The Red Ring of Death

The Red Ring of Death

Photo by Andrew Burgess – CC licensed

22nd November 2005 – the day that the XBox 360 launched in the UK, and the day that I queued up at 7am in the morning to pick up my lovely new Premium 360.

Fast forward nearly three years and it was still going strong. Having given me hundreds and hundreds of hours of gaming pleasure, as well as acting as our main DVD player. It had a camera, an HD-DVD drive, two wireless controllers and a couple of headsets. Despite watching my friend’s boxes die a death along the way, my trusty white box kept on going.

Time, I thought, to treat it to an update. The New XBox Experience was a comprehensive UI update launched by Microsoft on the 19th November. As I happened to be working at home that day I turned the ‘box on and…

My time had come – the dreaded Red Ring of Death timed perfectly to mess up my day.

But, in fact, it was timed almost perfectly. Under pressure due to a huge number of faulty consoles, Microsoft had extended the warranty period of the console to three years. Those who noted the previously stated dates will work out that mine failed a grand total of three days before it’s third birthday!

So, with a call to Microsoft to arrange a repair (very simple, they even handled the fact that I’d since moved from the UK to Ireland with no problem) I was happy, if slightly disappointed. Nevertheless, seen as we were without a DVD player now it seemed like and excellent time to pick up a Sony BDP-S350 Blu-Ray player (about which I will probably blog later)

The only problem now was that UPS had not yet bothered to come and pick up the broken XBox, which was probably a good thing as I’ve not yet bothered to get a box to put it in either. However, figuring that I’d likely not see one back any time before Christmas, I wondered about the possibility of buying a replacement.

The only issue being that I didn’t really want to pay for one. However, a quick scout around the house for tradeable items and I ended up taking the following down to the local Game store:

  • A slim PS2 which hasn’t been turned on for over a year
  • Singstar, two mics and a couple of extra Singstar discs for the PS2
  • Buzz the music game for the PS2
  • A couple of other PS2 games
  • Guitar Hero 2 for XBox (with guitar)
  • A variety of XBox 360 games I’ve finished or given up on, including: COD4, PGR3&4, Test Drive Unlimited, Fight Night 3 and a couple of others

That lot, plus €5 on my Game reward card saw me pick up a brand new XBox 360 Arcade, with the game Mirror’s Edge for the princely sum of €1.78. Not bad!

Sticking my existing hard disk drive onto the Arcade was simple and turning it on, it started to update itself with the NXE. Two minutes later and I was in business!

Unfortunately, the new ‘box isn’t one of the latest Jasper motherboard designs with a cooler running GPU, but beggars can’t be choosers, and I have no idea when those will start appearing in Ireland (or indeed where) However, the way I see it is that the Premium will either have it’s MoBo replaced, or the whole box repaired, so when that eventually comes back it’s just a case of deciding which one to keep and which one to eBay!

What’s more important is that I now have an XBox back, and a new Blu-Ray player to boot 🙂

I said I’d never buy a GPS unit…

But I was wrong.

I’ve just purchased a Garmin Nuvi 270. It is part of the entry level range of Garmin devices. No bluetooth, fm transmitter, traffic data, teasmaid or any other superfluous features. It just does a good job of directing me from point a to point b. It is also very small and unobtrusive.

What’s more it works in most of Europe and the US/Canada as well thanks to the built in maps of both continents, something you don’t get on TomTom save for the top of the range 930. US coverage is very useful given the fact we are currently on holiday in New England, in Washington DC in December and I also have the odd work trip out here. Garmin’s Irish mapping is also meant to be much more up to date than TomTom’s and they have loads of Mac friendly software for playing around with.

So, why did I get one after previously saying I wouldn’t? Well mainly because I have come to find them useful outside of the UK or Ireland. We’ve had Hertz Neverlost a few times in the US and mainland Europe and it is very useful for finding your way around somewhere strange. The ability to find points of interest is also useful.

I really can’t see me using it much at home as I can always pull out the iPhone with Google Maps there to so some quick route planning. However given that the iPhone doesn’t do turn by turn and data access whilst roaming is an expensive no-go, having a full fledged GPS unit for travel is worthwhile.

What to do with the iPod Touch?

So, as stated in the update to the previous entry, I’m now planning on getting an iPhone 2 as and when July 1tth comes around and I can get a fulfilled order. The begging question then is what to do with the 16GB iPod Touch I already have. My initial thoughts are:

  • Keep the Touch as the main sync’d source of my music and video, thus keeping it paired with the iMac at home
  • Set up the iPhone with my work MBP to sync stuff like podcasts, videocasts, photos and applications from app store

Basically use 32GB of storage, across two devices, for different purposes. With twice the battery life.

The iPhone will live with me, and I might sync a small amount of music to it as well. The touch will come out on trips. When I’m on a train/flight etc and want extended amounts of video/music. Also when I’m sat working at my desk.

Another potential would be to use one for music and one for video. I’m ripping more and more video from DVD to an iPod Touch/iPhone friendly format using Handbrake, but at the moment I have to juggle the 16GB of space on the Touch between that and the music library which is 32Gb on it’s own.

Yet more shady iPhone practices from O2 Ireland

Unless you live in a cave, you have probably seen that yesterday Apple announced the new iPhone 2 with 3G wireless, built in GPS and a few more features.

Now, the iPhone has been on sale in Ireland for a while now, and the way it has been sold by O2 Ireland has been a bit of a rip off to say the least. See my previous blog entry for more details.

So, with the release of the new iPhone, is this a chance for them to redeem themselves? Apple have stated the price for the 8GB version of iPhone 2 will be a maximum of $199 or the equivalent in another currency. The 16GB is a max of $299. So, what do we get when we go to o2.ie?

Well, first you get a latest news link:

iphone2_1.jpg

Clicking on the link takes you to their general iPhone page:

iphone2_2.jpg

Note the banner ad style item at the top of the page. No spec details. Does not link to anything. No pricing information. No register interest link. Nothing.

And what’s below? That’s right, their sales banner for the old iPhone. Yes, O2 Ireland are probably the only people in the world who are actually still selling the original 8GB iPhone, and for you, the lucky punter you can get it for just €299. That’s $463 at current exchange rates. But hey, you get free delivery. Oh and don’t forget this is still without Visual Voicemail, no free wireless deal and just 1GB per month of data. Want the beefier (but still old) 16GB phone? No problem – that will be €499 ($774) please.

Maybe the actual sales page highlights the fact that these are the old models which they clearly have too much stock of or something and are trying to shift before the masses clue in? Nope. Their details product page shows no actual detailed information about the phone at all. Visually there is practically no difference when viewing frontal shots of iPhone 1 or 2, and there is nothing on that page which states this is the old phone.

Never have I encountered a situation where the old phrase Caveat Emptor rings truer. O2 Ireland should be shamed for this attempt to cash in on the buzz generated by the announcement of the new iPhone. They could certainly learn from their sister company in the UK. They have been very quick to provide updated sales information with all trace of the old iPhone gone. In fact their deal look great and it will be very interesting to see how their pricing (8GB free on selected tarrifs, 16GB £99 on £45/month or above tariffs) compares with the eventual details from O2.ie. The latter deliberately tried to fleece their customers with the original iPhone, even by their own admission. I hold out little hope they will improve their behaviour.

Update:

So, the top banner ad now links to the this press release. Relevant details:

Tuesday June 10, 2008 O2 today announced that the iPhone 3G will be available in Ireland on July 11. The iPhone 3G device price will be subsidised and priced according to which of the existing three iPhone tariffs a customer chooses to sign up to. The subsidised device prices will start from just €49.

So, subsidised price, good…

iPhone 3G will offer faster browsing speeds on the move over O2’s HSDPA network. It will be available in an 8GB model and a 16GB model. The 8GB iPhone 3G will cost just €49 on the €100 monthly iPhone tariff, €99 on the €65 tariff and €169 on the €45 tariff. The 16GB iPhone 3G will cost €129 on the €100 monthly tariff option, €169 on the €65 tariff and €229 on the €45 tariff. All iPhone tariffs include anytime minutes, texts and a 1GB data bundle.

So, the tariffs remain the same. The base €45 per month tariff only offering 175 minutes and 100 texts. Still pretty paltry. The 1GB data limit still applies, and no mention of Visual Voicemail yet.

They have, to their credit, announced a wifi deal:

In a separate announcement today, O2 and Bitbuzz, Ireland’s leading Wi-Fi service provider, have agreed a new deal to provide O2’s iPhone customers with free access to Bitbuzz Wi-Fi hotspots throughout the country. The deal, which is for an initial duration of 2 years, will cover the provision of Wi-Fi internet access at all Bitbuzz locations in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland – 155 in total. Under the new deal, access to the Bitbuzz service will be unlimited** for O2 iPhone customers,. Access will be available from July 11 2008.

This is good if you live in Dublin, not so good elsewhere. For instance, 93 of their hotspot locations are in the capital whilst the rest of the country is patchy at best. Still, I already get free Eircom wireless through my broadband account, so that’s no big deal. It does mean I would have even more wifi coverage were I to get an iPhone.

So, the million dollar question. Will I? Well, probably yes. The cost of entry is sufficiently low now. For the level of usage I have the €45 tariff is good enough and I’ll live with, but complain about the 1GB limit. I’ll be ordering a 16GB iPhone 2 come the first of July.

It’s still a bit rich to continue to sell the old phone so blatently without making it clear that people are not ordering the new one.

Sorting out my backup strategy

Historically I’ve been pretty poor at keeping backups of my data. Recently however I’ve become aware of the need to be more vigilant in this area. Touch wood I have never suffered a disk failure on any computer I’ve owned, so I reckon I’m overdue one. The fact that my iMac disk now contains the results of months spent ripping my CD collection as well as a growing library of photographs it is time to take it seriously.

For the past few months I’ve been using the excellent SuperDuper! to perform backups of the iMac. However although the software is good I didn’t set up a scheduled backup so it relied on me to remember to run it regularly. Secondly the backup was performed to a Lacie 500GB Big Disk Extreme. Whilst this is an excellent external disk and runs very fast over Firewire 800, it is actually two 250GB disks arranged in a RAID 0 configuration. RAID 0 means that the two disks combine together and data is striped over them. This makes read and write access faster than a single disk, but has a big potential problem when the disk is used for backup, namely that if one disk fails then you lose all your data. Effectively you are doubling your risk of a hardware failure. Not ideal.

With the arrival of OS X 10.5 Leopard and the built in Time Machine backup I’ve decided to sort out my backup solution in a proper fashion. Therefore I’ve just ordered one of these beauties:

Lacie 2big Triple

The Lacie 2big Triple is a 1TB triple interface (USB2, Firewire 400 and Firewire 800) drive. Like the extreme it actually contains two 500GB drives that make up the total capacity. The difference however is that this one supports RAID 1 as well. RAID 1 puts the disks in mirror mode, meaning that they both contain a copy of the same data. Thus, if one disk fails the other one is still there to serve your data. What’s more the drives are hot-swappable so you can replace the failed one and it will spin the new one up and copy everything onto it to bring it in line. In fact the disks can work in four modes: the aforementioned RAID 0 and RAID 1, plus JBOD which allows both disks to act as separate volumes, and Big which just creates a single volume without RAID support.

A couple of years ago consumer level (read affordable) hot-swappable RAID arrays were unheard of, so I’m really looking forward to throwing Time Machine at this beast. Unfortunately for the time being I’ll probably have to leave my Adobe Lightroom catalog out of the backup until the Leopard compatible fixes are available later this month. In the meantime I’ll back all my photos up to the old Lacie.

Of course, any comprehensive backup strategy will include offsite storage, afterall if the flat burns down or we get broken into then I could lose the iMac and the backed up data. I’m not yet sure what the best way to go with offsite is. Either buy a cheaper 500GB external disk and run a SuperDuper backup onto it every now and then and take it into the office to store, or try online storage with something like Amazon S3 or even .Mac. The latter is probably more reliable as I can script it to happen without needing to remember to bring a disk home every so often. I need to work out if it is cost effective for the 300GB or so of data which I need to have backed up.

Back in love with the XBox 360

My XBox 360 is back in full action after going through a lull in usage for the past few months. Firstly, it has been promoted up to main DVD player in the lounge after my Denon player became a bit too unreliable. As such it seemed like a good time to grab the HD-DVD drive add-on, especially given the fact that they’ve become more available of late.

The drive itself has been reviewed elsewhere, including over at Pete’s blog. Linked up to my Sharp Aquos 32″ LCD I’ve not been wowed by a sudden increase in quality from normal viewing distance. This is most probably down to have a relatively small screen. Afterall, normal DVDs look very good on it in the first place. Once you get close up then the extra HD resolution does show, and things like graphics and titles are obviously crisper. In short though I imagine you only really see the benefit once you get up to larger screen sizes, and especially if your display does native 1080p. One thing I have meant to do is swap back from the VGA cable to component to see what difference that makes.

As for HD-DVD software, I currently have Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Fast and Furious Tokyo Drift, The Departed and Full Metal Jacket. All are impressive transfers, and the special features are notably better than DVD, both in terms of being (mostly) available in HD themselves and also in the overall integration into the viewing experience. You can bring a menu up in-movie to select scenes and enable/disable extras. Fast and Furious Tokyo Drift does especially well here with things like GPS map displays during the race scenes.

On the game side, two titles have really caught my attention. Crackdown is a simply superb sandbox roam-anywhere type of game with an interesting take on growing your characters super-human powers. Like most of these games the more OCD side of me tends to come to the fore as I spend more time trying to find the agility and hidden orbs to maximise my powers than I do actually following the storyline. The control system is very good, with very quick weapon swops making it easy to jump, fire a rocket then switch to rifle to polish off any survivors from the tanker you just blew up. All in all a great game.

Guitar Hero 2 on the other hand is a game that really, really benefits from the achievement system and leaderboards which you get with XBox Live. I bought and played the original GH on PS2 and whilst it gained my interest enough to get through the easy mode I quickly lost interest. Sure, it came out for the odd social gaming session with friends, but otherwise it gathered dust. GH2 however is a different beast. As a number of friends have it I am compelled to try and match or better their achievements or scores. For instance I noticed that my friend Dave had gained an achievement for getting a song 100% note perfect. This I had to match, to the point where I spent 90 minutes last night trying to get it on Foo Fighters’ Monkey Wrench. Not the easiest song, but one I love and know well. The middle eight kept biting me and ended up in that constant restart situation which gamers know and love. In fact, it was even more compulsive than trying to complete the cone challenges on Project Gotham Racing. That “just one more go” type of gaming experience at it’s very best.

With the Halo 3 beta and Forza 2 on the horizon, it looks like the ‘Box will be getting a lot more use. Hopefully I’ll get back in front of Ian on gamerscore. And just to think my day-one XBox is still going strong with not so much as a hiccup!

Musings about Sony’s PS3 backwards compatibility news

I’ll start with a disclaimer. I’m not a fanboy of any console/manufacturer/brand. I’m just a gamer. I currently own an XBox 360, PS2 and a Nintendo DS and have owned an XBox, Gamecube and another PS2 from the last generation of consoles. I’m not considering buying a PS3, but there is a possibility one may fall into my lap, as it were. I do fancy a Wii right now, fnar fnar.

I’ve been following the run up to the European launch of the PS3 with a little interest. Not in terms of the technology, the games or indeed with a view to buying one, but simply to try and ascertain whether or not Sony have really lost their marbles. Amongst the hardcore console gaming community Sony have really been on a downward track in Europe ever since the huge delay in getting the PSP to these shores. Pricing policy has been a sticking point with Euro and Sterling prices not in parity with those in the US and Japan. What’s more Sony’s stance of grey imports has been authoritarian to say the least, and their behaviour over the whole Lik-Sang affair was diabolical.

So the run up to the European launch of the PS3 on 23rd March has been interesting to watch. We’ve had discontent over the fact that despite the initial fanfare of a worldwide launch, we were later told that Europe would get it months later than the US and Japan. Then there has been the pricing issue. In Japan the 60GB version of the console is openly priced, allowing retailers to set their own price. In the US it retails for $599 (£305 with the currently generous fx rate) whilst those in the UK will have to pay £425. This is even slightly more than the rest of Europe (unless you happen to live in Greece in which case you will get royally done over)

However, today news comes about the fact that the hardware Europe will get is actually different to the rest of the world. One of the things Sony have always played up is that their consoles will play games from the previous ones. The PS2 played PSOne games, and the PS3 plays PS2 and PSOne games. They’ve always gone down the hardware route of backwards compatibility. That is, they include the old CPU in the new console. As such, the PS3 contains the emotion engine from the PS2. Except in Europe it won’t.

It appears that Sony have redesigned the chassis of the PS3 to remove the older PS2 hardware to reduce costs and allow them to introduce pricing discounts earlier in the product’s lifetime. They will now take an emulation based approach to backwards compatibility as Microsoft did with the XBox 360. As such, the number of PS2 games which will work on the PS3 is quoted by GamesIndustry.biz as being “a limited range”. Now that doesn’t sound like it is going to be too many to me 😉

Now I don’t happen to think that back-compat is a terribly important aspect of a console. If I had PS2 games I still wanted to play I’d keep a PS2 to play them on. I do also think that it makes sense to do it via emulation and that MS have done a pretty good job of it with the 360. Certainly they took a lot of abuse from Sony fanboys and indeed Sony execs who lauded the seemingly impeccable back-compat capability of the PlayStation. However, what does this mean for us in Europe? Suddenly we are getting a more expensive product that is actually more feature limited than our friends in the US and Japan. Judging by the comments being made on the thread about this on Eurogamer, Sony’s image in Europe just took another body blow.

Southampton Apple store to open on 10th February

Apple Store Southampton (Matty Turner)
Image from flickr user mattyturner licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0

For months now, a simple black facade with an Apple logo has hidden one of the shops in Southampton’s West Quay shopping mall. Each time I passed I wondered what was going on inside, and when the store would open. Yesterday Apple emailed out to say that the opening will be at 9am on Saturday 10th February. The first 1000 people through the door get a free t-shirt. I intend to be there with DSLR in tow to capture the events, and maybe pick up a couple of bits for the iMac!

More details on the store over at Apple.

Apple denounces DRM

I always though this would happen. Steve Jobs has posted what amounts to an open letter to the music industry to stop the use of Digital Rights Management for online music downloads. The thoughts contained within it are clear for all to see. Apple Inc. would switch the iTunes Music Store over to a non-DRM format “in a heartbeat” if the big-four music companies would allow it. Jobs elucidates the options they have today: to stay as they are and watch a market fragment into proprietary formats, license FairPlay and watch it get compromised quicker than the blink of an eyelid, or convince the music industry that DRM has never, and will never work.

Interestingly, Jobs effectively issues a call to arms to the citizens of Europe to put pressure on the big four, both because we have been most vocal in criticizing DRM and as the music industry is effectively centered here. Where do I sign up?