Monday, November 20, 2006

Nutrisystem + Nintendo = weight loss

At the beginning of the year, my New Year's resolution was to get back in shape and drop some L.B.s.

I weighed more than 200 pounds for the first time in my life. Too little exercise, too much Chik-Fil-A and too much sofa. So I went to the YMCA, where I've been a member for 18 years, and got a weight lifting plan and cardio evaluation from my buddy Denny at the Siskey Branch. I started working out three days a week with 30 minutes of cardio each day. I also worked with my good friend, Dale Similton from Charlotte Latin, running on Latin's track.

But by summer, I was still pretty much the same size. I was firmer and stronger, but wasn't losing any weight.

The last straw came when I was shopping at Harris Teeter and a reporter from WSOC interviewed me. When I saw the broadcast, they showed me returning my grocery cart to the cart rack.

Boy, I looked big.

I was like, "Who's that dude?"

I knew I needed to change my diet. Turns out my mom, who was eating all the time, was dropping weight like ice in the sun. She told me about Nutrisystem, a program that provides you with prepared entrees that you add side items to. There's no mixing or counting calories. The food is shelf-stable (think astronaut food) and most of it tastes pretty good.

My mom dropped 33 pounds in three months and after my first four weeks, I shed 17. My clothes didn't fit anymore and folks were commenting about my weight loss. Pretty good for little effort, because I've been so busy with sports playoffs and all the new videogame consoles, I just haven't been able to work out at all.

On Nutrisystem, I get to eat some really good hamburgers, hot dogs, a tiny pizza and even Beef Stroganoff. The portions are Lean Cuisine sized, but you're allowed to add, for example, two vegetable servings, bread and salad with dinner -- plus you get a dessert serving from Nutrisystem as well. There's Cracker Jack-like popcorn, biscotti, Hershey's Kiss-sized chocolates and a variety of dessert bars, slightly smaller than a Snicker's.

Best of all, for me, it got me away from my fast food trips. I would go because fast food was, well, fast. Now, I just go downstairs, pull a NS meal out of the box, heat and go. It's quick, convenient and pretty healthy. I'm also learning about portion control. I have been eating WAY too much food.

Lately, I've been getting a pretty good workout to go with my diet from the most surprising of places, my Nintendo Wii game console.

Using the Wii Sports' games, you can box and play baseball and play tennis. With Nintendo's new motion sensor controller, you make actual motions that you'd make playing the game outdoors or in a bowling alley. And playing my 6-year-old son, Trey, in boxing or tennis, we made a rule where you have to bounce up and down the whole time. Combine that with the punching (with both hands holding the 2-piece controller) and swinging motions and pretty soon, your T-shirt is sopping wet.

It's a weird combination, Nintendo and Nutrisystem, but I like them both.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Microsoft Xbox 360 or Sony PlayStation 3

Tonight at midnight, Sony's PlayStation 3 officially goes on sale. Only 400,000 units are expected to be available at launch in North America, so it's going to be tough to find one.

But the final console battle of this decade begins now, with Nintendo's new Wii joining the fight when it hits stores Sunday.

The big question, of course, is which unit is better?

Let's eliminate Wii from this discussion for now.

It's a unit that is aimed at the younger gamer or the novice gamer and it does a lot of things really, really well. I think if you have the means, the Wii is an excellent addition, at $250, to your video game playing habits. The motion-controlled joystick is one of the best developments ever in the industry. If 360 or PS3 had it, this story would be over.

But if you have to have one system, for most people the choice will come down to 360 vs. PS3.

I have had the 360 for a year and enjoy it thoroughly. Xbox Live is the best onling gaming community ever. You can download music videos and game updates and soon, full-rez HDTV movies.


I've had the PS3 for a week and enjoy it thoroughly, too. Picking between them is hard. But a few points:

-- The PS3's graphics are better in the game "challenges" I've put the machines through.

In some games, it's very noticeable. In NBA 2K7, the 360 version, while sharp, looks cartoonish. On PS3, it looks more like TV than any basketball game I've ever seen.

Tiger Woods looks similar on both units, though the PS3 is marginally sharper and more realistic. It's a subtle change I appreciated.

Overall, I've seen the consoles be about even on a few games and PS3 better (or really better) in others.

What I have not seen so far -- and it's awful early in the testing because I don't have a bevy of games yet -- is a 360 version of a game be graphically superior to the PS3 version.

-- The PS3 costs more.

At $499 with a 20-gig hard drive or $599 with a 60-gig, the PS3 dwarfs the top end Xbox 360, which goes for $399 with a hard drive. A 360 without the drive is $299.

That said, the PS3 comes with a Blu-Ray DVD player that will deliver stunning picture and sound via an HDMI cable to your HDTV. Microsoft has released a $199 addition to 360 to provide an HD-DVD player, which we haven't tested, but that would take your Xbox 360 to the same $600 price point as PS3. But if you don't have an HDTV, you could take that same $200 and apply it towards a Wii, which doesn't do HDTV either.

-- Ultimately, PS3 may have more games.

Given Sony's long history of dominance in this market, my feeling is, long term, PS3 will have more games. Microsoft has a couple crucial games you can't get on PS3, like Halo, but you can also play your entire library of PS2 games on the new PlayStation, though there are reports of a handful of PS2 games not working with PS3.


It's a close race, like the last presidential election, but I've got to go with the PlayStation 3. I've been a big Xbox fan since the first one came out. It was the best of the last-gen consoles. Xbox 360 is a great system, but if price is out of the equation, the PS3 is better and does more things.

The PS3's motion-sensor controller will add an element to game-playing the 360 doesn't have, though the PS3 remote no longer includes rumble features. The Blu Ray would allow someone to buy a $600 videogame unit and also get a DVD player that goes anywhere from $1,000 to $1,400.

Most HDTVs have one or two HDMI connections, which allow you to get video and sound from one plug. It's also all digital and displays the best picture. Some cable boxes and most satellite TV boxes have an HDMI plug.

Given HDTVs usually only have one or two HDMI connections -- except with top-end models -- it's a bonus to get two things in one connection. In this example, you'd get your HD-DVD and your gaming from the PS3 in one HDMI connection, and stick your other HDMI connection into your cable or satellite box.

One note, though, I wouldn' t play a videogame on a plasma or rear-projection HDTV because those may suffer burn-in, or the football field you play Madden on may permanently appear on your TV screen. That might interfere with your Eva Longoria dates on Sunday nights while you watch "Desparate Housewives."

As I said, you can also add the HD-DVD option onto the 360.

I've not tested it yet and can't say how well it does. But, right now, the PS3 is outputting the best graphics and DVD videos I've ever seen and it has a decent and developing on-line community.

If you don't have an HDTV and don't plan to get one, though, I'd lean towards 360 because of price. On standard TVs, you won't notice the subtle graphical differences between the machines.

That's why the race is so close.

But given that the future is HDTV, I've got to lean towards the PS3. I'll be interested to see, however, how the market reacts to a $600 videogame console. Xbox 360, with its wealth of games and current HD-DVD support, could benefit from lack of PS3 consoles at launch. Some stores will give frustrated customers who were on Ps3 waiting lists and won't get the unit this weekend a free 360 game if they buy a 360 console instead.

The war is on. It's going to be fun.

Happy gaming.

Monday, November 13, 2006

First drives w/Wii and PS3

On Friday, the UPS and Federal Express trucks got to the house at the same time -- with great news: one shiny new black PlayStation3 and one Nintendo Wii, which is much, much smaller than the PS3 but comes equipped with a new revolution that should -- SHOULD -- turn the videogame world on its ear.

We'll explore both game systems more in-depth later this week, but when Wii debuts Sunday and PS3 Friday in North America, they will be in short supply. Some stores are not even taking pre-orders, which could be good news for Microsoft, whose excellent Xbox 360 is heavily stocked in area stores.

First off, let's look at Wii.


Nintendo's new unit is not HD-capable, which in this digital age is a fairly big drawback, but Nintendo is not exactly going after the geek-crowd with this machine. It wants to capture the family's imagination, promoting simple games that are easy to play. I think it's hit the mark.

Out of the tiny white box it comes in, Wii is split into two smaller blue boxes. This isn't the old days of grab your console, your red, white and yellow cables and go. Wii comes with what looks like a small TV antenna that you attach to the top of (or just below) your TV set. It will serve a very important purpose.

There's a stand included and a controller that is in two pieces.

With Wii, you actually hold both parts of the controller, at times, in either hand separately. This is new, and it's kind of liberating.

The right controller is basically a motion-sensor that is read by that antenna you stuck on top of your flat screen and attached to your console, which sits on its side in a cool gray stand.

Even when you're registering your Wii online via its built in WiFi support, you get to use that motion control controller. You move your hand and the pointer on the screen moves with you.

It doesn't take too long to figure that this might be fun.

Graphically, the Wii cannot stand up to its HD cousins from Microsoft and Sony, but it's better than any Nintendo offering to date. When you play Wii on an HDTV set, it will impress you at times. But the thing that will make you want to add a Wii to the collection is not the graphical display. It's the controller.

The system comes with a Wii Sports sampler game. It's really good. When you box, you really stand up and move your arms and bob and weave. When you golf, I'd suggest you stand sideways, like the real thing, and make a real swing. This is truly innovative and might help some teens and kids who get accused of not getting enough exercise because they spend too much time sitting in front of a TV with a console game remote in their hands.

Honestly, I got a good sweat in the boxing game and felt as though I was working on my golf swing in golf.

The tennis game can detect 100 different kinds of shots and really responds to your moves. I hit a topspin forehand and saw a topspin forehand. I tried a slice backhand and it worked, too. The controller has a rumble feature and a speaker and is just super easy to use.

I would imagine that the competition will be introducing similar features (Sony actually already has; more on that later) in the near future. I cannot wait to see what third party companies do with the motion-sensitive controller, and there are 62 Wii games scheduled before the end of the year.

Bottom line? PS3 and Xbox 360 looked better and I had more games to try with them this weekend, but for pure fun, Wii was king. If I were buying I'd have to have at least two next-gen systems. The 360 and Ps3 are close in a lot of ways. Wii's just different.

PlayStation 3: First Look

Open the box, and you'll find a serious piece of Audio/Visual equipment. The PS3 is not "toy-looking" like the white 360 and white Wii. PS3 looks like it belongs on your entertainment rack, whether sitting on its side or on its feet.

It's an impressive machine. It's also a very expensive one.

You can buy it for $499 with a 20-gig hard drive or $599 with a 60-gig hard drive, and if you have the money and have a HD television set with an HDMI connection, this is the unit you'll probably want to have. Out of the box, the PS3 will play all PlayStation and PS2 games so if you have a favorite in your library, you can keep it on the shelf. X360 can play some old Xbox games, but not all.

Microsoft has released a $199 HD-DVD adapter for the 360, which we hope to test, but right out of the box, for the well-heeled, you get Blu-Ray DVD support with your PS3 and historically, gamers have not liked adding onto their hardware.

I've never seen any HD-DVD or Blu-Ray discs before, but via PS3, I've never seen HDTV look as good. I watched "Talladega Nights: The Ballad Of Ricky-Bobby" and was just awed at how good and how clear and how colorful the picture was.

It was a jump over the DirecTV and Time Warner cable HD I'm used to seeing and was even a slight step-up from over-the-air HD, where I was watching a Giants-Bears game on NBC.

Given that Blu-Ray players are about $999 and some HD-DVDs go for $499, buying a next-gen console game with this kind of next gen HD DVD support could be seen as a bargain. I'd think Sony is taking a loss on all PS3s it sells and is probably hoping to make up the margin with spectacular sales numbers.

If you don't have an HD set and don't plan to buy one for awhile, I'm not sure if the PS3 is enough of a jump past the 360, or if it's a jump at all. I don't have any like games to compare yet, but I can report that NBA 07: The Life is much sharper on PS3 than NBA Live 2K7 on 360, which looked blurry in the corners and grainy on the 32-inch JVC LCD HDTV I ran the game on. If that continues to be the case, we'll have a clear winner. Again, keep checking back during the week as we go into the machines and games in more depth and detail.

But, The Life on PS3 was letter perfect sharp as was the Halo-like Resistance Of Man game I tried. That one shocked me with its crystal clear graphics and depiction of war in the 1950s.

I think Sony has made a misstep with its ultra light weight controller, though.

Unlike Microsoft and Nintendo, who require the wireless remote to use batteries, Sony's unit charges through a front-loading USB port on the PS3, which is nice. Saves me a couple of midnight runs to Wal-Mart. But Sony's new controler doesn't have rumble support, a basic feature that adds to the game experience and something I think most gamers expect.

Sony new controller, like Wii, has a motion-sensitive feature (that Microsoft needs to add). The games I tried with the new controller, I didn't notice any motion activities, however, unlike the Wii controller and games, which were innovative.

Sony's controller uses a Bluetooth connection for wireless gameplay and the PS3 will support up to seven wireless connections at once. Sony also has a new online network, which I signed up for. It's not the equivalent of Microsoft's excellent Xbox Live, which has four million users, but it shows promise.

Bottom line? Christmas is coming and parents want to know which game to get. All three next-gen consoles have something to offer: Wii has fun and price and ease of use; 360 has graphics, second generation games coming, and a better price point than PS3. PS3 offers about everything you could want but with a much steeper cost.

Let me know what you guys are thinking.

I'm thinking it'll be hard to go wrong with any of these.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Tiger Woods 07 Best Ever

Xbox 360 screen cap
PS2 Screen Cap

OK, full disclosure, I'm a huge golf nut. But EA Sports new Tiger Woods PGA Tour videogame is the most amazing console golf game ever made on PS2, Xbox but especially XBox 360, where your virtual Tiger, if played on an HDTV, is about as close the genuine article as you'll ever get.

This year's Tiger game gets 21 new courses, including Hilton Head's nasty Kiawah Island track, and 50 golfers, like John Daly, Vijay Singh and Tiger's real life close friend, Annika Sorenstam. There's a new Team Tour mode where you can create a team and establish college-style rivalries.

The whole game just looks better this year. Graphics are improved on the old generation game and the next gen 360 has about the biggest wow factor I've seen in anything except a war game or basketball game. The character creation tool now has logos and sponsors to pick from, plus better ways to make a more realistic you. There's ESPN intergration to give you even more of the TV feel this game is famous for.

David Feherty and Gary McCord are back to call the action, too, which adds to the fun. But at the end of the day, a game has to be fun to play, no matter how many bells and whistles it has. This is awful fun to play. It looks good and control is good. EA has altered the swing control a little bit allowing games to use the Shape Stick or the left analog stick. This one will be in my "favorites" stack for a long time (Grade: A for all systems).


Instant Music Converter: If you have a stack of old LPs or cassettes laying around your house, you may appreciate this little device from ADS Tech that allows you to transfer your music onto your computer to move over to your iPod or MP3 player.

It's really easy. You just plug the Instant Music into a USB port on your computer and connect to your audio equipment and move files. This might have a limited audience, but it's a useful tool for those old enough to remember the 8-track (Grade: B).

Power Stone Collection: Capcom's PSP title includes enhanced versions of two games I'd never played before, Power Stone and Power Stone 2, which were originally released for Sega's defunct Dreamcast unit.

I wasn't able to play in the 2-person or 4-person mode, but playing the computer, this is just an old-school fighting game where you essentially are trying to be the last man standing. Controls are quite simple as you fight to attain power stones which help you win your fights. Get three and you become a super warrior for a time. There are also weapons to pick up and the "worlds' you play in are totally interactive.

A nice change-of-pace title (Grade: B-minus)

Nintendogs. Limited Edition: So what if this a virtual Seinfeld, a video game about nothing. It's actually rather addicting to raise your digi-pet on your DS. You train and care for your dog using your video touchscreen and I can tell you 2-year-old, already a fairly accomplished gamer, just loves this. When Daddy needs 20 minutes to veg, this is the perfect play toy.

You can even use your voice to tell your dog to "sit," and with some training, he'll obey. You can play in English, Spanish or French. That's how I got my wife to let my 6-year-old play. I told him it was helping with his foreign language, true story (Grade: B).

Bose Companion Multimedia Speaker System: If you have a laptop like I do, chances are its tiny speakers can't do much for your music or gameplay. That's where this new Bose unit comes in. Using a simple USB plug and play interface, it will "talk" to your Windows-based computer and give you some deep bass and clear highs.

The unit comes with two speakers and a huge subwoofer, which you sit on the floor. The system produces 5.1 channel-type effects and sounds terrific. It's not quite as good as a five-speaker setup, but for your computer room, bedroom or office, these will do the job quite well. And if you like your bass, trust me, you won' t be disappointed in these. I just wish I could connect it directly to my console video games. I tried, and it wouldn't work (Grade: B-plus).

Steelpad 5L: It's a professional gaming mouse pad and it's huge. I mean like 2 by 2 huge. But it allows you to move your mouse all over your computer screen without moving your hand back down to the bottom or opposite side of your pad, key in quick trigger videogame action. A combination of hard and soft materials makes for a smooth rolling experience (did I just write "Smooth Rolling Experience?").

It's a nice little add on for anyone who does heavy duty computer gaming.

Steel Security: Finally, a dedicated online security suite dedicated to gamers. It comes with anti-virus, firewall, online backup and a spam filter. Best of all, it automatically switches into game mode when you launch a supported online game, using minimal resources and maximizing security. Often, computer gamers have to turn off security features to get games to launch or run properly.

In my tests, this software solved the problem. I'm not a big computer gamer, but if I was, I'd run this program on my computer full-time (Grade: B).

Mortal Kombat Armageddon: The PS2 version looked muddy and the Xbox looked better but I longed to play this one on an next-gen system. You know what MK is about and in this one, you get 50 fighters from the entire MK universe, including some new ones. The new Kreate-A-Fighter and Kreate-A-Fatality modes were cool, but what makes MK is the fast-button-mashing combo fighting that you remember.

Online gaming has been improved. The sluggish load and sluggish gameplay times have been improved, especially on Xbox. Old fans will love new. New ones will embrace it (Grade: B-plus).

God Hand: You're a nomad who loses an arm while trying to help a woman in distress. Only when you come to, that arm has grown back and you suddenly given supernatural abilities in this dark title from Capcom. After you get your powers, you'll battle demons and thugs in a tiny town who all of a sudden are popping up with super strength.

Not to give away too much of a pretty solid storyline, your hero has kind of been reincarnated. Years ago a man with divine powers defeated the Demon King Angra.

The game occurs on what could be considered a Judgement Day of sorts, but the twist is this game doesn't take itself seriously. There are bad jokes and canned laughter tracks like old 70s sitcoms. The PS2 struggles to render all the graphics well and I did notice some slowdowns, but this was a nice change of pace title that's for men 17-24 (Grade: B-plus).

Grand Theft Auto, Vice City Stories: What can you say? You know it's misogynistic, violent, stereotypical and all those other things, but GTA is always well conceived, well-drawn and plays well. So it is for this PSP version which happens in Vice City in 1984. You play as Vic, a displaced soilder who now is put on some very violent streets and must choose a life of good or bad. Not for anyone under 16. (Grade: A).

Need For Speed, Carbon: On Xbox 360, the cars look more realistic, the environments are spot on, and the feeling of going fast is enhanced. You can customize your car and build your crew, but ultiimately this is about driving in a very dangerous Carbon Canyon. You will find yourself jumping and leaning and twisting as you play. It's that realistic. It's that good (Grade: B-plus).

Fifa 07: One word about how this looks -- wow. Now on Xbox 360, the players look shaper, bigger and more realistic thanks to a new game engine that's moved away from traditional player animations and now uses raw physics and data. What it all means is that your players move like the real thing. The computer opponents are tougher and now the control reacts to the slightest touch -- something that can be good and bad.

Every team, every stat and every detail is in here plus an absolutely awesome online interface. You can play four-on-four online, which I tried. You'll be doing that forever, but remember to start your league play. Bottom line? The best soccer game on the market just got about 40 percent better (Grade: A).