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     PS3: Expensive console or cheap Blu-ray player?
    Filed under: — David @ 11:56 am

    Now that I’m planning to get an HD TV, I’m naturally thinking about some HD movies. Blu-ray sounds good to me… I’m not that worried about the format war at the moment, especially with the hybrid discs and hybrid players that are coming out now.

    The PlayStation 3 is pretty much the obvious choice for a Blu-ray player. It’s by far the least expensive, and by all accounts it plays just as well as the others. Last Saturday I was in a local big-screen TV store, and overheard a conversation between a customer and a salesman on this topic. The salesman didn’t actually know whether the PS3 was a viable choice, but his theory was that the more expensive players logically ought to be better. Later it struck me that aside from being pure guesswork, a major flaw with that theory is that, like most video game consoles, the PS3 is sold at a loss: the estimated actual cost is over $800. If it were priced like the other Blu-ray players, I expect the retail price would come out a lot closer.

    There’s actually a fair chance I wouldn’t even get any PS3 games. I have a few leftover PS1 games, though unfortunately I wouldn’t be able to use the 6-button controller I bought for my Street Fighter games.

    Last night I watched Good Night and Good luck on DVD, and it left me wanting Blu-ray even more, especially after having read a review of the Blu-ray release of this movie. The DVD has almost constant posterization effects, which I didn’t expect from a modern film, as opposed to those discs where they cram a bunch of old B&W films onto one disc and they all come out looking bad. But the review says the Blu-ray version (as well as the HD DVD version) looks great.

    Another issue with the PS3, though, is availability. Since it will be mainly a movie player, I don’t need to get the 60GB version, even if it does have wireless networking. I went to a local Target the other day, and they had three 60GB PS3s (and someone bought one while I was there). The clerk told me they only ever got two of the 20 GB versions.

    Anyway, I’d rather get it at Amazon because I got a gift certificate for Christmas… except Amazon is out, with no indication of when they’ll get more and no way to pre-order or have it notify me when they get some. And even if I was brave enough to try the “used & new” route, they’re all still overpriced. I also got a GameStop gift card, but it’s only usable in a store and not on the web site, and according to the web site all the local stores are out as well.

    So, I guess I’ll wait. There’s also the theory that you should wait until after the Super Bowl to buy a new TV.

     I want my two dollars!
    Filed under: — David @ 10:44 am

    I admit I was suspicious when I first read about Apple’s $2 charge to update existing computers to 802.11n. The claim is that it’s required by “generally accepted accounting practices” to charge for adding new features to existing products.

    But for me the most convincing argument is that collecting a bunch of $2 fees is bound to be a big hassle for Apple, so it’s doubtful they’re making any real money off this. How many people are going to get the upgrade, anyway? Most people probably don’t need it since 802.11n is faster than DSL or cable. Plus it’s hard to believe that Apple would pull such a money grab after reporting their most profitable quarter ever.

    My conclusion: some people are just too cynical.

     Slogging through the HDTV noise
    Filed under: — David @ 10:25 pm

    Where the heck do you find good comparison shopping information for HDTVs?

    The problem with trying to search the Internet for something like an HD TV is it’s a really popular product, so most of the search results are sites that pretend to be shopping guides, but they’re really just full of ads and I can’t seem to find a decent comparison shopping site.

    Take, for example,, the first site that came up in my search that actually lets you construct a comparison chart. In the initial list where you pick the models to compare, the screen size isn’t in any of the summaries! And when I get to the comparison chart, after picking some models at random since I don’t know how big they are, it gives me screen sizes in centimeters. First of all, I live in the US, and I need inches. Second, why then does it give the overall dimensions and weight in inches and pounds?

    At any rate, it doesn’t even list a specific feature that I’m concerned about. I have this DVD/Laserdisc combo player (Pioneer’s DVL-919) which I plan to connect to my HDTV in some way. It has component video out, but it’s YCbCr (which apparently is analog), while the Samsung LN-S3251D I have my eye on reportedly has a YPbPr (digital) component input. I’m having trouble finding a definite answer on whether this will be compatible, or how to find a good set that is. The disc player’s manual says it “may not” work with YPbPr inputs, which is not very useful. Logically, I expect analog and digital wouldn’t be compatible, but why can’t they tell me for sure?

    But I’m in no hurry. I used to think I wouldn’t want to be without cable, but after my last move I haven’t bothered to get it. I put it off because Time-Warner had just taken over being the cable provider in the area and I wanted to wait until things got straightened out - at first I couldn’t even order cable service from their web site. But by the time I could I realized I didn’t miss having it. I thought I’d always want to have Cartoon Network, but last I checked there wasn’t much left for me after the departure of favorites like Justice League and Juniper Lee (what is it about those initials?). So I just download Avatar from iTunes and watch a couple of news video podcasts.

    It’s not like I’m bored out of my mind without television.

     Watch out for shiny keys
    Filed under: — David @ 10:11 am

    One of the cool things about Cocoa bindings is the number of different things that a key can represent on an object. It could just be the value returned by valueForKey:, but the default implementation will also check for an instance variable or a method with the same name.

    Having the key refer to a method is appealing because then you can return a calculated value. I was trying to do this in XVG yesterday, where the document’s “selection” key would return either the current selection or a placeholder object. That placeholder object holds the attributes applied to new graphics created with the drawing tools. This allows the inspector window, whose controls are bound to the document’s selection, to have a dual purpose: inspect and modify existing objects, or set up the properties of new ones.

    So I had this -[XVGDocument selection] method which would check whether anything was selected, and return either the selection or the placeholder. And the app crashed.

    The problem with that approach was that the value being returned for the “selection” key could change before the document could send a proper KVO notification. Lots of internal Cocoa bindings stuff was operating under the assumption that my code was being a good bindings citizen, and when I failed at that bad things happened.

    So I went for the caching approach. I added an instance variable to XVGDocument to contain the last calculated “selection” value, and updated it whenever the selection changed. No more crashing.

    Caching is often a less attractive approach because it means duplicating information, and it carries the risk that you could mess up and fail to update your cached value in some cases. In this case I’m relying on notifications that the actual selection has changed, since that’s the only situation that would require me to update this value. But depending on these notifications is at the core of using bindings in the first place, so I feel relatively safe in this assumption.

     iPhone vs Games
    Filed under: — David @ 10:06 pm

    I realized something recently on the subject of whether the iPhone will play iPod games: those games are designed to work with the iPod’s click wheel. The iPhone doesn’t have one, nor can it emulate one, since the click wheel involves both touch and pressure sensitivity. Of course, the touch screen opens up new possibilites since you can have buttons anywhere you want. So I expect either the iPhone will have its own versions of the iPod games, or the games will be updated to support both interface styles.

     Obligatory Macworld 07 keynote reactions
    Filed under: — David @ 9:16 pm

    My original plan was to not read any of the news sites until after I was able to watch the keynote webcast. I was home sick anyway, so there was no risk of my coworkers spoiling any surprises. But then the webcast wasn’t posted until after 3 pm, and I wasn’t able to get through to watch it until about 7. So I finally broke down and looked at the Apple site at about 3:30. So much for surprises.

    And I mean that in two ways. First, I now knew what the big news was before watching the keynote. Second, it wasn’t really that surprising anyway.

    Why I won’t be buying an iPhone

    • It’s $500. One of the rumors had it starting at $250, which would have tempted me. As it is it will be a while before I think seriously about spending $500 on a phone.
    • At 4 or 8 GB, and no mention of video out, it wouldn’t replace my 30 GB iPod. I don’t want any functional overlap because then I’d be paying for features I won’t use, and I hate that.

    Why I won’t be buying an Apple TV

    • I already have an iPod that I can plug into my TV. Good enough.

    Other thoughts

    • Does the iPhone sync wirelessly, in addition to using the universal iPod connector?
    • If the iPhone is running OS X, what are the opportunities for 3rd party apps?
    • Does Apple TV do arbitrary video streams? Will I be able to watch next year’s keynote on it (assuming I actually bought one)?
    • Does the iPhone play iPod games? You would think so, but there’s no mention of this. Maybe it’s under the More button at the bottom.
    • Can I use the Dvorak layout on the iPhone?
    • When you start an email and you have a call on hold, it should automatically fill in the To field.
    • For some reason I thought they changed the name to just plain “Apple” a few years ago.
    • I’m really surprised there was nothing about more Leopard features. That and iLife ‘07 I thought would be in the keynote for sure.
     3D RTS games
    Filed under: — David @ 9:38 am

    Yesterday I finally tried out Bang! Howdy, the other game from the makers of the previously-mentioned Puzzle Pirates. I went through a couple of the tutorials, but soon got the feeling that this wasn’t quite my kind of game.

    My main problem comes from the fact that each unit has to pause for a few seconds after every action. This ensures a relatively slower pace for the game, but to me it makes it feel like it’s almost, but not quite, turn-based. I think I would prefer it if it actually were turn-based, or continuous like most RTS games, rather than halfway between. As it is, despite the slower pace, I still find it hectic keeping track of what all the units are doing and making sure they’re doing the right thing.

    It also involves a lot of micro-management. The way a unit’s “speed” is limited is that it can only move a few squares at a time, so if you want it to go across the board you have to do it in several steps, and you can only queue up one additional move at a time.

    Plus it seems you can’t change the keyboard controls, which assume you’re on QWERTY, and I’m not.

    The other main problem was something I also found to be a bit of a bother in WarCraft 3: the 3D nature of the game makes it harder to tell the units apart (and I’m not sure the 3D graphics actually add anything to the gameplay). In a 2D game like StarCraft, the units always look the same and are not affected by any camera angles. In a 3D game, the designers have less control over how a unit appears on the screen because the user controls the camera, and so it’s harder to make them easily distinguishable.

    I just found out about Supreme Commander a couple of days ago, and I’m pretty excited about it. I had the Mac version of Total Annihilation, which was pretty cool, and this is effectively the sequel. But now I’m wondering if it will have the same unit appearance problem as those other 3D RTS games, although it this case the game really does take place in 3D space. I hope to find out soon, because this thing looks really cool.

    This is my personal blog. The views expressed on these pages are mine alone and not those of my employer.

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