Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Grand Theft Auto IV (XBOX 360)

very early impressions.
9 missions passed, 7.53% complete
about 3.5 hrs (that's with about 4 side missions, dating, etc and just messing around and finding places)

- I'm going to try to keep this as spoiler free as possible but if you want to be surprised and discover stuff on your own you probably shouldn't read this or anything else on GTA IV.
- On the 360 depending on lighting (usually during mid day) the shadows kind of shimmer. It's a bit distracting but I got use to it after a while. I'm wondering if the PS3 version has this issue.
- I've had zero lock ups or issues so far.
- Framerate is more than acceptable so far. No, it's nowhere near 60fps but I'd say it usually stays around 30 or above. It's very playable.
- Lots of post processing and lighting effects. I love the day/night and weather cycles. Rain at night just looked amazing with the street lights. Graphics really are rather great with good draw distance and little popup.
- Excellent learning curve/mission structure so far. This whole first part is like a well designed tutorial teaching you all the different aspects and types of gameplay.
- Lots of mini games in the world: bowling, pool, darts, arcade machines, etc. You can burn a lot of time just watching TV or surfing on the "internet" that's part of the game.
- Pretty funny response when I tried to" "press your luck" on my second date.
- I've only done a little combat but it's seems quite a bit improved so far. It takes a bit of getting use to the half left trigger (manual aim) vs full left trigger pull(lock).
- Starter cars kind of suck with not much grip. You really gotta break and slow down before using the emergency break.
- Nice quick retry of missions. It's just a menu option on your phone. Skippable cut scenes! Nice auto save too + many manual save slots.
- The whole save your care in the reserved spot is ok but not near as nice as the Saints Row system. If you total the car it's pretty much gone.
- GPS system works really well. Pretty much just like Saints Row.
- Load times aren't bad at all.
- I've only explored maybe 1/6th (maybe only a 10th? I haven't even been to the subway) of the map so far.
- Lots of nice cut scenes. Voice acting, characters, writing, and story have all been pretty darn good so far.
- Ammo and money hasn't been much of an issue. Just don't blow it all on lap dances at the strip club :-)
- The amount of content in this game is mind blowing.

I've never finished a GTA game before because of a lot of annoying design decisions. I did finish Saints Row because it fixed most of them. This might be the first GTA I finish because it seems like they finally got it right this time. I'm definitely impressed.

UPDATE: 5/29/08
WARNING: potential very minor spoilers from here on out.
So I finally found some time to work on the storyline missions again. I just finished up for the evening and decided to just mess around a bit. I kill a few cops and run up my wanted level. I then climb some stairs that happen to lead to under one of the bridges with two sets of train tracks under neath it. So I'm running along on the tracks shooting at the few cops that followed me and at the helicopter that is buzzing around. I can hear all these cop cars pulling up on the road part of the bridge above me but they have a hard time spotting me. I notice there is a little walk way between the tracks creating a good sized gap between the different flows of traffic for the two directions on the bridge above. The cops finally spot me and start jumping down except it's a pretty far fall between the road level and the train track level where I am. They land with a crunch, groaning on the floor with little health. So I'm sitting there finishing them off with the shot gun as more cops jump down. It's like freaking lemmings as more and more cops keep dropping to their near death. I'm up to 4 stars at this point just enjoying killing all these cops raining down around me. I then go back to walking on the tracks and notice something coming towards me in the distance. First I think it's a train but it turns out to be a police car. I take down the two officers with my m16 and take their car. Now I'm racing down the train tracks in this squad care noticing that all the police cars are having a hard time spotting me. I'm thinking maybe I can actually lose my wanted level. You can pretty much go full speed because you are on a suspended train track platform, most of the track has a nice rail so it's pretty hard to drive off the edge, cops on the ground have a heck of a time spotting you, and several parts of the track goes through tunnels helping with the helicopters. As I'm racing along the tracks at high speed I can see I'm nearing the edge of the agro circle (dang it's a big circle at 4 stars) and then some random cop somehow spotted me. I continue racing and lose line of site and eventually make it out of agro and lost a 4 star wanted level. And that is how I got my Walk Free achievement.

I still have no idea how the cop car got up there in the first place. I'm also pretty amazed I didn't really see/hit any trains during the escape.

Progress report:
57 missions passed

special abilities unlocked:

working on:

Oh and I now have a helicopter parked in the reserved spot in front of one of my safe houses. It was a bit tricky landing it but now it persists between saves just like a car. It pretty much takes the entire space though.

UPDATE: 6/4/08
- Finished: 67.50%, 94 missions passed, 36 saves, 30:25, $691K, 660 people killed, 17 missions failed, 68 days passed
- I then went back and finished it again under 30hrs for the Liberty City Minute.
- Finally I went back and finished it a 3rd time for the other ending.
- This is the first GTA game I've ever finished and it was time well spent. I really enjoyed it. I actually thought the later missions were more fun and not all that frustrating. The ending was pretty short but the credits were really long say 20 min or so. After that you'll get a few phone calls to wrap things up. It also auto saves and then you can continue playing to finish up any side quests/achievements you didn't get yet. If you want the < 30 hr achievement don't waste a ton of time messing around (or at least don't save after you waste time messing around). Take taxis everywhere. Call Jacob frequently for cheap ammo and vest. The only thing he doesn't sell are rockets. I just barely squeezed it in with just 10 min to spare.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Rainbow Six Vegas 2 (XBOX 360)

- Picked it up for $40 when it first came out.
- Finished the single player. I still need to try co-op story mode. I would say it took around 8hrs at most and that is with all the artificial lengthening this game has (more on that later).
- Graphics look about the same as the first one which isn't necessarily a bad thing.
- Some maps don't seem to be very well optimized. On some levels the framerate really takes a hit. It felt like single digits to me in some parts as in almost unplayable. Throw in a smoke grenade and you can just forget it. It didn't happen that often. Most of the time the framerate was just fine. But when it starts to chug it's BAD!
- The removed 4 player co-op and replaced it with only 2 player co-op. STUPID! STUPID! STUPID! Sure you can still do 4 player terrorist hunt but it's not exactly the same thing.
- Terrorist hunt is still fun and challenging if you can get a group of guys together to play. AI seems a bit cheap once in a while.
- I really like the new ACE leveling system. It's great that you gain experience points to unlock stuff and gain rank for everything you do no matter what mode you're playing in. So even when you're stuck on some single player level where you have to restart frequently (more on that later) you still earn experience for every kill you made.
- The last 20% or so starts to really suck. Lets just say this game obtains a level of frustration I haven't seen since sniper town in Medal of Honor Allied Assault. In fact the end game sucks too with more trial and error instant death gameplay.
- Modeling penetration is nice but there seems to be some odd bugs too. I've seen shields and guns just stick into objects or stand straight up off the ground too many times.
- Story not as good as the first one.
- This really felt like it was developed by Ubisoft Montreal's "B Team."
- detailed weapon stats:
part 1
part 2
My current standard load out:
G36C with 6X scope (good balance for my mid range play style)
MG36 with recoil control stock (reloads fast!)
Desert Eagle with high capacity Mag
frags, incendiary (sometimes c4)

This game has been a very mixed bag. It makes a few improvements but then breaks several good things from the first game. Overall, I think Vegas 1 was better but this game is still worth a look if you are a fan of the series.

Only recommended to fans of the series, and I wouldn't pay much more than $40 for it.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Monoprice 4X1 1.3b HDMI Switch

- I bought two of these at for $39 each. I'm using one with my samsung lnr-409d 720p 40" LCD HDTV and the other with my Westinghouse 24" LCD Monitor along with a kvm.
- The switches work great. I tested all ports at 1080p with no sparkles or issues.
- Nice remote with discrete input selection.
- Works great with my harmony remote.
- Pretty much everything I wrote about on the Monoprice 5X1 HDMI switch (REV 2.1) (look near the end of the post) applies here.

- What I really wanted to write about is (and no I don't work for them. I'm just a very happy customer) and how amazing their products and support are. I recently replaced all my vga cables across 3 kvm's that I have with monoprice ones, and I can really see the difference in quality. But what is even more impressive is the level of service. One of the 4X1 HDMI switches had a bad port (port #3) which showed sparkles at 1080p but not at 720p. I fired off a quick email to monoprice support requesting a RMA so I could exchange it. To my surprise within 3 hrs I got a response. They shipped a replacement with tracking # and also included a prepaid return ups shipping label. That's right. Without any additional prompting from me, forms to fill out, or anything, they just cross shipped me a new unit along with a prepaid return shipping label. I got the replacement unit that same week which works just fine. Another time they had shipped an order slight wrong (they shipped a few wrong cables). After a quick email they shipped the correct ones, and they just let me keep the wrong cables. I don't know of any other retailer online or B&M that has this consistent excellent level of support. It also helps they have great quality products at some really good prices too. I've been ordering from monoprice for years, and I tell you they have a loyal customer for life.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Popcorn Hour A-100

Popcorn Hour with 40mm fan + zalman fanmate 2 mod:
- $180 + shipping (which is rather high). It comes out to around $194 after shipping. There's a bit of a waiting list right now.
- Good resources you should read: (a must read) (official forums)
- Basically it's a little low power, fanless (I'll get to that later), powerful media playback box that can handle almost any file type: container, or codec (mkv,x.264,avi,divx,xvid,mpeg2 TS, wmv, dvd iso, ac3 dd5.1, dts,etc) out there including subtitles
- Full 1080p and very high bitrate support
- Play them from a variety of sources: stream over network (several protocols including SMB for windows file shares, 10/100 ethernet), internal hard drive (PATA), external usb hard drive, usb key drives, external usb dvd drive.
- Support for several different file systems: EXT2/3, NTFS (read only for now), FAT16/32, HFS+
- Nice set of connections: hdmi, component, svideo, composite, stereo analog, and spdif coax (no optical).
- Yes, it truly is a "do everything" media play back device all in one nice little box.
- It's also pretty extensible with a nice list of user created apps. There's one even to interface directly with HDHR (more on that later):

- Setup was pretty easy. I've got it hooked up to my samsung 720p hdtv using hdmi. Audio is through spdif coax. I dropped in an old seagate 300gb PATA I had lying around. Fired it up and the auto detect worked and displayed 720p over hdmi. I then updated the firmware over the network without issue (April 16, 2008 release).
- Next I installed the NMT applications (upnp av, myihome, ftp, samba, nfs, torrent) to the internal hard drive. I let it format the hard drive to ext3. I've read that ext3 has journaling so it's a bit slower than ext2 but is more robust. The main nmt apps I wanted to try were smb server and ftp for getting content onto the internal hard drive. You can stop each individual server in the setup menu.
default samba share: nmt/1234
default ftp: ftpuser/1234
- Then I setup my smb shares:
Setup->Media Server->Network Share
I found out there is a hard limit of only 5 shares. Well, that was going to be a big problem since my media is spread out over 9 different shares on 3 different pc's. There's a work around which I'll get to later. Nice to see that they fully support password protected windows shares and even persists the login credentials between a power cycle. I hate devices that just want you to open up your entire network with what guest accounts and no password shares.
- The work around to the 5 share limit is to install MyiHome which is specifically designed to work with NMT.
There are many different ways to access content. Here are the associated bitrates from the wiki:
SMB: ~25Mbps
NFS: ~33Mbps
HTTP: ~42Mbps (same clip peaks at 47Mbps)
USB HDD: ~ 42Mbps
USB DVDROM (8x): ~42Mbps
Internal HDD: ~42Mbps
As you can see http is ideal for streaming over the network which is what MyiHome uses.
- Harmony database: Computer >
Media Center > Syabas > PopcornHour A-100

- Using straight SMB (and therefore not dependent on any service running on a PC) I was able to stream HD mpeg2 TS files recorded by my HDHR without issue with full 5.1 DD surround sound. SD mpeg2 (recorded by pvr-250), divx, xvid, photos, and mp3's worked fine too. I ran into issues with 1080p MKV x.264 files. The 720p lower bitrate ones (about 6mbps) played just fine but the 1080p higher bitrate ones (>10mbps) it would stutter.
- I was hoping I wouldn't have to install any server specific software but that's just not the case. You really do need to install MyiHome for the higher bitrate stuff to take advantage of http streaming. I found MyiHome to be a pretty clean install. You can add as many watch folders as you want for each media type (video,music,photos). You can even enter UNC paths that point to shares on other pc's without any issues. Since it runs as a tray app and not a true service you won't run into any share permission issues as long as the currently logged in user has access to those shares. It was all very painless and worked perfectly. This basically bypasses the 5 share limit since you can add as many watch folders as you want through MyiHome. Everything streamed perfectly smooth using MyiHome. We are talking 1080p 12mbps x.264 mkv, 1.5mbps DTS, with toggleable subtitles. It all just works.
While streaming content I noticed myiHome-server.exe took about 63gb of memory and 1% cpu utilization. Also, it works just fine in vista 32bit unlike my hauppauge mvp which I could never get to work right under vista (even with the latest betas that say it supports vista). Also, adding watch folders is very quick. There isn't a long "build a database full of worthless meta data crap" that is usually associated with this kind of media server application.
- Mp3's worked fine under MyiHome though folders with a large amount of photos kind of choke myiHome. The wiki confirms this is a bug. For now I stick to smb shares for that.
- Another limitation is DVD ISO's do NOT work through myIHome so again just use smb shares which works just fine.
- It supports quite a few internet features like youtube, some video podcasts, flickr, picasa, internet radio, etc. I tried the youtube, shoutcast, some video podcasts and they all worked quite well. The youtube videos actually looked quite good.
- I also tried several video podcasts that I download and they all played fine.
- FLV files are NOT supported (well at least not through myihome which is the only source I checked).
- I do have to say the picture quality is rather excellent no matter what media you are playing.
- I copied a few files onto the internal hard drive.
ftp: 21mbps
smb share: 24mbps
Yeah it's pretty darn slow. I mean copying between two 100mbps pc's you usually see around 70mbps real world. It seems the Sigma
8635 chip used just isn't fast enough to sustain higher transfer rates.
Here is a faster alternative method.
You can also copy from a usb hdd to the internal hdd. (it might be bugged for files greater than 1GB. I haven't tested this)
- You can basically use the PCH as a slow poor man's NAS if you wanted to.
- You have the option of selecting digital bitstream or analog for all audio types (dd, wma, wma pro) except for DTS which can only be output as a digital bitstream to be decoded by an external receiver. It's not that the box isn't capable. It's just they don't want to pay the DTS licensing fee.
- I tried to get dvd's burned with media files under UDF to work with my benq dvd burner in an external usb enclosure. The dvd drive would show up under sources. I can browse to the file and start it. It then would just sit at buffering and then eventually go back to the menu. I could never get it to play anything off of dvd. It could be the enclosure or the way I burned the file (imgburn) but I'm not too worried about it since I wasn't planning to use the PCH in this manner.
- I hooked up a usb powered 2.5" hard drive enclosure and it played all media off of it just fine. I tried both fat32 and ntfs. Note that fat32 limits files to a max of 4gb so you should probably use ntfs.
- I tried hdhomerun plugin and it worked quite well. Just follow the readme carefully and use an editor like notepad++ that maintains unix style line breaks. I did have one issue where on some channels it was picking the wrong audio track. It was like it was picking the secondary audio track and therefore had no sound at all. I've posted to see if the developer could maybe some how pick the right PID out of the TS associated with eng. Either way it's pretty amazing and works quite well. I didn't bother testing the recording.
UPDATE: I think I kind of figured it out. It has nothing to do with stream selection or thehdhomerun plugin. The problem seems to be with the pch or the pch and my receiver. It seems like it has problems decoding the ac3 on some channels. Switching AC3 from digital raw to analog PCM seems to fix the problem. This seems to happen on shows that are only in 2.0. Of course in doing this I lose out on surround for shows in 5.1.
UPDATE 2: I tested recording from hdhr on the pch and it works fine. The weird part is watching the same thing live I have the audio issue but playing back the same show from the recording I get sound. ajr is going to look into it.
UPDATE 3: I got a test build from ajr which seems to have fixed the audio issue for the most part.

- USB keyboard is fully supported (I used my wireless logitech mediaboard). It comes in handy when setting up your shares or searching youtube. The alternative is using the remote and entering letters much like a cell phone.
- Before each video plays there is a slight pause while it buffers. Buffer times vary depending on the media. Performance is best with MyiHome. Either way it's not that bad.
- Navigation is acceptable. You start by picking a source (internal hard drive, any external devices, shares, myihome, etc) then a media type (video, music, photos). There is a second or so pause as you go between pages when browsing files. There are dedicated page up/down buttons. It would be nice if it would buffer an entire directory listing instead of having to stream that data over the network for every single page flip. Also, there are no sort options. It's alphabetical and that's it. It would be nice to be able to sort by descending date. At least the list wraps around so going up when at the top of the list puts you at the bottom and vice versa. It's usable but could definitely use some improvements.
- I wish you could group together multiple mount points/shares into a single media listing.
- FF up to 8X. Rewind isn't supported in all media.
- You can quickly seek by press left or right. Each press adds another 30 seconds in that direction, then after a second or two of no more remote input it will seek to that new position. This is pretty good for commercial skipping. Pressing the number keys jumps to that % position (example: 5 = 50%).
- There's a search by title function that never worked for me. I typed a partial name of one the of the files and no results came back. Maybe it doesn't work with the myihome source.
- With a large enough internal hard drive you could load it up with content and take it with you to a friend's house or when you travel. Having that portability is a nice plus.
- No resume but the feature is currently in development.

- Yes, it's an issue. The main chip is only passively cooled with only wire mesh sides for venting. Add a pretty warm hard drive in there and it only makes things worse.
73c seems way too hot and it shows. 1080p mkv would basically cause the pch to drop out to the menu after about 30min of play. After that all videos would stutter until I power cycled. This happened many times. I already bought a 40X40X10mm fan from fry's (PLU 4722259) anticipating this issue having read about it earlier. I also added a zalman fanmate 2 to drop it to 5v to keep the noise down. I attached the fan directly on top of the heatsink using some sticky velcro dots (not really using the velcro, just the adhesive side since it seems to be stronger and more heat resistant than tape). I've read some people using blu-tack too.
I used a 3 pin to 4 pin molex with built in pass through to tap into the hard drive power. I ran the cables around to the other side of the hard drive and connected the fanmate. I ran the fanmate controller cable under the wire mesh side (all the side panels just slide up except for the back panel). I bought some longer 4mm - .7 x 12mm bolts (hex cap screws, class 8.8, M4-.70 X 12) along with some washers (finish washers steel #8). I used two washers on each corner to lift the lid higher and give the fan some needed clearance. I then just velcro dot the zalman controller on top. Yes it's all very quick and dirty but it works for now (and doesn't void the warranty). Temps using my IR laser thermometer show 44c under heavy load now and zero issues with several hours of playback. Fanmate is set to the lowest setting so the fan is pretty much silent. Note: the fan doesn't turn off even when you put the pch into stand by.
I have a better mod in mind but it's going to take a bit more time to implement though this current mod is working quite well already. I might just leave it this way.

UPDATE: I rerouted the fanmate control cable through the gap near the top instead of going under the side panel:

- I stuck a kill a watt on there to get some numbers.
15w - 1080p >10mbps bitrate x.264 mkv dts from internal hd
8w streaming
6w standby
- Pretty amazing. This thing can decode files that usually only a mid to high end core2 duo/quad can do at just 8w while streaming. Heck most pc's in s3 sleep state is 5-6w. This thing delivers incredible performance using very little power.
- No power switch. Needs a deeper sleep mode which they say they are working on.
- The hard drive seems to properly spin down most of the time when not in use.
- You can completely power down the pch by hitting power then counting to two then hitting delete. OK it's not completely powered down. The fan is STILL running and I have no idea why. I mean there are no lights, the hard drive is spun down, the smb server is not running yet the fan is still going. It's very odd. The other problem is you can't turn it back on with the remote. The only way to power it back on is unplugging it and plugging it back in. One option people are using are x10 appliance modules or other remote control power switches available on the market. UPDATE: FYI, I had issues using the 2 prong x10 appliance modules with a 3 prong to 2 prong adapter. It would cut the power but then after 15 seconds or so it would turn back on all by itself. They do sell 3 prong appliance modules but I don't have any to test. One work around is to connect the pch directly the the x10 transceiver (using a 3 prong to 2 prong adapter). For some reason that works just fine.

Recommended with some caveats. This is not quite a plug and play experience. Quantities are limited. Build quality seems acceptable (there are the usual forum posts of bricked boxes and bad flashes with maybe a way to unbrick). Thermal design sucks. You really have to be more of a tinkerer and don't mind getting your hands a bit dirty. You'll probably want to come up with some cooling solution too. But having said all that where else can you get this kind of performance (equivalent to a mid level core 2 duo with at least a $100 video card) and incredible broad feature set in a really low power stand alone device for under $200. Sure it has it's issue (and what box of this type doesn't) but no deal breakers in my book.

UPDATE: 8/5/08
Just installed the latest firmware:
Release Date : 18 June 2008
Firmware Version : 01-17-080612-15-POP-402
NMT Apps Version : 00-17-080529-15-POP-402

Always start from a unplugged cold boot state. Then I went through the setup screen and just let it download the upgrade. After it reboots it asks to upgrade the NMT Apps which I also did.
Finally I updated the myihome software on my pc to v5.0.2. It automatically uninstalls the old version before installing the new one. Unfortunately, you'll have to setup all the watch folders again.
Everything seems to work just fine.

I also noticed two new models are on the popcorn hour webste: A-110 and B -110. Interesting....

UPDATE: 12/01/08
- I picked up another A-100 used and on the cheap (thanks htguys!). I flashed both pch's to the latest firmware. I did the exact same fan mode to this one too which seemed like it needed it (was struggling with some 1080p content after long periods of use but fine now with the above fan mod). I tried PlayOn briefly. It was really easy to setup. It seems to live fine on the same machine as myihome. That makes 3 upnp servers all running on the same machine if you count wmp11. It worked quite well with hulu, cbs, and youtube. I like how you can browse anything and not just your queue. Quality was acceptable but not great. It seems everything is transcoded on the fly to mpeg2. I wasn't able to try netflix since I'm on silverlight already but playon says there will be a fix soon. Memory usage was around 70mb. Service seems to be built on .net 1.1. CPU usage was around 10-17% every 5 seconds or so on one core (q6600) while it was transcoding. If they get netflix working again I might just buy it.
- I found a way to speed up copying files from the pc to the pch internal hard drive over samba server. Using vista file explorer I was getting around 2.25MB/sec. After switching to fast copy I was getting closer to 4.5 MB/sec.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Dualshock 3 (PS3)

Dualshock 3 compared to the original six axis:

- I had pre-ordered it from amazon and got it for $50
- It's pretty much exactly the same as the original six axis except it has a bit more weight. I like that since it does feel more substantial in your hands.
- Tried it out with Lair with the new analog control/rumble patch. The rumble effects were pretty subtle. The analog control makes Lair suck less. Unskipable cut scenes even when you are repeating a mission because you just failed it really does suck. Uncharted has rumble support already built it and feels nice.
- It's also fully compatible with your PS2 games. I gave devil may cry 3 SE a try and the rumble effects felt fine.

Recommended if you feel like paying $50-55 for fixing Sony's "mistake" (can we say Immersion patent infringement) in the first place. I really missed rumble so I guess it was worth it to me but the price does seem kind of high.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

I've been playing with the last few days.
It's a pretty neat free service that offers quite a bit of content (tv, full length movies) with pretty good quality though still flash based video. The ads aren't too annoying.
It's rather great. I did some bandwidth testing:

tv shows = .8mbps
480p full length movies = 1.3mbps
hd gallery 720p trailers = 5.4mbps

Nothing to install, nice full screen mode.

For HD (check out the HD gallery. Mostly movie trailers right now) I actually have to let it buffer up a bit before I start or my dsl can barely keep up.

Quality at 480p isn't bad. It's near dvd quality, a bit softer because of the much lower bitrate. 720p looks fantastic.

I also finally gave netflix instant watch a try. Those are quite good too. I would say about as good as the 480p hulu stuff. Quite a bit of kids stuff and anime too.

I can definitely see how they can say blu-ray will probably be the last disc format. As bandwidth increases and codecs just keep getting better maybe someday we will approach HD disc quality (though we are still no where close today).

media center plugin (need to test this sometime)

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Westinghouse 24" LCD Monitor (L2410NM)

- This is replacing my Dell 2001FP (S-IPS panel) which still works great. I just felt it was time for something a bit bigger and had 1080p wide screen support.

- nice detailed explanation of the different types of panels (thanks Justin Fletcher for the links):
handy chart:
- determine type of panel used in monitors (thanks André Costa for the links):
- Other monitors considered:
A comparable dell 24" VA panel is closer to $500-600.
28" hanns-G TN panel for $550.
28" hannspree (HF-289HJB) for $580
doublesight 26" S-IPS for $700
and even wall mounting a westinghouse 37" 1080p hdtv
In the end this was my first 2nd tier manufacturer panel purchase so I wanted something pretty cheap to lower the risk.
- $300 from sam's club
- Dirt cheap P-MVA panel.
- Great viewing angles
- Really really bright at factory default. I'm still tweaking my picture settings.
- built in speakers (I didn't test)
- Tons of inputs: composite, component, svideo, hdmi (with hdcp support), vga (I've only tested vga and dvi->hdmi). Cheap vga cable included. No dvi->hdmi cable in the box. I had a dvi->hdmi cable from laying around.

- Pretty bare bones monitor/hdtv hybrid as far as features go. Very basic stand that only lets you tilt slightly forward and back.
- Monitor sleeps fine in vga mode but if you are using the hdmi, when your pc tries to sleep the monitor it shows a bright blue screen in stead of sleeping. Nice way to waste electricity, generate heat, and wear down your backlight. You'll need to either switch to vga or learn to turn it off when not in use. This is probably the biggest ding against this monitor and you'll have to ask yourself if you can live with it.

- I tested a few games all running at native 1920X1200: geometry wars (using 360 controller), counter strike source, bioshock, and call of duty 4. Ghosting seemed pretty minimum. It was no worse than my dell 2001fp. Input lag wasn't too noticeable in the fps's but I could definitely feel it in geowars using vga. Input lag was considerably reduced using hdmi. In both cases I think input lag is worse than my dell 2001fp but not unbearably so. I can live with it especially when using the hdmi port. In comparison my 17" TN samsung has pretty much no noticeable input lag though horrible vertical viewing angle. So if you are very sensitive to input lag it's probably best to stick with TN or S-IPS. Just keep in mind this is all very subjective testing. I tend to be quite sensitive to input lag on games like geometry wars where quick twitch reaction is critical.
- response rate seems closer to 13ms than 8ms:

- Warranty is 1 yr. I've read some support horror stories and long repair times.
- The buttons are horrible. They are thin, tiny, and all crammed together. It's pretty painful navigating the menu and changing settings.
- Scaling seems ok. You can set normal,full,zoom. Basically you can't force 1:1 but you can at least maintain aspect ratio (16:9 content will have small black bars on the top/bottom when in normal mode to maintain 16:9 on a 16:10 display).
- Manual is pretty bare with almost no explanation of any of the settings. I believe brightness is tied to backlight levels.
- Not all settings are available in all input modes even ones you would think would apply. It's a bit annoying.
- Manual is pretty bare.
- The monitor looks pretty nice: bezel, etc. That clear plastic piece on the bottom with the white power LED defusing through it just screams look I'm cheap but I can still try too hard to look classy! I like how the speakers are hidden behind the monitor especially since I don't ever plan to use them.
- Worked perfectly with this monoprice hdmi 4X1 switch.
Basically what I plan to do is use this along with my 4 way belkin kvm. This way I have the option of going vga or dvi->hdmi. Sure, I have two things to switch then but it will be nice to have multiple machines be able to use dvi. In comparison a 4 port DVI kvm starts at around $190.
- VGA looks pretty good if you are using good cables like the ones from monoprice. DVI->HDMI looked a bit better IMO.
- Played some 1080p movie content and it looked pretty good. Blacks were ok but lost some detail. I'm still not done tweaking my settings though.
- Back light looked pretty uniform except for some very faint vertical banding near the center only visible on a white screen. No bleeding.
- I had two stuck pixels (one in bottom left corner, another near center) using this test:
I fixed the lower left one with this in about 5 min:
I need to work on the center one longer. Either way I didn't notice them until I went looking for them.
- It doesn't fit on my desk. It's about an inch too wide so I had to sit it closer. I actually like it this way. It makes text even easier to read. With the keyboard tray all the way out the monitor is at about the right distance. The only trade off is I lose some desktop space, and I now have all this space behind the monitor I'm not sure what to do with. 1080p gaming sure is more immersive sitting closer and having that nice widescreen aspect ratio. The first time I fired up cod4 on this monitor definitely had a WOW factor.
- The power supply is internal. It uses a standard pc power cord. I noticed the top gets pretty warm where the vent is. For kicks I shot my infrared thermometer laser gun into it and it read 135F.
- Can see boot/bios screen just fine from both vga and hdmi. No view angle issues. No screen door issues.
- You can remove a plastic cover from the back which exposes the vesa mount. I just leave it off now since I think it helps a bit with heat dissipation.

So far it's an impressive but flawed product at a great price that you hope doesn't break on you because support will probably suck. I guess it all comes down to a bit of risk/reward.

Recommended with reservations.

UPDATE: 4/15/08
So it started flaking on me after about a week. Every once in a while the screen would turn all pink. This is on the VGA port. I wasn't able to confirm if this affected HDMI. Anyways, it looked almost as if it was a bad cable or something but I double checked all that so I'm thinking something internal was broke. I went ahead and exchanged it for another one. This second one works fine so far. Also, no dead or stuck pixels!! Yeah!!!! I'll give Westinghouse one more chance. If this one goes belly up I'll probably have to go look at other brands. Good thing Sam's Club has a 30 day return policy. I have version 1.1 (you can see this in the bottom left when you bring up the menu).

UPDATE: 10/12/08
So I had this idea about the blue screen sleeping issue. Instead of having the monitor go to sleep set in the power settings just use the "blank" screen saver. So have it set in your OS so that the monitor never goes to sleep. Change your screen saver to "blank", set it to whatever time limit you want. Now, if you forget to physically turn off your monitor, at least when you come back you'll have a blank screen. Yes, I know you aren't saving any power this way (backlight is still obviously on) but at least it would prevent burn in. Though I have gotten into a pretty good habit now of always turning off the monitor when I get up and leave the computer.