Wednesday, February 15, 2006

DirecTV adding TNT HD in time for All-Star Weekend

DirecTV hi-def users will get a new channel, TNT-HD, beginning Feb. 17. You'll find it on Channel 75 if you subscribe to the company's $10.99/mo HD package.

The 24/7 HD presentation of the TNT East Coast feed will offer live NBA games and NASCAR races; series; movies; and TNT Originals.

The DirecTV HD package includes ESPN HD, ESPN2 HD, Discovery HD Theater, HDNet, HDNet Movies and Universal HD. DirecTV customers with HD-enabled equipment can also receive HBO-HD and Showtime-HD if they subscribe to those premium movie packages.

TNT in HD is broadcast in 1080i 24 hours a day and uses Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound. The station also presents all of its programming, including promotional content and commercials, in 16:9 wide-screen, giving viewers a consistent viewing experience.

There was a full page ad in USA Today this week which stated that DirecTV users could get the new channel in time for the NBA All-Star Weekend which will be presented in high definition.

Time Warner cable users with high definition service also get TNT-HD, which broadcasts NBA games all season in high definition.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Memory Chips linked to XBox 360 shortage?

Most popular videogame question in my inbox these days is "Why can't I find an XBox 360 yet?"

Microsoft promises more are coming, but our sister paper, the San Jose Mercury News, reports
that one reason Microsoft is having trouble is that a German company, Infineon Technologies, is having trouble making enough of the chips at the right speed for the game console.

Peter Moore, head of Microsoft's game division, wouldn't comment to the Mercury News about the memory chip shortage and blamed the lack of 360s on store shelves on component shortages. The good news is Moore said consumers can expect to see more of the units on store shelves next month.

Industry rumors run rampant of all types of component failures with the box, some causing it to overheat and others causing it to lose information. The 360 has more than 1,700 components in it. In a month-long test with an Xbox 360 last month, I didn't have any problems.

But whatever the problem is, Microsoft is really ruining what was a great strategy to bite into Sony's market share with its second gen Xbox console. Gamers should've been playing games right now, not waiting on units. And each week that goes by, Sony's $500 PS3 unit gets closer and closer.

It's due in the fall, hopefully in plentiful supply.

Friday, February 10, 2006

HDTV so clear you can read the fans T-shirts

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been testing a Panasonic 42-inch plasma high-definition television mated with the new Xbox 360 from Microsoft.

All I can say is “wow.”

Until you’ve watched the NFL playoffs, the Super Bowl, big-time college basketball and your favorite TV shows (“Surface,” “Smallville,” and “24”) in high definition, you haven’t watched TV. And until you’ve played the new Tiger Woods game in high def via the new Xbox, you haven’t really played video games.

I’m going to be writing a lot here about HD, particularly about what it is and how to get it. It’s amazing technology. But first, let’s myth-bust: to get high definition television, you must have a high definition set.

You may see “presented in high definition” across the bottom of your screen when a program comes on, but rest assured, your old floor model 25-inch can’t show HD. HD is a form of digital television that is so sharp, you can see individual hairs on people’s heads. You can see what fans have on in the stands at a basketball game.

True story: My son, Trey, asked me who were the Jackson 5 last week during a Philly 76er game on ESPN-HD.

“Why are you asking, son,” I said back.

“Because,” he said pointing, “that man behind the basket has a T-shirt with that name on it.”

Like I said, “Wow.”

And gaming on an HD set is amazing. Even the old Xbox looks better in HD. Some games were created to use a different form of digital TV, one that is not HD, but still trumps standard TV.

These “480P” games are created to fill the screens of these new HD sets that have rectangular screens – like a movie screen – instead of the old square jobs we’re used to. So your old NBA 2K5 will look better on an HD set than it does even on your non-HD 50-inch square job in the den right now.

But the new 360 game system is created to play all games in HD, and a new adapter coming this year will allow the system to play the upcoming HD-DVDs, a feature that is going to be included with the new PS3 system, which will set you back $500, or about the same as a modified 360 I’m guessing.

People will pay, though.

Playing video games in HD is almost like playing for the first time. It’ll take you a long time to get over the “I can’t believe this looks so good” thing. The grass in Tiger Woods PGA looks like real grass. Tiger looks almost like the real thing. The courses look more realistic. It just adds to the game. Makes it more intense. Game play itself isn’t changed much, and most of these new 360 titles are simply graphically upgraded ports of the stuff we’ve played.

But by summer, we’ll get second generation 360 games from folks like EA Sports and Visual Concepts and the like, and given the power of the new 360, I think we’ll see new tricks, too. My guess? HD gaming is going to help video games grab an even bigger share of America’s pop culture pie.

Tell me about your HD gaming experience. Click on the comments link below.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Welcome to a better world

First of all, welcome to my new video game/technology blog.

The column is moving online. For the 10 years I've been doing this, this column has run a lot of places in The Observer: in Mecklenburg Neighbors, in the business section, in local news and finally in the entertainment section.

I think we've finally found the right place for it here, online. I can get you all the video game news faster, as it's delivered to me, with no wait times. I'll be able to tell you about the latest technological advances faster, too. We'll talk about satellite vs. cable TV, we'll talk Ipod vs. MP3, we'll talk about Madden football vs., well, no one else can make official pro football games anymore.

But you get the idea.

Feel free to post responses, reviews or questions about games you've played, or if you want to be a bit more private, just send me an email.

I would love for this to become a bit of a community where we can come in and share what we know, give up a cheat code or a killer play in a sports game.

I'm excited about the new spot for the video games and I'm also excited because I can tell you about all the cool techo-gear I get to read about and get my hands on. You can help me by telling me what kind of stuff you're interested in and what kind of cool toys you've seen.

And last, be sure to check back often. I'll be posting a lot. News happens in the video game and technology industry fast, and on the internet here, we finally can keep up.