We always love a chance to work with a new company and so I was excited when we got approached by FUNC. This is a smaller company that attempting to make a big splash in the very competitive gaming peripheral market. The first product we have been able to see from Func is the HS-260 headset.
Now anyone that has listened to this show knows that a good headset holds a special place in my heart. Over the years I have run sound for bands and of course all my work in radio, sound matters a great deal to me. With this in mind we put headsets to some serious testing. We first test in the area the headset purports to be designed for, in this case gaming. Func has claimed that they have designed the sound envelope of this headset for gaming so this was my heaviest focus.
The HS260 is an analog headset which means it needs to rely on an analog sound source. For my testing I made use of the onbaord sound that is on the Gigabyte Sniper M5. This board makes use of a Creative® Sound Core 3D chip and the OP-AMP system allows you to tweak the sound to your preferences, it is simply the best onboard audio I have heard.
For gaming purposes I broke out a few of the old favorites such as Skyrim and even went back to Thief II as well as the more recent sneaker, Dishonored. I also loaded up some Anno 2070, Battlefield 4 and Neverwinter to give the headset a good workout in gaming.
The first impression I got was that the sound in the HS-260 is very neutral. Many gaming headsets are designed to enhance bass, and I love me some good base but often these headsets over do it. The HS-260 however has an very neutral sound to, what I mean is the sound is clear across all levels with no one area of the sound beating down the other areas. This resulted in a great gaming experience. In my sneaky games I had a good audio image of my surroundings and when things with boom the bass was there to make me feel the explosion as much as hear it. The neutral sound envelope the headset uses resulted in the sound being amazing with nothing overpowering.
Now if all you wanted a headset for was gaming that would be it, but lets be clear, gamers use their headset for a LOT more than gaming. I love to listen to music and my tastes are varied. For testing I used my favorite bassy songs, The Race is On and UnSkinny Bop. Both of these songs have a strong base opening. I then moved on to Accappella’s Get to the Point as well as Queen’s One Vision. The neutral sound design came through here as well and in an awesome way. I can usually finish my music testing in about 30 minutes, with the HS-260 I was still listening to music 2 hours later, the sound was great.
With movies and video up next I bet you can see a trend developing. I could spend a lot of time here telling you the clips and shows I tested with but the results where what I was expecting at this point, a nice neutral sound that made listening to my shows a joy.
Okay now that we know how the HS-260 sounds, what about how it feels? Comfort is a big deal, gamers can spend hours in a good headset. I live as much as 6 hours plus a day in a headset so I am picky when it comes to comfort on a headset. The ear cups are closed back in design and fully over the ears. The headset comes with a stock fabric cover on the ear cups as well as the center pad on the headband. You do have the option to remove the cloth and use a leatherette set of pads instead.
The HS-260 is not the lightest headset I have used but the clamp pressure was spot on, not to tight and not loose. The padding is very well done, this means you get a good enclosure shutting off outside sound but there is room for the ears to breathe. I was able to use the headset for a 6 hour gaming session with no discomfort at any time.
The comfort of this headset is aided by a unique feature. The cable and the mic are detachable and can be used on either side of the headset. Now you might wonder what this has to do with comfort, more than you can imagine. I hate when my computer is on the opposite side of my body as the headset cable I need to run to it. By being able to pick which side the wire and mic go on you can make the headset fit your layout. Also the detachable mic is a nice feature, when you do not need it then it is out of the way, no worries.
Speaking of the mic, that testing is one that I can honestly say is likely to be tougher on our show than any other tech site. To test audio I have used our studio setup to create a basic recording of my voice. This is using a high end studio setup and the sound is super clean. I then record the same phrases I used in the studio using the computer and the headset and compare the two sound files. While no computer mic is going to approach that sound quality of a high end radio studio, I can see how close it gets. The HS-260 did not disappoint, the sound through the mic was very clean and came very close to being the best mic we have tested to date.
At the end of the day this headset has really impressed me. Func has found one of the best sound envelopes I have found in any headset claiming to be designed for gaming. The sound envelope works great in every use and gives clean sound with no aspect harsh or overbearing. The cans are able to put of some serious noise. The headset is supposed to be closed back but I found that at higher volume levels the sound could be heard clearly, though at low levels, as far away as about 10’.
The swappable plug system worked well in my testing and was not easy to pull out. I can see this getting pulled out by a roll over on the cable and quick head jerk but the design is tight enough that regular use should not pull the cord loose. The mic is one of the best I have used for sound clarity and the ability to remove it when not in us is nice. Add to this the fact the mic and cable can work on either side and you have a headset what will work well with any setup.
In terms of comfort the padding options mean you can find the type of padding most conformable for you. The clamp band design is spot on perfect for me with the band being neither to tight or to loose. Extended wear was enjoyable with me never feeling a need to take off the headset.
Priced at $79.95 the HS-260 is not a low cost headset but then again it’s sound and mic quality make it worth the higher price. As you can tell I liked my experience with this headset. So much so that it has now replaced my headset on my personal machine. This is the first product from Func we have seen and I am hoping it is not the last, this is an excellent headset.
Last week I was supposed to have been in Las Vegas at CES, however old man winter decided that this was a bad idea and we got hit with the worst winter weather we have seen locally in almost 20 years. The result was my being stranded in St. Louis two days and coming home to be disappointed about what I was missing out on. However my week was salvaged when a large box arrived from AMD and inside was a fully built computer based on their new Kaveri chip.
The sleek little package they sent is making use of the Xigmtek Nebula case with an ASRock FM2+ ITX motherboard, 16 gigs of AMD RAM, a Samsung 840 Pro 250 Gig SSD and an A8 7600 Kaveri APU.
Now before we begin let me take a moment to give some perspective. A lot of sites are going to spend time comparing this chip to higher end chips and looking at high end gaming performance. They will be WRONG in their thinking. Kaveri is targeted at the mainstream, every day computer user. This chip is not meant for the enthusiast market or for high end professional rendering. This chip is targeted at the every day normal person that wants to get the most out of their PC at a reasonable price. It is with this target in mind that I began testing this chip. I ran a couple of benchmarks but did not set them at uber-detail levels instead I shot for the target of the chip. For comparison I put this chip against an Intel i5 and AMD’s own A10 6800K and set up the test systems into similar configurations. The systems all ran Windows 8.1 fully updated on a clean install with the latest available drivers.
The build AMD sent is actually a very nice build when you consider what it is. In a small form factor the build will sit easily on a desk or table and would even look at home in an entertainment center. For purposes of my testing and use I paired the system with an Auria 27” (1080) display along with a decent keyboard and mouse, making use of the onboard WiFi for my internet connection. The system came fully installed and setup but you know how much I hate that so the system was formatted clean to Windows 8.1 and the BIOS set to default and then I adjusted as I normally do.
Now adjusting the BIOS I noticed a really neat feature of this chip, you have the option to adjust the TDP target of the chip. The A8 by default is a 65 watt TDP chip, which is very nice. This means it uses less power and is easier to cool than the previous generation A10 and A8. The chip offers an option of dropping the target TDP to 45 watts and AMD actually suggested it in their reviewer guide.
With this information in hand I decided my first testing was to see how the 65 TPD and 45 TDP compared in performance. For this testing I used the latest version of PCMark and ran the Home test suite. I choice this suite as it will provide the best testing for the intended use of the chip and give me a good baseline. In my testing the 45TDP was slightly slower in the standard test coming in 3.5% slower and in the OpenCL accelerator at 6.1% slower.
Next up I wanted to compare these results to AMD’s A10 6800K and was happy to see the A8 7600 in 45 TDP mode was within a single percentage point of an A10 6800 at stock and with the 65 TDP was passing it. Not bad for a lower price point and half the TDP.
Oh wait what about an Intel chip? Using an i5 4670K the A8 was about 8% faster at the 45 TDP setting. So this chip is half the price and delivers as a complete package better performance in PCMark with a lower TDP, NICE!
Next up was some 3DMark and I ran these tests using the Cloudgate test suite. Again this is not the high end but is a more accurate target test for the intended chip use. Again at a 45 TDP the Kaveri was staying almost dead even with a 6800K and with a bump to 65 TDP we see it begin to pull away. Moving to the i5 we see the A8 begin to pull away with the improved onboard graphic solutions starting to shot wit’s stuff.
Now there are some additional tests a lot of sites will run but these tests are mostly trying to break down the CPU and GPU components of the APU. This to me is a dis-service as the APU is a single unit and breaking it apart takes away from the total package solution it is designed to be.
Over the last week I have been using the Kaveri system alongside an i5 system in every day use. This includes Skype, Netflix, Handbrake, decompressing files, music, photo editing even some light gaming. In ever aspect the Kaveri system was snappier and a just plain better computing experience than the i5. While it will not compete with a dedicated graphics gaming machine the Kaveri did okay allow for solid play experience at 720 resolutions in Anno 2070, Bioshock Infinite, Dishonored, Neverwinter and a certain beta that shall remain nameless, the Intel solution struggled with pretty much any gaming I threw at it.
Now if you came here hoping for a bunch of benchmark numbers I am sorry to disappoint. The numbers to me do not tell the story of this chip. There is a saying about the whole being greater than the sum of the parts and the Kaveri is a perfect example of this. Everyone keeps trying to break this chip down into various parts but forget that it is not a bunch of parts thrown together, it is one chip and THAT is how it should be looked at. When you look at in this manner and consider it in the context it is made for this chip is nothing short of amazing.
If it was just what I have seen this week I would be impressed but there is more. Kaveri will make full use of Mantle, HSA and True Audio. These technologies still have a bit before they become mainstream but the fact AMD is already out in front and making full use of this potential is nice to see. This chip has a lot of potential locked up in it, it could get better as it gets older.
If you are looking for a basic computer, one that is not meant for high end gaming or advanced video editing or rendering then Kaveri is the perfect choice for your computer. I will even go a step further, buy an i3 or i5 for such a system makes NO SENSE! The Kaveri is a ton more versatile and has greater potential. The performance and computing experience are outstanding and lower TDP means this chip is design with ITX building in mind. If you are building or buy that family PC then there is only one chip option worth your money.
Well it’s that time of year, the time we all stop, take stock of our life and then pick a part of it we want to change. Okay well that’s how I do it anyway. Now like pretty much everyone on the planet I make the basic ones, such as weight lose. In fact this last year my resolution worked, with almost 60 pounds dropped. However, being as my life revolves around tech I figured I would look at a Tech related resolutions.
My resolution this year is to remove Google from my life. I have already achieved most of this and now my efforts are to maintain it. I have been amazed at how many people ask me why I would do this, I am amazed that more people do not do this. As we have discussed in detail on the show over the last year Google has as a company for years championed privacy while at the same time pretty much ignoring everything they claimed to stand for.
As of right now between cell phones, browsers, ad tracking, search tracking, email, social media and YouTube there is next to no one out there that Google has not collected data on. Think about it, Google Analytics tracks through their ad material peoples web browsing habits, that BTW is pretty much every website on the planet. Through the use of Google’s search, which accounts for over 60% of all online searching or in excess of 100 million searches a day, peoples search results are tracked and forced back at them as targeted ads and then sold to companies for various other uses. Gmail openly has admitted to indexing the contents of your email, in other words reading it, and then using that material to place ads on your pages as well, again the data is sold. The browser, Chrome is linked back into the tracking system as it Google based smart phones and tablets. Google Plus, their attempt at social media is nothing but a data mining front and YouTube is also mined for viewing habits. So with all this going on, last year IU began my quest to be Google free.
Now before I go into what I have done let me be clear people are going to point out that I traded Google for Microsoft, and I did. There is a convenience to having the various aspects of your life all tied together neatly, that is why Google was so easily able to invade our lives. To have this convenience we only have three real choices, Google, Microsoft or Apple. I really, believe it or not, gave Apple a lot of consideration when I looked at this but there is a much higher up front cost with the Apple solution.
The first step for me was to get rid of my Google phone. This is a big deal tot a lot of people, the concerns about the apps store drives that concern. I made the choice to get a Lumia 925 phone and find out how bad the app store issue really is. First let me say I love the Windows 8 OS on a phone. Compared to Google’s OS it is cleaner and faster, as well as just plain easier to use. The best part is it appears to be more stable. My Google based phone had to be rebooted at least once a week and often had to have the battery removed to do so, my Windows phone has never needed a reboot. The customization options are a mile past anything Google phones currently offer and I do not need to flip through a ton of screens to find an app I am looking for.
Speaking of apps, while the Windows app store has less options it is far from not being useful. For example I use an app that measures noise levels as well as one that measures Wi-Fi signal. Both of these where available on the Windows store, now on Google I could choose from between 20 of each app and on Windows I have like 5 of each app but that is okay because the app I need was easy enough to find. I know Doug had one or two apps that he could not find but they where specific to certain companies and for me I found work arounds that where fine. The truth is the only limitation to the Windows store is that you do not have 20+ of each specific app to choose from.
I can tell you after a few months of using a Windows phone I will never look back. The experience has been amazing and I cannot wait to see what the future holds.
Next up on the hit parade of killing Google is removing it from your internet. This one is a bit tougher as it involves so many aspects. Switching from ever using Chrome to just using IE was easy enough. For most people switching Bing seems to be a big sticking point and I honestly do not understand. The search results on Bing tend to be easier to understand and even of late seem to be better results. Plus Bing actually gives you something for using the service. I have earned almost $30 in Amazon gift cards by using Bing over this last year. (I have two computers and thus two accounts). My wife earns Starbuck gift cards on her account. I mean seriously good search results and getting free stuff, why would you NOT use Bing?
Next up is email and this one is tougher. If you are using a Google Phone then the Google account makes sense. Oh sure you can use a Google email on a Windows phone or a Hotmail account on a Google phone but the native support is always nicer. When I compared Gmail to Outlook.com (the new Hotmail) I have to tell you to me there was not contest. The Outlook interface was cleaner and more professional. The integration of the SkyDrive and full Office support for free was wonderful and if you need more online space the pricing is very reasonable. All of this was without taking the whole privacy issue into account.
Just these steps have reduced my Google footprint drastically. The one area I am still fighting with is YouTube. At this time there is no real alternative, though recent events might change that. I help with this I use a feature in IE called In Private Browsing. While this will not directly stop Google from mining my viewing information it will keep them from installing a tracking cookie for other sites to use, I also do not sign in so they do not have direct information.
The question I get asked once I explain all of this, what impact has this had on your internet usage? The answer is surprisingly little. I still access my favorite sites and still search the internet with no issues. My phone still works great and my Windows Tablet, while a little more expensive, integrates easily into my computer and even my phone for sharing data. I can still access all my Nook and Kindle books just fine and play videos with no issues. AT the end of the day the move required some thought and a little effort but was mostly transparent, has had no negative impact and I get the satisfaction of know Google knows a lot less about what I am doing in the world.
Now obviously there is more I need to do and I am working on it. If you have ideas or thoughts please be sure to use the comments section below to let me hear them.
For this holiday season if you got a new computer, video card or monitor you might have questions about the different ways you can hook them up, I figured this would be a great way to explain it. Just like a TV your monitor needs a way to get the video images sent to it and so there is a cable that runs from your computer to the monitor. Depending on the age of your monitor there can be up to three different basic methods of doing this, I will work through each, explaining why each choice works and then which is best.
First up we begin with the oldest standard, VGA. I have people asking me all the time what these different acronyms mean, who cares? I mean seriously we could go into what the letters each stand for but over the years the acronym and not the name is the standard convention things are referred by. VGA is the original hookup method of used oh so many years okay and today is finally, slowly dying. If you are still using a CRT monitor this is your connection method, also some older and budget monitors still use this.
Next up is the DVI, where the VGA system was an analog conversion of digital data to your monitor the DVI is pure digital, meaning no conversion is going on. This results in better image quality, also the DVI standard introduced such things as the monitor speaking back to the PC and access to higher resolution displays. This connector actually comes in a number of different models but for the most part the connection is fairly standardized. The one difference to look for that can be important is the 4 holes surrounding the horizontal slit. This type of DVI connector allows for a VGA adapter to be used if your monitor does not support DVI. Other connections without this will not work at all with a VGA connection.
From DVI the next move was toward one that is probably the the current most common connection method, HDMI. This was originally introduced on TVs and has grown to be strongly supported in the computer world. For all practical purposes the HDMI connector and the DVI connector are the same. From a video perspective they carry the same image quality and signal, the HMDI connection however adds audio top the mix. This means if your monitor has built in speakers they c an be fully used with only a single cable. This also simplifies hooking your computer up to your TV is that is your plan.
The newest connection method on the scene right now is DP, or DisplayPort. A DP connection is a higher resolution and data bandwidth version of HDMI meant for computer monitor use. Like HDMI the DP connection carries audio as well so a single cable will give you image and sound. Now in the case of DP there is actually another connector commonly seen on AMD video cards, the mini DP. This is the same as the regular DP adapter just in a smaller form factor. This was done because it allows two ports to be put in the same space a single port would normally fit in, meaning the cards could hook to more monitors at once. Most cards that use this come with an adapter to take the DP to an HDMI or DVI connector if needed.
Another neat feature of DP is that it can chain monitors. Now what that means that if the monitor supports it or you buy an adapter for this the DP single from a single computer connection can drive multiple monitors at once.
There is one other connection system out there, Thunderbolt. This is a new connection method championed by Intel and Apple. The idea is to take a DP connection and add a computers PCIe bus to the interface and allow not just video and audio but data transferring as well. This is pretty much just an Apple feature at the moment so for most people a none issue.
So with all these different connections which one do you choose. The simplest and best answer is the most current model your system support in both he computer and the monitor. However lets break it down a bit more than that. VGA in my opinion is dead, unless your monitor does not have support for any other connection method or it is the only cable you have I would skip it. DVI is the most all around stable connection choice, it will work with practically everything on the market and does a great job. If you want sound run to your monitor however I would skip DVI if I could and go HMDI. Where DVI will work with most monitors HDMI adds TVs to the mix and so it is the singly most easily used connection out right now. DP is the choice if you are going to run a higher resolution screen or need faster data rates for your video. If you are using a 1440 resolution monitor, an ultra wide or 1080 monitor with high refresh rates, 120/144 or higher, then I would go with a display port cable.
Your choice however Christmas morning might be limited to what you have. Most monitors today come with a DVI or HDMI cable so those are the mostly likely methods of hooking up. Sometimes the best connection method is the one we have available.
This shopping season a lot of people are looking at the next generation gaming consoles, however I want you to consider another option, the Gaming PC. In this article I will look at the pros and cons on both and then leave you with, what I hope you feel, is an informed choice.
Lets begin with the next generation consoles, the Playstation and the XBox One. A console is actually a specialized gaming computer that works within specific hardware and software parameters. This allows for consoles to be kept lower in cost, as they are truly mass produced, as well as much easier to setup as they essentially do only a few things and are setup for those things out of the box. This simplicity of setup and function is a prime reason many people buy consoles. They want to play their games and do not want to mess with the other functionality that comes with a full computer.
The down side of the console approach is first cost. Now I know you are going to try to tell me how much less a console costs over a gaming PC and the initial out of the pocket cost is much lower. However that cost does not include the cost of having the console. Consoles require a monthly fee for multiplayer access to a network system, so we have a set monthly fee. Additionally console games are expensive, even used games often going for $30.
Speaking of games, not all consoles are created equal. Often that large game library you have built will not transfer to the next generation console you just bought, meaning you either sell off the games and build the library anew or keep your older consoles and thus have essentially two game system.
Gaming PCs are the other option for the more hardcore video gamers. A gaming PC ranges however in size and bling from massive towers with LEDs everywhere to simple boxes that sit on a shelf without drawing attention to themselves. Where with the console the consumer has the choice of buying what the company offers and that is it, a gaming PC has options ranging form buying a prebuilt system to building the system yourself.
A huge pro for gaming PCs are the raw horsepower they offer. Gaming PCs can always display games in higher detail, resolutions, effects and overall performance. In addition the level of power your get from your gaming PC is decided by you, you buy the power level you need, not use a one size fits all approach.
Another huge pro is the game library. Remember all those games you bought over the years, good news most of them will run fine on the newest gaming PC. Additionally the ability to buys games is a lot more open. While it is hard to buy used PC games, the games are often available at much lower costs. PC games range in price from $3 to over $100. New releases might come out at $60 but 6 months later the console game price is still the same and the PC has likely had at least one if not more sales that let you get the game for as much as $50 off.
Speaking of more game options, you also, with PC Gaming get access to a wonderful thing called mods. Mods are a gaming communities efforts to improve on a game they love. Now not all mods are worth the effort but many can be truly exceptional. Play Skyrim on a console then play the game modded on a PC and the console just feels dull by comparison.
On the con side, PC Gaming is a bit more technically involved. You have to deal with malware attacks and drivers. Most games just go in and work, just like a console but some require some effort. The console plugs in a game and plays with a PC game you have various settings you might need to tweak to get the best play experience. There is also the cost, a decent gaming PC will realistically set you back about $750 minimum. Oh you can get one for less and even get a solid experience but the true PC gaming experience takes a solid discrete graphics card and a little more cost on the PC side. Now a lot of people will talk about enthusiast level gaming rigs, in all fairness unless you are after a super high end experience you can built a really great gaming rig for under $1300.
So which is better? Well that is a personal choice. Whichever you choose, make sure your having fun, after all that is what gaming is all about.
Every family has at least one, that person that the rest of the family turns to when their computer goes down. That person that asks if others have seen some show about a blue police box or a starship, maybe even a bunch of droids and is met with awkward silence. The family geek is often the most unappreciated member and yet is called on to make sure Facebook works, or the computer powers up or the DVR was not flashing 12:00. So lets take some time and talk about how to make that geeks Christmas great.
Not every geek is a tech head so buying parts for a computer build might seem a good idea but is actually not. Unless the geek of the family has specifically requested a computer component I would suggest not buying one. Now that is not to say the family geek would not appreciate the gesture, however they usually have specific parts in mind and more than likely have bought them already. Also individual components can be expensive with some ranging into the $300+ range. Lets instead focus on some good lower cost items that pretty much any geek will appreciate.
USB Flash Drive: This little device may not seem like a big deal but these are often used devices that every geek can never seem to have enough of. You can find these devices in sizes ranging from 8 gig to 128 gig. You can find smaller but I would never suggest them and I personally think 128 gig is a bit large, to me 16 gig and 32 gig are the sweet spots. You can often find decent 32 gig flash drives for around $20. You will have a choice between USB 2.0 and USB 3.0, ALWAYS go with the USB 3.0. These newer drivers are much quicker and the geek likely has a newer system that can make use of the USB 3.0 speeds. As for brands I am partial to Kingston and every listener knows this. They make, in my opinion, the best flash drives. However I have found a few other brands that I would suggest. If you live near a Microcenter their generic flash drives have proven to be a great value and work very well. Also Corsair remains one of the top flash drive makers as well. No matter what brand you buy however a flash drive in the stocking will make that geeks eyes twinkle.
Mousing Surface: A mouse pad, the more common name, is something most people do not think of as a gift but one that I think is super for ANY computer user. A good mousing surface makes the mouse movements easier by providing better tracking for your optical mouse, your mouse movements are more precise and accurate. Now a bit of advice, avoid the generic cloth pads you can get at the local electronic stores. They might look pretty new but they stain, unravel, fade and in general fall apart way to quickly. If you want a padded, more clothe like surface I recommend the Landon series from our friends at Thermaltake. These are the BEST flexible pads I have used but they set you back $40+. I am a bigger fan of what are known as hard surface pads. My personal favorite is the WoW!Pad, only place I have seen these is on Amazon so look there and they run around $15 for the biggest one. A number of companies make similar pads but these are without doubt for me the best I have used. Your geek will love this as will anyone else that uses a mouse all the time.
Magnetic Screw Bowl: If your geek does any kind of computer building or work then this simple little gift will be a godsend. These are available in various shapes and sizes and cost anywhere from $2 to $10 depending on what you want from it. The premise is simple, a large magnet in the bottom of the bowl means any screws or such thrown in the bowl stays in the bowl until you purposefully take it out. I know this sounds like a silly gift idea but for as someone the builds computers almost every day I can tell you these are the best things since Coke Zero. Every geek that ever builds or repairs a PC should have one, and even if they do, a few extra will be appreciated.
Headband Lamp: When we did our PC Build Series I mentioned this devices as something a geek should have in his tool kit. These little lights are amazing when it comes to working on a PC. They allow light to exactly where you need it without contortions or needing 3 hands to hold lights and parts plus use the screw driver. They may not be stylish for our in public but when you are working on your PC, style is seldom a consideration. Devices like this range in price on Amazon from $5 to $35, I would say around $20 is a reasonable price.
Gift Cards: When all else fails the gift card is a solid fall back position. With gift cards available for practically every geeky thing on the planet this is a sure win. Prices on these cards can range from $10 to $100 typically meaning you can pretty much cover any price range you are shooting for. The key here is to have knowledge of the persons interests. For example if they like to read a Barnes and Noble (if they have a Nook) or an Amazon (if they have a Kindle) is a great choice. The techie geek might want a Microcenter, Newegg or even an Amazon card to buy parts and a PC Gamer will love a Steam card.
Now compared to many tech gift guides this might seem kind of sparse and generic, but my goal is different than theirs. I am not trying to sell something I would like as a gift or what an advertiser paid me to sell. I am looking at this as a way to give you some great, simple $20 or so range ideas that will make a geek happy and be useful to every geek in your family.
There are a lot of other great gifts out there but it would take pages to write up all the ideas. The best gift I think you can give your geek however is to show some appreciation to what he does. Have the family sit down Christmas night and share with him this year the Night of the Doctor special on BBC/BBC America. Do not roll your eyes, just sit and enjoy the moment with him, or her. Show them your grateful for all they do for the family and consider them more than in family tech support.
As always I wanted to post something to be thankful for this year. One thing we have never done on this show is really take the time to say thank you to all the company’s that have supported our show with samples for review or even sponsorships, I want to correct that this year.
Thermaltake: I have to start the thank you’s with our shows podcast sponsor for the last two years and a company that has stood by this show for many years Thermaltake. They have weather good reviews and bad from us but has always excepted what we are trying to do as a show, even when the review did not go their way. They are a great company that we are very thankful to have as a part of our show.
Kingston: Last year Kingston was the first sponsor every for our show and they have also been with the show for a long time. They make a great product and have been generous with the show in the way of review samples as well as spare parts for builds for our test rigs. Their support is something we do not have words to express our gratitude for.
Gigabyte: Over the years I have tried to work with every motherboard maker out there but only one has always been there when we needed a review sample or a board to test a new chip, the folks at Gigabyte. I have used a lot of boards over the years and even without their support I would suggest them as a first choice when buying. They produce high quality boards and have great pricing for what they offer.
Fractal Design: For the last few years Fractal has given us the opportunity to look at their cases and we have not been disappointed. Their simple elegant design immediately caught our attention but their build quality won us over. When we decided this year to go with an ITX build they where the first to jump in support us. Plus of course we still have more cases to see.
Steelseries: With our second set of products sent by Steelseries for our gaming peripheral shoot out, they have shown that their products are some of the best made. Their staff is quick to answer our calls and we are grateful for their support of the show.
AMD and Intel: Yes I know I just put the competitors together. The reason for this is that both companies over the years have worked hard with us to make sure we have the latest chips for review as well as having the parts we need for our test systems. In our spirit of being thankful this is not about competition but gratitude and we are grateful toi the support of both companies.
Genius: This year saw us have a number of companies send us product for review for the first time and one of the first was Genius. Their GX gaming gear has become one of our favorite’s around our lab and their quick support for our holiday giveaway won them a place in our hearts.
Lian Li: This was the first year Lian Li has stepped forward and taken part in the show and we have been impressed.
Logitech: The name might be familiar but as a company this was the first time they where officially a part of the show. They delivered a great product and showed why they are an industry leader.
Silverstone: Another new comer Silverstone gave us a chance to check out a couple of their power supplies as well as experience their unique case design, color us impressed.
Hauppuage: Bringing us a unique product lineup with some really interesting application this company has opened some new doors for the show.
EQD Corporation: The makers of Auria monitors was the first monitor company to work with us and we are excited about their products. Great quality with a low price make them an awesome value and that makes them a great choice in our book.
GamersGate: They may be listed last but they are certainly not the least valuable new addition to Computer Ed Radio. Their support by making sure we have various games for review cannot be overstated. Their contributions to the show are amazing and most welcome.
There are other I missed, I am sure and so let me say thank you to everyone that has support our show in 2013 and over the years. I ask all of you that follow Computer Ed Radio to send these companies a note saying thank you for their support or at the very least make them the first choice on your shopping lists this year. These companies give us the means to bring you reviews and tell you about great new products and not so great ones, they add to our show in ways you cannot imagine.
I also want to take the time to thank the folks at WSIU for the work they put in. They give us access to a great studio and then provide us with the work for much of the final editing as well as the chance for our show to be heard over the air ways locally and nation wide. A big thank you to Jason Berner, a young man with a passion for radio and computer gaming. He is working hard to learn the trade and his efforts as our engineer are greatly appreciated. I would be remiss to not thank my co-host and BFF Doug Berner for his contributions to the show. His counter point to me I think gives the show an edge that it was missing before he joined. His friend ship and efforts in the show mean a great deal to me.
Finally I am thankful to all of you, the listeners of Computer Ed Radio, it is for you I do this show and your listening and appreciation and amazing to me. This show started as a support tech for a local IPS talking about buying for a geek for Christmas so many years ago and look at where we are today. Back then I did this show because I love the hobby of computing and wanted to share that love with others. Today that is still the reason I do this show and the love for the hobby I stronger than ever. Thank you, to each and every one of you for giving me the platform to share that passion.
As we see 2013 roll to a close I have to tell you I am not sure what 2014 holds. We just did a year a of giveaways and some great shows, how are we going to top that? Well I am sure we will find a way, we always do.
I will close with this wish, I wish that each of you find some passion in this amazing hobby like I have and share it like I do. I wish that in some small way this show has inspired you to seek more from computing and helped you along the path. I wish that this holiday season you find the things that give you passion and share that passion with the people you love in your life. From my family and the entire staff at Computer Ed Radio (man all those years ago I would have never dreamed I had a staff), we wish you the happiest of holidays this season.
You know it is easy for journalists to tell you what is right about a product and even easier to explain what is wrong. However while everyone can tell you what is wrong no one seems to want to step forward and give realistic ways to fix things. A few weeks back on this blog I attacked the F2P world for the mess it had become, a world that is mostly MMO style games. Well I do not want to be one of those people that will tell you what is wrong but never offer a solution, so Doug and I have spoken on this often and I thought I would share our ideas.
The F2P model is supposed to work on the concept of giving away a game and then charging for small items in game to build revenue. This model works but only when the company sinks most of it’s time and effort into creating new items for the micro-transaction store. The result is often a game that feels shallow to more hardcore gamers. This model does not give the developers a steady cash stream to work with either. Many studies show that only about 20% of a games players actually provide the money to allow the other 80% to have a game to play.
The problem is the old model was not a good one either. The gamer would pay $60 for the game and then be expected to pay $15 a month to keep playing the game, resulting in a game that had a lot of cost associated with it, over $100 within the first 3 months of game play.
There is a hybrid system out there right now, Guildwars took a mixed approach with the game costing the initial $60 but the monthly play being free and then adding micro transactions and you buy any deep expansions. While that system seems to work well it does have the scare of spending $60 to pay for a game that may or may not be worth the money in the end.
The subscription model can be a boon for the players as they do not need to worry about buying little things for the game. However if you have this with a large upfront fee for the base game and have a micro-transaction store you turn off a lot of players. However the developers benefit from a steady cash and fairly predictable cash flow that can be used for more content.
The best solution I think is in the middle of all of these and my hope is people like Richard Garriot and the folks making ESO will listen.
Lets begin with the initial game itself. The real cost of an MMO comes in two parts, first the initial recoup of investment and then the constant upkeep and expansion. That initial recoup is the big pink elephant in the room that gamers hate to talk about, but it is viable concern. You could simple give the game away, as most F2P games do now and then hope enough people play to bring that investment back. What if, however you could have the best of both worlds? What if you could charge for the initial game buy but do so in a manner that does not drive gamers away? The folks at CCP currently have that model working with the initial game purchase being $20 and that includes the first month of a subscription fee. Gamers want free, we all do but they also know the truth of gaming and if the price was reasonable for the start you could charge a small fee and still get a large turn out, helping to defer some of that development cost.
Now then how to make money after that initial purchase? Personally I think the best solution is a subscription model. This gives the players, hopefully, a chance for higher quality content to roll out faster and means the devs have a steady cash flow. The best way to do this however, in a world full of F2P options, is to keep that cost low. The $15 a month model is a bit steep when you have so many free monthly choices. Bring that price down to $10 or even $5 a month and I think you would seen gamers flock to it, as long as the content was flowing at a reasonable pace and was actually substantive.
Now we still have a third way to bring in money, the micro-transaction store. The key I think is to make it purely about cosmetic items. For example custom dye packs for gear so you can change the default color. Now I do not think you do this by limiting the color you can find in game. What I think you do is al the colors for an item exist in game but you have no control in what you get. The Dye packs are one shots to change an items color to match what you want it to be. The same can be done for mounts, when you buy a mount you get a random color but in the cash store you could choose the mounts color and style. These types of transactions would in no way effect game play but would still be snapped up as people would want to personalize their experience more. Simple skin and color changes that only effect the cosmetics of the game are easy to generate but could bring in some solid cash returns.
As I stated a few weeks ago I think the F2P experiment has failed, we are seeing the efforts being more and more junk, game quality is suffering badly. Yet Pandora’s box has been opened and there is no stopping it whole hog. However I feel that if we look at a more middle ground approach we could see game quality return and gamers get a more satisfying experience and game developers not having to compromise their game vision to earn the money they need to keep development rolling.
If you have some ideas on this I would love to hear about them…..
Hey everyone just posting a quick note. Due to a combination of health reasons and a couple of unplanned business trips Doug and I have decided to not do a new show for this weekend or next. We have been fighting this ands up until just moments ago our plans where to make this happen but in the end we decided that show quality was to important for us to rush something out for you.
With this in mind the next show we will do will air the weekend of November 23rd and will be our first show for our holiday giveaway.
I cannot tell you how much this decision is eating at me. Yes I know it is just a couple of weeks but you, our listeners mean a great deal to me and I hate let anyone down. I ask your patience with this and promise we will make this up to you with the Holiday giveaway…
Thank to all of your for your support and patience.
There are a lot of game out there that are considered a success within the industry, they make a ton of money and players enjoy them but the truth is very few of those games are amazing. Look at the Battlefield series, (not counting 4 yet, still working on the review) or Call of Duty. Both of these series are highly successful but none of them with some of the earliest in the series could be termed amazing and even those are close. So what makes a game amazing?
First I think we need to define amazing in this context. Games today are judged on a lot of criteria, the most talked about but in truth one of the least important is the graphics of the game. In fact I think in some ways we are seeing graphical quality, especially so called realism, becoming more a detriment than a help as so many game devs focus on it to the exclusion of other aspects of the game. Other criteria used by many reviewers are also length of game play, game play stability and the mechanics of the game. These all play a part but to me they are contributing factors, not actual criteria.
For me what makes an amazing game is the water cooler test. The water cooler test is basically how much the game generates conversation outside the game itself in the players. How much does the game impact you, the experience move you. All the above criteria can work toward this goal but in the end they are not the actual test of what makes a great game. Many games over the years have scored highly in most of these categories and others but yet fail the water cooler test, they do not impact us.
So if the criteria points are not what makes an amazing game, then what does? That is hard to describe because it is a combination of so many factors and the way they balance together, an amazing game is truly more than the sum of it’s part. Over the last couple of years two games have leapt out at me as amazing. One is genre I have always loved and another a genre I typically avoid. Both have a play style, making use of first person, that is not usually high on my list. Yet each game has drawn me in the keeps me coming back and the way the companies did it where from two different approaches.
First up is Skyrim, arguably one of greatest games of all time. Bethesda created one of the most open world play styles ever seen, more open and in depth than 99% of the MMOs on the market including the ones that have been around 5 years or more. While Skyrim scored well on the bullet point check list it was not those checks that made the game great. In fact, as strange as this sounds it was not anything Bethesda did that made the game great.
What truly took Skyrim from a successful game to an amazing game was the open environment for game modders. Because of the solo play nature of the game Bethesda was able to allow the game modding community dive headfirst into the game and stand back. While Bethesda did produce some DLC the real expansions of note to the game came from the games community. This community energy and imagination tied to an open world design that embraced the additions resulted in what is truly an amazing game.
Doubt how amazing the game is, lets apply the water cooler test. I found people in businesses that never played a video game in their life talking about Skyrim. The TV industry embraces Skyrim and used it in more than few prime time shows, even the games little terminologies and quirks became a part of our society. I know almost no one who does not get an arrow in the knee joke. The game so impact players with their own little stories and adventures that these where talk in more than a few break rooms and not just the gamers joined in.
The second game shares only the game play perspective in common, in every other aspect it is almost at the other end of the scale, Borderlands 2.
Looking at the two games they are very different in a lot of aspects. Where Skyrim worked at a high detail graphics approach, BL2 went with a stylized comic book art system. Skyrim was about swords and magic while Skyrim is about guns and a mutant or two. Skyrim had a serious tone to it’s storyline and BL2 is literally a dive into sophomoric humor. Skyrim has a wide open play style that allows the community to expand the game and BL2 has a narrower adventure system with no community modding being supported.
Yes with these differences in many ways BL2 is just as amazing as Skyrim. Gearbox find a near perfect balance of the Diablo style of action RPG and then blended it with the FPS genre to create a game that is very successful. What makes BL2 amazing is as equally the opposite of Skyrim. Where Bethesda basically took their hands off the game and let the community run wild, Gear box kept control but kept giving the players more.
Through a combination of a micro transaction system and a player base reward system using their SHIFT feature, Bethesda gave to the players and just kept giving. In fact we have commented on the current contest Gearbox is running through the SHIFT system which gives players a chance to win as much as $50,000 just for playing the game, that’s an incredible thank you to the fan base.
What about the cooler talk criteria? While BL2 has not made the inroads culturally that Skyrim has made, with gamers the fan base is actually a bit more intense. One of the features BL2 has is co-operative game play. You can jump in with friends or even strangers and share the worlds gaming experience. This has a MMO type feel without the mess that comes with most MMO game play. It is common for me to talk with friends about a battle I fought in game, or something funny one of the characters in the game said and how great it tied into an event at the moment. This game demands you talk to friends and share experiences.
Now while these two approaches might seem to be at opposite ends of the scale, they resulted in the same effect, the created an intensely loyal and extreme active community. Each of the communities are actually growing despite both games being at the point when most games are in a bargain bin for $9.99. Both games continue to drive discussions among the fan base as well as outside the fan base, in fact both are actually picking it steam it seems.
The lesson to be learned from both games is that it is not enough to give a community a game, you need to interact with it. Now Bethesda did this in the most passive method possible. They made a game and let the modders have at, basically taking their hands off. They gave tools to the community as well as a solid base structure to work around and they they got out of the way. This removal was in it’s own way a powerful interaction with the community and they responded. Gearbox took the opposite approach and engaged strong and direct with the community. They have been super open about the game as a developer and they have made a point of giving a ton to the community.
This commitment however to the player base is something lacking from most other games on the market. There are some that approach this level but they always seem to pull back short of going for broke at either end of the spectrum. We as gamers and consumers should demand this kind of support or direction from our game developers. They need to make the community, as much as the game, their focus to create a truly amazing game.