Thursday, May 29, 2008

Zenith DTT900 Digital TV Tuner Converter Box

- My coupons were about to expire so I went ahead and picked up my converter boxes.

- I picked this model since after a bit of research it's suppose to currently be the best box out there with a very good sensitive tuner. $20 at circuit city. Make sure you look for April 2008 manufacturing date on the box near the upc code. Supposedly earlier builds could potentially have an audio issue in the left channel that produces a hiss when down sampling 5.1 audio content to stereo.

- You've got composite and RF (channel 3 or 4 selectable) outputs and that's about it. No RF pass through but I hear a new model will be released soon with that feature.

- It's pretty small, completely silent, and has good amount of vents for heat dissipation.

- Initial setup wizard walks you through a few very easy steps. Initial channel scan was pretty quick. Clock was set automatically.
- info and setup screens:

- The tuner is very nice and picks up all the same channels that my hdhomerun did. This is with a silver sensor antenna with a channel master 7777 amplifier. You can display the signal strength which also causes it to beep more rapidly as your signal strength increases. I guess this helps with aligning your antenna if you are in another room.

- The guide only shows current and next. It's pretty small with just a small horizontal strip across the top. Wish there was a more traditional full screen grid view.

- There are all sorts of zoom/aspect ratio modes to help deal with SD/4:3 content especially during the day. It also supports 4:3 or 16:9 displays.
- Picture quality is fine considering it's ATSC down sampled to composite.
- Favorites and Recent let you cycle/toggle or pick from a popup list which is kind of nice.
- All settings are maintained between power cycles.
- The remote is fine and uses one AAA battery. It even has the ability to power on/off your TV (didn't test this). The only buttons on the box are channel up/down and power.

It is what it is. It grabs that nice HD DD 5.1 ATSC signal and down samples the crap out of it to SD 480i stereo composite to be coupon compliant. It works just fine and won't break the bank at $20. Recommended if you actually needed one of these devices. I'll probably be giving mine to my parents.

Nice list of CECB units:

CECB at avsforum

Lots more info on the zenith:

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Wii Fit

I finally got around to setting this up. These are some really early impressions (about 1hr). I've tried probably less than 15% of the mini games errr ummm "exercises" so far.

- I had pre-ordered it from gamestop over a month ago at $90.
- According to the instructions it seems like only one balance board can be used at a time which is a shame since I could definitely see some interesting co-op opportunities.
- Pairing the board was a bit odd. I kept trying to do it from the Wii Home screen which apparently doesn't work. Instead, boot the Wii Fit disc and when it asks you to pair the device, do it then and it works just fine. This wasn't exactly explicitly mentioned in the manual and the process is a bit inconsistent with how you pair other wii devices. The manual mentioned something like up to 10 wireless devices can be paired with a wii, and the board uses player slot #4.
- Uses 4XAA batteries, completely wireless, nice big power button that you can hit with your toe.
- It's surprisingly heavy, comes with some extra feet to raise the board for thick carpet. Oh and it works just fine on carpet. I was surprised how accurate the weight was (within 1 pound of my Tanita Scale).
- My BMI is 24 so I'm just on the cusp of being overweight. It lets you set a BMI goal and a time period to achieve it yet it doesn't seem to draw up some sort of daily routine required to reach that goal so I'm not sure what the point is exactly except I guess to let you track your progress.
- I haven't tried any of the strength games, did the aerobic ones, one yoga, and all the unlocked balance games up through the tight rope. I think the only thing that even got my heart pumping was jogging, and you don't even use the board in that one. I did find running through the virtual park kind of fun though. The balance games are quite amusing. My 6 yr old's favorite is the ski jumping. I like how the ski games not only let you lean side to side to steer but also forward to go faster.

- There is one game where you have to tilt a board to sink marbles into a hole. My 3 yr old was having some issues with shifting his body weight instead of his head/upper body. So my 6 yr old decided to help him by pushing him around sort of like a human joystick. It actually worked quite well! Instant co-op mode!

- Everything seems so balance centric in this game. You might as well call it Wii Balance. I half expected a mini game where you would have to balance on the edges of a row boat, practicing punches with your wii mote/nunchuck, while some old guy keeps rocking the boat to try and knock you off. Hmm...that actually sounds pretty cool.
- Calibration seems to work quite well and is very specific to the player. I'm guessing it adjusts stuff like sensitivity based on the player's weight. So you have to go through all these menus just to switch players. When my 6 yr old jumped on the board with my profile he could barely get it to register weight shifts. So you really have to create separate profiles for every unique player.

We Ski
- I picked this up for $30 hoping it would be something like Alpine Racer from the arcades since it is released by Namco. Unfortunately, it's not for the most part.
- I only had a chance to spend a few minutes in the free roam mode with this game so these are really early impressions.
- I do ski in real life and have gone several times (mostly blues and some blue/blacks).
- Don't go expecting SSX. The pace is a lot slower. the trails are more tame (or can you say realistic?).
- Basically the board is only used for steering left/right. It doesn't seem like leaning forward or back has any effect. The remote/nunchuck are just used for mushing with the poles. It would have been nice if each controller part tracked each pole independently . Again, I see so much potential here for a more realistic and immersive control scheme and it just all seems so dumbed down for the kids and the masses. There does seem to be a bit more to the controls like how to tackle moguls but I haven't read the manual or done the ski school thing yet. So there might be a bit more depth I haven't tapped into yet.
- The leaning to steer does feel pretty good though. It actually felt a bit like I was skiing....sort of. Heh I found myself trying to keep my weight on the down hill skill but ummm yeah without the slope it's kind of awkward.
- Sense of speed is ok. You have to mush quite a bit to traverse some spots or just to give yourself a speed boost.
- The mountain is small, and I mean way small. You could probably hit every trail in 30-45 min. Kind of nice you can watch yourself ride the lifts (or just skip them) with some classic namco soundtracks like ridge racer going in the background.
- The slopes are pretty well populated. There are all these people to talk to. what is this, animal ski crossing?

So far it's a pretty fun toy. The kids are really enjoying it. I see a lot of potential in the balance board. It's built quite well. As far as "fitness"? Well, I need more time to find out. At least it gets your butt out of the chair.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Logitech Harmony 550 Remote,en

- I picked up two of these for $50 each at amazon when they went on sale for a short period. I've pretty much replaced all the remaining remotes in my house now with harmony remotes. I have the 676 for the home theater, the xbox one in the game room, and 550's in the master bedroom and exercise room.
- This remote is almost identical to the xbox remote so pretty much everything I wrote there applies. I'll just point out the few differences in this article.
- The blue back light is pretty bright and looks cool.
- A few of the buttons have changed. One thing I like that this remote and the 676 has but the xbox one doesn't are dedicated pic/sound buttons. This allows you to group commonly used display settings our sound settings to those buttons. Pressing pic/sound once and you get a another whole button configuration set (hard and soft buttons), press it again and your are back to your main activity button set. The alternative was putting a bunch of these functions into the custom display button area but then it just mixes in with the rest of your custom activity buttons. This system is much more flexible and cleaner.
- Uses 4XAAA. I highly recommend you use eneloop rechargable batteries which is what I use in all my harmony remotes. They have a very low self discharge rate. Fry's has 4 packs for $10.
- The desktop software just keeps getting better and better which also automatically flashes your remote if it needs it. I noticed full macro support has been added.
- If you end up maxing out the 12 device limit you could take a device that doesn't use that many buttons (say an AV switch) and just learn those buttons on an existing device.

What can I say. I have loved Harmony remotes since my first one and at $50 these 550's were an incredible value. Sure the Harmony One is a lot fancier but I like using standard batteries. I don't really need color touch screens on my remote or 3 more devices (12 vs 15) for about a $170 premium. Highly recommended especially if you can find them at this price.

Hellgate: London (PC)

- So I recently started playing this regularly with 2 friends (picked it up for $25). This game has the worst patching/update system ever!!! Having just come off of about 1000hrs of guild wars (and pretty burnt out) this was quite a shocker.
- I'm only a level 10 marksman so I haven't spent that much time with it yet.
- It's not bad so far but still running into a few odd bugs. Like last night one of use couldn't pickup a required quest item even though he could see it right in front of him. Then he moved up to the floor above, and the item was in the exact same place(except on a different floor) and this time he could pick it up.
- DX10 at 1920 X 1200 ran perfectly fine (8800GT) until we hit our first boss in hell and then it felt like single digit frame rates. I switched to dx9, went back to the exact same boss and it was very smooth so stick to DX9.
- After the great Jeremy Soule music in guild wars I almost hear no music in Hellgate. What is up with that.
- Lots of generic fetch/kill X #/collect X # item side quests. Guild wars had a few but at least they try to spice it up with some prose that I never read. It seems like very little effort went into the story telling/writing/quest designs. Hopefully when I hit one of the hand crafted (not randomly generated) levels it will improve.
- Playing on normal has been pretty easy so far.
- The partying/portal system is pretty convenient.
- Inventory tetris is a bit annoying though salvaging items (at least that's what they call it in guild wars) is free and pretty quick to do.
- No respec which is just nuts.
- Silly things like killing those bat things leaves the bodies floating in mid air.
- Less silly I had a some loot drop underneath a prefab train. I could see it but couldn't pick it up.
- I had one hard lock last night and so did another friend. I had to alt tab, kill process, and restart the game. Thank goodness for the portal to teammate feature. This was my first and only lockup so far since I've started playing. Also, this was after some mysterious patch that was pushed down.
- The time before I got disconnected from the server multiple times. This only happened that one night and hasn't happened gain.
- Yeah, I'm ok I guess with these problems as long as you have a set of people you can play with. Having the party portal is a life saver since if at least one person in your party doesn't get booted from the server/crash out then they anchor that instance so people can get back in who have had issues.
- So far content wise (just from an art assets perspective) you really have to wonder what they spent all this time developing this game on. I mean I think there is probably more art assets in Guild Wars pre-searing than in probably all of hellgate (I'll hold final judgment until I at least finish the non-subscriber game content). Eh I'm playing it more like a shooter so I'm enjoying it for the most part. I get to shoot lots and lots of things and napalm helps satisfy the nuker in me...a bit.

So far I think I'm getting my $25 worth of entertainment from it. I can't even begin to imagine how buggy this game must have been at launch. We will probably play this game one time on normal to completion without subscription, and that's probably all the repetition we can handle.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Logitech MX 620 Cordless Laser Mouse

- $30 from Sam's club.
- My old MX700 finally started dying on me at work. The back button would register a double click about half the time. It was driving me nuts so I went and replaced it with this mx 620.
- USB receiver is smaller now at about half the size of the mx 610.
- All 5 buttons are in their NORMAL expected locations. This is really critical to me. I just hate mice that move the buttons around or worse remove a few from the standard 5.
- I installed the latest setpoint 4.60 software. Tilt horizontal scrolling works fine.
- There is a switch on the bottom to switch the scroll wheel from clicky to smooth. I like the idea of smooth and the ability to quickly scroll through lots of text (especially important to coders) but the problem is it tends to drift. Even after you stop the wheel sometimes the text would jump up or down a few lines. Messing with the vertical scrolling speed/acceleration settings didn't help. It's really annoying so back to clicky style wheel for me.
- I found the search button mostly worthless so I remapped it to show desktop.
- Battery life is incredible if you believe the literature or setpoint: Up to a YEAR! Yeah, time will tell. Uses 2XAA.

Overall for $30 it's hard to beat especially if the battery life comes close to what is published. Not having to worry about recharging batteries especially at work is quite convenient. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Rhino Ferret NB-05 Notebook Cooler

fan - exhaust port

Hooks and air intake

usb powered


- picked it up from fry's a few weeks ago for $12-$12 MIR = free
- The idea is it has some spring loaded metal hooks on the end which attaches to the exhaust vents of your notebook to help draw air out faster. It actually doesn't fit my dell inspiron 8600. The hooks are pretty big so you need rather large vent slits/holes.
- I don't really care since I never planned to actually use this with my notebook. I just thought a small compact free usb powered fan might come in handy in future fan mod projects on some other piece of home electronics.
- Air flow seems pretty good. It's very quiet on the low setting but quite loud on the high setting.

Eh...It was free and it might just come in handy someday.