Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Sony Wireless Stereo Headset Bluetooth (DR-BT22iK)

- Picked it up from Fry's for $60 when it was on sale.
- a2dp compliant.
- Only one thing to charge (the actual headphones) since the dongle draws power through the iphone 3g connector (it doesn't seem to drain the iphone battery much). Unfortunately this also means you can't charge the phone while using the dongle.
- Pairs fine as a headset to the iphone directly for answering calls (mic is also built into the headphones). It seamlessly lets you answer calls using the controls on the headset and also pauses your music when taking a call and resumes after hanging up.
- All the controls work fine with the iphone (play/pause, next/prev) though you do get the usual warning that this device isn't designed for the iphone. Just ignore it. It works just fine with the iphone.
- The dongle is quite small. It does have a very annoying bright blue led that flashes twice every 5 sec while in use. Nothing a little electrical tape can't fix. The other advantage of having an ipod specific dongle that connects to the ipod connector is you don't have this extra transceiver to hold like with the maxfun which connects to the headphone jack. If you are listening to audio it's not a big deal. But if you are watching video podcasts then having to hold that extra bluetooth transceiver with the maxfun does get quite cumbersome.
- Sound quality isn't too bad. Bass is very good. Treble is a bit muffled. Using the treble boost EQ setting helps quite a bit. Actually the maxfun headphones had better treble (though worse bass).
- Headphones are pretty comfortable. There is minimum pressure on your ears/head.
- Battery is suppose to last 10hrs. The headphones has it's own wall wart for charging. I wished it used mini usb.
- Range is pretty good. Just don't put too many walls between you and the dongle.
- The manual actually shows you how to remove the batter from the headset.

Highly recommended. You gain quite a few conveniences by having a device designed specifically for iphone/ipod. I really like having the controls built right into the headset. Sound quality is acceptable. If a2dp support ever gets added to the iphone you should be able to just drop the dongle which would be awesome. It's a bit pricey but not too bad if you can get it on sale.

UPDATE: 7/15/09
- I've been using these at work daily for 5 hrs or more at a time. I would still prefer a little less pressure but overall these are the best out of the bunch I've tested. You can now find just the headphones + charger (new, oem packaging) for around $30 shipped on ebay.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Maxfun MX-BT30 Bluetooth Stereo Headset

- Picked it up for around $25 shipped from this amazon seller. Sometimes these go on sale at too for about the same price.
- UPDATE: They seem harder to find now. You can get them from ebay though for around $30 shipped (I bought a second pair from the seller: ship4free).
- has proper a2db BT profile support.
- Includes a nice BT transmitter with a standard 1/8" mini headphone plug (nice and universal so it will work with my sansa e280 too) for devices that don't have bluetooth or don't support a2db (like the iphone 3g).
- It has a microphone so you can make calls.
- Sound quality was a lot better than I expected for $25. It actually had a pretty decent amount of bass.
- Headphones are very light and quite comfortable. I haven't used them for a long stretch of time yet.
- Charge using standard mini usb (cables included). Initial charge was about 4 hrs. Manual states battery lasts for 10 hrs.
- Range is ok. Just stay in the same room. If you put a wall between the headphones and the transmitter it will cut out.
- There is just a very tiny bit of delay in the audio. I was watching video podcasts on the iphone with these and the audio seemed just the tiniest bit out of sync though hardly noticeable, and it really didn't bother me that much.
- The pouch only has a single magnetic clasp in the middle. I kind of wish it was a zipper or something.

Highly recommended. It's an incredible value at $25 compared to other options. Sure they aren't the best but quite impressive at this price point.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Netbooks and video playback

So my brother got an Acer Aspire One A110L over the holidays $250. It has the usual Intel Atom N270 1.6ghz cpu and and Intel GMA950 integrated graphics. He did rip it apart and upgraded the memory to 1.5gb and swapped the 8gb flash memory with an ipod hard drive and then installed windows xp on it. So I decided to run a bunch of video playback tests to see what it could handle. This information might be handy for those of you who are wondering how well an atom based netbook would be as a portable media player.

1) VLC, dvd iso: perfectly smooth, looked great, cpu at around 25%.
2) MPC HC, divx, typical cd sized movie encode: perfect, cpu around 15%.
3) MPC HC, mpeg2 TS recorded from broadcast HDTV using hdhomerun. plays fine, cpu around 75%
4) MPC HC, h.264 TS recorded from hd pvr, 720p, default settings, latest coreavc, unwatchable, too jerky, cpu 100%
5) MPC HC, x.264, 720p, dvd5, MKV, 720p, coreavc: out of 6 files tested only 3 played smoothly but cpu was always around 95-100% so it just barely plays.
6) MPC HC, x.264, 1080p, dvd9, MKV, 1080p, coreavc: not watchable, very jerky, cpu 100%

So there you have it. Basically standard definition stuff runs fine. You can pull off 720p barely if you encode it right. I was really waiting on a dual core atom netbook but if you believe this it might never happen. If we had dual core I bet it would chew through most media. I still kind of want one. Samsung NC10 and the HP Mini 2140 or the newly announced dell mini 10 all sound interesting. If you think about it the lower end netbooks like the acer aspire one isn't that much more expensive than the 10" portable dvd players, and a netbook does a heck of a lot more than just play dvd's (either from ripped iso's or maybe a slim usb powered dvd drive).

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Fallout 3 (XBOX 360)

WARNING: Minor spoilers. I’ll try and stay away from anything plot related but there might be some minor things I touch on.

- Finished Fallout 3. Final save shows a bit over 63 hrs. I did replay the last part a couple of times to try a few of the different endings though. Also, after my initial 5 hrs or so I did a restart because I wanted to respec my character. I think I spent close to 70hrs in total with this game (quite a bit more than the 50 hrs with oblivion which I only finished the main quest and a few side ones). If you stick to the main quest I’m sure you can complete the game in about 25hrs.
- I went good karma all the way.
- I finished all major side quests that had an achievement associated with it except for one that went directly against my good karma character.
- I love the ability to save anywhere and anytime. Good auto save system too. I stuck with about 20 saves that I rotated through but you can create as many saves as you want.
- Install the disc to the hard drive to speed things up a bit. It really helps when scrolling through saved games. Load times are still a bit long though.
- Graphics are very good for the most part with crazy over the top gore which never gets old. Yeah ummm don’t play this one in front of the kids.
- Faces are still pretty ugly. It's better than oblivion but that's not saying much. They really need better character artists.
- Common animations look stiff, floaty, and awkward. 3rd person is still NOT the way you want to play this game.
- Sound was good overall. The music wasn’t as good as Oblivion. Then again I’m a bit Jeremy Soule biased.
- It’s oblivion with guns! But I enjoyed it quite a bit more than oblivion. It’s more structured which I like. I really enjoyed the setting though it gets a bit depressing if you play for long stretches. Everything is just so bleak! It’s a nice change to use guns instead of swords. VATS is infinitely entertaining. Most the monster/loot leveling nonsense from oblivion seems to be mostly gone here which is a GOOD thing.
- The ending sucked. I mean really sucked. I guess the overall resolution of the story was ok but man talk about a disappointment. I was expecting a nice movie or something.
- I didn’t get into the crafting a whole lot. I made a few weapons but for the most part the most powerful weapons are the unique ones you find.
- I bought a few items for the house toward the end. The infirmary was pretty useful for free heals and removal of rads.
- I found dog meat. After a battle where he jumped in front of my shot during vats and died I decided to reload and leave him in my house.
- The fps aspect without vats is pretty poor. Get a zero spread weapon like Lincoln’s Repeater or Ol’ Painless and it’s a bit better but overall it still felt pretty clunky.
- Overall quest design was excellent. I thought they were all unique, interesting, and entertaining.
- The last quest starts out with a bang but then you find out your participation feels a bit auxiliary. I expected a bit more challenge (and length and complexity) considering it was the last quest.
- There are still a ton of side quests, crafting, behemoth hunting, bobble head collecting, etc that I didn’t get to.
- Story was pretty good but your reaction to some of the major events in the game seem kind of odd. Like something traumatic happens to you and then later you just kind of forget about it.
- Had about 2-3 crash bugs total. There were a few quest glitches but the wiki covered the work arounds pretty well.

- I knew I wanted to specialize in small guns right from the start. I sunk a lot of points into intelligence. I think I maxed it out at 10 right from the start to give me the maximum skill points I would get for leveling up each time. You might want to drop that back to 9 if you plan to go for the bobble head.
- I also put some points into agility for more AP since I love VATS. Some points into luck is good too for increased chance of crits.
- The general strategy is to read the manual and pick out all the perks you plan to get all the way through the level 20 cap. From that you can figure out any pre-reqs needed to get those perks and plan appropriately. Use Intense Training perk when needed to boost your SPECIAL to the pre-req levels of the perks you want.
- I tagged repair, small guns, and speech. There are a lot of speech check opportunities in the game so I wanted that. Speech skill seems to matter more than charisma.
- Repair is great since it does a few things. First you can repair your weapons and armor right in the field. This really helps with weight and inventory since you can combine guns to reduce your load. Also, having a fully repaired item really increases its effectiveness. Finally, repaired items are worth more even when just selling them off, and you don’t need to spend money to have somebody else repair equipment for you. It was the first skill I maxed out at 100. Be careful when repairing unique items. Make sure you select the unique item and hit Y. Example: If you want to repair the Lincoln Repeater. Select the Lincoln from inventory and hit Y. Then repair it with any regular hunting rifle. If you accidentally do it the other way around you'll end up merging the Lincoln into a common hunting rifle and therefore losing your unique weapon forever.
- Keep putting points into small guns whenever you think you need a bit of a damage boost. I leveled this a bit behind repair.
- Next you probably want either lock pick or science. I started with science since I already had such high intelligence. This lets you hack into terminals which can be quite helpful. The easy way to hack terminals is as follows: just go in there and just randomly click on the words, stop before you use up your last try (back out by hitting B), then try again. Usually you will be successful in 3 or less attempts. It’s faster than actually trying to figure out the solution. You want to increase your lock pick or science skills in 25 pt increments. So get to 25,50,75,100. Anything in between is a bit of a waste. I eventually maxed out both lock pick and science.
- I decided to go with a female character and picked up the Black Widow perk. You get the 10% damage bonus against the opposite sex. This helps since most enemies are male. It opens up a few interesting dialog options but probably not enough to make this perk worth getting. Get it if you think the damage bonus is worth it.
- Save any books you get until you get the Comprehension perk which gets you two skill points instead of one whenever you read a book.
- Avoid the here and now perk since you will very likely hit the level 20 cap before the end of the game anyways.
- I pretty much avoided all perks that gave you a skill point bonus in a particular area. The only skill point bonus perk I took was Tag!
- Medicine is a bit helpful with some dialogue options but not many. I had so many stimpaks by the end I never needed to invest heavily in medicine. Same goes with Barter. After about mid point money really isn’t a concern.
- Early on ammo was a bit of an issue. I just bought all the ammo I could every chance I got.
- Go for headshots….often. Close the distance if you can to increase your hit %.
- Save your nuka quantum if you plan to do the related quest that also has an achievement.
- Don’t forget to use chems once in a while to temporarily boost your stats. It’s especially helpful when there is a min stat required to perform a certain action.
- Favorite weapons: Lincoln’s Repeater hands down: zero spread so it has incredible range, great damage, awesome for headshot crits for massive damage! Only drawback is it uses .44 ammo but by the end I had over 200 rounds. Couple that with 129 AP for 5 shots in vats, commando, finesse, sniper, action girl, better criticals, wired reflexes, and Grim Reaper's Sprint you can pretty much take down any target in one round of vats from incredible range with 95% chance head shots with a high chance of crits and incredible damage. Grim Reaper's Sprint then recharges your AP to full and you can just move on to the next target. A close second would be Xuanlong Assault Rifle. Terrible shotgun was a minor bump over the combat shotgun but wasn't as good as I expected due to it’s increased spread. Ol’ Painless is good for using up the plentiful .32 ammo on lesser enemies. Shishkebab is a pretty good melee weapon but I didn’t do melee much. I didn’t use the blackhawk or Sydney’s 10mm ultra smg much.
- Favorite armor: Ledoux’s Hockey mask for the +25 AP and the T-51b Power Armor. I also used the Ranger Battle Armor for a long time before I got the power armor. It’s pretty nice with +5 AP, +1 luck, and +10 small guns.
- Hold down B to toggle your flashlight.
- Make sure you take care of all your side quests before heading back to the citadel. You’ll know what I mean when you get there. Because when the game ends it ENDS.

Final Character stats:






some good sites:

Highly recommended. I loved pretty much everything about this game. It kept me interested longer than most games. 70hrs is a long time for me to spend on a single player game especially considering my backlog.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed (XBOX 360)

WARNING: Minor spoilers

- So I finally sat down and finished this game. I did both light and dark endings.
- Difficulty on normal felt just about right for me.
- Some people find the game a bit short but the length felt right to me (or maybe it’s because I’m 70 hrs into Fallout 3 and I’m STILL not finished so I welcomed a shorter game).
- I thought the presentation was great. The graphics, art direction, sound, music were all excellent. The framerate was smooth and even. Animations were mostly excellent thanks to the use of euphoria and havoc.
- Cut scenes looked really good too with great voice acting.
- Story was great. It’s right up there with KOTOR and fits nicely between star wars 3 and 4 (especially if you go with the light ending). Interesting that they let the dark ending break canon.
- To make life easier I would suggest maybe a holocron cube faq so you can grab all of those to help upgrade your character better. You’ll find plenty of red so eventually you will unlock all your combos. You don’t get as many blue or yellow. I focused mostly on grip, lightning (I would get this maxed out early), health (max, amount obtained from defeating enemies, etc) and force related (regen, max) skills. The black crystal is my favorite. UPDATE: I just went back and grabbed the few remaining holocron cubes that I missed.
- Grab the dashing blast combo as earlier as possible to make navigation and some of the longer jumps easier. It really extends your air time.
- Level design is kind of a mixed bag. Some levels are great, others (like the junk yard) not so much. There are way too many invisible walls, and they are way too obvious.
- Most boss fights are exciting, epic, and seem mostly fair except for one. The star destroyer one is just plain broken. I mean as I consider it a bug. Here’s a tip: When aligning the star destroyer and trying to make it go “yellow” sometimes the directions on the screen will show you to leave your analog sticks in neutral yet it will still be red. Just keep moving the star destroyer even further in the previous direction until it goes yellow. In other worlds, the red/yellow color coding isn’t quite in sync with the analog stick directions. The stick directions are a bit looser so you have to fiddle a bit to find the sweet spot before the color will change to yellow again. IMO, they should and need to be perfectly in sync. If the screen says I don’t need to align the star destroyer, then it damn well better be yellow. Once it is yellow then just pull both sticks down and keep them down until your health is around 25%. To quickly take out tie fighters I would stand a bit to the right or left of center. As the tie fighter turns and starts to move horizontal then double jump, aim your stick up and toward the direction the tie fighter is flying to get the little blue targeting indicator to pick the tie fighter and use lightning.
- The force powers and light saber combos are exciting and spectacular. What sucks is the kind of arbitrary auto targeting system for your force grip which you will use often. I wish there was a more manual way to pick what target you want to grip.
- I’m a bit tired of quick time events but they sure do look great. At least the qte in this game is very forgiving often letting you immediately retry if you messed up.
- The easy way to get both endings is back up your save game to another storage device (MU or hard drive) right after you finish the convergence chamber and it saves. This lets you basically get both endings by just repeating the end boss fights.
- Check point save system seems fine for the most part. They seem close enough not to be too frustrating.
- It’s pretty kid friendly. I didn’t mind playing this one in front of the kids.
- You can re-watch all the excellent cut scenes.
- Check out the webdocs and other related free videos in the marketplace. It’s some pretty interesting making of stuff. I’m glad they didn’t make that wookie game!
- I also grabbed the Jedi Temple DLC. It’s basically one level that will take you less than an hour to finish. I found it fun with a great boss battle but over priced at $10. It really should be $5. You do get more achievements though.
- I’m about half way through the audio book novelization of the game. It pretty much follows the game. A lot of text is spent on the action and can become a bit dry and tedious.
- Definitely give the demo a try. If the combat doesn't grab you in the demo, then you probably won't like the full game that much either.

Recommended. Even with all its faults (and there are quite a few serious ones) I still found myself really enjoying this game. It’s just so much fun, has some great characters and story, and you do feel like a really powerful Jedi with force powers that are cranked way up.