety of purpose built all-in-one home theater units out there. The most well known are the Apple TV, Xbox 360, and Playstation 3. The PS3 is by far the best due to it's robust hard drive space and built in Bluray player. However, the problem with many of these purpose built all-in-one media devices is they tend to be limited in scope. The one major issue is the limited number of codecs they can playback. Codec stands for "coder/decoder". It's also known as a media file type. These players are usually quite limited in that they only play the most common types, which are not always the best ones. If they can encode, they can only encode audio at preset bitrates. They don't allow for flexibility. These units also cannot burn CDs and DVDs and some, such as the Apple TV, don't feature an optical disc drive at all. You still need a desktop computer to do all the work and then transfer the files to your device. This is hardly convenient.

The good news is, you're not limited to these devices, thanks to Small Form Factor PCs (SFFPC). The Apple MacMini is an example of a SFFPC. Your advantage here is that you have a fully functional, pre-built computer with a small footprint. The MacMini is about the size of two CD wallets stacked on top of each other and includes Apple's Mac OS X Leopard operating system, complete with iLife and Front Row. This allows you to use it as you would the Apple TV but with full computer functionality. Aside from that, the MacMini will also do all the tasks that you'd typically use a computer for such as web surfing, emailing, photo editing, etc. The downside with the MacMini is that it only has a DVI output so it won't work with TVs that have analogue AV connectors. You need an HDTV with a DVI-D or HDMI input. Also, the MacMini can only output audio in stereo unless you purchase a 5.1 USB sound card for it.
If you're into Windows PCs, there's a much wider variety of parts to work with. Though larger (but getting smaller), you can use built in 5.1 sound cards and a much wider variety of video connectors. They can also be easily customized to meet your specific needs and budget. These systems are widely available from major retailers and feature Windows XP Media Center Edition or Windows Vista Home Premium.

When buying a Windows based HTPC, there are several things to look for. You want at least 1gb of memory for XP and 2gb for Vista. For processor choice, I recommend Intel's Core 2 line. Intels have been long known to be the best multimedia processors. For hard drive, you want at least 60gb but more is better. The choice of video and sound card greatly depends on what you'll ultimately be using the system for in the end. However, the graphics card should have 128mb memory for HD playback. If you intend to have a media server to connect this device to another over a network, say to stream video from a desktop PC, you'll want to make sure it has a Gigabit (1000mbps) LAN connector. All media servers should be hardwired to a network rather than using Wifi. If you have to use Wifi, use the new Wireless N standard, which is twice as fast as the current 54mbps Wireless G standard.

In Part 2, we'll different HTPC components.

At the Movies: Hollywood's Overuse of CGI

By Mike on 10:42 am

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You hear a lot of celebrity talk but you never really hear about the movies themselves being discussed. It's an industry that seems to fly in the face of logic. Hollywood has been in a box office slump in recent years. The thing is, they can't figure out why. They usually attribute lack of sales to piracy and illegal downloading, but the real reason is simply the content.

Spider-Man 3, the biggest blockbuster of the summer, so Sony claimed. It has been universally panned by critics. I believe utter disgrace has been used to describe it on numerous occasions. Well, there are several issues that turn potential blockbusters into train wrecks. Spider-Man 3 is a good movie to dissect but you might as well be talking about any major release these days.

Lets talk about the overemphasis on special effects and CGI. While it's possible to create amazingly real special effects using CGI, it has become way over used. Take the Star Wars prequels for example. While the original trilogy has a magic about it, the prequels ended up being no more than a two hours long cartoon with real people superimposed over it. Take the case of Revenge of the Sith. One scene, where Obi-Wan's clone commander take off his helmet, it's Temuera Morrison's head on a CGI body. The scene just ends up looking really weird and unnatural where it probably would have been easier and more realistic looking to just to put Morrison in costume. Star Wars is good for comparison purposes since we can look at how the original trilogy was done in the late 70s and early 80s compared to the prequels of the late 90s and 2000s. Same movies, same director, same writers, but completely different feel. The majority of Star Wars fans do not like the new movies, at least not as much as the original. This has been attributed to nostalgia but I think it has a lot to do with production values. Star Wars Episode IV as a low budget film is way better than Episode I is as a high budget film.

Moving to more recent movies, Spider Man 3 and Transformers were supposed to be this summer's big movies, but they flopped. Once again, we see an overuse of CGI. Critics typically say that while SM3 looks pretty, it lacks plot. The same criticism was leveled at Transformers for being 2hrs or giant robots smashing into buildings, but it only had a very weak, cliched plot. The problem with CGI is that it's become a poor substitute for good story telling. Certain films like Lord of the Rings can pull it off with a lot of CGI use because they have strong stories to back it up. The sad truth is that Hollywood has completely run out of ideas. Writers have no imagination what so ever so they turn to CGI as nothing more than filler. If people just want to see computer generated graphics, they'll just pick up a video game, as they did with Halo 3 which smashed the movie box office.

Rumor Mill: PS3 2.0?

By Mike on 7:07 pm

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During my surfings, I stumbled upon a rumor about PS3 firmware 2.0. It was first reported on October 12th so I'm a bit off the ball, but hey, I'm not a professional journalist, so don't expect things to be instant.

Anyway, looks like 2.0 is going to address some of my complaints with the PS3, including PSP features that it lacks. RSS 2.0 is one such feature. I like it since I can stream live audio. I do this with my PSP a lot using RSS Streaming Tools. I can hook my XM into my PC in the den and listen to broadcasts anywhere in the house. Better than wireless headphones since there's no noise. Of course that's not all. I'm not going to talk about it though until it comes out.

If this rumor is true, when can we expect Firmware 2.0? Some reports say today (October 30th). Sony just released 1.94 with Rachet and Clank to give Dualshock 3 support. According to the PS3 update service, there are no updates as of now, 7:00 pm EST. 1.93 is the latest available online. If 2.0 is coming soon, expect it on November 2nd or 3rd. That's the date the 40gb PS3 is out. I expect it will be the initial firmware for the 40gb. Where do I base that? Well, PSP 3.70 was released the day after the Slim was released. Also, under video, one of the supposed updates allows for the use of USB memory card readers on "certain models". The 40gb is the only model without a built in memory card reader.

According to PSU, the following updates are expected.

- Users

* You can now password-protect user accounts.

- Settings

* [Dynamic Normalizer] has been added as an option under [Sound Settings].
* [Energy Saver] has been added as an option.
* [Equalizer] has been added as a feature under [Music Settings].
* [Full] has been added as an option for [DVD Wide Display] under [BD / DVD Settings].
* [Photo Settings] has been added as an option.
* [PS / PS2 Settings] has been added as an option.
* [RSS Channel Settings] has been added as an option.
* [Sample Rate] has been added to [Audio CD Import] under [Music Settings].
* [Screen Saver] has been expanded under [Display Settings].
* The method of selecting an output resolution has been changed in [Video Output Settings] under [Display Settings].
* [Theme Settings] has been added as an option.
* [Zero Unused Disk Space] has been added as an option under [System Settings] > [Format Utility].

- Photo

* Additional slideshows have been added.
* [Photo Effects] have been added as a feature.
* Wallpaper feature has been added.
* [Zoom] has been added as a feature.

- Music

* Additional visualizations have been added.
* CD information can now be entered.
* Three-speed fast forward and fast reverse has been added as a feature.

- Video

* Files can now be played sequentially.
* Three-speed fast forward and fast reverse has been added as a feature.
* You can now select [Zoom] under [Screen Mode] when playing video files saved on the hard disk or storage media.
*An appropriate USB adapter (not included) is required to use storage media with some models.

- Game

* Support for PlayStation 3 format software titles has been expanded (PS3 will support more PS3 titles? An engineering marvel!)
* XMB (XrossMediaBar) is now accessible during gameplay.

- Network

* [RSS Channel] has been added as a feature.

- Friends

* You can now have multiple chat sessions.
* You can now select an image to use as your Avatar from [Photo].

- Other

* Date & Time is now shown when the PS button is pressed.
* File sorting has been changed.
* [Help] has been added as a feature.
* Playability status with the PS3 system has changed for some PlayStation and PlayStation 2 format titles.
* [Secure Delete] has been added as an option.
* Some PlayStation Network features have been revised.

The list is truly impressive and includes some badly needed updates. Lack of some of these features has severely limited the PS3. Hopefully, this will be out soon.

PS3: Week Two

By Mike on 6:50 pm

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Second week with the PS3 with an update on gaming and HD playback. Unfortunately, I was unable to find any Bluray videos for rent at my local video store. I was told "not to hold my breath" for BD and HD-DVD content to come in. With the format war between the two standards, it makes little sense to stock titles, since they don't want to get stuck with movies they can't rent out. I went to HMV and picked up Full Metal Jacket, Stanley Kubrick's Vietnam War film, well known as one of the best Vietnam films out there. Full Metal Jacket was filmed using 35mm stock, which is standard. It was released in the 80s so the quality is not as high as more modern films. HD playback however delivers something closer to the theater experience than DVD does. You'll notice film grain in older movies, which is evident in FMJ. The PS3 does position itself well as one of the leading Bluray players on the market. I tried the movie in both 720p and 1080i using my computer monitor (HDMI-DVI) and my HDTV (component video). Both looked good. You do not need an HDCP compatible TV to play movies in these resolutions. It's only required to play movies at 1080p. My HDTV is 768p (1080i compatible) maximum resolution and my monitor is 900p. Unfortunately, my monitor cannot handle interlacing so the video did not look as good due to the fact that LCD displays by nature look best at their native resolution. The PS3 is only capable of outputting NTSC/PAL, EDTV, and HDTV resolutions, not VGA ones, which is unfortunate.
Audio quality is also better than regular DVD, up to 640kbps Dolby Digital 5.1 for FMJ . The stereo system in my den is quite old and only offers analogue RCA connectivity, so I didn't get to enjoy the full surround sound effect. The TV in our living room has a 5.1 system but it is not an HDTV. Our HDTV is in a bedroom and uses it's own built in speakers, which are no good for HD audio.

One of the big problems with the PS3 is lack of games, and also game pricing. Interestingly, the Sony Store sells games at $60 each, and sometimes cheaper. Major retailers however sell them for as much as $70. I should note that Sony is directly selling their games for the CORRECT price. Major American retailers are selling their games for $60, while their Canadian counterparts are selling them for $10 more. With the dollar the way it is, the games should cost the same, so Canadian retailers are overcharging. If you want to buy PS3 games, buy them from the Sony Store.
While on the subject of games, there one problem with the PS3 is still a lack of quality titles. The problem is supposedly that the Cell is difficult to program for. However, there aren't a large number of Wii titles yet either so I wouldn't be too concerned. Rachet and Clank and the Simpsons Game should ramp things up for Christmas being less serious, fun titles.
BD also has the same problem. There is a lack of quality movies available on BD, and HD-DVD as well. The studios are directly at fault for backing only one format over the other rather than releasing movies on both, which makes more sense.

One last PS3 thought. The 40gb model is coming out next week. I changed my mind about it. I would avoid this model until more PS3 games are available. Buy the PS2 instead if you don't already own one. Lack of backwards compatibility combined with lack of PS3 games make this console not a lot of bang for the buck. The 60gb model with full hardware BC is still the best choice for non-PS2 owners, while the 80gb has been going on sale lately and can be picked up for around $500 in some cases.

OS X Leopard: First Impressions

By Mike on 7:31 pm

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Ok, so Leopard arrived today as expected. Opened it up, popped in the DVD, and installed the new OS. The upgrade is pretty strait forward. No need to reformat. It does take quite a while though. At least a couple of hours on my laptop. Mine is a 12'' 1.33ghz iBook G4 that was bought in 2005. I don't consider it old but the new MacBooks have far surpassed it.
Once it's installed, it then goes to work indexing your files for spotlight. It does this in the background but using a lot of system resources to do this, so it's best just to wait until it's finished.

One of the first things I noticed was how much of a memory hog Leopard is. Once again, eye candy is to blame. I originally had 768mb of ram inside my laptop but I found it was getting eaten up quickly. I swapped it for a 512mb chip in my parent's laptop. They can live with 256mb less memory for now since it's just a surfing/email box. Leopard runs far better on 1gb. 512mb is the minimum but you really do need more than that. I found a 512mb DDR-3200 SODIMM chip form TigerDirect for $35 so upgrading is no issue.
Another issue is a mysterious 6gb HDD space loss between Tiger and Leopard. I had about 15gb on my HDD before install and after I only had 8.5gb. I'm a little perplexed at where so much space went. Leopard does need at least 9gb of free space compared to Tiger's 4gb, but I'm not sure what the extra space is needed for. It may be worth upgrading to a bigger HDD. Mine is only 40gb, which is small these days. My particular model uses a 4200rpm drive, which are no longer sold. The issue for me of course would be finding a faster drive with the same low power consumption so as not to sacrifice battery life, which is a major factor for me. Apple also does not make it easy to upgrade the drive. It requires a complex process of taking the whole thing apart. Since I need my laptop, it's one of the few devices I don't want to tinker with.

Improvements to Leopard? Well, it does look nice. One of the biggest improvements is the document preview feature known as Quick Look, which allows you to see a thumbnail of the document or photo without opening it. Stacks is also handy. Added to the dock, stacks allows quick access to files in frequently used folders. Another thing is Spaces. If you're familiar with Linux, you'll be familiar with spaces. It allows for multiple desktops, up to four.
Time Machine is also an interesting feature. It's a backup program for your Mac. It does backups to a separate disk, and allows you to view previous versions of your Mac. I kept this turned off since I use a laptop and I use my portable HDD for other things. More things included are Front Row, which is prepackaged with OS X now.
Boot Camp is also now prepackaged with OS X. This is the final version, not the beta that was available on the website. For those who don't know, Boot Camp allows Intel based Macs to run Windows XP or Vista. This allows you to run Windows and Mac software on a single system. Since my Mac is PowerPC based, I can't use this feature.
As for the rest of the programs, Apple has provided updated versions of everything. Mail now includes a RSS and note taking feature. A new program called Photo Booth allows for some basic image editing in a fun snapshot, mall photo booth style format.

Leopard is an interesting update to OS X, though it does not feature as much exciting new stuff as Tiger did when it first came out. If you're still using Tiger, there's no rush to go out and get Leopard. That said, it's a solid OS. Of course today is Friday. The real test will be going back to work on Monday and putting through it's paces.

The Best Star Wars Games: Part 2

By Mike on 11:05 pm

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Part two, and two more games to cover. This time, Empire at War and Jedi Outcast

Empire at War (2006, PC/Mac)
Empire at War is a Star Wars real time strategy game. It's certainly not the first. There were others such as Rebellion, but they were not nearly as good. EaW, as it is known, is different. This game is the first played on a truly galactic scale. You play as either the Empire or the Rebellion. It takes place before the Battle of Yavin though is still set in the original trilogy era. No clone wars stuff here. The game does have a story mode, but it also has a galactic conquest mode and skirmish mode. Galactic conquest allows you to conquer the galaxy as you see fit, without following any particular story arc. Skirmish allows you to play individual maps and has no set goals other than to obliterate the enemy. Unlike other Star Wars RTS games, this was the first that allowed you to fight in space, rather than just on land. Space combat is the strongest aspect of the game. All the ships in the movies are there. Some Clone Wars era ships are there too such as the Acclamator Assualt Ship and the Victory Star Destroyer for the Empire. Land battles add AT-ATs, T2B tanks, Stormtroopers, Rebel Plex troops, etc to the mix. I felt the land combat was a little weaker than the space experience but interesting none the less, and somewhat more challenging. Hero units are also available such as Vader and Han Solo. One limiting factor is the small number of units you can place on a map at one time. Only 9 at a time. Fan mods allow both teams to deploy more, making for more epic battles.
In the Fall of 2006, LucasArts released the Forces of Corruption Expansion. FoC is actually a stand alone expansion but requires EaW to run. It added the Zann Consortium to the list of playable sides. The Consortium is an organized crime group. Tyber Zann, the main character, is out to get revenge on Jabba the Hutt, as well as steal the Empires secrets to sell them. FoC takes place after Hoth and added a slew of new units such as the TIE Defender, B-Wing, Dark Troopers, and even the Death Star II. The Death Star I was in the original EaW but could only destroy planets. The Death Star II can be deployed on a map to destroy enemy capital ships in a single shot, as well as take out planets. The Zann Consortium gets its own list of unique units of Mandalorian design such as the StarViper, Canderous Assault tank, and Ewok Handlers. The latter released Ewoks with bombs strapped to them. Obviously a joke directed at the hatred of Ewoks by hardcore Star Wars fans. The Story in FoC is also more interesting and well developed.
Empire at War completely revived the Star Wars RTS genre. Aside from that, it's open XML architecture allows it to be endlessly modded. A lot of moders have added a whole range of new units which can really make for interesting combat. That's what makes it one of the best.

Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast (2002, PC/Mac/Xbox)
Kyle Katarn has become the Chuck Norris of Star Wars. The merc with the beard who's just a guy with a lightsaber and a few questions. Kyle was introduced in Dark Forces, then became a Jedi in Jedi Knight. In Outcast, Kyle has left the order after an all to close brush with the dark side and has decided to once again pursue his mercenary career. The first two levels of the game, Kejim and Artus Prime, are pretty much identical in terms of game play to the original Dark Forces. At the beginning, Kyle is with is trusty side kick Jan Ors. He has none of the force abilities he learned in Jedi Knight, so you're basically starting from square one. However, by the end of the second level, Jan is captured and presumed killed by dark Jedi Desann. Kyle returns to the Vally of the Jedi from the first game to replenish his force ability to get revenge on the dark Jedi. The game also unveils a plot by the Empire Reborn to infuse non-Jedi with the force and create the ultimate soldier. The story of the game itself is a tie in with "The Crystal Star", a novel released in 1994. However, the connection is not explicit.
Once you get your force powers, and more importantly, your lightsaber, the game takes a new direction. You can now fight as a Jedi. Saber fighting is much more detailed than before giving you the ability to better control the blade and perform acrobatics. The game's story is also fairly strong though not like the first Jedi Knight. It also lacks the FMV of the first. However, the vastly improved game play and graphics more than compensate for this. Voice acting is well done and Billy Dee Williams even makes an appearance reprises his role as Lando.
Of course, we can't talk about the game without mentioning it's sequel, Jedi Academy. It's very similar to Outcast and you'll find yourself fighting almost the same enemies. The graphics are better though and it introduces a level selection system rather than a linear story. You also do not play as Kyle buy as Jayden Korr, who can either be male or female and several different species. You can play as Human, Rodian, Twi'lek, Zabrak or Kel Dor. The sequel did improve on saber fighting with more advanced acrobatics. You can also wield the infamous double bladed lightsaber later in the game, or fight Jar'Kai style (one lightsaber in each hand).

PS3 Week 1: Thoughts

By Mike on 7:49 pm

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Looking at the first week with the PS3. Ran into some snags. Most notably, I received this week's flyer from the well known electronics store where I bought the system. They had reduced the price $100 due to the high Canadian dollar. Fortunately, I was able to get $114 cash back on the system without any hassle. Today I decided to try the HDMI interface, so I went and bought a DVI to HDMI adapter to hook it up to my 900p computer monitor. The digital connection looks excellent. Fortunately, the PS3 does not force you to use the HDMI interface for audio so I was able to hook it up to my old stereo through the two RCA analogue connectors on the original AV cable. Also fortunate is that the PS3 will upscale DRMed DVDs over DVI-D to HDMI interface. Upscaled DVDs look good on a regular computer monitor. Some screens are HDCP DRM compatible now so if you have a 1200p monitor, you should be able to play BluRay at 1080p over HDMI-HDMI. Everyone else is limited to 1080i. This scheme is little more than a ploy to get people to buy new TVs. BluRay should output to 720p and 1080i without an HDCP compatible screen/TV. The vast majority of HDTV shows are 720p so most people won't care.

As for audio playback, I've noticed some problems. It seems the PSP has better audio codec support than it's bigger brother. I popped the memory card from my PSP in and it was unable to playback files encoded using MP4 AAC Low Complexity, using a variable bit rate. The PS3 itself can only rip CDs at fixed bit rates. Files that play fine in the PSP wouldn't play in the PS3. It's worth noting that these files aren't copy protected since I ripped them myself from CDs or encoded them from analogue sources. It could be that Nero Digital encoded them at non-standard bit rates, but if one Sony device can play them, why shouldn't another, newer one?

While on the subject of media, lets just say I had some headaches getting the media server feature working. This was on the Windows end though. Windows Media Player 11 wasn't coopering and kept crashing each time I tried to change the DNLA settings. It also wouldn't let me add files from my media drive. I used NeroMediaHome instead, which is also DNLA compliant and it worked like a charm. When streaming video, using a hard wired connection is highly recommended. The PS3's 802.11g 54mbps Wifi isn't fast enough for for SD and HD video streaming. Going the other way, the PS3 does a good job of streaming local video to the PSP, down-converting the resolution for you. I have yet to figure out how to download video from the PS3 onto the PSP yet. The PS3's remote play feature allows you to control the system via a PSP, though not all games support it.
On the subject of networking, I would have liked to see RSS 2.0 capability on the PS3, just like the PSP has. This feature can be used for live local streaming of audio using RSS Streaming Tools. It's unfortunate this wasn't added. Hopefully Sony will add it in a future firmware update.

On the whole, I believe the PS3 is a good system, though not as solid as Sony's own PSP. Sony could have added a lot more functionality on the media end. Hopefully firmware updates will allow it to support the same features it's little brother has.

Console Wars: September 2007

By Mike on 6:09 pm

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The Halo 3 juggernaut managed to knock the Wii off top spot. For the first time since it's release, the Wii dropped to second place in sales. According to market research firm NPD, Microsoft sold 527,000 Xbox 360s in September. Wii came close with 501,000 units. Once again, Playstation 3 was third, selling only 119,400 units. The PS2 is still outselling it's descendant, the aging console moved 215,000.
As for handhelds, the DS is till in the front with over 495,800 consoles sold. The slim and light PSP sold 284,500 units.

Microsoft's sales boost was primarily due to it's blockbuster game Halo 3. It took in $170 million on it's first day and $300 million in it's first week. It grossed more than any Hollywood movie for that period, which is making the studios a bit nervous. 3.3 million copies have been sold so far, with Wii Play trailing at second place in software sales with 282,000 copies.

One of the Wii's problems is it's ability to meet the demand. Wii sales will continue to weaken if Nintendo can't increase production. I have only seen the console for sale on the shelf once. Though the 360's hardware quality is inferior to the PS3, sales prove that the games still make or break a console. If Sony can't get some blockbuster tiles on the PS3 soon, sales will remain stagnated, no matter what price cuts they give.

The Best Star Wars Games: Part 1

By Mike on 6:31 pm

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I love the Star Wars movies. I also love Star Wars games. So for today, I thought I'd round off my top five Star Wars games, in no particular order. Ranking great Star Wars games are like ranking your kids, you just can't pick a favourite. For today, we'll look at KOTOR and TIE Fighter.

Knights of the Old Republic (2003, Xbox/PC/Mac)
KOTOR is perhaps the best Star Wars game ever made, period. It just has that timeless quality to it that so few games have, especially today. It's a role playing game, following the d20 system set forth in the original Wizards of the Coast Star Wars Role Playing Game. KOTOR was developed by Calgary based BioWare (who are well known for their RPGs) and first appeared in 2003 on the original Xbox, then in 2004 on Windows. Even if you have the Xbox version, buy the Windows one. It's worth it since the high definition graphics and surround sound add a great deal to the experience.
KOTOR is well known for being an epic game, much like the Zelda games are. Everything in it is big, and the game follows a powerful story. When the game begins, you get to customize your character. You select your class: soldier, scout, or scoundrel. You can then select sex and appearance. In Star Wars lore, your character is canonically male for this game. You can then customize further by selecting your character's name, attributes, skills, and feats. KOTOR is endlessly customizable. Like most RPGs, you gain experience points throughout the game which you can use to "level up" to a maximum of Level 20.
The story is an epic one. The game takes place 4000 years before A New Hope. You visit several worlds: Taris, Danooine, Tatooine, Kashyyyk, Manaan, Korriban, and Lehon. The goal is to uncover the location of a mysterious weapon fueled by dark side power.You begin on a ship called the Endar Spire, which is being attacked by the Sith over the planet Taris. The Endar Spire is the tutorial level. KOTOR does a good job at explaining how to play the game, in game, following the story. Once you escape from the Endar Spire, you and the ship's commander Carth Onasi crash land on Taris where you must search for the missing Jedi Bastila Shan. On your way, you add other characters to your party. There are nine NPCs in total. Carth of course is one of them. Later on, you add Bastila, Twi'lek street kid Mission Vao, Zalbaar her Wookie friend, Mandalorian bounty hunter Canderous Ordo, redeemed Cathar Jedi padawan Juhani, astromech droid T3-M4, grey Jedi Jolee Bindo, and the blood thirsty assassin droid HK-47. All NPCs are fully customizable and have their own special skills and classes. Later on in the game, some characters will have the ability to add and use force powers. They work in the same way as other Star Wars games, with a force meter. Combat is semi-automated. The computer controls the character unlike some other RPGs like Oblivion, where you do the fighting. However, you get to select which feat or force power your character will use in their attack. Combat is turn based, modified by your attributes. You can fight with melee weapons such as vibroswords and lightsabers (if your character is a force user) and ranged weapons such as blasters. There are hundreds of different weapons and armours to choose from. Some can even be upgraded at a workbench to make them stronger. Various grenades and mines can also be used in combat. Aside from that, there are various gloves, belts, headgear, portable shields, and cybernetic implants your character can use depending on their skills and attributes. Each provides a different bonus such as increasing dexterity, or allowing you to use stealth.
KOTOR is one of the few games out there that you can play over and over again and always find something new. It has strong replay value because of that, coupled with the excellent story. The graphics are stunning, even for today. KOTOR also has a strong musical score, which is 90-95% original, unlike many other Star Wars games which just recycle the music from the movies. As I said, it's probably the best Star Wars game to date.

KOTOR did spawn at least one sequel, known as The Sith Lords, which is worth talking about. It added some new game play features and is definitely worth looking at. The story takes place five years after the first game. In this game, your character is one of the Jedi who followed Revan from the first game to war. The Jedi was exiled from the order when she returned to face judgment. In TSL, your PC is canonically female but you can play as male. The plot surrounds around you lossing your connection to the Force and slowly rebuilding it as the game progresses. Unlike the first game, you can use force powers fairly early on, and there's more powers and feats to choose from. Your character classes are either Jedi Guardian, Jedi Sentinel, or Jedi Consular, which you select when you customize your character. T3, HK-47, Bastila, and Carth return in the game but only the two droids are party NPCs. A host of new NPCs include Jedi Master Kreia, smuggler Atton Rand, Zabrak mechanic Bao-Dur and his remote droid, dark Jedi Visas Marr, the mysterious droid G0-T0, bounty hunter Mira, evil Wookie slaver Hanharr, the disciple Mical, and the Handmaiden. Not all will join your party. You'll only get Mira if you're light side while Hanharr only joins dark side characters. Mical joins your party for female PCs while male ones get the Handmaiden. The game adds a new character building dimension by adding influence. Your actions and words can influence how your characters think of you, and also effect their light side/dark side alignment. Some of the NPCs can become either Jedi or Sith depending on your alignment and influence with them.
Weapons and armours have also changed somewhat. The Jedi and Sith robes in the game fit the style seen in the movies more. There's also a greater variety of armours and weapons to choose from. Lightsaber combat has improved by allowing you to learn up to seven saber forms: Shi-Cho, Soresu, Makashi, Shien, Ataru, Niman/Jar Kai, and Juyo. Each has strengths and weaknesses. Soresu and Shien are best for deflecting blaster fire, Shi-Cho and Niman are jack-of-all-trades forms, while Ataru and Juyo are aggressive melee forms, and Makashi is best against force wielding opponents. Like in the first game, weapons, armours, and lightsabers can be upgraded at a work bench. There's more upgrade options to choose from in TSL. You can also use a work bench or lab station to build upgrades, power-ups, and weapons out of components you find.
The games production values are not as good as the first game though due to time constraints put on the developers by LucasArts. The only major issue is a huge amount of content that had to be cut in order to meet the release deadline. There are significant plot holes in the game due to this. However, a lot of the cut content was included on the game CDs in raw form. Team Gizka, a group of modders, has been working on restoring the cut content through The Sith Lords Restoration Project. They are close to finishing but refuse to set a release date. You can check on their progress on YouTube. TSL was made by Obsidian rather than BioWare, who recommended them. The game is still pretty good and nearly matches the first KOTOR despite its flaws. It too has an original musical score and strong replay value. There are rumors about a KOTOR 3 is in the works. Developers and LucasArts aren't commenting, which is usually a good sign. In my opinion, it would be a great crime if LucasArts did not release a KotOR 3. The Sith Lords just left so many unanswered questions and cliff hangars in the same way Empire Strikes Back did for the original trilogy. It would be a great tragedy to never find out what happened to Revan and the Exile.

TIE Fighter (1994, PC/Mac)
It's rare that a sequel can live up to its original. That's especially true is the original set the bar high, as KOTOR did above. Back in the 1983, Atari released Star Wars, an arcade game which used vector graphics to mimic 3D flight. The goal was to pilot an X-Wing and destroy the Death Star. Ten years later, LucasArts released X-Wing, which brought the arcade game to home PC. It too had a mission to destroy the Death Star, but expanded it with more missions, three more craft, true 3D graphics, and free flight. The developer was Totally Games and the story was written by Lawrence Holland, who would work on the rest of the series. X-Wing had it's problems though. According to Gamespot, it was ridiculously hard. I agree. Even in invulnerability mode, the game is extremely difficult.
In 1994, the space sim genera changed with TIE Fighter. It was one of the first Star Wars games where you actually played as the bad guys. TIE Fighter is certainly easier than X-Wing, but not so easy as it were to be dull. Improvements included better graphics, a full 3D Combat MultiView Display (which actually tells you stuff unlike the X-Wing one), enhanced missions with primary, secondary, and secret goals, and a strong storyline. You get the full line of Imperial star fighters too. If you happen to be a Star Wars fleet junkie, you'd love TIE fighter since it offered a whole host of new ships, such as the infamous TIE Defender and Missile Boat. Aside from that, you get the standard fare such as the classic TIE Fighter, the TIE Bomber, the TIE Interceptor, the TIE Avenger (aka Advanced), and the Star Wing (aka Assault Gunboat). Each have their strengths and weaknesses. Unlike the Rebels, the first three craft don't even have shields or heavy armour to protect you. There's little margin for error. On top of that, you have to optimize your power settings.
The missions are well structured, ranging from defense of an outpost, escort, bombing, hit and run, etc. The briefings give you good descriptions and tips with full voice over. The game's story isn't what you'd expect. The Empire is never portrayed as evil. In fact, the Rebels are painted as terrorists in the game. Actually, you don't spend too much time fighting rebels. The gave adds new dimensions such as ending a civil war, fighting pirates, and even defeating a rouge Imperial admiral. The game has no weaknesses and it takes you back to a time when games were just fun. The original had an expansion pack, but most will be familiar with the 1995 Collectors edition which included the expansion.
TIE Fighter spawned two sequels. X-Wing vs TIE Fighter was a multiplayer game. It was essentially identical to TIE Fighter in mechanics, but added texture skins to the craft. It also added the improved cockpits to rebel craft. However, it lacked a story outside the brief Balance of Power expansion. It was geared towards online gameplay. In 1998, LucasArts released a collectors edition which included X-Wing and TIE Fighter and their expansions with the updated XvsT graphics. The games were identical in every other way though. Another sequel, X-Wing Alliance, put you back as the Rebels, but during the post-Hoth era. It is in many ways TIE Fighter's equal, further improving on things and adding a gaggle of craft, as well as better graphics and 3D virtual cockpits. Alliance still remains somewhat popular eight years after it's release. It's rather unfortunate that LucasArts didn't add anymore games to the series. It would be interesting to see where the games would have gone considering the power of today's computers.

Leopard Unleashed: October 26th

By Mike on 6:17 pm

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Apple is finally releasing it's much anticipated OS X 10.5 Leopard operating system. It's due out on October 26th. You can pre-order your copy right now for delivery on that date. I have.

Apple is promising 300 new features. That's a lot to list. Major ones include the Time Machine system restore and backup program, Quicklook, which gives full scale previews of documents before loading, a redesigned desktop, better dual core and 64-bit compatibility, and more. Apple is promising it will be easy to install and works with all current OS X applications. It's $129 for a single system, which isn't too bad. Single license copies of Vista Home Premium sell for that.

Look for my review coming soon after the 26th.

Playstation 3: The Seventh Gen Beast

By Mike on 9:42 pm

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Updated Review: September 2008

A review today. This time it's the Playstation 3. The underdog of the seventh gen. I had been saving for a while to get a seventh generation console. I originally went out yesterday to pick up the Xbox 360, which was only $399 for the 20gb model and came with a couple games. An excellent deal but my lucked turned out to be typical. They were all out. Only the Halo editions were left, which are just Premium 360s painted green and orange. I figured the extra $50 for the snazzy paint job wasn't worth it. They did have one 60gb PS3 left so I picked that up instead. Now you might be saying, why would I pay $200 more for something when I wouldn't pay $50 more for the Halo 360. Well, the PS3 happens to have a built in Bluray, while the 360's HD-DVD drive is $200 extra, so the same setup would have cost the same. The PS3 also lacks a lot of the hardware issues the 360 has. Lets take a look.

The PS3 is slightly bigger and heavier than the 360. It features a 3.2ghz IBM Cell processor, 256mb 3.2ghz XDR-RAM, and a nVidia G70 GPU at 550mhz with 256mb DDR3. Over the PS3's entire lifespan, there have been six models available for sale, which are listed below. Currently, only two remain in production. All PS3 models include a Bluray drive, PS1 emulation, user upgradable hard drive, SixAxis or Dual Shock 3 controller, and built in gigabit LAN.

-The 60gb model is the "top of the line" PS3. Features include a flash card reader, four USB ports, built in 802.11g Wifi, Emotion Engine for hardware emulation of PS2 titles, Super Audio CD playback, 60gb hard drive, and chrome trim. This model currently retails for $449 brand new but has been discontinued.
-The 20gb is identical to the 60gb but lacks chrome trim, wifi, and card reader. It came with a 20gb hard drive. It also included a built in Emotion Engine chip for PS2 games. It has been discontinued. Current price is unknown but it originally sold for $499.
-The 80gb is identical to the 60gb model except it dropped hardware emulation of PS2 titles in favour of software to reduce price. Compatible with 80% of PS2 games. Comes in a bundle with either Motorstorm or Metal Gear Solid 4. It is currently in production and sells for $499.
-The 40gb was an ultra low cost model. It cut out the card reader, PS2 backwards compatibility, Super Audio CD support, and chrome trim. It reduced the number of USB ports to two. It uses a 65nm CPU for reduced heat and power consumption. It included a copy of Spiderman 3 on Blu-ray. It has been discontinued but is still available for $399.
-The new 80gb (not to be confused with the one above) is identical to the 40gb but includes a larger hard drive. Comes with DualShock 3 controller. Currently in production and retails for $399.
-The 160gb is identical to the 40gb but includes a larger hard drive. Comes with DualShock 3 controller. It is bundled with a copy of Uncharted: Drake's Fortune and a PSN voucher for PAIN. In production as of October 2008 and retails for $499.

In box, you get the usual goodies: power cables, composite/RCA AV cable, ethernet cable, USB cable, and one SIXAXIS controller, as well as manuals and the various advertisements. HD video cables are not included in the box, likely as a cost cutting measure. You'll need the component or HDMI cable for BD playback, and the HDMI cable for DVD upscaling to HD resolutions. HDMI provides the optimal HD experience. Just don't go forking out more than $20 for a 6ft cable because it's not worth it. Those expensive cables are identical to cheaper ones. The system itself sets up quickly. Just plug in the power cable and the AV cable and you're ready to go. The PS3 has a built in power supply so there's no brick like the 360 has. The SIXAXIS can function as either a wired or wireless controller through the USB port. It charges via USB.
All PS3 models feature a built in 2.5'', 5200rpm SATA2 hard drive. Currently available units feature a 40gb or 80gb drive. The two original models featured a 20gb or 60gb drive. A big plus is that Sony allows you to upgrade the internal drive with any off the shelf 2.5'' SATA laptop drive, unlike Microsoft which requires you to purchase a proprietary drive. The PS3 can also use any FAT32 formatted USB drive such as a thumb drive or portable hard drive. Portable drives can be used to store game saves, music, videos and photos. It cannot however store game installs to these drives. Additionally, the built in card reader in the 60gb and 80gb models can add even more storage.

Lets look at the software side of things. Sony has pretty much made the system software identical to what's on the PSP. Sony calls it the XrossMediaBar. It's used in the PSP and some of their HDTVs. It's a simple, streamlined, user friendly interface. Non-tech minded people should be able to figure it out quickly. You can control the software through either the controller or a USB keyboard and mouse. Any USB keyboard and mouse should work. You can use it to enter text on the web browser or any other function that demands text input. Some games, COD4 I believe, allow the keyboard and mouse in game, but most don't. The XrossMediaBar has functions for pictures, music, movies, networking, and the Playstation Network. You can easily import photos directly from your camera's memory card, rip audio CDs to the HDD, and watch your movies. For gaming, you can play demos or games bought through the Playstation Store on your HDD. The PS3 also allows you to install another OS on a 10gb partition. Linux distros such as OpenSUSE, Ubuntu, and Gentoo have PS3 distributions. Sony officially supports Yellow Dog for the PS3. The PS3 can be used as an all-in-one media centre or a desktop PC, or both. I tried Ubuntu and it works fine.

The PS3 of course provides a lot of gaming options. All PS3s except the upcoming 40gb model support playback of Playstation and Playstation 2 titles. The old 20gb and 60gb models are ideal for this since they use hardware emulation with an on board Emotion Engine chip, thus being compatible with almost 100% of PS2 games. The 80gb and 60gb PAL model use software emulation and are are compatible with only 80% of PS2 games. The 40gb cannot play PS2 games at all. The EE was cut on the new models to reduce cost. All models are fully backwards compatible with original Playstation games. If you're a hardcore gamer, try to find one of the older models. It's worth it due to the wide PS2 library. Of course the PS2 is still available but it's nice to have everything in one. At first, PS3 titles were few and far between but now there are plenty of A class games out there to play. Titles such as Uncharted, Metal Gear Solid 4, and LittleBigPlanet shoud whet the appatite of gamers. I didn't buy a game at first since the store I bought the console at didn't have very much. Dedicated game stores like EB tend to have more titles in stock. The local video store wasn't much help either. They only had about 10 titles. I picked up Elder Scrolls Oblivion and Ace Combat 5, a PS2 game. Both worked flawlessly. Oblivion really stresses a system. Even top PCs can struggle with outdoor scenes. The PS3 does a good job at rendering them smoothly. AC5 worked just as if it were on a PS2. In some cases, the PS3 will outperform the 360 in terms of frame rate. Dirt and Assassin's Creed are two examples.
One of the problems with the PS3 and gaming is that the Cell processor is difficult to program for. All PS3 games come on Blu-Ray discs. Some games such as Devil May Cry and MGS4 are starting to require a 5gb hard drive install to play them. This significantly reduces load times but takes up valuable hard drive space. Gamers have criticized how long the games take to install and that this feature defeats the purpose of a console. With BD's 48mbit/second transfer rates, I personally think such big installs are unnecessary. DMC doesn't require an install on the 360.
One final thing worth noting on the games themselves is that they aren't region coded, or rather region coding isn't enforced. Therefore, Japanese and European games will play on a North American console, and vice versa. PS2 and PS1 games are still region coded though, as well as BD movies. I have to commend SCE for going the region free route with their games. There are a lot of really great games that never get released in North America for one reason or another so it's good to see the doors are no longer shut to niche titles.
For control, you get the SIXAXIS or DualShock 3, a bluetooth powered wireless controller. As I already mentioned, it can also be used as a wired controller via the included USB cable, and is charged via USB. The original SIXAXIS lacks a rumble function, which some criticized. However, I've been playing PC games with a keyboard for so long, I don't miss it. The SIXAXIS has a primitive motion sensing function, sensing tilt and side acceleration. It's not nearly as advanced as the Wii's though. The layout is identical to past PS controllers. A DualShock 3 controller with rumble function is available separately for $54 and is bundled with the new 80gb and 160gb models. The PS3 can also be integrated with the PSP using Remote Play, which allows a PSP to control a PS3 wirelessly. This function is a tad on the slow side due to the PSP being limited to the older and slower Wireless B Wifi. Pixel Junk Eden is a notable title that allows gameplay with Remote Play. Most PS3 games will not though. Remote Play does allow you to access all your media as well as the PS Store and the web browser from your PSP.
For online gaming, the PS3's Playstation Network (PSN) service is 100% free. However, some say it is not as good as the fee based Xbox Live.

One of the big draws to the PS3 is it's Blu-Ray drive. It supports BD discs, DVD, CD, and SACD, plus their respective recordable formats. Blu-ray has won the HD format war so the PS3 is a solid buy right now. It's also one of the few BD players on the market that is fully upgradable to the future 2.0 BD Live profile. Contrary to popular belief, you don't need to use HDMI with HDCP compatible devices for BD playback. At least that's according to the manual. It will output to 720p and 1080i, but not 1080p without HDMI and HDCP compliant devices. I don't have a 1080p TV, like most people, so this isn't really a big issue. BD playback at 720p or 1080i still looks excellent. One thing that bugs me is the lack of ability to upscale regular DVDs over component. This isn't really the PS3's fault but I still think you should be able to.
One issue that some people complain about is the lack of an IR receiver, meaning the PS3 cannot use non-Bluetooth universal remotes. Sony sells an additional "Blu-Ray Remote" for the PS3 for about $30. The SixAxis controls for media playback are fine though so the additional remote, while easier, is not necessary.
Additionally, the PS3 has great multimedia capability. For music, it supports MP3, AAC, ATRAC, and non-protected WMA. The PS3 can also rip audio CDs directly to it's hard drive in either one of these formats at various quality levels, DRM free. All models except for the 40gb can play back the elusive SACD high definition audio format. Additionally, the PS3 can "upscale" audio CDs to 48khz, 88.2khz, 176.4khz. For video, the PS3 can play AVC, MPEG1, MPEG2, WMV, and DivX. For photos, you get the usual formats such as JPEG. The PS3 can interface with a desktop PC acting as a media server. The freeware TVersity media server is one of the most popular Windows programs for doing this but Windows Media Player also works. The 802.11g wifi connection is plenty for streaming and transferring standard definition video, audio, and pictures. For HD video, you'll want to use the wired Gigabit LAN connection.

So, is the PS3 worth it? I think so if you intend to use it as an HTPC. It's essentially four devices in one. It is expensive but the addition of the 40gb model has reduced prices to $399, with the sacrifice of backwards compatibility. As a media centre, it works as advertised, and does an excellent job at it. It's user friendly and provides a good gaming experience. I'd say, if you're looking for a pure game console, buy a Wii or the 360 Arcade. However, if you want a full all-in-one media centre, the PS3 is something to consider. The PS3 is also the most futurproof of the three consoles. Lets take a look at the numbers.

Graphics: 10/10
Gameplay: 8/10
Multimedia Performance: 9/10
Ease of Use: 9/10
Build Quality: 9/10
Game Variety: 8/10
Value: 8/10

Overall: 9/10

-Stunning Graphics and sound
-User Friendly
-Access to most of the PSOne and PS2 library
-No region coding for PS3 games
-Integrated BD, WiFi,
-User upgradable HDD
-Wide multimedia support
-Easy to install another OS and use it like a PC
-Blu-ray won the HD format war. Upgradable to Blu-ray Live 2.0 profile.
-Free online play

-No DVD upscaling over Component video
-BD doesn't output to 1080p without HDMI and HDCP compliant devices