January 20, 2008

Review: Virgin America Airlines

A few weeks ago I took a flight on Virgin America from San Francisco (SFO) to New York (JFK). I can enthusiastically say it was the best experience I've had on an airline. From the purple voodoo lounge lighting, brand new planes, comfortable seats, and the Linux based video entertainment system, this is the way it should be done.

Every seat has a nice LCD screen like Jetblue to watch TV. The system however lets you play games such as DOOM, chat in a intra-plane chat room using a small qwerty keypad that also is a gamepad remote on the reverse side, and did I mention dozens of movies and thousand of music songs on demand? You can even order drinks and snacks on the touch-screen. It really is a nerd's paradise.

The prices are exactly the same as the previous king of the hill low cost carrier, Jet Blue. Unfortunately for Virgin America, it doesn't look like many people even know they exist considering my flight was half empty and most of my friends didn't know about it either. However we must get the word out, as this airline clearly raises the bar on what is possible in this industry. The more companies like this succeed, the better it is for all of us. The only downside now is they don't fly to many cities. 9/10

December 23, 2007

2007 Year in Review

This was a banner year for technology and purchases for my household. I don't think I ever spent this much on personal technology in my whole life. I will quickly run-down my major purchases this year both hardware and software with the one exception of gaming software. I don't expect to buy this much again in 2008 and will focus spending on software for all the hardware bought this year.

Canon SD700IS - $320 from Newegg - It's a functional small sized camera that takes decent, though not stellar, pictures. The most used feature by my wife is the movie recording function, which works well. We used this even more than the Canon Z500 camcorder which I put up on eBay this year because it had sound problems picking up the MiniDV driving motor. I wished it took better pictures especially in low-light. 6/10

Keurig B40 - $99 from Keurig.com - Instant good consistent coffee to go. It's good for those that just want 1 or 2 cups a day and don't want to deal with the mess of brewing a whole pot. It's for the lazy among us that don't mind paying a little extra for the convenience. For you moderate coffee drinkers this is a good buy. 8/10

Playstation 3 60GB - $599 from Best Buy - It's a solid fully featured piece of hardware. The problem is there aren't many killer app games for it and most of the multi-platform titles are better on the Xbox 360. I've mainly used it as a Blu-ray player. The one thing it does better than the 360 is the quieter noise leve. 6/10

PS3 Bluetooth remote - $25 from Best Buy - It works well as a good remote control for the PS3 during DVD and Blu-ray playback. Worth buying if you watch a lot of movies. 8/10

Vizio VX32L 32" LCD TV - $599 from Costco - Initially I liked the TV because it seemed to work with games well. However over time I got sick of it due to the headaches it gave me from the blurry motion and standard definition television looks awful. I eventually wound up returning it and got a 120hz capable Panasonic later in the year instead. 3/10

Blackberry 8800 - $350 from T-Mobile - I got this to replace my old Palm Treo 600 which kept crashing due to the many contact records I had. It works and is stable. The downside is the keyboard isn't the most comfortable, it could use a better browser as it doesn't render pages correctly, lacks 3G speed support, and the trackball doesn't work as well as the old thumbwheel on the previous model. However the battery life is good and the screen is bright. 7/10

Planet Earth Blu-Ray - $67 from Amazon - Stunning nature documentary. Worth buying for the amazing never before seen landscapes, images, and animal action. 8/10

IM+ for Skype by Shape Services - $25 from Handango - It was a lot of pain to get working with the right settings, but after you are done you can text message your Skype contacts. Not the slickest interface and also performance in logging on is sub-par. 4/10

Macbook 13" Laptop - $1099 from Apple - Fast for the price. Not a fan of the chiclet keyboard. 7/10

iPod 5.5G 30GB - $249 from Apple - Not much to say. It worked fine, but I put it up on eBay as I knew the new iPod were coming out. 7/10

Apple iPhone 8GB - $599 from Apple - Stunning user interface and great design. The browser is the best ever on a mobile device. It could use 3G speed, although Wi-Fi helps. Looking forward to more 3rd party applications in 2008. 8/10

MacBook Pro 15" Santa Rosa Laptop - $2121 from Apple - I returned the first one I got due to dead pixels and weird vibrations on the keyboard. The second one was much better. The design once again is fantastic, the LED display is the best, and the keyboard feel is solid. The best laptop out there today. 9/10

Rain iLap - $61.60 from NewEgg - Nice design. It is needed as the MacBook Pro tends to get very warm underneath. It also serves as a good stand to help cool the computer. Not cheap however. 7/10

Nikon D40 - $533 from NewEgg - I decided I needed a DSLR. I chose the Nikon over the Canon as I didn't mind the lower megapixel count and it just felt better in my hand. The Canon's didn't grip right for me. I'm very happy with the picture quality. 8/10

Dell 3007WFP-HC - $1298 from Dell - Gaming at 2560x1600 takes my breath away. I wanted to stick to a IPS panel as I was used to the color renditions on my 2001FP. The 3007 fit the bill and it has no dead pixels which is amazing with its pixel count. Productivity goes way up due to the screen real estate. I would wait for the next iteration however as this monitor only has one dual-link DVI input. 9/10

VMWare Fusion for Mac OS X - $40.39 from VMWare - It works like magic. I haven't had any sigmificant problems or issues running windows and it's pretty snappy to boot. 8/10

Missing Sync v1.0.1 for Blackberry - $39.95 from Mark Space - It works without any major issues. Syncs my 8800 to my Mac. It doesn't seem to be as fast as the Blackberry Windows software. 7/10

Kensington Slimtype USB Mac Keyboard - $34.99 from Amazon - The design is mac-like. The key travel isn't very deep. Good for light productivity tasks. 6/10

iPod Touch 16GB - $399 from Apple - As discussed in a previous post, my iPod Touch was an utter disaster as the screen quality was horrendous. Green shadows and bad blacks that were more like green/greys. I read that the current ones are better, but still not up to the original iPhone screen in quality. Unfortunately there are no do-overs here. 2/10

Vista Home Premium - $112 from NewEgg - Annoying security pop-ups. The Aero eye-candy requires major GPU horsepower. You really need 2GB of RAM to make it usable. A lot of old peripherals simply don't work due to drivers not being updated. Bottomline, it's not worth upgrading unless you are only using it as a media center as that piece is very good. Otherwise stick with Windows XP due to stability, speed, and compatibility. 4/10

BenQ FP222WH 22" LCD Monitor - $293 from NewEgg - The first monitor I got started developing 2-3 blue vertical lines after 10-15 minutes of use. No joke. NewEgg sent me a new monitor. I didn't even open the new monitor and sold it on eBay and took like a $100 loss on it. Good riddance. Even if it didn't have the blue line problem, it was a bad purchase as it had motion blur, backlight bleeding, and weak blacks. 2/10

Panasonic TC-32LX700 32" LCD TV - $939 from B&H - The ultimate gaming TV. After the problems I had with the Vizio VX32L and the BenQ, I can say I'm am 100% satisfied with this LCD TV, especially for games. It has great blacks, much better than the Vizio. Better colors and much less motion blur due to its 120hz technology. Although it's not the cheapest 720p LCD TV out there, I have no problems saying it's the best and perfect for gaming with the Xbox 360. 9/10

Xbox 360 Premium Edition - $350 from Gamestop - I got the Falcon CPU, which hopefully means I won't get the red rings of death. It comes with Forza 2 and Ultimate Alliance. Xbox Live gaming simply is great fun. I'm still having a ball playing Street Fighter 2 online even though my win % is less 20%. On the downsides, it is still loud like a lawn mower and you have to buy a special HDMI cable if you want to split out your audio from the HDMI. 8/10

Rome DVD Set - $72 for both Season 1 and 2 from Best Buy - A great historical drama TV series. One of the best TV shows I have ever seen. HBO does an amazing job like Band of Brothers before it. The second season isn't as good as the first however. 10/10

iPod Classic 80GB - $249 from Apple - I used my $100 iPhone credit to replace the iPod Touch I returned. It's basically the same thing as the 5.5G version with more storage capacity and a funkier user interface. 7/10

MarsEdit - $29.95 from Red Sweater - Great blogging software for Mac OS X. It works better than Ecto which I bought the previous year. Fast and just works like the way you expect it should. 8/10

eVGA GeForce 8800GT - $260 from NewEgg - This is the best hardware purchase of the year for me. It makes 2560x1600 gaming actually work without stuttering and with the latest games like Team Fortress 2 and Call of Duty 4, it's pure gaming bliss. Rock solid frame-rates, single slot and actually low noise levels. Nvidia really has it a home-run with this one and it's the best card since the famous Ti4200. 10/10

What an amazing year for gaming, computer, and tech gagdet lovers among us. Here's to another great year in 2008. Permalink - Discuss

January 01, 2007

Review: Panasonic 42 inch Plasma TV - Model TH-42PX6U from Costco

Input Selection

Remote on the Left

I’ve been waiting to get on the HDTV flat panel bandwagon for years. I spent hundreds of hours researching the latest plasma and LCD flat-panels and spent too many hours to count comparing TVs wandering around Best Buy, Circuit City, CompUSA, and Costco. With prices down 40-50% in the past six months, I decided it was time to make the plunge.

My viewing needs are movie DVDs (20%), sports (20%), a lot of standard definition TV shows (30%), OTA programming (20%), and a little console gaming (10%). I went with the Panasonic TH-42PX6U 42-inch plasma from Costco. I paid about $1500 with tax. I considered various Samsung LCDs (4051D), Sony Bravia S2010 and others in the S-line, Pioneer commercial plasmas, and even Panasonic’s commercial TH-42PH9UK, but in the end I went with the TH-42PX6U because of Costco’s famed “unlimited forever” warranty, included TV stand, and array of built-in inputs (2 HDMIs, 2 Components, and 2 Composites).

The ironic thing is the TH-42PX6U actually didn’t look the best when I spent all that time staring in the store showrooms. In the end I had to trust the internet hive mind expert consensus, that the picture settings at those stores were not optimally set. Out of the box, Panasonic is set in “vivid” or loud, bright eye-catching mode, which doesn’t do the set justice in terms of picture quality.

Unpacking the set was a painless experience. The only thing you have to do is attach the TV stand with a few screws and you are all set. Once it’s ready to go with the cables connected, I noticed how huge the TV seems when it’s at home. In the store, the 42 inches seems tiny, but it’s a different story when it is in your living room. The first thing I did change the picture mode from “vivid” to “standard”. After some research, I changed it to the recommended settings from the internet hive mind to: picture mode “standard”, picture +22, brightness +8, color –1, tint –4, sharpness –14, color temperature “warm”, and enhanced black level “off”.

After this, the picture quality blew my mind away. I chose this plasma set due to low motion lag, true black levels, and accurate color rendition. I couldn’t be happier with any of those aspects. I watched a couple of football games in HD through my antenna and I couldn’t believe how crisp the actions was, the amazing detail, and natural colors. One of my worries going with the TH-42PX6U was its lower resolution of 1024X768 compared to the LCDs, but I quickly didn’t care. At my typical viewing distance of 8-9 feet, the HD detail on this set is more than satisfying.

I popped in a couple of DVDs (King Kong and Mr.& Mrs. Smith) and was very impressed with the picture. The black levels and shadow detail was excellent. It wasn’t as detailed resolution-wise compared to OTA HD programming, but still good enough to make myself question why I would ever go to a movie theater again.

I connected the TV with a cheap DVI to HDMI cable I bought from Monoprice.com. My home-built HTPC with Nvidia fanless graphics instantly recognized it as a Panasonic display. The digital connection was flawless in 640X480 and 1270X720 modes. It looks a lot better than the component connection I had with my previous TV (Samsung 27” HDTV capable CRT). Web browsing was fine and the resolution rendition was perfect. I couldn’t notice any “rectangular pixel” issues that some worry about with plasmas. One weird thing was when I tried 1024X768 (which should of 1:1 pixel translation), the picture came out fuzzy and blurry. This is not a problem as 1270X720 comes through so well, but it is worth nothing.

Standard definition programs really depend on the feed. On good digital cable feeds, it looks almost HD-like. Unfortunately most cable channels are weaker and it is just respectable. Frankly once you see the quality of high definition programming, it kind of hurts to watch SD programs. One thing I did notice is if you watch SD programs on an HD channel and put it in “just mode” to fill the screen, the picture quality seems much better than watching the same program on its normal analog channel. The built-in speakers are decent, but nothing to shout off the roof-tops about. The remote control is pretty ugly, but usable.

The only negative so far is there is a slight fluttering fan noise that comes from the back of the TV on the upper right. I can only hear it when the room is absolutely silent and the TV sound is off. This isn’t a big deal as I have my HTPC on all the time which has a louder fan, but for the truly anal out there, it might be a problem. Also if I put my head behind the TV I can hear a buzz coming from the circuit boards. I can’t hear this 2-3 feet away from the TV however.

In conclusion, I couldn’t be happier with the TV. The picture quality takes my breath away every time I use it. Anyone looking for some HDTV loving, should walk, nah… run to their local Costco and pick the TH-42PX6U up. Highly recommended. 9/10. If you have any questions about this review, fire away on our discussion forum. I posted a bunch of screenshots of the plasma in action of both SD and HD programming on there. I also promise to reply to any questions within 12 hours. No joke. Permalink - Discuss

November 19, 2006

Review: Elite Beat Agents for Nintendo DS by Masem

The surprise success of Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan! as an import title for the Nintendo DS spurred into motion into getting a regional release of the game for the States as well as other regions around the world; unfortunately, the title, produced by iNiS (who have also produced Gitaroo Man), is rather solidly tied to Japan due to the music and story presented; even a translation would have been difficult to accomplish. Instead, they have decided to reversion Ouendan into "Elite Beat Agents", which provides new songs and new stories and visuals, while still keeping the same great gameplay and overall approach to the game.

Story: B+
Similar to Ouendan, the story is based on a group of elite government agents, called the Elite Beat Agents, which are sent out to assist people when they call for help by dancing to music and improving their motivation. The stories are more Americanized, such as a babysitter trying to score with her boyfriend while tending to kids, or a movie director trying to make the next great blockbuster, but there's still a hint of the Japanese background in the visuals (retaining the same stylings as they had back in Ouendan). Do well, and your story's protagonist will succeed, while poor performance will lead to failure. While the stories have their unique aspects, they're just a tad less quirky and witty than those from Ouendan, even though I now understand everything going on (nothing as funny as the old potter's story), but they're certainly not bad little tales.

Gameplay: A
The basic game of Elite Beat Agents is unchanged from Ouendan. As the music plays, spots will appear that require you to tap them with the stylus in order and in time with the music, You're scored on how synchronized you are with the music, which improved both your score (even more so with long combos) and keeps your beat meter high and running. Miss a beat, and you'll break your streak as well as take a hit on your beat meter, and if it drops low enough, you'll fail and have to restart the song. Besides the beats, there's tracks that you have to drag with your stylus in time to a marker and the music, as well as the spinning disk that requires a good number of spins to get the beat right. Each song has between 2 and 4 sections; after a section, you're given an intermission scene which will depend on how well you're done so far; if your beat meter is high enough, it's a good outcome. Once you've completed the song successfully and a final scene, you're given your stats and ranking for the song; you can now also save your performance (one save for any single song over all difficulty levels) to be used as 'ghost' data for yourself or that you can transfers to others. I did note that at least two of the stories have multiple endings depending on how well you were at the end of the song, which I do not believe was in Ouendan. A definite new feature is that when you fail, you have the option to replay the last section to see where you failed so that you know where to work at the next time.

While you play, you'll have the Elite Beat Agents dancing in time to the rhythm on the bottom screen, while the characters in the story working at a pace set by how well you're doing in the game. As with Ouendan, neither of these are distractions, but there's times I wish I could see what was actually happening there. Fortunately, the new replay feature does allow you to review the action at a later time.

Value/Replayability: A-
The game has 15 songs and 3 bonus songs across 4 difficulty levels. As with Ouendan, you have to work through 1 to 3 songs to unlock the next set, with one ultimate level actually having two songs to work through to complete. The bonus songs become unlocked once you have achieved enough total cumulative points from all successfully completed songs at any level. The first two difficulty levels are available from the start; the third and the fourth require you to complete all the non-bonus songs of the previous difficulty to unlock them; generally with higher difficulty, the song requires more hits and odd patterns than compared to easier difficulty levels, and also has a beat meter that drains faster compared. Compared to Ouendan, I would say that the difficulty is shifted about 1/2 level up in Elite Beat Agents; that is, the late songs in the 2nd difficulty level for EBA were as tough as the first handful of songs at the 3rd difficulty level of Ouendan, and the late 3rd level songs to be as incredibly hard as with the 4th level in Ouendan. This helps to make the game feel longer than Ouendan as you'll likely be replaying some songs a bit earlier. While still relatively short to go through all the songs once (less than 2 hours at the second difficulty level, for example), the game keeps your best scores and records and allows you to continue to work to improve them as to unlock all the bonus songs.

EBA features wireless play as well. Two players can co-op on songs (as long as both have the game), trading off tracks much like Guitar Hero co-op with a common beat meter. Alternatively, you can do a verses mode with 2 or 4 people (playing 2-on-2) with special stages set for 2 team action. In this mode, only one player needs to have the game, and others can download the information needed to play.

Audio: A-
The songs vary from some older rock ballads ("YMCA", "September", "Jumpin' Jack Flash") to pop songs of the last few decades ("Material Girl", "Sk8ter Boi"), and while most are suited for the game, "Canned Heat" by Jamaroquai (aka that song from Napoleon Dynamite) and "Lets Dance" from David Bowie really stand out as capturing the unique j-pop stylings that Ouendan had and fit the playstyle well. Technically, these songs all are covers, but the limited speaker quality of the DS makes these songs sound as good as if they're off FM radio. While some of the newer songs aren't as familiar to me, I think the selection works here, though if they were to make a sequel, I'd definitely stick to Jamaroquai/Bowie type stylings as they really were good selections and some of the harder songs to complete. The only other nit in songs is that some of them seemed shorter than the j-pop tunes in Oeundan; just a few measures of note tapping then I was back at an intermission. However, these were generally only for the easier songs, and so it may just be the lack of difficulty clouding my perception.

Graphics: A
Graphically, the game looks just as good as Ouendan - the same artists are used for the characters and animation, and the story is told in the same comic book style. There's also a few Ouendan characters that show up here if you watch carefully.

Overall: A-
If you've had the chance to play Ouendan, you'll know exactly what to expect out of Elite Beat Agents - the gameplay is unchanged, and while the songs may not be exactly to your liking, it's a great title. If you haven't had the chance to experience Ouendan but like music games, you'll definitely want to grab this now that it's stateside - it's a great portable music game that presents a good challenge. [Discuss]

Review: Guitar Hero II for PS2 by Masem

There's very little to say about Guitar Hero 2, produced and distributed by Harmonix and Red Octane, beyond that it a truly outstanding sequel, exceeding the original title by having a better selection of guitar-ripping tracks, tightening up gameplay in favor of the player, and adding more multiplayer modes.

Gameplay: A+
The game plays, for the most part, exactly as it's predecessor. You're the lead guitar in a band trying to earn money and better gigs. For each song, notes come at you along a guitar fret, including held notes and chords, and using the special guitar controller (which you can buy with this game, or you can get the game without the controller if you already have it) with 5 fret buttons, a strum bar, and a whammie bar, you attempt to keep pace with the music. You also can use hammer-ups and pull-offs to hit fast sequences of notes which is a key tactic needed to beat the higher difficulty levels Keep a good job, and the audience cheers and hollers as you rock out, while they'll boo you off the stage if you make too many mistakes. Selected phrases will be marked with stars as to build up your Star meter; once filled, tilting the controller up will activate the Star power and double your score for a short time.

The game has improved to help the player more. For one, the hammer-downs and pull-offs are a bit looser and easier to pull off, which makes them more usable in actual gameplay in order to hit fast rifts. You can now practice any song you've unlocked at 4 different speeds to help with fingering and finding where the hammer-downs and pull-offs should be used. You can also practice, if they exist for the song, the bass and rhythm lines, either to get used to them for the music, or to be ready for co-op play - unfortunately, you can't go through career mode playing these parts. These are all necessary as the difficulty of the game seems to be a bit tougher; I found Medium to be a very tough challenge - not that I had to repeat any of the songs, but my left hand was aching after even a few songs near the end with the amount of fingering needed for these songs. Many of the medium songs had a lot of fast fingering, with the blue fret key (4th one) used a lot more often than I remember in Medium difficulty songs from the first Guitar Hero. A few shots at the Hard songs were laughably failures, though I'm sure I'm out of practice for these. Despite it being more difficult, I found it to also be a lot more fun, in particular due to the familiarity of the tunes and excitement of the guitar riffs. Even though some riffs are simplified for the Medium level, there's still a sense of accomplishment being able to pull off some of the most well known guitar solos yourself.

The playsets is much better this time around; the bulk of the songs contain really strong guitar parts with at least one significant solo section, with a much heavier emphasis on classic hard rock bands. The most significant song this time around is the full length version of "Free Bird", a perennial rock anthem and the last song in the normal game. and fully treated with the respect within the game; the last song you play prior to it will leave the audience chanting for "Free Bird", and the game makes sure that you really want to play it as, at more than 10 minutes long, it's a rather long haul. Add in some Rush, Motley Crue, Guns N' Roses, Nirvana, Megadeth, and Van Halen, and the setlist contains some of the best guitar-thrashing songs in existence. There's even some tracks specifically made for Guitar Hero 2 riding on the success of the first, such as the near-impossible "Jordan" by Buckethead, and a handful of fun tracks, including Spinal Tap and "Trogdor" from the Strongbad Emails. With a lot more classic tracks, it makes it easier to anticipate the guitar riffs that you need to make to succeed, and in generally, the tracks I hadn't heard of were the hardest to make it through.

Value/Replayability: A
There's 40 songs in the main playlist across 8 different venues, set up similar to Amplitude; you need to complete 3 of 4 songs in the set, and the play the encore in order to unlock the next set. There's also 4 difficulty levels to try to complete, with much tougher riffs to hit with increasing difficulty. Depending on how well you play, you'll earn money that you can spend to unlock new characters, guitars, videos, and 24 additional songs. There's also a lot more stats to look at after a song, including a section-by-section breakdown so that you can practice only the tougher sections as to improve your scores. Playing once through the Medium difficulty took me about 3-4 hours, but even trying my hand at some Hard songs, I figure I'd need 10s of hours just to be able to complete that difficulty, much less the Expert one. Of course, you'll also want to go back and aim for 5 star ratings on each song to unlock special guitars, and that's just a matter of continuing to train yourself.

Multiplayer (on the same console, sadly) has been expanded to include two new modes beyond the original 'dueling' face-off format. There's the Pro face-off, where instead of sharing some of the notes at a time, you play the song at the same difficulty at the same time, making it harder to hear where your part is compared to your opponent's. Alternatively, you and a friend can co-op on a song, with one playing the lead guitar, the other playing either the bass or rhythm line, in order to make sweet music together, though the overall performance and star power meters are shared by both players.

Graphics: A
As you play, the lights, stage, and crowd will respond to the music as well as to your performance, with a bit more additions than from the first game. The stage venues are a bit more fleshed out with a lot of active stage elements to try to keep track of if you're an observer. There's nice little details, like the crowd with lighters during the first half of "Freebird", or the exploding drummer at the end of the Spinal Tap song. Some of the loading screens for specific songs are also cute little references to the original material you're about to play. Unfortunately, as the player, you're likely too engrossed in the actual play sequence to see most of this, but this was also the same problem with the first game as well. The graphics seem a bit tighter and a tad less cartoony from the first game, for the most part, but otherwise there's little change in the general appearence and artwork.

Audio: A
The audio, needless to say, is excellent. While these songs are covers (all are presented "as made famous by" their original band), there's little problem with either the instrumental parts or the vocals. The environmental sounds for the crowd and other effects are also nicely done, and give you subtle hints to how well you're doing without having to take away from the fret bar.

Overall: A
There's little to say wrong about Guitar Hero 2 - like it's predecessor, it's an outstanding music game with little wrong, and even better this time around due to a rather impressing playlist set and improved support for learning the tracks before playing it. For a game that has almost no fundamental changes to the gameplay, Guitar Hero 2 is a sequel that may even exceed the popularity of the first, and shows that the series has legs for the anticipated follow-ups into genre-specific releases. It's doubtful that if you've gotten the first Guitar Hero that you already don't have that, but if you've yet to experience. [Discuss]

Brands You Trust

I was thinking how I have come to trust different brands for specific product categories. The following are mine that I've bought more than one of their products from over the years in their respective categories and will probably do so again in the future.

Computer cases - Antec
Headphone - Sennheiser
PVR Card - Hauppauge
Cellphone Service (not great service, but good value for data plans) - Sprint
Handheld gaming - Nintendo
Hard-drives - Seagate
Sneakers - New Balance
Shoes - Rockport
MP3 Player - Apple
Mouse - Microsoft
Pants - Dockers
Soda - Canda Dry Gingerale
Floss - J&J Easy Slide
Toothbrush - GUM
Toothpaste - Colgate
Deodorant, Aftershave - Gillette
Hair Gel - Biolage
Smartphone - Treo

Please share your favorite brands in their categories on our discussion thread.

August 18, 2006

FirstAdopter.com Discussion Forum

The best feature of the site is our discussion forum. Converse and hang out with the smartest and nicest early adopters of gaming and computers on the internet. [Link]

July 25, 2006

Review: Metroid Prime Pinball for Nintendo DS by PcTech


Number of Players: 1
Wireless Single-Card?: Yes, 1-8 players
Price: $34.95 retail

What happens when you take the world of Metroid and mix it with the playstyle of pinball? You get Metroid Prime Pinball (MPP). MPP casts you as the venerable vixen Samus, once again out to rid the galaxy of various Bad Guys. I've read fans of the Metroid series will notice the table designs reflecting various levels in the Metroid games of yore; since I've only played Metroid 1, however, I'm approaching this game as a pinball lover first, Metroid-aware person second.

Graphics (4 of 5)
Graphics of the game are generally high quality. One of the stages, Tallon Overworld, features lush vegetation surrounding the playfield and sometimes actually features rainfall. Another table, Pirate Frigate, could blend in with any sci-fi spaceship setting from the 80's. Nothing really particular stands out, but what's there looks appropriate enough.

There is also a multiplayer map which has a lava theme to it, along with 2 (maybe 3) other "tables" of various themes, where you actually battle bosses. Gameplay uses both screens of the DS, which at first is a little confusing when you see the ball pass through the screen bezels...after a few games, though, it becomes second nature and you really don't notice it too much. Kudos for going the dual-screen route instead of the scrolling-screen route, though an option to do that would be nice.

Sound (3.5 of 5)

Sound through the speakers is Metroid-ish sounding enough, though I can't say if it's straight from any of the games. I did not test with headphones, but speaker sounds are generally crisp. Some of the gameplay features digitized voice calling out what you've collected "Special Collected", but the voice never gets annoying and is pretty low key.

Music is enjoyable but unmemorable (at least, for me). You won't catch yourself humming along a tune like you do with Mario or Zelda games, but the music conveys the general feel of the tables or situations. I do recognize the "metroid" music, however, so it's sorta cool to enter "Metroid Mania" and have music change to that music type.

Gameplay (2.5 of 5)
The gameplay is where I have a major problem with MPP, and is where I'll spend the rest of the review. Coming into the game, I thought it was just a Metroid-themed pinball game...instead, it seems the game is a pinball-themed Metroid game. This may delight those trying to get any sort of Metroid fix they can; for me (a pinball fan), however, it is a letdown.

Certainly the old pinball game standbys are there - Multiball, hurry-up modes, ramp combos, random awards, bonus multipliers, ball savers and kickbacks. The game also features such physical pinball components such as bumpers, drop targets, ramps, flashing arrows, spinners, etc.

MPP also brings some features over from the Metroid games; for instance, you have access to bombs and a super bomb when in ball mode, and missiles when in combat mode (which is basically a mini-game where you stand in one spot and aim Samus' shots using the flippers...to hit various enemies coming toward you).

Your ball also has an energy meter, which can be depleted from certain enemy attacks, such as a Metroid suction attack or space pirate missiles. It all sounds really neat, but I think the execution leaves a little to be desired.

For instance, one existing game table mode is called "Metroid Mania". Upon entering this mode, 2 or more Metroids will slowly hover into the bottom portion of the screen, near the flippers. Your objective is to hit the Metroids at high speed. After a few hits, the Metroids will die and usually leave behind an energy capsule.

While this sounds great at first, it quickly can become frustrating. The Metroids hover dangerously close to the flippers, making hitting them a great way to have your ball instantly rebounded right through your flippers and out of play. Unfortunately, it's usually only possible to build up enough speed to damage them when coming from the flippers; most of the time, a random bounce into a Metroid from elsewhere on the table will simply not damage the enemy, but allow it to suction an energy bar from you instead.

Considering the very first level of Metroid Mania has 2 enemies on the screen (and they fill up a good portion of that lower screen), and adding in the fact sometimes a random, single Metroid will wander onto the table for seemingly no reason, one can get the feeling the "video game" portion of MPP is really getting into the way of the "pinball game" portion.

Another example of the video-game half interfering with the pinball half is when you're fighting space pirates. These guys will usually spawn 3 at a time and shoot Samus-seeking missiles with surprising agility.

Not only do these missiles take away your energy, but they also knock your ball into total chaos, and they do so very rapidly. The only fortunate thing about the pirate mode is that they appear in the top of the screen, giving you some breathing room and not instantly returning your ball between the flippers like the Metroids seem to do. Still, a few (un)lucky hits from their missiles and you're either "dead" and lose a ball, or you're zipping so quickly out of play you have little time to react.

Then, I have to mention the table design itself. Overall, I think MPP only delivers an "okay" pinball experience.

For one thing, gameplay is spread out among 2 tables (three if you count multiplayer) and a couple of "special" boss tables.

The boss tables, however, can barely be called tables themselves...they're extremely sparse, made up of only a few ramps and targets. The top portion of the screen makes room for a large boss which will have 2 or more special attacks, whereas the bottom portion is sometimes filled with random enemies or just ramps leading to the top portion. In these modes, you're judged on how fast you can kill the boss, not high score. Once you kill the boss, that's it...you're kicked back to the main menu.

The other, "real" tables, are thankfully more populated but still seem lacking. None of the tables have an upper deck, no sort of special "aim the ball and shoot it somewhere" mode, no LCD-esque mine games, and no manual ball plunger.

Ball launching is automatically done in-game (you don't even get a prompt to launch it; it simple happens). It's really a shame because with the DS touch screen, it would have been trivially easy to design an analog-type spring action plunger.

Table bumping is done by dragging your finger (probably thumb) across the scree, to bump it in the direction of the drag. The only problem is, it's usually too difficult to do so because you use the DS L and R buttons for flippers, and you have your thumb ready to use any special weapons you have with the appropriate X/Y/A/B buttons. Perhaps it's just the way I grip the DS, but this setup makes it difficult to quickly bump the table one way or another, especially considering you have to make a small drag-action to do so. As a side note, it seems impossible to actually tilt the table when bumping it.

Table complexity for the "normal" tables also seems to be sparse. I'm not sure if this is because of the limited DS resolution or not, but it seems there simply isn't much to do.
You never seem to build up any sort of kudos / progression /etc. for anything but multiball. The mini-modes range from pretty entertaining (combat mode) to outright frustrating (Metriod Mania).

It's almost like the designers made a few ramps and drop targets, threw in various Metriod monsters and called it a pinball game.

Thankfully, some of the modes are slightly refreshing. One mode, called Phazon multiball, has you playing with red and blue pinballs. Red and blue dots appear on the table, and you have to hit red dots with the red ball to collect a bonus...hitting it with a blue dot causes it to bounce off.

It was sort of a nice change of pace actually having different balls in a multiball scenario...after collecting all the various colored orbs with the appropriate ball, you're awarded with 2 color-coded special jackpots (which of course you must hit with the right colored ball). If you collect those 2, shooting the phazon multiball area will give you a super jackpot.

Also, the combat mode is quite interesting, and seems to be the game's replacement for any sort of mechanical ball-aiming convention. In this mode, Samus stands up and auto-fires her cannon upward, while enemies come rushing at you. You're able to fire missiles (they all seem to fire at once) in this mode, but you cannot physically move Samus out of the spot she stands in.

Also, there is a game mode called "Multi-mission", accessed from the main menu. In this mission, basically the tables are "linked", and you can travel from one table to the next when you meet certain conditions. this means, for instance, you can be on the space frigate, warp to a boss battle, defeat the boss, then warp to another table.

Also, defeating all the tables supposedly opens up a level where you face your "greatest threat", but I haven't managed to open this level yet.

Special feature -- MPP includes a "rumble pack" that plugs into the GBA slot of your DS. While playing the game, the pack will make small movements to simulate the feeling you get when a real pinball hits a bumper or target. How does it work? Pretty good, actually, though normally I play the game without it installed. The game is just as playable without it, and I value the battery life over the small amount of realism the pack imparts -- it is, however, a nice little addition to the game.

Ball physics -- Overall passable, but definitely not hyper-realistic. While the ball, for the most part, avoids the "uber-floaty" feel that plagues cheaper pinball games, it certainly never approaches the quality seen in the Pro Pinball PC series or real pinball.

Spinning in modeled (to a small degree) however, and so is vertical movement, so not all is lost, but I certainly didn't get the feeling I was controlling a pinball on a board, but rather Samus in ball-form in a video game with flippers. The framerate of the ballspin is also quite low, which means you'll never see anything like Samus spinning at seemingly 10,000 rpm, hit a flipper and then zip up a side alley.

Overall (3.5 of 5)

When it's all said and done, overall I think Metroid Prime Pinball is a bit of a disappointment. While I'm sure fans of the Metroid series will find a lot of familiar enemies and themes in the game, it seems the developers forgot about the pinball fans.

If you're looking for a super-realistic and detailed pinball game, you might want to look elsewhere. However, if you absolutely must have portable pinball-like action and you don't mind playing it in a Metroid setting, then MPP may sate your craving. [Discuss]

July 24, 2006

Review: Pelican Gamestop DS Lite Value Kit by PcTech

The item I'll review today is the Pelican/Gamestop DS lite Value Kit. Price: $19.99, online or in-store. The DS Lite Value Kit (DSLVK) is marketed as an all-in-one kit for your Nintendo DS Lite.

Included in the package:

* A soft, neoprene case
* A hardened game case
* 1 extra stylus
* 1 screen protector
* 1 car charging adaptor
* 1 LED keylight Confused
* 1 screen polishing cloth

The Pouch (4 of 5)
Let's get into the meat of the item, which in my opinion would be the pouch. The pouch included in this package is nylon(?) encircled with neoprene rubber. The pouch actually has two compartments. The first, larger compartment has an elastic-tensioned opening and holds the DS. The smaller, front compartment can hold the hard game case. Over the tops of both compartments folds a flap held by velcro.

The pouch itself is fairly small, but isn't really built for compactness. Because it provides cushioning and has 2 compartments, it adds significant size to the DS. I did test the pouch, though, and it fits nicely in my military side cargo pocket, as well as the front pocket of my slacks. I doubt the pouch would fit in a jeans pocket unless they were baggy. However, given the cushioning and the additional rubber protection, I wouldn't feel too scared were I to drop the DS on concrete from my pocket/hands. You cannot play the DS while it's in the pouch, nor can you charge it.

The pouch also includes a belt clip (which I promptly removed) and on the back features 2 more elastic, closed straps...presumably you could run a vertically oriented strap or something through the pouch to hold it onto a backpack or similar item. I haven't tested the beltclip or the rear straps, though by simple examination the belt clip didn't seem sturdy or tight enough for me to trust my lovely DS in it.

The hardened game case (2.5 of 5)
Along with the pouch you receive a silver, hard outer shell game case. Opening the case (which is remarkably difficult to do, since you must press down on the release latch fairly hard) reveals a soft, rubber inside...it actually feels really cool. I'm not sure what that type of rubber is called, but it's almost like felt. Anyway, inside are slots for 2 GBA carts and 3 DS cards, along with a slot for an extra stylus (included).

Unfortunately, there are a couple of problems I see for this case. For one, this thing is thick, and needlessly so. It almost seems like the case is ruggetized if you were to...I dunno, drop the thing from an airplane at 30,000 feet. It's pointless to pad these cartridges with so much rubber material; they're literaly more protected than your DS. Placing the hardened case inside the pouch while a DS is loaded nearly doubles its thickness; so much, in fact, I normally resort to either carrying the case in a seperate pocket, or simply putting the carts in the compartment itself and throwing the case in the corner somewhere.

Furthermore, the GBA slots in the case will not carry the DS Lite's asymetrical GBA cover-slot (at least neatly), so you'll have to arrange it in the case loosely. It's more hassle than it's worth.

On the DS card side of the case, the games are held in their slots by small plastic clips (as opposed to the GBA side, where they snap into place. The bad thing is, these clips aren't made of rubber, which is why on the first day of ownership I snapped one of the clips thinking I could bend it back far enough to actually remove the DS card. Instead of pulling your DS card straight out like any normal, rational human would, you're required to sort of slide the DS cart into place, like you're trying to break into someone's door with a credit card (which, by the way, never works...normally). Okay, it isn't that bad, but you get the picture.

The stylus, LED keychain light, car adaptor, screen protector, cloth (4 of 5 overall)
# Stylus -- It's a pointy stick, just like the original. Nothing more here.
# Car adaptor -- I've tested it and it seems to work fine, though I don't know whether charge times are any faster/slower with this thing. It includes a very long cord, presumably to play at the rear of your limo as your driver charges it with the forward outlet.
# Cleaning cloth -- It's small, it's blue, it's "lint free" for the most part. Yay cloth!
# Screen protector -- A small, included piece of clear plastic-type material with a protective cover (a cover for the cover?). Of course, silly me (being new to the DS world), I thought the cover that you peel away simply kept out dirt...I didn't realize the back of the screen protector was sticky! After misaligning the initial installation attempt, it took a bit to actually manage to peel the thing off; for a moment I was worried it was permanently stuck. I'm not sure how one would remove this if it was perfectly aligned...luckily for me, I screwed up the alignment, a small section was sitting atop the bezel, and I was able to slip a thin piece of cardboard under it to remove it. No residue was left on the screen, thankfully.
# LED keychain light -- Frankly I have no idea why this thing is included. It's sorta like buying a barebones computer kit and getting a free spatula. I suppose it's nice to use in those situations where you can't turn on the main light for fear of waking your kid/wife/pet shadow and you just really need to find that DS cart you accidentally ejected out of your system like the spring from a disassembled pen. If I said I haven't used it already, I'd be lying, though not for any DS-related scavenger hunts.

Conclusion (3 of 5)
Overall, it's only a "meh" package you get for $20. Having yet another stylus is nice, the pouch seems to be adequate, and the car charger works fine. However, including a game case nearly as large as the DS itself is absurd, having only 1 screen protector seems stingy, and the LED keychain light feels very out of place; I would have much preferred to simply get another screen protector attempt instead of the light.

If you're looking for a fairly high quality case and don't mind a bit of "soft bulk", this kit may be worth it for the pouch alone. Don't be surprised, though, if you end up only using the pouch and charger, because the rest seems to be a bit pointless. [Discuss]

July 04, 2006

FirstAdopter.com Reviews and Columns

Reviews and Columns by Rendition
1/20/08 - Virgin America Airlines Review
12/23/07 - 2007 Year in Review
1/01/07 - Panasonic 42 inch Plasma TV - Model TH-42PX6U from Costco Review 9/10
4/23/06 - Favorite Gaming Moments of All-Time
2/18/06 - Nokia N90 Review 7/10
5/2/05 - God of War for PS2 Review 9/10
3/30/05 - Sony PSP and Killer Video iPod Strategy
3/6/05 - Where has all the Gaming Innovation Gone
11/20/04 - APC Back-UPS ES500 Backup Surge Protector Review
11/18/04 - Interview with Steve Shannon, Founder and EVP Sales of Akimbo
7/31/04 - Editor's Choice Tech Products and Services of 2004
5/31/04 - Guide to the Best Casino Poker Rooms in United States
2/17/04 - Google's Orkut Review
2/10/04 - Google is Out-Microsofting Microsoft
1/24/04 - Dell 2001FP 20" LCD Monitor Review 9/10
1/16/04 - Cool Things I can do with my Treo 600
1/14/04 - Call of Duty for PC Review 9/10

Arogan's World - Link
Samsung LN-R409D 40" LCD TV Review
Gel Tabz Review
Xbox 360 Review
Doom Movie Review
Logitech 676 Universal Remote Review
Far Cry Instincts Review
Logitech MX610 Wireless Laser Mouse Review
F.E.A.R. Impressions
Benq DW1640 DVD Burner Review
Best Mouse Pads
Archos Jukebox Recorder 20 Mp3 Player Review
Logitech PlayGear Pocket Review for Sony PSP
Rio Forge 512MB MP3 Player Review
Nintendo DS Review
Halo 2 Early Impressions
Datel PS2 Max Drive Review
HP iPaq 4155 PDA Review
Dell 2001FP Review

Other Writers
Saint's Row Review for Xbox 360 by Masem
Metroid Prime Pinball Review for Nintendo DS by PcTech
Pelican Gamestop DS Lite Value Kit Review by PcTech

Gaming While Drunk Series
First Edition
Tonight we drink and discuss James Bond
On being a Collector
Ports BAD! Gaiden Good!
Eggs and Scotch and High End TVs
Price Descrimination
EA goes Live

March 14, 2006

The Xbox 360 Experience by Arogan

This was written by FA member Arogan from Arogan's World blog.

Xbox 360 has been really great for me so far and this month has made it even better.

Current games I own:
* Ghost Recon Advance Warfighter
Burnout Revenge
* Fight Night Round 3
Need for Speed Most Wanted
King Kong
Call of Duty 2
Dead or Alive 4
* Kameo
Ridge Racer 6
* Condemned
* Project Gotham Racing 3
* Perfect Dark Zero

* = finished single player

You know I've always considered myself primarily a PC gamer in the past. I pretty much buy all the consoles and loads of games but I always find myself coming back to the PC after a month or so with a new console. I only play the AAA titles that really interest me and then I'm usually right back on the computer for the majority of my gaming. I'm a big fan of FPS and I do prefer the mouse/keyboard control.

Having said that I think I've gamed on the PC all of about 1 hr total since I got my X360 back in December. Now granted that is partly due to the fact there hasn't been any killer PC titles released recently that interest me. The X360 has been getting some very top grade titles especially recently.

Don't let the Internet hype on faulty machines, etc scare you. It is all very greatly exaggerated. Just use common sense. Keep it in a well ventilated area (including power supply), don't move the console while a disc is spinning, etc. I personally know two other people who also have no issues at all (my other friends are still having issues finding the premium pack). Early lock up problems like viewing the gamer card in pgr3 while online were dashboard related bugs which have been now patched. The system isn't perfect but I wouldn't call it glitchy either. As far as fan noise goes I guess it is louder than current gen but I can't tell. I've got three 24/7 computers in the same room so I can't hear it over the pc's anyways :-)

I built my a64 with ati x800xl not 10 months ago (for quite a bit more cash too) and already my x360 looks better and plays at a better frame rate at an equivalent resolution than my pc.

I think the other big factor for me is getting that 40" LCD HDTV. Don't under estimate the impact of gaming at 1280X720 with 40" widescreen with a nice dd5.1 sound system. Trust me, it's hard to go back to even our nice 20" dell 2001fp. It makes a bigger difference than you think.

I've really enjoyed the games so far and the quality just keeps getting better with recent releases like fight night round 3, graw, burnout revenge, and very soon Oblivion and far cry (must buy!). further out you've got Gears of war! Then you also have the incredible live integration, live arcade (geowars! and sf2 and Texas holdem poker soon), playable demos (I would not have considered buying FNR3 if it wasn't for the excellent demo), and those darn addictive achievements/gamer score.

Also, don't forget the great media capabilities like streaming music and photos. Add HD video to the list if you've got a MCE PC. The x360 has become my center piece for providing hdtv content to my HDTV: games, dvd progressive scan movies, local broad cast HDTV tv shows recorded on my MCE and streamed over my network to the x360, and HD WMV files like the entire terminator 2 movie (only $10 at http://www.deepdiscountdvd.com/dvd.cfm?itemID=LVD014098).

For me the decision was simple. I pretty much buy all the consoles. Now if you only plan to get one next gen console then the decision gets tougher. I would wait at least until march 15 when sony is suppose to make some big ps3 announcements. If the ps3 gets pushed back to xmas or even next year then I see no reason to wait. Get the x360 now. Enjoy nextgen gaming now because make no mistake it has arrived. By next year you will probably have the budget to get the ps3. Besides you can justify it by saying it's a "cheap" blu ray movie player oh and it also plays games :-)
If the ps3 is still going to hit the spring date (even if it is only in japan) then I would wait. At least you'll have a lot more hard facts to compare the two consoles and make a more informed decision.

So far I've felt it's been worth the $400. Also, check frys ad often (wed, fri)! You can almost get every major x360 release for $45-50. I got FNR3, GRAW and burnout revenge for $48 each. The Outfit which comes out this week is onsale for $50. You can even just buy it at best buy (which gets it a day earlier than frys usually) and just bring in the ad to price match. Gamestop sometimes runs a buy 2 get 1 free on used games. Also, check out gamefly.com for more used x360 games.

If you can't afford an HDTV and the x360 you might want to wait a bit. I finished a few games on the x360 before I got my hdtv and it looked and played great. But when I got the hdtv I felt like I got a new console all over again.

I highly recommend the X360 (premium only, tard pack is a rip off). [Discuss]

February 18, 2006

Nokia N90 Review by Rendition


Nokia has been the leading cellphone maker since the dawn of the mobile area. They led because they have always been willing to push the design envelope and innovate. Nokia also always had the best “Apple-like” user interface by always trying to make things as simple as possible with the smallest amount of steps.

In the last couple of years, Motorola and Samsung have gained share with new sexier clamshell designs. RAZR anyone? After sticking dogmatically to its small brick design, Nokia is now striking back with new innovative clam shells and large display smart-phones.

N90 is a stunning piece of engineering hardware. It is a unique clamshell smart-phone that transforms and pivots into a camera, camcorder, basic PIM, and last but not least cellphone. The dimensions are 4.4X2X0.9 inches and it weighs 6.1 ounces. It comes with a RS-MMC flash memory slot. When you play with it, it puts a smile on your face like when I first opened my IBM Thinkpad butterfly keyboard a decade ago. It reminds me of the old Robotech cartoons, where the fighter transforms into its three different battle configurations.

On the positive side, the screen display is simply the best I have ever seen. The resolution comes in at 352X416 and its gorgeous. I do think it is “best in class” on the market with amazing contrast and colors. The camera phone with is Carl Zeiss lens supports 2.1 megapixel pictures and once again I believe it is the “best in class” on the market today for quality. Pictures come out sharp and clear in well lit situations. Yes they aren’t as good as the shots on my Canon G3, but for a camera phone, it you can’t beat it.

The MP4 video quality is decent at 15 fps and 352X288 resolution. You won’t be getting rid of your real camcorder anytime soon, but it’s good enough for spontaneous shots. Sound voice quality for regular cellphone calls is also top notch, clear without any issues. It was better than the Treo 600 I use. The basic personal information management (PIM) features of the Symbian operating system work well. The icons are the prettiest you will see on a smartphone today.

On the negative side, there is no optical zoom on the camera. The LED flash isn’t that powerful, it’s kind of gimmicky. Form factor is a bit bulky and it feels heavy in the pocket. I don’t think it is pocket-able for regular daily life. Also for the price of a Treo or RIMM, you don’t get the full smart phone functionality of a built-in keyboard and a fully fledged enterprise class email application.

The worst downside is the phone is not cheap. It goes for $699.99 without phone plan and $599.99 with one. They are running a sale right now where you can get one for $399.99 after rebates and discounts, but it still costs a bundle. For these prices, you might consider getting a real smartphone like a Treo 650.

However if you’re looking for a top notch cellphone with basic PIM features, an excellent camera, this is the phone you want. If you want sometime that is a bit more portable, well we have this N70 that I’m looking in front of me. Stay tuned. Thanks to
Nokia for sending me the review unit. They deserve kudos for really reaching out to the blogger community with these review units.

Score: 7 out of 10 [Discuss]

January 14, 2006

Samsung LN-R409D 40“ LCD TV Review by Arogan

Img 4450
OneCall $2600 shipped (it was on sale). Plus, I get a free dvd recorder. OneCall is great. They are an authorized dealer (valid warranty), shipped fast, package arrived in very good condition, both shock sensors were clear.

- Primary use is for video games (legacy systems and XBOX 360). Everything else is secondary.
- Considered Sony XBR LCD'S (too pricey), Panasonic Plasma (@ 42“ max resolution only 1024X768), DLP (bad view angles, not near as bright as direct view tech, potential lag in games).

Native resolution: 1366 X768
power used: 285w
weight: 60 lbs
response time: 8ms.
view distance: 9ft.

3 days of non-stop testing

Over the Air Broadcast TV:
- We live pretty far out of the city so analog stations are almost complete static out here:

Img 4364

- Here is the exact same channel in HDTV over the air ATSC tuner for FREE:

Img 4365

Img 4366

using a crap antenna:

Img 4359

I can receive all channels in HDTV/DTV (nbc,cbs,abc,fox,upn,wb) except for pbs (I can pick it up if I hold the antenna outside the room). Digital cable doesn't even have upn or wb in HD so there are some advantages to atsc hdtv.
- Notice digital stations are in between regular stations. So ch 11 is analog, 11-1 (11.1) is digital, 11-2 is a satellite weather map.
- you also get guide data over ATSC which you do NOT get from digital cable (cablecard):

Img 4387

- ATSC is FREE, great quality, guide data, and most stations are sending out a VERY strong signal, and you don't need an expensive antenna. Any cheap rabbit ears will do.

Digital Cable QAM Tuner:
- cable card only $1.75/month from time warner
- Didn't get crap without the cable card inserted. Once I inserted the card I got every digital channel I subscribe too (and then some).
- Has all local stations in HD except for upn and wb. You get additional HD channels like tnt, discovery, hdnet, inhd, and espn.
- no guide data

General Broadcast quality:
- overall SD analog channels look worse than a CRT IMO. The LCD is just so sharp it really shows all the grain in an analog signal while an SD CRT will blur most of that out.
- digital SD looks pretty good and most HD content looks great. Digital cable and ATSC are equal in this respect. Many HD channels often broadcast HD resolutions but use poor source material. Example: tnt broadcasts some old movie from a grainy source. There's not much you can do about it. But take a look at HDNET, any sports, pbs, or discovery, and you will see amazing detail. Also, I watched some prime time local station programs like CSI and the office. They both were full 16:9 HD and looked fantastic. It seems most of the prime time shows are in full HD. The difference in quality really is night and day. Once you go HD it's hard to go back.
- I also tested a HD set top box (Motorola 6200) hooked up using a DVI to HDMI cable. It worked fine and looked good.
- Kind of cool getting dolby digital 5.1 (depending on source material) from broadcast. I like how all audio that goes into the tv is sent out the optical output.

DVD Movies:
- I played them on the xbox 360 (progressive output). I checked out Batman Begins and it looked pretty good. Again, this TV does point out all the imperfections in the source material. I can now see the need for HD DVD or Blu Ray.

- I used my laptop and hooked it up through vga and set resolution to 1360X768. It looked very good on the TV with nice sharp text:

Img 4370

- I tried a few games (guild wars, counter-strike) and both supported the native 1360X768 resolutions:

Img 4383

Img 4384

- I've read that the HDMI port isn't designed for pc (only works in a few resolutions, overscan issues). I did not get to try this since my laptop doesn't have DVI, and I don't feel like dragging a desktop over.
- Playing a mpeg2 (captured from analog source) it seemed like I ran into some interlacing issues during fast action while playing with media player. I'll have to look into it more. Not sure if the issue would exist if I used TV Out instead of VGA. I know powerdvd does deinterlacing (hmmm I guess I should have tested with that).

Img 4377

- I played the same material over the Media MVP on composite and it looked pretty good. No interlace issues.

- First the issue about lag. These new digital sets do some image processing before the image actually gets displayed. This can introduce lag between the time you do something on the controller and when you see it on the screen. Samsung DLP's are known to have this issue. Here are the following tests I've conducted on the issue of lag:
- street fighter II anniversary collection: played just fine, I can pull off fireballs as usual, movement felt fine.
- pgr3, pdz, call of duty, king kong, NFS most wanted, kameo, condemned all played great with no perceptible lag.
- Hot shots golf fore on ps2. Two stage timing meter for strokes. It felt fine.
- dance dance revolution on ps2 felt fine. The timing for getting a ”perfect“ felt just right.
- Geometry wars, gauntlet, smash TV, robotron: I thought I might have felt what might be a tiny tiny bit of lag (almost a slight sluggishness to the controls). In the end if there is some it's almost imperceptible. I was still able to score over 400K in geowars.
- I fired up doom3 and counter strike on the laptop hooked up to the tv through vga. I sat there and held the laptop up to the TV so I could have both screens in my field of view (for the most part). I got up to less than 12 inches from the screens. I could not see any lag while shooting or during the gun reload anamations. I would turn left or right and then scrutinize to see if one screen started moving before the other. At one point I thought there was a tiny bit of lag, but then other times I couldn't pick it out. As a control I also tested against a 17” LCD monitor.
- Tip: Go into the menu|input|edit name and pick GAME. This is suppose to flag it as a gaming input and the TV is suppose to bypass somethings to reduce lag. I've heard this helps on DLP's but I'm not sure if it does anything on this LCD. It doesn't hurt.
- Another theory is disabling DNIe helps except you can't actually do that. You can enter the service menu: and there is a DNIe lite menu but I have no idea what all the options mean so I didn't mess with it.
- I've also read that VGA bypasses DNIe. I know you can't enable the DNIe demo while using VGA.
- In conclusion, I'm neurotic. My results are pretty inconclusive. If there is any lag at all it is so small it shouldn't affect any gameplay.

- view angle is great vertical and horizontal.
- 8ms response rate is great. There is very very little motion blur (loss of focus) during fast movement. I think it looks better than my dell 2001fp monitor and I'm very sensitive to motion blur/ghosting.
- I ran PixPerAn (Pixel Performance Analyzer) Chase test which I get around 11ms and worst case no more than 15ms at all color combinations (this test is a bit subjective so I errored on the conservative side).

Img 4386

- I ran a few dead/stuck pixel tests. I couldn't find any. Backlight was pretty even.
- PQ is great for the most part. I like DNIe. For gaming I have Digital NR on, dynamic contrast off, contrast 85, brightness 50, sharpness 50, color 55, color tone normal.
- Looks great when there is a lot of ambient light. I have 4 lights in the ceiling fan and a big window in the room. With the old CRT the glare would drive me nuts. I hear plasma has a lot of glare issues too. With LCD NO GLARE and the picture is nice and bright.
- all the 360 games are just incredible in HD. I didn't realize how much I was missing playing on SD. It really does make a HUGE difference.
- BackCompat games like halo 2 that play in 720p widescreen look pretty good on the 360 except I think the aspect still looks a bit off. The picture still looks a bit stretched. In fact I see this problem with some ps2 and xbox games (and yes I set up everything up properly at the os level). It really depends on the game if it supports widescreen properly.
- Xbox on composite looks pretty bad. Then I switched to component (first party cables only) and it looked quite a bit better. PS2 component still doesn't look that great. God of war had jaggies all over the place and textures looked pretty low rez.

Img 4420

Img 4398

Img 4455

Overall I'm pretty happy with this TV. I don't think a perfect HDTV exists yet but overall I'm quite impressed with this set. It has every feature/connection I could want. It has a great built in atsc/qam tuner. The picture quality is very good. SD content is acceptable but not great (as expected). It's pretty awesome for gaming (which is the main reason why I bought it). I think LCD prices will come down a lot this year as even more plants are brought online. [Discuss]

December 17, 2005

Gel Tabz Review by Arogan

I bought 3 sets (xbox, xbox 360, ps2). $6 each. I've always had problems when your hands get sweaty the tend to slip off the analog sticks especially the concave ps2 ones. These covers for your analog sticks really work well. They are made out of very grippy rubber/gel with little bumps on them. Xbox and xbox 360 are really easy to install. Just slip them on. It does add a bit of height to the stick but I got use to it very quickly. The ps2 instructions say to remove the existing rubber covers which are GLUED on. They were tough to get off and basically you will destroy the original rubber covers so there is no going back. But having said that I do like the gel tabz quiet a bit more and the height is exactly the same on the ps2. Highly recommended. [Discuss]

Xbox 360 Review by Arogan

Picked up the $1000 toysrus.com bundle. I ordered it yesterday and got it today. This is compared to my 4 month old gamestop preorder when last I checked I was still #7. I'm going to try and return 6 of the games for maybe store credit.

first 5 hrs impressions:
- composite cables hooked up to a sharp 32" standard definition TV with a dd 5.1 sound system. Wired Ethernet to a netgear wgr614 v5 router through road runner cable modem.

- mfg date 11-25-2005 so this is definitely a new batch.

- first thing I did was do the live gold transfer. Since I already linked my live account to a passport account through xbox.com it was really easy.

- Next I tried media connect. I found out it doesn't support network shares even though you can add them on the computer. I tried changing the service login ID to a local admin account but then the service would no longer start. I think they want you to install Windows Media Connect on each machine that has content you want to stream to the xbox. I tried streaming photos and music without issue. Unfortunately it seems to only support browsing by ID3 tag or play list. NO directory navigation which sucks. Then I tried my archos and rio forge mp3 players through usb. I even tried some photos that were on the archos. Everything worked great and this time you can ONLY navigate by directory structure. I wish I had both options under both conditions.

- I highly recommend you go to the system tab and do the "Test XBOX Live Connection." It showed my NAT to be strict which basically means LIVE WILL SUCK. It really limits who you can connect to, and you can't host. What I found out was you MUST ENABLE UPNP on your router (mine is the netgear wgr614 v5). After that Live works GREAT. You'll see the xbox open port 3074 UDP through upnp. I retested and my NAT reported as "open" which is what you want.

- I had one freeze(sort of, sound was still working but couldn't close the gamer card) when I had upnp off in pgr3 while trying to access a gamer card in gotham tv. Once I turned upnp on everything was smooth. I never had any issues while in single player. There have been no locks, freezes, or crashes so far (knock on fake simulated faceplate wood - no I didn't buy one).

- Next I d/l the free trial of geometry wars and messed with that a bit. I ended up buying $25 worth of microsoft points and purchased the full version of geometry wars for about $5. They have different amounts you can buy but they all equate to 80 pts/dollar. No volume discounts. I also briefly tried joust and gauntlet trials. Then, I checked out the Lost Planet Trailer and Red vs Blue.

- Xbox Guide button brings up a menu which has unique menu items NOT found in the dashboard blades. This is where you can change your theme and play custom music tracks that you have stored on the hd, on a portable mp3 player through usb, or streamed from a pc.

- tried a dvd and the remote. It's pretty nice with 32x scan, a-b repeat, zoom, but no slow motion. I tried some svcd/vcd's but they were a no go. DVD+R's work fine.

- Ridge Racer Six. Very crisp detailed textures and silky smooth 60fps, deeper nitrous mechanic than the psp version. I've always been a ridge racer fan and this one doesn't disappoint. Live support is great. I played in several 8 player games and it played great with no warping or lag. There is one SERIOUS BUG in rr6 which really shows this title was rushed for launch. If you stream music from a pc you will experience CONSTANT MAJOR LAG AND STUTTER while playing online. It's not enough just to stop the music play back. You must do the following:
1) Go to the system blade
2) Choose computers
3) Choose the highlighted option (Windows-based PC or Windows Media Center)
4) Disconnect the connection.
This really kind of sucks and is only an issue in Ridge Racer six. This means the only way to have a custom soundtrack while playing online is to either have it on the HD or from USB.

- Project Gotham Racing 3. I only played this very briefly and tried one online game which also played very well. I also checked gout Gotham TV which is way cool being able to watch the top races live. Text is really hard to read for us poor standard def sobs.

- Perfect Dark Zero (collector's edition). I finished the first level (basically a tutorial). My feelings are a bit mixed so far. I like the graphics and don't mind all the shinny surfaces. The movement speed is VERY slow compared to recent shooters and therefore changes the pacing/tension a bit. I'll have to play it more to get a better feel. I jumped into an online match for a few minutes and it played smoothly.

- Condemned: I think this is my favorite game so far. I've only finished the first level. Hey it's by Monolith and uses the fear engine. I love fear and this game is great too. The spooky atmosphere, lighting, and melee combat are all great.

- I love the controllers and the new headset. Much more comfortable than xbox 1.

- pluggin in a usb keyboard sure makes adding people to your friends list much easier.

Overall this is a slick piece of hardware. Xbox arcade and marketplace are great. There are many things to explore besides the games. Several strong launch titles with excellent live support (except the rr bug). There's just a ton of potential for this system.

Get one if you can find one and if you get one you really need to be on Live. [Discuss]

November 02, 2005

Doom Movie Review by Arogan

One word: Inconsistent

- The creature effects were inconsistent. Some were ok, some were horrible (especially during the fps segment)
- Production values seemed all over the place. Some scenes looked pretty good. Others looked very low budget and cheesy.
- Overall the story didn't bother me too much. it wasn't that bad of a plot. It's nothing like the game but it wasn't too bad.
- The pacing was kind of weak. NOT scary at all. Several parts I just got kind of bored. They back tracked a lot (a no no in game design too) which seemed like it was there just to kill time.
- BFG. Ok I really wanted to see this gun clear a room of baddies. NEVER HAPPENED. What a waste. The gun was shot a total of 2 times to no effect (well except making a big hole in the environment).
- Turns into wire fu at the end. Obvious film speed up was used.
- I went in with low expectations and was still disappointed.

4/10 [Discuss]

November 01, 2005

Logitech 676 Universal Remote Review by Arogan

Product Link - ZipZoomFly (warning: first one was DOA. Had to swap it out). $120
good review - forums

make sure you have the latest java runtime installed and grab the latest version of the software (under support link in the upper left of the page)
The version on the cd was pretty dated.

- 15 device support, 2mb memory. Uses activities instead of devices. You can still use it like a tradition univeral based on devices but you won't want to once you setup activities which work much better.
- Web/Java application to setup everything about your remote. Once it's setup you d/l it to the remote through usb (the first time it also upgraded the remote firmware). Incredible up to date database. This remote supports learning but I didn't have to learn a single key. It had everything in the database including my old Laser Disc Player and even an IR -> x10 converter.
- 6 custom LCD buttons which you can add an infinite (up to max memory) number of custom keys.
- tons of hard buttons with good spacing so you can operate almost everything through tactile feedback. Great ergonomics for easy one hand operation.
- uses regular 4XAAA batteries
- takes 3 min to d/l changes.
- web interface needs work. It's slow. some functions are pretty hidden. Example, if you want to make sure a device is always on (never turns off when you hit the off button), then it's advance options or sometimes burried in trouble shooting. If you want to add a device to an activity and add some commands from the device when you first press the activity button it's in the trouble shooting section of the activity. The remote can probably do whatever you want it to do, the problem is finding it on their web page which relies way too much on wizards and just makes it difficult for you to tweak that one thing. You have to go through a series of questions all over again and again.
- one thing I couldn't figure out is how to customize the Off button. I know it's trying to be smart, keeps track of all the activities you've been using and all assocated devices, and then turns everything off that it knows is on. But it seems to ignore any devices you add to an activity after the initial activity setup. Example, I added an IR x10 command to shut off my sub woofer. The x10 device is part of my activity. I was even able to set it up on activity start it turns on the sub. But when I press the off button the sub stays on. The work around is you can also customize actions that happen when you leave an activity. This happens not only when you press off but when you switch from one activity to another. This works for the most part but it would be nice just to see the "OFF Macro" and let me insert commands.
- activities are great but some macro control would have been nice.
- what happens if logitech decides to drop support one day and shut down the Harmony line?

This was an upgrade from my old Sony RM-AV2100 Remote Control which worked great, had incredible learning capability, but I grew tired of the touch screen, and the bulk made it hard to operate with one hand. Overall the harmony is a big improvement, simplifies operations (activities > macros for the most part). The wife made the switch in no time.

Highly recommended. [Discuss]

October 19, 2005

F.E.A.R. (PC) Impressions by Arogan

Just picked this game up at Fry's for around $37. FYI, the collector's edition is NOT on sale ($55). It comes on 5 CDs. It seems the only way to get it on DVD is to buy the collector's edition.

After 2-3 hrs of play
This game is everything I expected after playing the demo. The pace is relentless. You go from one set piece battle where you focus on gun play and tactics (I love bullet time) to total scary freak out / explore sections of game play. It really is a great combo. The light and shadows, sfx, and music all come together to create an incredible atmosphere.

The story (or the bits I've seen so far) is still rather confusing. I actually feel a bit tired after playing a few hours because your are just on edge the entire time and your heart rate is way up. The content is rich and dense. There are NO filler parts so far.

The 5.1 is excellent as you can really hear all the bullets hitting around you. Quick save/load is very fast. I have to say this is shaping up to be one of my favorite shooters of all time next to Half Life 2. But really this game has a very unique feel to it, and it's like no other shooter you've played before.

At autodetect settings, vsync off, all eax hw sound stuff turned on @ 1024X768 I ran the benchmark:

Min 32
Avg 58
Max 113

0% < 25fps
13% 25-40fps
87% > 40fps

Turn on vsync. It looks much better and still plays very smooth.
AMD64 Venice overclocked to 2.5ghz
1 GB RAM [Discuss]

October 12, 2005

Far Cry Instincts (XBOX) Mini Review by Arogan

First impressions (about 1-2hrs of play)

- Xbox exclusive.
- Very pretty for the Xbox. Not quite as nice as the PC, but close. There's some pop-in on the foliage. They tried to do some pseudo HDR lighting and I personally don't like it. Some things just look too bright in the sun, but other than that very nice graphics.
- This game shares NOTHING from the PC version except the characters, setting, and probably some of the story-line. So far there hasn't been a single duplicate map/mission. It's all new.
- Gameplay feels more linear (but that isn't really a bad thing). You rarely get lost. You always know where to go next (it's shown in your compass). The controls are spot on (very halo like). Weapons feel nice when fired. The gun play and battles are great. There are some innovative gameplay elements I haven't seen before like setting traps or get this. You can go prone, crawl under one of those island huts on stilts, turn around and lie on your back, and shoot the enemies between the floor boards. That is way cool. AI seems almost as good as the PC version.
- Check point save system that hasn't been too bad so far. No difficulty settings but there is a place to enter cheat codes.
- Extensive Live support that I haven't had a chance to test yet - Levels are HUGE.

Overall this is an excellent shooter for xbox and is highly recommended. [Discuss]

October 10, 2005

Logitech MX 610 Wireless Laser Mouse Review by Arogan

Logitech has come out with a new line of mice. This is a GREAT laser mouse for the price.

- It uses 2xAA batteries (no proprietary batteries yeah!)
- The usb receiver is TINY! (smaller than my logitech notebook wireless mouse.)
- All the usual buttons work fine in Firefox (forward/back). Scroll wheel has the notches. It also has tilt but that requries their drivers but everything else works fine with no drivers installed.
- Battery indicator
- Auto turns on/off with your computer. This works great even without drivers
- There is a manual power switch underneath. Tap to display battery level, hold to turn on/off
- Has volume +/-/mute which work with NO drivers
- Has indicator lights for email/IM (only works with Microsoft crap). Worthless feature IMO.
- Tracks great even on my couch. there's a BIG difference between this mouse and my mx510.
- Very comfortable shape. If you like the shape of the other mx line (500,510,518,700) you will like this mouse.

This is a great laser mouse for $40. [Discuss]

August 25, 2005

Benq DW1640 DVD Burner Review by Arogan

New Egg Product Link - about the usual $50

This is my new favorite burner.

- firmware and utilities
- solid burn.
- i've flashed with the latest firmware BSKB (easy windows based flash)
- Install qsuite. This is a pretty nifty collection of utilities that does a ton of stuff including book type setttings, overspeed, and solid burn. I noticed on my 1620 my Fuji TY would burn at 16x but the 1640 would only burn at 8x. I believe it's because the 1620 has overspeed on by default and the 1640 has it off. Just use qsuite and turn overspeed on, and now I'm happily burning everything at 16X. It's nice to have the option.
- fast quality burns. I've only burned 3 so far but scans look clean.
- Does get warmer than the NEC.
- NO riplock. I've ripped a dvd at over 13X. This is faster than my dedicated liteon dvd reader.

Solid burn, built in overspeed (no hacked firmware needed), no riplock. What more could you want. [Discuss]

June 16, 2005

Best Mouse Pads by Arogan

If you are serious about your mousing surface take a look at the func 1030:


I have two of the original 1030's. The problem I had with the first one is after about 2 years the rubber frame started to warp and then the surface itself would no longer sit flat.

They just came out with the limited MBA (Machined Billet Aluminum) version which of course should never warp. One warning though they are pretty pricey:

$24 shipped for the regular version:


$50 for the MBA:


I've tried everglide, ratpadz, etc. and I always come back to the func 1030 for serious gaming. I just really like the feel of their surface. [Discuss]

June 14, 2005

Archos Jukebox Recorder 20 Mp3 Player Review by Arogan

There are some very clear advantages to this vintage mp3 player.

- about the size of a 2.5" laptop hard drive but 3x as thick.
- 20 gig hard drive based mp3 player
- discontinued for a couple of years now. you can still find them on ebay:


You should be able to get one for around $100 shipped for a working model if you are patient.
- uses 4 X AA standard nimh. With 2300mah I'm getting about 10-15 hrs (With a good mix of audio books and music I got close to 14hrs). A lot depends on the bit rate of what you are listening to. Higher bit rate means more hard drive access since shorter durations fit in the memory buffer.
- usb mass storage device. no special software needed
- usb 2.0
- requires a usb A(male)-A(male) cable (not the usual A-B). You can get these at fry's for $7-10 or you can buy a A->B adapter for about $4.
- uses a standard 2.5" laptop hard drive formatted to fat32. Pretty easy to upgrade. You want 100 gigs of music? You can do it with this player and for a lot cheaper.
- killer open source OS called rockbox:
http://www.rockbox.org [READ MORE]

May 02, 2005

God of War Review by Rendition

The action adventure genre has been filled with repetitive themes and the same old gameplay re-hashed over again from the Golden Axe days. The Lord of the Rings series from Electronic Arts exemplified this. Blah. So when God of War came onto the scene at last year’s E3, it really took people's breath away. After I saw movies and previews a few months ago on X-play, I knew this was the game I looked forward to most in the past year. [More]

April 29, 2005

Logitech Playgear Pocket Sony PSP Impressions by arogan

I picked up the Logitech Case. $20 at gamestop

- clear polycarbonate shell that is suppose to be very tough
- nice and tight snap. no chance of it opening on it's own.
- very thick foam padding all the way around.
- heavy, adds some bulk. It makes the psp thicker which actually feels more comfortable in my hands.
- you never have to take it out unless changing games.
- trigger buttons are kind of recessed and hard to reach.
- depending on how you hold it the case can create some uncomfortable sharp edges.
- good amount of friction on the hinge so it stays put at whatever angle you wish. Flips to the back to act like a stand.

I might be returning this one. I still haven't decided. I need to play with it more to see if I can get use to the new feel. [Discuss]

March 30, 2005

FA Rant: Sony PSP Rant and the Killer Video iPod Strategy by Rendition

Sony launched the PSP last week to much fan-fare, but it looks like the launch has been tepid by any standards. Hardcore gamers snarfed up the hardware in most metropolitan areas on day one, however there seems to be plenty of supply out there in more rural areas and mid-size cities. This is the result of lack of national marketing, a non-Christmas launch, and the scam that is called the Value Pack.

Value pack? I don't think so. More like pad-our-margins-as-much-as-we-can-by -ripping-off-the-consumer-pack. Making the package $249 by ramming down our throats a Spiderman 2 UMD movie, a case, 32 MB memorystick, a strap, and headphones is poor move. The market is responding with anecdotal data-points of in-stock inventory at the Best Buys, Walmarts, and Circuit Citys out there. Moreover what's with the $49 dollar pricing for some of the games? Don't tell me development costs for porting over old PS2 games require that price-point. Early first adopters are your friends, don't try to rip us off ok?

Never mind that it seems over half of the PSPs out there have dead pixel defects on the LCD screen, that the headphone sound quality is horrid, and the case reportedly scratches the PSP, you can see why some people are a little miffed. It doesn't help things when a Sony executive says because of strong demand the company will not lower prices for the rest of 2005 for the PSP and the PS2. Sony, we want a choice to buy a PSP without the extra crap. Also please let users exchange their dead pixel PSP for a "new" one without having to wait 2 weeks as according to the latest Sony exchange guidelines. And no, dead pixels isn't a feature as written in the infamous page 13 of the PSP manual.

All that being said, there is a lot going for it. The technical hardware horsepower is a marvel, a needed boost over the lackluster lets-re-port-our-old-console-technology we've been acclimated to from Nintendo. The screen is amazing and with good headphones, so is the sound and music. There seems to be some decent launch titles like Wipeout, Ridge Racer, and Lumines. And Sony definitely chose a good spokesmodel in the PSP girl (the poor man's supermodel with a lisp). Because of all this, I will give Sony a freebie. A drop dead strategy that will make all the iPod-as-next-generation-Walkman envy disappear, well almost.

Sony read my words carefully. You have the hardware, you can make the software. Create a video iPod and video iTunes ASAP. Create an easy to use end-to-end experience, where you can download TV shows for $1 an episode using a carbon copy of iTunes user interface and simple synchronization from PC to PSP. You kind of get inklings and the potential form the psp.connect.com site, but put it into high gear. Do it now before Apple comes and eats your lunch.

Notice how I said TV shows, not movies. Without a large hard-drive, there simply isn't enough space to download movies onto an affordable memory stick. TV shows would be perfect for the commute to work and the size constraints of an affordable memory stick. Of course that means acquiring and using TV show content libraries, but if Steve Jobs can do it with music, why coundn't one of largest consumer electronic media companies in the world? Your move, Sony. Use my advice and all the world's riches will once again be yours. Well almost. [Discuss]

March 06, 2005

FA Gaming Rant: Where has all the Innovation Gone? by Rendition

Before Games Domain got bought out by Yahoo, there was an excellent gaming column called GD Rant that cynically roasted the state of gaming and the industry. I decided I would like to do the same with this semi-regular column called FA Gaming Rant. Don't expect grammatical perfection, as I will just rant off stream of conscious thoughts to my own delight. The first topic I'm going to tackle is the lack of innovation in the industry.

Let's look at the big games in the past 12 months. Gran Turismo 4, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, Half-life 2, Tony Hawk Underground 2, and Rachet and Clank etc. Don't get me wrong, all these are good games, but frankly aren't they the same games we've been playing for years with better graphics and a few tweaks on gameplay? Can you sit there and tell me GTA:SA and GT4 are leaps and beyond what we played before?

The lack of true innovation is appalling. As the videogame business has grown, it's becoming more and more like the movie business with its sequel-itis. I guess it has to be expected with today's $400 million revenue franchises, the advent of big business, the $5-50 million development budgets per title, and the quest to make quarterly numbers as public companies. It's obvious publishers have grown risk-averse and have decided to go back the same well over and over again.

Electronic Arts is a good example, they have even resorted to copying other company's games. I mean isn't Need for Speed Underground a rip-off of Midnight Club? Isn't NBA Street and NFL Street a rip-off of NBA Jam and NFL Blitz? This is from a company that acquired some of the most innovative talent in the world with Origin, Bullfrog, and Maxis. Where is the next Sims? Where is the next Wing Commander? Where is the next Populous?

I long for the glory days of Commodore Amiga, where it seemed every month there was an amazing new gameplay innovation. The days of Speedball 2, Turrican, Lemmings, Pirates, and Another World? Now we are stuck playing Sims expansion packs and the same game over and over again.

In the past year, the only game that knocked my socks off in doing something truly different is Katami Damacy. Everyone should buy this game that just puts a smile on your face, rolling around picking up anything in its path. Let's encourage developers to take risks and do something different. Or we'll be stuck playing Tomb Raider 15 and its ilk for some time to come. Please let me know what you think on the discussion forum, let's make this column and its ideas as interactive as possible. [Discuss]

December 03, 2004

Rio Forge 512mb MP3 Player Review by Arogan

requirements: flash based, expandable memory, FM, resume

- about $170 shipped from newegg. I believe a $20 rebate has just started so you should be able to find a better deal now.
- solid state player with 512mb internal memory and a SD slot for expansion. Takes up to a 1 gig sd card though I'm thinking it's possible larger ones will be supported. Read/writes standard Fat32. No software needed. Just drag and drop with file explorer. When you plug it in you get two drive letters, one for the internal memory, and one for the sd card. This is very convenient. usb 2.0. I'm currently using it with a 512mb sd card for a total of 1 gig of storage.
- to remove the sd card you have to take out the battery first. [MORE]

November 22, 2004

Nintendo DS Initial Review and Impressions by Arogan

Stopped by today at Best Buy and picked one up with no problems. No forced bundle either. $150. It comes with a metroid demo. Frys is enforcing bundling. I also picked up Super Mario 64 DS for $30.

First Impressions
- It's big. Much bigger and thicker than I thought it would be. One word you would NOT use to describe the device is sleek.
- Shares the same port as Gameboy SP, so you can use it's ac adapter and headphone adapter. It also has a built in headphone port.
- Graphics are n64 level with a very solid framerate. Metroid looks very good.
- Sound is nice too. I really like the stereo speakers. Volume is pretty good, but could be a bit louder.
- Has 6 buttons (4 on the face, 2 shoulder). I can see a perfect SF2 on this system.
- Only digital control pad, no analog stick.
- Comes with a wrist strap that hooks to the top of the device. At the end of the strap is a small plastic nub and loop that you are suppose to fit around the end of your thumb and use it as a thumb stylus. There is also a regular stylus that slides into a storage slot on the back.
- DS carts go on top and spring lock/release, gba carts go on the bottom.
- Has a built in chat room app that lets you draw/type messages.
- User removable battery. [Read More]

November 20, 2004

Recommended Product: APC Back-UPS ES 500 Backup Surge Protector Review

One of the first things I recommend to new computer users is to get an APC Backup UPS as soon as possible. You wouldn't believe how often your electricity is faulty and bad for your electronics. The product protects you against power surges, lightening strikes, and even has a battery to have a few minutes to power down if you get a black-out.

Back in my student days, the feature saved me a few pages of work on term papers. This APC Backup UPS costs under $60 and is well worth the peace of mind. There are also plenty of outlets to protect your new LCD monitor, printer, and other expensive gear.

November 18, 2004

FirstAdopter.com Interview: Steve Shannon, Founder and EVP Sales of Akimbo

We spent some time and conducted an interview with a founder of Akimbo, a promising broadband video / content delivery provider that distributes their service using Tivo-like hardware. They are the leader in this hot new space, which FirstAdopter.com believes is going to be a huge market. Think Netflix type model, but with a queue on a hard-drive Windows CE box connected to you TV.

We don't know yet who will eventually win. Microsoft? The vaunted Netflix / Tivo partnership? Cable companies? Or a new startup? Akimbo does have the early buzz and FirstAdopter.com of course is on the case. For more information check out their website.

Tell us a quick company history and background on Akimbo?

Akimbo was founded in August 2002 with the goal of being the first to deliver broadcast-quality VOD over the Internet directly to TVs. After two years of R&D and innovation, the Akimbo Player and Akimbo Service began shipping late last month. [More]

November 09, 2004

Halo 2 Early Impressions by Arogan

I was at Walmart last night at midnight. Got some free stuff and some nice glow pens. Bungie has hired a 3rd party to help promote the game. So there was a Halo 2 guy there handing out free stuff. Walmart was very unorganized and had NOT a CLUE on what was going on. It took them 40 minutes to find the damn game. Half the people left because the manager assured us they didn't get them in.

I hung around since they were calling other Walmarts. About 5 minutes later another employee came by and said he found them. We even pulled the Halo 2 colored notice post card taped in front of the register informing them of the midnight release when they kept acting like they were clueless. Real quality people work the graveyard shift at Walmart.

Very early impressions Single player:
- Dual wield is incredible and really adds a lot to the combat. I really like how you can pretty much mix and match any two single handed weapons but you also lose the ability to throw grenades. It's a great balance.
- Controls are about as perfect a gamepad can get for a fps.
- Wasn't able to test the 5.1 sound since it's kind of late.
- Graphics look a bit better, frame-rates are solid.
- Story is excellent so far. You get a lot more from the Convenant perspective this time.

- Played several 8 player matches and things were very smooth. There are several new team play variations but I still really enjoy good old CTF.
- 16 player games showed some lag and warping.

Bonus DVD:
- Standard video dvd.
- 4 features including a few making of's - SPOILERS. DO NOT WATCH until after you finish the game. I only watched a few minutes.

Yeah I'll finish this in 1 week before half life 2....just watch....it's that good.

August 01, 2004

Datel PS2 Max Drive Review

FirstAdopter.com forum member, Arogan, has reviewed the Datel PS2 Max Drive PS2 USB key drive. He seems positive on the product and recommends it highly. So for you PS2 gamers confounded with maxed out memory cards, this may be the solution you have been waiting for.

I basically have the space equivalent of 16 ps2 memory cards (about $320 worth - at least double that if you count compression) on hand that I can restore from anytime without the need of a pc even. What can I say, this product is designed perfectly. The interface is great on the ps2, no weird formatting, great compatiblity, good compression.

July 31, 2004

FirstAdopter.com Editor’s Choice Personal Technology Products and Services – July 2004

Every few months, FirstAdopter.com will publish an Editor’s Choice article to list the best personal technology products and services in each category. The products listed are often not the most expensive or fully-featured. However they represent what we believe is the current sweet-spot on the price/performance curve for personal technology enthusiasts.

LCD Monitor
Dell 2001FP – bar-none the best LCD monitor value for gaming and all-around performance on the market today. Dell is often selling the 2001FP after discounts for $750 and lower. Read the raves on our 80 page 2001FP discussion thread.

Mp3 Player
Apple iPod – after all these years, no-one has come close to the ease of use and simple user interface of the iPod. With iTunes, you may never buy another CD again. [Read More]

June 25, 2004

HP iPaq 4155 PDA Review by Arogan

(Editor's note: This review was first posted on our awesome discussion board by FirstAdopter.com member Arogan)

I finally upgraded from my ancient Handspring Visor Deluxe. Normally these run $450 retail, but I got it for $277 no tax shipped through a friend for a refurbished model.

When I make my comparison to palm I'll use my wife's Tungsten T (TT) as the base of comparison so it's a little more fair.

TT was purchased direct from Palm as an open box for about $200 about 6 months ago.

- Criteria: It has to be small enough to fit my pocket, must have bluetooth but wifi a plus, must be color, must be able to do multimedia pretty well (video/audio - mp3), must have a voice recorder, user replaceable battery a BIG plus, and close to $200

- Refurbished quality: iPaq came very nicely packaged with all software, manuals, accessories, even the protective film on the screen. TT came pretty bare and didn't have the additional OEM software (the essentials disc). So far the iPaq seems like new to me. TT is already experience some digitization drift issues (and of course it's out of warranty) [Read More]

May 31, 2004

Rendition's Corner: Guide to Casino Poker Rooms by Rendition

Welcome to the first Rendition’s Corner article. I hope to get off my lazy butt and write a weekly column on whatever topic suits my fancy at that moment. The topic today is the white hot Texas Holdem Poker.

You’ve all read about Chris Moneymaker and last week’s winner of the 2004 World Series of Poker, Mr. Fossilman. This patent attorney from Connecticut took down the $5 million grand prize for first place. Not too shabby for playing cards.

We can now all look forward to watching ESPN re-runs of him with his strange reptile sun-glasses pumping fists fill of cash at 2AM morning for the next 12 months instead of watching our favorite late night infomercials. Oh fun.

April 25, 2004

Gaming While Drunk: EA goes Live? by Robert Keenan

It’s Sunday, and I’m enjoying my day off with a few spirited rounds of Pandora Tomorrow on Xbox LIVE and a refreshing Rum and Coke. I’ve been trying to get back into Xbox LIVE a little bit, it seems I’ll play constantly, and the not touch it again for a month or two before coming back. But the hot Merc. Vs. Spy action was just too much to pass up. Xbox LIVE is a great service, and according to new reports MS intends to get over a million people online before the end of the year with a great new pack (instead of Mechassault as a packin game they’re going to begin to include Crimson Skies) and things are generally looking up for them. Now IGN is running a story that points to the picture getting a lot rosier.

April 18, 2004

Gaming While Drunk: Price Descrimination

I hate working late on Saturdays because then I have a choice to make. Do I just enjoy my evening and play some games, or do I go back out to pick up some of the fine booze that makes these articles happen? If I don’t go out then I have to spend my Sundays dry because I live in a state that still loves its blue laws. Its not fair, I tell you.

This of course brings us to vodka. I do like vodka, and I make a mean White Russian. I usually buy Rain vodka, which tastes great, looks awesome in your minibar, and only costs $18 or so. I’ve told a lot of friends about Rain vodka and many of them have bought it and enjoyed it. Of course, a lot of them tell me that there’s no way they’re going to try a premium vodka that only costs $18. What does this have to do with videogames?

April 11, 2004

Gaming While Drunk: Eggs and Scotch and High End TVs

Well, it’s Easter and I’m kicking with a great 12 year old Scotch while downing the occasional Cadbury Cream Egg. I’m of the opinion that the caramel variety are for suckers, and the only true eggs are the regular creamy variety. They’re simply jampacked with AWESOME. In between all this fattening up and drinking though I’m thinking about my TV.

I got a nice 36 inch Sony Wega from Best Buy about a year ago. Got a good deal, and the picture on it is really nice. It makes my games and DVDs look great. I looked at a lot of televisions before I chose this one. I looked at how many inputs they had, how nice the tube was, sound, etc etc. I knew I would have at least three or four game systems hooked into it, so the amount of inputs and ease of set up were important.

In other words, things have changed.

April 03, 2004

Another Dell 2001FP 20" LCD Monitor Review by Arogan

(Editor's note: This review was first posted on our awesome FirstAdopter.com 2001FP discussion board.) This thread helped me decide to purchase the 2001FP so I thought I would join in on the discussion. $750 direct from Dell. Free shipping. Arrived in 24hrs. This is my initial report with only a few hours of testing. All tests were performed using DVI. - No dead/stuck pixels. No "screen door" effect that I can tell. Back light is nice and even. - After turning on clear type the text looks great at 1600X1200. Since I sit pretty far back from the monitor I just increase the font size in windows, eudora, IE, etc and everything is fine. I can still read normal size text at 1600X1200 even from several feet back but I just prefer larger fonts. The monitor is just that sharp.

March 27, 2004

Gaming While Drunk: The PSP by Robert Kennan

Sony is one of those companies that seems to make vast amounts of money while never really LEARNING anything. I’ve given them a lot of crap in the past about their lack of innovation and backward thinking hardware (the lack of controller ports and RAM in the PS2 is damn near criminal) but they’ve been working to improve that and I have to respect it. The Eye Toy is great, and Lifeline was an interesting concept if not a little flawed in execution. At least they’re trying new things.

March 10, 2004

Gaming While Drunk: Ports BAD! Gaiden GOOD! by Robert Keenan

Sorry if I’m late on this article, but I’ve been nearly consumed by the hell that is Ninja Gaiden.

It’s not even really that the game is hard. Its more like the game is really, really hard, but so good you just need to see what happens next. The demo really doesn’t prepare you for this, as the first level just shows you an old Japanese complex and some ninja action. Great stuff. What you’re not prepared for though is that after that you’re thrown against ninjas, cyborgs, soldiers, tanks, zombies, bats, and I’m pretty sure at one point you fight a koala to the death. The level of detail and sheer amount of gameplay and disparate environments raise the bar for what we should expect from action games from now on.

February 26, 2004

Gaming While Drunk Column: On being a Collector by Robert Keenan

So I’m sitting here in front of my computer contemplating the new column while sipping a Maker’s and Coke. You didn’t think it was just a clever name, did you?

It’s come to my attention that I’ve moved past being a game player and into the realm of the game COLLECTOR. I exhibit all the warning signs: games still in shrinkwrap, a laundry list of games that I haven’t finished, and to top it all off while going through my games I found titles I don’t even remember buying. It’s getting sick.

I’m like a hawk, I can’t pass by a gaming store because I know if I do it’ll be the one day they have a mint (non greatest hits!) copy of Symphony of the Night in stock. Its not even about the game, it’s the thrill of the hunt. There’s nothing like finding some rare gem hidden behind dusty copies of Madden 2002. My girlfriend has put a stop to my nightly Ebay meanderings because there’s always an auction with a game to fill a spot in my collection and lord knows I’ll bid. It’s horrible.

February 21, 2004

iPod Mini Review by Shaftblake

Kudos to member ShaftBlake for his iPod Mini review. He posted some sweet pictures also. As for the size vs. price issue, I can say it was very much worth it. If you look at the market for 4 Gig mp3 players, you will find that the iPod Mini is a great deal. Its not meant to compete with the 15 Gig iPod. And personally, I only have a little more than 3.5 Gigs of music on my computer. And only 3 Gigs of that I want on my iPod Mini. So it suits me just fine. After using my iPod Mini for a day, that “new” feeling hasn’t faded. I’m still excited about using it next week while I’m on campus at school. It should help me pass the time between classes. Do you agree or disagree? What are your thoughts? Comment on the discussion forum. [Discussion]

February 17, 2004

Orkut Review by Rendition

If you asked web surfers what’s the hottest “in-thing” that is all the rage on the net? Chances are social networking sites would be near the top of the list. Ever since Friendster started the latest wave, the internet is now flooded with “me-too” sites like Tribe.net, LinkedIn, and now Google’s Orkut.

Orkut is the brainchild of Orkut Buyukkokten, a user interface engineer, at the mother of all search engine companies. The story goes that Orkut was a independent project that Mr. Buyukkokten (try saying that ten times) created in the “one day a week” that Google allocates for pet-projects. Of course if the “pet-project” is successful, the company will own all the intellectual property and technology.

Orkut borrows many of the same basic ideas from Friendster and its predecessors. One must recall that networking sites aren’t really the “new, new thing.” In fact, Amazon.com bought PlanetAll back in the bubble days that had the same basic foundation of sharing contact information, basic biographies, and expanding your network through your contact’s network.

February 16, 2004

Column: Tonight we drink and discuss James Bond by Robert Keenan

If you’re not playing the new Xbox and PS2 demo for Bond: Everything or Nothing, you really should be.

The shooting segments are pretty meh, fun and nice to look at but nothing too special. The motorcycle sequence though is a complete rush, and while still linear there’s enough split paths to make exploration worth it. The interesting thing about this demo though is the start up screen, a short video of Shannon Elizabeth wearing a slinky dress and doing dirty things to a gun while Bond music blares in the background.

February 10, 2004

Article: Google is Out-Microsofting Microsoft

It’s fascinating to compare different types of technology companies. One can divide them into two camps: the ones that innovate by improving the past and the ones that plain copy poorly, but use their might to succeed.

On one hand you have the Googles, the Sonys, the Apples, the Amigas, the BeOses of the world, and the other you have Microsofts and Yahoos. For the purpose of this article, let’s focus on Microsoft, Apple, and Google.

Microsoft copied many of the key ideas of the graphical user interface from Apple and Xerox, however the actual implementation was worse in execution than its predecessors. Windows 3.1 crashed constantly and wasn’t intuitive in daily use. You can make similar analogies with Excel vs. Lotus 123, PowerPoint vs. Freelance, and Word vs. Wordperfect.

January 29, 2004

Gaming While Drunk: First Edition! by Robert Keenan

I figured this was as good a day as any to start writing my column. The decision was pretty arbitrary, with any emerging web site there aren’t a lot of rules yet. So let’s say that I’ll write my weekly column every Friday. Sound good?

Now that’s out of the way we can start talking about what’s going to go on in this space every week. There’s going to be a fair amount of reviews and analysis on this site so what this weekly column will do is try to break through the normal bullshit in the industry. I’m going to assume you can read a decent sentence, and I’m going to assume that you’re as into games and the technology behind them as I am. If either of these two things are not the case, you are more than welcome to pick up GamePro at your local retailer.

January 24, 2004

Dell 2001FP 20" LCD Monitor Review by Rendition

I’ve been waiting for years for an affordable “low-response time” 18 inch LCD monitor to play games and do basic 2D work for about $400-$500. Although the low response time 17” monitors have been out for months, I wanted a larger screen and true 24-bit color, which the current generation lacked. [More]

January 16, 2004

Cool Things I can do with my Treo 600 by Rendition

-check POP3 email using Snappermail
-simulate "always on" email through Sprint PCS or Good Technology
-instant message on AOL, Yahoo, MSN or ICQ using Verichat
-use the speakerphone for phone calls
-check the date/time and contact name of every call I ever made using the “call log”
-view PDF attachments with Documents to Go
-start 3-way conference call in a jiffy