Friday, January 13, 2012

New Year, New Tech

It has been several months since I last posted anything here and for any regular readers I apologize.  I've been busy with real world work, but I've also become a regular contributor to  But since it is a new year I wanted to take a moment and write about some of the new tech I've recently started using as well as some of the new gaming goodness that will be available next month.

First off Christmas was a pretty good time for all the gamers in my house.  My kids got iPods and Just Dance 3 for the Wii (which is something that I find enjoyable to watch, but almost impossible to play with my own "white man" sense of coordination) and I got Skyrim.  The other big game-friendly tech that showed up at Christmas time was Sony's new PlayStation 3D Display.  All I can say is wow.  The image on the display is absolutely amazing.

I typically have my PS3 hooked up to a 42" Westinghouse, which is sadly showing inevitable signs of decay and poor health.  Which is a shame since the TV is only four years old.  The HDMI ports on the big unit are dead, the TV tuner seems to be on the fritz, and the menu system doesn't seem to keep the settings I've adjusted.  Fortunately, Santa delivered the 3D display this year and so I found myself clearing off a desk next to my entertainment console where the new beautiful display sits.  While the viewing space is only 24" diagonally, I find that sitting in my desk chair (at a desk no less) I have the perfect distance and center "sweet spot" for watching all that is pushed out from the screen.

Okay.  I'm sorta getting ahead of myself though.  The PlayStation 3D Display is Sony's newly released panel with gaming as the core focus.  In the box is one pair of active shutter glasses, a 5' HDMI cable and of course the display and base (oh and a copy of Motorstorm Apocalypse).  Set up took less than five minutes, put the display into the base, connect the HDMI cable and fire up the PS3.  The display itself is a marvel to look at, a super high gloss front, thin, like super thin.  I'm blown away by how thin the display is compared to my chunky Westinghouse.  Speakers are built into the sides of the display and a sub woofer is built into the back.  There are 2 HDMI ports as well as 1 component cable for a total 3 inputs and a 3.5 mm headphone jack for audio out.

Turning on the display is a bit of a design flaw.  The power buttons, menu and volume buttons are on the back of the speaker on the right side.  The same side that the HDMI cable connects at.  I found that turning the display on or adjusting the volume, I would have to be careful not to bump the HDMI cable (it's kinda freaky to see the pristine image suddenly flash green and jumble and then reset back to pristine all by accidentally bumping the HDMI cable while attempting to adjust the volume).  That being said, Sony has coincidentally release an update to their PlayStation Blu-ray remote.  While the remote isn't included, I would strongly recommend picking it up (but more on that in a bit).

So the PS3 is hooked up, the display is on, how does it look playing games?  The first thing I noticed was just how much sharper items on the XMB look.  Trophies look better, installed game icon's look sharper, everything looks cleaner.  Now maybe that's because even at 1080p the screen real estate is that much smaller, and thus things look better, but I'd guess that the 3D display just has more going on to make the images look that much better.

Since Motorstorm Apocalypse was included in the box, I fired that up first.  I got a second pair of glasses with the display because one of the coolest features touted by Sony is the SimulView technology.  Basically it allows the 3D display to send a full screen 2D image to one set of glasses while sending a second 2D image to the other set of glasses so that instead of having a split screen two player local experience, each player gets a full screen view of their game.  This works really well with Motorstorm Apocalypse.  Turning off the Simulview, I switched to a single player 3D experience and the game really gives a great sense of depth and scope to the massive destruction that all of the races are centered around.

One of the cool things about PlayStation 3 games is the simple fact that lots of them had 3D capabilities that were enabled after firmware 3.30 was pushed out to the PS3.  Because of that I was able to sample 3D on a fair amount of games in my back catalog.  Super Stardust HD, Pain, Wipeout HD, were just a few downloadable games I gave a 3D go at.  Pain only has 3D enabled during a bowling section, which is fun and definitely takes advantage of the 3D display, it is nothing worth gushing over.  Wipeout HD in 3D is fairly impressive, except for the fact that everything is moving so fast the 3D effect is lost in the blurring speed of all that is going on.  Super Stardust HD is amazing.  The game displays at so many depths of field at the same time, all the while asteroids and ships and explosions are careening about giving a true feast for the eyes.

As far as disc based games go I've played a fairly wide range of titles to see just how well the display responds.  MLB 11 The Show is really awesome with 3D enabled.  Batting in 3D, you get a really great sense of when the ball is crossing the plate.  The rest of the game is fun to see the stadiums come to life with 3D.  A greater sense of how different each field really is and how that can impact a home run being just a double, depending on where the ball is hit.

Killzone 3 and Resistance 3 both support 3D output.  Killzone 3 also supports SimulView for two player local co-op.  As of right now Resistance 3 does not support SimulView, but hopefully Insomniac has a patch to add the feature at some point in the future.  Both games look awesome in 3D.  One aspect I hadn't even considered before playing a first person shooter in 3D was the simple fact that a game in 3D would actually give the effect of looking down a gun barrel and feel real!  Of course the environments pop and add a greater depth of field in both but the effect of a gun barrel sticking out in front of my nose was truly an experience I hadn't considered before.

One of the most recent titles to come out that I've probably spent the most time on while playing in 3D has been Batman Arkham City.  With over 20 hours playing in 3D I found myself impressed with how the world pops, and the various levels of field depth add to the overall immersion of the game.  My one complaint about Batman Arkham City was the initial darkness of the game.  When the active shutter glasses kick in, a dark hue plays across my field of vision.  Since most of Arkham City is played in dark alleys or dim lit buildings, I had to adjust both the level of brightness and the level of 3D being pushed out.  Once I found the sweet spot I found that I my time the game world quickly added up.

Two things I'd like to note before closing this post.  First off, I wish that developers would all figure out a way to allow for adjustments in how strong the 3D is displayed in the same section of the menu structure.  Some games would only allow for adjustments at the main menu and thus testing to see if a level was too intense couldn't be discovered without loading the game, "testing the waters" and then hoping all the way back to the main menu to adjust if necessary.  Other games allow for adjustments directly in the thick of action, which is much easier to adjust the level of intensity without losing the flow of game play.

The second closing comment I have is regarding the lack of remote control.  Since the display doesn't come with a remote, one of the first things I did was look to replace my original PlayStation Blu-ray remote.  Of course the original only remote only worked with the PS3 and not with any TVs because it only communicated via bluetooth.  The new remote connects via bluetooth and infrared and adds some additional buttons (to switch control between PS3, TV and Amp) as well as volume and channel control.  Since I don't have a cable box hooked up to the display (and there is no TV tuner built in) the channel control doesn't add any benefit, but the volume control is an absolute must in my opinion, so that you don't end up screwing up the HDMI connection as you reach behind the panel to adjust the levels.  One of the other nice enhancements on the remote is the circle directional button.  On the old remote, the directional buttons felt loose and would sometimes lead the cursor to move in the wrong direction (up instead of left for example).  With the new remote, the directional buttons almost click and have a slight snappy push back when navigating on screen menus.  The new remote is a tad longer, but is thinner and feels good even though there are additional buttons placed across the surface.  The one thing keeping the remote from being perfect is the lack of backlit buttons, but for just about $20, the remote is more than capable given all that it can control.

As a person who spends a pretty large amount of time in front of displays (both at work and at home gaming) I have to say that the new PlayStation 3D Display is just short of spectacular.  The sounds produced are good and the visuals (both 3D and non) are a feast for the eyes.  The price is incredibly good as well right now.  Best Buy is listing it at $299, Amazon is listing it for $399.  Depending on the store, the package is still incredibly good.  A pair of glasses included, an HDMI cable, plus a game.  Sony has been promoting 3D as one of the incredible features that the PS3 is capable of, and now has given gamers a truly affordable way to get a feature that really does enhance the overall gaming experience.

Check back next month as the new tech continues to roll out.  I'll be giving a review of the new Wireless Stereo Headset once my order from Amazon arrives, as well the new PlayStation Vita as soon as that becomes available.

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