Wednesday, October 31, 2007

DirecTV On Demand Hits Charlotte

DirecTV's new on demand service officially hit Charlotte today. Customers who have an broadband connection to their HR-20 receiver, should be able to access the service by visiting Channel 1000, or by pressing the menu button and choosing "On Demand."

The service downloads programming from many providers onto your DVR. You can begin watching as soon as downloads start, though depending on your speed, your programming may be interrupted until it is finished.

DirecTV has downloaded a five minute tutorial to view, but this is pretty easy to use. You can search by show, actor or genre. There's no HD yet, but it's coming. Picture quality is pretty good, about on par for standard HD fare. It'll be interesting to see what 1080i or 720p look like -- and how long it'll take to download.

Monday, October 29, 2007

PS3 Price Drop Coming & It's A Good Move

The PlayStation 3 is getting another price drop.

Last week, Sony announced a 40-gigabyte model that will sell for $399 and come bundled with the new "Spider-Man 3" Blu-Ray disc.

The 80-gigabyte model is dropping $100, to $499.

Sony needs to do something to kick-start sales of the PS3, which struggled in September. According to the NPD Group, which tracks the videogame industry, Sony sold only 119,000 PS3s last month.

By comparison: Bolstered by the excellent "Halo 3," Microsoft sold 528,000 Xbox 360s last month, up 50 percent from August. The Xbox unit got more affordable recently; it's now $349.99 for the regular 360 unit and $449.99 for the Elite model.

And Nintendo moved 501,000 Wii units, which run out of stores for about $250.

Overall, I think Sony is making a smart move with its new pricing model.

Although I'm often branded a "Sony fanboy" by some posters at my blog (, I truly believe the PS3 is the best of the newest consoles. Sure, Sony needs to improve its online service, which cannot touch Xbox Live. But it is the most powerful of the current consoles and provides the most eye-popping graphics, which help games seem even more realistic.

Sony plans to release a rumble-enabled controller in the U.S. early next year, which is smart, and there's potential in the Wii-mote-like motion-sensor feature that hasn't been tapped yet.

One caveat? While the 80GB version will have backwards-compatibility with PS2 games, the cheaper PS3 model will not. I'm sure Sony is counting on one of either two things: 1) Most people who will have interest in a new PS3 already have a PS2 to play those old games on; or 2) they are new Sony PlayStation customers who don't have any PS2 titles.

The cheaper PS3 will, however, maintain the Blu-Ray player, the built-in hard drive, integrated Wi-Fi, an Internet browser and Sony's Cell Broadband Engine.

(By the way, the Blu-Ray player on the machines is as good as any high-definition DVD player you can find, and could make the unit appealing to members of your family who don't game. Watching Blu-Ray -- or HD-DVD on so-equipped 360s -- is a totally different experience from watching standard DVDs. The movies almost appear in 3D, with eye-popping color and better sound.)

So whereas the original PS3 seemed to be making consumers pay a premium for bells and whistles like Blu-Ray, the new lower price gives the distinct feel that consumers are getting some great features as a bonus.

Finally, Sony appears poised going into this holiday season and next year to make up some ground in the number of titles available, which has been disappointing.

Jack Tretton, president of Sony Computer Entertainment, said the company's big upcoming games include "Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction," "Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare" and "Assassin's Creed."

It looks like Sony is finally trying to get it right.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

$199 HD-DVDs & VOD on DirecTV

OK, that's a lot of acronyms, right, but there are two big developments in the electronics world this week.

There's a new sub-200 buck HD-DVD player in stores now, and DirecTV has launched its video-on-demand service as it tries to separate itself even further from cable and DISH network competition.


The battle for the next-generation of HD DVD players got a big push this week when Wal-Mart started carrying HD-DVDs for $198. It's a Toshiba model and is more than $100 cheaper than the best price I've seen for a Blu-Ray player.

If you haven't heard, there are two types of players for high definition content via DVDs: Blu-Ray and HD-DVD. Like VHS and Beta a long time ago, the two formats are not compatible with each other and some companies only release on one format or the other. So if you like Spider-Man 3, you can only see it on Blu-Ray. Like Transformers? It's only on HD-DVD.

Now, you cannot get high definition pictures through your regular DVD player, even if you have a high def TV. Yes, most standard DVD players, when connected through HDMI or component video connections (the cords with the red, blue and green connectors), the picture will look better than you have seen. Going hi-def is a whole 'nother world.

Wal-Mart's promotion of HD-DVD is big. About as big as when Blockbuster decided to only rent Blu-Ray movies. You can rent HD-DVDs from Netflix, however. At one point, I was thinking Blu-Ray -- with its support from Sony and its PlayStation 3 -- would win this war. With Wal-Mart on the scene, I don't know anymore. I do know several companies with interests in either format or starting to line the pockets of retailers and film studios to support their brand.

So if you're thinking about making the jump to next-generation DVD, which creates an amazing experience, I'd suggest studying which companies are putting out the movies you want to see or looking at how you get your content. I have a few friends who already had PS3 (and Blu-Ray) and are now planning to do the $198 player at Wal-Mart or add the Xbox 360 HD-DVD player. But that's a lot of money.

I wish we could get to one format.

DirecTV adds DirecTV-On-Demand

Last week, DirecTV began to deploy its video-on-demand service called "DOD" or DirecTV on Demand. The service allows viewers to download programming to their receiver via satellite or internet connection.

To get it your HR-20 receiver (or newer) has to be connected to a broadband internet connection. Your receiver also has to have the latest software downloaded to it, and DirecTV was still deploying that software, version 0x1B4, around the country -- and to the Charlotte area. When you get it and are connected to the internet, you'll see a DOD option in your main menu as well as channels in the 1000s.

So far most of the channels in the service are free, though there are some that have charges. The content is available 24/7/365 but you cannot access the entire program when you select it, unlike cable. You have to wait for the program to download, which will depend on your internet connection speed and type of program you download (HDTV or not). You can start watching the program shortly after you start the download, similar to watching a recording on a DVR while it still taping.

Here are the current channels available via DirecTV's new DOD program:

1000 DTV
1101 The 101
1202 CNN
1235 Style
1236 E!
1245 TNT
1246 Court TV
1247 TBS
1249 Comedy Central
1250 Fox Reality
1256 Turner Classic Movies
1263 LOGO
1265 A&E
1269 History
1276 National Geographic
1277 Travel
1278 Discovery
1279 Discovery Health
1280 TLC
1282 Animal Planet
1284 Discovery Science
1285 Discovery Times
1287 Military
1294 Discovery Kids
1295 PBS Kids Sprout
1296 Cartoon Network
1297 Boomerang
1298 Noggin
1300 Nickelodeon
1303 The N
1327 CMT
1329 BET
1331 MTV
1333 MTV2
1335 VH1
1337 VH1 Classic
1339 Fuse
1354 G4
1416 MTV Tr3s
1419 CNN in Español
1520 Starz
1526 Encore
1605 Golf
1607 Speed
1608 Versus
1801 Anime
1802 Eurocinema
1829 Concert.TV
1886 Adult Swim on Demand
1994 Octane

Thursday, October 25, 2007

"24" Season 7 Trailer; say it ain't so Tony

With apologies to Theoden James and his excellent Just You Watch blog, I had to post the new official trailer for "24," one of my favorite shows on TV.

This year could be the best ever and could signal a real battle for Monday night supremacy with "Heroes."

Let me know what you think.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Atari founder: today's games are trash

(Screen shots from Xbox 360 version of Virtual Fighter 5 due this month).

The big news in the industry this week comes from Atari founder Nolan Bushnell, who also made a mint with the Chuck E. Cheese pizza franchises.

Bushnell told the trade magazine Electronic Design that today's videogame titles are "pur unadulterated trash."

"Video games today are a race to the bottom," Bushell told ED, "and I'm sad for that."

Bushell thinks there's a lack of fun family games and most everything is concentrated on one or two players.

"Social games represent something that has been missing," he told the magazine. "Most of the board games are purchased by women for families. It is this gaming world that can be re-energized. We used to have families sit down and play a game together. A lot of video games today are very isolated. You don't see mom and dad, sister and brother, sitting down like they used to play, say, Monopoly. That represented good mentoring time for families that just isn't happening now."

-- Majesco Entertainment shipped "Zoo Hospital" for the Nintendo DS today. It lets players become a zoo intern who must examine and treat 40 different species of birds, mammals and reptiles.

-- Rock band Korn has written and recorded an original song inspired by Ubisoft's upcoming Haze video game. The song will be launched to radio and video in November 2007, to coincide with the launch of the Haze video game. The single, entitled "Haze”, will be available for purchase via online music download sites.

-- “Battlestar Galactica” comes to Xbox LIVE Arcade Wednesday. Inspired by the hit television series of the same name, “Battlestar Galactica” lets players choose their own path – be the hero and defend Galactica or join the dark side with the ruthless Cylons.

-- Blue Raven Technology ( has introduced three new iPod accessories: an iPod Voice Recorder, an iPod Wireless FM Transmitter and an iPod Home Theatre Dock.

The new FM Wireless Transmitter allows you to listen to your favorite iPod music wirelessly on any frequency of your FM radio, in the car or in the home. Using Blue Raven's iPod Audio Recorder, anyone can now turn their iPod into a digital recorder. The Home Theatre Dock allows users to transmit audio and video to your stereo or television.

-- DreamCatcher Inc today released "Painkiller: Overdose," the next installment in the critically-acclaimed and award-winning franchise Painkiller, has shipped to retail stores.

The popular high-energy, frantic-styled gameplay is back in full force to continue the frenzy started among FPS fans in 2004 with the release of the original Painkiller. This sequel to the eventual prequel is packed with tons of fast-paced, adrenaline-fueled single player and multiplayer levels of mayhem. Painkiller: Overdose brings with it 8 innovative demonic weapons, mind-bending physics, lightning-player maps, over 40 demented and sickly-twisted monsters from Hell and gigantic end bosses.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Dish vs DirecTV

The two satellite giants are now far and away the leaders in high definition programming. But how do they compare to each other?

There's a neat little spreadsheet online that is getting many folks talking. It's not completely up to date, but it is a great starting point.

What do you guys think?

Madden 08 En Espanol

Coming this December: "Madden NFL 08" ... en Español.

It's a brilliant idea.

Electronic Arts announced last week that it will make "Madden 08" available in Spanish for the PS2 and Xbox 360 in time for Christmas.

The game will be fully translated into Spanish, and its box cover will feature San Diego Chargers defensive end Luis Castillo, the second player from the Dominican Republic to be drafted (and to start) in the NFL.

Álvaro Martín, the first Spanish-language play-by-play broadcaster for ABC Sports' "Monday Night Football," is lending the broadcast voice to the game.

The Spanish "Madden" will have three exclusive Spanish songs added to the regular soundtrack: "Los Que Luchamos" by Kinto Sol, "Blame Me" by Molotov and "Relax" by Maná.

I'm surprised this hasn't happened sooner.

American football is growing in popularity within Latino communities, and the game's announcement was made at the end of Hispanic Heritage Month, piggybacking on other outreach initiatives the NFL is planning for the Latino market.

"This launch is a real coup for the Hispanic community," says Paul Estevez, CEO of Kinetix Integrated, a Latino-focused marketing company. "Not only does this show the increasing influence Hispanics have in the NFL, but it's indicative of a wider trend in branding and marketing: The Hispanic market is no longer fringe, but firmly in the mainstream."

Review: `Nancy Drew: Legend of the Crystal Skull'

This neat little detective game focuses on the search for the artifact in the title, which has the power to protect its owner from death.Of course, everyone is hunting for it -- including the previous owner's nephew -- and the journey can be dangerous.

I loved the location in historic New Orleans, the sets (an eerie mansion, a cemetery) were cool, and fighting alligators and spiders was fun. It's fun and easy to play.

The game is rated for ages 10 and up, although it should be more like 15-and-up. A PC with at least a 1-gigahertz Pentium processor is required.

Grade: .

Note: Her Interactive, which published this game, has partnered with the six Boys & Girls Clubs in Southeast Louisiana, an area still dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. As part of the program, each club will receive a complete set of Her Interactive "Nancy Drew" PC games, as well as financial support.

Review: `Rockstar Games Table Tennis'

Every now and then, a new title comes out that reminds you why the Nintendo Wii is the top-selling console game system in America.

This is such a game.

You choose from one of 11 characters, each with different strengths and weaknesses. There are 19 "arenas" to play in, and the crowds will sometimes chant your character's name.

The single-player mode is fun. You can put spin on the ball by pressing the Wiimote's directional buttons (in exactly the places you'd expect). You can hit soft shots, or put lots of topspin on big overhand shots.

It's easy to play. It's realistic. It works.


When ZZZs are worth the $$$$$

When zzz's are worth the $$$$$
People who own foam mattresses say they offer sweet sleep, sweet relief
Related Content

* Blog | Give foam a try?

When former Carolina Panthers quarterback Frank Reich left the NFL seven years ago, he retired with an unwelcomed penalty: excruciating back pain.

Reich was considering risky back surgery when he heard about 74-year-old Pineville furniture dealer Charles Tyndall.

For five years, Tyndall has sold a custom-made memory foam mattress and boxspring called the Tyndall-Pedic. Many area residents say it gives them relief from pain like Reich's -- and others say it's helped them sleep better.

After a few weeks with his new mattress, Reich was feeling good enough to play golf for the first time in three years.

"It's hard to believe that my back pain is gone. This is so amazing to me," Reich said.

There's no science to back it up, but plenty of customers like Reich are true believers in foam, which conforms to the body where traditional mattresses wrap cloth around coiled metal springs that push against the body for support.

Today, foam mattresses are a fast-growing segment in the worldwide bedding industry, which accounts for more than $13 billion annually, according to the World Mattress Industry Report.

The foam has its origins in the NASA space program, developed to help astronauts relieve G-force pressures in space travel.

The customer review Web site,, has reviews for 91 brands, including Sealy Posturepedic and Simmons, popular spring mattress makers.

Although there are cheaper brands for less than $1,000, most are $2,000 or more. And industry experts say, like with traditional mattresses, you get what you pay for.

Foam mattresses can be made of a solid core or of several layers of different types of foam laminated together.

The higher end models have more of the special visco memory foam on top, which provides body-contouring comfort, and should help increase user life.

Karin Dillner of the International Sleep Products Association said it's especially important for consumers to take time to test a foam mattress before buying.

"When purchasing a mattress," she said, "you should always lie down with your partner, if you have one, in your typical sleeping position for at least 5-10 minutes."

Dillner said often consumers will "just poke and prod" the corner of the mattress and not get a true feel.

"Some people say foam beds tend to sleep `hot' and they don't care for it, while others love it and say it soothes tired, aching muscles," she said. "Some don't notice a temperature change at all. You won't know if you like it until you try it yourself."

Quality can equal pricey

Lexington, Ky.-based Tempur-Pedic is the Kleenex of the foam-bedding segment, accounting for nearly $1 billion in worldwide sales in 2006. In the U.S., Tempur-Pedic sales were up 16 percent last year to $622 million.Tempur-Pedic beds, available in many Charlotte area bedding stores, range from $1,499 to $6,299 for the mattress and foundation. Tempur's most popular version, the DeluxeBed, sells for $2,499. Tyndall-Pedics, which include a memory foam-topped base, range from about $3,000 to $3,900.

Both Tyndall-Pedic and Tempur-Pedic use thick amounts of the visco memory foam at the top of the beds, overtop of regular foam below. This provides comfort, longevity and quality, Tyndall said.

Some foam models, which sell for as little as $800, skip on some of those things.

Tyndall says you see the same thing with traditional mattresses, which can run from $100 to $7,000 depending on size and model.

Tempur-Pedic has a three-month return policy, which amounts to a test drive, so long as you buy directly from the company.

If you don't like it, you can return it for a refund, minus shipping costs -- though it's important to know that the mattresses are very heavy.

Tyndall sells his Tyndall-Pedic bed at his store in Pineville and his new 44,000-square-foot store in Indian Land, S.C., about three miles south of Ballantyne.

He says his foam beds are particularly beneficial for those with chronic pain and other sleep problems.

He says as many as 70 percent of his clients have some type of sleep problem.

"Springs (in mattresses) give you pressure," Tyndall said. "Foam will cradle the body. The man who says coil is the best way has never experienced foam."

Trinity, N.C.-based Sealy Posturepedic has a foam line but has also introduced a latex foam bed. Industry magazine Furniture Today said it expected latex foam bed sales to double next year.

Unlike memory foam, which conforms to your body, latex foam gently pushes back.

Latex foam is breathable and is designed to keep owners warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer.

Improving on the standard

Tyndall, who's been in the furniture business since 1983, started watching the growing popularity of foam beds around the turn of the century.

He won't reveal everything, but says he drew up designs five years ago with more foam support in the corners than his competition, allowing customers to use every inch of mattress surface. He heard complaints about the foam mattresses retaining heat so he added a material on the top and inside to help control that.

Customers interviewed by the Observer said it works.

Tyndall also offered a full 20-year warranty, minus shipping costs.

Tempur-Pedic, for example, has a 20-year limited warranty. After the 10th year, customers pay a prorated amount.

Tyndall also had his proprietary beds built to different firmness types and offered custom versions where, say, one side could be firm and the other soft. Tempur-Pedic spokesman Mike Mason said his company offers one style of firmness.

Winning over skeptics

Charlotte flight attendant Pauline Thomas said she'd been all over the city trying mattresses last summer when she heard about Tyndall's. She said it didn't take long for her to decide it was the best."And I've slept on tons of beds in my travels," she said. "You sink into it. It was just more comfortable than the other foam beds I tried.

"They were all good. This one is a little better."

South Charlotte chiropractor Steven Jackson bought a foam mattress from Tyndall 19 months ago and had a similar revelation.

"At first, I was thinking, `Maybe I'm just tired,' " said Jackson, of Better Health Chiropractic. "I didn't want to see the hype in all that kind of stuff, but to be honest, it just worked."

What to Consider Before Buying


• Fans say they're more comfortable than springs.

• Precise contouring to body.

• No flipping.

• Less likely to aggravate allergies.


• Price: Twice as much, or more, than most conventional mattresses.

• Heat: Some complain they retain body heat.

• Firmness: Can vary depending on room temperature.

• Durability: Can lose ability to rebound from compression over time.

• Odor: When new (usually found in cheaper models)

• Mattress Buying Guide:
Langston Wertz Jr: 704-358-5133

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Foam beds may be worth a lay

The first time I heard about foam mattresses, I thought they were a gimmick. I was watching a late night infomercial. A lady had a glass of red wine sitting on a bed.

The lady gets off the bed. The glass doesn’t move.

It looked cool, but I thought it was a parlor trick. I surfed over to Golf Channel or something and fell asleep.

I didn’t think about foam mattresses much after that until my mother, Robena, bought a Tempur-Pedic earlier this year after she moved to Mint Hill.

I smugly told Mom that the whole foam thing was a fad, like bell bottom pants and flat-top haircuts. I just knew my 11-year-old old Sealy Posturepedic was still the Cadillac of the go-to-sleep industry (even though it has a crevice in the center so deep you can race marbles to the bottom).

My opinion changed the first day I sunk – and I mean sunk – into Mom’s new foam bed and took a nap.

You feel like you’re supported everywhere, almost like you’re floating. You don’t bounce. You wake up in the same position you dozed off in.

This was to sleeping what the color TV was to entertainment. That experience led me to do the story in Sunday's business section that goes along with this column. I figured more folks ought to know how good these foam beds really are.

They are technically based on something called visco elastic foam, which was developed by NASA for use by astronauts.

The foam conforms to the body and redistributes the body’s weight. More of you is contact with the bed than with traditional mattresses.

It makes your back feel better. It makes your legs feel better. It makes your neck feels better.

When you get up, the elastic foam returns to its original shape. You never have to flip it.

The only drawback is cost.

Foam is about twice as expensive as most high end inner-spring mattresses.

Throughout the summer, I tried many different foam bed brands in furniture stores in Atlanta, Orlando, Charlotte and Hickory. Then I became interested in a version only available locally while researching the accompanying story.

I talked to more than 20 customers who’d bought the Tyndall-Pedic from Pineville’s Tyndall Furniture Galleries and heard story after story about how the bed changed their lives.

Then I heard more, like former Carolina Panther Frank Reich being able to return to golfing because the bed helped relieve his football-related back pain.

I met a local flight attendant, Pauline Thomas of Rock Hill, who had tried several memory foam beds and concluded the Tyndall was the best.

“And I’ve slept on tons of beds in my travels,” she said.

Curious, I visited the Pineville Tyndall location and literally laid down. For hours.

The beds were amazing. Even better than Mom’s foam model. As I switched from bed to bed, I saw two patrons walk up to hug owner Charles Tyndall and tell him how much a bed had changed their lives.

I don’t think I’ve ever thought that while sliding down the center of my Sealy.

Read the Business story by clicking here.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Halo 3 helps Xbox 360 dominate sales

A lot of gaming fans say the big mistake Sony made with the PlayStation 3 was not creating enough great software to go with the great hardware.

Maybe they're right.

Look at what the excellent "Halo 3" game has done for Xbox 360. The game, which set U.S. sales records, was largely responsible for driving the biggest month in US video game history.

The NPD Group, which tracks the videogame industry, said Xbox 360 was the top-selling console in terms of sales in September. Xbox 360 outsold PlayStation 3 at a rate of five to one.

The Xbox 360 also benefitted from a recent price point drop -- to $349.99 for the regular 360 and to $449.99 for the Xbox 360 Elite series.

Xbox 360 sales sales shot up 50 percent in September, to more than 528,000. Nintendo sold 501,000 Wiis and Sony moved only 119,000 PS3 units.

PlayStation 3 sales were down 27 percent in September.

Other notes from the NPD report:

-- Xbox 360 software revenue at retail outsold PS3’s software portfolio 8:1 and Wii’s 4:1, selling 3 times more than both platforms combined.

-- For the month of September according to NPD, Xbox 360 software represented 74 percent of total software sales for the next generation market compared to 17 percent for Wii and 9 percent for PS3. Even without the sales of “Halo 3” the Xbox 360 portfolio outsold the PS3 portfolio 2:1.

-- According to the world-wide authority in entertainment reviews, Metacritic, Xbox 360 has 80 titles with a Metacritic review score of 80 or higher compared to just 31 for PS3 and 11 for Wii.

-- In September, Xbox 360 held six spots in the Top Ten Console Games. The $130 “Halo 3: Legendary Edition” alone sold twice as many units as the top title for PS3 “Heavenly Sword” (SCE)

Thursday, October 18, 2007

DISH expands HD lineup, chases DirecTV

DirecTV has been making all the headlines in multichannel news lately launching new HDTV channels. Wednesday, DirecTV added two more regional sports networks in HD.

Thursday, DISH responded in the war for the high-end customer, adding NHL HD. The company says that gives them 75 HDTV channels, one more than DirecTV.

"For the past two years, DISH Network has pioneered the HD revolution by offering consumers the most HD channels -- a fact that still holds true today," said Eric Sahl, senior vice president of Programming for DISH Network. "The addition of NHL Network HD is a score for hockey fans, who will benefit from the amazing graphic picture quality DishHD brings to the home viewing experience and who are now guaranteed to never miss a hat trick with the best HD DVR on the planet."

NHL Network is the first national network dedicated entirely to hockey giving viewers unprecedented 24-hour access to the most comprehensive hockey coverage, both on and off the ice. NHL Network will broadcast 50 live regular-season games in addition to classic games, documentaries, instructional shows, highlights and more.

Now, who's the real HD leader?

Well, DirecTV has 47 national channels, 11 regional sports channels, eight distant network signal channels and pay-per-view channels. That's a total of 74 and Charlotte customers can see 66 of those. Charlotte customers cannot get the distant network channels because DirecTV carries local channels for this market, including HD versions of local ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC affiliates for a total of 70 HD channels.

On Sundays, subscribers to Sunday Ticket can see about 10 more HD NFL games on DirecTV.

DISH has 15 VOOM channels, which have proprietary content, 22 regional sports networks, plus 38 national channels and local channels in HD for ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC. The local customer in Charlotte could get access to all 80.

But DISH's regional stations fire up per game while DirecTV's are full-time. From what many owners are saying at various forums around, DISH's picture quality is not on par with what DirecTV is pushing.

DISH has an advantage in that it gives new customers a free HD-DVR and DirecTV charges up to $200 for one. But DISH charges $20 for HD access and DirecTV $10.

For years DirecTV has taken a beating in the media and on forums about their lack of HD choice and quality. The company kept saying "Wait until fall 2007." They delivered. Cable's not close anymore and DISH is falling further and further into the rear view mirror.

Right now, DirecTV is emerging as the undisputed champion. If it starts giving away a free HD-DVR, that might be the killer blow.

But what do you think?

Can Technology bring families closer? Panasonic says yes.

Panasonic, which makes some of the best HDTVs going, thinks technology can be used to unite the American family.

Today, the company launched its new "Bring Bring Back Family Time" Campaign. To participate, family members of all ages can visit and get tips on how families use technology to spend more quality time with each other.

A new survey conducted by the Opinion Research Corporation looked at adults’ and teenagers’ perceptions when it comes to spending quality time together with their family.

It showed 91 percent of parents feel that spending quality time with their families is a meaningful experience and four out of five describe it as fun, educational and exciting. But 57 percent say they don’t have a dedicated family night.

“Pick a night of the week for family time that works for everyone and stick to it… no excuses,” suggests Dr. Cindy, a nationally recognized family therapist and founder of the Mommy and Me Association. “Start planning these nights when the children are young to lay the foundation that family night is an important ritual. It is also important to allow communication to occur in a natural environment that revolves around an activity that is engaging to everyone.”

The survey also found that eating a meal together, taking weekend trips, watching movies together and talking to each other all top the list as activities parents and teenagers would most want to participate in when spending quality time together.

So how to use technology to accomplish these goals? Well, more than 70 percent of parents and teens surveyed said watching a movie was a great way to spend family time together.

(The following tips are from Dr. Cindy and Panasonic)

Tip #1: Host a movie night where everyone is a critic. The act of watching the movie is entertaining, but the real family connection stems from the discussion afterwards. Talk about various themes in the movie and how they apply to family situations. Be sure to ask open ended questions to avoid “yes” or “no” answers and prompt meaningful dialogue.

Tip #2: Use a video camera to record a day-in-the-life. Gather as a family after dinner and show the video to elevate the discussion. Be sure to alternate family members each time to help paint a picture of everyone’s day.

Tip #3: Create a digital family album. Assign everyone one family time activity to document and after everyone has had a chance, spend the next family night viewing all of the photos and rganizing them into a photo album. Be sure to discuss each photo because they will provide an insight into how the family member perceived the day.

Tip #4: Plan a cooking night. There are hundreds of cooking shows and DVD’s that demonstrate how to cook amazing meals. Gather as a family and watch how a well- known chef cooks a meal then try to recreate it. Assign each family member a different task so everyone feels they played a critical role. Better yet, video it and create your family cooking show.

Of course, Panasonic would prefer you watch those movies and cooking shows on their new state-of-the-art 1080P plasma television, but the ideas, I think, are sound.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

How "Transformers" movie is helping to kill technology

The new "Transformers" DVD hits store shelves today and for us tech gurus -- or geeks, depending on one's point of view -- it's not exactly a great day.

If you have a shiny new Blu-Ray player or a Sony PlayStation3 just waiting to see Michael Bay's hit movie in splendid high definition, you're out of luck.

"Transformers" is being released by Paramount only on the HD-DVD format. The company stopped releasing Blu-Ray discs in August. That also means "Shrek The Third" will not hit stores in Blu-Ray format.

Paramont is in the minority here, as most major studios are supporting Blu-Ray. Some major retailers are stocking only Blu-Ray players and Blu-Ray is all you can rent from Blockbuster.

But just when Blu-Ray gets some serious momentum, the New York Times reports that Paramount received $150 million in financial incentives to get out of the Blu-Ray business.

What it does is make life tough for the consumer. There are a few next-gen DVD players that will do HD-DVD and Blu-Ray, but they cost around $1,000. Most studies show consumers aren't planning to buy a next-gen player yet anyway, and those that are, well, they're confused.

Both systems will deliver crisp clear HDTV signals. Blu-Ray will deliver better picture, however, and better audio. HD-DVD has better bonus features. But in the end, packaged media is on its way out. The future seems to point to digital downloads, something Microsoft is already offering via Xbox Live and Apple via its iTunes store.

DirecTV also plans to launch a "Download On Demand" service that will allow customers with broadband connections to download HDTV content. Many cable services also offer similar on-demand options.

But right now, nothing is better -- in terms of picture quality and immediacy -- than the packaged disc. You can buy or rent the DVDs before they hit cable/satellite PPV outlets or HBO. You can store them easily. The problem is this has become another Beta vs VHS war. I think Blu-Ray has the advantage, but the way things are going, neither format may win.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Why is there a TV show called "Pants Off/Dance Off"?

So I'm watching Fuse TV, or more truthfully channel surfing past Fuse TV and, wait, there's a large woman on TV stripping. Yes, stripping.

She's super-imposed over Madonna's "Like A Virgin" video, trying hard to find the beat. She never does. Meanwhile, there are captions -- sort of VH1 "Pop-Up Video" like -- going off everywhere and there's an anonying host talking over the whole thing and trying to be funny in an '80s MTV sort of way.

I'm sitting there watching this woman writhe around in a black lace bra that is about one twist from a Wardrobe Malfunction, and I'm wondering why is this on the air. I keep thinking somebody actually wrote a script and did a storyboard for this?.

Apparently, "Pants Off/Dance Off" is a big hit for Fuse, which stops the dancers just before they show off their private parts, asking viewers to visit a special page on the network's website to see them go all the way and to vote on which "Pancer" is your favorite.

But the dancing is very suggestive and probably a bit much to be airing all times of the day.

On the website, the dancers do show the goods, but they are digitally altered so you can't really see anything. Now I know we're in the age of Reality TV and in an age where Flava Flav and Bridget Neilsen can become a real-life couple, but I'm not getting why grown men are dancing badly on TV to old '80s music -- and taking their clothes off.

This is all so Eric Estrada.

This weekend, Fuse is having a Prance-a-thon where it will show all of its "Pants Off" shows back to back.

I think I will be watching "Sanford & Son" reruns instead.

Besides, Aunt Esther could outprance any of these beady-eyed fools on Fuse.

Monday, October 15, 2007

DirecTV continues HDTV assault: 14 new channels Monday including Speed HD

DirecTV has been launching new HD channels each week for nearly a month now. Until Monday, the launch date had always been Wednesdays.

But Monday, DirecTV launched 14 new HDTV channels, including four regional networks and six pay-per-views. DirecTV had previously only had one HDTV PPV channel. It now has seven.

Besides the pay-per-view channels, which are $4.99 each, DirecTV launched HDTV versions of HGTV (Channel 229-1), FX HD (248), Cartoon Network HD (296), Fox Business Network (359), Speed HD (607), Fuel (612), Fox Sports Detroit (636), Fox Sports Southwest (643), Fox Sports West (652) and Prime Ticket (653).

HGTV or Home Garden TV's HD channel airs different programming than the standard definition version.

DirecTV fans are getting FX HD just in time for the acclaimed "Nip/Tuck" TV series. Racing fans should enjoy getting motorsports news and programming in HD on Speed and all sports fans are getting several more regional sports nets in HD to go with the handful DirecTV is already showing.

To receive DirecTV's new HDTV programming, customers must have the company's new receivers, including the HR20 DVR, which is faster than its old TiVo version and just as reliable. DirecTV worked with several websites to get feedback on the HR20 after it launched last year to less than stellar reviews. After a few updates, the satcaster has gotten it right and finally delivered on the HDTV it had been promising for years.

As the Christmas season approaches, DirecTV is the clear leader in channel choice and picture quality. It should be fun to see how cable companies and DISH network responds.

NBA 2K8 wins battle of basketball videogames

NFL-licensed football video games were better when two or three companies were battling to one-up each other, as was the case until EA Sports gained a monopoly with its "Madden NFL" series a few years back.

At least in the realm of video-game basketball, there's still some healthy competition going on.

Three separate NBA video games hit store shelves earlier this month: EA Sports NBA Live '08; Sony's NBA '08; and 2K Sports NBA 2K8.

They are all effective NBA simulations that allow gamers to choose their favorite team and take them through a game or season of pretty realistic-looking NBA play.

After two weeks of intense play, I am going to give the championship trophy to NBA 2K8. It's got the best combination of realistic game-play, TV-style presentation and features. But the competition is catching up.

I'd rate 2K8 as 3.5 stars out of 4, Live a 3 and NBA '08 a 2.5.

Let's examine.


• NBA Live on Wii is crazy. You rotate the controller down for a dunk and pull up for a jumper by quickly moving the controller up and down, but I found it was easy to dominate this version with a "go-to move," something I didn't find in the PS3 or 360 versions.New for '08 is quick-strike ball handling. Using the right analog stick, you can quickly perform a variety of moves that can help shake the defense. Post play is also much improved. I also liked how EA Sports has made the virtual players shoot best from parts of the floor where their real-life counterparts excel.

• NBA '08 is so detailed, you can easily make out the different kinds of sneakers players are wearing.

Sony has put emphasis on the season mode, which requires players to manage players and balance the team chemistry as much as win and lose. The artificial intelligence is also improved, and I liked the new "Power Boarding" system, which rewards you for getting good position on misses.

• More than anything else, 2K8 outpaces the competition here. It plays faster and smoother and is easiest to control. Running real NBA plays is seamless. There's even a button to press to help get your shooter open. Cool. You can also make your players guard a little harder with the press of another button.


• NBA Live was the best-looking of the four games. It was clean, and I also noticed Live and 2K8 looked better on PS3 than 360 (NBA '08 is only available for PS3). Live runs at 60 frames per second on PS3, twice as fast as EA Sports' "Madden NFL '08." It shows.

Live also improved player spacing and made AI-controlled players react more like the real thing. The announcers make you feel like you're watching on television.

• Ian Eagle and Mark Jackson provide commentary for NBA '08, though it's not as in-depth as the other two. The game also seems to play a little slower than the other two.

• The PS3 version of 2K8 looked better than the Xbox 360 version, but the 360 version played a touch smoother. But generally speaking, this is how basketball sims should look and play, down to making sure all your players are happy in dynasty mode. And 2K8 has the best announcer banter.


• Live has an eight-team international tournament with real FIBA rosters. In my tourney, the U.S. won the gold medal.• NBA Live '08 has some good mini games, like Fast Break and Block-A-Shot.

• 2K8 has a dunk competition where you can choose from hundreds of jams in the four-player event. Plus, you can customize your players' free-throw-shooting style, dribbling and post moves.


• Live allows you to create leagues with up to 32 teams.

• NBA '08 will release roster updates (as will the other two) as well as other game features for download.

• 2K8 has an online ticker that updates you with real sports headlines and a co-op mode that allows two users to team up against the computer.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Even more new HD from DirecTV

DirecTV added the Food Network in HD Wednesday, along with HD versions of the National Geographic channel, CNBC and MGM-HD, which shows MGM movies all day.

DirecTV now offers 52 HDTV channels and has increased its picture quality to where its now an industry-leader on that front.

DirecTV plans to add the Cartoon Network, Fox Business, Fuel, FX, HGTV, NBA and the Speed Channel by the end of this month.

By the end of the year, it promises to carry as many as 70 HD channels.

In Charlotte, customers can choose between DirecTV, DISH and Time Warner Cable. DISH offers 41 HDTV channels.

Time Warner Cable, which recently added several channels, now carries 16. Time Warner also offers a HDTV on-demand service, which allows customers to choose HDTV programming instantly from a database on a hard drive. DirecTV has plans to launch a similar service this year.

To compare, visit HD websites for DirecTV, DISH and Time Warner.

Indoor golf technology can improve your game

Local golfer Bill Shelton uses Golftec indoor learning center to improve his swing as golf pro Noah Vinyard looks on.

When Charlotte's Bill Shelton wanted to improve his golf game, he decided to try out a new learning center he'd heard about in southern Mecklenburg called GolfTec.

The indoor facility sits near the intersection of I-77 and Tyvola Road. Inside, PGA Class A teaching professional Noah Vinyard attached Shelton to several harnesses which would measure several angles of his swing and tell him where his faults were.

Basically whenever Shelton got out of position, there was an audible beep. Better yet, Shelton could watch his swing in super slo-motion via a hard drive that allowed him to go frame by frame, forward and backward.

Vinyard quickly noticed that Shelton was overswinging, and picking his front leg off the ground. By using the cameras and harnesses, Vinyard quickly got Shelton to swing tighter and cleaner.

Vinyard said the technology has helped make Golftec a national leader in golf lessons. There are plans for 300 locations nationwide, including a new facility in Huntersville. Indoor golf lessons are nothing new in Charlotte. There are at least three similar facilities throughout the city. All are good. Despite being here for just over a year, Golftech already has more than 200 regular clients who buy packages of lessons that come with use of the indoor facility.

"I love teaching indoors," Vinyard said. "It takes the ball flight out of it. If you're outdoors, you might make a good move and shank it and then the person looks at me like I'm crazy. In here, I can show them through technology that you're making a better move."

Golftec has put its sensors on more than 200 professional players and can instantly put you in a split screen with golfers of similar build.

In Shelton's case, he's paired against Ernie Els. Shelton can see what a man of similar height -- Shelton's 6-2 and Els 6-3 -- would look like making a great golf move. After a few looks at Els and himself on split screen, Shelton gets a really good idea of what he needs to change.

Vinyard swears by the system, saying he's helped local golfers go from shooting 106 to 89 in a few months. There's a wall of fame just outside the golf simulators where students leave the balls they use to put up career scores. The board is getting crowded.

"I teach everything from an 8-year-old girl to an 80-year-old man," Vinyard said. "I got him to shoot 79."

But does it work?

After his 45-minute lesson, Shelton went to the range a few times and worked on his game -- then he shot his best rounds in months, an 84.

"It was easy to follow and easy to understand," Shelton said. "I think I'll definitely be going back."

Get more golf news at my golf column

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

New PSP hits store shelves

There’s a new PSP on store shelves.

The redesigned hand-held game is 33 percent lighter, 19 percent slimmer and loads games faster. Sony has sold more than 26 million PSPs since they were introduced in March 2005.

I can tell you the new unit is much better than its predecessor. It’s easier to use, and your hands don’t fatigue as fast while holding and playing it.

You can get the new $169 unit in black, silver or white. The best thing is, you can buy a new component cable to play your new PSP on your television.

I loved the new unit and so did my kids, Khamani, 3, and Trey, 7. They barely let me play anything. The kids liked how the new game was easier to hold, and Khamani kept going on about how it looked better than the old one (my test unit was silver).

A new video out jack, which allows you to output to your TV, sends games at 480x272 resolution. It’s not exactly PlayStation 2 quality, but it’s better than you might think. You can output movies and videos in full standard definition (think non-HDTV channels on the digital tier of cable).

A few other features:

 The new silver unit comes bundled with the game “Daxter,” a TV show and a 1-gigabyte memory stick for $199. Another pack includes the white PSP with a silk-screened image of Darth Vader on the back. The PSP exclusive “Star Wars Battlefront” game also comes with the pack, for $199.

 The new system includes six months of complimentary wireless access at more than 7,000 T-Mobile HotSpot locations throughout the country, including most Starbucks.

 Remote play allows PSP users to access photos, music, and non-game video from their PlayStation 3’s hard drive anywhere using a Wi-Fi connection.

 PSP users can also access RSS feeds from Web sites or transfer programs from their TiVo to watch on the go (provided you have TiVoToGo software)

7 days, $300 million for ‘Halo 3’

“Halo 3” generated more than $300 million in sales in its first week on the market, according to Microsoft, which released the game Sept. 25. That makes it the fastest-selling video game ever. The game has also accelerated sales of Xbox 360, the only console you can play “Halo 3” on.

According to initial reports from retailers worldwide, Xbox 360 console sales have nearly tripled compared with the weekly average before the launch of the new game.

More than 2.7 million gamers played “Halo 3” on Xbox Live in the first week, representing nearly one-third of the 7 million Xbox Live members worldwide.

News N NotesWorld-reknowned gamer Rafik “LoSt-CaUzE” Bryant has been wearing noise-canceling headphones from Able Planet to win gaming championships.

He just released a new line of headphones that eliminate external noise distractions and protect his hearing by providing full sound at lower volumes.

 ESPN and Electronic Arts will air the season premiere of the “Madden Nation” reality series at 11 p.m. Tuesday Oct. 9 on ESPN2. It repeats often on the ESPN family of networks.

The eight-episode series pits the nation’s top 13 “Madden NFL 08” gamers – each representing a real-life NFL player sponsor – against each other in elimination-style tournaments. NFL stars Matt Leinart, Larry Johnson and Steven Jackson will be among the players featured during the gamers’ nine-city bus tour.

 Xbox 360 gamers will be able to buy pink and blue controllers this holiday season for $49.99 each. These are in addition to the black and white controllers currently available.

All Xbox 360 wireless controllers also use optimized technology that allows users to wirelessly maneuver within a range of 30 feet. Two AA batteries provide 30 hours of uninterrupted gaming.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Time Warner gets in on HD War

DirecTV has grabbed all the headlines lately with its plethora of new HDTV channels, which are being delivered to customers without the compression of many of its competitors.

DirecTV's now offering 41 HD channels with plans to release at least 25 more this month.

DISH and Comcast have bolstered their HD lineups of late and now Time Warner Cable in Charlotte is expanding its lineup.

The company added TBS-HD in time for the baseball playoffs. Mike Munley, president of the Charlotte division, said customers will see several new channels on Oct. 15: TA&E, Golf/Versus, MTV and the new Fox Business Channel.

Friday, October 05, 2007

PS3 drops to $400? Pirates of Burning Sea drops in '08

With Microsoft and Xbox 360 stealing all the headlines with the hot "Halo 3," Sony is trying to get people talking about its products again.

There is serious steam behind reports Sony will introduce next week a 40-gig PS3 for $399 that will contain the Blu-Ray player but may not be backwards compatible with PS2 and would have less USB ports. If true, that's a brilliant move for Sony on two fronts: it drops the PS3 to a price point that gamers have bought at before (PS2 and 360) and it gives home theater owners a serious Blu-Ray DVD player at a very cheap price.

Sony is locked in a war over next-generation DVD -- Blu Ray vs HD DVD -- and the cheaper player will only help with that.

The other big Sony news is the announcement that Pirates of the Burning Sea will launch Jan. 22. It's a heavily anticipated MMO (massively multiplayer online title) and will feature action on the high seas. The game is set in the new World 1720s.

Gamers will chose among the French, Spanish, English, or Pirate nations, playing a naval officer, a freetrader, a privateer, or a pirate. Each nation has more than 1,000 missions, meaning you'll be playing this for a long time. And you'll fight at sea where you can destroy or board and seize a competitors’ ship.

On land, a player can run land mines, lumber mills, and shipyards to produce goods all players will need. You can even create your own sail and flag designs.

Pre-orders are scheduled to begin on Tuesday, October 23rd. Players that pre-order will receive an invitation to the “Pre-Boarding Party” giving them access to the live game 15 days prior to launch. During this time, players can level up to 20 and keep their characters after launch, with a purchase of the game and paid monthly subscription.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

DirecTV adds MTV-HD in time for Bon Jovi

In a surprise launch, one day after it launched 11 new HD channels DirecTV continued with its plans to the HD leader.

The company launched another HDTV channel Wednesday morning.

MTV-HD is now channel 332 on DirecTV receivers.

Viewers can see the 2007 MTV Music Awards in HD tonight/tomorrow at 1 a.m. Other programming highlights include a hi-def Red Hot Chili Peppers concert and a Bon Jovi unplugged concert.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

DirecTV continues HD assault with more new channels

DirecTV customers woke up to a surprise Wednesday morning -- more HD channels.

The satcaster continued on its mission to be the leading provider of high quality HD channels adding six national channels and five regional sports networks to its package. DirecTV launched 21 new HD channels late last month. The satellite provider now has 41 HD channels, not including local channels. DirecTV offers ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox in HD locally.

Here is a list of the latest HD offerings:

Bravo HD
USA Network HD
SciFi Channel HD
HBO West
Cinemax West

CSN Mid-Atlantic HD
CSN Chicago HD

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Is Bill Gates signed Halo 3 package worth $9K?

Apparently this is to benefit charity, but I just cannot fathom paying $9,000 for a videogame system and some games.

Can you?

Monday, October 01, 2007

Halo 3 Doesn't Disappoint

"Halo 3" has lived up to the hype.

Last week, Microsoft delivered the most highly anticipated video game in history, and it generated an estimated $170 million in first-day sales in the United States alone.

That's more opening-day business than blockbuster movies like "Spider-Man 3" and books like "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows."

The game is, in a word, brilliant. At its core, it's a great first-person shooting game, and though there are lots of those, "Halo 3" feels bigger than most of the competition. It looks beautiful. And it finishes off a storyline that many fans were upset with after a cliffhanger ending in "Halo 2."

The third installment's story centers around hero Master Chief, who is fighting to stop a group called the Covenant (a nasty alien coalition with bad intentions) and save mankind. To be honest, this felt more like a major sci-fi movie than a video game. The plot is very well-thought-out.

As the game begins, the Covenant is on its way to our planet, hoping to use space weapons called Halos that could destroy our world. Master Chief and his friends are trying to stop them with the help of new friends and new weapons, including a Bubble Shield that blocks weapons but not people.

Up to four players can now engage in cooperative play in story mode -- on one unit, or on Xbox Live. (I did find that in multiplayer mode, via Xbox Live, that there were too many younger players going at it for me to truly have fun.)

Another new feature I like is the ability -- once you've completed the campaign -- to go through any of the game's nine chapters in any order you want. Going back through, even without story mode, can be fun, given that you can tally points for kills. This adds replay value as you wait for "Halo 4" -- and there will be a "Halo 4."

" `Halo 3' has become a pop-culture phenomenon," said Shane Kim, corporate vice president of Microsoft Game Studios. "Not only is `Halo 3' setting sales records, it's also redefining entertainment. Within the first 20 hours alone, we (saw) more than a million Xbox Live members come online to play `Halo 3' -- that makes September 25 the most active Xbox Live gaming day in history."

Ladies and gentlemen, this is your Game of the Year. (Grade: )

News and Notes

DFC Intelligence, a group that tracks the industry, has released its September intelligence report. Among the highlights:

• DFC forecasts the Wii to be the hardware sales king in Japan -- and maybe the world -- but feels the PlayStation 3 will be a strong second. By 2012, it predicts the PS3 will lead in software revenue even though the Wii will have sold more units.

• In its heydey, the PlayStation 2 accounted for 30 percent of all interactive entertainment revenue. DFC forecasts the most successful current-gen platform will only account for half that.

• DFC thinks that unless the Xbox 360 has a strong fourth quarter, it'll end up a distant third behind the other two consoles long-term.

• The company thinks the PS3 looks to "be a solid platform for the 2009-2012 time period."

• The PC gaming business is expected to grow by 80 percent over the next five years.

VIDEO GAMES Langston Wertz Jr.
Langston Wertz Jr: 704-358-5133;; want more games news? Visit Langston's blog at