Nobody needs more than one game console…


Well, that’s what one of my brothers wrote me.

I don’t agree.

Nobody needs even one game console.

But some want one. Some want more than one. I did.

Sure, I bought a Nintendo Wii last spring. But, well, I knew this was coming. In fact, I’ve been planning to purchase one since before they were released last year. I fully intended to purchase Halo 3 when its release date arrived, but I needed two things: an HDTV, and an X-Box 360.

Well, the HDTV was taken care of a couple of months ago. But a few weeks ago I didn’t have a 360 (I still had a first-generation X-Box that was getting used less and less each month). For a while I thought I wouldn’t buy one until December but I ended up with slightly more disposable income this month and the release date of Halo 3 was fast approaching (September 25 of this year).

So, in my typical fashion, I bought an X-Box 360 to prepare for Halo 3.

Why would I want another game console? My most relevant answer is simply that each console provides different games. The Halo series isn’t available on any system but the X-Box series. The Burnout games are sometimes available on Nintendo systems but are much better on X-Box and Playstation systems.

I still enjoy many of the Super Mario based games, especially the Mario Kart series.

So, in order to play my favorite series of games I need an X-Box 360 and a Nintendo Wii (Halo 3 will only be available for X-Box 360 but not the first-generation X-Box). In essence, switching from one console to another is somewhat like switching between Windows and OS X. Neither is necessarily better than the other but each one may be better suited to certain tasks.

When I play Nintendo Wii I’m often swinging the controller in the air and playing a game that is simple and fun. But then I have the option of powering up the X-Box 360, sitting down to play, and moving through virtual worlds that are far more detailed than the Wii can produce.

And, like all three of the major consoles, accessories will cost more out of pocket than just the console. I often play multi-player games, and with the 360 that meant purchasing another controller. Of course, I didn’t want to settle for a wired controller so I paid more for the wireless. I also grabbed a Play-and-Charge Kit for one controller (I still plan to purchase another).

While it’s possible to control DVD playback with an X-Box controller it’s not as simple as using a remote with standard playback buttons. I looked at a couple of different 360 remotes and in the end purchased a used remote that was originally packaged with a 360. It worked great, until I purchased a Logitech Harmony Universal Remote (which is another story itself) and gave the 360 remote to a friend who also has a system.

I bought the Pro package, which included the 20 GB hard drive. The drive is essential (and the less expensive package doesn’t include it, which negates any savings on the cheaper package). For the past few weeks I’ve tried out various aspects of X-Box Live and have come to the conclusion that a Gold subscription for Live is essential if you have any intention of playing friends online or using the full power of the 360.

Movie rentals are reasonably priced, though with Microsoft Points costing $12.50 per 1,000 points and each 480p definition movie costing 320 points to rent its not really any better than walking into a movie rental place. The advantages I’ve found with this service is the ability to rent a movie without leaving home and also the ability to download HD quality movies (though I suspect the quality isn’t actually as good as a true HD-DVD or BlueRay movie). On the downside movie downloads can take a long time, you need to have space on your hard drive to store the movies, and you don’t get any of the extras that DVDs typically have. Standard/480p movies are usually around 1 GB in size and can be downloaded in less than a day. However, my single experience with renting an HD movie with this service was anything but ideal. It took four days to download the movie and that includes leaving the console on some nights.

The movies are available for 14 days after renting them, or 24 hours after pressing play for the first time. I found that reasonable but I did think it was unreasonable that the download time is also included. After spending four days to download the movie I had 10 days to watch it. Granted, most movies are watched in less time but it seems unfair to penalize the end-user in a situation in which the problem is not one the consumer’s end. Video game demos, video clips, and other content download much faster so the slow download speeds appear to be a problem with the movie rental service (servers).

The Live experience has been great. I’ve purchased two Live Arcade games (the original Doom and a mini-golf game) and have spent many hours playing those games with friends at my home and over the Internet via Live. I’ve also been playing other games over Live such as Burnout Revenge and Gears of War (the only two 360 disc-based games I own). We’ve also played Halo 2 with a mix of two 360 systems and one first-generation X-Box participating.

In the end, it’s been fun and I cannot wait for Halo 3 to be released, which I have reserved. I’ve also reserved Burnout Paradise, but it won’t be released until January of next year…

The graphics on the 360 are excellent, especially on an HDTV. Nintendo nailed the next step of interaction with the Wii Remote and various accessories, but so far Microsoft has an excellent on-line community with its Live service.

I haven’t played on a Playstation 3 very many times so I can’t really compare it to the other systems. Actually, comparing it is probably a futile effort any way. There isn’t really a console war going on. The media wants there to be one. The gamers who insist there is one are typically the ones who only own and play a single system.  If you’re thinking about which console to purchase you should consider the games that you want to play.

I wanted to play Mario Kart and many of the classic Super Mario games so I bought a Nintendo Wii. I wanted to play Halo 3 and the next Burnout game so I bought an X-Box 360. Those are my reasons for purchasing two consoles and there’s nothing more. It’s not about processing power and better graphics. It’s about playing the games that I enjoy.


The Pain and Joy of Purchasing an HDTV (or Moving On Up)


During my lunch break on that day I went up to Wal-Mart to purchase the TV, along with a friend. We found the display model and then one of the Wal-Mart employees hauled one out from the back of the store. Well, it turned out to not be the exact same model but it was the same price. The main difference was this Polaroid had a built-in DVD player and a few other enhancements over the other model. At this point I felt very fortunate. It had several features such as a VGA input and I figured the DVD player would upscale movies better than my X-Box could do.

Oh, was I in for a surprise…

It worked great when I came home after work and set everything up. Using the HDTV LCD as an external display for a MacBook was amazing and the Nintendo Wii (I already had component cables) looked much better than it did on my old 27″ CRT (which wasn’t HD). I toyed with every feature of the system that night and went to bed happy with my purchase.

In the morning I awoke and went into the living room to turn on the news, which I usually do when I prepare to go to work. Several times I pressed the power button on the remote but the TV did not turn on. I checked the remote and its batteries but everything seemed fine. Then I noticed one of the LEDs would light up, but not the normal color when it turned on the night before (it may have been blue, I don’t remember, but it was only red then).

At this point I had a very strong sinking feeling. I tried unplugging the power and then plugging it back in. I tried leaving it unplugged for a while. I even tried disconnecting various inputs to no avail. Finally, I had to give up and get to work before I was late.

It was on my mind much of the day and finally I decided to head back home that morning and see if leaving it unplugged had helped. It did not. I checked a fuse in the television and it looked good. To make matters worse I had left a Battlestar Galactica Season 2.5 DVD in the DVD player, which did not respond when I attempted to turn on the TV nor did it have a manual eject mechanism. Disheartened, I packaged up the television and lugged it back to Wal-Mart.

The folks at Wal-Mart did not give me any problem with returning it. I explained that it simply would not turn on. I also mentioned the fact that it “ate” one of my DVDs, though at the time nobody seemed interested in resolving that problem (but keep reading – there’s a happy ending to that issue as well). I was asked if I wanted to exchange the TV for another of the same type or get my money back.

Earlier the same day I had read reviews for the same model Polaroid television and just reading them made me feel ill. Many people complained of the same problem though for some it happened well outside the TVs warranty. A couple even mentioned the hundreds of dollars spent to repair the television. One person paid almost the amount of the television just to have it repaired.

I told them I just wanted my money back.

But getting a credit meant I couldn’t turn around and buy another television that day. This worked in their favor because if I had received my credit instantly I probably would have gone shopping somewhere else. At the time I was still ticked off that they didn’t seem to care about my lost DVD.

I still find it somewhat amusing that such large corporations can take money out of my account instantly but need several days to return it…

Unhappy about the DVD situation I went to the Wal-Mart corporate headquarters Web site and submitted some feedback. It was strongly worded but not profane. I cooled off and looked around on the Web some more for another good deal.

In the end I decided a Panasonic LCD HDTV at the local Wal-Mart was actually a good deal. I wasn’t thrilled about going back to Wal-Mart after my last experience, but I also wasn’t thrilled of the possibility of buying a TV from a retailer outside of town only to find myself having to make the trip again because of another dead TV. Mind you, that wasn’t the only factor.

So, I bought the TV. As it turns out, I’ve been very happy with it and the picture quality actually appears much better than the previous TV. The price was higher but  it has a higher contrast ratio and the perfect set of inputs for my current devices.

About a week after I had submitted my complaint to Wal-Mart headquarters I received a phone call on a Saturday. It was from an assistant manager at the local Wal-Mart. He had received my message and apologized for the incident. Not only did he apologize but he checked to see if the TV was still in the store so he could retrieve my DVD.

It wasn’t.

It had already been shipped out. Next, he told me he wall call me back and let me know if he could find a copy the Battlestar Galactica Season 2.5 DVD set  in the store.

It wasn’t.

He apologize once again and I explained that I was just glad that someone had made an attempt.

A little while later he called me back. He found the same set on the store and was left a $40 gift card at the customer service desk, which I could pick up at my convenience. I went up to the store and sure enough the card was waiting for me. I thanked the assistant manager. When I came home I immediately sat down and ordered a replacement copy. After shipping and tax it cost thirty-nine dollars and some change.

At this point I felt obligated to submit positive feedback to the same Wal-Mart headquarters Web site as I had originally complained at, which I did. It’s unfortunate that Wal-Mart had to replace the entire DVD set, but on the other hand it was also unfortunate that I had lost one DVD in a collection that could only be purchased as a set.

And in the end I bought a nicer TV from Wal-Mart and it ended up with an additional profit from the second TV I bought (and still enjoy).

CS3 Trial Update


In a previous blog entry I mentioned that I was considering the purchase of Adobe Creative Suite 3 (CS3) applications and had even installed the trial version of Adobe Dreamweaver and Adobe Illustrator. Well, that I still plan to purchase the Adobe CS3 Web Premium bundle, but not this month and probably not next month. As it turns out I have since purchased a couple of more expensive items. As a result, my pocket book has taken a bit of hit and needs time to recover. Perhaps by the end of December I’ll buy CS3. The trial software is probably deactivated by now so I’ll be working with free software until then.