Tag Archives: TV

Suggestions For Starting Mobile Suit Gundam

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For the last few months I’ve been watching a ton of Mobile Suit Gundam anime, and I think I’ve reached a point where I can at least put down a small collection of tips for anyone else thinking about getting into it or just taking a glance at it.

Mainly I’ve been watching different parts of the “Universal Century” Gundam shows, which if you don’t know form the main timeline around which the franchise was originally started. There are other shows taking place in their own continuities. I think this guide from Anime News Network is a good glance at the entire franchise, but it’s slightly outdated since a few more UC properties have come out since it was published, and I want to go over those a little bit. Continue reading

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What Happened To Licensed Games?

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I recently went ahead and posted my Steam user review of Platinum’s Legend of Korra game since it’s on sale for around $4 right now. Playing and reviewing a game based on a licensed property for once made me think about how relatively rare they are on consoles these days. Continue reading

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Returning To CRT Gaming

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Anybody else ever had to hook up an older game console to a shiny new HDTV? Looks terrible doesn’t it?

I’ve been going through this situation for a while now and have finally started to really look at my options. There are solutions to the problem, but they’re all at least fairly difficult.

I guess it’s the same problem you face when you play any old standard definition media on an HD set: SDTV signal, DVDs, VHS, etc. I guess the difference with video games is that it’s a lot harder to legally acquire a lot of older content in newer formats. TV shows are re-aired in HD and it seems like almost every noteworthy film get’s preserved and remastered in each new format. I’ve gone at length here before about how this is definitely not the case with video games. So, there’s a lot more reason for you to keep old consoles around.

Right now, partly just to see if I could do it and partly because I ran out of room, I have an NES hooked up to a 46” Samsung Smart TV through RF. Expectedly stuff like this or Super NES games look terrible, but what really hurts me is looking at early 3D games on N64 or Dreamcast on newer TVs. Looking at GoldenEye is just unbearable.

So, I decided to go ahead and dig out my old 14” Samsung CRT and find a place to sit it next to the other TV. As unwieldy as this setup sounds, it kinda made me realize how much I miss CRT gaming. In combination with old school consoles there’s a kind of directness to it that’s been lost on today’s games.

These days you gotta wait a few seconds for the TV to book up (in my case a Smart TV), the navigate your PS3 or Xbox 360’s menu, and then wait for the game to load up the disc or DLC or achievements or whatever. With my N64 on the CRT you just turn the TV on and turn the game on. It’s about to reach a point where I might flip that thing on whenever my PS3 or my PC is busy doing something. I’m even looking for a few classic games to serve that purpose.

If you don’t have the room for two TVs though and still want not-terrible image quality from older consoles, another option only super-enthusiasts seem to know about is buying an external scaler. It’s basically a converter you connect between the console and the TV that tells the TV how to properly interpret the archaic signal. It doesn’t result in HD graphics or anything, but it makes the older games look much closer to how they used to appear on curved-screen tube TVs. You get the return of things like scanlines and discrete pixels. It’s also supposed to cut down on the input lag that LCDs add to games. Problem is, these scalers, like the XRGB, tend to cost around $500.

Lastly, and this might be easier depending on what hardware you own, you could just hook a computer up to the HDTV and run some ROMs on that computer. I personally haven’t tried it yet but I don’t see why it can’t work. Emulators already re-render classic games at modern resolutions and often provide lots of extra tools to optimize image quality. Of course that means you’re downloading ROMs.

Crap like this is the reason game publishers are putting out so many HD re-releases and why Nintendo is trying to re-sell you games on Virtual Console. The video game industry just does a much worse job of it compared to other media.

BULLETS:

  • As of this writing, Gunpoint is half-off for about another day. You should go get it.
  • Didn’t know Michiko and Hatchin was out on Blu-Ray in English. Just one more anime Blu-Ray I can’t afford right now.
  • As of this writing, Ni No Kuni is $20 on PlayStation Network. Don’t know if it’s permanent or a sale.
  • They’re trying to bring back Mutant League Football but it’s kind of being ignored. http://t.co/5CEuHlJKd2
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The So-Called “HD” Consoles

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I couldn’t find the quote, but I remember hearing shortly after Gears of War 3 came out lead designer Cliff Blezinski disagreeing with fans who said the game looked amazing, saying it “looked like shit.” This was more or less a pitch for Unreal Engine 4 and next generation console gaming, but after getting this new TV I’m honestly starting to agree with him.

If you go to forums or hang out around places like Eurogamer’s Digital Foundry, you might encounter some videophile PC-elitist going on about how all console games these days have terrible image quality and how current generation consoles are just too old. Getting a 46” Samsung LED display is all it took to convince me that the problem is real.

Up until now I’ve been playing all my current generation console games on one of two setups: A 2004 32” Samsung CRT that could display 720p or 1080i but had a native resolution somewhere in-between, and a 55” Sony XBR set up in a room where I was forced to sit 12 feet away from it. As I’ve just discovered, playing on a low resolution TV or sitting far away from any TV does a lot to hide the visual flaws in console games (even standard definition Wii games look good from 12 feet away).

When I first played Gears 3 on both of these setups I was blown away by what Epic had achieved on the aging Xbox 360 hardware. When I fired the game up on my new display this week I was horrified at the total lack of anti-aliasing and the low resolution textures, not to mention the game’s base resolution being blown up onto a 1080p screen.

See, back in 2005 J. Allard sold the Xbox 360 as the start of the HD console era, but we’re not really there yet. Most big console games right now run in 720p, if even that, and simply rely on either the TV or the Xbox to upscale them to 1080p, throwing IQ to the wind in favor of squeezing more and more graphical effects out of seven-year-old hardware.

A lot of these games still have really nice underlying graphics. Gears 3 still has impressive lighting and shadow effects as well as nice art direction. Uncharted 2 still has beautifully complex environments and shaders going on. God of War III still manages to throw all those things together in ways not seen in any other 60 frame-per-second console game. After trying out all those games on my new TV however, they no longer look as mind-blowing as they did when I didn’t see them as clearly (I should note that I’m sitting about five feet away from the 46” Samsung).

Their status now reminds me of how I felt playing late PS2-genreation games like Yakuza and God of War II in 2006 and 2007 over component cables. They still look pretty good — aesthetically acceptable, but not as impressive as when the hardware was brand new. From my view this even puts a damper on the cinematic “wow” factor that games like Uncharted 2 once had.

Some of you might say I should’ve bought a Plasma which may upscale better, or I have my TV set up wrong. I’ve looked at all those options and the simple fact is that we are playing 720p games on 1080p displays. They may look okay, even good, but they never bring out the screen’s full potential as long as they’re stuck at that resolution.

It’s really no different from connecting older consoles to newer TVs, which is usually advised against. I have no choice in the matter, and now have all kinds of standard definition crap on this TV. I didn’t think I’d run into this problem with Xbox 360 and PS3 games though. Y’know how you might reach a point during a console generation when the previous generation’s graphics no longer please you? I feel like I’ve reached that point with today’s consoles without there actually being any new ones.

Well, I have been playing a lot of PC games recently which is probably part of the issue. I guess owning a gaming rig has spoiled me to being able to play games at my monitor’s native resolution in a way similar to being spoiled by a new console’s graphics.

Last year for a little bit I tried to hook up my PC to the 55”, and playing games on it felt earth-shattering. Looking at the PC versions of Crysis 2 and RAGE on a 1080p TV made me realize that I’d never seen a AAA console shooter running natively at that resolution before. The leap in image quality alone made me feel like I’d hooked up a new console. I thought to myself that this was the “HD generation” that Allard had promised us.

But why don’t most gamers, and really games journalists, bring up the image quality problem? I think it’s because 720p (barely) and 30 frames per second have become the standard on today’s consoles and relatively few people are exposed to games running any better than that. Virtually the only console games that run in 1080p right now are download-only games or classic collections that at-best have the graphics of a PS2 game. For me, those have been the real shining stars of what I’ve tested on my new TV so far.

I played some of the XBLA Perfect Dark (y’know, the N64 game) which runs in 1080p at 60fps, and despite its N64 graphics still looked cleaner than Gears 3.  The HD versions of Ico and Shadow of the Colossus in particular looked clearer than almost any console game I’ve seen, maintaining the cinematic splendor they had all those years ago. It felt like watching Criterion Collection classics on Blu-Ray. The closest I can get to “current generation graphics” in 1080p is Wipeout HD (and Gran Turismo 5 but I don’t have that game right now).

Some larger retail games however do a good job navigating the weaknesses of the aging hardware. Final Fantasy XIII in my opinion has some of the best IQ on the PS3, as Square Enix somehow figured out how to properly upscale the game to 1080p better than any other 720p game I’ve seen on the system.  Assassin’s Creed III has very impressive anti-aliasing and probably some of the best console image quality around right now, though at the cost of its frame rate. A lot of these late generation games are making big compromises to keep visually impressing players, whether it’s in IQ, framerate, or shadows.

I probably sound like some kind of videophile myself by now. Let me put this into perspective by saying that none of this prevents any of the aforementioned games from being fun. I still love horde mode in Gears 3. While I may be disappointed at the flaws my new TV revealed in Uncharted 2, I still had to tear myself away from the game while testing it. Heck, the first thing I did with this TV was play Super Mario Bros. on an NES over an RF switch and it was still fun as ever.

But still, all this has made me hope that developers (or Sony and Microsoft) at least institute 1080p as the standard resolution for games on next generation consoles. We all have these HDTVs now, let’s at least put all those pixels to good use.

BULLETS:

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So I Own a Smart TV. Now What?

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My final Christmas present was a new TV which prompted me to basically reconstruct my entire “battle station,” as many gamers like to call it these days. As it turns out my new set is a smart TV, so I can finally see what all the commotion over them is about.

This comes after an NPD report saying that most people are using smart TVs to… well watch TV, and not much else. I don’t think it’s hard to see why really. Watching online video on your television screen is great — for a lot of people it’s replaced cable, but I think most of us agree that the preferable method for this is to buy a $100-$300 box and hook it up to their TV instead of buying a new $1,000 TV.

But nonetheless I ended up getting a deal on a Samsung 6100 series (lower than the one at the link) and only later discovered it was a smart TV. Already having an Xbox and Wii (among a bunch of old consoles that have no business near a 46” LCD screen) connected to it, I’m messing around with the TV’s own OS seeing if there’s any reason I’d use it.

So far the one reason I’ve found to care about a smart TV at all is the fact that it has HBO Go in its app store (which I was surprised even existed). For those who aren’t HBO subscribers who use Go regularly, it is frustrating how few television devices offer it. HBO intentionally disabled AirPlay functionality in the iOS Go app, and the software is nowhere to be found on the PS3 over a year after they first announced it. Other than this TV, The Xbox 360 and the Roku box are the only living room devices I know of that run HBO Go. It’s literally one of two remaining reasons I still pay for Xbox Live Gold.

Despite all the video apps the 360 acquired over the last year, I still don’t really see it as a video-playing device. That’s probably just my own perspective — maybe it’s because I still own the fat white 360, or because I still don’t own a remote for it, or simply because the PS3 feels like a more natural choice for online video. I first bought my PS3 for Blu-Ray movies and have used it for viewing photos and videos of various kinds almost more than I’ve played games on it. It just disappoints me that Sony has allowed Microsoft to beat them in this area.

But enough about my anger over set top boxes not rising to Xbox’s challenge, from my view the smart TV’s uses are few at this point. Oh, the Samsung app store has a Ustream app, which isn’t available on any box that I know of. All the other software I see using here I could just as easily use on another box I already own. Possibly the most useful feature of this thing in my situation is going to be its USB ports.

The TV itself may only carry a paltry 800MB of internal storage, but the fact that I can hook up my new terabyte hard drive to it means it may yet become a video-playing powerhouse on its own. The 360 has ridiculous size and format limits regarding playback from external media. The PS3, while compatible with a wider range of formats, still has some small but critical limitations that I won’t go over here.

Most importantly, the Samsung’s instruction manual says it’ll play MKVs.

Now I haven’t gotten them to work yet, but for years now getting MKVs to play on a TV screen (with subtitles) has been something of a holy grail of mine. Doing it on a PS3 or Xbox requires a whole lot of conversion or some streaming over a very good internet connection. I know there are a handful of boxes (Roku?) that can do it, but none that I own.

Still, all these abilities that a smart TV might have to make it useful are merely due to exclusions and limitations enforced by set top box manufacturers, not the fact that it’s a whole television set. It’s still obvious that there’s no real inherent advantage here.

This is why I still don’t quite understand all the speculation of Apple building their own smart TV. The main advantage there would be the emergence of a living room device that runs the iOS app ecosystem. That alone would be huge, affecting the smart TV, set top box, and even game console markets. I just don’t see why Apple can’t simply release a buffed-up Apple TV and charge a few hundred dollars for that instead of charging over $1000 for a whole TV set. Why can’t they let me control my iPhone or iPad by remote when it’s hooked up over HDMI? Manufacturers in general are just gonna have to realize that most people aren’t going to replace their TV sets every three years. It’s more like a refrigerator than a phone or computer when you think about it.

Really though, it’s all one more reason for me to eventually just hook up a computer to my TV. From everything I’ve seen it kills at least five birds with one stone.

BULLETS:

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If You’re Looking for TV About Gaming…

When it comes to media surrounding video games, one of my great disappointments is that there isn’t a lot of great video programming centered on it. It seems that most big gaming websites have video reviews and sometimes video interviews or news, but very little that really examines games in a unique or smart way.

We’ve had some good stuff back in the past, but for the most part today the best gaming video I’ve seen is on YouTube, produced either very cheaply or likely for free. Most if it is, really, just a bunch of dudes sitting around playing and commenting on a game, sort of like a podcast in video form.

The first and from my point of view most well-known of these has been GameGrumps. It’s literally just two guys playing a selected game for maybe 15 minutes per episode with a bunch of commentary – one of them the guy who used to make the “Awesome” series of flash videos on Newgrounds.

I guess you could call that a “Let’s Play” but it doesn’t feel like one at all. Mostly they just talk about random crap but actual insightful commentary does seep through, and you can see some real production skill in there from the intros and animated shorts sometimes made from the commentary. These guys are able to produce probably at least a few hours of content a week which has made for a steady stream of something to watch during my morning exercises.

The YouTube show most similar to GameGrumps (which they themselves actually recommended) is called Continue. It’s a similar deal – they mostly play old games with commentary. The commentary though is much more satirical and the games often a lot more obscure. I personally have to give them props just for observing some of my favorite unknown games like WCW vs NWO Revenge and Metal Warriors.

A favorite that I keep hearing about is Retro Game Master – an actual Japanese TV series, most of the episodes to which find their way to YouTube. I haven’t found the time to watch an actual episode yet but it is also apparently a show about a guy playing old games with commentary, just in Japanese. I know at least one season is available on DVD in North America.

When it comes to video coverage of current games, my problem is that I just miss the 1up Show. There was something about the way the 1up Show previewed games and interviewed that was very effective at getting me interested in games. I think they were the main reason I ever wanted an Xbox 360. Part of that was the show’s raw style which made both the game coverage and commentary feel very down to earth, something that more “professional” looking shows like GameTrailers TV just don’t replicate. I’ve heard that GiantBomb has sort of taken up the mantle of personality-driven video programming, but I haven’t seen enough to believe this yet. Really though, I’d like the former 1up guys at Area5 to find somewhere they can continue their work.

BULLETS:

  • I made a couple of new custom box arts for Dishonored and Resident Evil 6: http://t.co/Irsx95nh
  • This is where the Minecraft people work: http://shar.es/5vdwR 
  • Now streaming on Netflix: Haywire, The Grey, Indie Game: The Movie
  • Fighting games on sale on Xbox Live soon: http://flpbd.it/pKvKb
  • When you think about it, it kind of boggles the mind that EA never released a Gold, Game of the Year, or Ultimate Edition of Mass Effect 2, seeing as that game has about $40 worth of DLC attached to it.
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