Friday, December 31, 2010

The Dream Media Center - Google TV Brings Us One Step Closer

Happy early new year!  In preparation for a fresh start to the new year, I was doing some gmail inbox clean-up, when I stumbled across an old thread with a friend about HD capture devices for media centers.  I decided to pick up that thread, and here's what I found.

I ended up spending most of my time researching Google TV.  Specifically, the Logitech Revue, a piece of hardware with the customized Android OS known as Google TV running on it.  It now sells for $180 through the Dish network.  Honestly, I could care less whether I have Dish or DirecTV, as long as I get three things: The ability to play and record 1080i resolution live sports, the ability to play DVD rips in a variety of formats from my media server, and the ability to view websites and consume online videos.  So far, the only solution I had found that did these was Windows 7 Media Center with the Hauppauge HD-PVR external HD TV Tuner.  This is a very unstable, extremely complicated setup that I don't recommend for anyone.  Although it satisfies those three needs, it still leaves a great deal to be desired.

At first, Google TV didn't seem well-suited to meet those three requirements.  Google TV didn't have native support for TV Tuners, or have the ability to browse network attached storage.  However, it is able to communicate with Dish Network DVRs, instructing them to record, and much like boxee, can then show those recorded items inline with available online video when searching for say, Californication (the best show on television in my humble opinion).  Upon further reflection, this Dish DVR integration is actually a pretty elegant solution.  Rather than solving the incredibly complex problem of how to tune an external tv signal, the device merely instructs another device to do it instead.  I was very intrigued.  This was compelling enough for me to move on to the other tricky issue of local video playback.

The Logitech Revue supports the DLNA media sharing format.  That means you could get the incredibly sexy Synology DS1511+ NAS (which is DLNA certified), put it on your local network, and your Google TV will be able to find it and index its contents.  From what I've read, it can index and playback .avi files (including divx and xvid), .mp4 files, and some mkv files, but not .vob files, although that is likely to change.

I have yet to determine how Google TV presents the videos it finds.  The obvious ideal would be to do as Boxee does and show a list of every episode available for a show in the form of a grid, where hulu offerings are present along side local files, ones already recorded on your DVR, and ones that are playing live right now on your TV service.

This grid does exist, although I haven't managed to get confirmation on whether video on local file servers are able to be played from it.

Anywho... enough for now.  Enjoy your New Years festivities!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit Review - 6 out of 10

Opinion Piece:
Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit - Box Graphic
I love EA Game' Need For Speed franchise. Few games have had longer or more fruitful tenures. That said, with any dynasty, there are ups and downs. Take for example: Need For Speed V: Porsche Unleashed (2000). It was a masterpiece of realistic driving mechanics.  It had incredibly deep coverage of just the Porsche brand.  It absolutely pushed the envelope with graphics. The only problem is: NFS was never about any of those things. It was about driving fast and loose in a wide variety of invincible cars, doing things real-world-physics would never allow.  For me, that made it one of the worst games EA Games ever made.  Flash forward to today, after the break.

From the filming of the Pegani - Lamborghini mountain chase scene.
Flash forward to 2010. The marketing hype for Hot Pursuit, a return to NFS' roots, was greater than any NFS title in its storied history. The expense and effort that went into shooting promotional video scenes like the Pegani vs Lamborghini mountain chase was absolutely mind-blowing. Unfortunately, all that effort simply did not translate once you get to the game's substance. What a shame. Better luck next time, EA. Here's a breakdown of the Pros & Cons.

- Great graphics
- Great sound
- Wide variety of cars
- New things you can do as a cop

- Free drive is AWFUL
nfs most wanted (the best nfs imho) had an insanely expansive free drive system. The whole game ran through it. It was awesome. I spent hundreds of hours going 200mph on highways getting into insane police chases - man that was fun. This simply does not exist any more. What a shame.
- Driving mechanics feel way off
car sways violently, doesn't move the way I expect, making precision driving next to impossible
- Interface is "heavy"
they took a stalin-esque approach to getting in and out of games - you can't escape cut scenes, or intro explanations, or reward descriptions of what you've won, or...
- Ads ...
that's right ... a game you paid $60 for, force feeds you ads for other ea games. Absolutely, positively, unacceptable.
- Cut scenes on EVERY collision
nfs most wanted did cut scenes on roadblock collisions. those were awesome. this game does cut scenes on every major collision. Combined with poor driving mechanics causing you to have lots of collisions, and you've got a recipe for irritating game play.

So, save your money. Otherwise, you'll be seriously upset that you paid for something this mediocre.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Worldwide Smartphone Sales Projections for 2011

Gartner reports record smartphone sales, thanks to Android, Symbian (and to a lesser extent, Apple).

Smartphone sales doubled in the third quarter to 81 million units, up from 41 million in Q3 2009, according to data released by tech industry research firm Gartner.

Contained in their data were three fascinating trends:
  1. The market is expanding dramatically.
  2. All platforms experienced increased sales
  3. However, all of the dominant players lost significant marketshare to Android.
Intrigued by these numbers, we compiled our own sales projections for Q3 2011, with comments below.

Worldwide Smartphone Sales to End Users
Sorted by Operating System, Showing Q3 Sales
Q3 2009Q3 2010Our Q3 2011 Projections
CompanyUnitsMarket ShareUnitsMarket ShareUnitsMarket Share

A few administrative things first. The yellow and blue sections are the exact 2009/2010 numbers shown in the Gartner report. From there, the grey section contains our projections.  We used round numbers for simplicity, and greyed and italicized the text to ensure it was obvious these were merely projections. Now some commentary on how these numbers were contrived.

Most of this is inferred based on the sentiments of our own interactions with our friends, work collegues, family, mixed with the sentiments of the industry as a whole.  There is not a lot of concrete science in these projections, so take them with a grain of salt.