Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Roku XD-S Review

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

The first part of my effort to ween the family (and my bank account) off of cable television was to enable us to still watch the shows and movies we wanted – without paying the exorbitant fees required by Cablevision.

I did the research, starting with building a HPC (Home Media Center PC) which had internet access and ample storage to view my collection of movies… The lowest price I could get was about $250 including tax and shipping.  Not bad, but I wanted to see if I could do better.  Next up was the Roku.  I’ve heard good things from friends, and decided to check it out.  After comparing the specs, I ended up purchasing the top of the line Roku XD-S for $100.  For an additional $10, I got a 6 foot long HDMI cable (very good price considering there are still people willing to drop a days pay on a higher priced name brand cable that works exactly the same way).

The unit itself is SMALL, about the size of 2 CD cases (remember those?) stacked on top of each other.  It has HDMI, Component, RCA, and optical audio outputs, as well as dual-band wifi and ethernet connectivity.

The 5 minute setup took longer than 5 minutes, partially because I needed to add he MAC address to my wireless router, and partially due to some sort of connection error.  Getting into Netflix was easy enough, just had to activate it like I did with my Xbox.  I also subscribed to Hulu Plus which effectively negated any need for a DVR.  It would have been nice to be able to subscribe from the Roku itself instead of having to do it on the website first, but hey – I got it done.  $8 a month for Netflix, $8 a month for Hulu… $16 vs $160.  Not bad, right?

Video quality is top notch, while the XDS supports 1080p, its hooked up to my 720p Sanyo, there’s no difference visually between the Roku’s output and the HD output on my cable box.  I’ve found the interface to be a little laggy, and the system needs a bigger buffer.  Watching Netflix or Hulu on my PC usually results in a decent amount of buffer space to acomodate changes in speed, but the Roku will simply hang on a screen if the Internet connection slows down, which leads back to the laggy interface – hitting the Home button takes a few moments to get me out of the stopped screen, if it does at all.  Also, the remote only controls the Roku.  It would be nice if I could tie the functionality into a universal – its not something I’ve researched yet but I have WAY too many remotes.

Lastly, the external USB support so far isn’t bad.  I was able to hook up an external hard drive to the unit and play back an H264 encoded movie, although it did pause a few times.  Playback was more consistant off a thumbdrive.  Roku recommends not just relying on the power from the port to power the drive – which is fine unless your drive doesn’t have any other power options.  I’m currently re-encoding my movie collection as H264 so I can watch the rest of my movies over the Roku.

So far its worth the investment, I just need to eliminate the DVR, the cable box in the kids room, and move the cable box from the bedroom into the living room.  That right there is worth $25 off my cable bill, tack on eliminating the 4 on-demand channels, and I’ve cut $45 off the bill.  Next to go are the pay channels, and once hockey season is up, I should be able to get rid of the rest and simply subscribe to NHL Online next season. 🙂

PRO: Price, size, media selection, ability to watch movies / play music via the USB port.

CON: Laggy interface, insufficient data buffering, one more remote.

Best Terminator Yet…

Tuesday, February 12th, 2008

Just finished watching the latest episode of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles from the Fox website, and I’ve come to the conclusion that the latest episode was the best yet – and as far as the franchise goes, this series is the best yet.

For starters – they stay true to the story without being as linear as the movies.  They’re more like the comics.  Terminators are men, women, who knows – maybe at some point they’ll introduce dogs and children.  The machines are THINKING, ADAPTING, GROWING.  Both good and bad, working int he present day – and if one message is clearly evident – THE FUTURE IS NOT SET.

The performances are dead on balls accurate – the nods to the movies as well as the comics are obvious and contribute without dominating.  The next movie in the series is called Salvation.  Personally, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles IS the salvation for the franchise!  IMHO, they had better work overtime on the 4th picture, I’d had to see another Superman/Smallville situation.

You take a franchise that has undergone SIGNIFICANT plot development beyond the secure environment of a comic series or films and toss out a 90 minute turkey which could have been released 20 years ago starring Christopher Reeve – and you have a Superman/Smallville situation.  I pray that the Terminator franchise doesn’t undergo it, but just the same, I would not complain to see 7 or 8 seasons of this series if they do it RIGHT.  There are INFINITE possibilities for this storyline, the movies have only shown us a snapshot in time.  Here we have every week, live action, blood and guts, bone on steel.  I mean come on, Summer Glau literally tore the CPU from another Terminator’s head to shut him down in the last minutes of the latest episode – CAMERON CUT THAT OUT OF THE MOVIES.  I nearly fell off my seat!  It’s fantastic!

On a related note, FUCK TIVO.  Who needs it, I mean really?  At this point – who doesn’t have a broadband internet connection?  You run the wire from your video card to your television, load up the on-demand on the website, and you’ve got the episode with no commercial interruption.  Long term?  Buy the DVD’s of course, make sure those writers get their fair shake at least!  But short term, miss an episode?  FUCK TIVO.  You’ve got to schedule it, record it, play it back and manually skip the commercials.  At that point the advertisers already got paid so why the fuck should YOU have to even deal with it?

Load up the website, watch an ad or two, then watch the show without any commercial interruption.  Worked for me.  As much as I love high definition, and all the things that come with it – I’m looking to catch up with the story, I could care less that it’s not in 1080P as long as it looks good and I can watch it NOW, ON DEMAND.

On demand over the Internet folks, that’s the future – and if Hollywood keeps pumping out shows like Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, I have little doubt we’ll see a day where you don’t have to check the schedules to find out when your show is on, you just hit PLAY when YOU WANT TO.  Rest assured I’m ready for episode 6, this show is fucking HOT.

Rambo 4: Operation Wolf.

Saturday, January 26th, 2008

Do you remember the game Operation Wolf? It was a side scrolling first person shooter arcade game where you had an uzi with pretty much unlimited ammo, and a mission – rescue the hostages and help them escape the warzone. With enough quarters, and decent aim, even you could keep the world safe for civil war.

You now know the plot of Rambo 4.

Don’t get me wrong, I liked the movie. I thoroughly enjoyed the swift and blinding violence as well as the minimal plot. It harkened happy memories of a simpler time, when movies didn’t need a moral compass or underlying meaning. As Stallone ties up another character from his blockbuster franchises – I’m glad they never filmed another “Stop or My Mom Will Shoot.”

The story goes like this – Stallone lives on the outskirts of a Burmese civil war. He catches snakes, fixes his boat, and generally keeps to himself. Then some Christian peacenicks from Colorado ask for help, they want to get into the war zone to help the people with medicine and the King James bible. Rambo argues against it, refuses to help, and eventually has some sense talked into him by the shining star of this calamity – Julie Benz. Anyhow, they get caught, people die, and Rambo returns to save the day.

I’ve been a fan of Benz since Buffy, Angel, and Dexter – she does what she can and adds convincing emotion to the bullet spray.  She and Matthew Marsden – a sniper – pretty much carry the film, everyone else – including Rambo – are just props.  I see an even broader future for these two actors – hopefully I’ll get to see more of them on the small and big screen.

Like I said, simple plot, and it works. What ensues is a 90 minute practice in cartoonish near-snuff quality film-making where the bad guys are evil, the good guys are bad, and the rivers run red until the very end. That, and it’s a Rambo flick. Subtract Rambo – and insert WWE flick. There was nothing to really distinguish this film from any other plug and play action flick beyond the level of blood and gore. A good 5 minute montage (you heard me, montage) ties it back to the original films and that’s about it. Rambo, Mercenaries, Christians, oh my.

Still, if you enjoy blood and guts action flicks like I do, and regret the fact that all the best action heroes are now too old or politicians – check it out, it’s worth the ticket price. Don’t expect a Rocky Balboa like swan song though – personally, I’d have preferred a prequel, as I think the real story should be where Rambo came from – not where he ended up.

Cheers

SCC Episode 3 – The Turk

Monday, January 21st, 2008

“I swallowed a bug” That’s what I was waiting for Summer Glau to say during the whole episode.  I have the feeling that they’ve almost dumbed down her character, I mean knowing to knock on the door, but then not opening it?  Hello?

The violence has also been watered down, while Sarah wasn’t the killer – she tried and failed in T2 – burning down the house?  I’m pretty sure that’s going to lead Andy Good to build an even better system that’s not based on a set of Xbox and PS2 systems daisy chained together.  Something that’ll become self aware and yada yada yada.

The whole Terminator ‘skinning’ thing was kind of cool, but I can see it getting pretty dumb pretty quick.  How many scientists don’t run for the hills the second the killing machine cops a squat in his jacuzzi tub to grow a new face?  I’m curious how he’ll pull off the ‘reconstructive surgery’ bit in the next episode – I don’t think Skynet has health insurance.

SC was less whiny in this episode, but I think it’s about time Cameron started acting like a super-intelligent killing machine instead of a toaster with a photographic memory and the speaking ability of River before she revealed the origin of the Reevers.  Firefly aside, she is growing into the role, and I’m sure she can pull it off even better – but by this episode she should know what “bitch whore” means considering in 1985 the T-800 had a list of retorts to choose from when confronted about the smell in his room.

John – he’s still forgettable.  I haven’t seen a real defining moment for his character yet… what can I say, I just don’t feel the frustration he’s attempting to portray.  Makes me glad it’s called the ‘Sarah Connor Chronicles.’

Overall though, the show still has promise, and I’m eager to see what directions it will take the franchise.  Not quite hooked yet though.

NFS Pro Street: Addendum

Friday, January 4th, 2008

EA is a big company.  Much bigger than it was when I first started playing NFS titles.  It started out with near unattainable supercars on the open roads and eventually got to the point of normal cars modified to race on the open streets.  Maybe the switch is a result of fear?  After all, this game starts with the customary disclaimer – but you’re racing on a track now.  They can’t be accused of promoting illegal street racing anymore.  All I know is that games should be a release from reality… if they have to become more real to avoid liability – then what’s the point… I’ll just play Scrabble.

I did play Pro Street for a couple more hours last night, I’ll admit it is fun – but it’s not as fun as I recall the older titles being.  The money aspect still pisses me off as well.  The big thing with PC games, is that they allowed developers to put out sloppy code which was eventually refined through various patches.  Consoles offered a reprieve from that because they did not contain any mechanism for updates.  You bought the game, and it generally worked right the first time.  Now with the online revolution and the major systems all offering permanent storage, developers are again in the position of offering incomplete games that can be updated… Only now you get CHARGED for it.

I’ll admit, I’ve used Xbox Live Marketplace to purchase various arcade titles, and even an update for Crackdown…  There’s no incentive to use it unless one owns a game, and with the popularity of rentals growing each day due to the $60 price tag – there’s something to consider in offering the updates for FREE, or just including them in the title to begin with.  I can’t imagine the income from a few new cars being enough to justify further shafting the worlds gamers.

Need For Speed Gets Real…

Thursday, January 3rd, 2008

What a crying shame.

I’ve been a fan of the Need for Speed series ever since the original came out in the early 90s. Fast cars, great controls, and cutting edge graphics. NFS has always offered the pinnacle of arcade racing on whichever system they release it on, without question. Why they decided to abandon what has worked well for so long is beyond me.

Originally, you got a fast car, a long track, and some in your face racing that sometimes attracted the police. The long, graphically breathtaking tracks slowly gave way to street racing. No complaint here, as the street racing brought back the police chase – one of the most FUN aspects of any NFS title. Then, EA decided to turn the lights on. No more night time racing, you were back in the light of day and the tracks ranged from the tight corners of a city to the long high speed routes of the back country. Then we’re back in the dark again. Who cares, we’ve got the best of both worlds. Open roads, street racing, near infinite customization options, and high speed chases.

What happened? Why change it? Pro Street puts you on real tracks in customizable rides. The physics are far closer to any simulation on the market, and instead of different routes through dynamic worlds, the player is left running laps on the same. tracks. over. and. over. again.

That was the greatest weakness of pretty much every sim racer since Gran Turismo 1 for the Playstation, and why Need For Speed was so fantastic! Instead of a seemingly neverending rerun of the same tracks with newer and faster cars, where the only way to win a game is to give up life if you can stay awake, you had a game with a GOAL. Win races, customize your rides, and after some intense play – GAME OVER. Pro Street has left me scared for the future of solid arcade style racing on the 360.

Instead of breaking the mold and setting new standards, EA has provided us with another plug and play GT clone with marginally better graphics than most other titles in the genre. Is the game fun? Sure. It’s not nearly as fun as Carbon or other NFS titles, it requires more attention, more control, and is more real than a NFS game should be. Not to mention the idiotic load times, pointless cinematics, and the option to upgrade your cars and buy new ones with Microsoft points… I’m INSULTED. Who the hell is dumb enough to buy a virtual turbo on a throwaway car with REAL MONEY!? You charge $60 for a title and then ask for more to give us the whole game we should be playing to begin with?

Total load of crap. I give this another day or so before I send it back and play Carbon or Most Wanted. Those are real NFS games… I don’t know what Pro Street is, but it’s not Need For Speed.

The darkest Burton flick yet…

Tuesday, January 1st, 2008

Just got back from Sweeny Todd – The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.  I’m fairly impressed – but the elbows on Tim Burton’s favorite outfit are starting to thin out.  I get it – he is most comfortable directing certain actors, and his wife.  Johnny Depp’s performance was top notch, as was every performance in the flick… but Burton is getting blurry.

From the opening credits where we get a blood soaked tour of Todd’s death chair and portion of the London sewer system – I could only imagine replacing the blood with Chocolate and finding myself immediately confused.  He’s got a certain style to him – and it’s getting a little old.

All that aside, I was introduced to the story of Sweeny Todd nearly 10 years ago – since I hate musicals with a passion I probably never would have looked at it without being told to.  I loved it.  It’s an epic tragedy that’d make Bill Shakespeare blush.

Blood, guts, and gore abound the set as Todd exacts revenge and Carter bakes her delicious meat pies.  Short of having sprayers in the theater to add extra stink, sweat, and blood – the story could not have been made more vivid, or dark.

That’s Tim Burton tho, he makes everything vividly predictable.

Can ya sense I don’t care much for Burton yet?  Dislike for his rambling redundancy aside – it is a great story, and it was told very well despite Burton’s influence.  I highly suggest that anyone interested in seeing this film rent a copy of  the 1982 made for TV performance starring George Hearn and Angela Lansbury – it’s a classic (not the first, I know – but the best in my opinion).

Burton’s is just another remake.  Worth a watch, but generally forgettable.

Gaming done right…

Monday, December 31st, 2007

Last night my buddy stopped over with a copy of Call of Duty 4 for the Xbox 360.  Over the course of 4-5 hours, on “Recruit” we beat it.  Let it be said that COD4 is quite possibly the best game out for the Xbox 360 right now.  While the prior versions pigeonholed you into yet another World War II mission with World War II weapons and World War II tactics…  COD4 brings the franchise up to date and yet again establishes dominance in the FPS genre.

Now in previous reviews I have discounted the graphics of the games for the simple reason that in HD, even horrible games can look amazing.  I need to point out though that in COD4, the gameplay was so good that the graphics have to be mentioned.  Lighting effects, textures, terrain and models – all come together to provide total immersion in the COD4 universe.  The graphics in this game are second to none and IMHO there is not a single title out for the 360 right now that can compete, and I cannot pick out a single aspect of the audio/visual experience that was not nearly perfect.

As for gameplay – it’s a COD title, what do you expect?  There’s a solid plot line taking you to various locales in the middle east as well as Russia.  This time, instead of participating in a war of the past, you’re working to prevent the next big war.  The imagery is awe inspiring as it is shocking in many instances.  You’re also not just tied to the ground in this title.  You take control of various airborne weapons including the mighty AC-130 gunship.  That mission is a personal favorite of mine.  You’re endlessly circling a select areas, using infra-red to identify and remove bad guys – with prejudice.  Ever seen one of those night-vision war videos that’s occasionally leaked out?  Same concept – only you’re the one pulling the trigger.

The normal FPS combat is also outstanding.  It’s bloodier than I recall the other COD titles being, but it’s just the right amount of gore to keep it realistic without being cartoonish.  I did discover a flaw in the gameplay engine though.  Some people are tactical.  They take cover, and surgically eliminate each threat in turn.  I’m more of a kamikaze.  I’ll make sure my guns are loaded and then storm out into the field.  I found that in instances where my tactical buddy was held up by combat, I could clear the area in less than a minute by storming out and nailing each target with a 12 gauge.  I see it as a flaw as there’s a major difference in the difficulty.  Simply charging the field should have made me dead faster, instead it consistently resulted in pushing the game along rather quickly.  Flaw aside – it was still tons of fun.

Now I’ve read several reviews for this game which all say the same thing – it’s too short.  I would agree if not for several factors.  The plot is solid, the gameplay is linear, and really – you’re never doing the same thing twice.  Each level requires fresh tactics to proceed.  Where previous COD titles were long and tedious, COD4 is short and to the point.  Honestly, I prefer a game where the goal is in sight.  Added value is in the “arcade mode” which allows you to replay previous levels and earn points, allowing friends to try and beat eachother’s high score – a very welcome addition for those of us who don’t do much multiplayer.  The multiplayer angle is also outstanding – like I said, this game is almost perfectly balanced.

Is it worth $60?  Without question.  Best FPS of 2007.

Angel – After the Fall

Saturday, December 29th, 2007

I think the last comic book I picked up was V for Vendetta after seeing the film.  Over the years I wouldn’t call myself a big fan, but I’ve got a fairly decent stack of Terminator and Superman comics in the closet that I’ll pick up and read every now and again.  Angel of course, wasn’t always a comic.  It was and still is my favorite television series of all time – born of the mind of Joss Whedon.

Sadly, I never actually saw the show when it was on TV, I barely even caught on to Buffy until near the last season… But I caught up real fast via the DVD market.  5 seasons of Angel were wrapped up in a rushed episode where a team of heroes, broken and exhausted, unite one last time in a dark alley to battle the legions of hell.  I could only imagine the torment of fans who had actually tuned in for each episode as they were shafted one last time by the networks.

Anyhow, enough rambling.  After the Fall is a 4 part comic series which apparently picks up where the tv series left off.  It’s been labeled as the 6th season – a misnomer in my opinion.  The artwork is excellent, the story is in line with a Joss Whedon tale, but it again – seems rushed.  Unbenounced to me apparently they’ve been publishing Angel comics for years, and while this new series is in part tying up the aftermath of Season 5  – it really seems to be establishing the baseline for the comics.

Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed reading issues 1 and 2, and will readily pick up 3 and 4 – however it just seems like too big of a jump.

**SPOILERS**

Wolfram and Hart have brought about Hell on Los Angeles as a result of Team Angel annihilating the circle of the black thorn.  Angel is back, still utilizing the resources of Wolfram and Hart as well as caring for his extremely large dragon.  Remember the dragon from “Not Fade Away?”  He tamed it.  Wesley is still dead, and now a ghostly representative for Wolfram & Hart due to some mystery contract.  WHAT CONTRACT?!  It hasn’t been explained yet.  Gunn is now a Vampire.  Apparently in the heat of battle he was dragged off and sired, and blames Angel for it.  Not entirely sure if he’s a total good guy or bad guy yet, as he has no soul and particularly ruthless.  Connor is NOT ANNOYING, continuing the trend from Season 5 where the character was redeemed and stopped being a reason to change the channel.  He’s in charge of a safe area partnered with Nina the werewolf (who now hates Angel) as well as Gwen Rayden (the shocking little lady from Season 4 I believe).  Oh, the moon and the sun are both out – which allows Vampires to walk outside as well as causes both of Nina’s “personalities” to be active at once.   Spike?  He’s ruling Beverly Hills, residing at the Playboy mansion, surrounded by beautiful women and protected by Alleria who still considers him her pet.

I’m hoping that they catch up in Issues 3 and 4, but I may just start ordering angel comics online now to try and fill in some blanks.  If they DON’T catch up, I really hope people stop calling it Season 6.  They should call it 6.5 to be fair.  In the TV series, the transition from LA to Hell on Earth took an episode or two.  I need to see that, to fill in the blanks.  You can’t tell me a comic series is Season 6, then hand me Hell on Earth, a telepathic fish named George (Johnny Mnemonic anyone), and LA split up into different factions ruled by various demon lords… and not expect me to be confused.

It’s good for fans of the television series, but expect to be confused, I sure was.

Pretty cool…hot…well…oh nevermind.

Thursday, December 27th, 2007

One of my Christmas presents which I have used more than once a day since I got it is the Keurig coffee pot.  Now my fiancee had been raving about it for months, I’d seen it advertised at Le Gourmet Chef at the mall, as well as in my own office.  I’ve had a Mr.Coffee for 6 years now, and it was good enough – so I thought.

Every night I’d clean the pot, fill the reservoir, put in a new filter and load it with coffee.  Every morning at 5:45am, it would start brewing and the scent of fresh brewed coffee would usually wake my ass up before the alarm clock.  It was ritual, it was tradition – it was good enough for me.

I laughed when I tried the pod maker, a first challenger to the mighty throne beneath Mr.Coffee.  The amount of maintenance that thing required to actually use, as well as a lack of any sort of timer, ruled it out.  Then came the mighty K.

I tell ya folks, this has got to be the greatest invention for coffee lovers since Juan Valdez said “Hey, what happens when you boil the stuff we hide the cocaine in?”  It’s simple enough to use.  Fill the reservoir, and plug it in.  That’s it.  Want a fresh cup of coffee?  Slide your mug into the machine, pop in a k-cup with a pre-measured dose of joe, then hit the brew button.  THATS IT.  A perfectly measured, heated, and tasty cup of coffee every time.

There’s also an adapter that’ll let me use fresh ground as well.  Pretty cool…hot…well… oh nevermind.

Consider Mr.Coffee defeated.