Chromecast – a household hit

Ok; I was skeptical about the Google Chromecast. When it was released in the states I didn’t immediately bite (despite it being cheap enough to import). I’m mainly an iOS user (and fan) and so I wasn’t sure I’d get enough use out of a wifi HDMI dongle that presumably might see most support on Android.

But I was kinda wrong.

The device doesn’t really do anything I couldn’t already achieve through other means, be it wired connections or whatever. But there’s a certain cool factor to being able to control what’s on your television with your smart device and my kids have seemingly bought into it big time. I found it hard to wrestle my iPhone away from my youngest today once she got used to loading up various childrens content from BBC iPlayer and when she did give me my phone back it was to swap for the Google Nexus 7 that offered the same functionality of controlling her content from the sofa.

My eldest also found it very cool and it prompted her to download a few apps to her Moto G to take proper advantage of the device.

As for me? I tried casting some sports from Google Chrome via the BT Sport website last night (after installing the Google Cast extension) but found the sound cut out from the transmission. Maybe it’s a Microsoft Silverlight issue as I found various Adobe Flash content streamed just fine (BBC News, YouTube, etc). I read that when casting from the Chrome browser to use the lower bitrate 720p setting but I found the highest 720p setting worked just fine; there was no difference between the slightly jerky frame rate I was viewing on the television (but obviously the picture quality looked a little better).

Overall, I think the device is worth buying and I really hope developers adopt it wholeheartedly. I’m very tempted to go do some tinkering with it myself… :)

Hearthstone

So, after hearing a lot of people rave about Hearthstone recently I decided to give the game a go. I kinda like it!

It’s been described as a perfect lunchtime-type of game; even though I’m not sure I’d get favourable looks playing this in the middle of the office (even on lunch break), it is a very good “quick 10min” type of game.

Given time is at a premium more than ever these days, these are the type of games I see myself playing for the foreseeable future.

If you want to add me to your friends list, I’m “coderkind” on Hearthstone :)

Xbox None

Today I managed to attend one of the Xbox One tour events near Liverpool Street in London. Despite not being entirely convinced by the Xbox One online previews so far, I was looking forward to seeing it in real life as I’ve gotten a lot of enjoyment out of the Xbox 360s I’ve owned (when they haven’t RROD‘d on me). However, I’m now surer than ever that I won’t be picking one up at launch or for some time after.

Ignoring most of the problems that have beset the launch of the Xbone so far, there are a couple of areas I really feel need highlighting. Firstly, pre or post NSA scandal, the idea of a camera permanently mounted in my living room potentially recording my family isn’t something YOU could pay ME to install, yet alone me shell out £430 for the privilege. I know Microsoft have said you can operate the console without the kinect and that some third parties are launching privacy covers, but from what I’ve read the kinect is so essential to the Xbone experience I’m sure using one without a kinect is likely to be a frustrating experience.

Secondly, “resolutiongate” is annoying. Really annoying. Considering I started off gaming on the NES and have nearly always owned the latest of Nintendo’s home (and handheld) consoles, I have grown accustomed to Nintendo’s focus on gameplay over graphics.  I’m not saying I always like it (the Wii and Wii U have been underpowered) but they drew a technological line in the sand a long time ago which everyone now is more willing to accept (or go elsewhere). However, I expect Microsoft and Sony to play by different rules; to charge a financial premium to deliver a visual premium.

The fact that in late 2013 Microsoft is launching a console for £430 that struggles to reach a consistent native 1080p is borderline insulting. Microsoft established 720p as a visual gaming norm eight years ago when they launched the Xbox 360. A lot has happened since then; both in technological terms and in customer’s expectations. Sure, there’ll be better lighting effects and more going on at any one time on-screen (not necessarily a good thing, but that’s an aside) but we’re now living in a retina/HiDPI age and selling a new product with old visual capabilities doesn’t sound like a good deal. I haven’t owned a desktop PC for some years but I bet you could probably buy one now for half the price of an Xbox One and expect to get 1080p from the games. No one wants to buy new tech and not feel impressed by what they’ve spent a lot of money on.

The argument that “720p is enough” doesn’t really wash as we fast approach 2014. Most experts agree that you can’t really notice the difference between 720p and 1080p on a 32 inch television or smaller but I’m not convinced 32 inches standard-DPI is the norm any longer in a lot of people’s living rooms and we’re seeing HiDPI hit laptop, tablet and smartphone markets hard. Is Microsoft really planning for no further advance in resolution over the Xbox One’s lifespan? The advance is already happening and has been for years; higher resolutions aren’t something on the horizon.

Back to my time with the console today; I’m not saying the Xbox One looked bad, as the demos I experienced were visually attractive. But notably all the games at the Xbox One tour today were on small-to-medium sized televisions. I wondered if this was to minimise any resolutiongate scrutiny. While the graphics were an improvement I wouldn’t say it was a day-and-night difference between itself and the Xbox 360. To me, there wasn’t a next-generational jump in quality. That certainly was the case from a gameplay perspective; most games felt like attractive tech demos, but to an extent you’d expect that with launch software on most platforms (with Nintendo perhaps proving an exception).

The Xbox One controller has been attracting a fair amount of praise and I understand it’ll take a little time for folk to get used to the new feel, but a few things bugged me about it. It felt narrower in the hand and the edges felt a little sharper whereas I like the curved feel of the 360 controller. The analogue sticks felt more precise; perhaps more akin to those on the PS3 joypad, but again I wouldn’t say I preferred the feel as they felt less forgiving and harder. I’m also not sold on the new d-pad. As a fighting game player I felt especially aggrieved at how bad the d-pad was on the 360 controller, but while the new d-pad feels better I still wouldn’t call it brilliant. It’s very flat against the body of the pad and I feel a lot of fellow fighting game players would’ve preferred a little more feedback from their digital inputs.

Talking of controls; Microsoft had Killer Instinct at the event and yet no arcade sticks to play the game with! The game was very popular with those at the event and it would’ve gone a long way to sell the title (and console) had they shelled out to have the game hooked up to proper arcade controls.

While Killer Instinct was good it certainly wasn’t any Super Street Fighter IV; in fact I thought the most impressive title at the event was FIFA 14, and yet I was mostly impressed that the next gen version of this series ran smoother with a little more visual polish rather than show anything I know to be impossible on any current generation console.

Other than all that *deep breath*, the Xbox One is a chunky monkey (very boxy) and seemed to run quite hot (after resting my hand on top of one of the display units). I certainly wouldn’t call it a “sexy” bit of kit and I’d imagine a year or so down the line we’ll see a sleeker version. By that time I’m sure the games will start to prove themselves too.

It’ll be interesting to see how the Xbox One sells during the first six months. Nintendo’s Wii U has attracted a lot of criticism following poor sales and yet if I were to buy any of the three next generation consoles this Christmas it’d be the Wii U (based off the strength of their games). Having said that, Sony have appeared quietly confident throughout each pre-launch setback Microsoft have suffered; punters will find out soon enough if there’s good reason for that or whether they’ve nothing to really shout about.

The Link (by PhreakMods)

I’ve been intrigued by KickStarter for a while, so when I read various members of the fighting game community (FGC) mention The Link, I knew it was something I’d consider buying into.

The project was run by Clayton (also known as Phreakazoid on phreakmods.com), who I heard about a fair few times so was confident the work would be good. The detachable joystick shaft modification aims to enable folk who use large joysticks to easily get those large joysticks in a bag and carry them around (as usually the non-removable joystick shaft protrudes from the joystick base). A side benefit being that The Link enables you to easily switch between ball or bat top joystick tops, so considering I’m still trying to get comfortable using a stick I found this very beneficial.

The mod to my Qanba Q4RAF took a little over an hour, as I wanted to switch over the metal base plate in the stick to a 6-button foundation at the same time. I didn’t really need any instructions in installing The Link (always a good sign) and after putting everything back together and taking the stick online I can happily report it does a great job. I don’t notice any difference between the original Sanwa JLF shaft and replacement Link and now I have all the benefits that come with the mod.

You can see a quick video of it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kCJbm2EuCL8

Happy :)

Flash detect scripting

As Flash seemingly continues to suffer in terms of… well, everything I guess, a recent trip highlighted once again the widespread problems that remain on a number of sites when it comes to Flash detection.

I was asked Flash-detect questions on a few occasions by family and friends relating to either Flash being downloadable on tablets (which is now largely impossible) or whether the quick flash of “you don’t have Flash” text that sometimes appears on computers before a detection script kicks-in and displays Adobe Flash content was something they needed to be worried about. The latter case was a particularly bad example of where Flash was used to display seating arrangements in the middle of an online booking process and therefore the person making the booking wasn’t sure what the “you don’t have Flash” text was initially, or if it was something they needed to be concerned about before entering their credit card details.

I’d like to see more sites audit their detection scripts to take into account where the Flash plug-in is in mid-2013. Offering a download option where there is none is a horrible dead-end for those without experience of Flash and its history across devices.