Category Archives: Tech

A Toe in the HD-Pond

Look what I got in the post yesterday!

My First HD DVDs

Yes, there’s a few weeks before the Xbox 360’s HD DVD drive comes out to say hello but I wanted to get these purchases out of the way before I’m buried under a deluge of new games. Serenity is an obvious choice and when I first saw HD DVD I was blown away by the video quality in The Last Samurai. Batman Begins is on the way across the Atlantic as we speak (can’t wait to see those beautiful glaciers in HD), and when you add in King Kong I’ve got a nice early library.

I won’t comment on the mental health implications of buying discs that I currently have no way of playing. Surely I’m not the only one who’s done it? In any case there’s a format war to be won this time and I’ve done my part to ensure victory for the HD DVD format. Take that, Blu-Ray!

Dual-Boot PSP

Yesterday’s news that a downgrader for the 2.71 PSP had been released was greeted with enthusiasm by a lot of people who had been keeping their PSPs updated since updating your PSP to play PSP games seems like a contradiction in terms at the moment. I know I bought three new ones in Japan but I wouldn’t call any of them essential.

So I jumped on this new bandwagon and, risking a brick, downgraded my PSP to 1.5 again. It worked fine – although the fact that it only initiates without crashing a tenth of the time is disconcerting – and set about using a handful of hacks to turn my PSP into a dual-boot machine. I can now choose whether to boot into 1.5 (for homebrew) or 2.71 (for new games) depending on where I have my wi-fi switch when turning it on.

I seriously recommend using the combination of Devhook and Harleyg’s Custom Firmware to do this with a PSP. You get the ability to play all the latest games on 2.71 and use great stuff like ScummVM on 1.5, all within the same PSP. It might actually get me using the thing regularly, even if the battery is still rubbish. How many other systems can give the double frustration of Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts and Ultimate Ghosts ‘n Goblins? It’s violence guaranteed!


I came across these earlier and they just make me laugh. The standard DS looks pretty crappy now that its svelte little brother is available, so what better way is there for it to fight back than some mech armour for it? As mad as they are it looks pretty badass and you know it could kick the crap out of a DS Lite in a fight.

If you want more take a look at some contest designs here, all of which are fairly ludicrous apart from number 8 which looks like the designer couldn’t be bothered and just stuck a load of shit to it. Genius!

Tronix Rules

I wanted a Quick Charge Kit for my 360 because the Play & Charge kind of defeats the object of the wireless controller and was getting on my nerves, but since it’s not out here I decided to jump online and import one from the US. I’d heard of Tronix as a great resource for US imports way back when I used to read EGM circa 1998 but had never used them so I gave them a shot.

Now how’s this for service? I placed my order at 8pm on Wednesday, and on Friday morning I got a knock at the door where the FedEx man was waiting to hand me a package containing my Quick Charge Kit. A turnaround of 40 hours or so for an order from the States is bloody impressive, especially since there are UK retailers that wouldn’t get it to me that fast.

What’s more, they’d marked it as a promotional product without me having to ask which meant no import duty (it was probably within the allowance anyway, but you can never be too careful), and it cost me £20.21 for the thing plus FedEx shipping. When it eventually gets released here we’re probably talking £19.99 or £24.99 anyway. Kudos to them, and they have my hearty recommendation for anyone looking to import a US game. Unless you’re already in the US, in which case that would be silly.

As a side note, the Quick Charge is much better than the Play & Charge, even if you’ve already bought the old kit. I now don’t need to ever wire my controller and always have a fresh battery ready to go. Joy!

Logitech Z-5400

Logitech Z-5400

I’ve got a decent TV, a decent DVD player, and decent cables connecting everything into it, but the slightly incongruous link is my sound system, an Interact DSS-900, which has served me well enough for a few years but just isn’t that great. It only cost me as much as three of the digital coaxial cables that I use though, so I suppose it’s been good value.

It’s been loud enough to annoy my parents on a regular basis (late night Call of Duty 2 is a particular sore point) but it only supports Dolby Digital and Dolby Pro Logic II which has left DTS on DVDs inaccessible and it doesn’t have a remote which means that even with my lovely Harmony I have to get up to turn it off with the rest of the system unless I want a low hum 24/7.

Anyway, with a student loan to blow I decided it was time for an upgrade, so I went for the Logitech Z-5400. It has a remote and supports DTS which is two of the criteria down immediately, it’s more powerful and so can keep family members awake even more effectively, and it has support for seven devices at once (up from three) while negating the need to flick an optical/coaxial switch hidden away on the back when I want to change between DVD and 360. At a shade under £150 I’d say it’s even better value than the £100 spent on the old one, and just look at the white-on-black LCD. Look at it. That’s worth the money alone. Continue reading Logitech Z-5400

HD-DVD Impressions

Serenity on HD-DVD

The first HD-DVD players on the market, Toshiba’s HD-A1 and HD-XA1, have been out for a couple of weeks in the US now, and although they’re not due for release here until the autumn I’ve just been to see the HD-A1 in action. A friend got one off eBay ($800 including shipping!) so I went to his house to check it out.

While I wouldn’t pay that much, I’ve been considering importing for a couple of weeks since the early players are apparently region free, but also because that old trick of swapping out the $ for £ when setting prices has reared its ugly head again according to HDTV UK. $499 is £285: £214 ($375) less than the UK RRP. Disgusting, even for Serenity and Batman Begins in HD.

But holy crap, HD-DVD looks amazing. Obviously it looks sharper and more detailed than DVD since this is 1080p video (I saw it in 1080i), but what impressed me equally was how fantastic the colours were. It just looks colourful and vivid with a real three-dimensional quality to the picture. No artifacting that I could see either, even during scenes that push DVD like the rainy scenes in The Last Samurai. The landscapes in that movie were absolutely beautiful on DVD, and it was just accentuated in HD.

The menu system is especially cool. After the ubiquitous copyright messages and a good HD-DVD promo (including HD footage of The Matrix, amongst others) Samurai goes straight into the movie – no main menu. Pressing the menu button displays the options for scene selection, languages, and extras along the bottom, and they can be fiddled with while the movie continues uninterrupted in the background. Serenity’s slide out from the left very much like the Xbox 360 guide. Very slick.

The main thing that’s keeping me from getting on board immediately is the hardware. Besides the fact that it has the most godawful remote on the planet which becomes indecipherable in anything less than direct sunlight, the HD-A1 takes around 30 seconds to go from standby to actually playing the movie which is something that will inevitably be improved with future hardware generations. The other thing is that it’s pretty much the same size as my LaserDisc player despite only playing standard 12cm optical discs. Annoying that the only obstacle to HD bliss is my lack of space, but I suppose I’m going to succumb to a moment of credit card-induced monetary inhibition before too long.