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Amazon Fire TV first impressions

Yesterday my Amazon Fire TV and game controller arrived via UPS, and after spending a few hours with it, I wanted to write up my first impressions of the device.

The Setup

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First off the packaging is nicely minimal and unboxing went smoothly and was quite easy. Then I realized they could pull that off because Amazon designed the device, the service it runs, the site I bought it from, and finally the packing and shipping of the item. The people at UPS were the only only non-Amazon hands that ever touched my device (and Amazon drones could have prevented it :). That kind of complete end-to-end control from soup-to-nuts on devices is something very few companies on earth can do, so it's worth mentioning that Amazon capitalized on it by making some nice simple packaging that was easy to get into and get rid of.

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Setup was a cinch, with just a plugged in cable from an existing HDMI port on my A/V unit. The first thing it needed to do was connect to my WiFi network, and then we were off. It was a bit of a downer to see even though the device was less than 48 hours past the announcement/launch, it required a lengthy software update as soon as I powered it up. It took about 15 minutes on my very fast fiber line to download a patch and then install it. Following the install, a nice little animated how-to video played to teach you how the controller worked and how Voice Search operated. Voice search works a lot like Siri on an iPhone and tested well.

Convenience, at a price?

The most surprising aspect to me during setup was I didn't have to tell the device who I was by logging into Amazon (which is a pain since I use a password manager and would have to look up and enter a 20-digit mis-mash of characters). All my recent Prime Video plays were shown, and I checked the Settings screen to see that in fact the Fire TV knew I was Matt Haughey and I was already logged into my account and it knew I already had Amazon Prime. I'm flat-out impressed that the device shipped to me with me logged in already.

During setup, I was asked about "Parental Controls" on purchasing (it would require a PIN) and I skipped it, not thinking much about it, until later when testing out purchasing, I noticed buying a show/game is the most painless true one-click experience. It just says something may cost "$4.99" and you click it, and it is downloading. No confirmation, no "are you sure?" just one click and sold. Now I understand why Parental Controls were presented earlier. It's easy to imagine my young daughter accidentally clicking any show she wants without realizing she is racking up a bill for me, as my AppleTV requires a confirmation even if you store your password permanently on it.

The Content

As you can guess, the content that is offered for free Amazon Prime streaming is a hodge-podge of various shows and movies that are mostly older and reminds me of the first time I logged into a new Netflix account and couldn't find any recent movies I wanted to see. Despite trying out nearly every set-top and streaming device, I've never owned a recent Roku device so this is the first easy way I have on my TV to watch Amazon Video, which is why I purchased this device. I usually only search for things on Amazon Prime Video when I'm sure they can't be streamed on Netflix or Hulu Plus.

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The biggest failing is that end users (that's us!) don't get a truly Universal Search. If you search for "Bob's Burgers" (arguably the best network animated comedy show today) on Amazon's Fire TV, you get results that you can buy any single episode from their 4 season run for $1.99 each or a full season for $29.99. I'm a member of Hulu Plus and Netflix as well, and installed the apps on the Fire TV, but there's no mention of them in the search results or even after clicking the "more ways to watch" button. On Netflix, you can stream the first couple seasons of Bob's Burgers for free. On Hulu, you can watch the latest episodes from the current fourth season for free as well.

Now, I know Amazon is in the business of making money and would of course want you to buy the episodes from them, but Amazon's CEO Jeff Bezos got famous for putting a customer's needs first (The Bezos Doctrine) before profits. Of course, Apple doesn't offer this kind of search on AppleTV either, but if anyone would have been crazy enough to give free streaming options before paid downloads, I would have hoped that Amazon Fire TV could be the first, but sadly it's not.

The Gaming

I was curious enough to see what Amazon Fire TV's gaming was going to be like that I sprang for the extra $40 controller to find out. Overall after having played just a handful of games I'd say it's a pretty nice port of an Android game store to a TV. It's fast and fun and reminds me of the Ouya gaming device, but much more slick and faster to buy, download, and play. You can use the default remote on simple games and it worked fine for turn-based board games that only require a button and direction input. I played a few rounds of the racing game Asphalt 8 and was impressed with the speed, graphics, and playback. There was no stuttering and the graphics look and feel as good as maybe a Playstation 2 game from several years ago. The controller is pretty close to a Xbox360 controller, with plenty of buttons (almost too many) and there's no lag on the controller or the screen.

Does it Blend?

Overall, it's a pretty slick, simple device that I'll use to stream stuff when I can't find it anywhere but Amazon Prime streaming video, but I wish it were a little cheaper and I'm frankly a bit surprised it wasn't priced way below AppleTV or similar Roku devices. I'll probably try out the games a bit more, but I can't see it becoming a huge platform I'd play for hours at a time.

April 5, 2014 in Product Reviews | Permalink | Comments (0)

My (lukewarm) Sony Blu-ray GoogleTV review

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Early this year, I decided to ditch my PS3 for Blu-ray playback and when picking out a replacement I figured I might as well test out the GoogleTV enabled Sony model.

Googletv-remoteIt showed up in some nice packaging and the box itself is oddly clean. The same can't be said about the remote control, which is so complex looking at first sight that I literally laughed out loud when I saw it. Turns out there are even worse controllers, the Logitech GoogleTV controller looks even more complicated and less like a remote control but at least the Sony remote has a nice feel in the hands (it is basically a Playstation controller with many more buttons) and the principal interaction is a nice thumb-powered mouse controller.

I'll start with the highlights first: GoogleTV is the best (and almost only) way to watch any random Flash video you find on the web on your TV. I watch a lot of online feeds of European bike racing, and often it's someone's stream of local Belgium TV feeding to a Flash widget on a website, and GoogleTV can load those pages, play those videos and I can run them full-screen to minimize the web browser-ness of the whole thing.

I haven't found flash video on any site that wouldn't play in GoogleTV, and though I've heard that behind the scenes GoogleTV is running an older version of Google Chrome's browser with Flash, it works wonderfully for websites. I'd venture to say that the web browser in GoogleTV is the best web browser I've used on a TV before -- the fonts are readable sizes, the thumb/mouse controller on the Sony remotes is fast and easy to use to click around, and most websites render well on the device.

I haven't had any problems with the Blu-ray player, it seems to function just fine, though I'd say that complicated remote controller that seems necessary when using the device as a computer browsing the web is a bit of a pain if the phone rings and you want to find a pause button among the 80-90 buttons on the remote. I don't watch a ton of Blu-ray discs, I prefer to watch streaming HD movies on my xbox 360 or AppleTV, but all the typical Blu-ray functionality that is supposed to be there seems to be.

I'll openly admit that I didn't test out the main feature of GoogleTV, which is to provide a "wrapper" around your live TV viewing experience by letting you bring up a screen of supplemental material. This lets you do things like bring up Twitter streams while you watch a live show and though I've heard it's kind of cool, it seemed like a dream scenario only for the ADD set. Enabling that also meant two lame things: I'd have to rewire my A/V cabinet to funnel all content through my GoogleTV unit, and it would mean I'd always have to have my GoogleTV player on and interact with it constantly (the remote is Bluetooth, which universal remotes largely don't speak). GoogleTV was supposed to famously provide a TV-based interface to network TV websites as well, but quickly after the release of GoogleTV, networks began to filter out GoogleTV and effectively block it. As a result, I don't do much in the way of live TV interacting with GoogleTV.

GoogleTV also features a slew of installed apps, but I can watch Netflix on half a dozen other devices connected to my TV, and I don't use any of the streaming music offerings. I pretty much only use GoogleTV for the web browser and my home screen on GoogleTV isn't filled with apps, but instead has a bunch of links to sites I often access for video (cyclingfans.net, My YouTube favorites, a list of my recent SendTab.com bookmarks of video to watch later). There were rumors that a new version of Android/GoogleTV would be released with a real app store like Android's, and it looks like leaked screenshots support that. I'm looking forward to seeing what sorts of apps will be available for GoogleTV when the version 2.0 OS gets released.

Overall, it's a not-too-shabby Blu-ray player and an amazing web browser for your TV. Whether or not that is enough justification to purchasing one is up to the reader, I personally have no other way to watch ridiculously niche content (I get up at 4am to watch bike races broadcast with Flemish announcers). It also has a lot of promise in the form of an upcoming revamp of the operating system that may allow lots of additional custom apps.

October 26, 2011 in Product Reviews | Permalink | Comments (2)

My (glowing) Boxee Box by D-Link review

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A couple years ago, I started playing with the early Boxee betas available for PCs and eventually on a hacked AppleTV. I followed the development of the software for months, running the latest betas and having to reinstall it whenever Apple released new patches for the unit rendering my hacks inoperable.

Eventually I grew weary of the choppy network streaming and the inability to play video with higher resolutions than 480p. I considered the Boxee box when it was first released but found my previous experience with the beta software on other devices so rocky that I avoided it until a friend boasted about how great it was.

He said things like you'll be able to play 720p and 1080p video without issues. You can watch video streaming from YouTube, Vimeo, and almost anywhere you've marked with the "Watch Later" bookmarklet on your computer. I decided to pick one up and it quickly became my favorite go-to device to play internet video.

The Boxee box is pretty simple and the interface is even nicer than the already clean UI it boasted on hacked first-gen AppleTVs. Network streaming was a cinch to set up but I found I could only reliably stream video up to a couple gigabytes in size before it would stutter and buffer repeatedly on my 802.11n wifi network. It was then that discovered one of the great things about the Boxee box: the extensibility.

Plug any USB external hard drive you like into it and the Boxee box will be able to scan for playable video files. You can also enable file server connection on your Boxee box, which allows you to do things like transfer new movies from any computer on your network to your Boxee's connected USB drive. This also means you can do things like set up Hazel scripts on a desktop Mac to scan a downloaded video directory and automatically transfer it over to the Boxee box while you sleep.

Once you have a large connected drive loaded with video, you're no longer constrained by the speed of your network. I could bring up 10Gb 1080p video of Blu-ray rips instantly. I could fast-forward and rewind through 1080p video without any delays as the video would seek ahead. Picture quality and sound were unbelievable all around.

Screen Shot 2011-10-25 at 4.21.09 PMOne of the best things about Boxee is the software. It's really simple out of the box, offering you some staff pics that glean the best of YouTube and Vimeo on the home screen, and scanning network shares for playable movies is a pretty easy affair. It'll display the weather and it's loaded with a bunch of apps to play video from all sorts of sites. But the software lets you do much more advanced things as well. Like the aforementioned networking capabilities that allow you to map Boxee connected drives over your network for loading/editing. There are all sorts of other crazy options in the deep advanced menus. You can enable AirPlay for iOS devices. You can use an iPhone app as a controller over wifi. You can enable its webserver and interact over the network via various APIs.

Screen Shot 2011-10-25 at 4.21.06 PMThe remote is a stroke of genius. It's a best-of-both-worlds mix of Apple-like beauty and simplicity on the front, with just three buttons and a directional pad. Flip it over to a full (albeit small) querty keyboard for entering passwords, filling out forms, etc. In my sea of remotes, the Boxee is a breath of fresh air. It isn't complicated like the GoogleTV controller but offers much more functionality than AppleTV's simple two button + directional pad remote. About the only drawback is that it works via bluetooth (or maybe IR?), so you won't find too many universal remotes that can talk to it.

Boxee isn't just a device or software, it's also an online social network and video service, but I have to say after over a decade of dabbling in social networks and a full list of about 50 friends on Boxee, none of us really use the sharing/rating features all that much. I rarely bother to "like" a video to report back to the Boxee site and all my friends. My friends feed contains just one or two friends using Boxee extensively and I haven't discovered much in the way of new shows as a result. One feature that is useful is the "Watch Later" bookmarklet you can add to your computer's browser. If you invoke it on a webpage featuring video playback (usually Flash), in most cases Boxee will recognize it and add it to your Watch Later list. You can pull this list up on the Boxee website or your Boxee box connected to your TV. This makes for a handy feature for things you catch on Twitter or at work and want to share in your living room.

Overall, the Boxee delivers by playing any crazy video I've ever downloaded. I watch a lot of British shows that don't play in the States or don't arrive on my shores for months to years after they play live for a UK audience, so I am downloading a lot of shows I want to enjoy in my living room and not my computer. The Boxee box is deceptively simple and offers enough flexibility to do much more than simply play internet video and it comes with one of the finest remote controls I've seen in years. If you download a lot of video online and need a way to easily play it on a TV, you can't go wrong with a Boxee box.

October 25, 2011 in Product Reviews | Permalink | Comments (1)

My Home Theater Upgrade Bonanza

My new pile of 7 necessary remotes

It all started innocently enough -- I'd gotten a new xbox360/kinect unit as a xmas gift but I was out of HDMI ports on my 5 year old A/V unit (it had the most HDMI ports you could get at the time: 2). After switching HDMI cables with other devices I realized I needed a new more capable home theater A/V unit. I punched up Denon's US site and found a similarly priced (about $700) and named model as my last unit now boasted 6 HDMI input slots. I was in HDMI port heaven.

It was at that moment that I decided to upgrade everything in my A/V cabinet, with an eye towards the latest and greatest. My goals were simple: I wanted to be able to play any video from any source I could possibly want on my TV. Funny YouTube clip I found on my desktop? British broadcast-only TV show not destined for the US shores for another year? Flip video from my daughter's ballet recital? Show off a movie I just shot on my iPhone?

From the new A/V unit, I fired up Amazon.com and ordered up a slew of devices. The final tally is below and the absolute mess of seven remote controls shown above is what controls it all. I'll post in-depth reviews of each device over the next week.

Denon AVR-2311CI - I was looking for two basic things: tons of HDMI inputs and a price tag under a grand. It delivered on both points.

2nd generation AppleTV - I replaced the first generation (hacked) AppleTV just to get AirPlay, so I could pull up any movie or photo off my iPhone or iPad for everyone to view in the living room.

Boxee box (Full Review here on PVRblog) - I was hesitant to try a Boxee box after playing with the software on my 1st generation AppleTV. It wasn't until a friend gave a glowing review and mentioned how flexible it was that I gave it a try.

Sony Blu-ray player with GoogleTV (Full Review here on PVRblog) - I ditched my PS3 as a movie player and needed a Blu-ray device and thought I might as well test out GoogleTV. So far it has seen limited use and I would say the appeal is limited, but it is the only device I have that reliably plays any online flash video I've thrown at it.

TiVo Premiere Elite - I just recently replaced my Premiere unit with a new Elite and so far it has been stellar. Two terabytes of storage and four tuners sounds like overkill but it means you'll never run short of shows to tape or space to hold them.

Xbox 360 - After spending years designing interfaces for websites I never thought I'd say I loved a user interface designed by Microsoft, but the xbox experience is fantastic and my family uses it as an entertainment device much more than I thought we would. Netflix is great, ESPN is killer, and the HD blockbuster movies available for download are awesome.

Samsung C8000 50" 1080p Plasma - I bought this TV simply because it was the best looking device to watch movies on. I looked at nearly a dozen options but when I saw the latest and greatest side by side, the black levels on this plasma TV were incredible and I've been a happy owner ever since.

I've now lived with this setup for about 8 months and though it requires too many remote controls and is difficult to tell friends and family how to operate all the devices (a Harmony remote wouldn't work with some of the bluetooth remotes here), it is otherwise fantastic and fulfills my hope of watching any video I want from any source on my TV in the living room.

October 25, 2011 in Product Reviews | Permalink | Comments (2)

Elgato turbo.264 mini-review

Turbo264big A couple months back, the people at elgato sent me a turbo.264 to test out. It's a USB-based hardware encoder for converting any video file to AppleTV or iPod format and comes with software that controls the device. It's a small black plastic stick not much larger than a keychain thumb drive and their site boasts large speed improvements over other conversion methods.

On my Mac Pro desktop (quad core, 2.16Ghz), my results were mixed. Comparing against the best AppleTV/iPod/iPhone converter I know, VisualHub, I did not see any speed improvements when converting an identical file using both the turbo.264 and VisualHub (with VisualHub set to the highest quality setting for AppleTV output). The software application that comes with the turbo.264 doesn't offer any quality settings beyond the output (AppleTV/iPod high quality/iPod low quality) and shows preview keyframes. I assume if I was using an older powerbook or slower macbook I might see some of the advertised speed differences.

On the positive side, the video quality on output files was great. I encoded several identical source files in both VisualHub and turbo.264 and even with VisualHub's settings on the highest "go nuts!" quality, video playback on my AppleTV was smoother and sharper with the turbo.264 output.

So in the end, I didn't see any speed increases, but video quality was noticeably better when using the turbo.264 over a software-only solution like VisualHub. Is the turbo.264 worth the ~$100 price versus a $23 piece of shareware? Possibly, if you're using a laptop mac or older G4 hardware, but for me the quality difference isn't enough to justify the price difference.

July 26, 2007 in Product Reviews | Permalink | Comments (11)

A week with AppleTV: A Review

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AppleTV is the long awaited living room component of the iTunes/iLife/iMac/iPod world created by Apple. A little over a week ago mine arrived and after 20 minutes or so of setup I was enjoying my entire iTunes library on my TV. Let me just say upfront that despite a few drawbacks, I really like AppleTV and I suspect anyone with a decent home theater system and a decent sized media collection in iTunes would also find it handy.

The positives

Setup was a breeze as I connected the AppleTV unit to my A/V rack with component and digital audio cables. I'm a heavy user of iTunes and the iTunes Music Store, so I was happy to see all my content was easily streamed in just a matter of minutes. A month or so ago I got the new Apple Airport Extreme (with wireless n) and with the AppleTV about 25 feet away, everything in my iTunes library streamed without a glitch.

Like TiVo, the AppleTV is all about the interface. With a simple remote and a simple list view, it's easy to surf through an entire library of movies, tv shows, and music across several computers. It seems like you'd need more buttons on a remote and you'd need more options in a video interface, but like the iPod the beauty is in the simple but powerful interface. There's nothing in the way and you can get to any file on any computer in your house with just a few clicks.

I found the buying process for new movies and TV shows easy and fast, with most films downloading within an hour (usually around 1.5Gb in size) and TV shows downloading in 20 minutes or so. While that's not instant, it's a heck of a lot faster than Netflix and beats going out to the video store. I usually didn't wait for my AppleTV to sync with my main computer, instead just streaming the newly downloaded shows right to the device. Video quality from the iTunes Store is about 640x480, which puts most video somewhere better than most cable channels but not as good as standard DVD format. With high action movies, this becomes obvious, but with most TV shows and especially with anything animated, you barely notice. Since the system is only designed for widescreen TVs, there's never any need to adjust aspect ratios or zoom in on cropped video -- everything filmed in 16:9 fills your screen.

Overall, I'd say the video quality was on par with DVDs I've converted to divx or xvid -- it's far from perfect but good enough for most video.

The negatives

The biggest drawback to AppleTV is the price, at $300 for the unit itself, on top of the widescreen TV you need to own as well as the $2-$15 you'll spend on each show or movie. However, if you compare to similar devices that enable viewing of downloadable movies, an Amazon Unbox powered TiVo goes from $200-800 with movies going for similar prices, and HD movies downloaded to an Xbox360 or PS3 will set you back $400-600 before you ever buy a single movie. Then again, those other devices play games and record TV while the AppleTV does nothing but stream media.

I was surprised the unit didn't ship with any video cables, especially when people continue to be scammed over high HDMI cable prices. For $300, Apple should have thrown a short $5 cable into the box. I was also surprised that the video specs touted 720p playback capabilities, but the iTunes Movie Store doesn't actually sell movies in that format. I really thought they'd up the quality in time for the release of AppleTV.

My personal music/movie/photo collection runs around 120Gb in size, so I found the included 40Gb drive inadequate for anything other than a few movies and all my photos, but since video streaming was smooth on my network I stopped syncing it all to the device. Luckily, guides have already sprung up to let you upgrade the hard drive to something larger.

Conclusions

Overall, I'm happy with my AppleTV. I've used iTunes as my music organizer for the past five years so it was easy to move my content over to my TV. Buying shows and movies is a snap and it's great to be able to enjoy them on a full-sized TV in a living room instead of crowding people around your monitor. I could see myself dropping Netflix someday if the iTunes store ever offered cheap rental prices (as opposed to requiring you to "buy" them at full price). Though the unit seems expensive, I'd say the alternatives are right up there in terms of cost, and though it's not HD quality, I found movies looked much better on my AppleTV when compared to the movies I downloaded from Amazon Unbox to my HD Tivo.

If you follow any sort of video podcast, this device is perfect. No longer are you bound to a computer or your tiny iPod screen, with AppleTV you can finally enjoy many free video podcasts as they were meant to be shown -- on a large set.

I'm also interested in seeing what hackers do with the device. The AppleTV is sort of like a smaller Mac Mini, running a real OS on a real computer, and it serves as a good reference device for people to tinker. I can't wait until someone releases a real-time transcoder that can stream any video format on the fly. For the moment, I've found VisualHub on the Mac to be a godsend. You can throw a video file in almost any format at VisualHub and it'll quickly convert it to an AppleTV friendly format.

Bottom line: If you're an iPod owner and you use iTunes for music and video and always wanted an easy way to move that content into your living room, I'd say AppleTV is a great buy. For others, it's probably a bit too costly to consider.

April 1, 2007 in Product Reviews | Permalink | Comments (13)

The Sony 46" 1080p XBR2 Review

Xbr2After months of research and testing, I recently purchased a Sony Bravia 1080p 46" XBR2 tv set. What follows are my experiences with the unit.

Out of the Box

Unpacking was simple and straightforward and Sony thankfully has cut way back on packaging material. It took me a couple hours to properly mount it on my existing wall-mount, due to vast differences between my old plasma set and the back design of the Sony (different screws, placement, etc).

As with most new flat-panel TVs, the default configuration after turning it on is too bright and too blown out, color-wise. HD cable looked harsh, Blu-Ray movies looked too contrast-y, and video games hurt my eyes. CNET and the AVS Forum have some good calibration guides with all the settings you'd want. Personally, I went with CNET's settings but I toned down the filter from warm2 to warm1 and I followed the AVS forum settings for the DRC feature.

Picture Quality

With the new calibration settings in place, the picture quality really shined. 1080i cable feeds looked amazing, DVDs looked great, Blu-Ray a little better. While my Nintendo Wii (at 480p) looked a little worse than my previous EDTV plasma, my new Sony PS3 (review coming soon) outputting at 1080p looked absolutely fantastic with perfectly sharp text and life-like reflections. I didn't detect any cloudiness defects in dark scenes that some reviewers on amazon have found. During high action playback or fast camera pans, the 8ms response time did show slight pixelation at the edges of objects on screen, but not as bad as previous LCD TVs I'd looked at a year or two ago.

Standard definition TV looks pretty good on this set, much better than I expected (I'd read review after review of every 1080p LCD set on the market and how analog cable channels looked bad). With my Series 3 TiVo set at best quality, even analog cable channels are sharp enough to not show artifacts during anything but the highest action scenes.

Conclusions

I'm happy with the purchase and loving the bigger screensize (I went from 37" to 46"). I'm not a huge gamer, but games are definitely more fun and easier to play the larger your screen is. In regards to this set's resolution versus my old ED plasma, I would have to say there is a difference, but from 7 feet away on the couch it's not a huge one I was expecting. I'll write more about that point in an upcoming post.

I have the Sony wall mounted above a fireplace, in a living room with lots of windows. The brightness of the LCD shines through day and night, and definitely out-performs my old plasma in bright daylight. All my video sources are connected with a single HDMI cable (hooked to my Denon A/V unit), so I don't have to do much switching or even use the remote beyond turning it on (which I already programmed my other remotes to do) and I haven't had to use the included speakers because I've got 5.1 surround sound instead. After initial setup, it just plain works.

List price on the TV is $3799, but it's available at Amazon now for $3299 and I found street prices at most stores ranging from $3400-3600 for this model (Jan/07).

January 5, 2007 in Product Reviews | Permalink | Comments (14)

Holiday Gadget Guide: BDI's Avion line and the Slingbox Pro

Avion_8528 I just uploaded a review of my newest addition to my home theater: a BDI Avion 8528 audio/video cabinet. I'm very pleased with and can't say enough good things about it: it looks incredible and functions well -- something few a/v furniture companies get right. My full review contains all the details.

I also extended my earlier Slingbox review posted here last month over on the Gadget Guide.

December 5, 2006 in Product Reviews | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Denon AVR-2307CI Review

Denon Over on the Holiday Gadget Guide, I posted my review of Denon's $799 A/V unit with the iPod adapter. Overall I'm really happy with it, everything sounds great and instead of 8 or 9 cables leading to the back of my TV, there's just one HDMI cable handling output (all video inputs go to the Denon unit). I was impressed by the easy setup and I've currently got six different sources all playing nicely on the unit.

November 22, 2006 in Product Reviews | Permalink | Comments (0)

The first 24 hours with a Wii

Tinywii After a bit of struggle, a few failures, and a lot of waiting, I found myself yesterday morning standing in a store with a Wii in my hand. I've been reading about the system and looking forward to the innovate controller for months, so I was happy that I became one of the lucky few to score one. Now, it's not a video recorder by any means, but they are going to end up in a lot of home theater setups this xmas, so I figured I might as well post a review here.

The packaging and setup are top-notch, right up there with buying a new iPod. The instructions are pretty simple and most of the behavior of menus is intuitive. Unfortunately, the device only ships with RCA cables for hookup, with component video cables going to stores in a few weeks. It tops out at 480p, but that's ok because most games aren't photorealistic, where HD could really shine.

I'm a casual gamer in that the only current system I have is the DS lite, and that's mostly for playing tetris on plane flights or before I go to bed. I have an old xbox I use more for movie streaming than games but I used to spend hours on playstation 1 and 2s before I got rid of them years ago. The Wii is obviously light-hearted fun and has games and an aesthetic to match. It isn't aimed at hardcore gamers (the xbox360 and ps3 have you covered), but more towards casual and non-gamers.

I bought a few games for it but so far I've had the most fun with the sports game that came with the system. Playing tennis, boxing, and golfing using a virtual controller is a blast. My wife, who rarely plays games loved boxing.  Even though the sports games have an obvious unfinished look (characters don't have legs or arms), the games use the motion-sensing remote in the most interesting ways. I can't wait until proper golf, boxing, and other sports titles come out.

Wii Among the other games, the motion controller isn't used as extensively for play. Excite Truck is a lot of fun, mixing semi-realistic looks with simple gameplay that even kids could control by tilting left and right, forwards and back. The Tony Hawk title is similar, using the controller to steer and go faster, along with a lot of button combos to do tricks. I also bought Zelda, but I've barely scratched the surface of it.

One cool aspect of the Wii is that it ships with built in WiFi. Once on my network it downloaded updates and I could buy old school nintendo games from its online store. I tried it out by picking up Donkey Kong and Mario Brothers (NES) and it worked great, with each game about $5. Games downloaded in just a minute or so and are playable indefinitely.

Another thing I'm looking forward to is the multiplayer aspects of the Wii. Extra controllers are in short supply now, but I'll pick up a few extras when they're easily available. As much fun a Wii game can be, four people in your living room driving cars, hitting tennis rackets, or fighting with swords is infinitely more enjoyable. Nintendo's Gamecube was famous for multiplayer abilities so I suspect once I get more controllers and more games get released, it'll be a fun thing for parties.

Overall, I'm happy with it and can see it being interesting long after the newness wears off. It's fairly cheap ($250) compared with most game systems and is great for kids and casual gamers. That games that shipped on launch day are enough to blow minds and I'm looking forward to all the games that will use the motion controller in the future. While the xbox360 and ps3 have much more realistic games and audio/visual capabilities, the Wii is just plain fun.

November 20, 2006 in Product Reviews | Permalink | Comments (8)