PS3 Firmware 2.20 Details Announced

By Mike on 9:35 am

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Sony has spilled the beans on the next major firmware update for the PS3. The update is due out later this month though no exact date has been set. The biggest feature of this update is Blu-ray Live functionality. This function will open up downloadable content with BD movies such as ringtones and interactive games. It's hardly what I would call a show stopper, especially given that the promised low-def ripping featured has not been mentioned. Seems to me that Hollywood's HD Illuminati are desperate for any advantage they can get over DVD but I don't think cell phone ringtones is going to do it. Take their last great idea, the Ringle, which was supposed to boost CD sales. The new profile does bring BD inline with HD-DVD in terms of internet connectivity.

Aside from that, 2.20 is going to add some more useful updates. First of all, the one major flaw with DVD and BD playback has been fixed. That is, you can now resume playback where you left off rather than having to start from the beginning, even if the disc had been removed. This has been a standard feature of PC DVD software and higher end stand-alone players for a long time.
Also, Sony said that DivX and WMV files larger than 2gb are now playable. It was possible to play these before but now it's official. Also included for video is "Mosquito Noise Reduction" as part of the AV settings for DVD and BD for improved movie playback. This supposedly reduces analogue and digital compression artifacts.

Sony has also tweaked the web browser for faster loading times. It will also be able to stream non-flash video files. Other improvements add an "audio output device" setting for remote play. This enables the PSP to be used as a remote control for music played through the PS3. This means that you can control audio on the PS3 through your stereo without having to turn your TV on. You can also now copy custom playlists made on your PS3 to your PSP. Not exactly the best update we've seen but it does add a couple of useful features.

Source: PSU
Playstation Blog

Eee PC Desktop, But Can Linux Be a Viable Alternative?

By Mike on 10:23 pm

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Asus has always planned an entire Eee line. Their slogan says it all. "Easy to learn, Easy to work, Easy to play." The idea was to make super low cost computers that could reach out to previously untapped markets. In most developed nations, having a PC is not only a luxury anymore but a requirement. Any university student these days will tell you. Asus noted that they plan to release a desktop variant of the Eee PC soon, starting at $199. DailyTech estimated that the final price will be in the ballpark of $299 given Asus's pricing record. There is little known about the system but prototype pictures have surfaced. It is a glossy black Small Form Factor PC, slightly larger than the Mac Mini. Like the Mini, it seems to feature a power brick. There is no solid information on specs but Asus said that it has "good enough" performance. (good enough, famous last words) The system will feature Hi-Fi digital stereo and Dolby Digital Live support, so it will have 5.1 audio. The system is also said to be quiet at 24dB. The word on the street is that it will use the new Intel Atom platform with the Diamondville processor core. The prototype picture also shows a likely 100mb/s ethernet port, DVI port, three analogue audio connectors, and at least two USB 2.0 ports. It will use the Eee PC's custom Xandros Linux based OS though a Windows XP version will likely be available. Other likely features will probably be a DVD/CDRW combo drive, 802.11g Wifi, and Intel integrated video processing. I doubt it will feature the solid state hard drive of the Eee PC in order to keep costs down.

Source: DailyTech

Thinking about this though, I wonder if Linux is really a viable OS for consumers. Most people probably aren't aware it even exists. Linux of course is a series of free, open source operating systems, not a single OS like some believe. I have PCLinuxOS installed on a computer that my parents use and they don't really seem to complain but then again, they just use it for web surfing. Any typing is done at their office, where the computers run Windows and MS Office.
Linux has numerous advantages to Windows. Namely, it doesn't cost anything for a fully legal copy, and it's usually pretty complete. Unlike OEM copies of Windows, Linux distributions usually include OpenOffice, image editors, etc. It also has one of the best 3D desktop interfaces around in the form of Beryl and Compiz. However, there is limited hardware support due to lack of drivers. Also, while some distros are easier to use than others, some basic tasks, such as installing drivers and programs, are still clumsy. Asus has really spiffed things up with their modified version of Xandros. Unfortunately, unlike most Linux distributions, Xandros is neither free nor open source. It's still significantly cheaper than Vista Home Basic is.

The problem is that Windows has an enormous amount of brand loyalty attached to it, and Microsoft knows this. Just go into any PC tech site and say you didn't like Vista and see the responses you get. When people buy a computer, they want it to have Windows so it can run Office, despite alternatives like OpenOffice being just as good. In addition, though Linux has a large open source community, there is almost no commercial software available for it. There is this general fear of free software out there. People believe that it is sub-par or contains viruses and spyware. Though some does, open source for the most part does not. Another issue is that most people simply aren't aware Linux even exists.

So can Linux ever be a viable alternative? Well, lets take a look at Mac OS X, which like Linux is also UNIX based. It has a sleek interface and tasks are easy and strait forward. However, like Microsoft, Apple too relies heavily on brand awareness and loyalty. The recent growth of Apple's market percentage I would directly, or at very least partially attribute to the trendy iPod. Toting a Mac around has become a bit the same as wearing designer clothes. The problem with Linux is lack of awareness. It is not mass marketed and is rarely if ever mentioned on TV, and for those averages Joes that do know about it, it's seen as an OS for hardcore geeks. I think unless it can reaches the ease of use and brand awareness of Windows and OS X, it can never be a viable alternative despite it's low cost.

Smoking Blinds Your Wii?

By Mike on 8:52 pm

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Not only is smoking very bad for you, it's bad for your Wii too. So says the Boston Harold on the heels of the issues with Super Smash Bros Brawl. SSBB is the biggest Wii game to date and thus requires a dual layer disc. The problem is that if the lens gets contaminated with dirt and dust, the Wii has trouble reading it. The Wii uses special "Wii Optical Discs", which have the same capacity as a DVD. The only difference is that the discs are watermarked with a special barcode, presumably to keep the format proprietary.

Can second hand smoke really damage your Wii? What a stupid question. The residue of the smoke and tar gets sucked into the console and gums up the lens. Smoking around electronics is generally not a good idea. In fact, smoking period is not a good idea but some people insist on doing it, so just keep it away from your games. Nintendo has advised against using commercial lens cleaning kits and has told people that are receiving the read error to send the console to them. The service is free of charge regardless of warranty status. Some have taken matters into their own hands and reports that blowing compressed air into the slot will work. It's a good idea to try and keep all electronics dust and dirt free since they can blind optical drives, block fan intakes, and act like an insulator around heatsinks causing overheating.

For those old enough to remember, the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) way back in the late 80s had a similar issue with dust on the cartridge slot causing read errors. Nintendo released the NES cleaning kit. The problem was only with the original toaster style NES, not the top loading NES 2.

Source: Daily Tech

Console Wars: February

By Mike on 3:06 pm

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Again with our monthly tradition of posting console sales though I think this is the last time I'm going to do it. Marketing firm NPD has released February's figures.

Nintendo DS: 587.6K
Wii: 432.0K
PlayStation 2: 351.8K
PlayStation 3: 280.8K
PlayStation Portable: 243.1K
Xbox 360: 254.6K

More of the same from last month. This month's winner is once again the Wii and the PS2 is still the dark horse. PS3 catching up. DS tops all. Not much to say on these numbers that I didn't say last month.

Source: PSU

Cables Big Business: Who'd Have Thunk It?

By Mike on 9:13 am

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One of the great debates of home theater among less technically inclined people is whether a $150 cable is really better than a $20 cable. Cables have become big business in a world where more expensive seems to automatically equal better. This generally garners eye rolling from both amateur and professional tech people.

CNET wrote a quick guide to HDMI cables
which is aimed at helping people buy what's right for them. It discusses the subject of paying too much for a cable. Before someone says it, yes you can buy a $150 cable. Here's a 2 meter one that sells for $120. The approximate value of this cable is actually $20 but you can buy it for as low as just $2. This cable has a $100 markup, which is obscene. This particular manufacturer is infamous in the tech world for overcharging people for relatively cheap cables. They flatly deny overcharging but the proof is in the pudding. Their stuff is primarily sold in places like Best Buy and The Source, and several other chain electronics stores. Not that they're the only ones. The more expensive cables are not better made and they cannot handle more data. They only thing that makes them worth more is markup. It definitely pays to shop around rather than just buying what ever is on the shelf at the TV store.

Blu-ray for 360?

By Mike on 11:39 pm

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Much like the cleaning of a house, useless tech rumors never end. I would argue that one of the the primary killers of HD-DVD was Microsoft's failure to include it in the 360 Elite. We're coming at a point where the 8.54gb available on DVD is starting to get too small for modern games. For PC gamers, that's not a big deal but for console gamers, you don't want more than one disc. A multi-disc RPG for the 360 has or is going to be released. The exact info escapes me right now. Recently, it was announced that Metal Gear Solid 4 would not fit on a single layer Blu-ray disc, forcing them to use the larger 50gb dual layer BD discs for the PS3 version. Obviously the game is really huge or Kojima Productions doesn't know how to use compression. If MGS4 were to be on the 360, it would require at least 3 DVDs and at most 6.

Now there are rumors that Microsoft is working with Sony to include Blu-ray technology in the 360 somehow. Likely in an external USB drive like with the HD-DVD add on. I'm a little skeptical of this. First off, it's well known that Microsoft is pushing for digital downloads. Secondly, though Microsoft is a huge company, it's not like Sony is the little guy. The PS3's BD capability is probably it's biggest saving grace, or at least the one consumers notice. I almost wonder it the 360 will end up like the Sega Genesis did in it's later years. Remember the Sega CD? It would seem to make sense for Microsoft to add a BD drive to the 360 but little of what actually goes on in the entertainment industry makes sense. It seemed to make sense for Sega to add an external CD drive to the Genesis and we all know how that worked out. Will people pay extra for a separate add on or just buy the competitor who features the same drive internally. We're at a bit of a weird cross roads right now where console gaming is starting to cross into the PC realm. The ultimate question for Microsoft is whether console gamers will put up with multi-disc games like their PC counterparts do. Microsoft did say they support Blu-ray now that it's won but how exactly they didn't mention. We'll just have to wait and see.

Source: Crave
Daily Tech

Update March 15: If you couldn't see this coming, you may need glasses. Microsoft denies Blu-ray for Xbox 360.

Asus Updated Eee PC, Fixes Issues

By Mike on 4:57 pm

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One commenter didn't like my thoughts on the Eee PC and I informed him that I was willing to change my mind if Asus fixed some of the issues I had with it. This week, Asus announced a redesign of the system in the form of a few new model with an 8.9'' screen. This new model has been dubbed the Eee PC 900. The screen has been updated to a 8.9'' over the past 7'' models and features a resolution of 1024x600. This would roughly approximate a WSVGA screen if such a thing existed. This resolution allows for the operation of most programs under Windows XP as well as better viewing of most webpages.
Speaking of which, Asus is releasing a Windows XP model of the Eee 900. Before, XP had to be user installed. XP will be include on a new 8gb model. A 12gb and 20gb model will also be added featuring Xandros Linux.
There are also hints that Asus may include Intel's new Atom mobile platform into the Eee PC 900. The original EeePC had pathetic battery life for what it was. According to Asus, this was due to lack of energy saving features such as Speedstep in the Celeron M 900 they used. Asus has said they intend to release an Eee PC model in the near future with an 8hr battery life.
Finally, Asus has updated some of the other features on the Eee PC. The built in webcam has had it's resolution increased from 0.3 megapixels to 1.3mp. Built in WiMAX and HSDPA networking functions will also be added in Q3.

The new EeePC 900 models will start at $499 when they launch in April. I'd still say wait a little longer since it seems Q3 2008 (August to October) will be when the Eee PC finally matures, especially with that planned 8hr battery life and the possible inclusion of the Atom platform. I'd still like to see a model with a 40gb HDD though but 20gb of space is definitely an improvement.

Source: Daily Tech

While on the subject of Asus...
Lets hop into the Wayback Machine to the late 1970s when everything had wood paneling. Take the legendary Atari 2600 for example. Fads really are cyclical. At CeBIT 2008, Asus unveiled a new line of PCs, monitors, and laptops with bamboo paneling. Bamboo is a popular building material these days due to it's strength and relatively low cost. The Essentio 5110 is a small form factor PC and likely a Mac Mini competitor. Some laptops and monitors will feature small decorative wood panels. The creme de la creme is the Ecobook which will feature have a complete bamboo finish rather than small panels. I'm not sure what's so "eco" about it but it certainly looks interesting. At least it will go with the faux wood finish on your desk and if people don't like it, you can tell them to bite your splintery, wooden ass. There's no word on specs for these systems as of yet.

Source: Crave

iPhoneBoy: Apple to Take a Stab at Gaming, Again

By Mike on 10:30 am

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As much as I like most of Apple's products, they've never exactly been for gamers. I think most of the reason for this is the low install base. Back in the late 90s though, Apple did take a stab at console gaming with the ill fated Pippin which was overpriced and underpowered. However, the Pippin did contain a lot of features that have become standard today such as integrated internet connections, a hard drive, and media playback capability. Apple seems to be heading for round two to develop another game console, and it's the iPhone.
With the release of their new software development kit (SDK) for the iPhone, Apple announced support for OpenGL rendering, OpenAL audio, and 3D sound. What about control? The iPhone has no traditional input. Apple plans on utilizing the iPhone's accelerometers for control. These three devices sense which of its three axis the iPhone is on. Control will work in the same way as Sony's SixAxis motion sensing function. For other input, it will use the touch screen in some way. When Apple introduced the capability, they showed off a space sim called Touch Fighter. EA and Sega also demoed iPhone versions of Spore and Super Monkeyball.

Apple is the latest phone to delve into mobile gaming, though from what I've read, they seem to be positioning it as a competitor to the PSP and Nintendo DS. "Good luck" was PSU's response to that. Obviously the games will be downloadable since the iPhone has no removable media drive. The problem is games take up a lot of space. Both the PSP and DS have about 1gb of space to work with. The iPhone has up to 16gb but assuming 500-1gb per game, that's not really a lot of space to work with. Secondly, while touch sensing has done particularly well for the DS, I think a lot of people will find the motion sensing odd. Sony has struggled enough to chip away at Nintendo's lead in the mobile market and I really don't think there is room for a third barring Nintendo releases another Virtual Boy.

Source: PSU

Update: For those curious about how exactly this works, check out the video from Apple's March 6th event.
The part about gaming begins at the 41min mark. Keep in mind that this is just a proof of concept at the moment to show what can be done with the new iPhone SDK.