DVD rot in action

This pisses me off…I just lost my second DVD to the little-known phenomenon that is DVD rot. Most people don’t even know it exists but my Terminator Special Edition succumbed a couple of years ago and I just tried to watch Silence of the Lambs only for it to start skipping less than half an hour in. It can’t be coincidence that they’re both MGM special editions released around the same time.

There are varying stories regarding what causes it but from what I can tell the consensus seems to be that it’s to do with the adhesive that holds the disc layers together failing/oxidising/being shit. That doesn’t seem to fit with my experience however, which is that the actual surface of the disc goes foggy as if someone someone had breathed on it (click the image for a bigger version to really see what I mean). It’s only when you notice that it doesn’t wipe off and that it feels slightly rough to touch that you realise that you’re going to be rebuying that movie. Just for the record they’re stored in the same place as the rest of my 350+ DVDs, all of which are perfectly fine.

I managed to blag a free replacement of The Terminator when that happened (bought a new one from HMV, swapped discs over, took the rotted ones back for a refund) but my version of Silence of the Lambs is OOP. Thankfully CD Wow still have it in stock for £6.99 so I’m hardly breaking the bank to replace it.

The moral of the story? Check your MGM DVDs and back those bastards up.

Oblivion First Impressions

I couldn’t let a 360 game as big as this go by without giving some impressions now, could I? Just as The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind hit the Xbox a few months after launch, the sequel does the same thing to the 360 in an infinitely bigger way. Bigger in every way, in fact. So big that I’m just giving some first impressions since I can’t hope to capture it with only a few hours of play.

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

The first thing I need to say is that I didn’t like Morrowind at all. I tried it, but after a couple of hours I could tell that it wasn’t the sort of thing I was up for pouring hour upon hour into. I honestly can’t remember why since it was so long ago, but whatever it was Oblivion hasn’t suffered from the same thing so far. It’s much the same in that it opens slightly slowly – this time with a slog through a dungeon – but once you get into the spectacular overworld the sense of awe is up there with when I first played Shenmue.

It’s kind of strange in that it’s a very deep and customisable RPG that plays somewhat like an FPS crossed with an MMORPG, but it works in making the combat feel involved and allowing the player to feel a part of the adventure. I’m sure everyone reading this is familiar with that feeling in any RPG of finding a new and bustling town to explore, and I spent most of the time in Oblivion experiencing that. I don’t want to spoil the early story, but suffice it to say that there’s a fairly early moment which goes up there with that infamous scene of Sephiroth in Nibelheim for me, and overall I’m certainly enjoying it as much as can be hoped with a swords and sorcery RPG. As much as I like Lord of the Rings I’m not often too big on playing it.

I’m going to be writing something slightly more in-depth for a first impressions feature over on Pro-G early next week, so keep an eye out for that.

Sega Revolution

I’ve got a nagging suspicion that in all the furore over who’s going to come out on top between Sony and Microsoft, Nintendo could be the ones who are going to steal the show at E3. GDC has brought plenty of good news like the story that the PS3 will be region free for games, but even that has been overshadowed by the fact that the Revolution will play Mega Drive games.

While Microsoft and Sony are fighting each other to get through the front door Nintendo are silently slipping themselves in through the back with fantastic news after fantastic news. The DS has shown that the unique inputs can power the games, Twilight Princess will be on it, and it’ll launch with a library of thousands from at least five great systems. I remember when I first saw the controller and thought Nintendo had finally lost it, but I’m starting to turn around very quickly. With this and PS3 launching around the same time I may end up having to choose which one to get first, and at the moment it’s not going to be much of a choice.

It’s slightly ironic of course that Sega’s best chance at attaining major console success is to have all their games on a Nintendo machine. Ten years ago I wouldn’t have believed that Sonic would be on a Nintendo console, let alone that all their Mega Drive games would be on one.

Logitech Harmony 525 Impressions

Logitech Harmony 525

The need for a universal remote became apparent to me recently because when I’m juggling so many devices it’s a real pain to change all the inputs and switch everything on with five different remotes, but research taught me that they can be really expensive if you want one with the ability to do more than switch between the TV and VCR.

Well I just bought the Logitech Harmony 525, the cheapest of the Harmony series which can be had a little under £50. It lacks the colour screen (a real necessity on a remote control), favourite channel memory, rechargeable battery/dock, motion sensor, and extra buttons of the more expensive models but otherwise is functionally identical. Plus it has one of those snazzy blue backlights of which I’m such a fan.

The aesthetics and build quality are acceptable for the price, if a bit creaky sometimes, but what I really like about these remotes are how they’re set up and keep the functionality updated. The remote connects to a computer (Windows or OS X) via USB and setup is done through the Logitech site. It asks you to select the make and model of all the devices that you want it to control – if it has an IR port, chances are it’ll be compatible – and then makes programming macros (called “activities” here) almost automatic.

Without me doing anything it had set up hotkeys to watch TV, watch a DVD, listen to a CD, play the 360, play the PS2, and watch a Laserdisc, and any of these could be tweaked further. The programs are just downloaded straight to the remote and it’s ready to go. Almost. Mine had some problems changing to the correct inputs because the TV requires you to either go through a menu system or press a button to cycle through inputs, but will skip certain ones if nothing active is connected to them, meaning that the number of button presses to a certain input is rarely the same. A little digging around showed that the TV actually does have IR commands that skip straight to a certain input that aren’t present on the standard remote, so with a bit of testing I programmed those in and it works perfectly now. It was also set by default to send a stop command to the DVD player before switching it off which would stop it saving my place in the movie, so that needed solving too.

Something that gets the thumbs up from me is that it’s infinitely better laid out than the horribly convoluted remote that came with my DVD player, which still has me pressing the wrong buttons two months after I got it. It does a great job of acting exactly how you’d expect it to, switching inputs and button functions and turning devices on and off when they’re needed. It’s very intuitive, and can all be customised if you want to change the default functions. I’ve also heard great things about the free support line, but I (thankfully?) haven’t had the need to use them.

If you’re a perfectionist it can take a while to get them set up exactly how you want, but the setup process is one of the best I’ve seen for a remote, and it’s superb once it’s working right. Definitely recommended.

Podcasts Redux

I realised something the other day – having started with podcasts around a year ago (I first posted about them when iTunes added support), I now spend more time listening to podcasts than I do watching TV, with well over ten hours of podcasts dropping into iTunes every week and barely four hours of TV holding my attention every week. That’s pretty unbelievable to me, but I guess the fact that I can get cool shows on stuff that really interests me is very appealing.

Anyway, I thought I’d list a selection of my favourites so that people can give them a try and share some of theirs. I need to feed this addiction.

  • Gaming Steve – I had to start with a gaming one, right? This is simply the best video game podcast out there, which is often extremely long (he frequently breaks two hours), but Steve is a great talker who knows his stuff. He also gets really good interviews and exhaustive previews.
  • this WEEK in TECH – Hosted by Leo Laporte and friends as well as guest panellists, TWiT is just a chat about the latest technology developments and is always good fun. One of the most popular podcast on the Internet.
  • Best of Moyles – A weekly half-hour of the best bits from Radio 1 DJ Chris Moyles’ show. Usually great if you like Moyles (I know a lot of people who don’t).
  • Hometown Tales – Urban legends, ghost stories, and just general weirdness from around the world. It’s all based on a popular public access show and makes for entertaining listening.
  • MacCast – Probably the best podcast out there for Apple fans. Commentary on news as well as tips and occasional interviews.
  • Mark Kermode’s Film Reviews – The weekly movie reviews from Mark Kermode, taken from Five Live every Friday. Kermode knows his stuff and there’s a lot of amusing banter.
  • The Dawn and Drew Show – Daily random and often crude (in a good way) chat with a married couple from Wisconsin. It’s good fun and episodes 268 and 269 are actually an interview with them done by me.
  • Inside The Magic – The first podcast I ever listened to, and since the one year anniversary is this week it also marks a year since I started listening to podcasts. It’s a weekly show with Disneyworld and general Disney news, and comes with a lot of good behind-the-scenes information, especially about new rides and overhauls.
  • The Onion Radio News – One minute a day with a story taken from the awesomeness that is the satirical “news” paper The Onion. If you’ve never been there you should take a look because they frequently come out with classics such as this.
  • UK DVD Review – Ten minutes a week on the latest UK DVD releases from a guy with an unhealthy Battlestar Galactica obsession. He takes full credit for personally getting me into the show so he deserves a place on here just for that.

So does anyone else listen to any good podcasts? Let’s have some recommendations.

Burnout Revenge 360

£50 for a six month old PS2/Xbox game is a bit of a joke to be fair, but I never bought Burnout Revenge on an older console and I traded in that Perfect Dark shite for it, so it was a bit more bearable. While it’s debatable whether or not it’s worth getting otherwise for the moderate graphical update (that’s not so much anything against the 360 version as a big endorsement of the graphical prowess of the Xbox one), what you have here is a rollicking game that’s huge fun in online multiplayer.

Burnout Revenge

The graphics first of all, since I don’t think there’s anyone who hasn’t played a Burnout. The update is a lot less cynical than, for example, the 360 port of NFS Most Wanted, and actually puts the hardware to pretty good use. On an HDTV the game looks absolutely fantastic – 60fps (almost) all the way, blindingly fast, sparks flying everywhere, and it all means that the spectacular crashes that the series is known for can look painfully real. The sound is just as impressive, giving great positional audio through a 5.1 system as well as tons of bass that helps out during boosting and crashing. The weak link is probably the music which is mostly pop-punk-rock crap, but admittedly it suits the fast but fairly brainless action well.

World Tour mode provides a decent amount of gameplay and enough variety to make it worthwhile, but in my opinion it’s over Xbox Live that this comes into its own. PGR3 was great with friends, but this is an absolute riot where, best of all, you won’t be accused of cheating if you “accidentally” happen to nudge someone into a tunnel wall. It’s encouraged, and with rivalries saved persistently so that the game will warn you if you end up racing against someone you took out months ago it becomes delightfully competitive against people you play regularly.

Just to take the sheen off it, there seems to be an annoying bug with joining online games that can be frustrating. More than once with different hosts I’ve tried to play with a group of friends and at least one of us has been constantly kicked without explanation several times before managing to connect for any length of time. Once they’re in it’s usually fine, but it’s still a major annoyance and I remember similar issues with Burnout 3 on Xbox Live when I bought that.

Bugs aside, this makes me want to see how the inevitable Burnout built from the ground up on the next-gen machines is going to look, because for what is supposed to be a relatively simple port this almost looks like a whole new game. Criterion’s mastery of Renderware apparently translates very well. Whether or not it’s worth the money depends on whether or not you played it last September, but it’s still as great a game as ever.