Thursday, August 25, 2005

Mac in Mac

By now, most of the Singaporean Mac users will have known that if you updated your operating system to Tiger 10.4.2 or if you are using Panther and have applied the Airport Software Update, you lose connectivity to the free WiFi connection at McDonalds (SSID:skynetglobal). There's a long thread at the Mac User Group's forum in which the "unlucky" users reported their problems. I was fortunate to be late enough to hop onto the OS X Tiger bandwagon and thus knew about this and avoided the 10.4.2 update, thus still able to use the free WiFi service in McDonalds. :)

A friend and I were in the McDonald's at Bugis Junction, and I took out my PowerBook to go online and show him some photos. A speech impaired person with an iBook gestured to me asking me how we got online. I booted up his iBook, and went "oh no" when I saw the Spotlight icon in the menu bar. My fears were confirmed when I couldn't logon even with the famed "Control-Key" trick. I clicked "About this Mac" and saw that it is indeed 10.4.2.

Since I can't communicate with him by speech and gesticulation is going to be difficult, I opened TextEditor and typed to him, IM-style, that Tiger 10.4.2 is not compatible with the skynetglobal network. He said that his friend using Panther isn't able to get online as well, which I replied that Panther with the Airport Software update isn't able to get online too. He went away for a while and brought his friend's iBook. Tried the Control-Key trick and we got online without a hitch. Phew. Opened TextEditor again, and taught him the trick. He went away happy that he is now able to get online.

I sure hope the sysadmin for that network (and/or Apple) is able to get this fixed.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Soundblaster X-Fi Product Info Released

Creative has released the product information for their X-Fi series of sound cards. They include the X-Fi Elite Pro, targetted at high end users who want the absolute quality in their music creation and home theatre applications, the X-Fi Fatal1ty FPS, named after famed gamer Jonathan "Fatal1ty" Wendell and aimed at hard-core gamers, the X-Fi Platinum, for serious music listeners and home theatre fans and finally the X-Fi Xtreme Music, the entry level (but not compromising quality) of the range.

All except the X-Fi Xtreme Music comes with a drive bay with various connectors for things like line-in, line-out, headphones etc (much like the previous Audigy/Audigy 2 Platinum series). Both the X-Fi Platinum and Fatal1ty FPS comes with an internal 5.25" drive bay while the top end Elite Pro has an external breakout box with more controls and connectivity options.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Surround Sound in Headphones Comes of Age with Creative's X-Fi Audio Solution

A friend of mine was raving over the demo DVD which came with the lastest issue of Computer Gaming World today. In it were demos of tracks from Creative's X-Fi audio solutions which shows how surround sound, game audio, movie soundtracks and the like would sound on headphones after they are processed with Creative's new audio technologies such as CMSS 3D and the 24-bit Crystalizer found on their X-Fi audio solutions.

The demo is nothing short of amazing. I've heard other technologies including Dolby Headphone, binaural, etc which claim to emulate surround sound but nothing comes close. There was a demo which positions an applause in the various places in a 7.1 soundfield (i.e. Left, Center, Right, Side Left, Side Right, Surround Left, Surround Right), and the virtualisation of the various positions is truly amazing.

Unlike other technologies where the soundstage still remain somewhat "in your head", the X-Fi's CMSS 3D rendition actually places sounds in a large soundfield outside your head. So front left really is front left, and rear right sounds like it's really from your rear right. The other demos showcases gaming and movie audio, and just as convincingly spatializes the sound and get it "out of your head", giving you a much better listening experience much like listening to true surround speakers.

This being so good, I think it gives the surround headphones like the Sennheiser Lucas and iRock 5.1 a run for their money.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Usher Audio S-520 Speakers

During lunch, a colleague who is also an audiophile brought me to a couple of hifi shops in Bukit Timah Plaza. At X-Audio, he pointed this pair of speakers to me and asked me how much I thought they cost. Looking at the very well built speakers in glossy piano finish, I said, "Dunno, S$2000?" "No, just S$550!", he said. The very friendly shop owner then talked to us about the product lines and awards garned by the Taiwnese company, Usher Audio.

We asked to try out the speakers which the owner happily obliged. But before that, we played a few tracks on the ProAc bookshelfs (think it's the Response 1SC Reference 8 Signature) which he already had connected. I didn't ask what the rest of the system are, but pre/power amps are from Threshold Audio. After this he switched the speakers over to the Usher S-520.

The difference is clearly audible. Voices sound more natural and have more ambience and presence. There is more detail in the audio playback and literally puts you right where the performer is and engages you in the performance. The speaker also has nice deep & tight bass which is not overpowering.

I am amazed. Until today, I've never heard of the Usher brand, but for the kind of price/performance ratio, I am giving it serious consideration for a future upgrade to my existing budget hifi setup. It really gives the more expensive speakers a run for their money.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

The "Individual Ink Cartridge" Myth

We heard them all -- inkjet printer manufacturers nowadays tout all the advantages of their printers having individual cartridges giving you an substantial savings as you no longer have to replace all the colours at a go regardless of whether all the colours of the inks have depleted. So, unlike the days of old where if you run out of say, magenta, you'd have to replace the entire cartridge consisting of anything from 3-6 colours, you now only have to buy and replace magenta.

I used to have the now defunct Epson Stylus Photo 890 which uses a black cartridge and a "all-in-one" colour cartridge and had always been skeptical of the "individual ink cartridge" advantage as Epson's Status Monitor software would always show me that the levels of the inks would always deplete at around the same rate.

Now I am using a Epson Stylus Photo R210 with INKdividual (Epson's clever marketing term for this feature) Ink Cartridges, I noticed it depletes at around the same rate as well, giving me confirmation of my earlier skepticism. So in the end, I probably have to spend S$110 replacing all the 6 cartridges simultaneously instead of less than half of that using the combined cartridges.

I guess the concept of having individual cartridges is probably more for people who print a lot of business graphics and presentations where large areas of a single colour are the norm. But for the people out there who uses this printer for what it's meant for (i.e. printing photos) then perhaps the concept is not so applicable (unless of coz, you print lots of photos consisting of large areas of a single colour like green grass and blue skies).

The only advantage then, of this whole concept is that since each individual cartridge is obviously of a larger capacity than the combined one, you get to print a more before having to replace the cartridges (albeit all of them).

Creative Zen Vision Released

Creative Technology finally released the much antipated Zen Vision. Sure looks like a great product with the 3.7" high resolution (640x480) LCD screen and support for a wide variety of video formats including the popular XVid and DiVX formats. There's even a CF card slot for digital photographers like myself can use to offload images from my CF cards to the 30GB harddisk on the device, freeing up the card for more images.