Posts in category entertainment - page 5

Mac Mini Intel isn’t my digital life

This week Apple unveiled their new Mac Mini powered by the Intel Core Duo processor and using Intel’s core graphics, effectively giving it a significant boost whilst still retaining the attractive £400 price point.

Apple are now saying “Live the digital life” and implying that the mini belongs as part of a home entertainment system. They’ve even gone so far as to bundle it with their Front Row media center and an Apple Remote control.

Problem 1: Capacity

The mini, in order to achieve mini sizes, uses laptop hard disks which currently top out at 120GB. My iPod is 60GB and although it’s nowhere near full of music I can easily imagine adding my photo library and some video content will soon max out that 120GB. Then you’re having to use external USB drives.

Problem 2: Content delivery

If you have satellite or cable TV you may well be expecting this will be your primary source of video content but the mini and Front Row do not support external media devices, let alone TV guides or PVR/recording functionality.

Some people are putting Front Row against Windows Media Center which is quite amazing when you consider that Front Row lacks such basic video-feed functionality. Companies like TiVo have proven there’s certainly a market for it.

I can’t help but worry that Apple’s view of TV broadcasting is the same as it’s ideas on radio, i.e. it’s obsolete and that they should offer the content themselves.

Perhaps when they launch their updated iPod Video with bigger screen they’ll launch their fabled movie download service and expect users to acquire video and audio content exclusively through their store.

I’d be interested in knowing how they’ll squeeze high-definition content down my broadband line and onto a 120GB hard disk even with H.264 encoding.

Or maybe they’ll expect users to watch low-resolution iPod encoded video on their home TV’s. At 320×240 it’s quarter the resolution of existing TV.

On a high-definition system at 1280×720 you’d be utilizing about 8% of your systems resolution capability compared with 44% utilization on a PAL DVD.

Looks like Front Row and the mini won’t be part of my media center any time soon.

[)amien

Shopping for DVD’s

I’ve decided to fill in some gaps in my DVD collection and was quite interested to know what the current best deals were so filled up my baskets at various stores. All prices are quoted in £ sterling and were correct at time of writing.

Title Blah Amazon SendIt (dead) Play Bensons HMV Popcorn (dead)
Kill Bill 1 & 2 1 11.99 12.97 14.78 14.99 15.79 14.99 13.75
Knight Rider Series 2 23.99 20.97 29.99 22.99 24.99 34.99 27.75
BMX Bandits 5.99 6.97 7.99 5.99 8.49 9.99 7.29
A-Team Series 1 14.99 15.97 15.99 14.99 16.99 15.99 27.45
Remo: Unarmed & Dangerous 9.99 4.97 9.99 9.99 10.49 4.99 9.15
No Retreat, No Surrender 4.99 4.97 4.99 4.99 5.99 3.99 4.85
Insomnia 5.99 6.97 5.49 6.99 15.79 7.99 13.45
Memento (3 disc)2 8.99 24.99 7.49 17.99 10.29 24.99 16.85
Corpse Bride 11.99 10.99 11.99 11.99 13.49 11.99 12.25
JFK (Directors Cut 2 disc) 7.99 8.97 7.99 14.99 9.99 7.99 13.45
Brazil 5.99 5.97 11.99 5.99 7.49 9.99 10.97
Adjusted for Channel Islands 3.57 18.85 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00

Obviously the best deal is to order individual items from wherever they are cheapest. Amazon only include free postage if you order enough items so bear that in mind.

Nice to see both Amazon and BlahDVD offering discounts for Channel Islanders being that we don’t pay VAT :)

I didn’t include; Amazon Jersey, Loaded 247, FrontRowDVD, DVD World or DVD Source as they didn’t have all the titles available.

Based on a previous comment left here I would like to point out I receive no kickback whatsoever from any of these companies except for a few cents as an Amazon affiliate. For those listed above I have been a customer of all except Popcorn and have done technical consultancy in the past for BlahDVD which means I know a couple of the guys there.

1 Available individually and in a double-pack. Included whatever was cheapest at each supplier.

2 Seems to be a cheaper set out soon but not available until next month. Would drop the expensive suppliers down considerably.

[)amien

Xbox 360 – More thoughts

Okay, so I’ve been living with my 360 for a little while now and was able to pick-up a hard disk and a headset from Kmart while in the USA (they’re a little scarce here in the UK at the moment).

Backwards compatibility

Now I have a hard-disk I can play my old Xbox games (it died a while back). I gave Buffy: Chaos Bleeds a shot and it seemed okay apart from the unexplained slow-downs in some parts. Alas it seems about half my collection isn’t supported -Outrun 2, Shenmue 2, Buffy (original), Soul Calibur 2 and Headhunter: Redemption. I can however play KOTOR, NFSU2 and Fable apparently.

All these games are now supported, thanks guys!

Gamer cards

The gamer card system is pretty cool, mine is shown here;

Basically everybody you play against on-line has something like this and you can see what games they have and what achievements they have met. You can also review a user if they were good or bad which affects whether the live system will put you with them again. If a number of people review you good or bad, it affects your star rating with 5 stars being an all-round nice guy I gather.

Dashboard

The dashboard that I found so cool to start with is leading to a number of annoyances. The first is content management – it can be confusing to locate items you have downloaded or if you just want to delete/transfer stuff between hard disk and memory card. Basically it could do with two lists – what’s available to download and what you have on your disk – each with a filter of content types (music/video/games).

Another major niggle is the downloading which seems to occasionally abort mid-download with no automatic retry and also the fact that it ties your whole 360 up while downloading something. Rumor has it that background downloading has an outside chance of turning up on the next dashboard update.

Xbox Live Arcade

The live arcade consists of small downloadable games you can buy for “credits” which cost real money. By using credits MS think you won’t notice how much you spend? Anyway, I’ve tried a few…

Gauntlet

One of my childhood favorites marginally enhanced to improve the text readability and allow 4 player on-line gaming. This should be good fun but it is marred by a few issues. The first is the multi player game suffers major lag problems. Secondly you only get 700 health points per level – hard work when constantly teamed with people who don’t know what they’re doing. The final issue is that diagonals and avoiding objects are trickier unless my memory is rose tinted.

Quite why the developers chose to do Gauntlet and not the superior Gauntlet 2 I’m not sure. With Gauntlet one of the top sellers on arcade at the moment no doubt we’ll see the sequel soon.

Hexic HD

This game came pre-installed on the hard disk and is very similar to Bejewelled 2 in that you have various colored pieces that need to touch to explode and be replaced by more pieces. They are both kinda fun but rather slow to get going and the only on-line interaction is a leader board and achievements. There is no head to head mode – a missed opportunity indeed.

Voice communication

The headset is quite comfortable although covers one ear effectively killing off your stereo/5.1/7.1 surround systems in one clean swipe. It’ll no doubt be putting a drain on the battery in the wireless controller too.

Speech quality is variable. In PGR3 I’m normally paired with other Brits – often northern guys who laugh for the duration although not always at my PGR3 skills. Gauntlet on the other hand seems to consist of broken speech with young American boys and possibly girls – it’s hard to tell the difference.

[)amien

Xbox 360 – first impressions

As previously blogged I got my hands on a Xbox 360 Core package just before Christmas – and yes I know the Premium is better and if one of those was available at the time I would have brought one. For now this must suffice…

Packaging

The 360 core is packaged in a surprisingly heavy bright green box that draws enough attention at airports and towns when not serving as a make-shift seat. Inside are the curvy 360, the chunky power supply, a wired controller, a basic composite-video only cable with separate SCART converter and a couple of manuals. Surprisingly no demo disk is included and the box handle can detach rather easily when not digging into your skin. 7/10

Dashboard

The dashboard lets you play movies, mp3’s off your iPod or hard-disk, download live content, chat to your friends and see what they’re up to etc. It’s pretty good although some of the functions are a little bit too tucked away. 8/10

Controllers

The core comes supplied with a single wired controller (the Premium has two wireless ones) but I picked up a wireless one. Initially they feel comfortable when navigating menus and playing driving games however a quick bash on the Kong demo left my hands aching. The way the wireless controller quickly finds the 360 which doesn’t need ugly wireless modules dangling out of the front is a bonus. 8/10

Project Gotham 3 Racing

It’s clear this title is pushing a lot of polygons and runs smooth… the problem is the graphics look neither realistic (Gran Turismo) or stylized (Need for Speed). Instead the game actually looks like an arcade game and so keeps you at arms length immersion-wise. The detail in the car is impressive – especially if you take the realistic sitting-in-the-car view where you can watch your driver steer and shift as you wrestle with the controller. The crowds look impressive too, as is the live interaction which includes various rankings, an on-line career and a variety of race modes.

The main problem with PGR3 is the depth. It boasts a little over 70 cars and they’ve all been chosen for being 170mph+, a far cry from the 700+ models in Gran Turismo 4 which boasted old, new and concepts together so you could try out your real life car against a Skyline for a laugh. The result in PGR3 is that every on-line race seems to consist of 5 of the 8 players having identical red Ferrari F50 GTs – the car the game denotes as the number 1. Thankfully many online players can’t handle it for toffee and my little DBR9 slips though to the podium.

The final problem with PGR3 is the car’s physics. They don’t behave how you might expect, lending more credence to the whole “it’s an arcade-racer with a career mode” argument. I can understand how Xbox owners who’ve never touched Gran Turismo might be impressed but GT3 offered depth and play-ability that put this to shame.

Single player score… 6/10… multi player 7/10.

Need for Speed: Most Wanted

The NFS series eschews the strict racer ethic of PGR and gives you a city to roam around in, cars to tune and rework, police chases, road blocks, destroyable scenery and a whole host of race modes varying from simple sprints to checkpoints, speed checks and drag mode.

The graphics are rather beautiful and stylized, it’s a deep autumn and the action never really ends. Some of the races start to get a little long even before you are too deep into the title but you can always just mess around in the city and do something else.

My only complains would be that after Underground the selection of car modifications is a little thin although the new ultra-reflective paintwork and the deep engine roars go some way to address this. The on-line modes exist and can be quite fun too. Overall 7/10.

Conclusion

Looking at the current launch titles doesn’t inspire the desire to purchase. Microsoft have managed to hype the console itself up enough to sell what they can make purely on it’s technical specifications but the Japanese aren’t fooled and are waiting for something they want to play.

It is interesting to note that the biggest selling console at the moment is the Nintendo DS, not because its specifications are the best but because games such as Nintendogs and Wario World are fun and different.

I wonder how long Sony and Microsoft can push games that are simply what you played last year but with better graphics?

[)amien