Posts in category microsoft - page 13

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

Xbox 360 prices

Well the Xbox 360 prices are out, and while they are better than the current rumblings for the Sony PlayStation 3, once again UK and European customers are getting the short-end of the currency conversion stick.

Xbox 360 “Core System” – $299, €299, £209

  • Xbox 360 console
  • Wired controller
  • Detachable face-plate
  • Xbox Live Silver membership
  • Standard AV cables

Xbox 360 “Premium Edition” – $399, €399, £279

  • Xbox 360 console
  • 20GB detachable hard drive
  • Wireless controller
  • Wireless Xbox Live headset
  • High-definition AV cables
  • Ethernet cable
  • Xbox 360 Media Remote Control (limited time)
  • Detachable face-plate
  • Xbox Live Silver membership

Now $299 USD = €249 = £169 and $399 = €324 = £220 at today’s exchange rates.

That means Europeans can expect to pay 20%-23% more than their American counterparts and us Brits can pay 23%-26% more for the privilege of adopting one of Bill’s latest offspring.

I guess VAT is responsible for that but I wonder how Americans would feel paying $378 for the basic package and $504 for the top-end? ;-)

Some of the peripherals are so strangely priced I’m at a loss to explain what’s going on… The rechargeable pack and HD cable spring to mind.

[)amien

Firefox for power users, part 2

Here are a few more useful bits and pieces to improve you browsing experience if you’re a Firefox user.

GreaseMonkey

This great extension provides a framework that allows scripts to run against web pages from your own machine. The upshot of this is…

There are many many more at GreaseMonkeyUserScripts.

CuteMenus

Put icons next to some menu items to bring the UI a bit more in line with Microsoft’s tools.

FlashGot

Download multiple files, images etc. from a single click.

Other browsers

Mac users may want to check out Camino which uses the Gecko rendering engine inside a native Cocoa application. It’s pretty fast and cool although it can’t use any of the Firefox plug-ins. Another alternative browser is OmniWeb which uses the Safari rendering engine but provides many more useful commands, options and facilities than Safari itself.

Microsoft fans will have to wait a little longer until the public Internet Explorer 7 betas turn up. We’ve been promised fixed PNG transparencies and improved CSS handling. In related news Bill Gates has been trying Firefox

Postfix

Just a quick note to praise the free Windows blogging application Zoundry that allows WYSIWYG style editing. I’ve managed to use it to clean up some of the previous postings too. Now if only it had a spell checker and auto-pasted in the clipboard URL when you create a hyper link…

My Visual Studio 2005 Beta 2 DVD’s arrived Saturday free of charge courtesy of Microsoft. I’ve just installed them alongside SQL Developer 2005 and will hopefully be posting some tit-bits soon. One heads up is to install IIS before VS2005. The VS2005 installer won’t warn you or error however the SQL 2005 installer will tell you it’s a prerequisite if you want Reporting Services. If you install IIS after VS2005 and before SQL 2005 you’ll receive an unidentified error for the Reporting Services installation.

[)amien

Firefox for power users

If you’ve been using Firefox for a while you might like to look at some of these tips and tricks to get more from your web browser. If you’re not using Firefox to find out what all the hoopla is about.

Get newer, optimized builds

Firefox, like most applications, is compiled without optimizations for specific processors. Some third parties such as Moox make processor-specific optimized builds available for download.

As well as the Firefox 1.0 release you can also download a trunk build. These are built directly against the source tree the developers use and can sometimes be rather unstable although the 20050206 one I’m using has been pretty good except for a view source bug. Make a backup of your %USERPROFILE%\Application Data\Mozilla\Firefox directory first and unpack the trunk version somewhere new to give it a whirl.

If you don’t understand those just instructions you might want to wait for the any-day-now Firefox 1.0.1 release although it contains only essential bug-fixes.

Watch activity

We all know sometimes pages take a few seconds to load and knowing how many files to load and the current transfer rate is something geeks love to know. Firefox’s extensions architecture allows third-parties to add such functionality, so grab Extended Statusbar.

Optimise performance

The network settings in Firefox are a little on the conservative side for broadband users. As with Internet Explorer tweaking you can allow more simultaneous connections (it’s the HTTP connection and pipelining section although the other tuning tips are certainly worth considering).

Once done, visiting a page will start loading all images used on a page together rather than just two at a time. It will also mean you can download more than two files simultaneously from the same web site.

Block advertisements

Advertisements have gone too far, they’re now incredible obtrusive, annoying and can often cause pages to load slowly. Get rid of them with the AdBlock extension.

Learn shortcuts

Switching from the keyboard to the mouse to perform a single operation is incredibly slow. Get used to the following short cut keys Ctrl on Windows, Command on Mac OS X.

  • F Find text in the page (IE too)
  • N New window (IE too)
  • L Position to the address bar (F4 in IE)
  • K Position to the search bar
  • B Open bookmarks sidebar
  • H Open history sidebar

Tabbed-window specific short cuts:

  • T Open a new tab
  • W Close current tab
  • 1 to , Jump to specific tab
  • Tab, Cycle between tabs

Web development

If you develop web sites for a living then the Web Developer extension is essential. Features include:

  • Editing and identifying cascading style sheets (CSS) on the fly
  • Disabling forms, images, JavaScript, CSS
  • Validating page and CSS structure
  • Examining HTTP response headers
  • Modifying cookies
  • Highlighting page structure and layout

Windows corporate use

Check out the Microsoft installer (MSI) package and Group Policy integration project.

[)amien