Latest PS3 update brings Plus, puts me to sleep

By Mike on 11:40 pm

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Sony has launched Firmware 3.40 for the Playstation 3, bringing with it a couple of new features. Here's the official list from Sony.

PlayStation Plus:
PlayStation Network users will be able to purchase membership to PlayStation Plus; a new subscription service on the PlayStation Network that provides you with new options to expand and enhance your gaming experience and enable you to gain an exclusive set of features and content. Friendly reminder, all of you PlayStation Network users will continue to have free access to PlayStation Network’s unmatched and expanding suite of new and exclusive features while PlayStation Plus subscribers will gain access to an exclusive and expanding set of gaming features, content and functionality.

Photo Gallery:
A new network based photo sharing feature is now available on the Photo Gallery. The enhancement allows you to upload, browse and comment on photos on Facebook and Picasa Web Album. You can also opt to share your photos between your PlayStation Network friends as well as print photos from Photo Gallery.

Video Editor & Uploader:
Video Editor and Uploader is a new function found on the XrossMediaBar (XMB), which enables you to edit, save and upload video files stored on the PS3 system to sites such as Facebook or YouTube.

Five Star Rating Support:
Users can rate the PlayStation Store content they have purchased with one to five star ratings.

Power Save Settings:
The default setting for PS3 System Auto-Off will be set at 2 hours, providing you with additional power save options and further improving power save features on the PS3 system.

It's worth noting that the video editor will not work with videos saved onto the system before the update. It doesn't matter if they're copy protected or not.

Playstation Plus is going for $49.99 for a one year subscription, which is what I suspect most people will buy. A three month subscription is $17.99 Would you pay for early access to demos and "exclusive" DLC? You do get free monthly games though. Still, I'm not sure Playstation Plus has won me over yet.

Tech that's overstayed it's welcome

By Mike on 6:00 pm

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For better or worse, some things just seem to stick around. A lot like that annoying uncle who overstays their welcome. Here are my top ten tech things that need to die, now.

PS/2 Ports
Find the most expensive motherboard you can. It will probably still have at least one PS/2 port. These things date back to 1987 and are used for keyboards and mice. Problem is USB replaced them long ago. Apple tossed their similar connector 12 years ago for USB and never looked back. Some people still use them but mostly on older systems. Not for new builds. There's nothing wrong with them exactly. It's just that they tend to break easily and can't be hot swapped. They also don't support wireless devices and have limited features. There's no point in keeping these on modern computers.

Fax Machines
We have one of these at work. Heck, I have one sitting on my desk right now. Both get used as either a printer or photocopier. 99% of the stuff that comes through the fax at work is advertising. My favourites are the ones that try to sell you cheap ink and toner. You know, after they've just wasted yours for their ad. Cheeky. There are rare occasions where you might need to fax a document but it doesn't happen often. It's been about a year since I've used one for that. We don't really need dedicated machines for that anymore. Give us a scanner and we'll send it by email.

Wall Wart AC Adaptors
Electronics run off direct current (DC) power. Your household outlet is alternating current (AC). The two aren't compatible, so you need an adaptor. Some devices have them built in, some use power bricks attached to a long cord. Then there's the wall wart. Those ugly black boxes that hang from the wall and hog outlets on power strips. They're not as common as they used to be but they're still around. Even the iPad comes with a wall wart. Honestly, how much more would it cost to throw a standard two prong cord on the end. Save us some space please. With all our DC powered tech, maybe it's time to start looking into whole-home DC outlets instead.

Internet Explorer 6
Walk into any corporation, big or small, and they're probably still running Internet Explorer 6 on their computers. IE6 was infamous for its security and stability problems. It was the browser that introduced us all to spyware, pop-ups, crashes, and hijacking. Despite the flaws, it's estimated 17% of computers still run it. Mostly in the business world, where IT departments are too lazy to upgrade to more secure versions. No wonder big corporations get hacked all the time.

Hybrid Cars
It's Frankenstein's monster of the automotive world. Hybrids combine the range of a gasoline car with the clean energy of an electric car. It produces much higher fuel efficiency... in theory. The system doesn't always work as advertised. The electric motors only run at low speeds and battery range is limited. The car ends up running the gas engine most of the time. When the Prius first came out, it was advertised at 60mpg. In reality, it got closer to 40mpg. That's still good but not much better than most gasoline-only compact cars. The complex system is prone to mechanical problems, as Toyota's brake recall proved. The batteries are also expensive to replace. GM has the right idea with the Volt, using the gas engine as a generator instead of for traction. How well will it work in the real world? Let's say I'm not getting my hopes up.

Expensive Long Distance & Text Charges
Today, I can view a website from halfway around the world at no extra charge. Yet I have to pay a hefty fee to phone my grandma two towns over. What if I want to text my best friend in the US. On AIM it's free, on my cell it's 30 cents a message. With today's advanced IP-based telephony, expensive long distance and text rates amount to little more than gouging. We all know it costs nowhere near that for the phone company to make the call. With North American infrastructure so intertwined, calls made to anywhere in Canada and the US should all be considered local.

Cable Boxes
It dawned on my how much electricity my satellite box consumes. It runs like a space heater. It's also yet another component hogging space on my AV shelf. Then I thought, why can't this technology be downsized. Why does it have to be the size of a DVD player. Heck, the DVR units are almost the size of home theatre receivers. Yet, I can get an HDTV tuner for my laptop that's the size of USB memory stick. Better idea, why can't the tech be standardized like cell phones, be built into TVs, and be used with a SIM card. Don't cut the cables, cut the box.

Proprietary Formats
Sony is one company that has always insisted on developing its own proprietary formats. Sometimes it goes well for them, sometimes not. Memory Stick is a good example of a bad idea. This flash storage card is often double the price of comparable SD cards and only works with Sony devices. Cables are another culprit. Look how many different power adaptors there are for cell phones. We kind of expect that everything should just work with everything. In most cases it does. I can take any SATA or USB hard drive and it will work in my Mac, PC, and PS3. Yet some companies keep insisting in tying us down to their brand.

DRM Locked Videos
Music went the copy-protection-free route a couple of years ago and never looked back. iTunes is still raking in millions of sales. Yet videos are still locked down. Media servers are the iPod for your DVD collection. Yet you technically still have to break the law to get DVDs you've bought on them. It's hardly fair to consumers. Maybe it's time commercial DVDs and downloadable videos be stripped of their copy protection to reflect the new technological reality. It may even boost sales if people know they can watch their collections on demand anywhere in the house on any screen. Imagine that!

Adobe Flash and Adobe Reader
Today's Internet is built on Flash and Acrobat. They're the two Adobe programs that everyone uses. Problem is they're also terrible. Sure, I've complained that the iPad lack of Flash is a big problem. That's because the vast majority of video sites use it. Acrobat and Flash both have the same problems. They're bloated resource hogs that are plagued with security issues, and they don't run very well on non-Windows platforms. Even on Windows, there's nothing spectacular to look at. Acrobat's slow performance can be remedied with Foxit or Apple's Preview. Flash is here to stay because there are no viable alternatives. HTML5 is being pushed by Apple but its still in its infancy. Looks like we'll be dealing with the big, bloated red 'f' for a long time to come.

Some iPhone, iPod Touch users should avoid iOS4

By Mike on 1:35 pm

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Apple released its much anticipated iOS4 last week, ahead of the launch of the iPhone 4. The update was made available to all iPod Touches and all iPhones except the original. The update adds some great new features like multitasking. However, those who are still using the iPhone 3G and iPod Touches 2G and 1G should avoid the update.

Like many other iPhone 3G owners, I can vouch for the fact that iOS4 has made my phone run like cold molasses. While web pages seemed to load faster on Safari, Google Maps and even the iPod app, some of the phone's most basic functions, were nearly unusable.

The iPhone 3G and it's iPod derivatives are too slow and don't have enough memory to properly support the new update. Most of the new features that make iOS4 worth it, including multitasking and wallpaper, aren't supported on older models.

If you haven't updated from iOS3 to iOS4, don't bother. If you already have and want to revert back to the older operating system, Lifehacker has this handy guide for restoring iOS3. This is the method I used for fixing my iPhone.
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Microsoft Launches Xbox 360 Slim

By Mike on 12:08 pm

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Big news on the hardware front at E3. Microsoft has redesigned the Xbox 360. The new model is shorter and thinner than the old ones. It's been done up in piano black instead of the usual white and grey. Engadget described it as looking like an F-117 stealth fighter.

The biggest differences come under the hood. Vents on the side of the console have been enlarged. Early reviews say the system is far quieter than its predecessors. The slim model also upgrades the wifi to built in 802.11n, replacing the expensive USB dongles from the previous models.

The system comes with a beefed up 250gb hard drive which resides inside the system. Two new USB ports have also been added for additional storage and peripherals, bringing the total up to five.

The new system will retail for $299. All current models will be discontinued, and have received a $50 price drop. An arcade version of the 360 slim is rumoured to launch at a later date. According to, the 360 slim will ship on June 19th.

Unfortunately, the slim does not ship with the Kinect motion system, aka Project Natal.

It definitely looks like Microsoft cooked this up to compete with the PS3 Slim. It's at the same price point. Despite a lack of Blu-ray, it adds significantly faster wireless. Like all 360s, it also retains backwards compatibility with the original Xbox. If you want a 360 but don't already have one, this looks like the version to get.

iPad: Initial Impressions

By Mike on 10:45 pm

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Everybody has to have one. Apple has already hit the 2 million mark on the iPad. They've been flying off the shelves but it's still possible to find one without giving up your first born on eBay.

I took a trip to Best Buy the other day to check them out on display. Surprisingly they weren't getting much attention so I got to spend a little time with the 64gb wifi model.

One of the first things I noticed about the iPad was just how heavy it is. It was more than I expected. The device is also a bit odd to hold. Apple didn't design it with ergonomics in mind. The device has a glass front with an anodized aluminum back. It looks similar to the screen half of a Macbook Pro, only thicker. The build quality is top notch as expected. It felt substantial in my hands. No flimsy plastic parts here.

The screen on the iPad is gorgeous. Though a wide display would be better, the iPad's 4:3 screen seems to suit it perfectly. It's every bit as good as the ones Apple incorporates on their laptops. Colours are rich and the screen is bright. It could easily be used out in the sun without too much trouble. Videos, web content, and photos look gorgeous on it. Like the iPhone, you can rotate the screen to either a portrait or landscape mode. It has a simple but vary useful feature that allows you to lock the screen so it doesn't rotate by accident.

Under the hood, the iPad sports an Apple A4 processor at 1ghz, with 256mb of RAM. The device is quite speedy. Transitions between pages are quick and smooth, unlike on the iPhone. Apps load fast, web pages load fast. Not much is going to tax it. This processor is perfect for it.

On the App side, I only got to try out a few. I already knew what gaming was like on it, so I skipped that. Those features are identical to the ones on the iPhone and iPod Touch, only super sized. Pages and iBook are what interested me the most.

Apple has provided a full office suite for the iPad. It works vary well though the virtual keyboard still leaves a lot to be desired. You can't type anything out on that. I'd definitely recommend splurging on the iPad keyboard peripheral if you're going to do a lot of writing on it.
iBooks worked vary well. It's probably one of the few LCD based eReaders that's actually usable. Apple is looking to do for books what iTunes did for music. Pages turning with the flick of your finger is a nice touch.

Web browsing hasn't changed much from the iPhone, only faster and on a bigger screen. This time the iPad can display full web pages just fine thanks to its 1024x768 resolution screen. Unfortunately, browsing is still the Achilles Heel in Apple's mobile line up. Most video services still use Adobe Flash, and will continue to use it for the foreseeable future. The iPad doesn't support Flash, which means you can't use it to view video sites other than YouTube. This is a huge problem. You can't use it to watch sites like Vimeo, or streaming TV from CBC or other networks. Despite Steve Jobs hatred for the venerable Flash, Apple desperately needs to add it in order to keep up.

Overall, I'm impressed with the iPad. I like it a lot. That said, I wouldn't buy it. Flash is still the killer app for me. I want to be able to use it to watch online TV. YouTube alone isn't enough and Canadian networks have yet to provide their own streaming apps. The device's CAD$550 price point for the 16gb base model also doesn't feel right. That's not enough storage for something like this. For that price point, I'd expect double that. It's an Apple product though so of course you're going to pay too much. However, they could have at least added expandable storage via an SD card slot.

So who is the iPad for? I think it's ideal for people who don't need a computer. In other words, people who may just want to email, type things up, or shop online. It's also ideal for travellers looking for something light and compact to take with them, but still offers some power.

My final verdict? Personally, I'd wait to see what other manufacturers are cooking up before taking the tablet plunge. I'm seeing promising things from devices running Android and Windows (Phone) 7.

Image courtesy Wikipedia.