The owls are not what they seem

As much as the Steam Box is exciting and the idea of being able to access my game library on the couch is one that thrills me, the fact of the matter is everyone that I have talked too about having a SteamOS enabled living area, has pretty much indicated that they would most likely consider building their own machine.

There are still X number of companies pre-building models to ultimately sell, we are likely to see more about them at upcoming events like GDC but considering the information we witnessed before and some of the most ludicrously priced hardware, I’m not expecting this year to be any different and if it is indeed more of the same then it’s drives me further away from the idea of purchasing a prefab one.

The part I’m really interested in is the (owl) controller, which has been through many iterations as the design has changed
Valves haptic controller is also rumoured to be making an appearance at GDC this year, of course now the central touch screen is gone, the button configuration have been adjusted, modified and rejigged, the directional buttons have been replaced by some kind of analogue stick it’s believed?

SteamController

I’m hoping the final product (whatever the design) will be in my grubby little mitts before the year is out, mind you it could be utter pants, guess we have to wait and see.

#Hardware #Valve

Keyboard melting

I’ve had my Sidewinder x4 for nearly 3 years and and and it’s finally staring to show signs of wear.
The keyboard itself is still in working wonderfully but the continually use of certain keys has meant the plastic coating on the lettering is slowly wearing away. This appears to be due to the letter printing being on the outside of the key 😐

It doesn’t seem like I’m the first to experience this and as there are a few for sale on ebay that look to be suffering from the same problem. I have been watching for a second-hand one in good condition but the product looks to be discontinued as it’s out of stock everywhere, thus the chances of finding one with keys intact is proving rare.
I previously contacted Microsoft to see if I could purchase replacement keys but that was pretty much a dead end.

Out with the old

So in preparation for purchasing a replacement I’m on the hunt for some new hardware and have shortlisted some that interest me. For me there are a number of features that I would like, first is is dedicated media keys, I dislike having to perform some key combo just to mute sound. secondly nothing over the top, like the Madcatz Strike 7, and last I have limited space so nothing crazy wide like some of the old Razer products measuring over 50cm, which almost places my mouse in the next room.

  • Aorus – Thunder K7 – Gigabytes gaming brand is new to the scene but the build quality looks to be good and there are a number of features that appeal to me, like the de-attachable numpad/macrobank, however wrist support only works for the complete keyboard
  • Corsair – Vengeance K70 – A solid mechanical keyboard that comes with a few options of Cherry MX switch types, has media keys/volume wheel and a wrist support
  • Ducky – Shine 3 – I do like the look of these and they come in a mix of MX switches and backlighting but the lack of dedicated media keys is quite off-putting
  • Logitech – G710+ – Standing as Logitechs first Mechanical keyboard the G710+ has very mixed reviews. Only in Cherry MX Brown with a very high price tag. Does have media keys and volume roller.
  • Razer – Various – I have owned 2 Razer keyboards and despite being nice they are very bulky, which isn’t good for me requirements. However the newer boards have swapped from Cherry to their own switches which they are reporting have been designed for gaming.

I may have to put a little more time into working this out.
What are you using?

#Hardware

Casting Chrome

It was recently my birthday and one of the gifts I received was Google’s ChromeCast, which I’d had my eye on since the came out and I’ve not been disappointed since I started using it. Of course it’s aim at those who are invested in Googles software in it’s many forms.

Once slotted into the HDMI of my TV it was much easier to watch Youtube, Google Music, iPlayer or Netflix via my phone or tablet. These apps are enhanced and instantly detect the cast functionality and enables a 1-click-button to broadcast.

chromecast-deviceOn the PC the result is the same and I have found it easy to broadcast from my computer to the TV connected to the device. With access to my PC and a Chrome Browser extension I can broadcast a tab to the TV including audio. Tab broadcast is very nice as I use Amazon Cloud Player and can stream this using the enhanced Audio Quality setting.

Certainly a nice piece of kit if you are wanting to enhance your streaming capabilities.

Rise of the Machines of Steam

One the main news items to come out of CES has been the stories of the Steam Boxes, don’t worry I’m not going to bore you with specifications of them in this post.

As with PC’s there are wild variations of specifications as each manufacturer brings their own designs and configurations to the table.
Of course this has a massive impact on the prices, of the ones that gave a price, they ranged from between $500 to $6000.
I thought about the huge price range and how that could negatively impact the machines, but as with anything PC related you get what you are willing to pay for, it makes sense to allow PC gamers to “customise” their machine by offering choice.

But …

Steamos

Why do I need another high spec machine when what I have is perfectly capable of running the games I want?
The answer is that you shouldn’t (aside from showing off to your console friends ofc).

In the back of my head there was a small voice that screamed “overkill” as I was looking at the specs of the Steam machines. Sure for the games that release with SteamOS compatibility, they will enjoy the best the machine can offer, but it’s not clear how many future titles will run in native SteamOS, initially or long term.

For me the biggest feature that I am keen to get my hands on is the Streaming from my Windows machine.
Since my PC can handle the heavy work of rendering the game, all my Steam Box theoretically needs to do it display that for me to play the game from the living room.

Dual-OS has been pitch on some of them, which would mean you could reduce your PC count if you wanted, but I’m not overly keen on loosing my desktop PC just yet.

Talking of small machines, I originally started looking at hardware back when SteamOS was announced and found this nice video looking at The Cool master Elite 130 case and installing a nice selection of kit. I’d not want that much to begin with but having a case that can handle more in the future isn’t a bad idea.

Pick a phone,any phone!

So I took the plunge and finally got a phone without a keyboard after quite a bit of debating I finally picked the HTC One, I’m pretty sure that without my Nexus last Christmas I wouldn’t have considered moving to touch-screen. Here is my thoughts and some of my reasoning.

The phone

HTC-ProductDetail-Hero-slide-04I have to admit the phone feels rather nice in your hand, the balance is perfect for me. As the case is built from a single piece of aluminium it’s alot lighter than I thought it would be. The only external buttons are the volume rocker and the power key, the power key placement is a little odd in that it’s on the top left and not right as it common with phone of this factor. But it soon became familiar practice to head to the left not right.

The resolution is very nice and the quality is rather better than I expected. There are dual front facing speakers with BoomSound which give a nice balanced sound over all the ranges. When these features are combined for example watching films on Netflix, the quality of the phone really stands out.

The OS

The HTC Sense brand of Android has taken a little getting used to, but as with anything there are new short-cuts and features to discover. Bear in mind that I have only used stock Android OS on my Nexus before now, so this in some cases feels like a step backwards as I find some things more limited.

The keyboard software is rather nice and I loaded up the stock Google one to compare, and there are a number of alterations that make it better suited to the Phone environment. The biggest feature that I will miss from my old phone will be configurable alerts on an app by app basis, as setting the Ringtone, Alerts & Alarm seems to be a little restrictive, I’m sure there is an app to help me somewhere.

Camera

The 4 UltraPixel camera is a mixed bag, perhaps it’s just my unfamiliarity with the camera but zooming doesn’t always result in good qulaity pictures. However I overlook that fact as the low-light pictures come out fantastically, which is good when your child isn’t fond of flashes on cameras.

There a number of addition features of the camera that drew me to this phone:

  • Zoe – this is a rather awesome piece of software, allowing for a short video instead of  a picture which allows you to remove moving objects & extract stills
  • Always smile looks good but I’ve yet to use it (I only know miserable people 😉
  • HD, Slow motion and highspeed video capture
  • Burst shots allow you to pick one to keep and remove the rest, ideal for toddlers

My case

As I travel on public transport for 10+ hours every week I wanted something tough enough for that and to also deal with my 3 year old too. Thankfully as this phone has been out for a little while there was a good range of cases on the market. In the end I opted for an Otterbox Defender which to be fair is more than I need, so I don’t by default use the outer case shell, but it’s always good to have the option there. Also the built in screen protector means I’m not worrying about it pealing off after a few weeks.

Picking a Phone

When I was trying to pick a new phone I read quite alot of reviews of the latest phones on the market.

The video below was the one that swayed my decision in the end, despite there being some incorrect information such as the camera quality and the ease of adding short-cuts, but maybe that was revised in the software since the video was filmed.  I am happy to say that I’m very please with my choice.