Technology news and commentary by the staff

Archive for October, 2007

Xbox 360 HD DVD drive bundled with Heroes Season 1 (for free)

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Ever since we started discussing the differences between Blu-ray and HD DVD, I always thought and assumed that when time came, I would jump to the Blue team bandwagon. After all, Sony’s format offers a larger technological leap and seems to be more data (PC) friendly…

Almost two years later, neither format dominates the market and it would appear that for the immediate future they will have to co-exist. Personally I had not been paying much attention to the whole format wars until recently that I bought a new HDTV and prices for the HD formats have been lowered to more reasonable ranges.

Making a long story short, I got myself a Xbox 360 a few months back making the upgrade to an HD DVD easier and less costly, so that’s the route I recently took. As many of you may be aware, there is a mail-in promotion offered by both Blu-ray and HD DVD manufacturers where you can get 5 free movies with the purchase of a player (this includes the relatively cheap Xbox add-on HD DVD – which also works with PCs via USB).

Well, only three weeks after I bought myself the Xbox HD DVD add-on, a new promotion is out for a limited time. Amazon and other retailers like BestBuy and seem to be carrying it, the drive is being bundled with a free set of Heroes Season 1 HD DVDs. That’s a really good promotion if you like the TV show and were planning to buy it anyway, ahh.. too bad I missed it!

Written by Julio Franco

October 31st, 2007 at 11:21 pm

New MacBook update on its way

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Update: This didn’t take too long, the minor MacBook update has been confirmed. No word on LED backlighting unfortunately.

Whether you are a Mac user already or are planning to give one a try, it’s only obvious that any plans for upgrading or getting a new machine revolved around the release of OS X Leopard. We are hearing from various sources however that the Apple MacBooks, which account for a large percent of Mac computer sales, are about to get a hardware update that could be announced anytime between now and November 15th.

I only thought it would be appropriate to advise to hold off your buying plans for just a little while and avoid getting pissed by buying a new machine that will become an “old model” in a matter of weeks. It’s believed that only the MacBook (and maybe the Mac Mini) will be getting hardware upgrades, this does not affect the MB Pros. Details are scarce at this time but an upgrade to Intel’s Santa Rosa platform seems imminent. Other rumors circulate around a slight graphics update to Intel X3100 graphics and a much awaited LED-backlighted screen.

Written by Julio Franco

October 30th, 2007 at 3:57 pm

TV on the web & the GigaOm show

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One of the reasons that drove me to relaunch the TS blog was that I wanted to share with our site community a variety of things, many of them even PC/tech related, that departed from the core coverage offered on the frontpage and in our usual reviews and articles.

Take for example the current revolution of video and TV shows on the web. Sure, we do report on big things like YouTube and its billionaire Google acquisition. Joost is another promising project that for now is getting limited mainstream attention. There’s a few traditional media giants like BBC and other networks in the US that are delivering video on demand. But just like with websites in the early days of the WWW, the door has also opened for a whole new category of niche focused shows coming from independent sources and not standard media companies.

For many the ball got rolling distributing amateur video on YouTube, but there is also a number of web startups dedicated to offer unique video content. One such company is Revision3, better known for hosting the video blog of called Diggnation. That show in particular doesn’t do much for me but there are a couple others that certainly deserve a mention.

PixelPerfect is a very cool show hosted by digital artist Bert Monroy, certainly one to watch if you are into Photoshop or want to learn some basic design tools and skills. Another great show is the GigaOM show, hosted by Om Malik, a seasoned writer for print publications turned blogger. The guy has some enviable writing skills, so his website is pretty decent if you are into web start-ups. The show tries to follow that same line of content but the interviews is what makes it great.

My favorite recent show is the one where they interview Dan’l Lewin, Microsoft’s Corporate Vice President for Strategic and Emerging Business Development. Mr. Lewin defended Vista really well giving an insider perspective of what the OS means to the software giant. He also mentioned how despite of the poor blogosphere reception, Vista sales were doing well (that was weeks before recent news when Microsoft stock exploded after positive financial results due to Vista in part).

At the end of each show, Om and co-host Joyce Kim read some of the feedback received by viewers. In both of the last two shows they have mentioned my own critique for Om’s socks, which has obviously put me to laugh (both times). However, after writing this blog post I will try to clarify with Om that by no means I was trying to be offensive but it was pure constructive criticism (not on his socks choice but how he was wearing them). I saw this as a fault from the production team that did not pay enough attention to the little details that could detract from the professionalism you expect on a visual medium. I know he took it very lightly but still, I wish the best of luck to him and his team, maybe there will be chance to meet at some conference in the future.

Written by Julio Franco

October 28th, 2007 at 9:51 pm

Crysis single player demo is out…!

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If you thought the release of Mac OS X 10.5 was the big news for Friday, think again. In the wider PC world, or in PC gamers’ world for that matter, the release of the eagerly awaited Crysis sounds like more exciting news. The demo came unannounced after a delay early this month, but it’s now out there so what are you waiting for?

The demo includes the complete first level, dubbed “Contact,” which will give you roughly 45 minutes of gameplay. In addition, Crytek is packing in the CryEngine 2 Sandbox game editor, giving the community the opportunity to get familiar with the tools they will have at their disposal before the actual game ships on November 16.

As a side note, Nvidia has released new Forceware beta drivers (169.01) that are optimized for use with this SP demo. If you ask me it’s ridiculous how you need to upgrade drivers every time a new major title is released, it happened with Bioshock, UT, and now Crysis. But anyway, pick your OS and download here.

PS: In all fairness, the release of Leopard are exciting news. Certainly the #1 candidate for the most polished and user-friendly OS currently available.

Written by Julio Franco

October 26th, 2007 at 5:57 pm

Posted in gaming,software

The popular TechSpot user gallery

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There are a number of semi-hidden features on TechSpot that unfortunately go unnoticed by many. It’s likely that frequent readers of our news coverage or reviews have yet to visit the forums and see how thousands of users stop by every week helping and sharing their knowledge with fellow TS members.

Other two (even more buried) sections are our Windows Startup Radar which gives info on startup programs and the User Picture Gallery, otherwise known as “the gallery.”

Just recently the developers of web software Photopost (which we use to run the gallery) announced a new milestone update and website. This piece of software is particularly popular as it integrates well with the even more popular vBulletin forum that thousands of websites use and have relied on for years now.

According to the new Photopost website, our gallery happens to be one of the most popular on the net (using Photopost) with 2,288 photos uploaded, over eight thousand comments, and 29 million picture views. Not bad at all considering we are not a general purpose site but have restricted uploads to technology and PC related pictures for the most part.

Way to go TS members! If you have not checked the gallery yet, you may want to do so now and upload anything cool you have to share, too. BTW, I recently upgraded the gallery to accept pictures up to 2560×1600 pixels.

Written by Julio Franco

October 22nd, 2007 at 12:02 am

Posted in blog,techspot,the web

Fix for running Bioshock in Windows 2000

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This little tweak has been available from our forum for a few weeks now thanks to Per who apparently is still running the old trusty Win2k (and you thought you were being conservative keeping XP for a while longer). It has been confirmed by users this should work for both demo and full versions of the game that officially only supports XP SP2 and Vista.

To play Bioshock on Windows 2000 you need two files, dbghelp.dll and xinput1_3.dll:

  • You can get dbghelp.dll from a Windows XP or 2003 install, the version I used which worked was 5.2.3790.3959 from a 2003 SP2 server install.
  • You can find the xinput1_3.dll on Bioshock’s install DVD or in the root directory of the demo zipfile in a folder called “dx redist” Open the file and extract the .dll file.
  • Now you need to open it in a HEX Editor, I use Hex Workshop.
    Search for the textstring: “TraceMessage” and replace that with “GetUserNameA”
  • Place both .dll files in the games install directory under \Builds\Release
    (Don’t overwrite the files in your winnt/system32 dir!)

That should do the trick! You may want to install the latest videocard drivers available, too, since both Nvidia and ATI have addressed bugs and optimizations targeted to Bioshock. More information and user feedback on this fix can be found in our forums. Enjoy, and thank Per!

Written by Julio Franco

October 18th, 2007 at 3:41 am

Posted in gaming,tips & tricks

Away visiting Orlando, FL

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While my plan for the blog is to keep a constant flow of posts, at least one per day, this week I’m out of the office visiting Orlando, Florida with my wife, so with the limited amount of time left to work on TechSpot, I’m forced to dedicate it to the main site using a crappy (paid) hotel net connection…

Hopefully before the end of the week I will have more updates for you besides this picture recently taken at Universal:

universal orlando

BTW, it’s ridiculous the amount of spam a WordPress blog can get from bots. Not running Akismet is really overkill, so if you’ve got one here’s a mandatory plugin.

Ok, so one last thought… if you are ever on location, this is a MUST see. I caught them earlier this year during CES at Las Vegas and I’m repeating on Thursday here in Orlando. Awesome show.

Written by Julio Franco

October 17th, 2007 at 4:58 am

Posted in blog

Make Firefox look like (the old) Netscape

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Many of you probably remember the earlier days of the web when the browser dominance wars took place between Netscape (which enjoyed a majority share) and Internet Explorer.

One of the many things I remember is how I used to prefer Netscape which was a more elegant browser and hands down the better overall program on its early versions. It wasn’t until years later that IE took over while Netscape remained stagnant and slowly faded away.

It was all about 28.8k modems and the eternal wait that took for opening graphic-intensive sites. You actually had enough time to go get some something from the fridge, or just stare at the beautiful “loading” buttons…

netscape static throbber netscape animated throbber 2

So… if you are anything like me, you may want to skin your fully-stable and secure Firefox browser to look like the old Netscape.

Because Firefox is completely skinnable and there’s a huge community behind it, you won’t even have to mess around with any files, I picked the three best Netscape themes from the official add-on site for you to try out:

  • Foxscape: This is by far my favourite, resembles the looks of the old Netscape 4.8 that uses the throbber (loading) buttons you see above.
  • Modern Aluminum: This is a port of Netscape 7.x, all silver buttons with a more subtle look.
  • Netstripe: This is a new official skin developed by the guys behind the new Netscape 9 beta browser. It’s a very nice green-ish theme, and a good excuse not to try the actual Netscape 9 browser that also uses the Mozilla (Firefox) code as a base.

While we are on the topic, I wanted to share another tip on customizing Firefox. You can also change (only) the throbber (that is the name given to the “loading” circle displayed by default on Firefox). You can create your own JPEG/GIF files and tell Firefox to use those instead. Here is a good guide on how to do that and yet another link for an already coded add-on that adds a spinning Firefox logo.

Written by Julio Franco

October 13th, 2007 at 7:40 am

So, what is Expose?

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Missing from my Switcher 2.0 post yesterday was an explanation of what Expose is. I guess some people are just too lazy to follow some links, but then again that’s not uncommon, after all why should you care?

In the particular case of Expose I believe some movies are worth more than a thousand words…
Here’s an introductory video of Expose’s original implementation in Mac OS X :

Also the guys at DownloadSquad posted a video of Switcher 2.0 working on Windows, this was after they got word of its release from my post yesterday:

Written by Julio Franco

October 12th, 2007 at 3:49 am

Posted in apple,software,video

Switcher 2.0: Finally an Exposé like app for Windows that works!

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Mac fanboys and even some so-called Windows fanboys will praise OS X like there is no tomorrow… all while bashing Vista in the process, of course.

In my personal experience Vista is not as bad as some people say, while XP with its rocky past, today seems to be solid enough. Apple’s OS X offers a nice overall environment and while it’s still missing some appeal for me to become a switcher, I have to admit it’s got one particular feature I would love to get in Windows: Exposé!

Ever since I upgraded to Vista I have waited for developers to come up with an Exposé-like application to replace the good looking but useless Flip3d. Well, it’s been over six months and I have tested a bunch of implementations… some would simply crash, others would become system hogs (and eventually crash), this went on and on for months.

Until now. Microsoft employee Bao Nguyen has been working on such an application for months on his free time (as a hobby project, not Microsoft directed). He already used to have the better Exposé application out there with Switcher 1.0 but it was still a bit buggy and not fast enough to really use and enjoy. Earlier this week he silently launched a beta version of Switcher 2.0 and I have been playing with it for a few hours now. It’s finally here, Exposé for Windows that actually works like it’s supposed to!

I’m happy to report Switcher 2.0 (beta – download here) feels very solid, it’s very customizable in both looks and function and runs fast enough for daily use and abuse. At least on my desktop system running Vista (Athlon X2 4400+, 2GB, GeForce 7800GT) it runs just fine, even playing videos and updating windows in real-time. Excellent job, great free application!

Written by Julio Franco

October 11th, 2007 at 7:08 am