NFL fans rush over to DirecTV

With the NFL season underway, many football fans have ditched cable service and switched to DirecTV to gain access to the NFL Sunday Ticket package.

DirecTV has seen sizable growth in the third quarter of this year likely attributed to the extremely popular NFL Sunday Ticket package that’s exclusive to the satellite TV service. DirecTV added 327,000 subscribers during the months of July, August and September. This nearly doubles the amount of subscribers added during the third quarter of 2010. Adversely, competitors like Time Warner and Comcast posted losses of video subscribers during the third quarter. The massive increase in growth is contributed to a DirecTV promotion that offered free access to the NFL Sunday Ticket package as long as the customer signed a two-year contract similar to signing an agreement for a discount on a new smartphone.

directv-tivo-hd-boxThe NFL Sunday Ticket package offers access to all the out-of-market NFL games and offers consumers the ability to watch eight games simultaneously. The package costs DirecTV subscribers about $335 for the entire season. According to DirecTV CEO Mike White, the company added 1.1 million NFL Sunday Ticket subscribers during the promotion compared to 300,000 during the same time in 2010. The amount of NFL content that subscribers are consuming has also increased. Subscribers are watching 70 percent more NFL video on high definition televisions and 40 percent more content on mobile devices compared to the previous year.

During August 2011, DirecTV also added the ability to access the NFL Sunday Ticket package through the PlayStation 3 without the need for a satellite dish. Current DirecTV subscribers were able to upgrade access on the PlayStation 3 for $50 and non-subscribers had to pay $340 to gain access to the new application as well as the NFL content. With the upgraded access on the PS3, users can watch up to 14 out-of-market games per weekend as well as watch the Red Zone Channel to check out highlights of every scoring drive of every single game without those pesky commercials.

Google may offer its own paid cable-TV service

Google is considering plans to launch its own cable-TV service, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Google is considering launching its own paid cable-TV service, reports the Wall Street Journal. Such a jump into this new business would be a first for Google, which has so far not operated as a direct service provider, and could alter the landscape of the highly competitive cable TV business.

The move into cable TV remains in rumor status, as the information about the alleged plan come via unnamed sources. But other confirmed plans by the company may support its foray into a cable TV offering.

First, Google has already announced that it plans to build a fiber-optic high-speed Internet network in Kansas City, Missouri, and Kansas City, Kansas. According to sources familiar with the company’s plans, Google may expand this operation to include both video and phones service as well. In addition, Google recently hired cable-TV executive Jeremy Stern who has reportedly been in talks with companies such as Walt Disney, Time Warner and Discovery Communications about potentially offering channels through their cable service.

A Google spokeswoman issued a statement following publication of WSJ‘s report.

“We’re still exploring what product offerings will be available when we launch Google Fiber,” she said.

While a full leap into the $150 billion-a-year cable industry would be a first for Google, the Internet giant has a number of tangential projects in the works. Google currently offers Google TV software, which allows enabled televisions to watch Internet-fed video. In addition, YouTube, which is owned by Google, recently announced that it has plans to launch 100 ad-supported channels with different niche themes, like pets, how-tos, and specific sports.

Put all these services together — fiber-optic network, YouTube channels and its Google TV user interface — and it would seem the company already has many of the key pieces of the cable-TV puzzle laid out.

The state of streaming, cable, and television: What can we expect in 2012?

The future of television remains up in the air as content providers and cable companies prepare to fight it out, and streaming services wait in the wings.

TV continues to exist in an eternal state of flux: Consumers aren’t quite sure where it’s heading and manufacturers are still trying to pull the right strings to get the next phase off the ground. But there are more than a few complications keeping us in this proverbial purgatory of television and streaming content.

But change is going to come, and amid news that Google is interested in entering the cable TV business and continued rumors that Apple will be releasing its own branded television set, we also have to wonder what’s going to happen with streaming services like Hulu and Netflix. TalkPoint CEO Nick Balletta says that the real battle to hedge is with cable companies.

“It’s the cable guys you have got to worry about,” he says. “The people that own and control the last model are going to be the ones to get really worried about it.” Forget applications having a say in all this: The real war is going to be fought between cable networks and the content providers that want to move on to a new format.

Balletta says one of the short term consequences will be cable companies metering bandwidth. And why wouldn’t they? Carriers are losing out on the money they formerly got from customers subscribing to their content packages. According to a Fierce Cable report, Cable One, the tenth largest cable operator lost 23,000 subscribers over the third quarter. Cox Communications is also taking steps to penalize customers who exceed their bandwidth caps in attempts to bump them up to pricier plans.

And content providers are struggling with this, given that they can and are making money off of streaming revenues. CBS recently reported its third quarter growth was partially in thanks to streaming sales.

This all makes the tug-of-war between Hulu, Netflix, and YouTube seem like kids’ stuff. But while cable companies and major content providers fight it out over the big picture, these portals are still exercising their influence for when the time comes. “Farther off, I think [YouTube] will challenge Hulu first. Netflix is more like a library. Google is a beast and you have to keep an eye on those guys,” Balletta says. “They have the muscle and cash to weather the storm.” About Netflix’s PR blunder this year, he says “everybody gets a mulligan,” and reasons that since the product is still good, the company will survive its PR nightmare.

So where are we heading? Balletta says connected TVs will hit their stride in about a year, during the holiday shopping season of 2012. Between now and then, there’s a seemingly endless amount of fragmentation to be dealt with before we can truly cut the cord.

Zeo Sleep Manager

Manage your sleep and learn how to enjoy a better night's rest with the Zeo Sleep Manager.

Sleep — it’s not something you get much of these days, what with endless hours spent in traffic, late nights at the office, and time at the gym, you’re probably lucky if you get even half of what you need – and even if you are, you may still be waking up tired. Enter the Zeo Sleep Manager.

The Zeo Sleep Manager consists of both a sensor headband and app for both iOS and Android that tracks sleep patterns and the amount of restorative REM and Deep sleep you are actually getting. Once the headband is finished tracking your sleep stages throughout the night it sends the information collected wirelessly to your smartphone.

Once the data is gathered on your smartphone, the app provides helpful tips and pointers on how you can improve and achieve a better night’s sleep. And while $99 may be a wee bit steep, it just might be a little safer than relying on the plethora of sleeping pills out there.

Apple MacBook Pro 17-inch (2011) Review

Review: Apple supercharges the 17-inch MacBook Pro for 2011 with the latest Intel Core i7 processors, ATI Radeon HD graphics, and Intel Thunderbolt connectivity.

Steve Jobs may have waxed poetic about the “post-PC” age at the recent launch of the iPad 2, but as the most recent revamp of the MacBook Pro shows, Apple’s expertise at crafting a laptop remains as sharp as ever. While the MacBook Pro retains the same look and feel Apple has been milking for years, the addition of faster processors, graphics and Intel’s brand new Thunderbolt interface all put more zip beneath the outstanding unibody design. You may have to refinance your house to afford one, but once it’s in your hands, there’s little the folding powerhouse won’t do.

Apple still offers the MacBook in 13-, 15- and 17-inch variants. We tested the 17 incher, which starts with at least a 2.2GHz Core i7 and AMD Radeon HD 6750 graphics, making it a brute even in its standard configuration. (At $2,499 and up, it should be). For graphics gurus and multi-taskers, the centerpiece of the desktop replacement model comes courtesy of an LED-lit, 17-inch LCD screen with 1920 x 1200 resolution, available in glossy or antiglare. Ours also came equipped with a 750GB Toshiba drive spinning at 5400RPM and of course, the new Thunderbolt interface.

At first glance, the new MacBook Pro looks and feels exactly like the previous version. Come to think of it, it does on second glance, too. Apple has stuck with what works and left the clean, unibody design of the MacBook Pro stand unmolested for 2011.

Apple MacBook Pro 17 inchOur old cheers and jeers still stand. Apple’s aluminum unibody chassis feels like you could park a truck on it, but can still get a little chilly on the forearms, and the sharp 90-degree angles around the edges dig at your wrists. (You might not notice either problem if you wear long-sleeve turtlenecks every day.) Still, for sheer aesthetic value and build quality, the MacBook Pro remains at the top of the pack this year.

At 6.6 pounds at 15.47 inches long, you really won’t find yourself anxious to transport the MacBook Pro any further than the jaunt between couch and desk. But it holds its ground relative to other 17-inch notebooks. HP’s 17-inch ProBook 4270s, for instance, starts at 6.51 pounds, and Toshiba’s Satellite L670 hovers just around 6.6 depending on how it’s equipped. Dell’s Vostro 3700 does come in significantly lighter at 5.95 pounds, but measures 1.35 inches thick to the MacBook’s relatively slender 0.98 inches.
Keyboard and trackpad

Apple’s Chiclet-style keyboards succeed at delivering the clean, minimalist aesthetic the company is known for, and the standard backlight is certainly a boon for night owls, but we’ve never cared for the soggy-feeling key presses. We’re also boggled by why Apple chose to make the keyboard so narrow, shortening important keys like delete and omitting a number pad, when there’s so much room. The chassis spans a lengthy 15.47 inches wide, but the keyboard only occupies 10.75 inches. Sure, Apple used the space for the speaker grilles, but they could have easily been shuffled elsewhere.

Apple MacBook Pro 17 inch

Fortunately, the trackpad takes the opposite approach, casting a huge patch of finger-friendly glass over much of the area below the keyboard. Traditionalists may have to take some time to adapt to Apple’s buttonless design, which allows the whole pad to click, but we prefer it in the long run, especially combined with multi-touch gestures for options like right clicking, going forward and back, and Expose.
Intel Thunderbolt

Never have we seen so much fanfare for a new type of data connection as with Intel Thunderbolt, making it no small wonder that Intel piggybacked on the marketing gurus at Apple to debut it on the MacBook Pro – but at least there’s substance to match the flash. As the name would suggest, Thunderbolt is fast: It can operate at up to 10Gbps, which is twice as fast as USB 3.0 (5Gbps) and more than 20 times faster than USB 2.0 (480Mbps). Fast enough to transfer an HD movie in 30 seconds, as Intel likes to put it.

The actual Thunderbolt port looks identical to the old mini DisplayLink port because on a physical level, it is. Besides shuttling data around quickly for storage, Thunderbolt can be used for displays using the same old mini DisplayLink cables, and its daisy chaining capability actually makes it possible for the same port to connect up to six devices.

Unfortunately right now, you won’t be able to find anything but a display to test with: Not a single company is selling, for instance, a Thunderbolt-equipped hard drive yet. Canon has announced that upcoming cameras will support the standard, but at the moment even they’re hypothetical, so Thunderbolt’s potential, while vast, will go untapped for a while.

Apple MacBook Pro 17 inch
Other inputs and connectivity

Thunderbolt may stand out as the most unique port on the MacBook Pro, but it shares the left-hand side of the notebook with plenty of others. From back-to-front, they include Apple’s signature MagSafe power connector, Ethernet, FireWire 800, Thunderbolt, three USB ports, audio line in, headphones and ExpressPort 34. The right-hand side sports Apple’s typical slot-loading DVD drive. Sorry, no Blu-ray option, even though it’s one of the few notebooks with the resolution to really show it off.

We have a few other peeves here too. The ExpressCard 34 slot could come in handy for adding an SSD or any number of other accessories, but we really would have found more use for an SD card slot like the smaller MacBook Pros have. (You can buy an SD card reader to fill the slot, but it will cost about $30 online and mar the notebook’s all-important aesthetics.) Cramming all three USB ports together also causes issues with oversized accessories, like 3G modems, and offers no USB connectivity on the right side. Bottom line: Connectivity is good, but not perfect.

Logitech debuts new Mini Boombox Bluetooth speaker

This tiny new speaker uses Bluetooth to wirelessly stream tunes from your iPhone or other compatible smartphone or tablet.

Today Logitech announced a new addition to its product family, one that will fit very nicely in the palm of your hand — the Mini Boombox. While it may look significant in stature in the above photo, we’re hearing that the speaker is only about 4.5-inches wide (Logitech hasn’t released dimensions), making it small enough to fit easily in one hand or just about any pocket or bag. The wireless speaker uses Bluetooth and functions as a smartphone accessory, designed to be paired with your iPhone or another compatible phone.

The diminutive Logitech Mini Boombox ($100) uses Bluetooth A2DP technology to stream music wirelessly from any compatible smartphone or tablet. No word yet on the exact sound specs of the speaker, but Logitech does boast that they made room for an acoustic chamber inside the speaker to enhance bass. The speaker has a rechargeable battery that can last up to 10 hours, illuminated touch controls, and a built-in mic for making calls via Bluetooth. We’ll have to see for ourselves if the sound quality is worth the price tag, but we like the idea of being able to bring a Bluetooth-enabled speaker just about anywhere. The Mini Boombox is available for pre-order now and will ship later this month.

Sony's Playstation 3 is a technological marvel

Sony's Playstation 3 is a technological marvel featuring integrated WiFi and a Blu-ray player. But how does it fair on games? Read on to find out!

Lagging a full year behind the release of Microsoft’s Xbox 360 and lacking the immediately attention-grabbing hook of Nintendo’s 360-degree motion-sensing Wii, Sony’s long-awaited PlayStation 3 has recently been the subject of much heated debate. Despite its obvious appeal to diehard gamers and fans of the world’s most popular console brand – not to mention home theater enthusiasts, what with 1080p HDMI output and extensive online music/video download capabilities – questions have been plentiful.

For example: Is the system, available in 20GB ($499, sans WiFi and a built-in combination Memory Stick product lineup, Compact Flash and SD/MMC card reader) or $599 chrome-trimmed wireless-ready 60GB hard drive models, worth the hefty asking price, the highest since early-’90s systems like CDi and 3DO? Can Sony, who’s recently cut back North American November 17th launch date ship projections to just 400,000 units (with some analysts predicting actual distribution of half this number or fewer machines), manage to avoid aggravating a soon-to-be-device-deprived buying public while still keeping up with the competition? And, of course, with so much power and hardware combined in a single unit catered to the highest-end luxury users, is there even a point to upgrading?

The short answer to all: Yes, depending which of school of thought you fall into, your game playing habits and how much disposable income you’ve got to burn. However, let’s get one thing out of the way up-front, before you freeze your poor behind off spending all night camped out in front of the local electronics retailer hoping to score one of the severely under-stocked devices. For a host of reasons ranging from technical niggles to launch lineup shortfalls to pure common sense, it’s perfectly fine – and in most cases, even advisable – to skip buying one this holiday season and wait until the dust settles sometime early in 2007.

Right from the get-go, it’s important to consider the following fact: You’re not actually buying a videogame console here (although surely, that’s the machine’s strength and the chief function most prospective buyers intend to employ it towards) so much as a full-fledged digital media hub. As slick as everything from cutting-edge digital diversions and Blu-ray movies – video resolutions ranging all the way from 480i up to an eye-popping 1080p are supported – it’s what you personally make of the machine that gives the gizmo its true value. So for all of you who’ve been pestered since, oh, 2004 by your wide-eyed little pride and joys, remember: Dropping $599 just so kids can use the beast as an overgrown Atari may be a little much. They’ll be just as entertained by lower-resolution outings for other systems like Nintendo’s Wii or Sony’s own PlayStation 2. And, in truth, most PlayStation 3 titles right now are simply enhanced ports of existing products anyway (see offerings like Tony Hawk’s Project 8 or NHL 2K7). What’s more, unless you plan on clocking in time behind the controller yourself, investing in a library of next-generation movies, browsing the Web on your TV, purchasing extra levels/cars/characters/songs/films online or are intent on building the ultimate technophile’s living room setup, it’s the sort of holiday gift that may be little extravagant for anyone younger than 15.

Features and Design

But hey – let’s not get ahead ourselves, especially with so much to touch on right out of the box. For instance, the base unit itself: Holy mother of… well, you know… is this thing massive! Weighing in at an arm-crushing 11lbs and measuring 12.8″ (W) x 3.8″ (H) x 10.8″ (L), the gizmo proves even larger than the already brick-like Xbox 360. However, in fairness, it also sports a slick, glossy black exterior, attractive curves, features no goofy swappable faceplates and doesn’t require the use of one those giant-sized external power adapters we all know and hate. (Just insert the power cord and go.)

Although the space-age casing is prone to attracting fingerprints, hairs and dust, it frames internal electronics nicely, and serves to make this monster look like a proper home theater component, such as you might find in any respectable modern-day bachelor pad. (Although more system colors are surely coming, and one of these in mauve or hot pink might not.) Anyhow, considerable as the amount of effort required to move this thing about is, one gets the feeling they needn’t worry about fragility. Regardless, you’ll still feel much more comfortable with the unit – which runs cooler and quieter than the 360 and comes studded with vents, stabilizing pads and supports – laid out horizontally, though vertical positioning is possible. (Fun fact: There’s even a rotating “PS” logo located near the disc drive you can turn to match.)

Playstation 3 and Nintendo Wii
The Playstation 3 on the left and the Nintendo Wii on the right

Assuming you’ve purchased the 60GB unit, here’s the device’s general layout. On the front you’ll find a disc loading slot that accepts CD, DVD or Blu-Ray media, so you can still enjoy favorite albums, PSOne/PS2 titles (although it’s just been discovered support for some 100-200 PlayStation 2 games like Gran Turismo 4 and Devil May Cry requires fixing via an upcoming downloadable update), home videos, major motion pictures and even SACDs. I’m a little dubious of the loading mechanism – you slide a disc in, then the machine gently grabs it and sucks it the rest of the way inside – but only time will tell how well it holds up, especially in children’s innocently less-delicate hands.

Also featured is a touch-sensitive power button (sweet!), HDD access/WLAN access indicator lights and four USB ports. Using these USB ports, it’s possible to hook up all manner of external devices from MP3 players to digital cameras, although copy-protected content’s a no-go, as I discovered upon inserting an iPod and being unable to play stored tunes. Common audio formats like MP3 and WAV are supported though, as are most digital images and MPEG1/2/4 video, which you can easily import onto the hard drive via USB device, CD-R or memory card reader.

Sony Playstation 3
The front panel opens to reveal a media card reader

Features and Design Cont’d

Options for theoretically jacking in a keyboard (the controller-based text input interface is a bit annoying, though you’ll get used to it in due time), USB mouse or the PSP, which can double as a rear-view mirror in racing games or accept PSOne games (purchased online, transferred over and playable via emulator) further prove quite promising. Uploading content between devices is easy enough too, and support for such features should only become more extensive as users are encouraged to download movie trailers, songs and other unexpected goodies off Sony’s PlayStation store. (An online storefront where Xbox Live Arcade-style below-the-radar games and retail software enhancements – e.g. additional maps or extra vehicles – will be sold, including exclusive outings like indie-flavored amusements flow, Go! Sudoku and Blast Factor, plus HD ports of old favorites such as Lemmings.)

Unfortunately, only Japanese PlayStation Network sign-ins are available prior to launch, so, being behind on my kanji at the moment, testing online multiplayer options – supposedly free, and allowing up to 40 players to go head-to-head simultaneously – and micro-transactions is as yet impossible. What’s more, I wasn’t able to experiment with instant messaging and voice/video chat (EyeToy USB camera required) options either. But there were no problems with Internet browsing, and frankly, it’s a real trip to visit sites like, set a bookmark and see your own face staring back at you from the TV screen. Flash pages such as also work fine with the software.

As for the back of the PlayStation 3, it contains a digital out, A/V multi out, HDMI out and LAN/Ethernet connection. The power cord connector and main system power switch are also located here. (If you’re a newcomer and wonder why the system isn’t working, trying flipping this on and then pressing the machine’s more obvious front-mounted power button…) Otherwise, there’s simply a 2.5″ serial ATA hard drive slot to be found on the side, with larger model hard drives rumored to be in the works that you’ll be able to quickly swap out. All told, finding your way about the console is fairly straightforward, and an in-depth instruction manual should help beginners greatly.

Playstation 3
The back of the Playstation 3

Also included in the package is:

• A composite video cable (unsuitable for HD video output, sorry – grab a component cable or HDMI connector ASAP instead).
• Ethernet cable (although 802.11b/g WiFi is built-in if you’ve got the 60GB model).
• Power cord (a standard three-prong connector).
• USB cable (for connecting and playing with or charging wireless controllers).
• One SixAxis motion-tracking controller (in addition to normal D-pad/joystick-based movements and button-driven commands, tilt your hands to dodge incoming blows or steer).
• And, if you’re one of the first lucky 500,000 owners, a copy of NASCAR-spoofing, Will Ferrell-starring comedy Talladega Nights, which, living in the South, I personally find hilarious. (To be sure, it’s an acquired taste.)

Setup and Use

Actual system navigation will be instantly familiar to anyone who owns a PSP, as a similar drop-down “cross menu bar” interface is used. Employing it, one can easily play discs inserted into the machine, create striking photo slideshows, enjoy a little music, manage game saves, create user profiles and configure network settings. Even things as seemingly foreign to set-top console users – or maybe just those who don’t own an Xbox 360 yet – as system updates, customizable video settings, interactive end-user agreements and Bluetooth connectivity are made simple to deal with courtesy of on-screen prompts and explanations. The machine had no trouble finding my home wireless network either, and supports encryption so I needn’t fear unwanted intrusions by hackers or other virtual miscreants.

You’ll be manipulating most everything through the SixAxis controller, of which as many as seven can be supported at one time, capable of interacting wirelessly with the unit from distances up to 65 feet. (Wired access is available, though you’ll be sitting pretty darned close to the TV using the ultra-short prepackaged cable.) While the pads strangely lack rumble (vibration) capability, and aren’t nearly as sensitive or versatile as those found on Nintendo’s Wii, they do feel responsive and comfortable to the touch. Capable of lasting 30 hours on a single charge, PlayStation 2 owners will immediately recognize their shape and feel, given a close resemblance to said system’s own controllers.

The ability to control objects on a 3D, six-axis (left, right, back, forward, up, down) movement plane is, of course, the biggest enhancement, but a centrally-situated PS button (used to quit back to the main system menu, check battery power, shut down remotely, etc.) that operates like the giant X on the 360 pad is also a plus. The L2 and R2 buttons are also bigger, and feel more like gun triggers in your hands. Using gesture-tracking capabilities to cause samurai to twirl and tumble acrobatically or pro ballplayers to shuck and jive feels more like a cool add-on than integral system addition. But as more games such as dragon-flight combat simulator Lair – wherein you can swoop around spitting fireballs and sci-fi shooter Warhawk, which sees enthusiasts take direct control of soaring spaceships – launch, it’s a cinch we’ll soon enjoy even neater, and more meaningful, applications. Oh, and try not to choke: They’re actually asking $49.99 (the same price you could buy an entire 360 or Wii game for, and then some) for a controller.

Playstation 3 controller
The Playstation 3 controller

But what about the most important part – the games themselves? Well, right now, they’re sitting around a B+ level of general quality, thanks to the fact few first-run outings made the system’s launch. To be frank, of the ones which did ship – first-person blaster Resistance: Fall of Man, rubber-burner Ridge Racer 7, giant robot-homage Mobile Suit Gundam: Crossfire, arcade outing Sonic the Hedgehog, fantasy role-player Untold Legends: Dark Kingdom and sword-slashing Asian adventure Genji: Days of the Blade – none stand out as killer apps. That’s not to say you won’t be wowed. (The amount of on-screen activity in Resistance, for example, or level of painstakingly-rendered detail on Genji’s special effects is absolutely impossible to achieve with the 40X-more-powerful-than-PS2 system’s ballyhooed multi-core Cell processor and NVIDIA-built RSX graphics chip.) However, even between a slew of beefed up ports (Rainbow Six: Vegas, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 07, etc.) and soon-to-be-launching high-profile sequels, e.g. Full Auto 2, there’s nothing here that absolutely screams “buy me” to the tune $60 per title, let alone the initial $500-$600 price of admission. Most end-users will probably find just as much eye-popping fare for cheaper on the Xbox 360.

Playstation 3 Game
A Couple Playstation 3 games

Setup and Use Part 2

Initial skepticism aside, though, we have previewed upcoming smashes like Assassin’s Creed and Indiana Jones 2007, and can say with certainty that things will soon change for the positive. In fact, once developers have had time to learn the console’s ins and outs and get a handle on its staggeringly future-proofed capabilities (yes, as Sony suggests, you’ll probably be keeping this gizmo around 10 years, and not just because of the hefty purchase price), all bets are off. The future of gaming involves jaw-droppingly gorgeous 3D worlds that designers build, but don’t truly control. In other words, because enemies are so intelligent, the laws of physics so realistic and scenarios so unpredictable, anything can happen each time you play, ensuring it’s never the same interactive outing twice. And as soon as Sony and friends start trotting out the big guns like Gran Turismo HD (let’s not forget the system will play home to Metal Gear Solid 4, Resident Evil 5, Tekken 6 and other record-breaking franchises), the number one console manufacturer may start creaming the competition just on depth and quality of selection alone.

As a side note, we should further pause here and mention that saved games – no matter how big or small the title in question – are stored on hard drive using virtual memory cards. Therefore you’ll be spared the cost of additional memory card units (a big plus), with PSOne/PS2 fans able to buy a $14.99 adapter that lets them rapidly transfer such data over from older platforms onto HDD.


Amusingly, all of the above ranting is just a very long-winded way of saying this is a system that’s ostensibly destined to dominate the videogame industry, but not necessarily this holiday season. Right now, it’s a premium purchase primarily aimed at high-end home theater enthusiasts or hardcore gamers with serious cash to burn. If you buy one before year-end, you’re doing so just to show friends and acquaintances that you’ve got the biggest stones (and checkbook) on the block, and don’t screw around when it comes to multimedia playback. But anyone else who goes to the trouble of picking one up now is just asking for a world of disappointment.

The revolution will indeed be televised, and, given that Blu-ray discs currently hold up to 50GB of data, with 200GB discs on the way – the kind of space needed to power games we can’t even presently envision – quite possibly be done so entirely on Sony’s terms. Be that as it may, it’s still a good ways off, making PlayStation 3 a good value only if you’re presently looking for an inexpensive Blu-ray player (of which it’s amusingly the cheapest at market), fancy-pants digital media hub or simply a way to impress pals and relatives, who truthfully probably won’t be that envious after an hour or two anyway.

We’re just looking at the beginning of something big here, though – a year or two from now, it’s wholly feasible that this will be the true player’s sole console companion of choice.


• Awesome sound/video output
• Built-in Blu-ray drive, wireless networking
• Tilt-sensing capability
• Online shopping features
• All games HD-ready
• Multimedia functionality
• Free online multiplayer
• 60 GB hard drive


• Temporarily middling game selection
• No force-feedback (rumble) features
• High purchase price
• Fingerprint-loving casing
• Component/HDMI cable sold separately
• Size/weight
• Some backwards-compatibility issues

Microsoft Xbox 360 Slim Review

We review Microsoft's new and improved Xbox 360 Slim console which offers a number of new features in a smaller, quieter package.

It has been four and a half years since the original Xbox 360 was released on November 22, 2005. New bundles have come out, hard drives for consoles have jumped in capacity exponentially, and there is even a black model of the 360 out there, but at its core the console has remained the same in terms of design.

When the Xbox 360 originally debuted against the Sony PlayStation 3, it did so with somewhat similar hardware, but several less bells and whistles. At the time, it seemed like a great move, as the PS3’s price put it out of reach of most gamers and where areas the additional add-ons for the Xbox 360 could be purchased anytime.

Price was definitely one of- if not THE- major factors in giving the 360 a commanding lead on the PS3 from the start. But times change. The more things are manufactured, the cheaper they become, and as the PS3 has dropped in price without sacrificing its features, its sales have quickly risen. In answer, Microsoft has followed suit and released a new model, with new features that allow it to compete with the PS3.

Many have been calling it the Xbox 360 Slim, but technically that is a misnomer, as it is a replacement for the 360, not an alternative. It is actually classified as the new Xbox 360, so we will call it that.
Features and Design

The obvious change is in its look. The matte colored exterior has been replaced with a glossy black casing, and a concave indention that comes to a point at the power button, which has also been redesigned. Where the old model had a button that needed to physically be pressed, the new 360 buttons are touch sensitive and require no pressure. There is even a sound to indicate that the command was accepted. The same is true for the tray, as the button has been moved from the side, and placed above. One minor drawback of the new casing is that the shine of the casing is also extremely prone to gathering fingerprints and smudges.

In terms of size, the new 360 is smaller than the original by roughly an inch and a half to two-inches. It is not a huge difference, but it does feel more compact. Part of that is due to the fact that the hard drive design has been totally remodeled. Where on the previous version it was located on the side, the new version puts the hard drive inside the console. It is still removable though, but that presents a problem in itself.

The hard drive is located behind a panel on the side, but to remove the drive itself, you pull on a fabric tab that in turn releases a button to unlatch the hard drive. In theory this seems fine, but if you repeatedly pull out your hard drive and transport it between multiple Xboxes- which WILL eventually happen- then the cord will wear down. If the cord rips, the hard drive is not going to come out easily. This is a minor flaw, and Microsoft is likely banking on the fact that people will be using smaller hard drives to transfer the data via USBs rather than continually removing the internal hard drive, but it still seems like an unnecessarily risky design. It is a minor gripe, but an obvious one. The inclusion of a 250GB hard drive standard is in itself nice, but the 250GB hard drive was standard on the last 360 bundle as well.

The change of hard drives does mean that the hard drives on older 360s are not physically compatible with the new models, but there is a cable you can buy that will allow you to transfer existing data from one drive to another with ease.

As for features, the new 360 finally catches up with the PS3 by including 802.11 b/g/n wifi connectivity. This is probably the single biggest improvement over the former models, which required you to purchase an additional accessory that cost anywhere from $80 and up. Even used WiFi adapters still run $50 and up on eBay. The PS3 has had it since launch, and it is about time the 360 caught up.

The new 360 also features five USB ports (two on the front and three on the back) versus three in the old 360, as well as an AUX port specifically for Microsoft’s Kinect motion device. On the back, the connections are the same (HDMI, Ethernet out), with the exception of an upgraded digital audio port that accepts TOSLINK S/PIF optical input standard on all models.

Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-TX100V Review

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX100V comes packed with features including a slick touch interface, 3D still capability, and 1080p video recording at 60 FPS, but the sun is quick to wipe out the delicate OLED screen.

The latest 2011 digicams continue to ramp up still and video quality. Have we finally topped out? Sony tries to break through the glass pixel ceiling with the Cyber-shot TX100V, the latest spin on its stylish TX series.
Features and design

The Sony T and TX series have been around so long they’re iconic. With a thin body, sliding front cover, non-protruding 4x zoom lens and minimal controls, we’ve always liked the industrial design. Not much has changed in overall styling with the new TX100V, but there have been some huge changes in screen and capture technology.

Sony Cybershot DSC-TX100V transparentAvailable in red, silver and black, the camera measures 3.9 x 2.4 x 0.72 (W x H x D in inches), tipping the scales at 5.2 ounces with battery and card. Needless to say for a camera smaller than a Droid smartphone, you can carry it anywhere. Our ruby red review sample looked very chic. Looking head on there are just two tasteful logos on view in the off position. Slide the front panel down to power it up and there’s additional text, but it’s so subtle as to be barely noticeable. Other manufacturers please take notice. You’ll also see the flash, AF Assist/self-timer lamp and non-protruding Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar 4x lens with a range of 25-100mm. Clearly it’s not the most powerful telephoto out there, but it does have a nice opening wide angle, which we prefer compared to 30mm or even 28mm.

On the top are the four-pinhole stereo mics, a tiny power button, shutter and small zoom toggle. Do your own hands-on with camera, as you may find the controls to be too small. We didn’t have a problem, but that’s just us. The speaker is a small slit at the beveled back edge, and there’s a playback button nearby. That’s it folks. Since this is a touchscreen, there’s a minimal amount of buttons, dials and controls — everything is handled by the touch interface. This can be annoying, as we found with the Panasonic FH27, but it can be a good experience as we had with the new Canon ELPH 500 HS. Stay tuned for our verdict in the performance section.

Sony Cybershot DSC-TX100V top

The 3.5-inch touch screen takes up the entire back of the camera. As part of a slightly growing trend — at least in cameras — the display uses Organic Light Emitting Diode (OLED) technology and it’s rated 1,229K dots, about as good as it gets. OLED displays are known for their outstanding black levels, contrast and accurate color reproduction. But like the little girl with the curl in the Longfellow poem, when they’re good, they’re very, very good but when bad, they’re horrid — as you’ll discover.

Sony Cybershot DSC-TX100V rear lcd displayOn the right side is the eyelet for the wrist strap and compartment for the mini HDMI out. The left just has a GPS logo while the bottom of the made-in-Japan camera has Sony’s proprietary USB-A/V connector, a metal tripod mount and compartment for the battery and memory card. The TX100V not only accepts all Memory Stick Pro Duo media types but SD (including SDXC) as well.
What’s in the box

The package for the TX100V camera, battery, USB charger, USB cable, strap, paint pen (stylus), a 28-page quick guide and CD-ROM. Thanks to the lower power requirements of the OLED screen, the battery is rated 220 shots, a good figure for a 3.5-inch display; our results were better than that. As part of a trend we’re not fond of, the camera does not come with a plug-in charger. You have to juice it up by connecting it to the USB-to-AC adaptor or via USB to your computer. It’s not the end of the world, but just get into the habit of charging your camera at night, like your cell. The CD-ROM has Picture Motion Browser ver. 5.5 for handling files, plus it also has the full manual as an HTML file.
Performance and use

We had the TX100V with us over the course of several weeks, using it in the New York metro area as well as in Florida where we tested the camera along with several others including the 12MP Nikon Coolpix S9100. The ability to slip this tiny digicam in your back pocket and carry it everywhere is one its real pluses. It powers up quickly and you’re good to go it what seems like an instant (actually it’s about 3 seconds).

The camera features a new 16.2-megapixel Exmor R CMOS sensor, capturing 4608 x 3456 pixel files. This spec is the absolute peak for 2011 digicams (not DSLRs) jumping over the 14.1-megapixel level that reigned supreme for a number of years. As Digital Trends readers well know, having a huge number of pixels doesn’t guarantee superior-quality photographs. How this one shakes out, you’ll know shortly. Another mind-boggling spec for the TX100V is its video capability. Last year it was fairly common for point-and-shoots to grab 720p HD movies (1280 x 720 at 30 FPS). This new Sony takes 1920 x 1080/60p movies in the AVCHD format at a 28 Mbps compression rate. Few fully-featured camcorders have this capability. These 60p clips are amazing, but we’re getting a bit ahead of ourselves. Let’s see if the pictures are any good, as after all, this is a digital camera!

Sony TX100V sample shot dockThe Cyber-shot TX100V is distinctly a point-and-shoot with no options for adjusting aperture, shutter speed or focus other than changing scene modes. Since there’s no mode dial, you adjust the camera using the touchscreen. The screen itself is very responsive, reacting quickly to taps of your fingertips. The icons are large and attractive. Your recording mode choices include Intelligent Auto, Superior Auto, iSweep Panorama, Movie, Program Auto, Background Defocus, Scene and 3D Shooting (still and Sweep Panorama). Intelligent Auto is like Smart Auto found on so many better aim-and-forget cameras. It “guesses” what’s in front of it, adjusting accordingly. Superior Auto takes advantage of the high-speed CMOS sensor, combining multiple frames for best quality. This slows the camera down a bit, but the results are worth it. iSweep Panorama is a great way to take horizontal or vertical panoramas; the TX100V stitches frames together in-camera. Movie lets you shoot anything from MPEG4 web clips to four grades of AVCHD, ranging from 9 to 28 Mbps. In program you have some image control, but it’s only exposure compensation, white balance and ISO (125 to 3200) which is typical for a point-and-shoot. What’s not typical is the burst mode, which hits 10 frames per second for a maximum of 10 shots. Scene has 15 options, and among our favorites are Backlight Correction HDR and Handheld Twilight. Again the speedy sensor combines multiple frames for higher-quality shots. And 3D lets you take stills and panoramas. Since the stills are MPO files, they can be viewed on any 3D HDTV, but the panoramas can only been seen on Sony 3D televisions.

We left Background Defocus for last, as this the one is an homage to advanced photography. Since you cannot change the aperture of the TX100V, the sensor combines two frames—one with the main subject and the background blurred. Voila! You’ve changed the depth-of-field without adjusting the lens. And did we mention this digicam has a built-in GPS that captures your longitude and latitude, plus a small icon that acts like a compass? Combine all of these features and you have one packed camera for under $400. Granted it’s not as photographically blessed as a Canon PowerShot S95 or G12, but those cameras are really targeted to very different shutterbugs.

Once we took all of our stills and videos, they were downloaded to a PC, 8.5 x 11 prints made, files examined closely on the monitor, and everything reviewed on a 55-inch Bravia 3D HDTV.
And the envelope, please

Before getting into details, we’ll say the Cyber-shot TX100V is a fun camera to shoot and — for the most part — we’ll be sad sending it back to the company (you don’t think we get to keep all these toys, do you?). The camera is responsive, focuses quickly and the touchscreen interface is well implemented.

Sony TX100V sample shot flagsOur photo results were somewhat mixed. Colors were accurate and had pop, but they weren’t as good as a 12-megapixel CMOS Canon PowerShot 500 HS. Overall, shots taken in Florida and NYC were quite good, and you’ll be happy with them, although were occasional hot spots on a blooming bush with white flowers. Backlight HDR and 10 FPS bursts are two of our favorite features of this digicam. HDR handles difficult exposures well and the continuous shooting really nabs fast action. Background Defocus, on the other hand, was just a mere shadow of what real camera can do, and the effects were minimal. We had a great time blowing up the files on our monitor, closely examining the minute details the TX100V captures. Just realize there are some tradeoffs cramming 16-megapixels onto a tiny chip, as it’s not a recipe for beautiful, noise-free prints. Sony seems to employ excess noise reduction, and this was noticeable with blow-ups past 100 percent, but our 8.5 x 11 prints were just fine. Are we being picky? Yes, but that’s the nature of the beast. As far as ISO is concerned, with our usual test subject, noise was well under control until around the 800 setting, with 1600 and 3200 degrading pretty rapidly. Stick to Handheld Twilight for best results in low light. It slows the camera down but it’s definitely worth it.

The TX100V takes 3D stills and Sweep Panoramas. To be honest, we’re still experimenting as to what makes a good 3D image, so our results were decidedly hit and miss. Palm trees with an ocean background worked well as stills, yet relative close-ups of flowering bushes did not. Some Sweeps were spectacular, others just flat. We’re still climbing the learning curve, but these are nice features with which to experiment. It also gives you another use for your 3D television other than sitting through Avatar again.

Along with 16-megapixel stills, the TX100V shoots 1080/60p video. The quality of these clips is top notch, with very accurate colors and no motion artifacts. The 28 Mbps compression rate is something you’ll find in full-featured camcorders such as Panasonic’s TM900 and SDT750, which cost over $1,000. It’s pretty amazing to find it in a sub-$400 camera. For the record, other Sony Cyber-shots offer this as well, and it’s a real standout. However, realize you can only watch the videos on TV at this quality level; there’s no way to record it. You have to step down to 60i to archive on Blu-ray disks. The clips look great. As usual, the stereo mics are bad at handling breezes, no matter if they’re slight or stiff. This is just a fact of life for camera microphones.

Solid-quality stills for the most part, superior videos (beyond the wind-tunnel noise from the stereo mics), a nice touch interface, 3D capability, built-in GPS and a big, beautiful screen—the TX100V seems like a winner. And it is — except for that 3.5-inch OLED display. We’d easily give this camera an Editor’s Choice award other than the fact the screen was almost unusable in the bright Florida sunshine. Granted, this is a tough test, but it didn’t hold up as we were walking on a pier around noon, and this was the case even with panel brightness cranked all the way to maximum. In other less severe instances, the screen still wiped out, and we had to bring it in close, using our body as a shade. This was a real disappointment for what could have been an outstanding digicam. Right now, it’s just very good but be prepared for those screen issues.

    16.2-megapixel CMOS imager
    Outstanding 1080p videos
    Beautiful but frustrating 3.5-inch touch screen
    Great styling, even in red


    Screen wipes out in strong sunshine
    Background Defocus effects are minimal
    Mics do not handle wind well

HTC Rezound hands-on first impressions

Our hands-on impressions of the newly unveiled HTC Rezound for Verizon. With great Beats Audio support, LTE, and a sweet camera, this could be setting HTC up for a win.

HTC just announced and officially revealed the HTC Rezound for Verizon (though we saw a leaked image the other day). Blessed as we are, we were able to attend the New York City event and spend some hands-on time with what is now the third great option for Android owners hunting for a Verizon phone this holiday season. The Rezound is comparable to the best of them, running on a 1.5GHz dual-core processor, 1GB of RAM, a 720p HD screen, 4G LTE connectivity, and containing 32GB of combined memory (half internal, half microSD). More importantly though, it packs in Beats by Dr. Dre support and the expansive camera features of the HTC Amaze as well as some cool video features, like slow motion.

In our limited time with the device, we found it to be a great new entrant into the 4G LTE race this holiday. The body design is a lot like the original Droid Incredible, with red trim, haptic navigation buttons and interior. When you take off the backplate of this phone, it’s all red. There’s no reason why a phone should look great under the hood, but it’s always nice when a phone maker puts that extra effort in. The screen measures 4.3 inches and has a full 720p HD resolution like the Galaxy Nexus. The only downside is that HTC still relies on LCD technology, so this screen won’t be quite as vivid as the Droid Razr or Galaxy Nexus, which both use AMOLED technology. Video looked quite crisp on it. It’s hard to imagine that we now have phones that have higher resolutions than a lot of laptops. The thickness of the Rezound won’t set any records, but it’s certainly not too large at just over half-an-inch thick.
Beats Audio

HTC didn’t have the earbuds included with the device on display, but we got to listen to audio on a pair of full-size Beats headphones. You can toggle the Beats audio enhancing technology on and off. There’s definitely a noticeable bump in audio quality from nothing to Beats. We will have to test this out compared to other phones to really know how much of an improvement Beats makes, but it’s doing something. Other than Beats, none of the audio software or services appear to be different. HTC has its own music app, but the experience is still no where near as nice as the Zune interface on a Windows Phone or the iPhone. Still, for Android, this is a step up. If only it had native support for podcasts. Then we’d be pumped.

We didn’t have a chance to actually test the 8MP rear camera much, but it’s full of features. You can add filters to your photos, take panorama shots, and do a whole bunch of things that you probably won’t ever need or want to do — but you can, which is all that matters. The slow motion video and instant video effects are cool new features. Mostly, it appears that this camera will be on par with the T-Mobile MyTouch 4G Slide and HTC Amaze 4G, two recent HTC phones that have some of the best cameras on mobile. The iPhone 4S may still rival this device and the Galaxy Nexus supposedly has a fast shutter speed, but HTC’s camera is near instant, snapping pictures quickly and more accurately in low light than a lot of smartphones, or point-and-shoots, for that matter.
Battery Life?

We don’t know anything on battery life and HTC completely neglected to bring it up, which may not be a good sign. The device has a 1,620mAh battery, but it’s hard to say how much juice it sucks up. Motorola touted the long battery life of the Droid Razr. Hopefully this device can hold up better than the HTC ThunderBolt.

Overall, this is the same basic phone as the Droid Razr and Galaxy Nexus (minus Android 4.0; HTC promises that it will deliver the new version of Android by the beginning of 2012). The benefits here are a great camera, and solid sound and headphones. With so few phones taking audio seriously, this should give HTC a serious edge. The Rezound hits Verizon on Nov. 14 for $299 with a two-year contract.

AMD’s new CEO cuts 1,400 jobs

AMD's new CEO Rory Read has made his first major move: he's chopping 1,400 jobs - about 12% of AMD"s workforce - to cut costs.

Back when former Lenovo exec Rory Read took over the president and CEO position at AMD last August, industry watchers were wondering what his first moves would be to shore up the company’s finances and head towards profitability. Now Read is making his first move, announcing the company plans to cut 1,400 jobs as part of a cost-cutting restructuring. The positions represent about 12 percent of AMD’s total workforce.

“Reducing our cost structure and focusing our global workforce on key growth opportunities will strengthen AMD’s competitiveness and allow us to aggressively pursue a balanced set of strategic activities designed to accelerate future growth,” said Read, in a statement.

AMD is the world’s second-largest maker of PC microprocessors—albeit far behind industry titan Intel, which commands roughly 80 percent of the market. AMD’s recent quarters have been hurt by manufacturing delays as well as overall weakness in the computer market: although consumers and businesses are embracing mobile and tablet devices, that enthusiasm has increasing come at the expense of traditional notebook, desktop, and server systems—the PC market is still expanding, just at a much slower pace than in previous years. And, like Intel, AMD has yet to make a real dent in the market for mobile processors, which so far is almost completely dominated by chips based on ARM designs.

The job cuts follow on previous layoffs in 2008 and 2009 that saw the company part ways with more than 3,000 employees.

AMD expects the new round of job cuts will be spread across “all functions globally” and by complete by the end of the first quarter of 2012. AMD says it expects the cuts will save it about $200 million in 2012 alone, although the restructuring will also cost it about $105 million in 2011 and 2012 due to employee severance and termination of contractual commitments.