Apple MacBook (Late 2008) Review

By Mike on 12:01 am

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When Apple first released the Macbook in 2006, it became an instant hit with consumers. It marked the beginning of the transition from AIM's PowerPC processors to Intel's Core line. Essentially, the Macbook changed the vary face of Macintosh by moving it to an entirely new hardware base, which consumers ultimately benefited from immensely. The new Late 2008 Macbook also represents another game changer by introducing the aluminum unibody, nVidia 9400M, and the multi-touch track pad. Is the Apple Macbook a winner or should you look for cheaper PC solutions? Read on and find out for yourself.

Hardware and Design
Base Model Specifications: Intel Core 2 Duo "Penryn" 2.0ghz, 2gb DDR3-1066, Geforce 9400M 256mb shared, 160gb SATA Hard Drive, SuperDrive (DVDRW), 802.11a/b/g/draft n wifi, Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR, 13.3'' Glossy LCD at 1280x800 (16:10), 2x USB2.0, 1x Gigabit Ethernet, 1x DisplayPort, Audio In, Audio Out, standard keyboard, multitouch trackpad, 4200mAh Lithium Polymer Battery giving approx. 5hr battery life.

Top End Model: Same as base but adds Intel Core 2 Duo "Penryn" 2.4ghz, 250gb HDD, illuminated keyboard.

Options on All Models: Up to 320gb HDD or 128gb Sold State Drive (SSD), Up to 4gb DDR3.

The Macbook is classified as a thin & light laptop, which are systems with screens below 14'' but above 10''. The system clocks in at 4.5lbs making it a vary portable full featured laptop. Unlike the older Macbooks, Apple changed the casing to an all aluminum design rather than polycarbonate which had been used for all of Apple's consumer laptops since the white iBook days. Apple dubs it the unibody since most of the chassis is cut from a single block of aluminum. Apple claims this is a more efficient manufacturing process. Casting the shells of course requires moulds to be manufactured, which is time consuming. Apple has opted for a CNC cutting process instead. What the consumer gets is a highly durable chassis that looks good too. Apple has given it an anodized finish, making it resistant to dirt and smudges, unlike the old glossy polycarbonate model. It also brings the Macbook's appearance and design in line with the Macbook Pro. The system features a full sized keyboard which is identical to the previous Macbooks. I have to say the new keyboard design is not as good as what was present in the last generation of iBooks but it is tolerable compared to the ones on many other laptops. It just doesn't feel as crisp as the iBook's. Another nagging issue is that the sharp angled edge of the chassis can hurt your wrists while typing. The previous systems had a smooth rounded edge.

The screen is a 1280x800 LCD backlit with LED lights. LEDs run cooler and use less energy than cold cathode lighting, extending battery life. Apple has chosen to go with a glossy screen, which is a tad controversial. They have become a bit of a fad for computer manufacturers despite the fact that most people seem to prefer a matte finish. Using a glossy screen improves perceived contrast ratio and offers a little extra protection, but they show the dirt more and are highly reflective. Therefore, they can be difficult to see in certain lighting conditions, particularly outdoors. The LED backlighting is sufficiently bright enough to overcome that issue in most cases but I still would have preferred a matte finish. Image quality for the display is vary good overall. An external display can be added using the mini-DisplayPort connector, which I'll get to later.

Also new for design is the Multitouch track pad. Apple first introduced gesture controls in the iBooks and PowerBooks and the Macbook Aluminum brings it to its fully evolved state. The trackpad is a smooth glass surface though it is coated to prevent nasty fingerprints from showing. Notably missing is a mouse button. The entire trackpad is one big mouse button. Pressing down anywhere registers as a click. Alternatively, you can set it to use touch control as your mouse button, doing away with the mechanical process all together. The pad features up to four finger gestures. Of course two finger scrolling is still there. For some programs, a three finger swipe allows you to navigate through multiple photos or pages. Four finger swiping up or down controls Expose while side to side allows you to navigate between open applications. The iPhone's two finger pinch zoom in, spread zoom out feature has also been ported over for some programs. Also new is that Apple has finally included two button support on the track pad. The second mouse button can be controlled by clicking with two fingers, or it can be tagged to the left or right bottom corner of the track pad for a one finger click. This is a much welcome feature instead of using the option-click method all the time. Originally, the trackpad did have some issues registering clicks but this has been cleared up with a Firmware update. It may take some time getting used to but once you do, you'll wonder how you lived without it.

Under the hood, Apple is still using the same Penryn Core 2 Duo processors they used in the previous Macbook. However, speed has been cut from 2.1ghz to 2.0ghz. No reason was given for this though a 100mhz drop in speed is not likely to have any noticeable performance impact in everyday use. More importantly, Apple decided to ditch Intel's sluggish GMA graphics and DDR2 for an NVIDIA integrated solution that adds DDR3 support. In most computers, the memory, ports & buses, sound, and graphics are controlled by up to four chips on the motherboard. NVIDIA's Geforce 9400M chipset incorporates all these functions into one. This means that motherboards can be smaller and they consume less power. The 9400M is significantly faster than the Intel GMA X3100 used in the polycarbonate Macbook, meaning that it can handle more demanding graphics applications, including games. It uses up to 256mb of RAM shared with the system memory. Using DDR3 instead of DDR2 also helps alleviate the problem of integrated GPUs being forced to use slow system memory. DDR3 is a relatively new technology that is still slowly coming into PC desktops. Laptops with it are still quite rare. It is much faster and more energy efficient than DDR2 but has higher latency. It also costs more than DDR2 at the moment. However, demanding applications such as video and photo editors will be able to take advantage of it.
Other hardware is pretty standard. Apple still includes a relatively small hard drive for the price of the system. A scant 160gb. Fortunately, installing a larger drive is vary easy. All it requires is opening the battery bay and removing a single screw. Installing RAM is a little more difficult than it has been in past models, requiring you to remove the entire bottom panel. However, this task is not the nightmare it was with the original polycarbonate iBooks. The entire system is fully servicible meaning the battery, RAM, DVD drive, and hard drive are easy to replace. Apple continues to solder the CPU to the motherboard meaning throwing a 2.4ghz one into the base model is still out of the question. Speaking of drives, the SuperDrive, which is a DVD writer, is now standard in the Macbook. Apple finally ditched the DVD-ROM/CDRW combo.

For connectivity, Apple includes a variety of options including 802.11n wifi, Bluetooth, and USB 2.0. Conspicuously missing is a Firewire port. Apple has given its own peripheral connection the boot. Firewire was only ever used for some external hard drives and digital camcorders but people who use those devices will find themselves out of luck. Another controversial decision was the inclusion of the Mini DisplayPort. DisplayPort is a new video connector format competing against DVI and HDMI. It is royalty free unlike HDMI and allows data to be transferred along with audio and video over a single cable. Unfortunately, not many monitors, TVs, or projectors use it, and only one to my knowledge uses its mini version. The Apple Cinema Display is the one exception. Apple sells adaptors for VGA and DVI/DVI Dual Link but these are expensive. Apple originally used to package an adaptor for its mini ports with their systems but ceased doing that when they introduced the original Macbook. Vary chintzy in my opinion. The fact that one cannot simply plug it into any source without an adaptor is unweildy. Apple should have used the far more common HDMI port instead and just absorbed the licence costs given the price of the system.

The Macbook comes preloaded with OS X 10.5 Leopard as one would expect. OS X provides the most user friendly experience on the market. Expose and Spaces allow for easy desktop navigation. It makes doing work on your system a breeze. The multitouch trackpad now allows you to control them with just your fingers. No buttons involoved at all. I still like to tag Expose to to the screen corners so I can navigate them with just my pointer. Everything just works with OS X. Everything is plug and play. There's not really much I can say about it. It's not perfect but it's ideal for those who are computer illiterate or just want an easy environment to work with. GPU accelerated GUI features are far superior to the ones included with Vista Aeroglass. While Vista is mostly show, OS X puts function first. One thing of note is that Apple seems to ship fewer extras with their systems than they did in the past. iBooks shipping Tiger for example included an Atlas and Encyclopedia program, a trial version of Microsoft Office, and a couple of 3D games. However, all Macs still include the latest copy of iLife, which is iLife 08 at the moment.
One of my biggest pet peeves about OS X though is the print drivers. Sounds a little odd that I'd be bothered with that. Apple includes drivers for all major brands and models of printers by default with OS X Leopard installs. However, these take up a surprisingly large amount of space on the hard drive. Unnecessary ones can only be removed manually once OS X is installed. A utility would have been nice. The print drivers can be found in the main Library folder in the Macintosh HD. Search for the printer folders and simply delete all folders except your specific printer's brand and InstalledPrinters.plist. This can free up to 2gb or more.

Speaking of Vista, Boot Camp allows you to install it or Windows XP onto a second partition allowing you to run Windows on your Mac. I discussed in a previous article how to do this. Vista actually runs vary well on the Macbook. Originally, there were issues with the trackpad but these have since been corrected with the December 18th, 2008 driver update. Sound clipping is the only real issue. It's nice to be able to run Windows and OS X side by side since you'll frequently run into times when you'll need a program that's only available for one OS or the other. Most often software that only has Windows versions. The 9400M is sufficiently powerful enough for gaming on Windows. Vista does seem to consume more system resources and offers a shorter battery life compared to OS X on the Macbook. 64-bit versons of Vista and XP are not officially supported for the Macbook. Drivers are available but they require extra steps to install, which I described in depth in a previous article.

Apple systems are frequently criticized for costing more than PC laptops with similar specifications. When people tell me that, I usually point them towards Lenovo laptops, which are similarly priced to Apple's. While you do pay more, you are paying for better build quality. Apple laptops are less likely to break due to the superior materials used to make them. Aluminum is a lot stronger than the moulded plastic used in cheaper PC laptops. Apple systems can take a great deal of abuse, which they're likely to encounter when out on the road or being carried between classes. Battery life is also tops among the Macbook line, making them perfect for situations where you'll be away from an outlet for a long period of time, say taking notes at college lectures. That said, Apple systems may not be the best value. You are still paying for the Apple brand/experience and you do get less hardware options than you would going for something like a Dell or HP system. For the same price point, these systems will offer features like card readers, significantly faster CPUs, tons more RAM, powerful discrete GPUs in some cases, and Blu-ray drives. The question is whether you're willing to sacrifice features for durability and top notch battery life. If you're a road warrior, the Macbook is well worth it. However, I would still like to see it drop back to the $999 US price point. Given that my old iBook was sold for that yet was still relatively powerful for its day and had a discrete GPU.

The Macbook (Late 2008) is one of the best laptops on the market today. Apple has really reinvented itself with their mobile devices. The system is still plagued by a few small issues and a high entry cost but it offers the best durability and battery life available, plus the OS X experience. The system's design makes it ideal for road warriors who need full sized features in a package that will stand up to abuse. Definitely worth looking into.

What Works
-Aluminum unibody looks stylish, is light weight, and is vary durable
-Geforce 9400M offers power savings and significantly boosts graphics power over Intel GMA
-One of the first laptops to offer DDR3 support
-Multitouch trackpad design vary innovative
-LED backlit display is bright and has excellent image quality.
-OS X Leopard offers one of the best general computing experiences around
-Vary easy to upgrade HDD, RAM, DVD, and battery
-Vary long battery life

What Doesn't Work
-High cost compared to similar PC offerings
-Keyboard leaves something to be desired, sharp angles on chassis can hurt wrists.
-Won't run 64-bit Windows in Boot Camp without extra steps
-Glossy display
-Lack or Firewire and use of mini-DisplayPort a controversial choice. No adaptors included for Mini-DisplayPort
-Slightly slower CPU than polycarbonate model

Score: 8.5 out of 10

In part 2 of this review, we will look at performance benchmarks on the Macbook under both Vista and OS X.

Nintendo to Launch Video On Demand Service for Wii

By Mike on 10:22 pm

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Nintendo is joining on the VOD bandwagon along with Sony and Microsoft. The PS3 has its own Sony branded video download service and the 360 has Netflix. Soon Wii will be getting a video rental service as well. Nintendo has partnered with Japanese ad firm Dentsu and plans to introduce free (presumably ad backed) and pay-per-view videos to download. Unlike its competitors, Nintendo plans to focus on original, family friendly content. The service will be available in Japan sometime in Spring 2009. No other details have been announced so far. The Register estimated that it will likely be a streaming only service since the console lacks a hard drive and does not have enough internal storage for feature length 480p video. The Wii has been criticized in the past for its lack of DVD playback capabilities and poor multi-media performance.

For content, I'd estimate stuff like the Pokemon anime series will make an appearance, along with other Nintendo themed shows like Kirby. No word if Super Mario Bros. Super Show or The Legend Of Zelda annimated series will make an appearance. lol

Source: El Reg

EA Offers Some Games "DRM-Free" Through Steam

By Mike on 9:45 am

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As of this Monday, Electronic Arts will begin selling some of their most popular PC titles through Valve's popular Steam digital download service. What's more, they will be offered without third-party DRM. This means that SecuROM has been put out to pasture, provided you download the game from Valve. Titles offered include Spore, Warhammer Online, Need For Speed Undercover, FIFA Manager 09, Crysis, Crysis Warhead, and SiN. Mirror's Edge and Command and Conquer will also be added to the service in the next few months. Prices for the SecuROM-free games are on par with their boxed counterparts. Spore for example is currently selling for $50 US.

If you follow any sort of game news, you'll know that Electronic Arts suffered a major PR disaster due to the draconian limits placed on Spore. For many casual gamers, this was their first introduction to the DRM that has plagued most PC titles for some time now, and they didn't like it one bit. Originally, Spore was locked to no more than three user accounts (even if they were on the same machine) and phoned home bi-weekly to make sure you weren't using known pirated keys. Installs were not deauthorized if the game was uninstalled from the computer as well. (This was done in my opinion to stop the lucrative legitimate pre-owned resale market.) EA backed down somewhat, upping it to five installs and allowed users to deauthorize installs when removing the game. Despite these draconian measures of piracy prevention, Spore became the top pirated game of 2008 and clocked in the highest number of illegal downloads per month in history. EA was sued over Spore's DRM since according to the plaintiffs, they failed to disclose the restrictions on the packaging or in the End User License Agreement.

The boxed copies of the games in question still include SecuROM, presenting somewhat of a double standard. Digital downloaders using Steam are being rewarded where those using another service or buying a boxed copy must still deal with the now notorious DRM scheme. Also, Steam itself is a form of DRM, all be it much milder than SecuROM. Many games require you to be online and connected to Steam, which puts mobile gamers out in the cold. However, according to Steam, games are associated with your account, not your computer so you can play your games on any system. This is why the online connection is needed. It's a more common sense approach to DRM that keeps publishers happy without punishing legitimate users. Now all we need to do is do the same with boxed copies and finally put SecuROM and its counterparts out to pasture for good.

Source: CNET News , Steam Press Release

MGS4 Spin-off Heading to iPhone

By Mike on 5:52 pm

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Everyone else is reporting this today so I might as well throw it up too. Last week, Konami released the cryptic teaser "i + ! = (!)", in green lettering. Many pundits believed that this was a secret message that indicated that Metal Gear Solid 4 would be heading to the Xbox 360, given the consoles' trademark colour and power button. Unfortunately, Xbox fanboys will have to wait a little while longer before Solid Snake makes an appearance on their system. Konami has revealed that the next Metal Gear title will be on the iPhone and iPod Touch. It is said to be a watered down version of MGS4 with touch controls but it's more likely a spin-off of that game. The new title will be known as "Metal Gear Solid Touch". Release dates and prices have not been confirmed.

MGS4 was not released on the Xbox for a variety of reasons. Primarily due to Konami's past relationship with Sony on the series and that DVD-9 discs used for the 360 were not big enough for the game. MGS4 would require at least 4 DVDs for the 360. An unreasonable number for many console gamers.

Source: Joystiq

Playstation Home First Impressions

By Mike on 6:00 am

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What's my first impression on Home now that I can write about it? Well, I'm not sure how I can put it delicately so I'll just say it: it sucks. Of course, first I should tell you a little about what Home is. Basically, it's Sony's foray into social networking. Pundits have dubbed this type of online interaction as Web 3.0 since it allows you to navigate the web, or rather a small chunk of it for now, in a 3D environment. Home is, in essence, yet another Second Life ripoff. Right from the get go, Home has its problems. Now, we do have to keep in mind that this is a Public Beta release. For those who don't know, a Beta is a piece of software that is in its testing phases before general release. Coders use betas to track down and eliminate bugs before the final product is shipped. A public beta is a program that is still in beta that the public can use and test. They usually represent the late phases of program development but are not the finalized product. The first problem I encountered in Home was difficulty logging on. One time it took me four attempts before it would connect to the Home server.

When you first start the game, you'll be prompted to create an avatar. That is, a virtual you. You can select from a wide variety of parameters including facial features, sex, eye colour, race, hair colour and style, body type, clothing, and accessories. There are preset face and body types or you can fine tune them to more accurately represent yourself, or whoever you want your avatar to be. Not one to falsify myself online, I picked out an avatar that looks like me. Currently, clothing styles and accessories such as facial hair, glasses, clothing, and jewellery offer vary limited choices. Once you're done selecting your avatar, the game drops you into a vary sparse looking beach front apartment. It's basically a bland empty room with a few pieces of bland furniture. The game from here guides you on how to use Home. From there, you can leave your apartment and visit other areas. Home's city doesn't have cars or a bus for some reason so expect to do a lot of tedious walking around. When you enter a any new environment for the first time, you'll be prompted to download it first. Only the apartment is included with the initial download so everything else has to be obtained separately. Each area weighs in at about 35mb. Loading times for area seem unnecessarily slow. As for places to visit, there's a mall to buy (overpriced) stuff, such as furniture for your apartment and accessories, but selection is vary limited right now. There are also arcade games, which are pretty dull, and game specific rooms (ie the Uncharted Room) that really don't serve much of a purpose. There are arcade cabinets in the game that offer vary basic titles, but they can only be used by one person at a time, just like in the real world. So if someone is hogging it, you're SOOL. Chat is slow and tedious since few PS3 owners have keyboards, PS Eyes, or Bluetooth headsets hooked up to the system. This begs the question: why would I want to talk to strangers in a virtual world in the first place? It has come to my attention that there are actually people out there with less of a life than myself. I know, hard to believe isn't it. I guess that's what's been fuelling Second Life and World of Warcraft all these years. Needless to say I just had a look around and didn't talk to anyone. If the Home visitors are anything like typical online gamers, they're probably mostly obnoxious, snot nosed teenagers. Most people in Home don't seem too talkative anyway. They're mostly just wandering around aimlessly like I was.

Home is one of those products that has been in development for what seems like forever. Next to in-game XMB, it was 2008's most coveted PS3 feature. However, despite the long wait, Home just fails to impress. It feels like an empty world devoid of anything really fun or useful. Granted the Xbox and Wii offer something similar but I just don't think a console is an ideal platform for this type of service. Social networking sites are a dime a dozen these days. As on IGN pundit put it, it's much more enjoyable to share the social gaming experience with friends on a Wii than it is to entre a virtual world with only robotic 3D facsimiles of people to talk to. That said, it's not like Sony is charging people to use Home so that maybe its one saving grace. All PS3 owners should automatically have Home on their systems now provided it is connected to the internet.

Update: The folks at Penny Arcade sum up my feelings towards Home pretty well. lol

SSDs versus HDDs: Is it worth the upgrade?

By Mike on 12:16 pm

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There's been a lot in the news regarding new solid state drives lately. Essentially, they're like flash drives on steroids. They use flash memory to store data in a non-volatile manner and function just like a hard drives. They are set to replace hard disk drives in the near future, but are available on the market now for consumers to purchase. The question is whether or not to upgrade your system to solid state, or if it makes more sense to wait a while.

Hard drive technology is quite old, dating from at least the 1960s. Inside the drive is a set of spinning metal (or metal coated glass) platters and a read/write head that uses magnetics to store data. While they've improved a lot over the years, we are beginning to reach the limits of what this technology is capable of. Perpendicular recording has increased the amount of data a 3.5'' hard disc can store up to 1.5tb while 2.5'' mobile drives have increased to 500gb. However, the drives still have fundamental problems. With any mechanical system, heat and noise are always a problem. Excess heat and vibration causes premature wear. Mechanical systems also have inherent durability issues. If you drop your laptop for example, the read/write head of the hard drive could grind into the disk platters and permanently toast your data. Most laptop drives have shock sensors now that park the head if they sense a fall, but the issue still exists. Hard drive failure rates can also be all over the map depending on how the drive was made and who made it. Hard drives, also have limited data transfer rates and high seek times due to the inherent mechanical nature of the system.

Solid State Drives seek to address the fundamental issues with mechanical hard drives. Namely, they don't consume a lot of power, they don't generate a lot of heat, and they're much more resistant to physical abuse. Some companies have already taken the liberty of installing them into some systems. Apple was a notable pioneer in the full size laptop market when they released the Macbook Air with a solid state drive option early this year. All Apple laptops now offer them as an option. Lenovo has also begun offering SSDs as an option in their venerable Thinkpads. Asus also pioneered the market when in 2007, they made them standard in their early EeePC systems. The question is whether it makes sense now to replace your hard drives with an SSD, or is it better to wait. The advantage with SSDs is performance. In a hard drive, the read head has to physically move to find data on a platter and it can only transfer it as fast as the platter can rotate. With laptops, there's always been a tradeoff between performance and energy savings, meaning slower rotation speeds are used, meaning slower data transfer rates and seek times. With a solid state system, it has no moving parts meaning seek time is virtually nill. Transfer rates are also potentially faster. Hard drives have always been the weakest link in the performance chain but Intel claims their SSDs can read data at up to 250MB/s, which is the realistic top speed of the SATA bus. Rate of wear has also improved. Flash memory does deteriorate over its lifetime as data gets written and erased, but they now match the MTBF of mechanical hard drives.

Sounds great, so where do I sign up? Well, things aren't that peachy. The biggest flaw of SSDs so far is that they're vary expensive. Lower end, slower ones can cost at least double the price of mechanical drive. These "cheap" SSDs also cannot match the raw read and write rates of their mechanical counterparts. Write rates in particular can be much slower than a traditional HDD, especially where large files (ie video files) are concerned. The lightning fast seek times do counter this somewhat but still, you may be paying significanty more for less performance. Storage capacities are also limited. The biggest consumer SSDs top out 250GB and these cost up to $700 or more. If speed is what your after, Intel's 250MB/s drives cost just as much, for only 32gb. By contrast, Western Digital's venerable VelociRapter 10,000rpm 300GB drive costs about $250. Even faster SCSI and SAS drives that run at 15,000 RPM are available, and they're still cheaper dollar-to-gigabyte. The third issue is Windows. Microsoft's operating system has been optimized for hard drives and reportedly, it doesn't always agree with SSDs, especially if they're the boot drive. Because of this, performance is less than it should be. I would assume that both Linux and Mac OS X don't have issues with them.

So, is it worth it to upgrade to SSDs now? I'd say not yet. While this technology is certainly the wave of the future, they're just too expensive right now and real performance improvements for cheaper consumer drives are dubious at best. If you want performance, it makes far more sense to purchase high performance 10,000rpm hard drives for desktop systems. In laptops, SSDs do make more sense. I would recommend them if durability is a concern. However, it's best to just save your money and purchase cheaper mechanical drives. Wait for the price to come down to something more reasonable first.

Spore 2008's Most Pirated Game

By Mike on 4:03 pm

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It's no surprise that Spore has been a bit of an embarrassment for Electronic Arts. While the game was favoured by critics, users lambasted its draconian SecuROM copy-protection system due to its limited number of installs and hidden root kits. Well, looks like EA's radical attempt to put a halt to piracy of their games has backfired on them yet again. While I don't like to use Internet memes on here, I think the term "epic fail" perfectly describes this situation. Spore has officially taken the crown of the most pirated game in history in terms of downloads per month. In the three months since it's release, torrent sites have reported that the game has been downloaded illegally a staggering 1.7 million times. That's approximately 566,666 downloads per month. The Sims 2, another Will Wright creation takes second place with 1.1 million downloads in 2008. (about 91,600 downloads per month) UBI's Assassin's Creed (which I reviewed here. My copy is legal, unfortunately I paid for it) rounds out the top three with 1 million downloads.

EA has said that not every download was successful. Many tech pundits suspect that a great deal of downloads were legitimate buyers looking to circumvent the ridiculous restrictions placed on the game. Regardless of the reason for downloading, it just proves that DRM as an anti-piracy measure is not working at all. With the amount of bad press EA has received over SecuROM, they have to ask themselves if it's really worth it, or should that money be invested elsewhere. If they chose the latter, they might have better quality products on their hands that people actually want to buy. What a novel idea!

Source: TorrentFreak

Run Windows 64-bit on Any Core 2 Intel Mac

By Mike on 4:49 pm

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Since 2006, Apple has been using Intel processors instead of PowerPC. This was done mainly because the PowerPC G5 ran too hot and consumed too much energy to be used in mobile systems. Intel's Core and later Core 2 processors are much cooler and more energy efficient. An added bonus is that Apple systems can now execute x86 processor instructions, the same used in PC systems. There really isn't much differentiating Macs and PCs these days. One thing they now share in common is that they can both run Windows. "Heresey!" Well, maybe, however, the biggest problem plaguing Mac users is that some 90% of computers in the world run Microsoft's OS. You'll eventually run into situations where you have to use a Windows program because there is no suitable Mac version. That's where Boot Camp comes in. Introduced in final as part of OS X 10.5 Leopard, it allows you to dual boot between OS X and another operating system on any Intel based Mac. This includes new 64-bit operating systems that allow you to run more than 3.5gb of RAM, which is the ceiling for 32-bit Windows. For gaming and media, Windows Vista, being the RAM pig that it is, really benefits from 4gb or more. However, there's a problem, Boot Camp won't let you run a 64-bit OS on certain systems, even if they have 64-bit processors. The Macbook is one such system.

You might be thinking that's the end of the road. "I try to run Boot Camp and it tells me my copy of 64-bit Vista is incompatible. I've wasted $150 on this trash!" Well fear not. You've still wasted $150 on that trash regardless of whether it works or not. However, there is away around the road block Apple has erected. It's not that it won't let you install Vista to the hard drive, it just refuses to install the drivers for the system. So, you'll have to install them manually. The process is rather strait forward.

1. To start with, you're system needs a 64-bit processor. That means Intel Core 2 only. The original Core (aka Yonnah) is 32-bit. Run Boot Camp Assistant from the OS X Applications/Utilities folder and partition the hard drive however you'd like.

2. Load the 64-bit Vista DVD in you computer and restart it. It will boot into the DVD automatically. Fill our the usual forms and other rubbish and click install. Wait for what seems like days for it to install. Microsoft still hasn't figured out how to speed that part up.

3. When it's done, the computer will restart and boot into Vista automatically. Once the desktop is loaded up, insert the OS X 10.5 install DVD that came with your computer. It will enter autorun and the Boot Camp installer will tell you your OS is incompatible with your particular Mac. Just click off it.

4. Go into "Computer" (formerly My Computer) and manually browse the DVD. (Right click the DVD icon and select browse from the menu) Open the BootCamp folder, then open the Drivers sub folder in there. Under Drivers, open the Apple sub folder. In there, you should find a program called BootCamp64.exe. Double click on it to run it. The program will automatically install all Windows hardware drivers for your Mac. This bypasses the compatibility check you first encountered. Windows should now run natively on any 64-bit capable Mac. To switch between the two, hold down the Option key when you turn your computer on. Follow Apple's instructions on how to select the desired default OS.

Oddly enough, Apple includes all the drivers for incompatible systems on the OS X DVD. Even the drivers for the new Late 2008 Macbook. I really can't understand why Apple would limit certain systems from running 64-bit Windows other than to force people to buy more expensive hardware. The fact that they include the 64-bit drivers for "incompatible" Macs anyway makes it all the more puzzling. For the most part, Windows Vista 64-bit runs perfectly fine (or as fine as Vista gets) on the new Macbook other than the occasional sound glitches in games.

Note: Alternatively, you can use Windows XP 64-bit Edition as well if you desire.

A Note on Review Scores

By Mike on 4:49 pm

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I just thought I'd clear things up on what the scores mean. Not that anybody has asked but just for clarity's sake.

10 out of 10: A prefect score is granted to titles or content that are nearly flawless, unique, and industry leading. The game or item must lead its genre, be fun to play, and contain no technical issues. A must buy title.

9 out of 10: A near perfect tile that is innovative and platform leading, but may have some minor flaws. A title worth buying.

8 out of 10: A good title that has some small issues. Mildly innovative and thoroughly enjoyable but doesn't really bring anything new to the table. A title worth buying.

7 out of 10: An overall average title, this represents a game that is still enjoyable but is not innovative and fails to go the extra mile. It may be too short, lack replayability, or lack extra features. It may also have a small number of major or many small technical issues. Rent or try demo first.

6 out of 10: An overall mediocre title that has several large issues that need to be addressed. These titles are bearable but uninovative and crippled by issues. Rent or try demo, buying not recommended.

5 out of 10: A bad title that has many major technical and gameplay issues. Still playable but an unenjoyable experience overall. Rent only. Do not buy period.

4 out of 10 and under: An awful title that has a great deal of major technical issues or terrible gameplay. Do not waste your time with these titles at all. They suffer from sloppy coding, terrible gameplay mechanics, poor build quality, and are plain just not fun at all.

1 out of 10: This represents the lowest score I give to something. This represents games that are totally unplayable and items that are unusable. In the case of games, it may be so crippled by sloppy coding or DRM issues that the game fails to run at all. Examples that I've mentioned in this blog or absolute failures include the Bioshock PC Demo, Lock On: Modern Air Combat, and Blazing Angles PC. Games and items getting this score should not even be available for sale.

What Works: Lists the game's or item's strengths

What Doesn't Work: List the game's or item's weaknesses

What works versus What Doesn't: Weight depending on how strong a strength or how severe a weakness is. A game with many small strengths and a small number of major weaknesses will receive a low score, and vice versa. There are no specific categories here.

Qore Episode 7 Review

By Mike on 4:02 pm

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Earlier this year, Sony released Qore, an episodic interactive magazine on the world of Playstation 3. This week, Sony released Episode 7 (December) of Qore for free to all registered PSN users. Normally, each episode costs $2.99 while a one year subscription costs $24.99. The episodes are released on a monthly basis. Back when it first came out, I was sceptical about it. Sony said it would contain videos, game trailers, interactive media including advertisements, and special downloadable content for Qore subscribers. I had to question the need for it. Most of this stuff is available for free on sites like IGN and Gamestop. Would people really pay $2.99 a month for it? It seems the answer has been a resounding no. Sony has not released any details as to how many subscribers Qore has, or how many individual episodes have been purchased. My guess would be not that many. A lot of people latched onto it in hopes of getting free passes into the Home Beta and exclusive demos like Motorstorm 2. Home Beta invites ended up being given out randomly though, (I was invited to join the Home Beta at random but turned it down because the the EULA contained an NDA that wouldn't legally let me report on it in my blog) and most of the "exclusive" demos were released to the public a couple weeks later anyway. In an effort to draw more attention, Sony released the 7th episode of Qore to the public free to download on December 4th.

So what does Qore actually contain. Episode 7 has seven featues: Skate 2, Bionic Commando, Flock!, Damnation, What's Hot, Blast Qore, and Download Center. The first four are game previews, making ofs, and featurettes. In the case of Featurettes, Skate 2 looks at Skatefest 2008, a real world skateboarding event in SoCal. Damnation has a featurette on Steampunk culture. These videos are in 720p HD but are fairly short. Production values are good but the featurettes feel like they were added as an afterthought. They don't really say much either in their brief air time. The videos can be paused but there is no way to fast forward or rewind. It seems like that would logically be there but it has been left out for some reason. The rest are just game trailers and offer exactly what you would expect. Video previews of the game, artwork, etc. Stuff that's usually made available for free on the PS Store anyway. "What's Hot" contains a couple of Bluray trailers, an interactive ad, a special on Voodoo Fest in New Orleans which is really just another ad, and upcoming Blu-ray and game releases. Once again, this is something you can easily get for free of IGN and its sister site RottenTomatoes. In the download section, there are three downloads available. The Flock! demo and a free copy of Calling All Cars are only available to annual subscribers, showing Sony really wants people to fork out $24.99, natch. The only thing available to non-subscribers is a Killzone 2 XMB theme, which also would normally be available for free on the PS Store. Last but not least is one 2D minigame called Blast Qore, which involves two space ships battling each other with Asteroids style controls. A slight diversion but nothing really special about it.

So, is Qore worth the money? I think I can say it is definitively not. $3 is not a lot to spend on something but Qore has too little content and what is there is stuff you can get for free elsewhere on the internet, at the same or better quality. The features are too short and say too little while the rest is basically just ads and trailers that are normally available on the PS Store anyway. Exclusive content is virtually non-existant. The minigame is perhaps the only saving grace. In addition, Sony has just released PULSE, a video news magazine available for free on their Playstation website. I said Qore would be nothing more than paying Sony to advertise and it was exactly what I expected it to be. I still hold that Qore will not survive past its first year. It's just not worth the money. Sony should have released all episodes of Qore for free given that it already is ad backed. You can download this free episode and see for yourself. It weighs in at 1.3GB.

Score: 5 out of 10

What Works:
-Free Qore Blaster minigame
-This episode was free
-Interesting featurettes in 720p HD

What Doesn't Work
-Featurettes too short and say little
-Can't fast forward or rewind videos
-Game trailers are normally available elsewhere for free
-Not much in the way of truely exclusive content
-"Exclusive" downloadable content chintzy and normally available on the PS Store anyway at a later date at no extra cost.
-You're paying Sony to advertise their products to you
-Qore offers little value, even at $3 per episode

Pong is 36

By Mike on 11:23 pm

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Most gamers today probably were not alive when Pong was first released in 1972 as a coin operated arcade unit. Well, November 29th marks the 36th birthday of the granddaddy of video games. It may not have been the first but it was the first successful game marketed. Not only did it give birth to the arcade, it launched the home console revolution and made Atari a household name.

Pong was not the first home console but it was the first to use integrated circuitry rather than discrete components, which the earlier Magnavox Odyssey used. Pong was also the first home console to feature sound, in the from of its distinctive "beep". If you've been living under a rock, pong was a virtual table tennis game. You controlled your virtual paddle (a white line) using a dial to move it up or down. The goal was to bounce a square shapped "ball" and knock it out of your opponents court. The console was released through Sears in 1975 and cost $98.95. That's about $380 in 2008 dollars, and all you got was one game. Still think the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 are expensive?

A Sneak Peak at The Next Generation of Gaming

By Mike on 6:48 pm

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Is it a little early to talk about the eighth or ninth generation of gaming consoles? We all know that they're probably already working on the next Xbox or Playstation as we speak. When the Xbox 360, Wii and PS3 were released in 2005 and 2006 respectively, they represented a quantum leap over past consoles. They changed the way we played games, handled our media, but most importantly they introduced us to high definition gaming. (With the exception of the Wii.) Polyphony Digital has given us a sneak peak at what might be coming next. Today, you can already play your games at gorgeous 1080p. However, there is a new technology on the horizon known as QFHD. Basically, it's four times the resolution of 1080p, bumping the resolution from 1920x1080 pixels up to 3840x2160. It is also known as 2160p.

Polyphony showed a time trial demo of Gran Turismo 5 running at 2160p on a giant 220'' screen. They accomplished this by syncing four Playstation 3 consoles together, each rendering one quarter of the image. The final result was shown using Sony's professional cinema grade SRX-S110 SXRD projector, which is one of the few commercially available units that can operate at 2160p. A second tech demo showed GT5 running back at 1080p, but at 240 frames per second. This was once again done using four synced PS3s and Sony's Nano-Spindt Field Emissions Display (FED), a technology similar to cathode ray tubes. 240fps is actually faster than the human eye can process, meaning that motion on the screen will appear perfectly smooth. At this kinds of resolution and frame rate, there is little differentiating the game from reality, especially as real time graphics approach near photoreal quality. When we reach this point, only the 2D nature of displays will offer a clear separation of fantasy from reality. This will most likely be the future of gaming; a likely reality within the next 10 years. We already have the technology. It's just tying it together and making it affordable for the average consumer.

As a side note, this already is possible in gaming applications on PC using multiple monitors and several network synchronized systems. A setup like that would likely cost in excess of $20,000, as I estimate Polyphony's did. Most games are not designed to run at those resolutions though and will require special software to do it. Microsoft Flight Simulator is one of the few that can.

Source: IGN

10 Things to Make the iPhone Better

By Mike on 3:03 pm

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Ok, so the iPhone isn't the perfect cell phone, as you can tell by my review. It does need some improvements. So therefore, here are 10 things the iPhone/iPod touch need to make them a better mobile experience.

1. Adobe Flash Support:
So much of the web today, especially Web 2.0 content, is fueled by Adobe's venerable Flash player. Without it, many websites will not display properly, or even fail to load. The iPhone already features one of the best mobile browsing experience around but to leave Flash out of that is ludicrous. Adobe has said they're working on Flash for iPhone but Apple hasn't authorized it yet.

2. Cut & Paste
Want to do a Google search for something somebody emailed you, or something from your web browser. On your computer, you can just highlight it and hit copy-paste into your search bar. Not so on the iPhone. You have to type the entire thing in. This is a fairly basic function so my question to Steve is what is the freakin' hold up?

3. Document Support
The iPhone can already handle PDF files emailed to you but not MS Word or Open Document formats. The iPhone should have a documents browser and the ability to open and even possibly edit popular document files. Like iTunes for office geeks.

4. Windows Media Support
This falls under the "ain't gonna happen" realm of things. However, many internet radio stations use Microsoft's WMA format, including pay services like XM Radio Online. I'd sure like to listen to my favourite XM programs while alway from my satellite receiver. Safari can play back MP3 and AAC internet radio.

5. Media Streaming Over Wifi
The iPhone has limited storage compared to its bigger cousins: the 32gb iPod Touch and the 120gb iPod Classic. Most people will likely be buying the 8gb model since it is cheaper. Wouldn't it be great if you could store all your media on a home server and access it over LAN or the internet any time you're near a Wifi hotspot? The iPhone's robust 802.11g wireless interface is capable of streaming anything the iPhone can play back right up to DVD quality video. Live TV streaming would also be a big plus. The iPhone can already control iTunes, why can't it stream iTunes content as well?

6. User Replicable Battery:
One of the biggest complaints people have had about the iPod over the years is its lack of a user replicable battery. The iPhone 3G's battery performance is less than stellar. If Apple were truly committed to the environment, as they say they are, they would make it so users could easily swap batteries once they go toast. Most people wouldn't take it to an Apple tech, they'd just buy a new handset, thus creating more waste. User replicable batteries would also allow people to greatly extend talk time, when USB chargers aren't always handy.

7. Matte Aluminum Finish
The iPhone is a finger print magnet. With the new Macs switching to a matte aluminum finish for their chassis, it would only make sense to do the same with the iPhone.

8. Redesigned Wireless App Store
The App Store application on the iPhone itself is just awful. Apps are not listed in any logical manner. There should be an option to sort apps by price, software genre, by date, and alphabetical. App updates should be automatic and not require a password provided the update is free.
UPDATE: Seems Apple has been listening to their users. The Wifi App Store has been redesigned. Apps are categorized now by Top Paid, Top Free, and Date Added in all categories.

9. Fix the Windows iTunes Sync Bug
For some reason, my Windows XP system crashes every time I connect my iPhone to my computer. I get a BSoD. Apparently, this has something to do with the way photos are handled. iTunes 8.01 was supposed to fix this problem but it didn't. I haven't tried 8.02 yet but there was nothing in the release notes about the issue, so I'm assuming it's still there. This is an iTunes issue, not a Windows problem.

10. Turn by Turn GPS Directions
It would be nice if the iPhone could tell you where to go rather than simply showing you. It's dangerous to take your eyes off the road and now Ontario law requires GPS devices be hands free. Voice activated GPS with audible turn by turn directions would be a huge plus.

iPhone 3G Review

By Mike on 10:55 am

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The iPhone 3G. Many consider it to be the ultimate cell phone. Perhaps that's stretching it a little bit. It wasn't too long ago that an Apple exec declared that cell phones usually sell for nothing because that's what they're worth. In 2007, rumours of an iPod Phone began appearing and in the summer of that year, Apple released the original iPhone to much fanfare, and chagrin. The phone was largely criticized for its high cost of $499 for the 4gb model. Originally, the iPhone was only available in the United States through an exclusive deal with AT&T. There wasn't a lot of love for the phone's provider either, with one man claiming a 300 page phone bill which he displayed in a viral video. The device did not come to Canada at all during its first year. In the summer of 2008, Rogers announced they would begin carrying the new iPhone 3G, which used the faster UMTS/HDSPA technology for its online connectivity. Apple priced the new phone far more competitively at $199 for the 8gb model. This represented a 66% price drop. This was still based on a subsidized price for a three year contract with your provider. The price drop makes the phone more tempting for consumers who might not otherwise consider a smart phone. That was my case when I decided I needed a new phone. I had originally wanted an iPod Touch to use as a PDA but the iPhone 3G represented better value. This hands on review looks at the $199 8gb model. This review only looks at the phone on its own, not Rogers/Fido service or plans.

Under the Hood
The iPhone comes in a candy bar form factor and at first glance doesn't look like a phone at all. We're used to seeing the Star Trek flip style with conventional buttons and a screen. The iPhone's surface is dominated by it's 3.5'' LCD touch screen in it's 3:2 aspect ratio. The screen has a resolution of 480x320, which is now standard for video capable iPod. Differing it from other portable electronics, the display cover is actually made of durable scratch proof glass instead of plastic. There are only four buttons on the phone's entire surface. The home button (which I'll get to later), the volume rocker, ringer/vibrate toggle switch, and sleep/wake button. Everything else is controlled by the touch screen. The phone has dimensions of 4.5'' x 2.4'' and is 0.48'' thick. It weighs 133 grams. Powering the Phone is an ARM 1176 processor running at 412mhz. A PowerVR MBX co-processor handles the graphics. The iPhone has 128mb of DRAM. The battery is a 1400mAh single cell LiPo pack that is non-user replaceable. Apple claims a battery life of up to 8 hours of talk, 6 hours of Internet use, 7 hours of video playback, 24 hours of audio playback, and 250 hours on standby. Other hardware features include Bluetooth 2.0 + EDR , 802.11b/g Wifi, 2.0 megapixel camera, and assisted GPS.

There are currently two models of the iPhone 3G available to purchase. The base model sells for $199 CAD/US and features 8gb of onboard flash storage. The $299 model increases storage to 16gb but adds no other features. Therefore the 8gb model is the best value given that an additional 4gb of internal flash would not cost anywhere near $100 to add. Only purchase the 16gb model if you intend to watch a lot of videos on your phone or have a large music collection in lossless format. The iPhone 3G comes in two colour options. The 8gb model only comes in black with chrome trim around the edges. The 16gb model comes with either a black or white backplate. The front bezel is black with chrome trim on both models. If getting the 16gb model, I would go with the white for the simple fact that it won't show finger prints. However, phone covers are available that eliminate that problem all together. Third party covers can make the iPhone any colour you'd like.

In box, you get the iPhone itself as well as the usual goodies. There's a USB charger, USB cable, and iPod earbuds with microphone. Apple's earbuds are just awful anyway so I never even took them out of the box. You also get your manuals, key for removing the SIM card, and the same Apple stickers they've thrown in with all their products for the last 25 years. Everything is neatly packed in the box in a two tier design, with the phone on top and accessories on the bottom. The packaging is compact, stylish, and durable so the box could be reused to store the phone in a pinch.

Touch Me Baby
The iPhone comes out of the box ready to use. The iPhone runs on what is known as the iPhone OS. It's essentially a cut down version of Apple's Mac OS X. The OS functions as a cross between the OS X dock and dashboard. Launching your apps is as simple as touching the icon of the one you want. As I noted earlier, most functions on the phone use the touch screen. The iPhone features a user friendly, simple gesture recognition system. Scrolling is accomplished by dragging your finger across the screen in the direction you want. To zoom in, you start with your fingers apart and pinch them. The opposite zooms out. Double tapping in Safari or Mail will zoom in on text columns or specific page elements. Tapping again will zoom out. Double tapping on an app icon will enter a move/delete mode that allows you to move your icons around on the menu or delete unwanted apps. The single physical button below the screen is your home button. Tapping it will exit the app you're in and send you back to the main menu. I though this system was quite innovative compared to the complex set of keys most other smart phones have.
Text entry is accomplished using virtual keyboards on the touch screen. If there is one problem with the iPhone's touch system, it's this. Without physical keys as a guideline, it's easy to hit the wrong letter and then have to go back and fix it. The virtual keyboards are no good for typing out long emails or notes. If you have fat fingers, I suggest using a stylus. Some third party companies do make styli for the iPhone but Nintendo DS ones should work too. They're cheap and available everywhere. The iPhone does use a standard QWERTY layout. The phone app is dialed using a virtual number pad but the buttons are much bigger so dialling shouldn't ever be a problem.
In addition to this control scheme, the iPhone features accelerometers. The phone knows which way it is oriented. Tilting the phone on its side in some apps will switch from a 2:3 aspect ratio to a 3:2 one. Additionally, iPhone games can be controlled using the accelerometers in the same way Sony's SIXAXIS controller works.

What's the Apps
Apologies to Jim Norton for stealing his joke. What is the apps? Well, there's lots to choose from that give the iPhone additional functionality. There are 19 apps preloaded: SMS, Calender, Photo, Camera, YouTube Player, Stock ticker, Google Maps, Yahoo Weather, Clock, Calculator, Notes, Settings, iTunes Store, App Store, Contacts, Phone, Mail, Safari, and iPod. Additional apps can be purchased from the Apps store, either directly from the phone over wifi only or through iTunes on your computer. For the sake of this review, we'll look at the Apps Store built into the iPhone. You must have an iTunes account to download apps. The apps themselves are arranged via category. They can either be freeware or payware. Free ones worth picking up include Facebook, internet radio, and iTV which shows movie and TV scheduels in your area. Apps on the store are divided into a variety of categories such as productivity, business, games, and lifestyle. You can also select to see updates for apps you already have, hot apps divided between free and payware, and new apps. From there though, the apps are haphazardly arranged. Navigating the app store is not vary intuative and the search feature is only useful if you know what you're looking for. Apps are not listed in any logical manner such as by price or alphabetical order. I personally would have preferred a function where you could select to see only free apps or pay apps in all categories. Unlike the iTunes music store, there is no set pricing for apps either. Payware ones can range from as little as $0.99 to $30 or more. One of the expensive apps in question is the Oxford English Dictionary, which is built into Apple's computers at no charge but is extra on the phone. It costs $24.99. Fortunately, there is a free and decent dictionary app called Dictionare which works well in a pinch.

Surfing the Web on the Go
Apple includes Safari Mobile on both the iPhone and iPod Touch. I haven't used to many mobile browsers, but compared to the PSP one, Safari is pretty impressive. The iPhones large amount of memory means that it is fully capable of rendering web pages in their full resolution, rather than chopped down mobile version. Everything is displayed accurately with no shifting of items. You can tilt the iPhone on its side for a landscape view, which makes certain pages, such as web forums, easier to view. Portrait view is ideal for reading news columns. Just double tap on a text column and Safari will automatically zoom in on the text for you. There is also integrated Google Search. Unfortunately, the iPhone lacks copy and paste functionality. Despite this, it's one of the best mobile browsing experiences around. 802.11g Wifi functionality means pages load fast. However, I found 3G speeds to be less impressive. However, I believe this is due to a problem with my network, which I'll get to later. Like most mobile browsers, Safari lacks Adobe Flash support. Since a lot of web pages now use Flash, this can be a problem at times. Adobe has Flash for iPhone planned but Apple hasn't committed.
As for email, it's pretty standard for mobile mail. You can either use your own accounts or Apple's MobileMe, which costs extra in addition to your monthly phone and data bill. MobileMe is useless since the iPhone integrates seemlessly with GMail, Yahoo Mail, MSN Hotmail, and your ISP's email service. Using online mail services is great for mobile since some ISPs will only let you receive mail and not send out mail unless you're accessing it through their service. One problem with mobile Mail is that there are no junk filters integrated. Gmail and other online services have their own junk filters so you won't receive junk through them, as it is prefiltered before being downloaded to your phone.

Finding the Way
The iPhone features a GPS function integrated with Google Maps. This can be extremely helpful when your lost. However, the iPhone isn't meant for GPS so it may have trouble finding the satellite signal in doors or in the city. If that's the case, it uses your IP address location or proximity to cell phone towers to triangulate your location. Google Maps is full featured including satellite views. It can also give you directions and show your route progress through GPS.

What about just making a phone call
Well, the iPhone can do everything except make phone calls. I ran into some issues with dropped calls. For the first two weeks I owned the phone, I had no issues. All of a sudden, it inexplicably started dropping every single call (both incoming and outgoing) about five second in. Finding technical help from my provider, Fido, was eaiser said than done. I couldn't find technical support listed on their 1-888 line. I went to the place I bought it, no help. Then I went to the tech counter at a Fido store, they don't fix the iPhone there. The tech did give me a number to call and I finally did get the problem fixed. It turned out to be a network error solved by restarting the network connection settings in the phone's Settings/General menu. So I basically had to run around for a rather simple fix. Typical. By deafult, the original 2.0 firmware on the 3G did have issues with dropping calls though I was using the new FW2.1 that supposedly solves that problem. Other than that, the phone features are what you'd expect. Virtual keypad, organized contacts for speed dial, text voicemail that tells you what the message is about before listening to it, and call history. One thing the iPhone lacks is hands free dialling. However, this can be added via an app from the Apps Store.

The iPod Phone
MP3 functionality is still pretty basic, as with all other iPod players. Limited graphic equalizer which cannot be adjusted, no FM radio, no voice recording by default, though there's an app for that. You can organize songs and albums and play them by touching them. Turning to a landscape view goes into "Cover Flow" mode which displays albums and shows album art in a quasi-3D fashion. The iPhone like all iPods features MP3, AAC, AIFF, Apple Lossless support for audio. The iPod is one of the few mainstream players that supports lossless playback. However, the 8gb of storage limits how much lossless audio you can have. An entire lossless album is usually 250-300mb in size. Audio quality is identical to other iPods and is decent enough, though not top notch. For video, the iPhone supports MPEG formats, AVC, Quicktime, and Youtube through the built in Youtube app. Video quality looks decent though unlike the PSP, the iPhone lacks a true 16:9 display. Feature length movies and TV shows can be downloaded from the iTunes Store. Alternatively, you can rip DVDs and recorded TV shows and convert them to an iPod supported format.

Apple has come a long way since the iPod was first introduced back in 2001. While it wasn't the first MP3 player available, it revolutionized the way we listen to our music. When Apple introduced the iPhone in 2007, they hoped to do the same thing with the way we use our cell phones. Apple came rather late into what was already a vary saturated market. Since then, the iPhone has become the best selling phone in North America; a tough feat by anybody's standards. What users get is a light weight, durable handset with one of the best user experiences around. Everything just seems to function so smoothly, the way a phone ought to perform. That said, the iPhone can probably best be described as a jack of all trades, master of none. It doesn't really bring anything truly revolutionary to the table since touch screens and downloadable apps have been a PDA staple since Apple's ill fated Newton. It also lacks certain features that are considered basic on some smart phones such as voice activated dialling and cut & paste. I also think Apple's hopes of turning it into a game console (and PSP/Nintendo DS killer) too might be a bit of wishful thinking on their part. All that aside, Apple has come up with a really nice product, which is well worth the $199 entry fee.

What Works:
-Best mobile web browsing experience around
-Downloadable apps make the iPhone endlessly customizable
-Fast 3G support
-Built in Apps provide lots of functionality
-Accelerometer features interesting
-GPS with Google Maps is vary handy
-Download songs right through your phone from iTunes Store app
-Full featured iPod as well as phone

What Doesn't Work
-No built in spam filter in Mail
-No Adobe Flash support
-Virtual keyboard can be clunky if you have fat fingers
-No voice activated dialling by default (can be added through third party app)
-Dubious as a PSP/Nintendo DS replacement
-No copy & paste for email, web
-Still some bugs to be ironed out. Phone has a mind of its own at times
-App Store clunky to navigate

Score: 8.5 out of 10

PSP-3000: Is It Worth Upgrading?

By Mike on 12:09 pm

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It's been a bit of a roller coaster ride for Sony's Playstation Portable. The portable console was first introduced in 2005 to much fanfare. From a technical standpoint, the PSP is the best system to date with its robust and powerful graphics system that plays games at near PS2 quality, plus the gaggle of Internet and PMP features that make it an excellent value. However, there's always a but. The original PSP was bulky and had slow load times for its proprietary UMD discs. The PSP-2000 corrected most of these issues but for some reason, Sony felt that the screen needed a slight tweaking. That's when they came out with the PSP-3000. The third incarnation of the PSP features screen improvements. For people who want a PSP but don't already have one, buying the PSP-3000 is a given, since that's all that stores are going to stock. However, what about those who already own an original PSP or the Slim and Light? Is there reason to upgrade from either to the new model? The answer is no.

The PSP-3000 features only one major improvement. The screen has been made brighter, supports more colours, and has a faster response time. The latter was perhaps the biggest problem with the earlier models. Fast paced scenes in games or movies would be prone to ghosting. The faster response time should eliminate that issue. However, the new pixel layout on the screen has caused some issues. All PSP games are rendered at 480x272 using the progressive scan method. Progressive scan renders one full frame at a time, as opposed to interlaced which creates a weaved image. LCD screens are natively progressive scan so interlaced video can leave noticeable scan line artifacts. Owners of the new PSP-3000 have reported similar artifacts in high contrast areas. This is due to how the pixels in the new screen are laid out rather than the video being interlaced. I've seen photos of the issue and the problem does preduce a reduced image quality in some titles. How problematic is it? I can't say but it's a good reason to hang on to your current PSP rather than upgrading.

Aside from the improved screen, all the PSP-3000 adds is the ability to output video from games at 480i. This means that you'll be able to play your PSP titles on older tube TVs. Not much of a worthwhile feature. The only other change has been redesignating the "Home" button as the "PS" button to bring it inline with the Dual Shock 3 layout. Not exactly an upgrade. The PSP-3000 offers pretty much the same functionality as the PSP-2000 with nothing really new, so if you already have that system, it's not worth the upgrade. PSP-1000 owners shouldn't rush to spend another $169.99 either unless you really want the Thin & Light features. Reportedly, the PSP-3000 can't be hacked using the battery method so homebrew developers won't find it much use either. If you don't already have a PSP, the PSP-3000 is the one to get. Current owners should hang onto their money and wait for the next generation PSP.

Mirror's Edge Demo Review

By Mike on 5:01 pm

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Mirror's Edge is probably one of 2008's most anticipated titles for the PC, Xbox 360, and PS3. The game is being published by the infamous EA but has been developed by Sweden based DICE. They are one of EA's more reputable development teams who was behind the popular Battlefield series. Over the years, Electronic Arts has grown a bad reputation for releasing generic, water down titles and poor customer service. It is now one of the most universally hated publishers in the gaming community. I discussed the Spore fiasco at length last month which illustrates how the gaming conglomerate functions. All this consider, this is what makes Mirror's Edge an unusual title. It represents a rare bold move for EA.

Mirror's Edge is a first person action game. However, it represents a paradigm shift from other first person games which have traditionally been shooters built on the same generic formula since the original Doom first hit the shelves back in 1993. The game can best be described as a first person platformer. There are shooting elements but gamers are encouraged to get through the game without firing a single shot. The majority of the game is based on parkour style running and jumping. For those who don't know, parkour is a sport that has gained some popularity recently. It uses the city as a playground to challenge runners to get from one point to another as quickly as possible using only the capabilities of the human body. Probably its most famous depiction is the opening sequence of 2006's Casino Royale. Elements of this sport have been present in other recent games, such as Naughty Dog's Uncharted: Drake's Fortune, but they've never formed the core of the gameplay. This is what makes Mirror's Edge unique.

Your PC in the game is Faith. She's a bit of an everywoman character which tends to be typical for games like this. Faith is a young tattooed Asian (I'd guess she's Korean based on her appearance) woman in her early 20s living in a dystopian city sometime in the near future. She is a runner, a small group of people who travel the cities roof tops and sewers delivering information to those who wish to remain discrete in the city's surveillance society. Her back story has been explained in some of the game's trailers. Her parents were part of those who openly opposed the increasingly totalitarian regime that was slowly taking over the unnamed country. It is said that she is trying to free her sister who has been detained by the government, though this part does not happen in the demo.
The demo provides you with a tutorial stage and the first level of the game. There is also a time trial mode. The game attempts to provide the most immersive first person experience as possible. There is no map or hud in the game so to speak. The only aid is a white dot in the centre of your screen. This can help you line up your jumps. However, even this was added as an after thought according to the developers. It apparently reduces issues with motion sickness by providing a point of reference. The goal is to run and build up momentum to be able to trigger your jumps successfully. Like most first person games, you control your movement with the left stick and look around with the right stick. Other controls in game are tagged to the shoulder buttons. L1 jumps while L2 crouches. While running, you can use L2 to slide, tuck your feet in during a jump to make it over certain obstacles, or execute a roll on landing. R1 and R2 control your combat functions. R2 punches and kicks. You can execute combos or tricks for both action and combat functions. For example, you can do wall runs by holding down L1. The shoulder button scheme for action functions takes a little getting used to since most of us are familiar with using the button pad.
As for other controls, Triangle is used to disarm enemies. There is also a shooting element in the game, which I didn't test. Presumable R1 shoots though the tutorial doesn't teach you how to use a gun. While you can use a variety of firearms, the game discourages it. There is also a penalty when carrying the extra weight of a gun, which makes Faith less mobile. You can only use the bullets already in the gun. Once the bullets are gone, they're gone. No storing guns in hammer space and picking up additional ammo along the way. In addition to the controls mentioned, the game makes use of SixAxis control for executing rolls on landing, or balancing on beams. Gameplay is quite fast paced but your not completely without help. Runner Vision paints areas of the environment you can use red. This is vary helpful but can be turned off if desired.
Faith cannot die in the game, at least in the traditional sense of a "game over". If you fall, or are killed, you are returned to the last checkpoint. As your health drops, the screen will fade to grey similar to how health was measured in Uncharted.

Level designs are vary well done in Mirror's Edge. There are plenty of obstacles and challenges to get around keeping the game fast paced and constantly changing. The entire cityscape is a stark white environment, which has been done for artistic effect. It gives the city a sanitized appearance, just as the dystopian government has tried to sanitize society. Architectural style closely resembles Toyko though characters in the game speak with a typical North American accent. The game is not meant to depict any real world environment.

Mirror's Edge is said to have been designed for the PS3 and is being ported onto other systems. The game runs flawlessly on that system. Graphics are fairly crisp and clean but they're not really anything cutting edge. Graphics quality I'd place on par with Force Unleashed; good but not the best. Other characters in the game seem a little stuff and textures have a grainy appearance to them. The game runs at 720p. Audio wise, there's not much in the way of in-game music, presumably for realism. Sound quality is good. I did not notice any issues with frame rates or tearing in the game, which is critical for a title like this.

Mirror's Edge is certainly an interesting title. It crosses a lot of genres and yet provides something fresh and innovative. The goal is not to kill everything it sight but to strategize and survive without firing a single shot. Mirror's Edge presents us with a different view of what happens when we sacrifice liberty for security. Whether it's trying to make a political statement or not is a moot point. Even Faith as your character presents gamers with something fresh. It is rather unusual to see Asian female characters as the main protagonist in a video game. At least beyond the typical big breasted anime chick. I frankly don't care what race a developer chooses to make their characters, but I think Faith represents someone more realistic. Mirror's Edge has received a lot of hype over the last few month to the point of it becoming ad nauseam. Does it deserve it? I think it does. The gameplay is fast paced, entertaining, and challenging and it seems to be backed up by a strong story. Hopefully the final game will not be something you can breeze through in under 5 hours, but I don't expect it will be. This is definitely something worth considering for you or the gamer on your list this Christmas.

Mirror's Edge will be released in North America on Novemeber 11th for the PS3 and Xbox 360. No date has been set for the PC version though EA says it will not be out until early 2009. Given that this is an EA title, I would avoid the PC version at all costs since it will likely include the same SecuROM platform that Spore uses.

What Works:
-Innovative gameplay that crosses genres yet is fresh and new
-Excellent level design
-Good graphics with good art design
-Unique main character and strong story

What Doesn't Work
-Shoulder button controls take some getting used to
-Textures feel a little grainy at times

Score: 9 out of 10

Game Addiction: Real Problem or Scapegoat

By Mike on 9:44 am

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Gamers can usually be placed into three categories. Your casual gamer plays video games every so often, maybe less than an hour or two a week. Hardcore gamers use gaming as their primary hobby and may spend many hours a week gaming. Intermediate gamers like myself fall somewhere in between. However, is there a fourth category? In recent years, some psychiatrists have been proposing that there is a new mental illness in our society: gaming addiction. These are people who play video games obsessively. They spend all their free time gaming alone or online. They may start to ignore their jobs, their school, their family, even eating and their own personal hygiene to play games. There have been many recent high profile cases regarding so called addicts. Perhaps the most famous was of a South Korean gentleman who died at an internet cafe after playing the popular MMO World of Warcraft for several days strait. In Toronto this week, the big story is of a 15 year old boy who ran away after his parents confiscated his Xbox 360 after he had been obsessively playing Call of Duty 4 online. This boy has been missing for several days and has led to frantic searches

Despite these high profile cases, psychologists are far from reaching any sort of consensus on this issue. Like sex addiction, a sizable number feel that game addiction is not a real condition. At current, the WHO does not recognize it as a legitimate psychological problem. This hasn't stopped the media from blaming game addiction for when things go wrong. TV "psychiatrist" (his official job title is "life coach") Dr. Phil famously put his foot in his mouth when he blamed violent video games for the Virginia Tech Massacre. In reality, the shooter, though he had been playing violent games, had been deeply disturbed to begin with and had stopped taking his meds. The TV life coach is now speaking out against game addiction despite a lack of credible academic studies into the condition. For Phil McGraw though, it's not whether a condition is legitimate or not. It's what gets him ratings and what sells his books. The media has long enjoyed lambasting video games for society's ills since it makes a good story. It's not too different from out parents' days when TV was blamed for child deliquency. Games are a convenient scapegoat and distract us from focusing on the root causes of problems.

I don't have a degree is psychology, nor have I even attended a psychology course. However, from my own life experiences and the ones of those around me, I have come to this conclusions. When it comes to non-chemical addictions, the addiction itself is a symptom rather than the ailment. In other words, the addiction is being used by people to medicate some other problem. So yes, game addiction is real in a sense. Society tends to treat these kinds of addictions as if they were isolated in a bubble, which you can't do. A online gaming addict may be doing so because they feel isolated in the real world. It's a form of human contact where they can freely interact with people and be someone they're not. So to cure the addiction, you have to cure the root cause first. There is no such thing as a game that is deliberately addictive. We may call a game such since it draws us in but the vast majority of us wouldn't do so to the point where it was interfering with our life's priorities. We have to stop blaming the games themselves before we can treat the real problems of "gaming addicts".

Update: For international readers, the missing boy I mentioned, a Brandon Crisp, 15, was found dead the other day. Cause of death was a fall from a tree. Police do not suspect foul play. The media is still blaming the game, natch. Must be nice to never have to take responsibility for your own actions and have TV and video games control your life. Most of us are stuck living in the real world.

iBook G4 (Late 2005) vs MacBook Air (Early 2008)

By Mike on 2:36 pm

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I've always been curious as to how my old iBook stands up to Apple's latest and greatest systems to see if it really is worth it to plop down $1000 for a new system. Register Hardware did some Xbench comparisons of the 2006 MacBook Pro 1.83, 2007 MacBook 1.83ghz, the early 2008 1.6ghz MacBook Air, and the 2.4ghz new Macbook for this year. All systems run on Intel's Core 2 Duo processor. My system is a late 2005 1.33ghz PowerPC G4 single core processor iBook G4. I ran my own Xbench results and came up with some interesting results. Xbench gives its results as points.

First off, we'll look at system Spec.
MacBook Air Early 2008: 1.6ghz Core 2 Duo "Merom", 2gb 667mhz DDR2, Intel GMA X3100 integrated graphics with 144mb shared DDR2, 80gb 1.8'' PATA HDD @ 4200rpm

iBook G4 Late 2005: 1.33ghz PowerPC G4 Single Core, 1gb 333mhz DDR1, ATI Radeon 9550 32mb discrete GDDR, 40gb 2.5'' PATA HDD @ 4200rpm

MacBook Air = 77. 83
iBook G4 = 62.68
Difference = 24%

MacBook Air = 127.09
iBook G4 = 31.75
Difference = 400%

Quartz Graphics:
MacBook Air = 96.97
iBook G4 = 60.06
Difference = 61%

OpenGL Graphics:
MacBook Air = 13.92
iBook G4 = 63.12
Difference = -453%

User Interface Test:
MacBook Air = Unknown/Not Tested
iBook G4 = 16.89
Difference = N/A

Disk Test:
MacBook Air = 20.30
iBook G4 = 33.76
Difference = -66%

MacBook Air - 40.65
iBook G4 - 36.90
Difference - 10.2%

I don't know how the Register did their tests and these are synthetic benchmarks, so I can't say these results are definitive. Real world performance with the Air might be better. However, the results are still interesting. The MacBook Air's 2gb of 667mhz DDR2 gives it a huge edge in memory power. It's also significantly faster at Apple's own Quartz rendering. However, in all other options, the Air is not significantly faster than its older cousin. The iBook shows that dedicated graphics can still make a huge difference over Intel's integrated solutions, even though the iBook's GPU is considerably dated has less memory to access. The iBook's hard drive is also significantly faster despite being the same rotation speed. With everything factored in, the Air only works out to be 10% faster than the $999 iBook, which can now be fetched used for well under $500. The Air's base price is $1799. So Apple releases a notebook that's 80% more for only a 10% increase in performance. While the Air might be the thinnest and lightest laptop you can buy, this doesn't exactly scream good value. I am aware the Air does have other additional features such as iSight and 802.11n built in. The current vanilla MacBook at $1299 is 299% faster than the iBook G4 according to Xbench tests.

MacBook Air Benchmark Source: Register Hardware

LittleBigPlanet Delayed Due to "Offensive Content"

By Mike on 12:20 pm

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Xbox fanboys like to refer to Sony's console as the Delaystation. It's true that stuff for the console frequently suffers delays. However, I'd rather have a game delayed and end up with a quality product rather than have it released on time and end up with a piece of trash, which frequently occurs with PC titles. Once again, LittleBigPlanet has been delayed, with Media Molecule and Sony pushing its release date back one week. However, this is a delay that never should have happened.

I have an allergy to BS. Whenever someone presents BS to me, I suffer from severe irritation. Apparently, some music tracks in LBP are rumoured to have lines from the Quaran in them. This has upset Muslims. Sony and MM are keeping mum on what exactly this offensive content might be. One PSU reader noted in the comment section that the offending lines are ""kollo nafsin tha'iqatol mawt", literally: 'Every soul shall have the taste of death'" and ""kollo man alaiha fan", literally: 'All that is on earth will perish'" I try to keep politics out of this blog but it just upsets me since Islam is a religion that is literally offended by everything. Rather, I should say that there are certain people in Islam who deliberately look for things to be offended by. What's happening to LBP concerning "Islamic references" is nothing new. As far back as 1998, Muslims complained about the star and crescent moon symbol appearing in Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. The symbol appears on movable blocks in the game as well as prominently in the Spirit Temple. Muslims had demanded the symbol be removed, which Nintendo eventually did. The original gold cartridge and the original grey cartridge (which I own) versions still have it. Assassin's Creed, which also has references to Islam, contains a content disclaimer. I am personally outraged that religious interests are dictating our culture when we supposedly live in a secular society. It's blatant censorship. Now, some people might think I'm being silly since LittleBigPlanet is just a video game. It goes beyond that though. This seems to stem from a single complaint since the game is only publicly available a closed beta. The fact that one person can wield so much influence by simply claiming religious offense is disturbing.

I personally don't even know how these lines got are in there, or even if they are actually there at all. It's not like this is unheard of. Back in the 60s and 70s, religious interests claimed they could hear secret satanic messages in rock songs played backwards. Led Zeppelin's Stairway to Heaven is perhaps the most famous. (If you have the CD version, you can try for yourself by using a program like Audacity to reverse the song. I personally didn't hear anything. I don't recommend doing it with a turntable since you can damage the needle, and Led Zeppelin 4 LP is a valuable album) An Atlantic Records executive laid final word by famously proclaiming that their turntables only run on one direction, forward. In all likelihood, this is just some religious zealot hearing things that aren't there. Still, we have to endure another delay for rubbish like this. It's not fair, it's not right, yet the media continues to cowtoe to special interests so there's nothing we can do. My message to Sony and MM is not to let this happen again. By that I don't mean the "lyrics", but delays over nonsense complaints.

Source: PSU

Motorstorm Pacific Rift Demo Review

By Mike on 8:51 pm

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This is going to be a quick review about the much anticipated Motorstorm 2, dubbed Pacific Rift. The first Motorstorm, released in 2007, was one of the Playstation 3's earliest hits and with good reason. Unlike a lot of early PS3 titles, Motorstorm was a good game that could really show off the system's power. As one reviewer put it, it taught us to see mud as beautiful. Motorstorm is a bit of an odd game. It's not exactly original since off-road games have been around for ages. However, the towering cliffs and and grueling tracks of Monument Valley upped the danger factor. It's not a combat racer yet there are no rules. You were pitted against both your fellow racers, who were all too eager to run you off the road, as well as numerous obstacles on the track. The well rendered graphics, damage, and mud filled the game with plenty of eye candy. It also let racers try their hands at all sorts of vehicles from dirt bikes all the way up to big rigs.

Given the popularity of the original, it's not surprising that a sequel would eventually be released. Pacific Rift takes us out of the mud of monument valley and puts the Motorstormers on an island in the Pacific. There's not a heck of a lot of difference between Pacific Rift and the first game. The idea is the same, the goals are the same, the rules are the same. The controls have changed slightly adding a combat element. Tapping L1 or R1 will allow you to side swipe opponents in that direction or if you're on a bike or ATV, you can use it to knock other bikers off their vehicle. The first track takes you along a cliff side and is vary similar to the Rain God Mesa track in the first game. The demo allows for you to play the track as one of three vehicles: a racing truck, dirt bike, and a monster truck. Monster trucks are a new addition to the game. Like big rigs, they can crush anything but they're also vary top heavy adding to the challenge. The physics engine remains the same. Graphics too aren't that different except you're swapping mud and dust for water and palm trees. Somehow, the game doesn't look as good as the original though. Another new element is offline two player split screen. The demo allows you to try out the two player mode.

There's not much else to say about Motorstorm 2: Pacific Rift. The game seems decent enough even if it is just a carbon copy of the original Motorstorm. If you left the original game wanting more, you might want to pick this one up. Still, it would have been nice to see something fresher than just monster trucks and 2p split screen.

Sony Unveils Details for Latest PSP, PS3 Firmware

By Mike on 11:50 am

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It's been quite a while since Sony has updated the firmware for the PSP and PS3. I'm just going to blatantly copy and paste what was written on the official PS Blog. There is no word on when the update will go live but it will likely either be this Wednesday or the next one if they're following tradition.

PS3 Firmware 2.50

  • Support for the PS3 Official Bluetooth Headset - we’ve told you about the upcoming Bluetooth Headset and SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs Confrontation Bundle on the Blog. This latest firmware installment enables High-Quality (HQ) mode, which delivers clear and wide-band online voice chat. On top of that, an added on-screen indicator shows battery status, volume level and use of HQ mode.
  • PlayStation Trophies interface enhancements - I know that many of you are busy collecting trophies and raising your PlayStation Trophy level. This update makes sharing and comparing your trophies with your friends even easier. On 1st part of the profile page you’ll see a symbol under level that represents level and the actual percentage towards the next level along with the existing level meter. The level symbol carries over to the trophy comparison screen where you will now be able to see your level, your friend’s level and the percentage towards the next level for both users along with all of the game by game comparison information you see today.
  • Friend status – Offline friends on your Friends list will have information below their avatars that will indicate how long it has been since they were last online.
  • Video – This update adds the Scene Search feature similar to the feature on the PSP. Activating this feature while viewing a video on the PS3 will break the video up into scenes that you can quickly access by pressing the X button. You can break the videos into one, two or five minute intervals. In addition, you can now choose to have all of the videos under the video section of the XMB play in sequence. Go to Settings then Video Settings to turn this option on.
  • PlayStation Store – We’ve added a redeem codes option right on the store to make it easier to redeem your PlayStation Network Cards and promotion codes. In addition, PlayStation Network Sign Up and Account Management have been redesigned.
  • Power Save Settings – You can now set your PS3 and wireless controllers to turn off automatically after set periods of inactivity. Go to Settings then Power Save Settings to turn on these features.
  • Background Downloading - You now have the option to set the PS3 to turn off automatically after a background download or installation of content has completed. This option is available when you turn off the system from the button under [Users] while content is being downloaded or installed.
  • In-game Screenshots - this tool will allow everyone to capture, share and in other words, immortalize their favorite gameplay moments. This will be supported on a game by game basis. Please check back to find out which games will support this feature.
Additional enhancements and features not listed are also promised. Info on these will be made available when the update goes live.

PSP Firmware 5.00
-PSP specific Playstation Store goes live. You'll now be able to download games, demos, videos, and other content from the store directly to the PSP using its own built-in Wifi. No longer do you need to connect it to a PC or PS3. If you already have a PSN account, the PSP store uses the same funds and account info that the PS3 store does.
-Sleep timer for music. Turns the PSP off after a set amount of time just like a clock radio.
-Full screen keyboard replaces the phone style dealy. Should make text entry easier.
-Redesigned XMB Background.

On the PS3 side, the update feels a bit underwhelming. Power save settings should be useful for those who tend to leave their PS3 on. There's nothing really new here though. I still don't know why screenshots are based on a game by game basis. In game screenshot support is already available since WipEout HD has it. It would certainly make life easier for amateur reviewers like me to be able to take screenshots in all games.

The PSP update is a little better since it includes some much needed enhancements, including the store and a proper QWERTY keyboard.

Source: Playstation.Blog