On Wednesday Sony announced its next-gen gaming console, the PlayStation 4. Sony expects the new console to be available by the Christmas season of this year and is being coy about the price. When the PS3 arrived, it carried a hefty price tag of about $600, scaring some gamers off for a few months. Rumors are the new console will come in at around $450, but that’s just a rumor at this point. That’s one of the mysteries surrounding the new box. More about the other mystery later in the article.
The PS4 will not just be another console with beefier hardware. It will have that, with powerful new graphics processors capable of taking the visuals to another level of realism, while not presenting a quantum leap over the current hardware. But it will truly be a next-gen console in the sense that it comes with capabilities that up to now have mainly been available on game streaming sites like OnLive (which I reviewed, here). In fact, the PS4 may kill off the ailing OnLive service.
That’s because the PS4 is a social gaming console right out of the box. One of OnLive’s chief fun features is its ability to allow gamers to watch and interact with other gamers without being in the game themselves. Gamers can spectate in the Arena, picking up tips and tricks, jeering and cheering and generally checking out games before either buying them or downloading demos. The PS4 allows spectating and, with a push of a button on its new controller, sharing and uploading action clips. Some games currently allow this, but the new hardware makes sharing a universal feature. It also allows demos to be played the instant a gamer chooses them, putting it on par with one of the other great OnLive features. Along with that will come features that already exist, such as Amazon Video, Netflix and Hulu apps and Plex serving that turn the PS into a full home entertainment system. PS3 users can also already control their consoles when surfing YouTube via iPhones and iPods. Expect Sony to build on that capability as well.
The PS4 also builds on a feature currently found on the PS3 and the Wii U, remote play. Currently PS3 can be controlled via a handheld PSVita, while the Wii U can act as a server, with game play actually taking place on the screen in the controller. So it doesn’t really need a TV screen. The PS4 allows games hosted on its hardware to be played on the PSVita. So like the Wii U, the PS4 can free up your TV while still delivering the top level gaming experience.
The PS4 controller, the Dualshock 4, also builds on the current competition, adding Move capabilities, the aforementioned social gaming capabilities, and a new touchpad in the middle.
So, there’s the controller. But where’s the actual PS4? In its entire demo Wednesday, they never showed the PlayStation 4 itself. That has sparked a debate:
There are two rather polarized angles being tossed about this week as the Sony show (or no-show) of the PlayStation 4 was let loose. One side says it’s terrible that Sony made a 2+ hour presentation for the PlayStation 4 without actually showing the hardware, relying instead on the controller and a variety of promises from software developers to do all the talking. The other side says awesome! We know the PlayStation 4 is coming now, and we’ve got confirmation from some of the biggest-name developers that they’re on board, so we’re happy!
My own take is that Sony wants a second bite at the buzz apple, so they’re withholding images of the console for a later date, maybe E3 in June or SIGGRAPH in August. If they do that, they get to have another big moment, and may announce the price along with giving us a look at the beast. Sony usually goes the route of making their consoles dark and artistic (or odd, in the case of the PS3s that look like bbq grills). I would expect something smaller and sleeker than the PS3.
The bottom line is that we now have concrete specs on the next-gen system, a catalog of major titles that it will debut with including new material from heavyweights like Blizzard and its own in-house Killzone and InFAMOUS series, and solid information about the new things it will be able to do. And the things it won’t do, which brings me to the “bad” part of this article. Sony says that as things stand now, backward compatibility is not built into the PS4. Gamers will not be able to play legacy games on the new system, which may impact some of this year’s bigger releases like the Tomb Raider reboot. They say they’re working on it. They may be setting up to sell multiple forms of the PS4, some that will include backward compatibility for a price, and some that don’t. Backward compatibility can be gotten around via streaming games, but that requires hefty bandwidth that most American households still don’t have, or via downloads, which will take up valuable hard drive space and may create other issues. We’ll see. But the failure to provide backward compatibility from the get-go is an ominous sign that Sony may be looking to roll out their new box at one stated price, which is not the actual price gamers will end up paying if they want to keep playing their old Call of Duty titles on their shiny new systems.
Today I’m at the Dallas Sci-Fi Expo (which is actually taking place in Irving). Kevin Sorbo and Morena Baccarin will be here today and tomorrow, along with stars from Back to the Future, Battlestar Galactica, Tron, comic book artists, and of course, just about every superhero and villain imaginable.
Let’s walk the exhibition floor and see who turns up.
I don’t know what they’re selling, but they had a lot of buyers.
Even a Sith.
I am always in pursuit of something to relieve my neck and shoulder pain from the hours I spend at the computer (yeah, I could just stay off but then how would I fill the empty days without my vice?). Anyway, my husband, Glenn, ordered this trigger point foam roller called The Grid. I already have a regular foam roller but it is large and has lost its shape. I decided to give the new foam roller a try this week and it has been a positive experience so far.
The Grid boasts using trigger therapy to treat soreness and relieve pain:
Trigger points are tiny knots that develop in a muscle when it’s injured or overworked, and are commonly a cause of most joint point. They’ve been known to lead to headaches, neck and jaw pain, lower back pain, tennis elbow, and carpal tunnel syndrome.
Based on the discoveries of Drs. Janet Travell and David Simons, in which they found the causal relationship between chronic pain and its source, myofascial trigger point therapy is used to relieve muscular pain through stretching and applied pressure to trigger points. Trigger point therapy, such as that achieved using Trigger Point Performance products, can relieve muscular aches and pains in association with these areas. It can also assist with the redevelopment of muscles and restoration of motion to joints.
The foam roller comes with a very easy to use instruction pull-out that shows you basic exercises with correct form. I went through the set and it hits every muscle group. I’m already back at the computer and feeling better. If you have computer pain or just general tightness from sitting, this little device seems to be a good one. It’s also small and easy to take on trips, to the gym or the office. Of course, staying off the computer and moving around is probably a better solution to neck pain but not likely to happen for me.
Related on Self-Improvement at PJ Lifestyle:
Have you noticed that everywhere you go now there is a blaring television with the most disturbing news blasting in your ears? I have, and it’s getting really tiresome. I can understand that a sports bar or pub would have a TV for sports or something (though with the PC stuff some of the sportscasters spout on ESPN etc., I sometimes think I am watching the news), but why at every regular restaurant or even just in a store or doctor’s office do I continually have to watch the mayhem and anxiety-producing news that I am going out to escape? Apparently I’m not alone, as others around the web have noticed the trend in recent years. For example, a writer in South Carolina states:
One of my favorite lunch spots in Anderson has a giant flat-screen in the dining room. I hate it, but I love their pizza. So I keep going there. The television is always tuned to a 24-hour news channel. And the volume is loud. So while we diners polish off our pepperoni, we get to hear about a body being unearthed from a serial killer’s basement in Iowa. Or we’re treated to footage of wildfire consuming houses in California. I tell you: It’s not good for the digestion.
A website called the Eater had this to say about TVs in restaurants:
There are a few different ways to consider the TV dilemma, of course, and the first question is: why are restaurants doing this? According to The Dallas Morning News, this trend is brought to you courtesy of “the wired generation,” i.e. young people: “This is a very, very visual demographic…If they’re not watching TV, [they] are on their iPhones.” The goal, then, is to keep your eyes up and moving around the restaurant. Despite the terribly flattering picture this paints of today’s youth, it does make some sense from the point of view of the restaurateur.
And it’s not just restaurants, it’s doctor’s offices, stores, planes, and everywhere the public goes. Even my gym is inundated with TVs that show one catastrophe after the next. I thought people were watching less TV, but maybe this is at home where they have the choice. Or are people just turning to other gadgets and devices to give them something to do constantly? Is it too much to ask just to be able to sit quietly, ride the treadmill without the mayhem, or just read or stare into space in a public place? Apparently so. I often think about getting one of those TV-B-Gone remote controls that allow me to turn those darn things off. They give me a headache.
Am I the only person left in America who doesn’t want a running negative news report everywhere I go?
I read the article in the New York Times entitled “Taking a Stand for Office Ergonomics” (thanks to the reader who sent it to me):
But a closer look at the accumulating research on sitting reveals something more intriguing, and disturbing: the health hazards of sitting for long stretches are significant even for people who are quite active when they’re not sitting down. That point was reiterated recently in two studies, published in The British Journal of Sports Medicine and in Diabetologia, a journal of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes.
Suppose you stick to a five-times-a-week gym regimen, as I do, and have put in a lifetime of hard cardio exercise, and have a resting heart rate that’s a significant fraction below the norm. That doesn’t inoculate you, apparently, from the perils of sitting.
The research comes more from observing the health results of people’s behavior than from discovering the biological and genetic triggers that may be associated with extended sitting. Still, scientists have determined that after an hour or more of sitting, the production of enzymes that burn fat in the body declines by as much as 90 percent. Extended sitting, they add, slows the body’s metabolism of glucose and lowers the levels of good (HDL) cholesterol in the blood. Those are risk factors toward developing heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.
“The science is still evolving, but we believe that sitting is harmful in itself,” says Dr. Toni Yancey, a professor of health services at the University of California, Los Angeles.
It seems like everything we do these days is harmful. I’m just waiting for the government to demand that all offices come equipped with something like this FitDesk. Don’t get me wrong. I actually have this FitDesk and use it occasionally but you can bet that contrarian that I am, if someone told me to use it, I might just stop. Sitting might be bad for you, but so is a constant barrage of negativity from the media telling you that everything you do is somehow bad for you and then using the information to implement policies that restrict people’s individual choices.
Reduced Screen Glare
Most tablet displays are made up of two pieces of glass – an LCD on the bottom and a touch sensor on the top, separated by an air gap. With an air gap, light reflects off of every surface as it passes through from the front, creating multiple distracting reflections that reduce display contrast. Kindle Fire HD solves this air gap problem by laminating the touch sensor and the LCD together into a single layer of glass, creating a display that’s easy to view, even in overhead light.
One of my pet peeves with the Kindle has been the glare that often causes eye strain, at least for me. For that reason, I don’t use the Kindle as much as I would like, though we have several. I am hoping that this new one solves that problem. I look forward to trying it out.
Chateau Heartiste (AKA Roissy) has a provocative post called “Porn Is A Portent Of Sexbotopia” that I read with interest:
Sexbots. The very word sends chills down the spines of low sexual market value women. They fear competition or, worse, replacement….
Sexbots that can simulate real women are still one silicone foot in the fantasy world, but the tech is rapidly progressing. Whoever said necessity is the mother of invention was wrong; the male sex drive is the mother of invention. (Though, I suppose you could argue that satisfying the male sex drive IS necessity.) So, for now, the agog crowd can rest easy that no major sexbot invasion is about to storm our shores….
What sexbots will do is widen the already growing chasm between the sexes, until only the fittest of the fit — and fitness is whatever gets one’s genes to the next generation, whether beneficial to civilization or not — can successfully leap across it to woo a human companion in the way that our genetic overlord intended.
When I was researching for my forthcoming book, I found (with the help of Vox Day) that the 80/20 rule really applied. Twenty percent of the alpha males were getting about 80% of the women. Those men who have more trouble getting women turn to porn and seem to ignore or be oblivious to women. I wonder how sexbots will further change the landscape?
What do you think? Will sexbots be an asset or libility to men in the future? What about to society? These are the important questions.
And see more visions of the future at PJ Lifestyle:
Updated: related today at PJ Lifestyle:
One of the big selling points of Microsoft’s Surface tablet is that it will run the full Office suite natively. Ars Technica‘s Peter Bright got to take the beta version out for a test drive and discovered — no pun intended — only the surface functions have been touch-optimized:
And… that’s about it, the full extent of the finger support that Microsoft has added to Office 2013. If it doesn’t sound like much, there’s a good reason for that: it isn’t. For stylus users, the company says that accuracy has been improved, particularly in OneNote, but using the software with fingers is problematic.
“Problematic” might be putting it gently, after reading all of Bright’s article. Now this is only a beta version, but MS has promised that Surface and Office will ship in October. That’s not a very long time to rid three or four major, legacy applications of dozens of menus of touch-unfriendly drop-downs and radio buttons and all the rest.
Worse would be to release it as-is, with a promise to “fix” the problems later. Just ask RIM, which shipped it’s PlayBook without even a simple email app — and never recovered.
Anyway, it all makes sense to me now why Microsoft has pushed Surface as the tablet with a keyboard. I wrote last month right after the big reveal that readers should
look at how Microsoft has introduced its tablet: With a keyboard. They aren’t saying, “We’ve built a great tablet.” They’re saying, “We’ve built a tablet with a great keyboard.” It’s a tablet that’s trying really hard to be a laptop when it grows up.
Turns out, you’re going to need that keyboard — and its built-in laptop-like touchpad — if you really want to take advantage of Office. I concluded then that the Surface is “confusing product from a company which seems confused by what a tablet is supposed to do,” and one month later there doesn’t seem to be any reason to conclude anything different.
Tablets aren’t laptops. People use them differently, even when they’re performing the same tasks as on a mouse-and-keyboard computer. Apple understood this, and re-wrote (and re-imagined) their iWork and iLife suites from the ground up for iOS. Even the iPhone and iPad versions have major differences between them, since the iPad’s big screen opens up whole new possibilities which just won’t work on the iPhone.
But Steve Ballmer wants “Windows everywhere,” dammit, and he’s going to keep pounding square pegs into round holes right up until he blows yet another emerging computing market.
My husband Glenn got a FitDesk that lets you exercise while working on your laptop. We finally got around to putting it together (well, he did, sadly, I watched, handed out tools and cleaned up). Anyway, I have had a great deal of hand and back pain from all the time I spend at the computer and thought this would be a great way to change up my routine. It turns out I was correct to think so.
The pedals are smooth and fluid — you just adjust resistance with the knob. It tracks distance, time, and calories. There are elastic bands to hold your laptop in place.
It’s easy to ride and it’s easy to blog or surf from a laptop while you’re on it. I can see how spending just 20 or 30 minutes at a time on this several times a week would help you lose weight and improve your fitness. Will I stick with it? Stay tuned.
By now, many of us are aware of the Leap Motion, a small, $70 gesture control system that simply plugs into any computer and, apparently, just works. If you’ve seen the gesture interfaces in Minority Report, you know what it does. More importantly, if you’re familiar with the touch modality — and at this point, most of us are — the interface is entirely intuitive. It’s touch, except it happens in the space in front of the screen, so you don’t have to cover your window into your tech with all those unsightly smudges.
To understand how subtly revolutionary Leap will be, watch the video below, shot by the folks at The Verge, where you’ll also find more juicy details on the device’s specs and inner workings.
Unlike a touchscreen interface, with the Leap, there’s no friction. That sounds trivial, but it isn’t. It’s the difference between attempting to conduct a symphony with a wand and attempting to conduct the same symphony by sketching out what the orchestra should do next via chalk on a blackboard.
Plus, Leap operates in three dimensions rather than two. Forget pinch-to-zoom; imagine “push to scroll,” rotating your flattened hand to control the orientation of an object with a full six degrees of freedom, or using both hands at once to control either end of a bezier surface you’re casually sculpting as part of an object you’ll be sending to your 3D printer.
The future looks bright and exciting.
On June 27, 1972, Atari Inc. was incorporated in the state of California. That makes today the 40th birthday of the company that pioneered coin-op gaming, and six years later Atari would unleash the Video Computer System, later renamed the 2600.
The console gaming industry was for all intents and purposes born with the Video Computer System, and home entertainment would never be the same. The console with the one-button joystick and the game cartridge changed everything and introduced some great interactive entertainment along the way. Here are my Top 10 Atari 2600 Games.
10. Realsports Football. Atari’s first football game was horrible. It was barely football at all. But with Realsports Football, Atari tried and mostly succeeded in creating a decent football sim. You only had a Pop Warner size team, but the players looked pretty good and you could do most of the things you could do in the real sports world: Breakaway runs, first downs, passes, interceptions, punts and so forth. The AI was pretty stupid, and before long every player had figured out how to blow it off the field 99-0. But Realsports Football and the other Realsports games foreshadowed the massive Madden, MLB, NBA and FIFA simulation franchises that dominate today.
9. Missile Command. Defend Cities. ‘Nuff said.
8. Star Raiders. This game required a pad separate from the joystick to control all the various functions of your space ship. It was way ahead of its time for its complexity and replayability.
Microsoft Surface – circa 2008 – minus the creepy looking guy:
Monday night Microsoft unveiled an updated version of Surface – Windows 8 and Windows RT tablets. On the surface (pardon the pun) it looks promising. I’ve hesitated to jump on the iPad bandwagon because I want a tablet that can replace my laptop – in my view the iPad is simply a larger version of the iPod Touch. I’ve held close to the vision of a mobile tablet that is powerful enough to allow me to create content, while catching a movie on Netflix, or downloading interesting apps.
Below is Microsoft’s Surface keynote address by Steve Ballmer. The video runs about 45 minutes but well worth the time to get an idea of the capabilities of this new tablet.
Interesting to note that pricing and a date when the product goes on sale were not mentioned. While this keynote is a sexy advertisement for the Surface tablet, I will be keeping a close eye on new details of this tablet as they emerge.
Will the new Microsoft tablet complete my vision? Time will tell and if it does, you will be reading my hands-on review here.
See Vodkapundit’s thoughts at PJ Lifestyle here: Preview: The Microsoft Surface Tablet
IBM once built the world’s best portable keyboard. Its official name was “TrackWrite,” but everybody called it “the butterfly” because of the way it spread its wings when you opened the computer. John Karidis designed it for the ThinkPad 701 back in 1995, and watch this baby in action.
It’s so well engineered, that there are still butterflies in perfect working condition, even though the last one was produced in 1996. That’s right: although the 701 was IBM’s best-selling laptop, the butterfly keyboard was abandoned after only one year. TrackWrite was a wonderful indulgence for a laptop with a 10-inch screen, but the very next year after it was introduced, 12-inch screens became the new norm — and bigger screens allowed for a full-sized keyboard without any fancy engineering.
Just like a real butterfly, the TrackWrite was beautiful but short-lived.
That’s the first thing I thought of when I watched Microsoft introduce its new Surface tablet computers last night: A gorgeous keyboard without a market. Microsoft has designed what is undoubtedly the best portable keyboard ever… for a touch tablet. In fact, if you go to Microsoft’s promo page, this is the very first image you’re presented with.
That’s how MS wants to introduce you to their new tablet — a tiny little screen with a great big keyboard. Scroll down the page a bit, and Microsoft reminds you that “some activities call for a keyboard.” The description continues:
Surface comes with an integrated Kickstand and a revolutionary, 3mm thin, pressure sensitive cover that doubles as a fully functioning keyboard and trackpad. Your Touch Cover connects to your Surface with a single magnetic click. Now you can chat with friends and respond to emails comfortably.
It’s really a very nifty piece of kit, and it’s included for free. Apple charges you a less-than-nifty $69 for their wireless keyboard, and it doesn’t attach to anything at all, not even with magnets. But you have to wonder if Apple doesn’t still have the right approach.
It could be game over for Microsoft’s popular Xbox 360 video game console in the United States. Fresh off announcing 67 million consoles sold since its product launch seven years ago, Microsoft faces the prospect of a sales ban which could hit later this year.
The trouble began in April when Washington judge David Shaw ruled against Microsoft in a patent-infringement suit filed by Motorola Mobility. The complaint alleged that Microsoft was unjustly profiting from video decoding and Wi-Fi technology belonging to the plaintiff and utilized in the Xbox 360 console. The same judge recently recommended that the sale of Xbox 360 consoles be banned in the United States. The next stage is a ruling by the International Trade Commission expected in August. After that, the final decision to ban sales could rest with President Barack Obama.
The story is consequential on multiple fronts. There is the obvious potential to upend the American console market just in time for the holiday sales season. There is the political question of whether the president would risk upsetting one of his core constituencies, young people, by banning one of their favorite toys just prior to Election Day. More fundamentally, there is the moral issue of whether such a ban is proper.
In its defense, Microsoft argues that a sales ban in the U.S. would adversely affect consumers. IGN senior editor Daemon Hatfield quips:
Judge Shaw suggested Nintendo and Sony could handle any extra demand, so I’m not sure the good judge understands how video games work.
In fact, whether consumers would be inconvenienced by a sales ban is irrelevant to both the law and the moral principles which inform it. Protection of intellectual property rights through the enforcement of patent, trademark, and copyright is both just and demonstrably beneficial to individuals trading in a free market.
Despite assertions to the contrary by many academics and pundits claiming to be libertarian, intellectual property law is not a statist intrusion. As masterfully explained by George Mason University School of Law professor Adam Mossoff, in a lecture viewable here, the claim to intellectual property is the root of all property rights. As with tangible property, convenience is not an excuse for trespass.
Complimenting the morality of why patents are proper, the practical outcome of intellectual property law is better products and services for consumers who voluntarily trade with producers. Indeed, it is ironic that Microsoft would cite consumer convenience as an excuse for patent-infringement when they go to such lengths to protect their own intellectual property.
The Xbox 360, like so many products on the market, is an amalgam of patented technology. Some of those patents are owned by Microsoft. Many others are licensed from other patent holders. Those licenses are negotiated to maximize profit for each party involved in the console’s production. Without any one of them, the final product would not be possible in its given form. If Motorola’s intellectual property is part of the Xbox 360, then they are entitled to compensation for its commercial use.
Baby Connect allows you to track daily information about your little one, such as feeding times, diaper changes, mood, activities, milestones, vaccines — and even more, if you can believe it. An especially unique and convenient feature of this app is that multiple users — your spouse, sitter, or other family members/caretakers — can access the same account for each baby. So whenever an update is made (say your baby’s diaper is changed), entries are immediately and securely synchronized across all users’ phones. You can even be notified via text or Twitter when an update has occurred!
Now we’re tweeting diaper changes and infant mood swings? Who wants status updates on a dirty diaper?
First-time moms usually feel overwhelmed and sleep deprived. I get it. But apps like “Baby Connect” and “Grow with me” over complicate things.
Full discloser: When I got my iPhone, I sent all my married children this text:
Do you have a mother that forgets her own grandchildren’s birthdays? Good news! There’s an app for that. Please send me your child’s birth date–and picture please–love mom.
I am a full-pledged tech junkie. I love any excuse to use my phone. If I were a new mother with a smart phone I would no doubt have a ton of baby apps. However, I’m not. I’m an old mom with a teenager and I see a problem.
We have our faces in our phones a lot. More than we realize. There have been countless times I’ve noticed young mothers out to eat with their children who spend the whole meal talking on the phone. You see them in grocery stores, and on park benches gazing into a screen — seemingly oblivious to the child at her feet.
It’s not what they are doing that’s the problem; it’s what they’re not doing. Infants need to see their mother’s face. They need to look deep into her eyes. Competition for her attention is steep already. How can a newborn compete with a screen, especially when it’s about him?
Remembering a birthday is one thing, but do we really need an app to record the frequency, consistency and color of baby poop? Is there really an app that can make us better moms? Or do they just make us feel like we are?
Doesn’t look like they’re quite there yet — both in creating an attractive design and a product ready for market:
The search giant’s research arm launched a Google+ page Wednesday for Project Glass, its augmented reality glasses project. The page revealed that Google researchers have started testing the glasses, with an Android-run heads-up display, that the New York Times suggested Google will start to sell this year for roughly the cost of a regular smartphone.
[Update: a Google spokesperson has indicated to Mashable that the company selling the glasses this year would be "extremely unlikely."]
Related, Total Film News has some new behind the scenes pics from The Avengers:
What other components of Iron Man’s suit might Google have tucked away in development? Or is that a task left to tech companies with larger cash reserves?
Since November 2011, I’ve been using a Nike+ Sportswatch with GPS to track my runs. Released in 2011, the sportswatch retails on the Nike+ online store at US $169.00. Previously I used the Nike+ shoe pod and receiver attached to an iPod nano. I found the tracking device to be consistently a half mile over my actual distance, despite repeated calibrations.
I eventually switched to the Garmin 405cx before purchasing the Nike+ Sportswatch with GPS. The selling point was GPS tracking as I still do not trust the shoe pod tracking.
It took me a few days of heavy use before I finally “got” the new iPad. I was an early adopter of the original model, so much so that my laptop hasn’t once in two years left the studio desk where it runs my teleprompter. When the iPad 2 came out last year, I never even considered upgrading. Sure, it was faster and thinner and weighed less and had better graphics and it could take pictures and make video calls — but it still didn’t really do much of anything my old one didn’t do.
So here’s the new iPad. It’s a little thicker and a littler heavier than the 2, although still thinner and lighter than the 1. It sports even faster graphics, albeit wedded to the same-speed CPU. And both the front- and rear-facing cameras, which I will almost never use, are much nicer.
So why am I so completely jazzed about the new iPad?
It comes down to just one thing: That screen. That gorgeous, lickable, touchable, incomprehensible screen. Every time I see it, I feel like David Bowman in his own personal orbit around Jupiter: “My God, it’s full of stars!”
Apple took the acceptable 1,024 x 768 screen of the previous iPads, and doubled the linear resolution to 2,048 x 1,536. That’s four times as many pixels. It’s 50% more pixels than your 50- or 60-inch HDTV musters. At that density, it’s simply impossible to distinguish individual pixels at a typical reading distance. Perhaps just as important, color saturation is increased almost 50%.
That sounds nice on paper, but does it really mean anything?
That’s what I wondered, too, the first two or three days I used mine. Then, I changed the lock screen wallpaper to a Colorado landscape shot I made a few years ago — and something magical happened.
Before I tell you, I want you to take a look at the picture. That’s up at 11 Mile Reservoir on one of those perfect Colorado spring mornings — when the winds pick up and the clouds suddenly roll in.
It’s a very pretty shot. Now I want you to click on it, because the file I’ve uploaded has been cropped and resized to match the iPad’s screen. You will probably have to click on it twice to view it full size, because unless you’re running a massive 30-inch monitor, this picture is bigger than your desktop computer screen.
This picture — the whole thing, all three million pixels of it, all in one glance — fits perfectly in the palm of your hand on the iPad’s 9.7-inch Retina Display. And unless your monitor has a pricy, LED backlit screen that’s been professionally calibrated, then even the colors look deeper and more true-to-life on the new iPad.
The magic of it is, anything you can put on that screen, whether it’s a photo or a game or a productivity app — can look as sharp and as colorful and as breathtaking as a high-quality, glossy photo print. There’s even an illusion of depth, as icons scurry across the screen, which Hollywood has yet to match with all its million-dollar 3D movie projectors.
This isn’t your grandma’s pedometer.
I’m not a celebrity spokesperson given a FuelBand in order to hype this product. I am a runner training for the 2012 Philadelphia marathon and this is my real world review of Nike+ FuelBand.
There was an uncomfortable moment the other day, when Ed Driscoll asked me if I’d review the new PJ Media app for your iPhone and iPad. I mean, I work here. I’ve been getting a paycheck from PJ Media since it launched way back in 2005 — and I’m not exactly known for keeping my mouth shut. But then I figured, that’s kind of what they hired me for, so if it’s a review they want, it’s a review they’ll get.
Now, longtime VodkaPundit readers know I love Apple. It started with iPod lust, then quickly blossomed into an all-consuming affair, including an iMac, more iPods, a Mac Pro, an iPad, three generations of iPhones starting with the very first one, and it’s a sure thing I’ll order an iPad 3 just as soon as they go on sale next month. What you also need to know is, I have also mercilessly ripped Apple products when necessary. Sure, I’m a fan — but I’m no fanboy. I won’t let my biases get in the way of honest criticism.
Keep that in mind when I tell you: The PJ Media app is pretty darn good.
The iPhone version is especially sharp. There’s a bottom row of buttons to your favorite places — the home page, the Tatler, columnists such as yours truly, the Lifestyle page, and, of course, Instapundit. Clicking on each gives you a list of stories, with blurbs. And you have the now-traditional pull-to-refresh feature to get the latest items. Ads are minimal and unobtrusive.
Yes, there are a few banner ads. Did I mention the app is free?
I’m a little more conflicted about the iPad version. It looks sharp, but the small navigation buttons look a little lost on that 10-inch screen. Maybe they just need to be higher-contrast. The story scrollbar is on the left, giving you access to links even while you’re reading an item — that’s something you can’t do on the tiny iPhone. Best part? Unlike every single other news app out there out there — at least in my experience — our app allows you to copy text for pasting elsewhere. In other words, the PJ app is actually useful to people who write or blog for a living — or who just like to share. Blogging is in PJ’s DNA, and it shows.
I only see one major flaw. For existing readers like you, it’s great. Easy navigation, so you’ll know what to expect and where to find your favorite writers. But when going to each page, the default “big panel” is just a blowup of the PJ logo. You have to kind of hunt through the scrollbar, and then click on something, before that giant logo gets replaced by something useful. New readers should get a little more direction, more great stuff to read, without having to work for it. Our top stories of the day should be right there in their faces, each time they navigate somewhere new.
I talked to our managing editor, Aaron Hanscom, about the Big Staring Logo, and he tells me I’m not the only one to think it’s a flaw. Hopefully we’ll get that fixed in an update before too long.
Overall, though? What a handy (and free!) way to put a little VodkaPundit right in your pocket.
You can download me — er, it — right here from the iTunes App Store.
(Thumbnail on PJM and Lifestyle blog homepage shows apps composited into an image from Shutterstock.com.)
I see that there are now mental health apps to help people with their mental health (via Instapundit):
Northwestern University researchers recently launched Mobilyze, an app that tracks users’ behavior patterns and moods to identify states that trigger depression before it happens. The app gathers data from more than 40 sensors including GPS, accelerometer, and Wi-Fi, which it uses to figure out the user’s activity level and location. This data, combined with information the users supply about their mood and social context, identifies situations in which people are likely to become depressed and reminds them to take action that might prevent it, such as going outside or visiting friends. Alternatively, when users are doing well and adhering to their treatment goals, the app offers positive reinforcement in the form of text messages or email kudos.
The apps can help with everything from conquering public speaking to calming veterans with PTSD. How well do they work? I guess we will see at time goes on. I think for some depressed or mentally ill people, contact with a real person is important, but that is not always possible. Is there anything technology can’t do?
While building a home theater stocked with a variety of electronic components is lots of fun, unfortunately, going the do-it-yourself route often ends with, well, not quite the proverbial Tower of Babel but perhaps worse from your significant other’s point of view – the dreaded Coffee Table of Babel. Those remote controls for the TV, A/V receiver, DVD or Blu-Ray player, cable or satellite set-top box, and other electronic equipment all begin to pile up, making for an ugly mess, and making the home theater appear more complex to operate than it otherwise is.
Back in 2004, Logitech acquired Easy Zapper, a Canadian startup specializing in universal remote controls, giving a firm best known for computer accessories such as replacement keyboards and mice a foothold in the home theater industry.
Under their Harmony division’s moniker, Logitech now produces a full range of remotes in a variety of retail price-points from $29 to $349. While their most advanced remote is arguably the tablet-shaped Harmony 1100, after reading a variety of reviews, I decided to avoid the tablet shape and go with the model directly below it, Logitech’s Harmony 900, which as of the time of this review, sells for $240.99 at Amazon.com.
This is a remote geared towards someone who knows his way around both his home theater and to some extent his PC as well, and who’s prepared to tinker a bit to set up the remote. In other words, expect a bit of set-up time, but once complete, it does make for a rather powerful remote.
Programming the Remote
After installing the supplied software on your PC, the first step is to gather all of your existing remotes, and to write down the brand and model numbers of all of your home theater components. Logitech maintains a database of approximately 5,000 brands and 225,000 devices, which the Harmony 900’s PC interface will search in order to set-up your remote. If you have a component that’s not on there, don’t fret – as long as you have its remote, you should be able to manually program its codes into the Harmony 900 while it’s plugged into your computer via its supplied USB cable.
It’s also possible to tweak the remote to add functions not included in the database. For example, since I do just about all of my TV watching with my A/V receiver on for surround sound, I ended up programming the A/V receiver’s volume and mute controls into the various devices controlled by the remote. Depending upon the amount of equipment you own, and the level of control you’re aiming for, early on you may have to do a fair amount of tweaking to customize the remote to your preferences.
While the Harmony 900 allows control over individual components, its first emphasis is on what it calls (on the remote’s GUI) “Activities.” These typically include watching TV, watching a movie, playing a CD, etc. The Harmony 900 will group together tasks so that pressing one button on the remote will automatically do things such as:
- Turn on your A/V receiver.
- Switch it to the TV input.
- Turn on your TV.
- Make sure it’s switched whichever input the satellite TV is on.
- Turn on the satellite TV digital set-top box.
And so on. A similar activity can be programmed watching a movie, which switch everything on to watch a DVD. For those with a few pieces of home theater gear that need to work together in harmony (if you’ll pardon the pun), this is a pretty convenient way to begin a few hours of television watching.
The Harmony 900 also supports individual components of course, which it calls “Devices.” The remote’s GUI can be toggled back and forth between devices and activities.
While the PC has quickly become the de facto home entertainment center for many, there are still moments – such as the Super Bowl or when it’s time to view Lawrence of Arabia or Star Wars on the big, big (home) screen – when sitting down, leaning back, and spacing out in front of a big-screen TV is a welcome change of pace.
LG’s model number 55LK520 55-Inch LCD HDTV produces a knockout 1080p picture. With three HDMI inputs, it’s possible to connect a satellite or digital set-top box, a Blu-Ray player, and an Internet device such as a Roku box. For the home theater industry’s equivalent of “legacy devices,” there are also component and composite inputs. (There’s no S-video connection, curiously. This may be the first video product I’ve purchased in 25 years without one.)
The LG 55LK520 lacks 3D, but I can’t say I’m enamored with that concept, particularly since it involves wearing ’50s-style 3D glasses over my own. And it lacks an Internet hook-up, but that’s OK as well. I’d rather plug-in a device of my own to connect to the Web. (Besides, my DirecTV receiver, Blu-Ray player, and Roku box all have various Web capabilities.)
The unit shares the same IR codes as the LG BD670 Blu-Ray player we reviewed last month; that unit’s remote is capable of performing the basic functions of this TV, though not vice-versa. It’s sort of academic though, as likely most will use some sort of universal remote, such as Logitech’s Harmony 900 or a similar device.
Initially, I was surprised by how “processed” some DirecTV HD programming looked on the 55LK520. Movies that were clearly shot on 35mm had an almost “live TV” sort of look, with little or no film grain visible. But you quickly become used to it. When I mentioned in my review of the Blu-Ray player last month that you can read the Winston logo printed on the band of Martin Sheen’s cigarettes in Apocalypse Now, or praised the details of a vintage Pimm’s Cup bottle label in the Blu-Ray edition of Boardwalk Empire, this was the TV I was viewing them on.
I had purchased the LG 55LK520 to replace an eight year old JVC rear-projection HD set, and immediately found that there was one feature on the older unit that I missed — the ability to zoom an 4X3 image to fill the screen. In contrast, unless I missed an option, the 55LK520 was only capable of black bars around a 4X3 image. If you watch a lot of older movies, or non-HD programming on cable or satellite, this might be something to keep in mind.
Also, for those who wish to place the LG 55LK520 on a tabletop (as I did, placing the unit on the stand in the middle of my home theater cabinets where my older — and much heavier rear projection once sat) my find that the base that the 55LK520 rests on feels a little on the flimsy side. It can do the job, but I wish had built with a more robust feel. Also, for those who placed their older rear projection sets with the screen flush with the edge of their supporting cabinet, the base causes the LG TV to be recessed about five inches in, which may require some adjustments if you’re planning to place the unit inside of a home theater cabinet. For those who wish to mount the LG 55LK520 on their wall, the rear of the set contains the usual VESA mount.
One of the handiest features on the back is a Toslink digital audio output. For those with limited digital audio inputs on their home theater receivers, the LG 55LK520 will output the audio of whatever device is currently displaying on the screen, thus simplifying use of the set with an A/V receiver, and reducing the number of digital audio inputs the A/V receiver needs for your various components. This also makes it easier to use the LG 55LK520 as a switcher for HDMI inputs, which is particularly useful if your A/V receiver has a few years on it, and lacks these connections.
Incidentally, this is as good a place as any for a friendly reminder, which may be old hat for some, but if not: if you’re doing your own installation, invest in a Brother P-Touch labeler or similar device and label your cables, putting the product the cable terminates in on the opposite end of the cable. Once you start building up a home theater with say, an A/V receiver, Blu-Ray player, Roku box, legacy equipment like a VCR, tape deck, CD player, etc, you risk finding yourself in a bewildering labyrinth of cables when you go to update your gear, or pull a device to send it to the repair shop. Having used masking tape, index file labels, and Crutchfield’s pre-printed cable labels, the tough vinyl P-Touch so far are the only labels that I’ve seen that don’t become brittle and risk falling off over time, but any label is better than none.
To give you a sense of how far video technology has advanced, and how far prices have plummeted, let’s first go back to the mid-1990s. Back then, Pioneer Elite’s CLD-97 laser video disc player was one of the finest video playback systems a consumer could buy. Selling at about $2500, it weighed 37 pounds and its exterior case featured a sleek, rich piano black finish with rosewood side panels. With the right source material, it was capable – for its time – of a stunning picture, and can be seen as one of the last steps in the 12-inch laser disc’s evolution before the 4.7-inch DVD came along in the US back in 1997.
But that’s all Jurassic-era history. Currently selling for $124.77 on Amazon, the LG BD670 3D Wireless Network Blu-ray Disc Player with Smart TV leaves the $2500 CLD-97’s picture quality in the dust. And unlike the home theater technology of the 1990s, it’ll talk to your home’s local area network, too.
Amongst the formats it supports, the LG BD670 is capable of playing high-definition Blu-Ray discs, which output up to a 1920×1080 picture, plus 3d Blu-Ray discs, conventional DVDs, compact audio discs (CDs), WMA, and MP3s . We’ll get to those last two in just a minute.
The LG BD670 does a very good job of upconverting most DVDs before outputting them to an HD television. I wrote my recent review of Boardwalk Empire based on standard definition DVDs played through the LG BD670 on a 55-inch LCD TV and thought, man, this picture looks great. Of course, when the Blu-Ray review copy finally arrived from HBO, I was blown away by how sharp it was; you could discern the weave in Nucky’s proto-zoot suit. Or read the text on the bottles of Pimm’s No. 1 he procures for a politician he’s bribing. Watching Apocalypse Now in Blu-Ray, it was possible to read the “Winston” script on the band of Martin Sheen’s cigarette while he was taking a drag. On some films, this can lend dramatic differences in perception. The pace of 1968’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, a film I’ve seen dozens and dozens of times over the past decades, on pan & scan VHS, a couple of different letterboxed laser discs, DVD, and on a few rare occasions in revival theaters, seemed noticeably faster. The difference was that I could make out the myriad fine details embedded into every shot as eye candy. And I could watch Keir Dullea – almost always photographed in long and medium shots to frame him in his environment – act. It was a potent reminder of how much is lost, even on high-quality playback systems such as anamorphic standard definition DVD.
Speaking of which, the results can vary in quality when watching a standard definition DVD on the LG BD670. I already mentioned the anamorphic standard-definition DVD version of Boardwalk Empire. But plenty of DVDs have been released in TV’s traditional 4X3 format. My DVDs of the legendary early-1970s Thames TV series The World at War probably looked their very best on the LG BD670, but there’s only so much its electronics can do for a series consisting of alternating WWII newsreel footage and 16mm interviews. The worst offender I’ve seen so far was my first generation DVD of the 1989 Michael Douglas, Ridley Scott potboiler Black Rain, which Paramount issued in letterboxed non-anamorphic format shortly after the DVD format debuted. All of the smoke and diffusion in the cinematography made for a muddy, pixilated image after so many lines of resolution were lost in the letterboxing format. (Fortunately, it’s now out on Blu-Ray.)
(Disclosure: my LCD TV doesn’t have 3D, and I’m not a fan any format that requires me to wear extra glasses over my own glasses, so I did not test any 3D discs.)