Technology. Dissected, discredited.


iPad thoughts

, posted: 28-Jan-2010 10:30

iPad

So after following the live blogs and now reading the tech specs I thought I'd add my thoughts on this new gadget. A few things I've spotted on the Apple site not mentioned in the keynote -

Screen Res is 1024x768, 132ppi (the iphone is 163ppi). Reasonable but not stellar - I would have preferred a 16:9 1280x720 panel myself but I can imagine the raw LCD costs would have made it that much more expensive. Its good so see a good screen in it though - IPS & LED Backlighting should make this look amazing in person.

VGA connector coming soon. Supports 1024x768 - making Keynote actually usable. I imagine it will work like the current iphone TVout cables - click on a video (or now a keynote presentation) and you'll see controls on the unit and the presentation/video will come out the cable - with no OSD. No HD output (just progressive scan SD or XGA).

1GHz Apple A4 Chip
. So it would seem Apple has indeed made use of them buying PA Semi a few years back. Its an ARM based processor just like the iPhone. It's a "system on chip" - so this one chip does it all the work. This is apparently very similar to a Tegra & Snapdragon chips - can you say ZuneHD and Nexus One.

802.11n. Good.

ePub support.
Along with PDF support we already have on the current iPhone OS this should mean we can convert text, website to a format that we can then use. I think Kindle is the only eBook reader that doesn't support it. Go standards.

A-GPS on 3G model. The biggest Sat Nav ever?

No Phone option, new SIM standard, Data only
. I know you wouldn't hold this to your face but a secondary speaker phone using its 3G capabilities maybe?

No Flash - Gruber @ daringfireball sums it all up well here. I don't think we'll ever see it on either the iPhone or iPad.

No Camera - So that means voice only skype. I think this could have become the killer app and at a low component cost - but hell they need to have something to add to the iPad 2G.

iPadNo built in USB host port, or SD card port.
Apple have announced the iPad Camera Connectivity Kit though and it does give you both of these. I had hoped the iPad would remove the need to have another computer completely making it that much closer to a netbook than an iphone. The good news is though if this puppy get jailbroken (jailbreaked?) the USB port could allow for some very interesting mods and unplanned uses.

Market - When I watched the demo video, of all the people I could think of it was my mum who I think is the most likely to get one sooner than later. My parents have been making noises about a second laptop for a while now - dad was well over having to share his computer.
My mother has never been a savy computer user and has never had to learn how to use any more than the basics of a standard OS. More and more though she wants to do the basics the iPad offers - look at pics, surf the net, email people and generally stalk her children via Facebook. I think the learning curve on the iPad is about as much tech as she can handle.

Pricing seems reasonable I'm sure someone will say "I can buy a netbook for $600" but at what I assume will be $NZ799 for the low end model, its close to the same price of a similarly spec'd netbook but with a better OS (for portable internet use), screen type and case/body.

Will I get one? Maybe. My iPhone 3GS is awesome, and I'm surprised I surf the net on it nearly as much as I do on my laptop. When I replace my laptop in the next year or so - will I get an iPad and a more powerful desktop machine? It's something I've been thinking about well before the hype of this started.

No other announcments. No i5/i7 MacBookPro's, no 12 Core MacPro's, no new iLife. All iPad. I imagine there will be some spec bumps in the next week or so though.

One things for sure, I'm sure we'll all pick one up and go - I want.

On another note - the iPad comes in ladies preferred options.

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Some must have Mac apps

, posted: 18-Nov-2009 18:32

App UpdateI've been using a Mac for the last 4 years and I've over time built a little list of apps that must be installed. I thought I should share them here. They are all free to download or open source so go give them a try. Feel free to share some more in the comments.


App Update - A simple application update widget, in my opinion, besides currency converter, the only good widget in dashboard. It reads you Application folder against 3 update notifications sites - Apple's official software directory, MacUpdate and Version Tracker. Best thing - it just works - and well.
http://gkaindl.com/software/app-update

The ArchiverThe Unarchiver - an open source decompressor app. For years stuffit was either preinstalled or a must download on the Mac. Over time the the program gained the usual bloat of over developed applications. Apple has included a built in zip tool for a while but it's file support was limited really only dealing with zip's. The Unarchiver, which is open source will extract RAR, ZIP, 7-Zip, LHA, SIT, HQX and TAR files to name just a few. The app has enough options to do everything you could need. To install, just drag it into your Applications folder, run once to set associations and you're done.
http://wakaba.c3.cx/s/apps/unarchiver.html

PerianPerian - Chances are you've already got this - if not - get it. Perian is a free, open source QuickTime component that adds native support for many popular video formats. XVID, Divx, AC3, MKV, FLV and even adds subtitle support. The only thing missing is extensive WMV support - for that check the free Flip4Mac.
http://perian.org/

VLCVLC - if you do find a video that won't play via Perian then VLC should have it covered. If you have these 2 apps installed there are few files you can't play. Personally I find VLC's interface clunky to use but as I say - it will play everything.
http://www.videolan.org/

MPEG StreamclipMPEG Streamclip - Where Perian is 'the swiss army knife of video playback', Streamclip is surely the swiss army knife of video conversion. It allows for setting in and out points and will read almost every format - from malformed mpeg2 streams to xvids to quicktimes to avi's. I haven't met a clip I can't convert with this app.
http://www.squared5.com/

TextWranglerTextWrangler - an extremely versital text editor. Made by the company that makes BBEdit, this is a cut down yet surprisingly feature complete version. TextWrangler supports source formatting and is the one stop tool for editing HTML, PHP, plists or just about anything else.
http://www.barebones.com/products/TextWrangler/

MAXMAX - One stop open source audio converter - it will change anything to anything else. MAX can convert over 20 compressed and uncompressed formats including MP3, Ogg Vorbis, FLAC, AAC, Apple Lossless, Monkey's Audio, WavPack, Speex, AIFF, and WAVE.
http://sbooth.org/Max/



 

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Nice - Star Trek BluRay comes with free Digital Copy that is actually useful

, posted: 14-Nov-2009 17:35

Star Trek BluRay - with digital copy.I, along with the many people, found JJ Abhrams reinventing of Star Trek a great time. So much so I felt it more than worthy to be added to my small physical media collection. To my surprise, the pictures studio, Paramount Pictures, has started including a digital copy of the their films free. Each BluRay copy comes with a third DVD and note with a unique key printed on it.

I thought it would no doubt involve some horrible DRM and playback system, no doubt dropped or outdated a year from now. You can no doubt believe my surprise that the code really is really just a redeem code for iTunes Store. If you brought the movie in iTunes separately you'd be looking at $24.99.

The DVD contains an autoplay menu which offers links to either to copy the film in Windows Media or iTunes, by choosing iTunes you are taken straight into the Store and where you enter your code. You'll need to download for that copy but the disc does include necessary WMV files - strangely there are 2. I can't tell you much more with Windows being Windows just before copying the file I am told that I require security component update and it was required before installing. I clicked the link and sent to a page on the domain drmlicense.one.microsoft.com which offered little information and a single button that couldn't be pressed. Shortly after Internet Explorer crashed. Good one. I spent a few minutes trying to find the update I'm looking for but its never stated and MS don't really promote the DRM side of things too loudly.


Star Trek BluRay - Menu...Star Trek BluRay - DRM Windows Media Errors

As far as the iTunes side goes, iTunes downloads as a 1.96GB M4V file, and uses FairPlay3 DRM which allows for syncing to up to 5 iPhones, iPods, AppleTV's and the other computers linked to your iTunes account. Video wise, the file has a frame size of 640x352, 2052kbps H264 and audio comes in 5.1 AC3 (strangely QuicktimeX lists only 2 channels though). The file also includes chapter marks with thumbnails and can be played in Quicktime or iTunes.

It's disappointing to not be a more standard 720 frame width, and of course no one likes DRM - but lets be honest, offering the movie in the first place is a good sign. Instantly I can use the film in a usable way outside of my PS3 and couch. I doubt I will ever watch it on my phone, but offering it in more than one format, shows the studio trying to be far more inclusive in the end usage process.



New Apple Products + NZ Exchange Rate = 15-40% Lower Prices

, posted: 21-Oct-2009 13:26

Just a quick tip - When Apple launch new products it works the new RRP based on current exchange rate of when the product is released. Sometimes this means price increases but sometimes, like now and with the NZ$ being retardedly good - a solid price drop. And the good news - no matter where the currency goes from now the prices will stay low.

Case in point - the newly refreshed Mac Mini was previously $1398 but is now $1049 (or even cheaper if you click on the educational discount link - $950). Thats a brand new Mac with half decent specs for sub $1k. The Plastic lowend Macbook was $RRP1999 - now is only $NZ1699.

But for those of us thinking now is the time to be running out and buying that 8 core MacPro at a new lower price - these lower prices are only worked out on new products - not old ones. But what this should mean that that these prices stick around until the next product refresh - no matter where the NZ$ goes.

Of course the downside of this is if you're a NZ retailer with old stock - which you brought at the previous higher price. For the rest of us enjoy probably the most reasonably priced Macs we've ever had.

UPDATE - As wellygary says - the new top end 27" iMac is even better value - 40% cheaper than the previous 24" high end model.



Telecom iPhone bait - is it worth it?

, posted: 15-Jul-2009 11:34

Yesterdays announcement from Telecom offering a very nice sounding reason to owners of iPhone 3G/3GS's (or is that 3jesuses)  sure does sound good but is it as great of an offering as they say? At $1149 for an unsubsidized iPhone, I can't imagine there being more than a few hundred people this whole thing is applicable to. I am part of those handful of people.

I have been a customer of Vodafone as long as I've had a cell phone. Suffice to say for most of that I've felt shafted but know as well as anyone that switching got you fundamentally the same plan at the same price with a different number.

I currently spend $90+ on my Talk 120 plan - far from good value but not really worth me jumping on a specific iPhone plan. Below I've tried to make a comparison of the similar plans on Vodafone and Telecom. This isn't too scientific and feel free to point out any errors.


New Telecom Plans Compared to Vodafone


So there you have it - tie yourself to Telecom and get 25% off your plan over the course of the 2 year contract. Of course will the pricing on plans change much over the next 24 months? I would hope so but we all know how it works in NZ.

One thing we should all demanding - carry over minutes. They market these plans as having 'free/included minutes' but in reality when you pay $60 for 120mins (as I do now) you're really paying $0.50c a minute for calls with a gaurantee of paying for at least 120 of them - which makes one wonder - if one pays for these minutes at that rate you should be allowed you to carry over the minutes for the next month - but not in NZ, if you don't use your minutes they disappear into the either and you still pay for them.

Will I switch? It depends. The question will Vodafone try and keep me?



iPhone as a traveling companion

, posted: 14-Jul-2009 09:02

(FYI - I retook the screen shots so ignore the VodaNZ tag and dates on the iphone screen shots).

I think swine flu has gotten a bad rap.
I for one would like to thank it for scaring the hell out of the Japanese and leaving Air New Zealand with a bunch of empty planes with a schedule to keep. So when the $700rtn flights to Tokyo ex Auckland turned up on grabaseat I couldn't help but take advantage of them (recession be damned). With less than a week from booking to flying out I had little to no prep time to learn some more language or figure the lay of the land. I did find on my travels that my iPhone 3G was a great thing to take on the road so here are my thoughts on the apps I found either useful or useless. Enjoy.

Shibuya Japan bia the iPhone


To start I wasn't sure if Japan would even accept GSM based phones, it has always been known as a land of futuristic but very much proprietary phones. The good news is as long as its a 3G (2100mhz) mobile you should be good to go. There are 2 provider options for roaming, either DoCoMo or Softbank, my phone defaulted to Softbank on arrival but a bit of researched showed DoCoMo's prices to be (marginally) better. For a full idea on costs on roaming Vodafone has every countries rates listed here.

Surprisingly Tokyo seemed to have little wifi, free or otherwise. I would randomly check my phone for any networks and find no AP's near me. Starbucks yes, but even in the middle of Shinjuku besides one of the busiest train stations in the world - nothing.
This is quite surprising for the country with the fastest internet connections around you would assume that it would be saturated with wifi but it just wasn't the case. I assume as everyone has cabled internet or data on their phones so wifi just hasn't become as ubiquitous as it is in other countries.
Most hotels (including ours) offer free internet in all rooms and with an addition of the underrated but incredibly useful Airport Express we had a full 802.11n network 'in room'.

Currency for the iPhoneBy far the most useful program when traveling was Apples own in built app, Mail. Sounds strange but by emailing yourself import info, pdfs & jpg maps one could have on hand a good amount of the internet offline. Each morning before leaving the hotel I would email anything that maybe useful to have on the day - whether it be the 'How to plan your day at Disney Sea' from themeparkinsider.com or where the best tech shops in Akihabara are. Find a web page, save as pdf, email to self. It was truly a useful thing to have.

Outside of Mail, the single most useful application I found was the free Currency (itunes link) currency converter app. Japanese Yen is one of the more confusing currencies to work out in your head (I think it was something like remove 2 zero's and times by 0.6) and having this on hand, even as a rough guide really helped either not spending a fortune on a bottle of water. Each morning I would open the app, which in turn would update to current exchange rates.

I also installed OffMaps, a Google Maps replacement that allows caching of maps from the open mapping database and store them locally on the phone. It sounds good, with an active internet connection all you need to do it go to the city you want to save and then select an area to download. Lonely Planet Japanese Phrase BookThat all worked as planned but once untethered from the internerd everytime I would open the program and use the GPS button it would ping me back to Auckland and make it a mission to get back to Tokyo and even harder to find out where the hell I actually was. Add to that the fact the maps were almost information-less, no landmarks or street names. I imagine as the mapping is open this should improve and the applications current user interface bugs get fixed this app could be a real god send.

Other programs I installed and had varying amounts of success with were  Tokyo Subway 2009 and the Lonely Planets Japanese Phrasebook. I think the subway app explains itself and was always useful to find which line runs where and where a suburb was in relation to where we were.

The $13.99 Lonely Planet app contains 600 common Japanese phrases. Each phrase displays the English pronunciation, Kanji characters and when clicked pronounce the sentence out the speaker or headphones.
I did find the few times I did try and use the app the sentences I needed was slightly different to what I really required or missing completely. Lonely Planet also do a Tokyo specific guide which looks useful but it did get to a point where I didn't want to spend more on apps for than the holiday itself.
In the end I found my Girlfriends copy of The Original "Point and Speak" Phrasebook prooved to be extremely useful as it contained images, pronunciation and Kanji lettering of pretty much every thing you could ever need to ask someone or solve any problem you may run into. This book will hopefully be 'ported' to the iPhone but for now the analogue option wins out. If you are going to Japan - you need this book.

On trips to other locales I imagine a GPS navigation app would prove to be quite useful. Recently I've been playing with the first app to be available to the NZ market - I plan on posting on this soon.



Kicking Outlook and switching to Mail, iCal & Address Book

, posted: 7-Jul-2009 15:32

I used to be a big Outlook user, finding it the only PIM client that kept my life even slightly sorted. I was so tied to Outlook that when I first brought my Intel based Mac, I quickly installed the beta release of Boot Camp, XP and got Outlook going. For the first couple of months of owning a Mac, I ran Windows almost exclusively.
Outlooks IMAP support has always been my single biggest peev. That, and its continued use of a single PST file for all data storage. There a lot of good reasons to not use a single file db, mainly if it corrupts you could loose ALL your previous history from emails to contacts. I have seen more than one person just about cry when they loose all their digital lives thanks to a Windows reinstall and not seeing their well hidden PST file deep in the documents & settings folders.

Of course Outlook being a Microsoft program, export options are nonexistent, unless you wanted to move to, say, Outlook. If so then no worries.
There are commercial applications that can take care of this whole process but I like to do things the free, slightly harder way - so for you all here is a compilation of various steps to take a large PST file to a complete export to iCal, Address Book and Mail.app (or other standard supporting applications on other platforms).
These steps are for Windows XP and Outlook 2007, but should be the same or very similar on Vista.

Getting your email to Mail.app.
This is originally from Schwie’s Pad's blog post, refined by myself.
  • First you'll need a copy of Outlook Express installed on your XP machine. In our case we're going to use it as a conversion tool and not the just the shittiest email client ever. I would recommend a virgin setup of Outlook Express.
  • Open Outlook Express, it should detect your other Outlook profile and ask if you want to import the profile. If it doesn't detect Outlook, you can import your mail manually. Under the File menu, choose Import, Messages. Choose Microsoft Outlook.
  • Choose the default profile and then choose selected folders and choose any folders that have email in them. You can use CTRL to select multiple folders. You do not need to choose contacts or calendars, that is done via other workarounds below.
    Import Outlook Profile to Express
  • It should spend sometime slurping through your emails and bringing them into Outlook Express.
  • Once they are all imported, we now need to access the Outlook Express .dbx email files, these are stored in your Documents & Setting folder on your system drive (probably C:\). Best plan is to enable hidden files (via Tools menu, properties) and then go through the folders from C:\ - in my case it was - C:\Documents and Settings\Administrator\Local Settings\Application Data\Identities\{D54D6AEB-503D-49E3-BD59-11545746A4D2}\Microsoft\Outlook Express
    The two italicized names can be different but you should be able to get there.
  • Now you'll need a little command line app by Ulrich Krebs called DbxConv.exe. It's freeware and available here. Extract the zip into you Outlook Express folder you just found. This program will convert your email folders from MS's dbx format to the standard mbox format.
  • Open command line via the Start Menu and Run command - from here type CMD.
  • Now for the tricky bit, as command line was designed from the days of 8.3 file names theres no real easy way to get your way to a folder buried deep in windows file system - I have discovered though if you type "cd " and then drag the folder icon in the address bar of explorer to the line in command line, it will insert the full folder address in to the  command. Press enter and you should be in the same folder as the files you need to convert.

    Insert address in to dos command prompt

    Resulting command
  • Now in command prompt type this command - dbxconv -mbx *.dbx
  • Depending on the size of your original pst file it could take a while (up to 20mins). You will see few failed items that don't convert (such as Contacts, calendars, Folders and Offline), you will not need these.
    Congratulations - your email is now in a format all reasonable email clients should use - mbox. From here you aren't just limited to Mail.app, other clients support mbox including (ironically) Microsofts own version of Outlook for the Mac, Entourage and the opensource Thunderbird.
Getting your mail into Mail.app
  • From here you'll want to get your newly created mbx files from windows to your OS-X install. I would recommend taking only the mbox files of previous email folders you want - Inbox.mbx and Sent.mbx being the obvious choices.
  • Now with them on your Mac, open Mail.app. If this is your first time opening Mail.app, setup your email accounts as you need. Once you're all done there open Import Mailboxes from the File menu.
  • Choose mbox files and navigate to the folder with your converted mbox emails in them. You can select miltiple mbox files which will be imported as separate folders into Mail.app.
  • A progress bar later and you should find an IMPORTED folder, and you can now move them as you need to.
Exporting your contacts from Outlook to Address Book
Originally from macosxhints.
As you may have figured out by now, Microsoft makes it as difficult as possible to escape their Office/Exchange ecosystem, either by not including export options or making it as much a convoluted process as they can. For this we will make the files we need by faking an email with all your contacts as attachments - smart.
You can export individual contacts to a vcf file by selecting the contact and choosing Save As under the file menu. This is great for a couple of contacts but not those of us with 1000 odd contacts - 
  • Switch to contacts view in Outlook, Select All contacts (or just the contacts you want to take with you) and the under the Actions menu, Send Full Contacts and then In Internet Format (*.vcf).
    Send Outlook Contacts as vcf files.
  • Outlook should then make a new email with attachments of all you contacts as usable VCF files. You could email that to yourself but if you have quite a few contacts, it's best to copy the files out the unsent email and into a folder to move manually. Click on one of the vcf file icons in the attachment panes and select all. Drag its icon to an folder in an explorer window.
  • From here you need to get the folder of vcf files to you mac, open Address Book and drag all the vcf's on to the Address Book window.
Getting your calendar
This is actually the easiest part of the process.
  • Switch to calendar view in Outlook and select the calendar you want to export.
  • Under the File menu, choose Save As. ical format should be the default.
  • Choose more options and set the date range as Whole Calendar, detail on Full, leave the advanced options unticked.

    Save as ical format in Outlook dialogue
  • Save.
  • Again, get the resulting files on to your mac, and then open iCal.
  • Choose File, Import and choose Import and iCal file
  • You'll be asked if you want to merge with a previous calendar or make a new one.
  • Rinse & repeat if you have more calendars.
Things that don't export/import.
Tasks! although these can be imported as an email folder via the Outlook Express method although tasks will be turned into emails as far as Mail.app is concerned.



GTA IV DLC - Where to get the cheapest Live Points.

, posted: 13-Feb-2009 12:30

GTA IV DLC <br /> The Lost & DamnedI'm eagerly awaiting the release of GTAIV's first DLC content The Lost & Damned, as I'm sure many are. Microsoft paid a pretty penny for the exclusive rights to the first DLC release. So next Monday, 14 Feb, we could possibly see the biggest DLC release too date for any platform and I, along with millions of others will be rushing online to get their fill of new stuff in a tired Nico Ballic world.
I'm not sure why you would release an addon on a Monday, as a Thrusday / Friday release would have proved to be good days but hey its Microsoft. The obvious sometimes eludes them.

Originally this post was going to be a moan about the stupidity of a globally standard pricing structure. 1 world, 1 price system but in reality is 1 world, yet many differenct costs for said pricing system.

Microsoft has gone on record as saying they think the user wants a standard pricing structure the world over, as its easier to deal with and for them easier to promote. Um, yeah. Thats what Walt Mossberg thought too (FYI The Zune uses the same points as the 360)
"To buy even a single 99 cent song from the Zune store, you have to purchase blocks of “points” from Microsoft, in increments of at least $5. You can’t just click and have the 99 cents deducted from a credit card, as you can with iTunes. [..] So, even if you are buying only one song, you have to allow Microsoft, one of the world’s richest companies, to hold on to at least $4.01 of your money until you buy another."
You would think with the NZ dollar tanking, that if anything we would be paying more than America, but somehow it isn't the case. So as I hunted around trying to get the cheapest live points I could, I discovered inconsistancies in per point worth depending on where you get them from, and strangely found the cheapest place to get MS Points is from MS themselves! Not only that, but you have more point options as you can buy packs of points from XBOX.COM in 500, 1000, 2000, 5000 lots.

The cost of The Lost & Damned is 1600 Live Points. I did some hunting around and found

1500 Points @ Dick Smith $29.95 = 2c p. 1 MS Point
2000 Points on XBOX.COM $NZ33 = 1.6c p. 1 MS Point
1600 Points @ Amazon.com  $US19.49 = $NZ37.72 = 2.3c p. 1 MS Point
Lost & Damned Retail Box @ Gamestop USA $US19.99 = $NZ38.68
The Lost & Damned can be picked up for 25% less than American gamers. In Your Face.

I suppose the biggest jib of all this though, is that in NZ you can't even buy 1600 point cards (as you can in America) so you will need to buy 2x 1500 points cards to have enough to buy a 1600 points addon. There are no lower point cards in NZ anymore so basically if you follow the most obvious process to get the addon (Buy addon card, load code, use points to buy addon) you get screwed. Thanks Microsoft, for taking something simple, then making it overly complex and at the same time, ripping off your users a little.

Of course I should also mention how last week I purchased WipeoutHD for my PS3 which uses real money and charges your credit card in a real currency $NZ33.90. Not too hard to understand, and possibly a little easier than the "Need 1600 points, can only buy 1500 points" deal Microsoft offers.



A link for all nerds - Failing HD sounds & causes

, posted: 17-Nov-2008 11:14


This link should come as quite the resource for any nerd who has wonder WTF that noise is coming from their harddrive and why it might not be working anymore.
Canadian data recovery company, Data Cent have a list of nemerous failing harddrives, a sound bite and what is causing the failure.
I for one have heard far too many of those noises in my time and can now finally know if its me or if the drive is actually failing.... YAY!



360 NXE, a Pretty Piggy

, posted: 11-Nov-2008 13:15

I received an unexpected email welcoming me to the 2nd batch of NXE (New Xbox Experience) testers on the weekend, and thought I would share my thoughts, from a NZ perspective.
I fit snugly in the average game console owner. I'm not a hardcore gamer. I don't have a Gold Live! account, I don't feel I have enough spare time to play online regularly. So with that in mind, how is it?

The first impression I get with the NXE is a reorganization, a redesign and more than anything a re-emphasis to the 360 interface.
There’s not really anything ground breaking, the re-emphasis all being towards Microsoft's Live! platform and the services around it.


You'd think when you log in to your machine this would be the first menu.......

Interface
Suffice to sat it works. It's a nicer, pettier version of much of what we've all used.
Sadly there's very little customization - your previous themes have been turned into mere backgrounds. There's no way of making a menu based on what you use often over what Microsoft wants me to see.
I'm yet to discover a way of making the first menu opened on boot as the MyXbox menu, it instead defaults to the Spotlight menu - which is basically a section of advertisements (see a pic below).
The amount of XBOX Live! ads now present is now over the top. In the old Blade system ads were displayed on a panel ad on the right and that's all you would mostly see - now, thanks to its new found 3D menu, Live ads can go off into infinity and almost every 'section' has some sort of ad for either a game add-on or LiveArcade game.
Also some old interface annoyances turn up in dark corners, one personal peev is that in my house there are 4 profiles on my machine, my girlfriend has one, along with housemates past and present - yet I am near the bottom of the profile list, I don't want to autologin but do login in a lot more than anyone else.

Another interesting thing, last week some news popped up that half of the features originally planned for NXE were dropped (*cough* Longhorn *cough*). Infact some demo'd already have been dropped - PrimeTime, an Xbox Live based online game show program co-developed with Endemol creators of shows such as Big Brother and Fear Factor. It's meant to be a more social gaming section, with less one player and more emphasis on multiplayer.


This is the default menu to the new NXE. Advertisment city.

Game Installs
Awesome - we can all finally hear our games and not the DVD drive (easily the 360's biggest flaw beside RROD's). This is a mildly ingenious way around a problem that shouldn't exist in the first place. Interestingly this shows that some parts of the old XBOX has been used in 360 games XBE's from day one - ie Playfrommedia switch. From what I imagine, the 360 rips the entire game, patches the XBE to allow execution off HD and then uses a quick NXE based check for original media before executing.
Sadly game start times haven't shown a huge improvement in early tests which makes the main motivation for installing games only really a noise improvement.

Avatars
This is like the Wii's Mii's but in HD, and as with your Mii's you can have a great laugh trying to create yourself on the new system. Face and body shapes and features are adequate and clothing options are good, but not fantastic. My fear is that we'll be paying for many new outfits, jewelery and hair do's. I wonder will Game dev's offer items of clothing via games - will I be able to get Master Chiefs armor? or favourite bands Tee via Rock Band? who knows.

What does seem sad though is that in someways this doesn't quite go far enough - with Playstation Home being only a few months away Microsoft would have been well placed to include a few Avatar friendly mini games in NXE. It would have caught up with some of the Wii's instant 'I wanna play as me!' aspect that you get with Mii's and Wii Sport. Along with the fact Home will be offering bowling alleys and other basic social games - yet on the NXE (for now) what you get is a 3D customizable profile picture and little more. Games are in development that support Avatars - so far only a couple have been announced Scene It? Box Office Smash will add support (via an update) and cutesy SimCity clone A Kingdom for Keflings.

Media
If anything, the 360's media capabilities have been downgraded in importance. Which is surprising as it is a terribly import part of any console beingbe the centre of your lounge (something even more the case now we have drums and guitars lying around).
Of course this shows if anything a huge ideological difference between Microsoft and Sony.
Sure, the two systems interfaces look completely different, but they both fundamentally offer almost identical features and end uses. Sadly I think this is still done best on the PS3's XMB, with it's Music/Pictures/Games/Online/Friends system. It keeps it simple, yet offers a wider section of uses.

The Music playback interface still blows, no new visualizations, no cover views, it seems to take 4 (Music Source->Albums->Album Name->Play All) clicks to get things playing when two should do.
There's also some things missing, the ability to actually get your non Microsoft media on to the console - in a time of DRM there should be an easy way of moving/backing up your iPod/Zune/Harddrive to the 360's music library - nope. Importing is still CD only.


The same as the old one but different colours......

Another big disappointment is the 360's video playback has seen no improvements, AAC/MPEG-4 files still require a separate download and force you login to Live to playback files in those formats. The codecs package aren't installed by default, even though it has been over a year since the update was released. Also, when I tried to see if clips I knew used to play, often wouldn't, despite flawless playback previously - see pic.


NXE ERROR

Finally, media serving via uPnP from other sources over a network is still borked, with Microsoft still sticking to it's nonstandard version of uPnP - meaning devices that are detectable on the PS3 and numerous other supporting devices - still fail to appear on the 360.

Add to this that one of the killer new features, Netflix, is of course tied and limited to North America. I can't imagine Microsoft working with other companies to offer other markets to offer alternatives. Of course if Apple can offer movies via iTunes NZ then I'm sure Microsoft will planning to offer something similar sooner or later.

Over it
It's in this end the new interface actually goes slightly backwards, all too much of the update push you to Live! and recommends and hypes Live! content - often even when you may have turned on your 360 to watch a movie or to just listen to an album.
This update hasn't addressed the other and possibly far more serious threat - the PlayStation 3.

While not perfect, the PlayStation 3 still offers a much better package for someone who might buy just one console.
Add Sony's short term plans of releasing a NZ compatible FreeviewHD PVR, Sony Home, and it's more compatible media offerings, I can only see them continuing to strengthen their base.

If someone asked me which console to buy, and they said they wanted play a few games possibly online, watch movies, play music, I just can't see any reasons to choose a 360 over it's slightly more expensive competitor.  And I think that's where Microsoft have an issue.

Microsoft have possibly the best games console out there - but don't have any of the cherries that sweeten the deal.

Ups
Avatars
Installing Games = less noise.
Nicer interface design (not much better though, just nicer).
New OS = New bugs, Exploits?

Downs
XBOX LIVE Ads everywhere.
No web browser.
Media playback still lacking. no MKV, no MOV, no AC3, very hit and miss on what will actually play, even when it looks like it should. Still no true DLNA uPnP support.
No favourites menu or ability to turn off any live ads.
If you don't play online or live in the USA there's not as much new shit as you'd have hoped.
DRM implementation still looking as bad as ever.

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lotech's profile

simon 
Auckland
New Zealand


I run a post production company specialising mainly in TV & Commercials. I also do graphic and motion design when it's there to be done. I've used Windows my whole life, but am now run Macs exclusively in our office and at home. Few issues. It just works.

My current setup is a Early 2008 17" Macbook Pro (C2D 2.5Ghz, 4gb, 320Gb, UWXGA Screen).