Archive for January 2007

iPod Hi-Fi

January 28, 2007

Which iPods does it work with?



The Design:  The iPod Hi-Fi comprises of a white case with black speakers and removable speaker grille. On both sides are handles, which have been built into the top of the rectangular shape. The Hi-Fi itself sits on a thin gray base.

It’s unfortunate that the look of the iPod Hi-Fi isn’t as striking as it should be, particularly given Apple’s strength in design. Removing the speaker grille does make it a more attractive system, but overall it’s a little bland.  

Using the iPod Hi-Fi

The iPod Hi-Fi sounds best at high volumes with the speaker grille removed. The bass is rich and there’s a high level of audio depth. Unless you’re an audiophile, it would be very hard to fault the sound quality of the Hi-Fi itself.

While the design tends to suggest that this is a good personal system, it produces much better sound when positioned several feet away, at ear level. This is really a whole room speaker system rather than a personal speaker system.


Audio clarity is slightly off but this is an audio file problem rather than a problem with the iPod Hi-Fi itself. If you’re using songs that have been bought from iTunes Music Store or that you’ve imported into iTunes as AAC or MP3 files – which is what most people do – these will not sound as clear as songs that are AIFF or WAV files. While more noticeable on a speaker system than it is when using headphones, this problem of clarity is much less obvious when the Hi-Fi is used at higher volumes.


The iPod itself sits in the Dock – which is located on the top of the iPod Hi-Fi. While this setup looks good, the iPod is in a precarious position, and it should be removed when moving the iPod Hi-Fi. The iPod Hi-Fi’s Dock is also able to charge the iPod.


On the front of the iPod Hi-Fi, in the bottom right-hand corner is a small light that flashes green for any command it’s able to complete and orange for any command it’s unable to complete.


Looking a bit like a miniature iPod nano, the included remote works well, although the control you have is limited to play/pause, skipping forwards/backwards between songs, and increasing/decreasing the volume.


The iPod Hi-Fi also comes with a selection of Dock Adapters – which are pieces of plastic that enable the various iPod sizes to work with the Hi-Fi’s Dock. In the box I tested, there were Dock Adapters for all iPods except for the 1GB iPod nano. A Dock Adapter for the 60GB iPod video wasn’t included either because that model is compatible with the Hi-Fi’s Dock.

iPods without a Dock Connecter – First-Generation and Second-Generation iPods, and the iPod shuffle – can connect to the iPod Hi-Fi via the audio-in jack on the back. Also on the back of the Hi-Fi is an AC power jack (power cable included in box), and a key that can be turned with a coin to open the battery space for six D-cell batteries.


Apple does tend to produce products that are very easy to use, but the iPod Hi-Fi loses points for being a little too simple for the asking price of $349 USD.

Final View

While the iPod Hi-Fi falls down in the design stakes – making it difficult to justify the price – the system is easy to use and the audio quality is hard to fault.


What’s in the box?

  • iPod Hi-Fi and removable grille.
  • Apple Remote.
  • iPod Universal Dock Adapters.
  • AC power cord.
  • Product documentation and user guide.

Technical Specifications

Height: 6.6 inches (167.6 mm)
Width: 17.0 inches (431.8 mm)
Depth: Including grille – 6.9 inches (175.3 mm)
Weight: Without batteries – 14.5 pounds (6.6 kg), with batteries – 16.7 pounds (7.6 kg)
Drivers: Two 80-mm wide-range; one 130-mm woofer
Frequency response: 53Hz to 16kHz ± 3 dB
Maximum peak sound pressure level: 108 dB at 1 m (AC), 102 dB at 1 m (DC)
Power: AC power via internal universal power supply or DC power via six D-cell batteries
Price: $349 USD.



iPod U2 Special Edition

January 28, 2007

The only differences between the iPod U2 Special Edition and the standard 30GB iPod video are the extras, the price, and the design – which is in some ways actually superior to the design of the standard iPod video.  

Who is it good for?

U2 fans.

  • If you’re interested in a limited edition iPod.
  • If you’re after something that looks very different from the standard iPod.

The Design:

As the iPod U2 Special Edition is really the same device as the 30GB iPod video (you can check out our review of its 60GB counterpart), the emphasis here is on the design and whether this design is worth the price.  The front of the iPod U2 Special Edition is black with a red Click Wheel. When the Fourth-Generation iPod U2 Special Edition was released, having a black iPod was something of a novelty. Now that the iPod video is available in black, this is much less of a drawcard. The red Click Wheel is very prominent and despite the fact that the color combination sounds garish, it actually looks quite striking.The hold switch – which is located on the top of the iPod U2 Special Edition alongside the headphones jack – is also black. When you move the switch to the hold position, the color is the same color red as the Click Wheel. As usual, the Dock Connector is on the bottom of the iPod.The back of the iPod is really the best part. Although fans will probably get a kick out of the band member autographs, the focus is really on the darker-than-usual metal casing. This not only looks better than the standard lighter metal casing, but it also shows up less dirt and fingerprints. What is kind of a let down, but not unsurprising, is that the accessories that come with the iPod U2 Special Edition aren’t customized for the device. While the white earbud headphones and the white Dock Connector cable go pretty well with the black and red, it would have been better if they were black or red themselves.

Using the iPod U2 Special Edition

It’s important to note that the battery duration of the iPod U2 Special Edition – and the same goes for the standard 30GB iPod video – could stand to be a little longer. The 2 hours of video playback time is incredibly short. For a detailed look at using the iPod video, check out our 60GB iPod video review.

Special Edition Extras:

The iPod U2 Special Edition comes with a video coupon – featuring band interviews and music – that is redeemable via the iTunes Music Store in the country where the iPod was purchased.


The iPod U2 Special Edition is priced at $329 USD compared to $299 USD for the standard 30GB iPod video. Given the quality of the design – and taking into account the inclusion of the video coupon and the fact that this is a limited edition iPod – this is a fairly reasonable price, although I would have preferred customized accessories to be included.

Final View

The iPod U2 Special Edition will probably appeal most to U2 fans, but its design makes it interesting enough in itself.

What’s in the box?

  • The iPod U2 Special Edition.
  • White earbud headphones.
  • Black earpads.
  • USB Dock Connector cable.
  • Dock Adapter – a little piece of plastic to make the iPod nano work with some third-party Docks and speaker systems.
  • A black pouch.
  • U2 video coupon for use in the iTunes Music Store.
  • Quick Start Guide and Features Guide.
  • iTunes and iPod software for Mac and Windows.

Source: Apple

System Requirements

PC Requirements:

  • PC with USB port or card (USB 2.0 recommended).
  • Windows 2000 with Service Pack 4 or later or Windows XP Home or Professional with Service Pack 2 or later.

Mac Requirements:

  • Mac with USB port (USB 2.0 recommended).
  • Mac OS X 10.3.9 and later.

Source: Apple

Technical Specifications

Size: 30 GB
Dimensions: 4.1 x 2.4 x 0.43 inches
Weight: 4.8 ounces
Song capacity: 7,500 songs
Photo capacity: 25,000 photos
Video capacity: 75 hours
Battery duration: 14 hours (music), 3 hours (music + slideshows), 2 hours (video)
Battery charge time: 4 hours
Screen: 2.5-inch color LCD with LED backlight
Ports: Dock Connector, stereo minijack (headphones jack), composite video and audio via minijack
Connectivity: USB Dock Connector, composite video (with AV cable, sold separately) and audio via headphones jack or line out on the iPod Universal Dock (sold separately)
Audio: AAC (16 to 320 Kbps), Protected AAC (iTunes Music Store), MP3 (16 to 320 Kbps), MP3 VBR, Audible (formats 2, 3 and 4), Apple Lossless, WAV, AIFF
Photos: JPEG, BMP, GIF, TIFF, PSD (Mac only) and PNG
Videos: H.264 video: up to 768 Kbps, 320 x 240, 30 frames per sec., Baseline Profile up to Level 1.3 with AAC-LC up to 160 Kbps, 48 Khz, stereo audio in .m4v, .mp4 and .mov
MPEG-4 video: up to 2.5 mbps, 480 x 480, 30 frames per sec., Simple Profile with AAC-LC up to 160 Kbps, 48 Khz, stereo audio in .m4v, .mp4 and .mov
Colors: Black and red
Warranty: One-year limited warranty, 90-day telephone support for one incident
RRP: $329 USD

Microsoft Gets Its Zune On

January 28, 2007

Microsoft has released official information about their upcoming Zune brand of digital entertainment devices and services, which has the unstated goal of toppling the Apple iPod/iTunes empire. The computer software giant stated the products are “designed around the principles of sharing, discovery and community”.

Zune 30GB Player:

 The first Zune product out of the gate on Nov. 14, 2006 will be a 30GB portable media player, priced at $249.99, which can play and store up to 7,500 songs, 25,000 digital pictures or 100 hours of video. This device, which will be available in black, brown or white, includes built-in wireless technology so one can share full length sample tracks, playlists, pictures and personally recorded audio directly from Zune to Zune.  Sharing of any audio has a set limitation of only being enjoyed by the receiver up to three times in three days and may not work with all sample tracks. Sample tracks shared in this way can also not be passed along to another Zune from the person who was the original recipient.  

Zune Marketplace:




Music which is shared from Zune to Zune and found enjoyable by the recipient can be flagged for later online purchase from the Zune Marketplace, which is Microsoft’s answer to the Apple iTunes Store. The Zune Marketplace will offer “a huge selection of music” which can be bought and synced with the Zune player. This marketplace works with Microsoft Points – a prepaid online currency Microsoft uses currently through Xbox Live Marketplace – so one can purchase music without needing to input a credit card.

Also, Zune Marketplace users will have the choice of individual music download purchases for 79 Microsoft Points per song or a subscription based model for $14.99 per month, which is similar to the current PlaysForSure type online music services used by a variety of Microsoft allied MP3 player manufacturers such as Creative and iriver.

More Zune Player Features:

 Besides the wireless sharing and Zune Marketplace, other features talked about by Microsoft in today’s announcement include being able to customize one of the three base body colors by combining each “with a distinctive double-shot finish created by the overlay of one color on another” as well as using personal pictures or themes on screen; a 3-inch LCD video screen which allows for viewing in portrait or landscape mode; on the go playlists support; digital photo slide show viewing with listening to music;a built-in FM tuner; and support through included Zune software for importing of existing music, pictures and video from iTunes and Windows Media Player in a variety of non-subscription or copy protected formats (audio files in unprotected WMA, MP3, AAC; photos in JPEG; and videos in WMV, MPEG-4, H.264).

Panasonic Tough Book CF-18 – Rugged Notebook

January 26, 2007

 Big and tough – two words that seem to go hand in hand. Whether you’re talking about that bloke in the tuxedo standing outside your local nightclub or an armored personnel carrier, big and tough just seems right. But for every rule there’s the exception and the Tough Book CF-18 is that exception – although small and tough just doesn’t seem to roll off the tongue quite so well.

Like its big brother, the CF-18’s case is constructed from magnesium for ultimate durability and shock resistance, while the shock-proof hard disk enclosure should ensure that you don’t lose any data no matter how hard you treat it.The CF-18 can withstand a drop impact from 90cm, which should cover most instances of it being knocked off a table, dropped out in the field or just generally abused. To make things harder for the little CF-18 we drop tested it with the screen facing outward, since many users will be carrying it this way. As you can see from the animated GIF below, the CF-18 takes quite a tumble, but I can assure you that it survived intact – in fact I’m writing this review on it. being able to withstand this kind of abuse, the CF-18 is, as already mentioned, small. Measuring just 271 x 216 x 49mm (WxDxH), the CF-18 should be able to slip into pretty much any bag or backpack. Also, weighing just 2.1kg, it’s not going to weigh you down too much either. Although the target user for a Tough Book is obviously going to rate durability and shock resistance as paramount, it’s good to see that Panasonic has still managed to produce a machine that’s small and light.


January 26, 2007

Panasonic To Bring 103-Inch Diagonal Plasma TV To
U.S. Market For The Holidays With Industry-First Service Program
 World’s Largest High Definition Plasma
TV Will Include Standard-Setting Three-Year In-Home Warranty

SECAUCUS , NJ (July 19, 2006) – Panasonic, the market and technology leader in Plasma TV, today announced
U.S. pricing and availability of it’s much anticipated 103-inch diagonal High Definition Plasma TV – the world’s largest. The TH-103PZ600U with 1080p capability will have an SRP of $69,999.95 and is expected to be available for delivery in time for Christmas 2006. It will also offer a three-year in-home limited warranty*, unprecedented in the industry.
“Panasonic didn’t create the world’s largest plasma TV as a technology demo for a trade show,” said Andrew Nelkin, Panasonic’s Display Group Vice President. “We created it because, as worldwide sales of Plasma TVs continue on a meteoric rise, the market is seeking bigger displays on which people can experience the High Definition lifestyle. “As important as it is to provide customers with the biggest and the best image, it is equally as important to Panasonic to provide extreme customer satisfaction,” said Nelkin. “With that goal in mind, we are offering customers an industry-first three-year in-home limited warranty with the 103-inch Plasma. We believe our Plasma TV customers are entitled to extra assistance to ensure they enjoy an easy transition to HDTV and get the full value of their investment.”  

 The TH-103PZ600U provides stunning widescreen progressive display featuring full HD pixel resolution of 1,920 horizontal
x 1,080 vertical, a contrast ratio of 4,000:1, and 4,096 equivalent steps of gradation. Its effective display area is more than 89.3” wide by over 50.2” high. The super-size 103” 1080p panel is equivalent in size to four 50-inch Panasonic plasma displays.
The 103-inch Plasma TV joins Panasonic’s line of industry-leading Plasma TV’s including the 37-inch, 42-inch, 50-inch, 58-inch and the recently announced 1080p 65-inch. “With the debut of our 103-inch model, Panasonic now offers customers the most robust and diverse range of High Definition Plasma displays,” said Nelkin. “Panasonic’s 103-inch display represents the pinnacle of our achievement to date and truly redefines the level of ultimate home entertainment available for the most demanding video connoisseur.” In addition, all owners of Panasonic Plasma TVs are covered by the Panasonic Plasma Concierge program which provides advice and answers from trained specialists to help users get on with the experience of enjoying HDTV’s benefits. Panasonic is investing more than $15 million in this unique program, including upgrading its customer call center in
Chesapeake, Virginia, enhancing its website and taking measures to improve the overall customer experience.
Panasonic TH-103PZ600U will be built to order and is expected to be available from select high-end electronics retailers in December. The 103-inch will also require professional installation due to its weight and size.

Microsoft Xbox 360

January 26, 2007


Console and PC gamers have long been divided into two camps. Sure, there are those of us who play on multiple platforms, but hard-core PC gamers tend to be, well, hard-core PC gamers and eschew “mainstream” console games, while committed console gamers can sometimes be heard bashing PC gamers as elitist nerds. While there’s nothing wrong with drawing your own distinction, what’s clear–at least for the moment, anyway–is that Microsoft’s Xbox 360 makes the line between PC and console gaming a lot fuzzier. Yes, this is a console, with game controllers and A/V cables that are designed to interface with your TV–preferably of the HD variety–but Microsoft has essentially packed a high-end PC gaming rig into a relatively small box that fits into any A/V rack or cabinet. That the Xbox 360 also has a user interface that rivals TiVo’s in terms of slick presentation and ease of use, plus a host of digital media and networking features, helps elevate the already-good Xbox experience to a whole new level. Naturally, the 360 is not without its flaws. Many titles simply rehashed their PC or console counterparts, and we’re only now seeing developers shift focus away from the PlayStation 2 and Xbox1 and creating truly next-gen looking games, such as Gears of War. While Microsoft continues to amass a good library of games, it now has to contend with Sony’s PlayStation 3 and Nintendo’s Wii. But the $400 Xbox 360 has a major price advantage over the PS3, at least through the end of 2006–it is $100 to $200 cheaper than Sony’s device (the PS3 is available in $500 and $600 versions), and it will be widely available (PS3s will be in short supply until early 2007). Moreover, the $200 HD-DVD accessory and high-def media downloads (both available in November) makes the Xbox 360 a credible HD movie box. With a year’s head start, an excellent mid-range price, and a great library of games, the Xbox 360 is the yardstick against which the new Sony and Nintendo consoles will be measured in 2007–and beyond.

Design of Microsoft Xbox 360 (20GB)

When laid horizontally, the 8.8-pound Xbox 360 is 12.15 inches wide, 3.27 inches high, and 10.15 inches deep and is actually slightly smaller than the original Xbox, which also weighed in at 8.8 pounds. Unlike the original, the Xbox 360 can also be propped up in a vertical position and, as you’re probably aware, can be customized with interchangeable faceplates that cost up to $20. Neither the original Xbox nor the 360 are terribly sexy, especially compared to the slimmed-down PlayStation 2, but at least the 360 is less boxy than the original, and you can always slap on a funky faceplate to liven things up. Custom faceplates aside, it’s worth pointing out that the beige color of the system tends to clash with the silver and blacks of typical A/V components.One of the reasons Microsoft was able to keep down the 360’s weight is that instead of building a standard, desktop-style hard drive into the unit itself, it’s gone with a smaller–and more expensive–laptop-style hard drive that’s detachable from the main unit. The hard drive (included with the $399 Xbox 360 premium bundle, sold separately for the $299 Core System) is 20GB, but we assume significantly larger capacities will become available from Microsoft–or more likely–third-party manufacturers. As part of the $399 bundle, you’ll also get a wireless controller–the 360 has built-in wireless capabilities but only for controllers, not Wi-Fi (more on that faux pas in the Features section). Each 360 console can support up to four wireless controllers, and unlike with third-party wireless controllers for earlier consoles, you won’t have to have to plug any dongles into any ports. You’ll also like that a green LED on both the 360 itself and the controller indicates exactly which controllers (1 through 4) are connected. This is also true if you are playing with a mixture of wireless and wired controllers; you know who has which controller. All in all, we really like the design of the new controllers. They feel good in hand, and the shift of the Start and Back buttons to the top middle of the controller is a good move, as is the addition of a set of shoulder buttons on top of the right/left trigger buttons. And no, Xbox1 controllers do not work with the 360. On the front of the unit, you’ll find two USB ports hidden behind hinged doors in the faceplate, as well as two memory-card slots that allow you to take saved games and other content on the go. Those ports are where you’ll plug in any wired controllers and other USB accessories that will become available, as well as cables to connect a digital camera, MP3 players, or even your iPod or Sony PSP. Many USB keyboards are compatible, but for the most part, they are strictly relegated to communication and data entry functions, not gameplay. While Microsoft clearly hopes you’ll go wireless and thereby free up USB ports for other accessories, we were disappointed there was only one USB port on the back of the unit–and that one is meant for Microsoft’s optional wireless networking adapter, which conveniently clips on to the back of 360. Another small design gripe: You won’t be able to connect some thumbdrive-style MP3 players, such as the Apple iPod Shuffle, to the USB port in back. You’ll need a USB extension cable to connect them because the entryway to the port is too narrow.The 360 sports an infrared (IR) port on the front panel, which lets you use compatible remote controls without the need for an external dongle. Furthermore, you can power the console on and off and open the disc tray with a remote or a controller–another convenient improvement over the old Xbox. The Xbox 360’s onscreen Dashboard interface is truly stellar, and it’s clear that the folks at Microsoft looked less toward Windows and more toward the vaunted TiVo interface for their model. Yes, the 360 interface certainly has some ties to that of Windows Media Center PCs, but it’s slicker and more user-friendly, with color-coated tabs for the system’s various features, including gaming, media, system settings, and Xbox Live. To page through the various activities, you simply move the directional keypad on your controller (or the remote) left to right. With the increased processing power, windows open quicker than they do on the original; the system and interface as a whole just feels zippier. Like the faceplates, the Dashboard is customizable, with a host of themes preloaded on the hard drive and many more available to download.Continuing the Xbox 360’s customization kick is the Gamer Card, which consists of a personal avatar–a picture chosen from a batch of Microsoft approved images or an image you’ve captured using the Xbox Live Vision Camera–as well as a motto 21 characters or less in length. The centerpiece of the Gamer Card is the Gamerscore: a point-total representative of predetermined goals, known as Achievements, met in each and every game. It’s a nice way to foster offline competitiveness between gamers, as even completely single-player games such as Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion include Achievements.Not to end the Design section on a down note, but we would remiss not to mention the Xbox 360’s power supply. There’s a reason they call these things power bricks–this one truly is the size and weight of a real brick. We’re not kidding. Furthermore, the 360’s exhaust fan is audibly noisy in a quiet room–not a problem when gaming, but it could be a factor when you’re using the 360 for media playback.

Features of Microsoft Xbox 360 (20GB)

As mentioned previously, there are two versions of the Xbox 360 available. The $299 Core System delivers the bare basics: the console, a single wired controller, and a standard composite A/V cable. The $399 “premium” bundle (known officially, and confusingly, as simply the Xbox 360) includes the console, along with several key accessories that you’d otherwise have to purchase separately: a wireless game controller, a communications headset for Xbox Live, a component A/V cable, an Ethernet networking cable, and–most important–a snap-on 20GB hard drive. Though it’s more expensive, the premium bundle is easily the better deal in our book. With it, you’re getting at least $210 worth of accessories for only $100 more. The hard drive–which alone retails for $100–is a must-have accessory. Not only is the 20GB hard drive a far more capacious solution than the memory cards that will set you back $40 apiece and hold only a paltry 64MB of data, it’s absolutely necessary if you want to play games designed for the old Xbox console and enjoy the 360’s more advanced media features. Unlike previous game consoles, the Xbox 360 was designed from the ground up to be ready for the HDTV era. As such, all the games have been designed to at least 720p resolution (1,280×720 wide-screen), with many titles available in 1080i. A system update in October 2006 added 1080p (1,920×1,080 wide-screen) support, but games at that resolution won’t start rolling out until 2007. Furthermore, not many HDTVs can handle 1080p via component. To see the graphics in HD, of course, you’ll need to be connected to an HD-ready TV or monitor via the component-video adapter, which is included in the premium $399 Xbox bundle. Alternately, you can pick up VGA video adapters from Microsoft ($40) or Joytech ($20), which let you connect to HDTVs and PC monitors that offer a standard 15-pin VGA/RGB connector. The VGA adapter offers a handful of other PC monitor-friendly high-def resolution choices, such as 848×480 and 1,024×768 as well as the traditional high-def resolutions available via component. At this point, however, the 360 offers neither DVI nor HDMI digital video connections–unlike the Sony PlayStation 3, which includes 1080p-capable HDMI on all models. Don’t worry if you don’t have an HDTV–the Xbox 360’s component adapter includes a fallback composite output, and the system can output good ol’ standard 480i resolution with formatting for squarish 4:3 (non-wide-screen) sets.Just like the old Xbox, the new system offers top-notch Dolby Digital audio. In-game soundtracks are rendered in full real-time surround, creating an immersive sound field that envelops you in the game world. All of the A/V cables include an optical audio output, but you’ll need to supply the optical cable, as well as the compatible A/V receiver or home-theater system. Each A/V cable also comes with standard analog stereo connections for connecting to a TV or stereo, but you’ll lose the surround effect, of course.While it’s primarily a game machine, the Xbox 360 is a formidable digital media hub as well. Plug a digital camera, a flash card reader, a thumbdrive, or a music player into the Xbox 360’s USB port, and if it’s compatible with a Windows PC, you’ll likely have plug-and-play access to browse your photos, listen to your MP3s, and play WMV videos. Digital media on your home network are similarly accessible: just install Microsoft’s Windows Media Player 11, Zune software, or Windows Media Connect (all are free downloads) on any PC running Windows XP, and the 360 will be able to stream music, and access photos and WMV videos from the remote PC. If your PC is running Windows Media Center Edition (and presumably, forthcoming versions of Microsoft Vista), the integration is even tighter. The 360 doubles as a Media
Center Extender, letting you access your TV recordings–including those in high-def–from the networked MCE PC. One of the major successes of the original Xbox was Xbox Live. The online gaming and communications network is an even more intrinsic part of the Xbox 360. Every model (assuming access to a broadband Internet connection and a storage option–either the hard drive or a memory card) has a base-level membership called Xbox Live Silver. That offers the ability to create a list of friends, view their gamer cards, and communicate with them outside of a game via voice chat and voice messaging using the headset; text messaging is also possible. Later this year, an EyeToy-like video camera will be released for the 360, allowing face mapping and video chat in a few games. Silver members also have access to the Xbox Live Marketplace, Microsoft’s online bazaar. In order to play multiplayer games, you’ll need to upgrade to Xbox Live Gold, which is basically the same $50-per-year service from the old Xbox. Existing Live subscribers can easily transfer their subscription to their new ‘box. While the Xbox 360’s online experience is quite impressive, Sony promises to deliver a similar-scale service for free on the PS3, though it remains to be seen whether the company can deliver (a few of the PS3’s original features have been scrapped). For its part, Microsoft periodically offers free full subscription weeks and weekends to Xbox Live Silver members.The Xbox Live Marketplace offers up free movie trailers and game demos, as well as premium content, such as Dashboard themes, gamer tag pictures, and extra content for full-featured games. Items are purchased by using Microsoft points, which is the proprietary 360 currency that’s purchasable through the system or via prepaid cards (the going rate for 1,600 points is $30, for example).Arguably the biggest draw for the Xbox Live Marketplace is the wide range of titles available for Xbox Live
Arcade. There’s a healthy mix of completely original titles and classic PC and arcade games freshened up with high-def visuals; some even include online multiplayer options. All of the games are playable as free demos, but to compete online and earn achievement points, you’re going to have to pony up the Marketplace dough.
Microsoft has added another feather to the 360’s Marketplace cap with the addition of TV show downloads and feature-length movie rentals. Available in both standard and high definition, videos will run 400 to 800 Microsoft points ($5 to $10). While we welcome the addition of high-def shows and movies to the Xbox 360’s downloadable wares, it highlights an increasing concern among Xbox 360 owners–the size of the system’s hard drive. After necessary system files are installed, the 20GB hard drive has only 13GB of storage left to fit game files, demo downloads, and Xbox Live Arcade titles. While you can delete and re-download shows and games without incurring a second charge, the 20GB hard drive isn’t nearly sufficient, especially when compared to the high-end PlayStation 3’s 60GB drive. While the 360’s library is constantly growing, it can also play more than 250 games designed for the original Xbox. The backward compatibility is enabled through downloadable emulation profiles; they’re free, but you’ll need the hard drive to install them. In fact, the software for Halo and Halo 2 compatibility is preinstalled on the hard drive. Unfortunately, while 250-plus sounds like a high number, that leaves more than 400 old Xbox titles unplayable on the 360 for the time being. Microsoft is working to broaden the list–it’s added about 50 new titles since launch–but there’s no announced timetable as to when the remaining games will be ported over, and it certainly seems as though not every game will be included.

Performance of Microsoft Xbox 360 (20GB)

The guts of the Xbox 360 comprise what is, for all intents and purposes, a very powerful computer. The customized
IBM PowerPC CPU boasts three processing cores running at 3.2GHz each, each offering two hardware threads, while the ATI graphics processor is said to be able to pump out 500 million triangles per second. We could go on, recounting the 360’s supposed 16 gigasamples-per-second fill rate using 4X antialiasing and 48 billion shader operations per second–not to mention, of course, the 48-way parallel floating-point dynamically scheduled shader pipelines and the 9 billion dot product operations per second. But, frankly, even if we understood what half those impressive-sounding specs meant, we’d have no way to verify or benchmark them.
What we can say is the Xbox 360 graphics varied widely from game to game. With its amazingly lifelike cityscapes and photorealistic Ferraris, Project Gotham Racing 3 offers what’s probably the best example of the 360’s HD-enabled graphical prowess–you could almost smell the exhaust of the cars as they darted over a dead-on re-creation of the Brooklyn
Bridge. The expansive environments of a game such as Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion or the amount of characters on screen at one time in Dead Rising put the graphical output of previous consoles to shame. Similarly, Call of Duty 3 had us ducking for cover as we slogged through some of the toughest firefights of World War II. Meanwhile, in the more intimate confines of the ring, the boxers in Fight Night Round 3 looked astonishing–when a knockout blow was landed, a close-up replay would reveal the copious amount of spit, sweat, and blood emanating from the victim of pugilistic brutality. On the flip side, though, are plenty of games that were developed to lesser consoles and given little else than a bump in resolution–titles such as Samurai Warriors 2, The Godfather, and Lego Star Wars II carry over the now-substandard visuals of a previous generation of consoles.
While the Xbox 360’s jump to 1080p takes a bit of the wind out of the PlayStation 3’s sails, we haven’t really been impressed with its implementation. As mentioned above, the lack of HDMI severely limits the amount of people that can experience the Xbox 360 in 1080p. Not many 1080p-capable televisions can produce the resolution via component, forcing many to use the VGA adaptor. Furthermore, none of the downloadable videos are available at resolutions higher than 720p, and it may take some time until we see a game produced in a resolution above 1080i. We tested the 1080i game Dead Rising on an HDTV capable of 1080p (the Westinghouse LVM-47w1), and found the same issues apparent at 1080i. In the game’s opening flyover scene, we still found a lot of flickering and aliasing in faraway fences, street posts, and crossing lines. The backward compatibility on the Xbox 360 has its benefits and drawbacks. Microsoft claims that it’s pumping up the resolutions and adding antialiasing effects to the older games, and both tweaks seemed in evidence while playing Halo 2. Also, playing an online-enabled Xbox1 game (such as Halo 2) lets you seamlessly interact with other Xbox Live players still using the old console. On the other hand, some games such as Fable: The Lost Chapters have brought along new graphical glitches and none of the Xbox1 custom soundtrack-enabled games (for example, the Grand Theft Auto Trilogy) will recognize the songs imported onto your 360. Finally, there is no way to transfer your Xbox1 saves to the 360, so you’ll have to reconfigure your workout regimen in Yourself Fitness.Xbox Live is much more integrated throughout the 360 than it was in the old Xbox. At any time, you can punch the Home button on your controller to bring up the Live message center. In theory, you can be playing an offline, single-player game of, say, Enchanted Arms, get an invite from a friend (think instant messaging), and quit out back to the Dashboard while you swap over to F.E.A.R..The in-game Xbox Live experience hasn’t changed drastically, but then again, the service was already near-impeccable on the Xbox1. By virtue of the system’s processing power, games should be able to support more players online. Perfect Dark Zero, for example can handle 32 players, more than all but a few Xbox1 games. Test Drive Unlimited transforms the open roads of
Hawaii into a gaming lobby, where you can pass by potential opponents on the road. Then there are games that support video chatting, like the Xbox Live
Arcade‘s Texas Hold ‘Em. As developers have learned the ins and outs of the 360’s hardware, we’re starting to see more players and less lag in the many online-compatible 360 titles.
On the media front, the 360 worked as advertised. We were able to pull photos from several digital cameras, as well as a camera phone Memory Stick Duo plugged into a stock
Lexar USB card reader. We were also able to stream music and view photos stored on our Creative Zen Vision:M. And true to its word, Microsoft is playing nice with its competitors; we were able to access audio and photo files from the 20GB Apple iPod and the Sony PSP. Unfortunately, you don’t get access to the iPod’s playlists, and you can’t play back copy-protected songs purchased from the iTunes Music Store–the result of Apple’s intransigence, not Microsoft’s. Digital media streamed just as easily from XP PCs on our local network, but those with Media Center PCs will find the best experience: the 360 is a full-fledged extender, giving you access to the Media Center’s look and feel, as well as access to its recorded videos, music, and photos.
Of course, the 360 is a capable CD/DVD player as well. You can’t copy music files from connected or networked devices, but you can rip CDs straight to the 360’s hard drive, then use those songs as soundtracks for pretty much any native Xbox 360 game. On the DVD front, the 360 finally plays movie discs in 480p progressive scan (via component–the 360 can play DVDs in higher resolutions via VGA) and without the need for an additional remote à la the Xbox1. But 480p is so 2002, especially for a box that touts its HD streetcred. This is where the lack of HDMI or DVI output hurts because those connections would offer the possibility of upscaling DVDs to 720p or 1080i resolutions. Moreover, DVDs represent the pinnacle of the 360’s optical disc capabilities, meaning these next-gen games will need to be squeezed into just 8.5GB of space unless they’re supplemented by downloadable content or made into a multidisc game. By comparison, the PlayStation 3 will use the next-generation Blu-ray format, which holds at least 25GB per disc–the potential for significantly more high-def graphics, gameplay, and so forth. The Xbox 360 won’t work with Blu-ray or HD-DVD discs in a game-playing capacity, although movie fans can pick up the external HD-DVD drive, which is available for $200 with a movie and media remote and plays the 1080p-capable HD-DVD movie format. The bigger mystery remains in regard to the HD-DVD player’s output–no HDMI or DVI cable exists for the Xbox 360 thus far, leading many to believe that Microsoft may be hoping that studios don’t use image constraint to clamp down on component-enabled next-gen video. With the system’s growing pains largely behind it, the Microsoft Xbox 360 has hit its stride just in time to compete with the PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Wii. With titles such as Call of Duty 3 and Gears of War available now, though, it’s obvious developers have become more accustomed to the challenge of programming for the 360, and we’ll see much more impressive titles–such as Halo 3 and Mass Effect–as a result. Once those games begin to comprise the majority of the new releases, the Xbox 360 will be a hard opponent for the newer consoles to topple.

Nintendo Wii

January 26, 2007


Nintendo has ventured off the beaten path with its newest system, and the company knows it.

While the Sony PlayStation 3 and the Microsoft Xbox 360 both emphasize their impressive graphical capabilities, Nintendo downplays the importance of graphics on its new console. While the Sony and Microsoft consoles keep the branding of their respective predecessors, the oddly named Wii is a semantic departure from Nintendo’s more literally named 2001 console, the GameCube. And while the PS3 and the Xbox 360 both use conventional gamepads bristling with buttons, control sticks, and directional pads, the Wii uses a device that looks more like a TV remote than a gamepad to control its games. These strange choices could have spelled failure for Nintendo’s newest endeavor. Underplaying processing power, using a strange new controller setup, and giving the whole package an odd name could have been major mistakes for Nintendo. (Consider some of the company’s earlier attempts to go against the grain: the Power Glove and the Virtual Boy.) But if our early experience with the Wii is any indication, this particular Nintendo gamble seems likely to pay off. It’s strange, it’s new, and it’s not as powerful as its competitors, but the
Nintendo Wii succeeds in its primary mission: it’s fun to play. 

Opening the box:

The Wii box includes everything you need to hook the system up to a standard television: the Wii console, a wireless controller with nunchuk adapter, the sensor bar, a cradle (for mounting the console vertically), the Wii’s modestly sized power adapter, and a set of composite A/V cables. Unfortunately, composite cables don’t support the Wii’s top resolution of 480p, so HDTV owners will want to also purchase a set of Wii component cables (sold separately). The Wii console itself is downright tiny–easily the smallest and lightest of the new generation of game machines. At 1.75 inches high by 6.25 inches wide by 8.5 inches deep (when oriented horizontally), it is–as Nintendo promised–about the size of three DVD cases. The initial model is available only in iPod-white, but it’s a safe bet that we’ll see plenty of other colors become available as the months and years progress. Like with the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360, you can lay the Wii horizontally or stand it vertically (either by itself or, for added stability, in the included plastic cradle). Like the PS3, the Wii uses a slot-loading mechanism; it accepts the Wii discs (full-size 12cm) and older GameCube discs (mini 8cm), without the need for an adapter. The Wii includes 512MB of internal memory for storing saved games, downloaded Virtual Console titles, and other data. If that half-gigabyte of onboard storage isn’t enough for you, the system has a standard Secure Digital card slot for additional storage. SD cards are cheap and plentiful, and the Wii’s support of them is a refreshing change of pace from the proprietary memory cards used by older game consoles. While it doesn’t come with a memory card or component-video cables, the Wii does include one pleasant surprise in the box. The system comes with Wii Sports, a simple but infectious sports game that lets users get a feel for the Wii’s capabilities without investing in additional games. Wii Sports uses the system’s wireless controller as erstwhile sporting equipment, letting users swing and mock-throw it to play baseball, tennis, golf, bowling, and boxing. The different games can support up to four players at a time, but most modes require more than the system’s single controller for multiplayer options. Players can swap the remote back and forth for golf and bowling, but players who would like to box or face each other in a tennis match or a baseball game will need to purchase at least one more controller. Wii Sports feels more like a collection of five minigames than a fully fleshed-out title, but it lets users have fun right out of the box and showcases the system’s potential.

The Wii’s simple design makes it very easy to hook up. The back panel of the console has only five ports: one for the power adapter, one for the proprietary A/V cable, one for the sensor bar, and two USB ports for future accessories. Just plug in the sensor bar and put it either on top of or under your television, plug the video cable into your TV, and plug the power cable into the wall, and you’re ready to go. Once everything is hooked together, just turn on the Wii to go through the software setup. Settings such as time and user name can be easily selected with the remote control’s pointer. The only remotely technical setting most users will have to deal with is the network connection, and the menu system practically walks users through the setup. The Wii’s Wi-Fi connection can work with secure WEP and WPA encrypted Wi-Fi networks, so you don’t have to make your network vulnerable just to play online. We had no problem connecting to our open wireless router, though we couldn’t test the network connection beyond that. If you don’t have Wi-Fi at all, Nintendo is said to be offering an Ethernet adapter that interfaces with one of the USB ports. Once the Wii’s network settings are set up, the system is designed to be constantly online through Nintendo’s WiiConnect24 service. The Wii can use WiiConnect24 to automatically download system updates, additional game content, and even weather and news.
Wii Channels…Media and online capabilities:

The Wii’s navigation is done through a series of pages called Wii Channels that take advantage of the WiiConnect24’s always-on design. Among the Wii’s default channels are a weather forecast channel, a news channel, a message channel, a photo channel, and the cute avatar-generating Mii channel. The channel home page is the system’s default gateway, which also provides access to the disc-based Wii/GameCube games and Virtual Console titles. The Mii Channel lets users create and modify Miis, cute little avatars for use online and in certain games. The Miis are cartoony and extremely simple, but the Mii Channel includes enough customization features for users to create Miis that look like themselves, their friends, or even celebrities. (Our Wii is currently populated with characters from The Big Lebowski.) Miis don’t seem that useful, but they can be used as characters in games such as Wii Sports, and as avatars in the Wii’s Message Channel. Since Miis are so simple, players can use their Wiimotes’ 6KB of storage to carry around as many as 10 Miis and use them on their friends’ Wiis. The Photo Channel was a pleasantly useful surprise, though a bit of a misnomer. The channel can display and edit photos. Nintendo claims that the Wii can also play MP3 music files and QuickTime videos, but these features feel like afterthoughts; MP3s can be played only in a photo slide show, and we were unable to load a QuickTime movie on our Wii. Fortunately, the Photo Channel’s emphasis is clearly on image viewing and editing. Once up to 1,000 of your photos are loaded through the SD card slot, you can view them individually, browse them in an album view, or watch a slide show of them. The Photo Channel also includes a basic image editor, though it’s clearly built more for fun than serious editing. With its upbeat background music and some very cute image options, the editor feels a lot like the old Super Nintendo classic Mario Paint. While on the subject of media, it’s worth noting that the Wii does not play audio CDs or video DVDs, which is something of a disappointment. Yes, everybody already has a DVD player, but with DVD playback capability being standard-issue since the last generation of game consoles, its omission here is something of a conundrum. Nintendo claims it was to keep the price down, and the company’s last-generation console, the GameCube, also lacked DVD playback. Nintendo also hasn’t indicated that it’s going to launch any sort of downloadable video or music store, and–with the Wii’s lack of a built-in spacious hard drive–that doesn’t seem like it would be on the docket anytime soon. The Message Channel is the Wii’s system message and online communication center. It’s used to send messages to other Wii owners online using their systems’ unique Friend Codes, but we were unable to test that feature without Nintendo’s online service. The Message Channel can also give players a variety of reports about changes in their Wii system settings, how much time they spend on different games, and other interesting pieces of information. Virtual Console
Shopping for old-school games with the Virtual Console is easy. If your Wii is online, just go to the Wii Shop channel and browse. These games cost Wii Points, which can be purchased in card form at stores such as Electronics Boutique, or with a credit card directly through the Wii Shop. Regardless of how you get your points, you’ll need to enter them into your account through the Wii Shop. If you have a Wii Points card, you can redeem it by entering a code through your Wii. If you want to buy the points directly online, you have to enter your credit card information with the Wiimote through the Wii’s software keyboard.
Once you have your points, you can start shopping. Go into the Wii Shop and select Virtual Console, then browse through the various games available. Each game has a title screenshot and a short description so that you can learn a bit before you decide to buy. When you’re ready, just click Download, and you can confirm the purchase. The Wii will tell you exactly how much space you’ll have left on the Wii and how many Wii Points you’ll have left in your account after the download. After you confirm the purchase, the Wii begins downloading your chosen game automatically. The progress of the download is shown by a cute animation of the 8-bit Super
Mario Bros. Mario chasing coins and hitting blocks. The downloads can take less than a minute for NES games, or as much as 10 minutes for Nintendo 64 games. Once the game is downloaded, the program will boot you back to the Wii Shop’s main menu.
Downloaded Virtual Console games appear as individual channels in the Wii’s main menu, and playing those games is as simple as selecting their channel and pressing start. The VC emulator loads the game, and your retro fun begins. VC games are essentially perfect emulations of their original versions, which is both good and bad for gamers. Classic purists will be thrilled at the genuine, old-school gameplay experience, but more casual players hoping for the enhanced graphics or online play found in some XBLA retro games will be disappointed. For extra old-school experience, the Wiimote itself can be turned sideways and handled like a conventional controller for NES and Turbographix-16 games. For SNES, Genesis, and N64 games, however, you’ll need either an old GameCube controller plugged into one of the system’s GC ports or the Wii Virtual Console controller plugged into your Wiimote. Wide-screen users will notice the one fatal flaw of the Virtual Console: old-school games have no wide-screen support. If you play on a wide-screen TV, your retro game will be stretched noticeably. Though a firmware update may be in the system’s future, the only way to fix this issue currently is to set your television to a 4:3 aspect ratio for Virtual Console games and set it back to wide-screen for regular games.   

The Wiimote controller:

Wii Sports also doubles as a tutorial for familiarizing yourself with the system’s unique wireless controller, which is what really sets it apart from competing consoles–and all the game systems that have come before it. The Wiimote, as it’s been affectionately dubbed, is a sophisticated motion-sensing controller that connects wirelessly to the Wii via the Bluetooth wireless protocol. This revolutionary design isn’t completely wireless: to function, it requires the placement of the Wii’s sensor bar either on top of or beneath your television screen. Fortunately, the sensor bar is extremely unobtrusive, and we forgot it was even there minutes after setting up the system. The sensor bar is a small and light plastic rectangle about the size of two pens laid end to end, and it connects to the Wii with a very long cord (about eight feet), so its setup is simple and flexible. The sensor bar comes with a tiny, clear plastic base with adhesive squares on its feet, so you can stick it securely on the top of your television, even if it’s a narrow flat-panel screen. Accelerometers inside the remote sense how the device is being held and if it’s being moved in any direction. These sensors control actions such as baseball bat and golf club swings in Wii Sports, Link’s sword slashes in The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, and even steering trucks in Excite Truck. Moreover, you hold the Wiimote differently depending on the game: grasp it like the hilt of a sword in Zelda and Red Steel, as a baseball bat or tennis racket in Wii Sports, or hold it horizontally as a steering bar for Excite Truck. Because the Wiimote is so light, these controls and movements can take some getting used to. Fortunately, a speaker and a force-feedback module built into the Wiimote can provide additional tactile and audio feedback for your actions and add an extra bit of immersion to the Wii experience. For example, the remote’s tiny speaker makes an audible “Clang!” when Link swings his sword, and it rumbles when Link strikes an enemy. Even menu selections on the Wii are signaled by helpful little vibrations of the Wiimote. The Wiimote also uses a set of infrared sensors to determine the remote’s orientation in regard to the television. A set of IR diodes in the Wiimote communicate with the Wii’s sensor bar to serve as a pointer for navigating menus and aiming weapons in first-person shooters. Again, this control system takes some getting used to, but once you adapt to the control, pointing with the Wiimote feels much more natural than using an analog stick. It doesn’t quite replace the beloved mouse-and-keyboard combination for FPS games, but–after getting acclimated to it–we found it worked better than traditional console controllers. While the new control system is both fun and innovative, the pointer gets occasionally jerky or twitchy, and the tilt controls require a light and subtle touch. Part of this can be attributed to the Wii’s learning curve, and after a few hours we barely noticed those quirks. Unfortunately, the Wii doesn’t currently have a way to manually calibrate the Wiimote’s controls; you’re forced to trust the Wii’s generally accurate automatic calibration. The remote’s stand-alone abilities are impressive enough, but it also has a device port so that accessories can be plugged directly into it. The Wii comes with a nunchuk attachment, a small device that plugs into the remote and contains an analog stick and two additional buttons. The nunchuk augments the Wiimote in many games, such as controlling characters’ movements in Twilight Princess or Red Steel. The nunchuk also contains motion-sensing equipment, so it can be shaken and rocked to perform additional actions. For example, shaking the nunchuk in Twilight Princess executes a spinning slash attack. The nunchuk will probably be the most commonly used Wiimote accessory, but others will also be available. Currently, the only other confirmed accessory is the Virtual Console controller, a conventional gamepad with dual analog sticks. The VC controller will most likely be used with the Wii’s Virtual Console to play older games, though some Wii games will support the pad’s more conventional controls. We also saw at E3 2006 a pistol grip accessory that the Wiimote slides into to offer more controls with shooter games. The pistol grip hasn’t been confirmed for retail release, but it offers an example of the flexibility and potential the control configuration offers. This wireless, motion-sensing goodness doesn’t come without a price. The Wiimote uses two AA batteries, which must power the remote’s accelerometers, IR sensors, Bluetooth radio, speaker, rumble module, and any attachments you plug in (the batteryless nunchuk draws its power from the Wiimote). The Wii doesn’t come with any sort of charger, so you’ll almost certainly want to pick up a set of at least four rechargeable AA batteries and a battery charger. Another factor to consider is that extra controllers a pretty pricey: $40 for additional Wiimotes, plus another $20 for the nunchuk.

Gameplay and graphics:

The Wii’s biggest and most obvious appeal is the ability to use its motion-sensing controller to play Wii-specific games. The Wii’s release lineup includes the highly anticipated Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess and the addictive pack-in party game Wii Sports, as well as a variety of more traditional third-party titles (many of which have been enhanced to use the Wiimote control). But while you’re waiting for some more innovative Wii titles to arrive, there will still be plenty of games to play. The Wii is fully backward compatible with the Nintendo GameCube and includes four built-in GameCube controller ports and two GameCube memory card slots for gamers who want to enjoy their last-gen games.
If Wii and GameCube games aren’t enough, the Wii also features Nintendo’s Virtual Console, a library of games from the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), Super NES, Nintendo 64, Sega Genesis, and Turbografix-16 systems. Games can be purchased and downloaded over Nintendo’s online Wii Store, where they are stored on the Wii’s system memory or SD card. Virtual Console game purchases are tied to the Wii’s network ID, so you can’t pop your Virtual Console games onto an SD card and take them over to play them on a friend’s Wii. On the bright side, Nintendo is pledging that already purchased games can be downloaded again free if you accidentally lose or delete your data. Games are purchased with Wii Points, which can be purchased via credit card or gift card (100 Wii Points equals one U.S. dollar)–the system is essentially identical to Microsoft’s tried-and-true Xbox Live Marketplace (Sony’s fledgling PlayStation store will denominate purchases in real currency, but is functionally the same). NES games will cost the equivalent of $5 (500 points), Turbografix-16 games $6, Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis games $8, and Nintendo 64 games $10. While the Wii’s controller is very advanced and innovative, its processing power is not. The system uses a more powerful version of the
Nintendo GameCube‘s processor, and it doesn’t have nearly as much polygon-pushing power as the Xbox 360 or the PlayStation 3. While Microsoft’s and Sony’s consoles support high-definition outputs of up to 1080p, the Wii can hit only the GameCube’s ceiling of 480p, and even that mode can’t be used with the Wii’s included composite A/V cables. (Most if not all of the Wii’s games will, however, be optimized for wide-screen TVs.) The Wii also lacks advanced surround sound, instead sticking with the GameCube’s Dolby Pro-Logic II matrixed surround (based on a stereo signal, not native 5.1). In other words, if you’re looking for state-of-the-art eye candy, you’re going to want to opt for the PS3 or the Xbox 360–either of which will take a significantly larger chunk of your bank account.
Is the Wii worth picking up? It all depends on what you’re looking for. If you’ve been clamoring for an all-purpose next-generation multimedia box with blinding HD graphics, the Wii will be a disappointment. But Nintendo was never competing in that arena anyway: the Wii is focused squarely on delivering fun and innovative gameplay, leaving Sony and Microsoft to battle it out at the high end. The Wiimote and its motion-sensing, pseudo-virtual-reality controls are the biggest draws of the console, and its online capabilities, Wii Channels, Virtual Console, and GameCube backward-compatibility are just a thick, sweet layer of icing on an already tasty cake. With a price tag of just $250–far less than those of its competitors–and the included Wii Sports disc that provides mindless fun out of the box, the

Nintendo Wii won’t disappoint. Whether it will be merely a short-lived novelty or a sea change in video gaming, only time will tell.