PS Vita

[sc:mobile-category ]I have a long history of handheld gaming, from my first dedicated Donkey Kong LCD unit to my first Atari Lynx I’ve always had one around.

The last generation of portable gaming from Sony (the PSP) didn’t really do much for me, I have an original PSP1000 that I used for the first while, but for the last few years it’s just been sitting on a shelf collecting dust.

Because of this I hesitated in picking up the PS Vita.  However the hardware specs and the display finally overcame my concerns.

The first impression I had on taking the Vita from the box was “Where’s the battery?”.  The unit is VERY light in comparison to the PSP, I guess all that hardware for the UMD drive really did add a lot of weight Winking smile.

Before powering up the unit I installed the 8g memory card I picked up, this is perhaps the biggest issue I have so far with the Vita, YET ANOTHER MEMORY CARD STANDARD from Sony.  Why?  Ok, I know why, they’re charging $99 for a 32g card.  So they’re making about $98 in profit.

Once you power it up, the second thing you notice is the display, it’s simply gorgeous.

Sony then takes you through the setup of the device and getting you connected to the PlayStation network.  This is pretty straight forward, except if you happen to use MAC filtering on your WiFi, in which case there’s not way to find the MAC address during the setup process.  You have to setup a fake account, then go find the MAC address and then setup your real account.

The touch interface takes a bit of getting use to.  There’s not good overlap in the physical controls and the touch interface, they seem mutually exclusive at times.

Sony has decided to move away from the classic XMB standard they’ve used since the PS3 debuted, but not far enough if you ask me.  The new interface uses what look like a button you would pin on your shirt and they wave all over the place as soon as you move between screens.

It’s not ugly, but pretty isn’t a work I would use to describe it either.

Having used the text heavy Metro interface on Windows Phone and Zune for quite a while, you really understand how bad icon based interfaces really are once you see the Vita.

Of course as with all new hardware these days, an update was pretty much required as soon as I power on the device.

When I picked up the Vita from the store, I wanted to get a copy of Hot Shots Golf at the same time, however it was out of stock.  I figured I’d go to another store later to get a copy but once I got the system online I decided to try to purchase it from the online store.

The process was easy enough but a quirk of the store was the price for the game.  In the physical store the game was priced at $29.99+tax, but the online store had it at ~$34 but no tax.  It works out to be the same price (the online copy was an extra 20 cents if I remember right) but strange in how they show the cost.

And really, the online copy should cost less, there’s no physical media for Sony to provide so they’re just making more money on the same game.

The controls on the Vita are a mixed bag.  The dual analog sticks are obviously a BIG improvement over the PSP, but the 8 buttons are not nearly as nice as the PSP’s.  The touch interfaces work as do the cameras.  The flush style PS, start and select buttons are a little annoying, but no so much as to be a big issue.

Overall it’s a slick piece of hardware and I’m not unhappy that I bought it, now I’ll have to see if it gets more use than my PSP did.

The Good:

  • Very light
  • Dual analogue sticks
  • Processing power up to wazoo
  • Beautiful display
  • Input options galore

The not so bad/not so good:

  • Kind of cheap buttons
  • Weird pricing in the store
  • Too many control choices for some developers means one or the other method is used instead of both

The Bad:

  • Memory card tax
  • No way to find MAC address during setup

Microsoft Points

[sc:windows-category ]When Microsoft introduced Xbox Live and the 360, they also introduced Microsoft Points.  You can use these points to buy things in the Xbox marketplace so that the marketplace has a consistent “price” (in points) no matter what your local currency is.  The currency conversation is done when you purchase the points, not when you purchase the item from the marketplace.

This also give Microsoft the added benefit of selling you points in fixed amounts (say 1600) even though you may only need to spend 500 to purchase whatever you wanted.  This effectively gives Microsoft the extra 1100 points to earn interest on until you go and spend them.  Sure this may seem trivial at the individual scale, buy Microsoft does this across millions of Xbox live members and those pennies add up at that scale.

When Microsoft introduced the Zune marketplace, they continued to use points as the currency of choice.  However when they introduced Windows Phone 7, the marketplace used US dollars instead.

This was an obvious move to make it more accessible to a non gaming demographic and simplify the user experience.

The points system is one reason I didn’t pick up an Xbox over the years (I have recently but that’s the subject of a future post), I didn’t want to deal with the conversions.

If the rumors are true, it looks like Microsoft is going to drop the points system from the Xbox as well (or at least have both points and dollars as options), as what I can only assume is the precursor to the Windows 8 marketplace opening up to the public.

Having a unified pricing system across all their online properties makes a lot of sense and I can only hope they do it soon.

Today I had to buy a music CD…

[sc:entertainment-category ]Sometimes we can forget how quickly things change in the technology industry, five years ago if you wanted to buy the latest music from an artist, you went out to your local music store and bought the CD.

Three years ago you probably went to you local electronics mega store to pick up the CD.

Today you download it.

But what happens when the album you want isn’t available in your chosen online store?

iTunes is pervasive in the music industry now, but I will not use it, Apple’s closed ecosystem and draconian rules should scare the bejesus out of everyone.

A Canadian band I listen too released the current album last November, through their online store and iTunes.  I’ve been waiting for to add it to their catalog but even to this day that has not happened.

I finally broke down and was going to order it through their online store, but I refuse to pay $12 in shipping for a $10 CD Winking smile.

And so I was resigned to waiting for it to become available somewhere else online or until I had a few more things to pick up from Amazon to get the free shipping.

Then one day, I was in Futureshop, picking up an Xbox Gold membership (the subject of another post when I get around to it) when I walked by the CD aisle .  It was one of those “duh, I should have had a v-8” moments as I realized that while online was king these days, some stores do still exist Winking smile.

$12 later and I had the CD.

You can certainly tell how much digital distribution has changed the industry, Futureshop used to have aisle  of CD’s, now it’s down to just one and most of that aisle was empty.  I wouldn’t doubt it will be down to just a third of an aisle  by the end of their year with just the top 10 CD’s.

The future of TV’s

[sc:hardware-category ]There has been quite a bit of talk over the last few months about the future of TV hardware, Google has tried to get GoogleTV built-in, rumor’s of an Apple branded TV with Apple TV built-in are flying, etc.

But does any of it make sense?  Not really and here’s the fundamental reasons why:

  • TV’s last 10 years
  • Smart TV boxes last about 2 years

That’s a big difference.  Most people don’t go out and buy a new TV every year or two, they buy them only when they need to replace a defunct unit.

Smart TV boxes are like cell phones, you replace them every couple of years because they get outdated.

It makes sense to keep them as separate devices.  It’s easier to replace a $200 smart TV box than a $2000 TV just because someone came up with a new format that is no longer supported by the TV you bought.

I purchased a new TV a couple of years ago, it’s going to last me at least another 5 years or more.  It has some built-in internet functionality, Ethernet connectivity, etc.  But I NEVER use it, it’s slow and doesn’t support the new services I might use on it (like NetFlix) and there’s no update from the manufacture because it doesn’t get them any new sales to do so.

TV started in the 1940’s and remained mostly unchanged until HDTV came along in the 90’s.  That’s 50 years of NO CHANGES to the TV spec and even how those TV’s from the 40’s still work with today’s equipment.  HDTV will unlikely have as long as life, but it will still be significantly longer than any smart TV standard will last.

The smart TV technology will be advancing very quickly over the next decade and I see no reason to try and marry the two technologies in to a single device until it has matured.

Windows Phone 7 as a MP3 Player

[sc:mobile-category ]Over the last couple of weeks I’ve had the chance to use my HD7 as an MP3 player over several hours each day (commuting by train).  Before I had picked up the HD7 I had purchase a pair of Jabra Halo Bluetooth headsets.  These were intended to be used with my previous Windows Mobile phone, but WM just didn’t really have a good media player and so they sat around feeling lonely Sad smile.

However with WP7 and the Zune media player, they had a chance at usefulness once more.

WP7 is leaps and bounds above WM as media player, it’s heritage from the Zune HD is clear and much of the functionality from the HD comes across to the phone.  There are a few functions that don’t make it across, like artist profiles and pictures, which seems like a strange omission since the challenging piece is the back end and that’s clearly in place.  However, this does not impact the player itself.

Microsoft has just shut down the Zune Originals store for purchasing the Zune HD online, so it looks like WP7 may soon be the only option for a MS based media player.

The Good:

  • WP7 keeps just about everything from the Zune HD.
  • Background playing doesn’t seem to impact the use of the Phone and I was able to play games at the same time as listen to music.
  • The volume/track controls can be accessed without unlocking the phone.
  • Disconnecting the headset placed the music on pause.
  • The Halo headset includes a mic so you can answer phone calls from it.

The not so bad/not so good:

  • Every once in a while the headset would disconnect, don’t know if it was WP7 or the Halo at fault (happened maybe 3 times over almost two weeks, so not a huge deal)
  • Inconsistent interface in WP7 sometimes made it hard to restart a playlist instead of selecting it anew.  For example, in the main “Music and Videos” hub, there is a play button beside the music entry, if I have a playlist paused, will that play the playlist or play everything in the music group?

The Bad:

  • Battery life, on a normal day, if I use 20% of the battery I’ve had a busy day.  With approximately 2 hours of music playing each day, that rose to 60%.  I don’t know if that was the media player or the Bluetooth, but either way, ouch.