Monthly Archive for August, 2007

New York Times: Not All HDTVs Can Keep Up With the Action

Not All HDTVs Can Keep Up With the Action

Viewers for whom action matters need to pay as much attention to how fast images are processed as to the size of the screen.

Also: NY Times Tech Talk: Is it time to make the move to HDTV? (mp3)


Xbox 360 Premium and Halo 360 with HDMI and analog/optical audio adapter options

Owners of the newly revved Xbox 360 Premium with HDMI or the upcoming Halo3 edition may find their new baby lacking in the sound department because neither model comes with the same audio adapter bundled with the Xbox 360 Elite.While this may not matter to those who get their sound from the HDTV’s built in speakers, it will matter to owners with separate surround sound audio systems. The Elite’s audio adapter is a dongle with RCA and optical output ports.If you want that same kind of output option on your new 360 or Halo 3 console with HDMI, you have two options: Buy the $50 Xbox 360 HDMI AV Cable, or switch your HDTV’s audio setting from internal speakers to external output (providing yours has it; not all HDTVs do). Now the audio coming from the 360′s HDMI connection will get redirected to the audio output ports and connected surround sound speakers.


BioShock Tip: Harvest or Rescue? Choose Rescue and earn “Hypnotize Big Daddy” plasmid

Early into Bioshock I was faced with a tough decision: Harvest my first Little Sister for more ADAM power, or Rescue her for half the ADAM reward – and Tennenbaum’s promise of another benefit at a later point?

I chose to Rescue, figuring I’ll go with harvesting on my next replay of BioShock (which is, to date, my favorite Xbox 360 game since the platform launched; full review to follow).

Sure enough, two (or maybe it was three) Rescues later, the following sequence occurred, giving up the plasmid “Hypnotize Big Daddy.”

“Hypnotize Big Daddy” plasmid reward:


One Minute Review: Invisible Shield screen protector for iPhone (and Treo)

The folks at Shield Zone sent me half a dozen iPhone and Palm Treo Invisible Shield screen protectors to try out.

While Apple’s iPhone has hardened glass that seems impervious to scratches (as demonstrated by CNET and a few other sites), the super-smooth screen is a total smudge-magnet.

Hours after owning the iPhone I began to perfect the left-pec-screen-wipe maneuver to swipe my screen clean on my tee-shirt every so often. So though the Invisible Shield is meant to protect your screen from scratches with its ultra-strong plastic material, I’m more grateful for the way it minimizes the smudge factor with its watery finish that offers a bit more tactile touch-feedback under the fingertip.

I blew it on the first two I applied – mostly because I was hyper-aware of not touching the sticky side of the sheet because I was afraid a fingerprint would appear. Following the directions, I sprayed both sides of the sheet (and my fingertips) with the supplied fluid and set it onto the screen, sliding it this way and that to align with the speaker hole and the home button at the bottom of the iPhone. Because I feared time was of the essence I tended to do my best to move it in place, then, using the supplied squeegee, squeeged out bubbles. Both times I found dust beneath the surface of the Invisible Shield.

Trying a third time I was super-careful to make sure there were no dust particles on the screen, sprayed my fingertips and the shield, then applied it and took a little more time to get the fit exactly right. This time I nailed it – but at $14.95 a pop, take my advice, don’t worry so much about being gentle, and concentrate more on making sure you have no dust on your screen, or your fingers, and then take a deep breath and relax as you move the slightly slippery screen this way and that to get the fit just right.

Once you do, squeegee away the fluid, and if possible, keep your hands off the iPhone for the recommended 24 hours. That wasn’t possible for me, and in my case it didn’t matter – as the Invisible Shield “dried” it seemed to tighten up nicely and I’m absolutely pleased with the fit and finish.

Sheild Zone offers a costlier version that provides the same plastic protection for the backside of the iPhone, however I skipped that, as I’m only concerned about the screen staying scratch-free and, the real win for me, lessening its smudge showoff factor.

As an aside, I also applied the Invisible Shield for Palm’s to a Treo 680 and it turned out great, though I have to say the feel of using a stylus against the shield’s slightly tacky surface feels a bit stuttery rather than smooth.

The iPhone shield texture feels the same, but under the fingertip it feels like there’s less drag/stutter.

Bottom line: The Invisible Shield for iPhone (and Treo and other devices) offers great protection while hiding smudges.


Review: Apple’s new iMac

From the sewing machine-sized luggable Compaq of yore, to the diminutive original Mac and those that followed, all-in-one computers aim to minimize clutter by bringing everything (computer, DVD drive and monitor) together in one neat package.

Apple’s newest iMac models, ranging in price from $1200 to $2,300, are less about breakthrough and more about refinement, and once again set a new standard with an all-in-one design that’s aesthetically pleasant enough to display in the family room rather than relegate to a spare room or home office.

The loaner iMac Apple sent me to test was the 20″ model (1680 by 1050 pixels), with a 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, 320GB hard disk, 2GB of RAM, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, bundled applications for Web browsing, e-mail, contact and calendar management and a host of media-centric programs.

Such fine design and bundled goodies cost two or three times the price of inexpensive Windows-based PCs or even Apple’s own Mac mini, the tiny white slab of a computer.

There is nothing junky about the new iMac, which trades its former white plastic casing and plastic screen for sleek aluminum and hardened, glossy glass.

It’s that latter element, the screen, which has already prompted a love it/hate reaction to the new iMac. I prefer glossy screens to matte and the new iMac is no exception. Turned off, the black screen reflects my visage with the clarity of a windowpane or dark mirror. Turned on, and my reflection vanishes, helped in part because I’ve stationed the iMac against the same wall as a window. Turned around, the iMac’s screen does pick up the window reflection, most noticeably around the wide black rectangle framing the screen.

The second dramatic change to the line, the keyboard, also runs the risk of turning off some potential buyers while turning on others. Candy bar-thin, the keyboard’s Chicklet-style keys respond to the same ultra-light touch as my MacBook’s keyboard. That part I like.

What I don’t like is how wide the new keyboard is on account of the right side cursor and page keys and 22-key numeric keypad. All of those extra keys mean positioning the wired scrolling Mighty Mouse half a foot away — a reach that causes a distinct stress in my right arm and shoulder.

Lefties won’t mind at all, but other right-handers like me may. To be fair, most any keyboard with a numeric keypad forces the same far-reaching mouse placement. Much nicer is Apple’s newly announced Wireless Keyboard (shipping in a few weeks), which eliminates the extra keys and cable, thereby closing the aching gap between hand and mouse.

Love or hate the keyboard and mouse, either or both can be swapped out for third-party alternatives such as those offered by Logitech, Belkin or Microsoft. Continue reading ‘Review: Apple’s new iMac’


One Minute Review: The new Xbox 360 Premium HDMI; Yes, it’s quieter, but no Falcon 65nm chipset…yet

I called a few EB Games and Gamestop stores in the area, and only one person knew what I was talking about when I asked if they had the newly revised 360 Premium system with HDMI in stock.

The other shops asked if I meant the Elite. Ditto at Best Buy – until the guy I asked called over his gaming specialist, Jeremiah, and this guy knew exactly what I was talking about. He checked the system and they showed 14 units in stock, however he said he couldn’t sell me one because of a September 1 street date.

I mentioned that others were already selling them, including Amazon, and he looked up some store policy info. Turns out they can sell the newly revised HDMI 360s as long as the older, non-HDMI units are out of stock or sold out. He grabbed one from the back, I paid for it ($349.99) and also sprang for Best Buy’s 2-year extended warranty ($60), which, my sales guy explained, allows me to return the 360 for a full exchange even if only the controller is busted. Back home I did a search and was bummed to discover that my new 360 with HDMI didn’t have the much-anticipated “Falcon” 65-nm chipset that promises cooler operation.

Sure enough the label on the box showed the word Zephyr as the chipset. Various reports say the Falcon chipset is forthcoming. I contacted a Microsoft PR representative and he gave me the stock reply to this question:

“We are constantly updating the console’s more than 1700 internal components and therefore will not comment on details of specific components or manufacturing processes.”

Even so, promises that the revised Xbox 360 with HDMI would be quieter are true: The machine is definitely quieter than the Elite it is replacing, with no noticeable sound when turned on and running without a disc inserted, and with a disc the operation does produce sound, but less than the Elite and the original 360.

While I can live without the 120 GB drive (since I download a movie, watch it, then delete it, and maintain only a few demos at any given time), I was bummed to find there was no analog audio adapter included like the one that came with the Elite. It allows me to use HDMI as my video but analog audio to connect to my surround sound speakers rather than use the less-than-stellar speakers built into the HDTV. I’ll either buy a replacement online or keep the one that came with my Elite when I sell or give away that black box without it.

Bottom line: A quieter Xbox 360 with HDMI.


August 7, 2007 Xbox 360 Console Update: Play that (wireless) guitar

You may be wondering what was updated on your 360 when you said yes to the update it offered on August 7, 2007 (or whenever you turned it on again after that date). I’ll let “Major Nelson” explain in his own words:

Moments ago, the team released a system update (aka Dash update) to Xbox Live. Over the next few hours, when you sign in to Xbox LIVE, you’ll receive a prompt to accept this mandatory update. What’s in this update? The only thing this minor release will do is prepare your Xbox 360 for the wireless guitars that are being released in a few months.

No new features beyond this wireless support are included in this update. As usual, we’ve got some new features planned for later this year as part of our biannual release cycle.

Until then, keep practicing your music-making on those oh-so-agreeable hands-free air guitars.


The New York Times: Chatpad keyboard for Xbox 360 speeds typing

Keyboard for Xbox Speeds Typing
Published: August 2, 2007

Sending voice and Webcam picture messages to fellow Xbox 360 players over Microsoft’s Xbox Live service is a cinch, but tapping out old-fashioned text messages using the 360’s onscreen keyboard isn’t much fun. A new $30 miniature keyboard called the Chatpad speeds up text entry to let you best even the fastest BlackBerry touch-typists.

The Chatpad, to go on sale Sept. 6, attaches to the underside of the 360’s controller without interfering with the controller’s comfortable feel in the hands. A backlight makes typing during late-night Gears of War campaigns easier on the eyes, and a dedicated Messenger button activates the 360’s instant messaging program so you can taunt your enemies without breaking from the action.

Unfortunately you can’t use the keyboard to type a letter and jump to the corresponding spot in long lists of Xbox Live movie downloads or songs stored on an iPod connected to the 360. Instead, you need to hold down the scroll button. Albert Penello, director for global marketing for Xbox, said the company was looking into a way to add this feature.


iPhone update 1.0.1: Security fixes but no new features

A month after the iPhone began life as the most desired/derided tech gadget ever, the first update is available for download via iTunes. The update patches Safari security flaws which, left unfixed, make the iPhone vulnerable to hacks. Unfortunately the update includes none of the fixes or new features I and others are anxious to see, as described in my iPhone wish list (companion piece to my iPhone feature story for

In other update news, while pouring my own morning java fix my MacBook’s Software Update alerted me to two updates for my system: Safari 3 Beta Update 3.0.3, and Security Update 2007-007 (Intel) version 1.0. Information about the updates can be found on Apple’s web site.


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