Tons of Interest in Zune 2.0

Some deadly school projects have prevented me from dedicating as much time as I would have liked to writing a review of the Zune 8GB; however, I have been using the device a lot and showing it to people. It really hasn’t been hard to find people curious about the player. It’s a bit of a paradox; the reason it seems to be such a point of interest is because it’s not popular in Canada.

But perhaps most surprising is that the majority of people I’ve shown it to have come away genuinely impressed. Furthermore, one friend remarked in particular that he was astonished how much better it was than he’d expected. Based on his experience, he couldn’t believe how much negative press the Zune had gotten. Granted, he attributed most of that negative sentiment to the somewhat dismal first generation Zune.

The overall response to the 8GB Zune has been extremely positive. Traditionally Apple’s area of expertise, the gorgeous user interface has been one of the most remarked features of the Zune. One iPhone user wished Microsoft would design a Windows Mobile OS based on the Zune interface. The positive comparisons to the ubiquitous iPod UI were common. Some simple features like being able to access other works of the currently playing artist was lauded – something not easily accessible with the iPod’s interface. Additionally being able to scroll left and right through artists or albums when within that hierarchy was also something that caught many peoples’ attention.

Also important was that the use of the physical controls was extremely easy to grasp. Some had already read about the ‘Squircle’, and navigated the menu system without missing a beat. A few others tried circular scrolling without much luck. However a simple tip got them on the right track and within seconds, the controls were mastered. For only a second generation player, the controls are surprisingly intuitive and easily rival the iPod’s click wheel. Now all we need is a touchscreen Zune. 🙂

Some of the other features also struck home, especially wireless syncing (I’ll certainly have to investigate that functionality a bit more) and the radio. A bit surprising to me was that the ‘social’ aspect of the device, namely integration with the Zune online social community and wireless sharing of songs also impressed some. I guess I’m still stuck on the chicken or egg question – without users, ‘The Social’ isn’t much.

But perhaps that social is about to grow a lot larger. Over the week or so I’ve been showing it off, I’ve already planted the Zune atop a few peoples’ MP3 player list. With the positive responses I’ve received, I feel as though Microsoft’s missing out on a lot of sales simply because there isn’t much mass marketing for the device. I’m certainly impressed with the Zune, albeit I’m not without some reservations, but you’ll have to wait for the full review for those details.

Missed Days and Speaker Raves

For the first time in a horrendously long time I’ve missed school/work due to illness. I just wasn’t well enough to go back to work today. In fact, I’m not even going tomorrow. My throat is now raw from coughing and my nose is running like some Olympic sprinter. Needless to say, I would not be halfway to presentable in my current form. Add on top of that the fact I’d hardly be productive at anything other than infecting people, I think it’s a good idea for me to stay at home and rest.

But the fact that I haven’t taken time off due to illness in the past couple years has had an effect on me. I sounded strangely apologetic to my boss for missing work. Yeah, it’s weird but there was a bit of guilt for not being able to show up to work. Being sick is hardly my fault (well, that depends on how you think about it) so I should have nothing to be ashamed of. Nonetheless, I am.

Enough about illness and personal issues, let’s talk about audio. Being the musician (used in that word’s most flexible form) I was for 8 or so years, I obviously developed a thing for listening to the stuff. Aside from the numerous MP3 players I’ve collected, something has to be said for the things that output the sound: speakers and headphones. Now I’m not going to pretend like I’m some sort of audiophile that can hear the difference between a 256kbps and 320kbps MP3, I do have certain standards. However there are time when those standards are merely there because of ignorance.

Let’s take the first example: the iPod. The iconic and most popular MP3 player in the world is actually bundled with the most pitiful excuse for earbuds I’ve ever heard. Even compared to the low-end EP-480s that came with the Creative Zen Micro, the iPod earbuds are completely lacking in bass response and overall sound fullness. In a song like Radiohead’s ‘Packt like sardines in a crushd tin box‘ the bass attacks are actually felt in the EP-480s while the same passage is rather dull and bland sounding with the iPod earbuds. I’ll be honest though; before using the Creative earbuds, I never really realized just how poorly the iPod earbuds sound. But now that I have, I can’t go back to those iPod earbuds. So really, save yourself the possibility of being robbed because you’re wearing the iconic earbuds and get a better set. I’m currently looking to kill two birds with one stone. I’m going to get a pair of Sony Ericsson HPM-70s that’ll give me the in-ear earbuds I’ve been wanting and an upgrade over the HPM-60s that come with K790a.

Next up is speakers. I’ve generally been content with a decent set of 2.1 speakers for my computers. I don’t do a whole lot of movie watching on them so I never believed in buying a $400 5.1 speaker set to hear the Windows startup and shutdown sounds in higher fidelity. However, I’ll point you back to this post, when I picked up a set of Creative T20s for a nice price. I’d read about the clarity and performance of the set and I thought I’d give it a try. Of course there was the whole ‘oh, but it doesn’t have a subwoofer so it sucks’ from the Futureshop guy but I bought it regardless. Boy am I happy that I did. True, you don’t get that thumping that you can get with a decent subwoofer, but you also don’t get the muddy sound from most of those systems either. Mid-ranges are actually present instead of just being somewhere in there between the satellite’s tweeters and the sub’s rattle. As well, bass response isn’t as low, but you can actually distinguish the bass notes instead of them being a random rumble. My Harman Kardon 2.1 and Altec Lansing 5.1s both sound like they have their drivers stuffed with some cotton or something.

Alright that’s all. I’m going to go rest, right after I read some of this crap they call a course (PDEng). I just did a quick check of our final assignment and it’s looking like a 5 pager. YAY. I’m so excited I could gag. 😐

Tuesdays and Thursdays

I’m not exactly sure what it is about these two days in particular, but it seems everything is launched/released on these two days. Let’s take a look at a few examples over this past week:

  1. Apple held the “It’s Showtime” event this past Tuesday, rehashing the entire iPod line and shows off an iTV device to be launched early next year. I take this ‘pre-launch’ of the iTV as a sign that even Steve Jobs knew that this past week’s launch was terrible. I mean I got most of the 5.1G iPod’s enhancements through the version 1.2 firmware update. What am I missing out on? A 40% brighter screen, whoopdeedoo. Oh and I don’t get this clunky search function for my iPod. The nano got ‘updated’ with an aluminum casing a la iPod Mini. I’d imagine part of that had to do with the ‘lawsuits’ against the scratch-ability of the previous nano incarnation. And well the shuffle got smaller. But it still sucks. Although for all you people who would rather be ‘surprised’ by what music you hear, by all means buy a shuffle and slip it onto your shirt so everyone can know you have an iPod…
  2. Nvidia launched the GeForce 7950GT video card Thursday as the second part of its fall product refresh, part one being the 7900GS. One of the main improvements over the 7900GT is the addition of 256MB VRAM, bringing the total to 512MB. However, it seems like the 79xx series doesn’t benefit as much from extra RAM as the ATI X19xx series does. So most of the performance improvement comes from the faster core clock. HDCP is also standard now, which is useful if you want to splurge $1K for a HD/BluRay DVD and use Windows Vista. Not a terribly good card considering the X1900XT 256MB is cheaper and is faster.
  3. Company of Heroes also launched this past Thursday. Now of all the events this past week, I’d say that was the most exciting. I picked up a copy yesterday. Company of Heroes is a real time strategy (RTS) game made by Relic. It’s based on the ‘adventures’ of Able Company from the D-Day invasion onwards. As I’ve written previously, the game isn’t about building a mass of units and rushing. It’s very strategy-oriented. It’s unlike many other RTS games where the infantry units are pretty much useless against tanks and so on. Instead, the infantry can be outfitted with a plethora of upgrades that allow them to take on heavy vehicles. The AI is the best I’ve seen in just about any game. It’s like the computer actually thinks about what it’s doing. The entire environment is destroyable and units can hide behind a variety of types of cover, increasing their resistance to weapons fire. In addition, it doesn’t hurt that the graphics are extremely good for a RTS and I’m not even running a top end machine. I can only imagine what it’s like with a better video card than what I currently have. The cut-scenes work very well for furthering the plot and really draws you into the story. I can’t say enough good things about the game and it seems like review sites feel the same way. Read some of the reviews here if you’re interested.

Yeah, everything happens Tuesdays and Thursdays. I don’t really know why, although I guess Monday and Friday are never good days to do any sort of launch, since they’re too close to the weekend. And Wednesday… I don’t know why that day is so neglected…

The Time Is Come

Has it really been four months since I finished my last exam? Well, actually it’s been a few weeks more than 4 months, but I’m getting ready to go back to the University of Waterloo for four more months of school. In the summer! Just as everyone else seems to be finishing their exams and going home, I get to do the exact opposite. What fun really.

The blog has already started to show its neglect. I mean, really, two days without an update! Perhaps that’s just foreshadowing what will almost be a guarantee: I’m not going to have the time to update this religiously. I’ll try my best, but there will be things that get in the way, like rediculously long and difficult calculus assignments. I’ve even decided, not unlike the beginning of my first semester, to drop my gaming for the time I’m at school. The games are still loaded on the computers at home so the few times that I’m home on the weekend, I’ll probably take a crack or two at them, but I really need to concentrate on school and do better this semester. Oh trust me, it’s going to be difficult to leave Oblivion in the unfinished state that it currently is in.

The reason I haven’t updated this blog as regularly as I might have liked in recent days? I’ve been pushing to get my work report finished, and I’m somewhat happy to say that I’ve almost got the first draft completed. That gives me about a week to fix some things up and perhaps reword a few awkward areas. You have to remember, I’m trying to write about a subject that is quite lacking in resources. There are some industry details that are just not open for public consumption. So while it seems like this first draft took an awfully long time (it did), much of the time was spent scouring every possible article looking for some insight to the details I did not have.

I’ve basically got everything packed now and I’m trying one more way to resuscitate my iPod (I’m sort of packing, fixing my iPod, working on the introduction to my work report and writing this post all at the same time). If this doesn’t fix the iPod, I’m seriously considering just throwing it out the window. It’s been way more of a pain than it’s worth. If I was paid the hourly wage I got at my co-op job to fix this iPod, I’d probably have enough made that I could have bought a couple new ones by now.

The next post from me will be from the university deep in the new semester I’d think.

Letting Off Steam

What would usually be exciting and tons of fun for me turned into a total disaster this weekend. It all began with the purchase of a few computer parts to resuscitate a dead computer. This is what would normally have been very exciting. I picked up an Athlon64 X2 and a motherboard. You see, I just love fiddling around with new hardware, benchmarking, testing, and comparing. I got to do about 30 minutes of that this time around. I’ve built quite a few computers and so I would say I’m pretty competent. Allow me to guide you through this nightmare of a rebuild process.

Perhaps the main issue was the sheer amount of computer hardware I was surrounded with. At times, I felt like I didn’t have enough room to put everything down. Let’s see now, I had 3 CPUs, 3 motherboards, 2 cases, 4 optical drives, 3 hard drives, 2 video cards, 4 sticks of RAM, a sound card, and a TV tuner. Because I was essentially installing two computers at the same time, I would get quite mixed up as to which part was going into which case. I tried installing both at the same time in and effort to be more efficient. In the end I think I just confused myself a great deal.

One of the computers didn’t really need that much done to it, basically just a switch of a case, so I didn’t have to reformat or anything. That wasn’t the computer I had the problems with. It seemed like the problems just wouldn’t stop with the other one. Let’s list them here in chronological order.

  1. I have a couple pretty nice after-market heatsinks, so clearly I wanted to use them instead of the stock ones. Unfortunately, with third party heatsinks come third party mounting brackets, which I could not find for the life of me. After about ¾ of an hour of searching through boxes, I gave up and miraculously found that the bracket for the P4 system would work with the Athlon64 one. Unfortunately, the Athlon64 is slightly thicker than the P4 and as a result, there was a lot of pressure being exerted by the heatsink. I was afraid the whole bracket would rip out under the stress.
  2. The hard drives were being switched between the computers and I couldn’t find enough screws for one of the case’s mounting mechanism. As a result, I had to make do with two screws per hard drive instead of the normal four.
  3. With the new motherboard (ASRock 939Dual-SATA2) the PATA connectors are near the bottom of the motherboard. As a result, the rounded cables I had couldn’t quite reach the optical drives at the top of the case. I ended up moving the optical drives down a couple slots.
  4. During the formatting process, I neglected to pay attention to the order in which I partitioned the hard drives. As a result, about half way through installing all the drivers, I noticed that my Windows drive was actually D: instead of C:. At this point, it was getting pretty late (1am or so) and my mind was turning to muck. I decided to leave it for the night and fall unconscious (on my bed).

Somewhere between problems 3 and 4, I went in search of the manual for one of the other motherboards. Lo and behold, the heatsink bracket I had spent all that time looking for popped up.

The night’s sleep didn’t mean an end for my problems. Let’s start another list for the problems I had today.

  1. I decided it would be a good idea to reformat the computer which had Windows installed on D: as a precaution. Since I wouldn’t be the main user of this system, I thought it safest to have the system in the most common configuration I could make it. So the hour spent the previous night installing Windows and accompanying drivers was for naught.
  2. After about another hour and a half spent installing Windows, drivers, and then SP2, I decide it would be a good idea to update the BIOS to the latest version. I thus go in the search of a trusty floppy drive. I find one lying around and a floppy to use. Oops, no go. The floppy doesn’t want to be formatted into a bootable one. I find a couple other diskettes only to discover I’m faced with the same error. Windows is unable to complete the format. Okay, well, the floppy drive’s busted no doubt.
  3. Next idea is to make a bootable USB flash drive. I spend the next hour trying to find the necessary files to create a bootable USB drive. For anyone who’s tried this, I’m sure you’ll agree with me that it’s a very simple process… assuming you have the right files or know where they are. It seemed like the whole internet was clueless about this. So after hunting through numerous dead links and broken solutions, I find the necessary files and flash the BIOS.
  4. At this point, it’s around 2pm and I’m hungering for some Oblivion that I had been playing two night ago. I install it on the computer. During my wait as the 4.5GB game is installed, I notice that I don’t have the drivers for the TV tuner. I go to the ATI website in my search. Okay, I’m not even exaggerating at this point when I say that the Oblivion installation is at like 99%. And this is the part where something happens and my computer spontaneously reboots itself. I half want to punch my hand through the monitor, half want to cry. After some testing, I find the curious problem. The ATI website causes my computer to restart!
  5. Okay, so I know when the problem occurs, but what could possibly be the cause. I had been to the ATI website to get drivers during the previous night’s install. Hmmm… perhaps it was the new BIOS. I flash the original one with no luck. I flash all sorts of different BIOSes, all with no effect. I decide to uninstall the ATI drivers. Bingo! No more reboots. But, this wasn’t going to be acceptable. No video drivers?! I install some previous versions of the driver with the same problem. Ugh. Guess the folks will have to avoid the ATI website.
  6. This computer was going downstairs with the hi-def TV. So to access the internet connection, it has to use a USB wireless dongle. I install the drivers. Nothing happens. I reinstall the drivers. Once again, nothing. Okay, I was installing the drivers from the US site. I grab the drivers from the Canadian sites and it works. Uhhhhh…..
  7. Remember back to the part where Oblivion was cut off. Just to make absolutely sure the install didn’t complete, I try loading up the game (even the shortcut had been made on the desktop). As suspected, I was greeted with a nice error message that essentially said screw off, I didn’t get installed properly. I try uninstalling but see only another error message. Alright, time to install over the previous installation. Maybe there’s a repair function or something. And indeed there is! As I had said previously, I had literally 1% left to install. A couple file names flashed by and it seemed like the game was good to go. Oh, but wait. The installation hangs after it seems like it’s done installing. The only solution is a hard reset. I try the game and again, I get the same error message as before. Fine, I do a manual delete of the game and its registry. The reinstallation goes much smoother. It is now around 6:30pm, an hour before I have to leave to head back to the university and I hadn’t even packed.

I end up playing Oblivion for about 20 minutes before I had to shower, pack and clean up the mess I had made the past two days. In the end, the reboot from the ATI page actually seems like it exists on more than just that site, although visiting ATI seems like the only guaranteed reboot. I have to go back and reformat that computer next weekend. Basically two whole days wasted on my part.

Sorry for the extremely long and boring post, but I had to get something off my shoulders. It was absolutely killing me. I was supposed to get a good start on my work report this past weekend too. That clearly didn’t happen. And if you’ve made it all the way to here without closing your browser, hoping my problems are contagious or something, you’ll be glad to know that I haven’t solved my iPod issues either. I rebuilt the iTunes database and I got the error again today. So clearly, that wasn’t it. I’m still searching for the solution, although I found a few more ideas to try.

What an Easter weekend. 😐

[tags]computers, windows, oblivion, ipod[/tags]