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