My Programs Updated + iPod HiFi

Written by rob on February 28, 2006 – 7:38 pm -

I finally found my “Dell Files” CD, which is the CD where all the files from my old Dell computer were on. That included a lot of the old things I did in Visual Basic. Anyway, I updated the My Programs page (previously My Games) with a few of the projects I did a few years ago. Most notable is the Pong game, which is a recreation of the old game Pong. The difficulty levels in that game are terrible, though. Easy is too easy, and Hard is too hard. Medium is easy if you know what you’re doing. Also, the Jeopardy program is pretty cool. I recommend you check that out. The other two I added are less-than-stellar.

On a completely different side note, Apple today announced the iPod HiFi, their liberally priced speaker set for the iPod. I’m not going to simply restate other articles. If you want to know more about it, go either to Apple’s site or to MacMinute’s report of the news. My personal opinion: trash. For $349, you can get the Bose speakers and have $50 left to buy a game or something. We all know Bose is the king of audio quality, and TheRegister reviewed the Bose speakers, saying they were the greatest thing since sliced bread. Considering the fact that most mp3’s on iPods are 128 kbps (probably no more than 192 if you downloaded them from the iTunes Music Store or illegally), there is only so much quality you can get. I guarantee the Bose gets that peak quality, and then some. Even if the Apple’s is better, you probably won’t be able to notice it, unless of course you have a DVD-Audio source and have a 384 kbps or greater bitrate on your mp3. Furthermore, it is ugly. While Bose’s won’t win a beauty contest either, there are plenty of very elegant-looking iPod speaker systems available. The only thing remotely attractive about Apple’s offering is the fact that you can pick up and take the whole thing with you (a’la a boombox) thanks to its “D-cell battery”. And I will admit that it does include Apple’s sleek remote. We’ll see how the quality is, but I just can’t see it being worth $349.

Posted in General Stuff, Tech | 1 Comment »

Playstation 3 Outlook

Written by rob on February 23, 2006 – 5:04 pm -

There have been a bunch of articles this week describing Sony’s upcoming game console, the Playstation 3. Almost every single one of them has been negative: pushing back launch dates, officially cancelling previously-promised features, and also a hands-on take of the console that is, in the reviewer’s words, unremarkable. Playstation “poser fans” are quaking nervously, but the real fans remain hopeful, mostly considering the fact that beating the XBOX 360 isn’t going to be that difficult.

I discussed the alleged Fall (September 16, 2006 for US is the unofficial take at this point) release in a previous post, which is contrary to Sony’s promise of a Spring release. A Sony executive recently denied any postponement of release, but a Spring 06 release is honestly looking doubtful at this point, unless Sony is keeping some serious news confidential from everyone. I honestly don’t believe the release date matters. As long as it delivers better performance and graphics than the 360, no one will care when it comes out. Though I must admit that if the Merrill Lynch estimates of a Q1 2007 release are correct, Sony may be in for trouble.

More notably than the pushed-back release date, however, was the report Kikizo released regarding the PS3. They received hands-on experience with a device of comparable specs to the PS3 and tried out the early versions of many of the system’s upcoming games. Their conclusion is worrying at best, as they state: “Sony’s showings of PS3 to date have been seriously sexy. But the reality, while still impressive, is nowhere near the leap beyond Xbox 360 Sony wants you to believe, and it seems many projects are still at an early enough stage for things to start getting a little worrying.” So, they are basically saying that the PS3’s Cell doesn’t meet expectations: fans expected it to blow the 360’s measly dual-core processor out of the water. My take on this is simple: either the developers are not fully taking advantage of the multi-threaded nature of the Cell, or the early versions of the games played are buggy in terms of performance. I simply refuse to draw any real conclusions based on some review of beta hardware and software. In short, PS3 will be better than the 360; that is not really the question. Rather, it is more of a matter of how much better it will be. This article seems to think that it won’t be that much better graphically or speed-wise, but I tend to think first-party games especially, when they are finished, will use the Cell to its advantage and tear the 360 to shreds.

The Taipei Game Show I talked about in my previous post (where I incorrectly cited the date) has come and gone, and still no real PS3 footage. This is surprisingly to me, as I really expected to at least see some real-time content from a real Playstation 3, or at least something close to one. This leads me to believe that there are indeed hardware issues that will take time to resolve. However, one must consider if Sony is just playing a really smart game. While it would be ignorant to believe the PS3 will release in Spring 06 and knock the socks off everyone in all of its glory, it would also be ignorant to dismiss the theory that Sony may be purposely witholding information. Hype is generally bred by suspense, and Sony’s lack of official statements surrounding the PS3 may just be their way of letting the hype germinate. Many companies have been known to purposely withold their biggest surprises, mostly because the unanimous wows when the official info comes out are enough to get even the most uninterested person to contemplate putting the product on their Christmas list. If Sony is playing the public will be seen soon enough, and I think it would be a brilliant move on their part if my speculations are true.

Today, more news has surfaced, though it isn’t directly related to the Playstation 3. Official documents from Sony have been leaked regarding a possible God of War sequel. The insanely popular original God of War was one of the best action-adventure games I have ever played, due mostly to its cool use of Greek mythology. The ending of the original, which I will not spoil here, definitely left room for a sequel, and let’s just say it would be an awesome sequel. If you beat the game you will know what I mean. Anyway, the “official documents” that were leaked were summarized by 1UP. The jist of their article is “The sequel’s allegedly coming in early 2007…on PS2.” The early 2007 (February) part is nothing to be wowed about, but the fact that it will be released on Playstation 2 is troubling, and this is where this revelation ties back to PS3. Games don’t usually get released on an “old” system any later than six months after the release of a “new” one. So, games shouldn’t be coming out on PS2 six months after PS3 is released, especially not high-profile ones like God of War. This leads me to believe that the PS3 launch date will indeed be later than the Spring. Also, I would like to note that company “leaks” are often media ploys, and are purposefully done by the company. Perhaps this God of War 2 leak is yet another chapter of Sony’s Machiavellian plan to dominate the console market. Or maybe it is just a leak.

The conclusion of all my above babbling is one of mystery: when it all comes down to it, no one really knows anything real about the Playstation 3. Whether it will be leaps and bounds above the XBOX 360, or when it will be released, are all questions that will never be answered fully until Sony officially states it. When they actually will is up for debate, but I would become very worried if nothing official is released at this year’s E3. Only time will tell…

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Top Ten Games

Written by rob on February 20, 2006 – 12:57 am -

I have decided to, if only for my own referential purposes, compile a list of what I believe to be the best ten games ever created. The order is extremely temporary, as I find it hard to compare games that I have played years apart from each other. For example, I can hardly remember the feeling that I got when playing Goldeneye 007 five or six years ago. And don’t even get me started with Super Nintendo and earlier; my memory just isn’t all that great.

The worst part of this whole list is that when I am playing a game I usually feel like it is incredible, even if it is only great. I guess the immersion into the game creates a superficial perfection. I thought Call of Duty 2 was one of the best PC games I’ve ever played while I was into it, but in retrospect I just can’t rank it alongside these games. It doesn’t even come close to Half-Life 2 (which isn’t even included) in terms of story or depth, and so I just can’t waste a valuable spot on it.

I would describe why I like each game, but for the sake of brevity I will not (at least not in this post). Furthermore, I just can’t explain why I like some of these games enough to put them in my top ten.

One final note is one about franchises. For example, Final Fantasy has about six or seven games that I really love. I only chose to list my favorite one here. If I were actually to count each one separately and rank them, the series would occupy about a third of this list. For that reason, I left out the other two that I really liked, but did list them next to the one that I consider my favorite, considering them honorable mentions. You will see what I mean when you read the below list. So, without further ado, here are the TOP TEN GAMES OF ALL TIME, in my opinion:

  1. Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty (honorable mention: Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater)
  2. Final Fantasy IX (honorable mention: Final Fantasy X-2, Final Fantasy VII)
  3. Baldur’s Gate 2: Shadows of Amn
  4. Xenosaga Episode III (Honorable Mention: Xenosaga Episode I)
  5. Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines
  6. Perfect Dark (honorable mention: Goldeneye 007)
  7. Suikoden III
  8. Madden NFL 07 (all of them are great, but I just went with the latest and greatest)
  9. Resident Evil IV
  10. Freedom Fighters

Expect copious edits to follow this initial release as I finish more games. I suppose I shall consider this version 1.0 of the list. EDIT (11-23-06): Some changes were made.

Posted in General Stuff | 2 Comments »

Playstation HUB & Possible Fall Release?

Written by rob on February 15, 2006 – 11:05 pm -

Speculation has today risen about what industry analysts are calling Sony’s XBOX-Live killer. When it comes to the current generation XBOX and PS2, there is no contest as to which is better in terms of online play: XBOX Live is simply better. Sony, however, is going to address that with their next-generation PS3, or at least that is the current buzz.

It seems that the new service will be called Playstation HUB. The name seems a little strange to me, like something alien-related, but whatever. The ambiguity of the name also leads many analysts to believe both the PSP and PS3 will be using this same network. The ability to chat with a PS3 online buddy of yours at any wireless hotspot with your PSP would definitely be cool. But more than just friends lists and the such, the most important aspect of an online service, and why XBOX Live is so popular, is the interface. Every game should be seemlessly integrated in a way that the online works the same way in all of them. I have a feeling Sony will definitely join the bandwagon with that, as their different-online-world-for-every-game model just isn’t cutting it.

Also, it seems, Sony is going to take things a bit further. After all, the objective is to beat XBOX, not copy it. They are allegedly going to integrate their Sony Connect service with this online HUB. For those who are unaware, Connect is Sony’s entrance into the ever-popular legal music (and now video) downloading industry that pretty much came out of nowhere in the last two years (thanks to the iPod+iTunes boom). No details or official statements have been made yet, but I suspect you will be able to purchase content on their store and store it on the PS3’s hard drive or memory card. The PS3 would then be able to play that, and the PSP would most likely then be able to receive the same downloaded content streamed from the console. This is of course all of my speculation, but it would definitely be pretty cool, especially combined with Sony’s Location-Free technology that would let you access the content from ANYWHERE that has internet access.

Again, all of this is speculation and none of it is really official yet. Time will reveal all, and I’m sure the upcoming (February 26th) Taipei Game Show will harbor much new PS3 info.

The HUB service is to debut in September of 2006, analysts predict. This leads them to belive the PS3 will be released around the same time in North America. Sounds good to me, as that Spring 06 number isn’t really seeming accurate at this point. I can’t wait. When the official release date does come out, expect to see a countdown right here on this site.

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Countdown to the Godfather Game

Written by rob on February 12, 2006 – 11:18 pm -

EDIT (03-03-06): Countdown applet removed because it slowed down the page’s load time.

This game is going to be incredible. It is said to be the most expensive video game ever created. EA is truly going all out to provide a HUGE open ended world. Think GTA, except with the Godfather’s expert story telling. You get to play a member of the Corleone family! How much better can you possibly get? The game is supposedly going to allow the player to choose how they want to play: intimidate or negotiate. I think we all know what we’re going to do, and let’s just say it doesn’t start with an “n”. The above countdown displays, down to the second, how much time remains before gamers everywhere can beat up bakers who forgot to pay for “protection”.

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iPod Video Conversion Part II: Subtitles & AviSynth

Written by rob on February 12, 2006 – 7:43 pm -

Note: A reader, cghera, pointed out that the program called Handbrake can automate this entire process. I recommend you give it a try. You can download the program here, and you can find the documentation here.

I have successfully figured out how to convert a video to iPod format and still keep the subtitles! I figured I would share this golden information with everyone else, since it took me so long to figure it out. I have been trying to do this ever since I got a PSP, and then a Video iPod. Neither device can understand subtitles in any format, so in order to have them you must embed them into the video itself. You see, DVDs have subtitles in a separate layer, completely separate from the video itself. That is why you can turn them on or off, or pick which language you want. Some movies have what are called “built-in subtitles”. For example, in Lord of the Rings the Elfish is translated to English at the bottom of the screen, whether you have subtitles on or not. If you were to convert your Lord of the Rings DVD to iPod version, those Elfish subtitles would still be there. So, the trick is making ALL the subtitles “built-in”. The key? A little program called AviSynth.

If you have a good memory, you will remember that when you installed the Videora iPod Converter it also installed something called AviSynth. That was one of the checkboxes you could turn on or off during the install. AviSynth is essentially a scripting language that you can use to edit videos. You use Notepad or any other text editor to edit these scripts, and then you use a separate program to actually interpret the script. MANY video programs today support AviSynth, as it is pretty much the most flexible and powerful video scripting platform available. Videora happens to also support it. You can write your script in notepad, save it as a .avs file, and then open that file in Videora as opposed to a video file (.avi, .vob, etc.). Videora automatically interprets the file, and then converts its output as if it was any other video.

Enough of the background information. Time to begin. You are going to need a few programs to follow this howto. For the sake of ease, you should probably just download them all now.

  1. Videora iPod Converter – This will install AviSynth as well as let you convert files to iPod format.
  2. SubRip – This will allow you to rip subtitle files out of .VOB files.
  3. DVD Decrypter – This is necessary to rip DVDs to your hard drive in the form of .VOB files.
  4. DGIndex – AviSynth unfortunately does not support .VOB files directly. You must run them through this first in order to make them compatible.
  5. BeLight – Necessary to convert .ac3 DVD audio files to .wav files readable by AviSynth, and makes sure they stay in sync.
  6. DirectVobSub – Used by AviSynth to actually show the subtitles.

Before we begin, open up My Computer and click on “Local Disk (C:)”. Now, right-click anywhere in the window that comes up and go to New, and then Folder. Name the folder “temp”. This will be the temporary folder we use to store all the in-between files that come before we can actually convert the video to iPod format.

The first thing you want to do is download and install DVD Decrypter. After it is installed, run it. In the menu bar, go to Mode and then IFO. Then go to Tools, Settings. In the box that comes up, go to the IFO Mode tab and where it says File Splitting, select None. Press OK to return to the program. Go to the Stream Processing tab, and enable Stream Processing. Uncheck all of the boxes except the main movie (should be the longest video there), the English language audio file (if there is more than one, go with the one that says 2ch). Now, here is the important part. Make sure you select the Subtitles stream you want (the language)! After these three things are selected, click the little folder under Destination. Browse to C:, and then the “temp” folder you created above. Now you can press the green arrow to begin. This will take about 8-25 minutes depending on the length of the movie and the speed of your CD drive.

Once the ripping process is complete, exit DVD Decrypter. Now it is time to download DGIndex. This program doesn’t actually have an installer program, so just decompress the ZIP file and run DGIndex.exe that is within the folder. In the menu bar, go to File, Open. Browse to C:, and then “temp”. You should see the ripped DVD file, which should be a single VOB file. Double-click it to open it. In the box that comes up, simply press OK. Now all you need to do in this program is go to Video, Field Operation, Forced Film. After that, just go to File, Save Project. It should already be in your temp folder, but if it is not you can browse to it now. Once you are in the right folder just press Save. DGIndex will then create a .d2v file which is able to be read from within AviSynth. This should take about three minutes.

DGIndex also separates the audio from the video and most of the time puts it in an .ac3 file. Open up My Computer and then browse to your C:/temp folder. There will be a file called something along the lines of “VTS_01_PGC_01_1 T01 48K 16bit 2ch”. It can be a variety of different things, but what you are really looking for is either an .ac3 or a .wav file. If it is .wav, you can skip to the next paragraph as you are ready to proceed. Otherwise, you have an .ac3 file. AviSynth unfortunately cannot read that, so we need to convert it. This is where BeLight comes in, so download that. Just like DGIndex, it has no install program so just uncompress and run the BeLight.exe. Press the Input button and browse to C:, and then temp. Select your .ac3 file. Select the WAV/PCM tab below the Output button. Make sure WAV, and 16-bits Stereo Wave are selected. You don’t have to change anything else, so just press the Start button. A black box with white text will come up that says transcoding… preceded by the current location in the movie. This process usually doesn’t take longer than five minutes. After it is done, close BeLight. You now have a video file and audio file compatible with AviSynth.

The next step is to actually get the subtitles out of the .VOB file. SubRip is the tool necessary to do this, so download that. Again, this has no installer, so uncompress and run SubRip.exe. Go to File, Open VOB(s). Press the Open IFO button. Browse to your temp directory and select the only file that will show up. This is the IFO file that is automatically made by DVD Decrypter (goes with VOB files). Open that up. Now, make sure that your desired language is selected under Language Stream. Now press Start. What SubRip will now do is what is called Optical Character Recognition (OCR). DVDs store subtitles as images, and not text. OCR converts the images to text so then you can specify your own font, etc. Just know that this will turn out much smoother than doing things any other way. The OCR will highly a letter (or multiple letters), and you need to type what they are. It is a lot of typing in the beginning. Make sure you type the right thing,or your subtitles will be messed up. After awhile, it will have all the information it needs and will finish OCRing the file. If you made a mistake, you can correct it by going to Character Matrix, Edit/View Characters Matrix. Anyway, when it is done I always like to go to Character Matrix, Save Character Matrix and save it to my temp folder. This is not necessary, but it ensures you’ll never have to redo the OCR process if something goes wrong later. To save the actual subtitle file we will use in AviSynth, goto File, Save As on the bottom (not the top window, but the bottom with black background and white text) menu bar. It will ask you the Font and Font Size. I keep the defaults, since Tahoma 10-point is nonobtrusive but easy to read. After you are satisfied with the font settings, press the Save button. Call the file subs, and make sure you save it in your temp folder. You can name it whatever you want, but you will have to change the AviSynth script to reflect the changes, so I don’t recommend it.

Now you have all three things you need to make the video: the video itself, the audio, and the subtitles. Now would be the time to install DirectVobSub. This program does have an installer, so just follow the steps until it is finished. It doesn’t install an actual program, but instead a plug-in for AviSynth we will soon use. So, now you can download and install Videora iPod Converter. Make sure you uncheck “Launch at startup”, and make sure that Avisynth is checked! That is the brains behind this entire operation. After it is installed, there is one last thing we need to do before we are ready to actually write the AviSynth script. Go into the folder where you uncompressed DGIndex (it is probably called DGMPGDec). There will be a file called DGDecode.dll. This is an AviSynth plug-in that we need to use. Right-click it, and select Copy. Now go to My Computer, C:, Program Files, and finally DirectVobSub. Right-click anywhere and select Paste. You should now see both DGDecode.dll and VSFilter.dll in this folder, in addition to the Uninstall program. We are now ready to write the script. I am going to take this time to say that AviSynth can do pretty much anything you can imagine – crop, resize, deinterlace, do your homework (Ok, maybe not that), etc. Futhermore, there are hundreds of plug-ins for AviSynth that increase its powers.
Anyway, open up Notepad. Paste the following into Notepad:

LoadPlugin("C:Program FilesDirectVobSubDGDecode.dll")
LoadPlugin("C:Program FilesDirectVobSubVSFilter.dll")

video = mpeg2source("C:tempVTS_01_PGC_01_1.d2v")
audio = WavSource("C:tempVTS_01_PGC_01_1 T01 2_0ch 192Kbps DELAY 0ms.wav")
AudioDub(video, audio)


EDIT (08-08-2006): Kudos to Sneaker for helping me realize that the quotes in the AVS script were converted to “fancy quotes” by WordPress. This made the script fail to work if copied and pasted right from the site. It should now work!

You will need to go to your C:/temp folder now. Find your .d2v file. Right-click it and go to properties. In the box that comes up, select the file name in the top box, right-click and go to Copy. Then, paste the filename in the mpeg2source part of the script, replacing my “VTS_01_PGC_01_1.d2v” filename but leaving the C:\temp. Do the same thing with the .wav file, but this time paste in the WavSource part instead of mpeg2source. If you followed my instructions, your subtitles file should be called, but if it isn’t you should change that as well. The plug-ins should be specified correctly as well. When you think the script looks good, save it in your temp folder as “script.avs”. The .avs part is very important, as it is what tells Videora to use AviSynth with it.

After your script is saved, you are pretty much done. The last thing to do is actually convert the file, so open up Videora iPod Converter. Before we do anything, we need to set up the Profile. Go to the Setup item in the side bar and click it. Then go to the Profiles tab. You need to pick an “Existing Quality Profile” to modify. Choose whichever one you have found works well for you. If you are unsure which to use, just use “MPEG-4/320×240/768kbps Stereo/128kbps”, as it is one of the best quality profiles but still makes a reasonable file size (only about 700MB for a two-hour movie). In the Profile Name box put whatever you want. I named mine “Subtitles Preset”. Now there are two key things we need to set. The first one is the resolution. Click in the Resolution box and set it to 368×208. This is to make the video widescreen, so the iPod doesn’t stretch it and make it look bad. The next thing to set is Framerate. Choose 29.97 fps. After that, you can tweak anything else you like but I don’t recommend it. Press Apply when you are finished. (Note: Don’t mess with the AviSynth script area. It may look tempting, but believe it or not we don’t use that.) Anyway, now head over to the Convert section of the program. Click Transcode New Video, and browse to your temp directory. Select the script.avs file you created in the previous paragraph (NOT THE VOB FILE). Select the quality profile you just created (e.g. Subtitle Preset in my case). Press the Start button. This will generally take about half the time of the movie (e.g. a two-hour movie will take one hour).

When it is done, you have an iPod-friendly video that contains subtitles! Add it to iTunes by dragging it to the Library item on iTune’s sidebar. Plug in your iPod, and now you can watch a subtitled video on your iPod! Using the SubRip method described above, the subtitles will be very easily readable on the 2.5″ screen. You can safely delete you temp folder after the video is successfully converted (make sure you test it first so as to not waste all your hard work!).

The above instructions may seem complex due to their verboseness. However, what you are actually doing is very simple. It is just a matter of making sure you remember to go through each program in the right order. Furthermore, you won’t have to make a quality profile every time. You can just use the one you created the first time. Also, you can use the same exact script with little to no modification each time (so make sure to save it somewhere other than your temp folder so you don’t accidentally delete it). Have fun making subtitle enabled videos for your iPod. The next edition will probably focus on converting videos specifically to view on an HDTV, something I am still struggling with.

Posted in Howto's, Tech | 46 Comments »

Ripping DVDs

Written by rob on February 10, 2006 – 8:46 pm -

Bill wanted to know how to convert DVDs to iPod-friendly format. The process is pretty much the same as converting any other iPod video, but you must first do what is called “ripping” the DVD. Hollywood DVDs (i.e. the ones you buy from a store) are all encrypted. Therefore, if you just copy the video object files (.VOB) from the DVD to your hard drive, you won’t be able to play them. However, awhile ago some brilliant computer hacker found a way to crack the encryption, and the technique has subsequently been mass-produced. Now there are hundreds of programs that can rip DVDs, and they all have their strengths. The best one by far, though, is called DVD Decrypter.

Rather than reinvent the wheel and describe how to rip a DVD here, I will instead just link to a very easy-to-follow guide written by the same people who created the Videora iPod Converter. Click here to go to the guide on their site. Follow steps one through six. Once you get to six, you will have one large .VOB file somewhere on your hard drive.

Then, head over to my previous iPod Conversion howto and follow that guide. DVD conversion works exactly the same way as any other video once you have it on your hard drive and unencrypted. Just load the .VOB file into Videora when you get to the part of pressing “Browse” to find the video to convert. The one thing to keep in mind here, though, is that you definitely want to follow the note at the very bottom of the post that describes widescreen video. Not doing that will result in stretched videos, both on the iPod’s screen and the TV if you plan on outputting it.

If you have any specific issues, the forum would be a good place to ask it. I am going to make a Howto on subtitles soon, as soon as I actually figure out how to do it.

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Games Now Available

Written by rob on February 10, 2006 – 3:48 pm -

I plan on downloading the flash (.SWF) files from various game sites and hosting them here. My web host supports both Flash and Shockwave, so it will definitely work. I have already uploaded all three Mini Putt games and Mini Pool 2D, a similar game but with a pool environment instead of golf. As always, you can access it via the side bar, this time with the link “Flash Games”.

Anyway, I don’t really feel like putting every game I can find on here, so I will instead just make a topic on the forum regarding it. If you would like to see a game hosted on this site, just post the link to it in the appropriate forum topic.

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Forum Added & Setup

Written by rob on February 9, 2006 – 3:55 pm -

I added a phpBB forum to the site, just for the heck of it. You can access it by clicking on the appropriately named “Forum” link on the side bar. People have been using the comment section of the blog to ask me questions, etc., mainly because that was the only place they could write stuff. Well, now I added the forum, so that is where questions should be posted. I’m going to try to keep the comments as… comments. Any tech questions or general things should be on the forum.

I am also contemplating a wiki for the site, but those are most effective with a lot of users who don’t mind writing content. What the topic of the wiki will be, I don’t know, but I am waiting for more users before I even think about that. One idea that may be cool is a Product Review wiki, that would be in the style of consumer reports. You could post your own pages about various products you have tried, your experience with it, and so on. That is just a brainstorming idea for now, but it could work if enough people felt like writing about their product experience.

As you can see, I have big plans for this site. Too big, perhaps. But maybe it can become a useful site, as opposed to just a place for me personally to translate thoughts into words.

Posted in General Stuff | 4 Comments »

Apple Announces New iPod Nano, Cheaper Shuffles

Written by rob on February 7, 2006 – 8:15 pm -

Today Apple quietly released a new iPod Nano and lowered the prices of its iPod Shuffles. The only evidence that this has occurred, aside from the approriate changes in the Apple Store website, was a press release buried in their site. I suppose this wasn’t big enough news to get to the front page of like the MacBook Pro and iPod Video did.

Anyway, the news isn’t very earth shattering. The new iPod Nano will be offered immediately (you can purchase it on the Apple Store online right now). It has one gigabyte (1GB) of space, so it can hold 240 songs according to Apple’s estimates based on 4-minute songs encoded at 128-bitrate in AAC. Other than that, it is exactly like its two predecessors with larger storage capacities. That is, it includes the photo viewing features, the color screen, the ultra-thin design and the iPod interface everyone is now becoming accustomed to. This new 1GB version also comes in both white and black. It is retailing at $149, opening a whole new market… a budget entry into the middle ground between the no-screen Shuffle and superfluously featureful iPod Video.

As I mentioned above, Apple also added another small note to their press release. The two iPod Shuffles, the 512MB version and 1GB version, have both been reduced in price by $30. The previous $99 512MB version is now $69, while the 1GB that was previously $129 is now $99. It is obvious why Apple did this… having only $20 between the 1GB Nano and the 1GB Shuffle (with no color screen and no photo functionality [exactly how would you have photo functions without a screen?]) would simply not work.

I think this move from Apple is rather interesting. The fact that they are lowering the price of their Shuffles and adding a lower-priced but still feature-filled Nano to the market means they are trying to get a new audience. There are plenty of people who simply can’t (or won’t) buy a $249 gadget that “just” plays music and can hold a couple hundred family photos. This new 1GB model will appeal mostly, in my opinion, to a younger (teenager) audience who doesn’t have a music fixation but would still like to have some tunes in their pocket. Furthermore, the now-cheaper Shuffles are not much more than a video game and are now not even seen as a major purchase. $99 was a little steep for 512MB of music storage, but that $30 drop makes all the difference.

Proving that the $30 does indeed make a difference, I went ahead and purchased an iPod Shuffle 512MB. I have a 30GB iPod Video that is great for watching a movie on a plane ride or on my home TV, and also great for listening to music. However, I have yet to purchase a protective case for it, so I fear scratching the screen. After all, just putting it in your pocket can scratch the screen pretty badly. Anyway, I simply don’t feel comfortable lugging around a $299 device with me all over the place. Not to mention, the fact that the device uses a hard drive means that dropping it while playing music could ruin the entire thing, so it definitely isn’t an option while running around. So, I got myself a Shuffle. It has out-of-the-box support for automatically randomly downloading 120 songs (that is the maximum for the 512MB model) from my iTunes library onto the device. So I can literally plug it into my computer and two minutes later walk out the door and have 120 songs from my library ready to listen to. You can also configure which playlists it pulls from. I have a Favorites playlist that only has 100 songs in it, so I can make it pull that entire one and 20 other random songs. This way, I can take it anywhere and not have to worry about it breaking or being stolen.

I’ve never actually listened to or used an iPod Shuffle, so I will write about how I like it. I’ve read nothing but great reviews for it, so I am expecting the best. The only complaint anyone can find is that it doesn’t have a screen. If I only have 120 songs anyway, why would I need a screen? Especially if I’m going to pull from my Favorites playlist, I won’t even need to skip that many songs. The whole idea is I just want to have my top songs in my pocket wherever I go, and not have to worry about anything.

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