Saturday, April 29, 2006

Guild Wars Factions (PC)

I didn't have to install a thing (never inserted the cd). You just have to run guild wars, login, and enter the new key code. That's it and you are good to go.

I quickly created an assassin and a ritualist and played each through the intro mission. Assassin does feel a bit warrior ish and the ritualist definitely plays like a caster class. It's weird but it seems the spirits use ranged attacks but don't move (at least not the first one you get).

So to decide what to play I of course stripped them down to their undies and made each one dance for me. Ritualist wins the dance contest but I think I like playing the assassin more.

- $40 at best buy (after $10 coupon). I also got a free T-Shirt.
- I have a level 10 assassin and a level 10 monk.
- You pretty much get to start with a party of 4 with henches. You get a rez sig really early. You do level faster.
- I deleted the ritualist
- you can do all secondary quests AT THE SAME TIME. I ran through all of them in less than one hour
- I haven't picked my secondary yet.
- should be level ten if do all secondaries and the 3 or so side quests (pouch, captain zinghu, and the farmer west of tsumei village)
- 9 skill points
- you get into a major town quickly except at the very start you don't even have 50g to open up the storage so you have to do at least a quest before you can access that.
- don't forget to buy your bags and runes of storage to double the space in those bags. I used my other characters and went to frontier gate to pick up the runes.
- also don't forget to buy your first armor upgrade. I would skip the initial weapon trader and head to tsumei village for a better weapon.
- I gave each of my characters 10p. Wow, 10p sure does go a LONG way for these low level characters.
- They hand out exp like candy. You level MUCH faster in factions.
- I would say 2-3 hours tops to get to level 10.
- I still can't decide which character I want to play first.
- I've joined yet another guild. We'll see how long I stay in this one.
- Henches overall seem a bit better
- I have right around 190p. I did a little mino farming to make up for the new character startup costs. 404hrs over 10 months.
- I have to say I'm enjoying factions quite a bit so far.

- I took my elem/me across to Cantha (it only takes about a min)
- I picked up a bunch of new quests, did the first new factions primary quest (pretty cool new setting for a mission, on the roof tops of the city), and bought some new skills. Teinai's heat is pretty cool in that it acts like a burning ward around target foe. It doesn't seem to trigger the ai as far as I can tell. I was also able to cast it just outside of aggro range.
- For air I'm playing around with Lightning Hammer (very expensive lighning orb but doesn't require line of sight), and shock arrow which is a very cheap spammable spell. I lean toward using arrow more for longer sustain damage and to fuel aura of restoration but hammer does let you get in a very big spike combo at a high energy cost.

- my assassin/necro is now level 12 and sitting at the first co-op mission. I guess I'll play my monk up to the same point.
- no pre/post searing event as far as I can tell.

To Level 14 the quick and easy way (5/2/06)
- at the time you accept your secondary you should be at level 10. If you do all of the following:
pouch tanning quest, captain zinghu, revenge of the yeti in the mountains, and the farmer west of tsumei village. Also, do ALL the secondary quests. You can queue them up all at the same time and do them in one outting. I finished all secondary quests in less than 1 hour and you get massive amounts of xp.
- once you accept the secondary and do all the advance training quests + the headmaster quest you should be at level 12 at the first co-op mission
- after the first co-op do the lost treasures for bonus attrib and you should be at lvl 13 with +15 attrib.
- Now you can go back to the monestary and village for many more side quests that should have opened up. My a/n is already lvl 14 and I have not left the island yet (still doing side quests).

Friday, April 21, 2006

Intercooler 360


- $20 from frys
- If you believe the literature it seems to do a pretty good job of cooling.
- It's 3 smaller fans that snaps over the two existing 60mm fans on the back of the X360. It plugs into the power plug with two plastic tabs on the other end that snap into the back grill. Then you plug the power supply cord into the intercooler so it draws power directly from the power supply to power the fans. It turns on/off automatically with the X360 and there is even a manual power switch.
- Loud. I mean as in double the sound output of the x360 when the fans are on full.
- It does move quite a bit more air through the system.
- Do you really need a product when you system already works just fine?

I'm not so sure about this one. I'm kind of on the fence about returning it or not.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Transfer Kit for XBOX 360

- bought it direct for $15 from Code Junkies
- also available at best buy now
- do NOT install the drivers from the disc. instead follow these instructions:
so you can use XPlorer360 instead (which is much more powerful).
- Installation was a snap and the device and XPlorer360 works great. You can easily backup the entire memory card to an image or you can manipulate the contents on a file or even folder (recursive) level.
- This should be a nice way to backup your saves if they aren't locked or tied to your live account (can you say 125 oblivion saves) or trade saves over the internet.
- You also get an original xbox 1 memory card reader but I didn't test that since I already have a megaxkey which works great.

Highly recommended.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Logitech Cordless Desktop MX 5000

- frys for $100 after $20 MIR
- bluetooth 2.0 so you can use other bluetooth devices with the dongle
- One thing you might be able to do is use the keyboard/mouse with a laptop that has built in bluetooth. That might be kind of neat not having a dongle on the laptop for wireless input. I didn't get to test this though.
- suppose to be up to 60ft range though in my room (probably the worst case scenario as far as 2.4ghz interference goes) it didn't fair much better. At least the positioning of the dongle was less direction dependent.
- keyboard is the exact same dimensions as the mx3000 except a lot heavier and it takes 4XAA instead of 2XAA. The LCD display on the keyboard is a bit gimmicky. It's kind of neat but doesn't add all that much value.
- I compared 3 keyboards all at the same time for lag and data rate (mx3000,mx5000,wired ms natural pro through ps2 port). The increase data rate of BT 2.0 really helped here. If you open notepad and just try and type many letters quickly then hit enter you can see on the mx3000 the enter actually lags behind the key presses. It just can't send the data quick enough. On the mx5000 and MS wired they both kept up about the same. Now this isn't the same as lag. Pressing a key on any of the keyboards almost has that letter showing up immediately. Just on the mx3000 you'll notice performance issues if you type a lot of characters in a short amount of time. This doesn't happen much in a game situation.
- I did notice one kind of annoying thing about the mx5000 keyboard. it seems to go to "sleep" after about 2 sec of inactivity and then on the next key press there is a very slight pause as it wakes up. The mx3000 does NOT show this behavior.
- MX5000 comes with the mx1000 laser BT mouse. It has a non user removable built in rechargeable battery (which I hate. what happens when the batteries wear out in a year?). It also didn't seem to track as smoothly as the mx600 that comes with the mx3000 or my wired mx518 on usb. I tried all 3 mice side by side in counter strike source and slowly panned my view back and forth. mx518 was by far the smoothest, next came the mx600, and in last mx1000. I have no idea if this is caused by the BT or the laser or the wireless (all my laser mice are wireless).
- all the devices do have a dedicated sliding on/off switch

So lets see to sum up: twice the price of mx3000, keyboard sleep issues (but faster data transfer rate), mouse tracks worse, and a bit better range, Yeah back to the store it goes.

Right now I don't think there is a wireless desktop that is as good for gaming as wired. If you want to play competitively then stick to wired. If you are playing casually or single player then the mx3000 is acceptable.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Tomb Raider Legend

PC version

- Played about 1 hour, PC version
- Good gamepad support, it actually works better with my cordless logitech than the x360 controller.
- To be next gen you have to have sweat. Well, Lara doesn't sweat; She glistens after getting out of the water.
- Check point save system. You can save at anytime but it always starts you back at the last check point. So far they seem quite frequent.
- 1600X1200 all options on including vsync except AA. It runs at a solid 30fps. I think it's framerate locked because it never fluctuates when vsync is ON. When I turn vsync OFF then I get around 45 fps. Dropping to 1024X768 I get 75+ all the time. I don't see any noticeable tearing with vysnc OFF so I'm going to leave it that way. Overall the environments look a bit better, water looks very nice, Lara looks great, enemies are ok. The graphics didn't blow me away but they did look good and crisp.
- No more rigid grid style of movement/world manipulation. It feels very similar to Prince of Persia and that is a good thing. Full use of havok's physics makes the puzzles more interesting. You have this new binocular that allows you to scan items in the room to give you an idea what they do (mechanical, movable). Basically it helps you find the hot spots required to solve puzzles. Pushing blocks around are a bit of a pain since I can't figure out how to strafe. In fact it seems the only time I can strafe is when using my guns. There's a cool LED light clipped to your strap. Also, you get a grappling line you can toss out and pull certain objects or let you swing great distances.
- Camera works ok for the most part but takes some fiddling with to line up those rope jumps.
- If you run setup you'll notice a next generation checkbox. I've read it requires shader 3.0 support. Unfortunately I'm running it on an ati x800xl which doesn't support shader 3.0 so it's disabled. I've read it looks great but kills the framerate.

So far I'm enjoying it. It definitely feels more like a true sequel to the original Tomb Raider than the last several installments of the series.

I just finished the X360 demo. For some reason wet Lara doesn't look as wet on X360 (more stained if you ask me). I was expecting more. Lighting seems to be a bit better. Environment maybe a bit better. Water looks better to me. The framerate is much worse (though still playable). The funny thing is I had mapped my logitech controllers almost exactly like the x360 controller.

UPDATE 5/7/2006 PC Next Gen Content
I'm right at 50% done with the game and I'm really enjoying it.

I enabled next gen content with my new 7900gt. patched to latest v1.3. I also had to update video drivers to latest beta to reduce some of the hitching/pauses that happen when you enable next gen content. It looks a lot better but framerate goes down from about 150 to around 30fps at 1600X1200. Resolution doesn't seem to make much difference in framerate when next gen is checked.

Next gen ONNext gen OFF

some more next gen shots:

some things I've noticed:
- you don't see the joints as much (more polys, or just better textures and shaders?)
- and the hair looks a bit better
- shadows and lighting are completely different and looks more natural
- and of course shader 3.0 stuff on everything

it looks a lot more different than I expected with next gen checked.

UPDATE 7/29/06
- definitely sets it up for a sequel

This is probably my favorite tomb raider next to the first one.
Great game.

Monday, April 10, 2006

HDTV Playback and general directshow info

The objective was to find out roughly what are the minimum requirements are to decode and playback HDTV OTA streams.

I recorded a sample clip:
1 min HDTV OTA recording of david letterman in 1080i using the fusion 5 gold card.

zoom player

Changing the merit of a decoder can change the way directshow picks a decoder when playing back media in media player, zoom player, and other similar players. You can usually "force" the player to use a particular decoder by increasing the merit. Becareful and do this only at your OWN RISK as you can screw up playback if you are not careful!

direct show file merit changing app:
click on the ? icon to go to preferences and uncheck read only mode.
find the decoder you want and display the merit editor. up it to something like:


also make sure gspot shows this as your mpeg-2 demultiplexer and not something else
MPEG-2 Demultiplexer

gspot to determine directshow rendering paths

You can also see this while playing a video in media player and right click properties.

Cyberlink decoders come with installing powerdvd 6
CyberLink Audio Decoder is especially important to decode ac3 sound from a mpeg file.

Playing in powerdvd vs zoomplayer/media player is DIFFERENT. I had a case where powerdvd wouldn't play it smooth but zp/mp worked just fine (on the htpc). In other words use cyberlinks directshow decoders but NOT their application. Save that for just playing dvd's.

If you want to playback .ts files you need to install this:
but I say why bother when the fusion can record directly to .mpg format.

1) main gaming rig with x800xl
(S) --> MPEG-2 Demultiplexer --> Nero Video Decoder --> (R)
(S) --> MPEG-2 Demultiplexer --> CyberLink Audio Decoder --> (R)
cpu utilization while playing in zp 40%

Played in zoomplayer, media player just fine. No dropped frames and very smooth.

vlc mpeg2 - 5% no sound
vlc ts - 2% perfect

After switching to cyberlink decoder cpu dropped to about 12%

2) HTPC, athlon 2400 xp stock, ati 9600 non pro
CyberLink Video/SP Decoder
CyberLink Audio Decoder
about 45% cpu
9600 is a full dx9 part

works just fine in zp, smooth, no dropped frames

netpersec showed only 13mbps network bandwidth (I know this is variable and can get as high as 17mbps like during the olympics). 802.11g streaming would be possible I believe.

3) dev box, athlon 2000 xp, geforce 3 ti 200
tried the same decode path as #2
cpu shows 80%
stutters and dropped frames
gf3 is a dx 8.1 part

4) athlon 2400 xp, ati 9200se
same decode path as #2 but powerdvd 5 instead of 6
cpu again 80+%
9200 is a dx8.1 part

5) laptop Inspiron 8600c pentium M 1.6ghz, ati 9600 pro turbo
first I tried it with nero video decoder and cpu was 100% and stuttery video. Then I uninstalled powerdvd5, installed powerdvd6, increased the merit on cyberlink video decoder, rebooted. Now it was decoding using the paths just like #2. I ran it in zp perfectly smooth, cpu at 40%, streamed over 802.11g. Wow HDTV looks very nice on a widescreen laptop. AVOID the nero decoders that get installed with nero burning rom. They SUCK! Obviously you can still brute force through them like my main gaming rig was able to do but man are they inefficient.

6) mediaMvp thinks the mpg is pal format. I guess that's the generic message for it isn't NTSC resolution compliant!

comskip seems to work just fine on the hdtv mpeg. I ran it from the command line:

C:\mvp\2b-dev>comskip letterman.mpg
ComSkip 0.65, made using:
mpeg2dec-0.4.0 - by Michel Lespinasse and Aaron Holtzman
The commandline used was:
comskip letterman.mpg

Opening letterman.mpg
No INI file found in current directory. Searching PATH...
Path for comskip.ini: C:\rcTV\comskip\comskip.ini
Path for comskip.dictionary: C:\rcTV\comskip\comskip.dictionary
Path for comskip.exe: C:\rcTV\comskip\comskip.exe
INI file found at C:\rcTV\comskip\comskip.ini
Using C:\rcTV\comskip\comskip.ini for initiation values.
0:18:56 - 1805 frames in 42.68 sec (42.29 fps), 1.01 sec (43.56 fps)
1826 frames decoded in 44.15 seconds (41.36 fps)
Commercials were not found.

My current theory:
Video card is more critical than cpu for HDTV playback. Athlon 2400xp is plenty of cpu for HDTV IF you have the right video card. I think you have to have a dx9 card when your cpu is in the 2400xp range. It's not an option. I also think the powerdvd 6 decoders work quite well and probably has quite a bit of dx9 accleration code in there.

PowerDVD 6 readme
PowerDVD 6.0 supports Microsoft DirectX Video Acceleration (DXVA) in display chips or integrated chipsets from ATI, Intel, NVidia, SiS, and VIA/S3. Acceleration functions include Inverse Discrete Cosine Transform, Hardware Motion Compensation and Subpicture Alpha Blending units. Not only Windows ME and Windows 98 but also Windows XP and Windows 2000 are supported.

I'm still betting that nvidia purevideo would be a good option too:
newegg 6200
pure video

My best guess at MINIMUM HDTV payback requirements:
- record in .mpg format and NOT .ts with the fusion software
- athlon 2400 xp or greater cpu (maybe you can squeak by with a 2000xp)
- a fully compliant directx 9 video card
- powerdvd 6 installed and make sure the directshow rendering path is:
(S) --> MPEG-2 Demultiplexer --> CyberLink Video/SP Decoder --> (R)
(S) --> MPEG-2 Demultiplexer --> CyberLink Audio Decoder --> (R)

Specs are much lower than I expected.

One cheap option on video is the ati 9550
# MPEG1/2/4 decode and encode acceleration

* DXVA Support
* Hardware Motion Compensation, iDCT, DCT and color space conversion

# All-format DTV/HDTV decoding
# YPrPb component output for direct drive of HDTV displays†

Prices start around $50

this one has dvi and svideo out and is only $45 walkout after MIR
saphire 9550
rebate ends 4/16/06

My friend Rendition over at recommends this card from newegg. It seems like a really good deal for $55. HDTV cables included (that's like $30 right there from the ati side), MSI name brand card, dvi support, and good price.

UPDATE 4/11/06
It looks like 6200 might not be ideal for 1080i mpeg2 playback.

UPDATE: 4/3/08
Haali Media Splitter - my favorite splitter for mkv and mpeg2 TS (better than nero, cyberlink)

vsfilter - handle all your subtitle needs. Just regsrv32 this then configure haali media splitter to use it.

ac3filter - for all your 5.1 spdif output needs

ffdshow tryouts - THE codec pack to get. Clean install/uninstall, handles merit for you, you can restrict it to a list of exe's to work with or just let it work with all apps, toggle specific media formats on/off, x264 decoding works well with multiple cores. You can use it to decode mpeg 1/2/4,x264,divx,xvid, pretty much everything. Same on the audio side. The only thing is if you are going to use spdif 5.1 out then uncheck those audio options on install (ac3filter will take care of that for us). If you are just doing analog out then yeah let ffdshow decode all those 5.1 sound formats too. I usually like to enable de-interlacing to prevent comb artifacts. Play withe OSD options too which shows a wealth of information including bitrate all in real time. Also, play with the subtitle options if you want subs. It even decodes CC from pvr 250 analog mpeg2 recordings.
Get the latest nightly build (by clsid or xxl. It doesn't matter. Just pick the latest)


UPDATE: 6/24/08
Updated consolidated video playback strategy:

Haali Media Splitter - my favorite splitter for mkv and mpeg2 TS (better than nero, cyberlink) (turn on auto load vsfilter if you want subtitles)

vsfilter - handle all your subtitle needs. Just regsrv32 (as admin if in vista). To push the subs down to the bottom of the screen access the filter properties (zoom player, filter 0002) and set general: vertical padding: extend to 16:9.

coreavc - I was a bit weary about their claims being the fastest h.264 decoder out there. Well, I tried the trial version and what do you know. It's the truth! On an old p4 machine where it struggled with 1080p h.264 content I can now play it back smoothly with coreavc. It beats ffdshow tryouts and powerdvd8 cyberlink h.264/avc decoders with dxva acceleration (on an ati hd 2400 agp with cat 8.3). It's also very well threaded since I see much more even loads across cpu cores. I liked it so much I went ahead and bought the pro version for $15. Just run the configuration as admin and check preferred decoder to bump up the merit.

ac3filter - for all your 5.1 spdif output needs

ffdshow tryouts - I still like this codec pack and it's still a good alternative for free h.264 decoding that is if you have the cpu to do it. This is still my preferred mpeg2 decoder. THE codec pack to get. Clean install/uninstall, handles merit for you, you can restrict it to a list of exe's to work with or just let it work with all apps, toggle specific media formats on/off, x264 decoding works well with multiple cores. You can use it to decode mpeg 1/2/4,x264,divx,xvid, pretty much everything. Same on the audio side. The only thing is if you are going to use spdif 5.1 out then uncheck those audio options on install(ac3filter will take care of that for us). If you are just doing analog out then yeah let ffdshow decode all those 5.1 sound formats too. I usually like to enable de-interlacing to prevent comb artifacts. Play withe OSD options too which shows a wealth of information including bitrate all in real time. Also, play with the subtitle options if you want subs. It even decodes CC from pvr 250 analog mpeg2 recordings.
Get the latest nightly build (by clsid or xxl. It doesn't matter. Just pick the latest)

zoomplayer - I use it to see what filters are being used and change filter properties.

VLC - Sure it uses internal filters but it's still handy to have around to play more obscure file formats like FLV. It's ability to read .iso files is also handy. Still, I find my self using this less and less each day as coreavc and ffdshow take care most of my decoding needs.

powerdvd 8 ultra - The latest still has a pretty nice h.264/avc decoder that uses gpu acceleration through dxva though now I prefer coreavc. They dropped hd-dvd support but it has good blu-ray compatibility. You can install this along side powerdvd 7 if you still have some hd-dvd's you want to play.

UPDATE: 9/4/08
Media Player Classic - Home Cinema - I think this is my new favorite media player.  I has a lot of internal filters but has the flexibility to turn them individually off to use an external filter if you want.  It feels almost like a version VLC that takes advantage of the windows directshow model.  You get the clean install of VLC with a lot of media support right off the bat but still have the flexibility to tweak things and use external filters if you want.  The home cinema version has some DXVA support now for h264 decoding.  Also, there are none of the 5.1 SPDIF issues in vista that VLC has.  On top of that it's free and open source and still activily developed unlike zoomplayer.

Hauppauge Media MVP

$99 but sometimes can be found for cheaper with rebates

great site for mvp and pvr250 products. check out the forums. Get the latest beta drivers from here too:

this is the alternative ui that I use:
but then I hacked that and modified it a bit.

- tiny box, no fans
- plays mp3, jpg, mpeg1/2/4/divx/xvid, shoutcast internet radio. Basically now I can watch all my "tivo/rcepg" recordings in the bedroom.
- wired ethernet port. You can use a wireless bridge if you want. You will need 802.11g if you plan to stream mpeg2.
- easy html based interface that you can hack. I've added the ability to check weather and local traffic maps.
- One pc must be on that runs the service. Very easy to add directories that are available to the mvp. Even network shares work fine.
- Good play back controls, resume even after power off on multiple files, quick 30 sec skip forward/backward to skip those commercials, instant jump from 0-100% in 10% increments using the number keys!
- picture quality is excellent.
- the box runs linux and boots the entire os off an image file on the host pc so upgrades are easy! Source is available so people have been hacking it and adding stuff like telnet.
- UI uses internet explorer object to render the html that makes up the UI. Control from the mvp to the host pc service is done through a modified version of VNC. Actual streaming of media is proprietary (NOT VNC).
- you can add up to 12 of these things on a single network.
- some small stability issues but it works fine 95% of the time. But then again I am using the beta version of the software.
- beware hardware revision D3 (d3a is fine). I hear those are defective. I have a D1 and it's fine.
- the perfect companion to any HTPC/home grown Tivo setup.
- doesn't playback HDTV streams.

Cheap, quiet, near instant on, plays everything, great picture quality, open, hackable, expandable. It's nearly perfect if you don't need HDTV capabilities.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

About / Contact

I thought I would finally post a bit about my objectives for creating this blog.

- This is my repository of reviews, impressions, and thoughts on video games and technology. I like to keep my comments short and to the point. You won't find a lot of fluff writing here. You'll be lucky to get complete sentences. What you will find is a lot of dense information usually from a more technical/value perspective. I hope you as the reader will find this approach a big time saver.
- I try and cover information that you usually don't see in other reviews. I figure if you want the usual information you can go read one of a billion review sites.
- I won't cover news or blog on other blog posts for the same reason.
- I'll try and post at least once a week but basically it is whenever I'm playing something new or some shiny new object has caught my eye.
- When reviewing games I'll typically post some early impressions. Usually within the first couple of hours I can tell if a game is worth my time and money. As I play further along I'll continue to update the same existing blog entry instead of creating a new one so you might want to review previous blog posts from time to time. Then, when I finish a game I'll probably update the blog post with a wrap up. I play a lot of games I never finish just due to time constraints (and being easily distracted by said shiny objects) so if I actually finish a game that usually means it's pretty good.
- To recruit people to defend the frontier against Xur and the Ko-Dan armada

Well, have a look around and I hope you find something helpful while you are here.

Please send any comments to:
(remove all X's)

High Definition PC Gaming

Guild Wars running on my PC and displayed on the HDTV.

In my never ending quest to get more use out of my HDTV I've decided to hook up my main gaming rig to the TV. I thought about dropping an older gaming PC next to the TV but it wouldn't be the same.

The goal was to be able to use my latest gaming PC at the desk and also with the HDTV. A few items were required since the two were separated by about 35ft.

- Creative DTS-610 so the sound would come out of the home theater speakers and not the computer 5.1 speakers.
- Wireless Input devices like the Logitech MX 3000 and the Logitech cordless rumble 2 gamepad
- 50ft M-M vga cable from for only $14
- 3 sets of 50 ft 1/8 mini stereo M-M cables also from monoprice
- 3 sets of 1/8" mini stereo Y adapters. Basically you need to split each of the 1/8" audio outputs from your sound card into two outputs so you can drive your PC speakers and the home theater speakers without reaching behind the pc and swapping cables. You have to watch out how much plastic is around the male plug on the splitter because mine were too wide and would block the adjacent audio out port. What I ended up having to do is use the short M-M 3X1/8" cable that came with the DTS 610 then add 3 F-F 1/8" stereo couplers, then attach the Y's to that, then connect the PC speakers to one set of the Y's and the 50ft cables that lead to the DTS 610 to the other set of Y's.
- I used a cheap 4 way airlink KVM since I like to hook up my X360 by vga. Switches are typically powered by ps2 port but since I was using only the VGA you also need a 9v tip positive 500ma power adapter. Fry's sells a multi tip/v one for around $10
- One 6ft VGA cable M-M to hook up the TV to the KVM.
- Desktop is a dell 2001fp 20" monitor hooked up by DVI so the VGA port is free on the ati x800xl.
- ATI Catalyst drivers make it really easy to setup profiles for switching displays.
- I tested the following games that had great widescreen naitive 1360X768 support: Guild Wars, Tomb Raider Legend, Oblivion, Half Life 2, and Counter Strike Source. Quake 4 has widescreen support and the aspect looked right (flash light made a perfect circle) but no widescreen resolutions were available. I had to use 1024X768 but it still looked and played great.

I was very impressed by the quality. I was worried about shadows etc with running 50ft of VGA cable but I couldn't spot any. It looked very good. The picture might have been a tad soft but other than that it was near perfect. Text was still very legible. X360 still looked very good through the KVM. Sound was very good too. Overall I'm very pleased with the setup.

PC specs

Creative DTS-610

Creative DTS-610

- I picked this up on ebay for $100 (sold by creative).
- Why you might need one: This comes in very handy when you want to hook up a high end gaming PC to an HDTV. The problem with most sound cards and built in sound the digital 5.1 out (either optical or coax) is only a pass through for pre-recorded 5.1 material like DVD's or other video files. Games that generate 5.1 sound in real time DO NOT get encoded into DD 5.1 and sent through the digital out. Instead the only 5.1 sound output is through the 3 stereo 1/8 mini audio plugs which most home theater receivers don't accept. There is only ONE exception to this rule and that is the nforce 2 soundstorm based motherboards. These do real time encoding into 5.1. But if you are gaming on an nf2 still then that really isn't next gen gaming.
- Ok in steps the DTS 610. It's an external box that takes the 3 stereo 1/8 mini audio inputs, encodes these 6 analog channels into DTS 5.1 in real time, and then outputs it in optical and coax. It's simple, it works, and obviously no software to install. You can also use it to convert an optical to coax and coax to optical if you wish but there are other devices that do that for much less.
- It works great and sounds great. If you get some crackle and pop during loud moments then the problem is you are over saturating the analog levels. Drop your volume in the mixer on your pc down to 50-75% instead of 100% and increase the volume on your receiver and that should fix the problem.

It's a very niche product that I see becoming more important as HTPC and PC gaming on HDTV becoming more prevalent. I don't know of any other similar device that does this. It works great and the price isn't too bad. Highly recommended if you find you need one.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Adaptec GamebridgeTV AVC-1410

(Battery is included in photo only for size reference)
Adaptec Gamebridge

MPEG2 Gamebridge Recording at the highest quality setting of me playing Half Life 2 on XBOX (please note this is of course only to give you an idea of the quality of the recording since youtube re-encodes everything)

- Lets you hook up any composite or svideo device to a pc and record. My main goal was to hook up a game console and utilize the screen on a laptop to play games on it.
- About $100. Microcenter also carries it.
- It's about the smallest TV Tuner I've seen.
- You can get away without meeting the cpu system requirements is if all you want to do is use your laptop like a game console monitor and not record. One thing you do have to meet is the video card requirements (dx9). I first tried to install it on an ancient Dell Inspiron 5000e - p3-750 with an ATI Rage Mobility 128 M3 (16mb) which hasn't had new video drivers in years. It installed fine but wouldn't work. I then installed it on my more modern laptop Dell Inspiron 8600c - pentium M 1.6ghz, ATI Radeon 9600 Pro Turbo 128mb (m10) and it worked just fine.
- Uses a custom version of Intervideo Home Theater software which worked just fine.
- No perceptible lag that I could detect. I played some XBOX Half Life 2 and Dance Dance Revolution.
- Video quality was about as good to be expected. No noticeable interlacing artifacts.
- Mpeg2 recording is pretty good and didn't impact gameplay. The original uncut mpeg2 was 108mb 2:17. Zoomplayer reports it as 720X540.
- usb powered. Comes with all the cables and a remote.
- I didn't get a chance to try the TV tuner.

Overall a bit overpriced but does what it says it does and quite well at that. Just make sure you meet those video card requirements.

Logitech Cordless Desktop MX 3000

- I picked this up for $50 at fry's after rebate
- The laser mouse looks just like the MX 610 which I really like. The only thing it is missing are the email and IM indicator lights (which I could care less).
- There is a new version of the setpoint driver software (2.47) on logitech's website which works with many of the Logitech Products. It recognized the keyboard, the laser mouse, and the MX 518 that I had connected. You can configure each device independently. Also, it didn't interfere with the MS Natural Keyboard that I had connected on the PS2 port.
- I don't particularly like the insert,home,page up,delete,end,page down cluster of keys. It is orientated vertically instead of horizontally. The up side is it makes the keyboard a bit smaller so it fits better on your lap if you want to use it that way.
- Range was OK. I tested both devices across the room (8ft or so) and it worked fine as long as you position the dongle properly (which can take some trial and error).
- Each device uses 2XAA. NIMH worked fine.
- usb and ps2 support
- very little lag while gaming
- I prefer split keyboards for every day use but unfortunately the cordless split logitech keyboard comes with a very crappy mouse.

Take my favorite laser mouse, combine it with a pretty good keyboard, and price it right and you have a winner.