Archive for the ‘All’ category

The greatest game console of all time?

February 7, 2008

few days ago, blogger Don Reisinger made the bold declaration that the Super Nintendo was the greatest video game system of all time. The SNES was indeed a great console with lots of great games, but it’s still a leap to call it the greatest system ever made. In an industry that’s over 30 years old, that’s seen dozens upon dozens of home video game systems, simply calling out Nintendo’s second console as the best ever seems simplistic.

To a certain extent, though, Don is right. The Super Nintendo could be considered the greatest console of all time. It presented a huge leap in technology from the NES, and its superlative selection of great games make it a system I’d be proud to keep next to my TV to this day. Some of my fondest young gaming memories revolve around the SNES and the countless hours I spent in front of it. Many of my favorite games are SNES titles, and they’re still great to play today (thank you, Virtual Console, since my original SNES is long gone).  

The Super Nintendo isn’t the only choice, though. It might not even be the best choice for best console. The SNES took a huge leap forward from the NES, but it went in the same direction as the NES took from the Atari. It did everything the NES did, and it did a far better job of it, but it didn’t really offer much else. A look at some of the greatest games of the system offer enough proof of that: Super Mario World, Super Metroid, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Mega Man X, and Final Fantasy VI were all sequels. They’re all fantastic games, but they owe everything to the original NES games: Super Mario Brothers, Metroid, The Legend of Zelda, Mega Man, and Final Fantasy. 

Several other consoles could also be called the greatest gaming system. They all offer a great advancement from the previous generation, they all feature massive libraries of great games, and they all have a shot at beating the Super Nintendo for the superlative title. 

Nintendo Entertainment System:  Brought gaming back from the brink  

The NES helped start it all, and pulled North America back from the brink after the console gaming crash. The home video game system market almost died in 1983 and 1984, when the field became flooded with everything from Atari to Colecovision to Intellivision to Vectrex to the Bally Astrocade. There were practically more systems on the market than decent games to play with them, and people weren’t biting. The Nintendo Entertainment System helped revitalize the industry when it came out in the U.S. in late 1985.  Of course, Nintendo’s first home system wasn’t great simply because what it did to the market. The 8-bit console found dozens of great games, from franchise firsts like Super Mario Brothers, Metroid, and The Legend of Zelda, to great third-party titles like Mega Man, Castlevania, and Final Fantasy, to classic sports games like Super Tecmo Bowl, Super Dodgeball, and Blades of Steel. The millions of grown-up gamers who helped make the game industry so successful owe much of their childhood memories to time spent on Nintendo’s 8-bit console.  

The case against: The NES’ games haven’t aged very well. While SNES titles like Final Fantasy VI, Super Mario World, Super Metroid, and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past are still a blast to play, the original Final Fantasy,, Super Mario Brothers, Metroid, and The Legend of Zelda can’t readily compare. They score big on the nostalgia factor, but the SNES offers broader, deeper, prettier games that feature all the best parts of the NES titles without the ugliness or simplicity. It doesn’t help that for every great game on the NES, there were easily 10 horrible pieces of shovelware pushed out.  

Great games: Super Mario Brothers, The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, Mega Man, Castlevania, Super Dodgeball, Duck Hunt, StarTropics, Ducktales, Final Fantasy  

Sony PlayStation: Gaming made for grown-ups

If you had an NES in your childhood living room, you probably had a PlayStation in your college dorm room. While the NES helped make home video games popular again, the PlayStation helped legitimize the industry as a form of entertainment for adults, as well as kids. Titles like Resident Evil, Final Fantasy 7, and Metal Gear Solid tied great graphics with surprisingly mature and deep storytelling to present gaming experiences that adults could proudly play.  

The PlayStation really gave developers the opportunity to actually show gamers the story, not just tell them. The system’s combination of optical storage and 3D graphics let games use rendered cut scenes, voice acting, and even video footage to tell their stories. Previous systems like the SNES and NES offered dramatic storytelling at times (like the excellent Final Fantasy 7), and systems like the Phillips CD-i and Sega Saturn used optical discs to pack movies and sound into games, but the PlayStation was the first system to really take advantage of both to inject much-needed maturity into an industry that was still seen as primarily for young children.  

The case against: Like the NES, the PlayStation suffered from a deluge of shovelware that outnumbered its decent games. Like the SNES, most of the great games on the PlayStation were retreads and sequels of older systems’ games. Many of the games, like Metal Gear Solid and Final Fantasy 7, took their series in some great new directions, but they still didn’t offer much new besides prettier graphics and deeper stories.  

Great games: Resident Evil, Final Fantasy 7, Metal Gear Solid, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Silent Hill, Tekken 3, Final Fantasy Tactics, Xenogears  

Microsoft Xbox 360: Putting it all online Though it’s horribly premature to consider any competitor in the current console war the “best game system ever,” the Xbox 360 still deserves some consideration. Microsoft’s second game system has done the best job so far of connecting a home console to the Internet and bringing the entire experience together with ease and (relative) stability. After a successful test run on the original Xbox, Xbox Live has bloomed into a full-featured online service. Xbox Live Arcade offers a surprisingly large library of fun, downloadable games, from classic titles (like the aforementioned PlayStation game Castlevania: Symphony of the Night) to esoteric board games (like Catan and Carcassonne).  

While online competition was once the sole purveyance of PCs, the Xbox 360 and the for-pay Xbox Live Gold service has made everything from casual death matches to sports tournaments easy to set up and execute. Previous systems, like the Sega Dreamcast, the PlayStation 2, and the original Xbox, laid the groundwork for online console play, but the Xbox 360 managed to execute it the most successfully. Voice and text chat both in and out of games, easy communication between friends enjoying different games, and a buddy list you can view and edit over the Web make the system one of the easiest to take online. Of course, the other two consoles have made available both downloadable games and multiplayer, but they don’t do it quite as well. The Nintendo Wii’s Virtual Console lets gamers enjoy some of the best games from the NES, SNES, and other classic systems, and the PlayStation Network offers both new games and classic PlayStation titles for download. Unfortunately, the Wii’s multiplayer component feels incomplete and awkward, and the PS3’s library isn’t as large and its interface isn’t nearly as friendly as it could have been. The Xbox 360 simply manages to hit its mark and, like the NES and the PlayStation, take gaming forward.  

The case against: The Xbox 360 has been plagued by quality control issues since it came out, and the red ring of death has caused a great deal of bitterness. The system itself has some great games, but it doesn’t offer many truly remarkable exclusive titles; with a few exceptions, the Xbox 360’s best games are either PC ports or cross-platform titles that are also on the PS3. In certain ways, the Xbox 360 is little more than a PC in a shiny console wrapper.  

Great games: Mass Effect, Bioshock, Call of Duty 4, Halo 3, Gears of War, Puzzle Quest, Catan, Carcassonne, Alien Hominid HD  

The final verdict:  Depends on what you mean by “greatest”  

Gaming is so subjective that there is no single “greatest” system ever. It might sound like a cop-out, but it really depends on what standards you’re using and what generation you grew up in. I loved the SNES, and would personally call it the greatest system of all time. However, the NES and PlayStation could both easily be called the best, based on the standards they set and the advances they presented to gaming. Even the Xbox 360 could be called the best, if you consider how much it’s done in terms of connecting console gamers to each other and making new games and content accessible.

In the end, it depends. My heart says SNES, my head says NES, and my hands say PlayStation (because nobody ever got Nintendo Thumb from the Dual Shock controller). Some of my best gaming memories were from the Super Nintendo, but I still have to give credit where credit is due.

Microsoft bids $44.6 billion for Yahoo

February 7, 2008

Microsoft went public Friday with a $44.6 billion cash-and-stock bid to acquire Yahoo. 

In its response, Yahoo called the Microsoft bid “unsolicited” but did not reject it.  

Microsoft’s offer, which was contained in the letter to Yahoo’s board, amounts to $31 a share and represents a 62 percent premium over Yahoo’s closing price on Thursday. Microsoft said it will offer shareholders the option of cash or stock. 

“We have great respect for Yahoo, and together, we can offer an increasingly exciting set of solutions for consumers, publishers, and advertisers while becoming better positioned to compete in the online-services market,” Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said in a statement.  

Yahoo said in a responding statement that its board “will evaluate this proposal carefully and promptly, in the context of Yahoo’s strategic plans, and pursue the best course of action to maximize long-term value for shareholders.”  

The deal comes as Microsoft and Yahoo have both struggled to compete against Google. Microsoft didn’t mention Google by name in its announcement, but it did indicate that its acquisition bid was aimed squarely at its rival.  

“Today, the market is increasingly dominated by one player, who is consolidating its dominance through acquisition,” Microsoft said. “Together, Microsoft and Yahoo can offer a credible alternative.”  

In a conference call Friday morning, Ballmer said that Microsoft and Yahoo “really do share a vision for the potential of online services.”  

Microsoft said in its statement that it believes that it can get all of the needed regulatory approvals and that the deal, if ultimately approved by Yahoo shareholders, could be completed in the second half of the year. 

Michael Gartenberg, an analyst at Jupiter Research, said it’s “clear that there is increased pressure on Microsoft from Google, and they recognize that. Way back when, Yahoo wasn’t that interested in a Microsoft deal. What a difference two years make. Microsoft has a pile of money, and Yahoo has experienced problems of its own. Ballmer, in the past, has historically not loved these types of deals. It is indicative of how different the world is now.

 Gartenberg added that the deal “absolutely” makes sense. “But there is a lot to be done in the details. Getting this deal done might be the easiest part. The real challenge is what happens when they finish the deal. This is not a panacea–the details will be what matters,” he said.  Rumors that Microsoft was interested in Yahoo have bubbled up from time to time, including the past two springs, on the eve of Microsoft advertising conferences. 

The move would be by far the largest acquisition ever for Microsoft. Its largest prior deal, also in the online-advertising space, was last year’s $6 billion deal to acquire Aquantive. Asked on the conference call why Microsoft still needs Yahoo after buying Aquantive, Ballmer pointed to Yahoo’s reach with consumers.  

“Certainly from a consumer perspective, there’s no better way to increase scale and capacity than this acquisition,” Ballmer said.  

Microsoft also pointed to the intense investments needed in data centers and technology needed to compete with Google.  

“Scale matters,” said Kevin Johnson, president of the Microsoft division that houses Windows and online advertising. “Some of the scale economics can kick in rather rapidly.”

Ultimately, Ballmer said, the deal should help Microsoft become profitable in online advertising.  

“We’ve been losing money,” Ballmer said. “Our plan would be to not lose money in the future.” In a letter sent to Yahoo’s board late Thursday, Microsoft confirmed that it has had talks with Yahoo since 2006 but that its suggestions of an acquisition had been rebuffed.  

“In late 2006 and early 2007, we jointly explored a broad range of ways in which our two companies might work together,” Microsoft said. “These discussions were based on a vision that the online businesses of Microsoft and Yahoo should be aligned in some way to create a more effective competitor in the online marketplace. We discussed a number of alternatives ranging from commercial partnerships to a merger proposal, which you rejected.”  

The letter goes on to say that an offer in February 2007 was also rejected. Although at one time, Microsoft was open to other kinds of partnerships with Yahoo, the company says now it just wants to own Yahoo outright.

“While a commercial partnership may have made sense at one time, Microsoft believes that the only alternative now is the combination of Microsoft and Yahoo that we are proposing,” Microsoft said in the letter.  

In the conference call, Ballmer said that when Microsoft first talked to Yahoo more than a year ago, it believed that a merger would have benefits to both companies. “We believe now in those benefits more than ever,” Ballmer said.  

The public offer follows Yahoo’s disappointing earnings report on Tuesday, which sent the company’s shares down. Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang said Tuesday that the company is facing “headwinds.” He also announced 1,000 layoffs 

Terry Semel, Yahoo’s former CEO, who left that position last summer but remained as nonexecutive chairman of the board, left the company altogether on Thursday. 

Microsoft’s move validates Yahoo’s value and could bring out other prospective buyers, said Danny Sullivan, editor of Search Engine Land. However, Microsoft doesn’t have enough of a plan as to how it would integrate Yahoo into the company, he said.  

Unlike with Microsoft’s Aquantive and Tellme acquisitions, Microsoft and its Live brands have a lot of overlap with Yahoo, including e-mail, portal, advertising, and search.  

“Microsoft suffers in that they are conflicted over two different brands, and now they’re going to have to be conflicted over three,” Sullivan said. “If Microsoft wants to be a leader in search, this is a way for them to climb up and be No. 2 against Google. And it validates that Yahoo isn’t a loser. It’s a company that’s worth a lot of money.”  

A merger might give Google some extra competition, but it wouldn’t unseat it as the top search provider, and it would take some time to convince advertisers that they would do better on a Microsoft-Yahoo platform over Google’s highly successful ad business, said Mark Mahaney of Citigroup.  

“If Yahoo wants to remain independent, it will need to show investors that it is willing to take radical, value-creating steps,” and outsourcing search to Google is one of its few options, Mahaney wrote in a research note.

Imran Khan of J.P. Morgan Securities thinks that regulators will approve the deal.  

“Yahoo is better off inside a larger company with (a) strong balance sheet and technology,” Khan wrote in a research note. A merger of Microsoft and Yahoo could give them the scale, in terms of search traffic, that they need to compete against Google and provide a boost on the ad side, he added.

“A combination of Yahoo’s relationships (with DSL providers), and Microsoft’s applications and devices, could create a very well positioned potential competitor,” Khan wrote. Microsoft’s financial advisers are Morgan Stanley and The Blackstone Group.  

By Ina Fried

New Playstation 3 this autumn?

February 7, 2008

According to a particularly well-informed insider, it seems that the Big S is prepping an all new PlayStation 3. The new incarnation is supposedly slimmer, lighter weight, and sexy as hell.It’s not as if Sony haven’t got a history of making things slimmer and, er, lighter: The PSP shed a lot of its weight last summer, the original PlayStation ended up as the minuscule PSOne, and the PlayStation 2 re-incarnated as the PSTwo, which was an all-round sexier piece of kit to boot. Roll on PSThree? 

Specs-wise, we’re probably looking at the same machine with stacks of space and the trusty Blu-Ray player on board. The new PS3 is a proper looker: if it’s anything like the illustration our team of designers have come up with, then we’re looking at one hell of a sexy piece of kit.We wouldn’t be at all shocked if the much-touted 160GB PS3 is in fact this slimmed down puppy. 

Sony has peddled out their usual line of ‘not commenting on rumours and speculation’, but that is exactly what they said before they dropped the size zero edition of the PSP.For now, that’s all we have. But rest assured we’ll be pounding the phones and keeping our ears pricked for any news as soon as we get it. 

Like the pictures we’ve got here? Then you’ll love the ones we’ve got in T3 magazine. This little beastie looks a hell of a lot better in full, glorious, glossy high-definition print than on a pesky computer screen!

The Panasonic R7

February 7, 2008

The Panasonic R7 offers an unrivaled 2 pound usability experience. Its diminutive 9.0(W) x 7.2(L) x 0.9~1.6(H) inch footprint accommodates a 10.4″ XGA TFT and a 17mm keypitch keyboard–giving you a much larger keyboard and screen than anything in its weight class. The 8 hour standard battery life is remarkable (even when reduced to a real world 4-5 hours of use). The R7’s utilization of the latest ultra-low voltage Intel Core Duo processor helps to give long battery life while delivering significant performance.

But it is not all about being pretty.

The R7 withstood 50kg (110 pounds) of weight, as well as a 30cm (11.8 inch) drop, in Panasonic’s lab tests. While this is not a guarantee that it will withstand that in the future (and it is not guaranteed to do so), it’s an impressive feat for a chassis this size. The HDD is shock-mounted to reduce the likelihood of data loss due to stress of travel.

The Intel Centrino Core 2 Duo processor (2mb on-chip cache) and 2.0gb RAM (max) provide plenty of power. The mobile Intel GM965 Express chipset with 224mb shared VRAM also provides plenty of graphics performance.

Mvix MX-780HD Media Center With Built-in Torrent Client

February 7, 2008

This is one of those little know devices that I am a huge fan of. I own and did a review on one of the first Mvix media centers a while ago, the MV-5000U. Aside from its crude interface, I thought it was a fantastic device being able to play many different formats along with DVD ISOs turning it to a true DVD jukebox. It is still one of my most used devices to this day. So you can see why I am excited to see this third gen Mvix.

The newest version, the Mvix MX-780, adds HDMI out for resolutions of to 1080p (in addition to other outputs, see after the jump). There are many different ways you can play media on the box: stream it from your computer (Wi-Fi or Ethernet), transfer it via USB as a standard MSC drive, connect an MSC drive to the USB host on the back, set it up as a NDAS network drive and drop files on, and of course add an internal IDE or SATA drive. Additionally, you are able to tune into free internet radio for music content.

 

Now onto what I found to be the more interesting feature of this media center is the soon to be built in torrent client. This feature will likely be coming later on, so don’t expect it to be included at the time or release (although it might). When I spoke with a Mvix rep he told me that the firmware programmer was finishing up the torrent client on the way over to CES on the plane, so it’s still probably beta. I also found out that they are still planning on adding more codecs with future firmware updates.

 

The 780 is not up on the Mvix site yet, but below are the specs I copied from the press release. I know the above sounds a bit like a sales pitch, but I really am a fan and think more people should know about this gem- so spread the word. I will try to get my hands on one soon for a review.

 

  • Video Formats: DivX, XviD, DVD (ISO/VOB/IFO), MPEG, VCD(DAT), WMV(WMV-9), ASF(WMV-9), TP, TS, TRP
  • Audio Formats: MP3, WMA, AAC, OGG, PMC, AC3, M4A, DTS decoding (down-mixing / Pass though)
  • Image Formats: BMP, JPG, PNG
  • Subtitle Support: SMO, SRT, SUB
  • Video Out: HDMI, Composite, S-Video, Component
  • Audio Out: RCA, Digital Coaxial, Optical
  • TV System: NTSC, PAL, Auto
  • HD Support: 720p, 1080i, 1080p
  • Networking: 802.11b/g (WEP/WPA), 10/100 Ethernet, NDAS
  • Internal Disk: 3.5” IDE or SATA

USB: Slave (for connecting to computer) and Host (for additional storage)

An all-in-one media hub that will turn heads

February 7, 2008

As impressive as the “ITC One” media system may be, some have observed that its design doesn’t live up to its extensive functions. It’s understandable that appearance wasn’t a priority, though, given that it’s one of the few compact all-in-one systems of its kind. 

All that will change, however, if they catch on–and a company called DVico is trying to get ahead of the pack with a multimedia hub of its own. “TViX,” as it’s known, is an HD multimedia system that plays 1080p video, DVDs, and MPs while storing files on its internal hard drive, according to GadgetGrid. 

It doesn’t have a built-in Xbox and other high-end features found in the ITC One, but TViX does have a handsome cylindrical design that could easily be displayed without shame. And there’s one other important difference between the two systems–price. As in $546 vs. $25,000. That alone may make it worth a look

 

Sharp’s home theater in a stand

February 7, 2008

If all-in-one PCs and TVs are the way of the future, their stands may be following suit. Cabinet racks with integrated speakers have become almost standard fare from the likes of Sony, Yamaha, and Evesham. And now Sharp is throwing its hat into the ring too. 

The Aquos Audio AN-ACD2 touts itself as a home theater built into a multimedia stand. The system features a 2.1-channel receiver and supposedly produces 150 watts of sound, according to Akihabara News.

Its $892 cost may seem a bit on the high side, but it could be a lot worse. Flatlift’s “diamond dust” stand goes for $142,000, and it doesn’t even have speakers.