Pong is 36

By Mike on 11:23 pm

comments (0)

Filed Under:

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

comments (0)

Filed Under:

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

comments (0)

Filed Under: , ,

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

comments (0)

Filed Under: , ,

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, Last.fm 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

comments (0)

Filed Under:

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.