Apple has updated the Macbook and Macbook Pro line with some minor speed boosts. The base model Macbook goes up to 2.1ghz, up from 2.0ghz. The two higher models get a 2.4ghz processor. Apple now offers 2gb DDR2 as standard in the middle and black Macbooks. The base model still comes with 1gb. Hard drive space has also been increased ranging from 120gb to 250gb.
The Macbook Pro gets an upgrade of up to 2.6ghz, the multi-touch trackpad featured in the Air, and a Geforce 8600GT 512mb graphics processor. It also gets more HDD space. Overall, these updates aren't particularly exciting. Just a minor speed bump over the previous models. If you just bought one of the previous models, there's no need to worry.
There is one important thing about these updates though. These two new laptops use the new Penryn core, replacing the Merom core used in Apple's past Core 2 Duo systems. Penryn is based on a 45nm process, which will produce less heat and use less energy. That should mean longer battery life.
Also worth noting, the price of both the Macbook and Macbook Pro have decreased by $100 in Canada. The base model Macbook now sells for $1149, down from $1249. The Pro sells for $2099, down from $2199. Beware that some stores like Best Buy are still selling the old models at the old prices. If you want one of these new models, buy direct from Apple for the moment.
Source: Daily Tech
The Songwriters Association of Canada proposed a $5 song tax last week for all internet subscribers in order to compensate for illegal file sharing. This had mixed reviews on tech sites but this editorial in the National Post shows why such a tax would be bad for Canadians.
As the author points out, such a tax would only penalize legitimate users. It would also illegitimately award the music industry for bad business decisions and give them public money for sales they may have never made to begin with. The author also notes biased sources used for illegal P2P statistics.
Probably one of the most anticipated items for the PS3 this year isn't even a game at all. Sony has finally dated the release of the DualShock 3 in North America. The new controller will cost $54.99, which is about $5 more expensive than the comparable Xbox controller.
The DualShock 3 finally adds the much desired rumble function to the PS3. Many Playstation fans were upset with Sony when they did not include rumble support for the SixAxis. The reason behind this was actually a patent dispute with Immerson Corporation over the rumble feature, a dispute Nintendo had also been involved in. Another reason was claims that the rumble interfered with the motion sensing function, with Phil Harrison claiming that rumble was a last generation feature. I personally think the litigation had more to do with the issue than anything else. The DualShock 3 is identical to the SixAxis complete with motion function and the added rumble feature. The one possible downside is lower battery life due to the fact that the rumble motors draw 10x as much power as the SixAxis. This might be an issue for some though the controller can be used as either wired or wireless. The DualShock 3 has been for sale in Asia for some time, where it can be bought or imported for North American use through stores like Play-Asia. The feature was added with Firmware 1.94. The DS3 comes in either black or white.
Another mini-review. Why all the reviews recently? Backlog I guess and there's really nothing else interesting going on at the moment. Today, Mr Peabody and his pet boy Sherman are going to hop in the Way-back Machine to take a look at some classic games that appeared on Atari's retro arcade systems. The game is Atari Classics Evolved for the PSP. Retro gaming is hot and ACE is about as retro as you can get on a modern system without resorting to emulation. It's an anthology of classic arcade titles including the venerable Pong, Centipede, Millipede, Moon Lander, Asteroid, Asteroid Deluxe, Missile Command, Battlezone, Super Breakout, Tempest, and Warlords. Additionally, there are 50 unlockable Atari 2600 games. Some games such as Warlords feature wireless multiplayer. Each of the classic arcade titles features two modes: classic and evolved. Classic mode allows you to view the games as they were back in the 70s and 80s. Evolved mode essentially just gives you more modern graphics though the games themselves remain the same. Pong for example just changes the playing field to look like an actual table tennis table. Games such as Asteroids and Moon Lander get a psudo-3D look.
The games themselves, though simple by today's standards are still quite fun. However, this compilation does have some issues. First of all is control. You'd think this would be hard to mess up on such simple games but Atari built a better idiot. Pong is a little on the unresponsive side and the paddles seem smaller than the actual classic. Same goes for Breakout. To make things even more bizarre, some games are played in a 9:16 aspect ratio. This is to compensate for the PSP's widescreen display (orignal games were 4:3) but controlling the game is awkward because the PSP is not meant to be held on its side. Breakout, Centipede, and Millipede are played this way. The rest of the games have pretty much retained the control structure of the classic titles. Moon Lander is one of my favourites. I remember being introduced to it as the mini-game in LucasArt's "The Dig." One final issue though is the Atari 2600 games. In order to play these, you need to unlock four medals from each arcade game. It's not too difficult but tedious. It would have been nice if they allowed you to unlock a few games at a time. The 2600 games also lack the "Evolved" mode. Overall, the game is a pretty decent diversion when you have a minute or two. It provides a decent, though brief distraction and at $19.99, it's a good value for 61 classics.
-Classic Atari Arcade titles
-Good for some brief distraction on the road with simple, classic games.
-Good value for 61 games
What Doesn't Work:
-Sluggish control in some games
-Weird 9:16 aspect ratio required for play in some games.
-Tedious unlocking method for Atari 2600 Games
Rating: 7 out of 10
Another PSP game up for review. The PSP has no shortage of racing games. Most in my opinion are crap with a couple of exceptions. This time around it's WipeOut Pulse. Remember Star Wars: Episode 1 Racer where you screamed across the track on an anti-gravity vehicle at speeds reaching 600km/h. That was my introduction to anti-gravity racing. WipeOut Pluse reminded me a lot of the N64 classic though the racing is much faster, plus you can literally blow your opponents off the track. Pulse is the sixth in the WipeOut series, minus a couple spinoffs. It first appeared on the PS1 back in 1995 and it first appeared on the PSP in 2005 in a title called Pure. Both these games are available on PSN for download if you want to try them. Since I had never owned a Playstation console until recently, Pulse is my first venture into this series.
Similar to the rest of the series, Pulse contains several changes from its predecessor. It includes 24 new tracks, 8 new ships, a new sound track, and ad-hoc & infrastructure multiplayer. Also new is custom sound tracks, custom ship skins, and the ability to take screen shots through the new photo mode.
As I said, Pulse is an anti-gravity racer. The game itself takes place in 2207. You are a pilot in the FX400 Anti-Gravity Racing League. In the game, you skim above the surface of a track. There's obviously less traction so in these types of games, you can quickly loose control. The action is a lot faster paced than most conventional on-road/off-road racers. It requires fast reflexes to navigate the tracks safely without smashing into things. The other obstacle is that your opponents have weapons al la Mario Kart. There are several weapons and power-ups available including shield boosters, speed boosters, rockets, and bombs. Your craft is equipped with a deflector shield that protects you from collisions or enemy weapons. The strength of the shield depends on the ship you're flying. Each craft's performance is determined by four categories: speed, acceleration, handling, and shield strength. You have all eight craft available right from the start. There is no ultimate racer and there are trade-offs for certain abilities. There is a loyalty system that awards bonuses for using one racer more often than the others.
In the races themselves, there are four speed classes. Venom is for beginners. It lasts three laps and reaches top speeds of 462km/h. Flash, Rapier, and Phantom classes are the higher levels in that order. They get increasingly faster and feature more laps; up to five laps at 793km/h for Phantom. Race types include single race, head-to-head, tournament, time trial, speed lap, zone, and eliminator. The first four are self-explanatory. Speed lap involves getting the fastest lap time in a series of laps. Zone is extremely fast paced with all racer stats maxed out. The computer increases the speed for each 10 second zone you complete. The goal is to survive as long as possible, which is harder than it sounds. Eliminator is a race for kills in which you need to eliminate a set number of opponents. Races are managed through a grid system in career mode. There is also a custom race mode for single races.
The tracks themselves are challenging but unlike many racers of this type, they don't feature many environmental obstacles. It's you versus your opponents. Still, at the speeds these races reach, it becomes difficult to avoid crashing into the walls. Pulse has a new "mag-strip" system on the tracks, where your racer magnetically sticks to the surface. This allows for for new track features such as loops and 90-degree drops.
Controls are pretty tight for the PSP. The analogue stick steers the craft. You can also use it to pitch or role the craft while in mid-air during jumps. The shoulder buttons control the breaks. There's a left or right break or you can hit both buttons for full break. Tapping the break button twice allows you to slide the racer to the left or right. X button is your acceleration. Square allows you to use a weapon while Circle transfers your obtained weapon's energy to the shields for a quick defense boost. Triangle allows you to look behind you.
For graphics, Pulse is one of the best looking games I've seen on the PSP so far. The racers and tracks are colourful and crisp. Visuals are fast and there are no frame rate issues. It really shows what the PSP is capable of. The game allows you to change your view point between two third person views, as well as first person. The audio is pretty good as well. The game features a licensed sound track, though I haven't heard of any of the bands featured. The music is from the Electronica genre which I never listen too. If Euro club music is not your cup of tea, the game allows you to make your own custom sound tracks. You can play up to 30 custom songs stored on your Memory Stick. The drawback however is that you have to create a WipeOut folder in your music library and manually put the songs in there. This is a little clumsy in my opinion since it should recognize all songs stored in the PSP's Music folder. You will need to connect your PSP to a computer in order to set this up.
One last note on customization, Sony offers expansion packs for Pulse on PSN, just like they did for Pure. You can download these for more tracks or ships. There's also supposedly a flash based custom skin creator on wipeout-game.com.
What else can I say about WipeOut. It's definitely worth looking at if you like sci-fi racing or just racing in general. It's probably the best racing game created for the PSP so far. A plus is that's it's relatively cheap at $29.99. It will definitely tie you over until Gran Turismo is ever released for the PSP. A PS3 version known as WipeOut HD is also coming this year. Lets get to the rankings.
-Colourful, technically proficient graphics, fast paced with no frame rate issues
-Challenging races with different play modes
-Customizable music and skins, expansion packs.
-Customizable sound track setup clumsy.
Rating: 9 out of 10
A mini review today. If you have a PSP, chances are you've heard of God of War: Chains of Olympus. The original God of War was a hugely successful title for the PS2. A sequel to the original was released last year also on the PS2. The PSP version marks the fourth incarnation of the series including the cell phone game. You play as Kratos, a Spartan with Hercules like strength and a great deal of blood lust. In the original game, he swore revenge against Ares, the Greek god of war, for the murder of his wife and daughter. I haven't played either of the PS2 titles so I cannot compare the PSP game to them.
The demo is available on PSN or on UMD disc if you pre-order the game. The final, full version is due out on March 4th, 2008 in North America. The demo weighs in at about 160mb, which is pretty big for a PSP demo. (As a side note, I'm a little mad that Sony removed the direct downloading of demos from the PSP, now requiring you to use the PC or PS3 Playstation Store.) As you might have guessed, the game takes place in ancient Greece. The basic plot is a Greek city being attacked by Persians. The demo features two boss fights, as well as some battles with regular enemies. It's a hack and slash button masher which involves your character slashing and stabbing as many Persian soldiers as possible. The demo teaches you how to play the game quite well and is worth a couple play throughs. Square is your regular attack, triangle a power attack, and circle grabs the enemy and brutally stabs them through the chest. X jumps while the L button blocks. You can trigger combos, and dodge using the shoulder buttons and the analogue stick. One of the drawbacks of the PSP, that some have argued, is lack of a second analogue stick. Chains of Olympus used a fixed camera that adjusts for the best view of the particular environment but being able to look around would have been nice. Overall, the controls are tight for the PSP, making the game fairly easy to pick up.
Graphics wise, the demo looks like an early PS2 game. It's pretty good for the PSP though not the most colourful I've seen. Screenshots of the final game do show some stronger visuals than what's in the demo. I did notice some frame rate issues. When there was a lot of action on the screen, there was a noticeable slowdown. The question is if this games is designed to take advantage of the increased memory on the PSP Slim versus the PSP-1000. However, I'm going to assume that this is just a bug in the demo since I haven't experienced this in other PSP games.
God of War: Chains of Olympus is definitely promising looking for gamers looking to fulfill their lust for blood. It will definitely be worth checking out when it's released in two weeks time.
-Fulfills your lust for violence on the go.
-Good visuals for the PSP
-Fun gameplay and easy playability
What doesn't work:
-Frame rate issues in demo
-Can't change view.
Well, we have NPD sales reports for US console sales for the month of January. Wii was on top once again, but surprising to some, the PS3 edged out the 360 by 39,000 units. Lets serve up some hot and fresh figures.
TV Top Consoles
Wii: 274,000 units
PS3: 269,000 units
PS2: 264,000 units
Xbox 360: 230,000 units
Nintendo DS: 251,000 units
PSP: 230,000 units
I don't find these sales figures particularly surprising, at least when it comes to the PS3 outselling the 360. I feel that hardware wise, the 360 is reaching a point of market saturation. For those less economically inclined, that means that mostly everybody who wants a 360 already has one. The PS3's strong figures are due to the highly successful 40gb model at it's $399 price point, same as the 360 Premium while offering more features. Also, Sony has really strengthened their software lineup in the past five months with titles like Uncharted and Ratchet & Clank. There are also big upcoming exclusive releases of LittleBigPlanet, Home, and Gran Turismo 5. The 360 is also starting to loose its edge software wise with developers looking to make make more cross platform titles.
What I do find surprising is the enduring presence of the PS2 in North America. The console turns eight years old this year but is still selling almost as many units as the Wii and PS3, and is outselling the 360. It is the cheapest console, but in the past, North Americans have been reluctant to hold on to past generations. Most older consoles die out less than a year after the release of the next generation. Sony seems to have no plans to discontinue it and there are still plenty of games being released or planning to be released in the next year. The face of gaming is starting to change as both the Wii and PS2 target a much neglected sector of the gaming market, the casual gamer. One final thing worth noting is the the PS2 and PS3 are starting to catch up to Wii sales. The big question is if these sales trends will continue. I'm pretty confident they will based on what I've seen.
Well, it's official. Rumors had been floating over the internet for sometime about this. Both BioWare and its new parent EA Games have decided to port Mass Effect over to PC. They plan to optimize the game for PC gameplay including support for a variety of resolutions, optimized PC controls complete with user customizable key mapping, "Run & Gun" control mode for more action based gameplay, a new decryption mini-game, and new inventory screen GUI.
EA has not set an exact date for Mass Effect but have noted it will be released in May 2008. It certainly gives us PC gamers something to look forward too for the May Two-Four long weekend. There's no word on system requirements either but it looks like I'll need a new GPU.
I haven't played Mass Effect yet since I don't own a 360 but from what I here, it's a truly excellent game. BioWare's previous epic, Knights of the Old Republic has been ranked one of the best games of all time. The Canadian company is well know for its mastery of the RPG genre. The question is if they can keep up that reputation with EA now owning them. In the world of PC gaming, EA is infamous for poor quality titles and has gained a loyal following of online bashers. They've noted they intend to reform their business models in order to appease customer demands.
Once again, Apple has released a relatively minor update to their two flagship mobile products, the iPhone and the Touch. This time, memory capacity has been doubled. A common complaint about the iPhone is the 8gb memory capacity. It's been doubled to 16gb. The Touch gets 32gb of flash memory. Both will retail for about $500.
The price increase on the iPhone seems like an awful lot since 16gb SD cards can be found for under $100 these days. The 32gb on the Touch is a little more justified but even there, 32gb CF cards can be found for around $150. I guess Apple is taking a page out of Sony's book by charging a fortune for small amounts of proprietary memory. Personally, I'd think the iPhone and Touch would be better served by including user upgradeable storage through the inclusion of a card slot. That way, the user can add as much or as little storage as they want and Apple would be able to keep the initial cost to consumers down of these products. It makes sense to me since these devices are essentially PDAs, and most modern ones include this feature.
I must say though that the Touch is a very nice MP3 player, for an iPod that is. There's a lot I don't like about iPod, such as them forcing iTunes on you and the fact it can't be used as a mass storage device. However, this is a fairly decent player for gadget freaks who have $500 to blow. I'll hang onto my PSP Fat though, even if it is a little clunky. I personally think the Touch is a tad overpriced. Another beef I have about Apple at the moment is that their prices are not reflecting Canada's stronger dollar. The price of the Macbook is still $150 more than it is in the US. The Touch happens to be $20 more than it is in the US. The new 32gb Touch is $519 here compared to $499 in the US. I think this is very unfair to their Canadian customers who are getting breaks on electronics from everybody but them. I'd like to upgrade my iBook but at $1249 for the new MacBook, and as much as I like Mac, I might be better off buying a similar PC laptop and installing Linux on it.
How will we get our media in the future? Will it remain on tangible discs or move to digital download. I can debate the pros and cons of both, especially with the DRM scourge factored in, but we're not dealing with that today. Today it's the Apple TV and iTunes on tap with a little discussion on the future of digital downloading.
Digital downloading was a big hit when music was first made available through services like the original Napster. Apple was one of the first companies to latch onto the concept and make legal digital music available through iTunes. Like it or not, the iTunes Store is the most successful retailer of digital media, offering music for just 99 cents a song. Not too long ago, they began offering TV shows for download in the US. Just recently, you're now able to rent movies through iTunes. The movies rent for $3.99 US for new releases, which I might add is more expensive than the local video store I go to which rents them for $2.99. I suppose these digital rentals are more expensive due to the convinience factor they offer. Basically, you have 24hrs to watch the movie after you first hit play, then it deletes itself when the time runs up. You can watch it as many times as you want in between then and you have nothing to return. The service is optimized for Apple's Apple TV. You can rent movies on your computer but you're limited to 480p resolutions, where as the Apple TV offers them in 720p HD. The HD titles cost $1 more to rent. I do not believe this service is available in Canada yet. It is not mentioned on the Canadian iTunes Store site.
The new rentals might be the saviour of the struggling Apple TV. Compared to other media servers on the market, it's quited limited in what it can do. Though in fairness, it is cheaper than both the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 while offering similar media playback features and a bigger hard drive. What it lacks though is any sort of disc drive for DVD or CD playback. It also lacks composite and s-video outputs for non-HDTVs. What it does boast is a bigger HDD, up to 160gb, and 802.11n wireless networking. The lack of the disc drive I feel is the most limiting though since you can't load music from CDs on it without a computer, and having it double as a good upscaling DVD player would have justified its $329 (160gb) price tag more. I also feel that it should have had a DVR function built in. I would have also liked to have seen a lot more playback formats such as the hugely popular DivX and XviD. It's essentially like a giant iPod that connects to your TV and works in the same way. It can store movies, music, photos, and can access some limited Web 2.0 features like Youtube. The kinds of files it will play are similar to the iPod's. The Apple TV is certainly better than a lot of off the shelf alternatives out there. It can also interface with your PC through iTunes to share video from your PC or Mac.
There's a lot more competition for the Apple TV coming out, all of which essentially do the same thing. One of which is the Vudu which has a 250gb HDD and more connectivity, but lacks Wifi. It also offers a pay-per-view video service with tons of movies. In the end though, the HTPC is still king due to it's wider variety of formats and flexibility, though these set top alternatives are good for less technically inclined people.
As for digital downloading, I do see a future in it, but right now, it's ahead of its time. You would need a solid 5-10 megabit/second internet connection to stream DVD quality video without interruption, which is something few people have. Another issue is a lot of people have monthly download caps imposed on them through their ISP. Mine is 60gb for the service I pay for. That would get eaten up quickly buying/renting digital videos. There is also worry that the internet is just not designed to handle all this high bandwidth traffic. Lastly, a lot of people are still uncomfortable with having non-tangible copies of media. Hard drives do fail after all, and when they do, everything you've bought is lost forever. This problem is all the more aggravated by restrictive DRM that does not let you store the media on backup hard drives or recordable DVDs. The industry's solution is to just simply buy another copy but that's hard for a lot of people to swallow, especially if you've invested hundreds of dollars in digital content. It's an unreasonable demand. Will it take off despite these flaws? Who knows. MP3 did but with the way these devices have been selling, there's still a long road ahead for the Apple TV et al.