12:02 pm
Mon 20th Nov 06

TV without borders

TV without borders

Keywords: TV globalisation
Category: Technology
Tv programs are not a physical product. They don't need to be freighted overnight in big trucks to reach their destination. With the help of satellites which have been put into low earth orbit for the specific purpose of relaying television transmissions across the globe, anyone can receive content from any other part of the world.

But with the exception of Movies on Demand, we pretty much still think of TV as a broadcast medium. A TV station decides what we're going to watch and when, and it transmits that pre-determined content through the airwaves at a frequency somewhere between about 50 and 60 Mhz.

Like many, I hate what's on TV. There are times when I'm bored and lacking in enthusiasm when I will sprawl on the couch and watch whatever trash the TV station offers up. Many people prefer to have content chosen for them rather than go to the effort to decide what to watch themselves. This is why radio stations work. Because sometimes having to choose the content involves more thought than the viewer cares to put in.

I'm a lot more picky about what I like to watch than many. I normally prefer content relating to a particular theme that I'm interested in. Right now, it's the day following the Nintendo Wii's launch, and what I'd really love to see is some good documentary footage of the launch events, some first impressions by gamers, and some discussion and debate. But this sort of niche content is too insignificant to be considered for transmission over a broadcast medium, so it gets relegated to some postage-stamp sized blocky video on a website, and the incentive for journalists to cover these stories is greatly reduced.

The other thing that causes TV programs to be regionally restricted is that often, the potential audience for a program diminishes with distance from the geographic area in which it's been produced. Sporting matches such as a small, semi-professional golf tournament from somewhere in Brazil might not be of much interest to many of those outside the local region. But to someone who's a huge fan of the sport, the chance to watch these sort of low-profile preliminary matches might be of massive interest to a few individuals.

Being able to watch content from other countries is of great benefit culturally as well. If you are fascinated by Japanese culture like my wife is, you might enjoy watching their soap operas and variety shows. And let's not forget the HUGE market known as Anime. With the exception of Cartoon Network's Adult Swim programme or the SBS network, the chance to watch Japanese animation outside of Japan is very limited. Despite the large potential audience, the nature of pre-determined broadcast TV means that a commercial station in Australia is unlikely to alienate the rest of their audience for the chance to catch 5% of viewers in a late-night time-slot by broadcasting Anime.

There is always going to be a market for broadcast TV, just as there is always going to be a market for broadcast radio, but in this information-rich global world we live in today, broadcast TV simply fails to deliver everything that we desire. If I feel like sitting down and watching some rally driving, but there's no events in progress in Australia, what better way to please me than to offer a taste of rally car events in Africa or South America ? They don't need to be high-profile, big-name races to keep me entertained. Sometimes regionally specific content just isn't necessary when it's the subject matter that we crave, not the local relevance.

And don't get me started on news content. I'm not a massive consumer of TV news, preferring the up-to-the minute global content that I can get via the web or RSS feeds, but when I hear about a particular event happening in China or the Middle East (that doesn't relate specifically to the US-centric war efforts), it would be great to be able to bring up a menu of all the current video content from across the globe relating to the subject and temporarily immerse myself in other countries' points of view. From a journalistic and media transparency perspective, the ability to see the "other side" of a TV story is something we can only dream about. The ability to, upon viewing a news broadcast relating to a contentious subject, to bring up a menu of contrasting viewpoints would be a massive boon to democracy and openness. Political and social debate on issues could only be enhanced by being able to compare and contrast the viewpoints of opposing sides.

We live in a progressive world today, information-wise. But in many ways, our technology has not yet caught up with the mere taste of globalised information resources that the Internet has given us. Media is the most powerful resource we as a society have access to. More than weapons or wars, it is access to information and the knowledge that we possess collectively which shapes the world and defines who we are as people both individually and as a species. I look forward to the future of TV, but right now, change cannot come quickly enough for my liking. Viva La Revolution !
3:04 pm
Tue 14th Nov 06

Wii-tail price insanity

Wii-tail price insanity

Keywords: Wii Nintendo
Category: Gaming
Upon dropping into EB Games today to place some more money on my increasingly large pre-order, I received a very rude shock in the form of the price of games. Not since the SNES have games been so expensive here. "How much ?" I hear you ask ?

$109.95 AUD

For you Americans, that's just under $85 USD per game. Sheer insanity. Currently, PS2, Xbox and Gamecube games retail from between $69.95 to up to $99.95, with the average price being $79.95. That's a price increase of almost 30% over the current price of games.

What precisely are games developers doing to deserve this huge increase in price ? The games market is healthier now than ever, and with games being released simultaneously across all three console platforms, profits should be being maximised, so why are we paying more now for games than ever before ? 30% is no small increase. It's huge, and I for one am not happy about it. Why are console manufacturers being so widely criticised over the price of their new consoles when they're still selling them at less than cost, while the price of a single game is now more than the retail price of a previous generation console ?

The Wii retails for $299. That's less than the price of three games. Developers crow about wanting games to appeal to wider audiences, and to be "pick up and play". With games priced at over a hundred dollars each, I think the chances of a casual or "non" gamer taking a risk and "picking up" a game for "a bit of quick fun" are less than they ever were. When a game constitutes as much as quarter of gamers weekly income, how do developers expect to attract casual gamers ?

Wii games are supposed to be all about "pick up and play", with games like Super Monkey Ball Banana Blitz epitomising this style of gaming. As a long time fan of the franchise, SMB was my #1 purchase for the Wii platform, but what I'm hearing from other gamers is "I don't have enough friends to play SMB, and I don't think it'll keep me captivated long enough to make the purchase worthwhile". Personally, I feel the same way about games like Excite Truck. $110 for Zelda is undoubtedly worth it, since it will have well over 100 hours gameplay time. But $110 for a racing game that I'll only play a few times with friends ? No thanks. I may be in the minority here, but I have absolutely no qualms about spending $1000 on a next-generation console. But when it comes to spending $110 per game, I'm only going to buy the few select games that I am absolutely 101% sure will offer me significant value. That's not how it should be. If you want to make games "pick-up-and-play", then the price has to reflect this. I'm simply not going to take a risk on something so expensive.

Developers, or rather, publishers, you're pricing your games out of reach and excluding the very audience you're hoping to attract. You're rorting the market of a small country by making our retail prices far in excess of what the exchange rate dictates, and then to add insult to injury, you're region-locking games so that we can't import them. Stop being selfish assholes. In the end, you're only hurting yourselves.
2:25 pm
Tue 24th Oct 06

New Printer - Epson CX4100

New Printer - Epson CX4100

Keywords: freebsd cups sane epson
Category: Hardware
I brought home a new printer today. I was glad to be replacing the troublesome, hulking grey HP PSC2410 that had served my printing and scanning needs for the past year or so. The beast had always been difficult, from the nightmarish contraption you had to fiddle with to perform ink changes to the god-awful software that infested your system and if it didn't find itself running at start-up, well, then it would make itself run. And this is on OS X !

Google, or more specifically, a page at linuxprinting.org had told me that the Epson CX4100 was nicely compatible with linux, quoting "Works PERFECT with gutenprint (foomatic isn't needed) and sane-epson". It received checks on all functions, including copying and ink level checks, so I took this as a good sign.

Since it also offered Mac OS X drivers, I thought I'd reluctantly take a look and see what they were like. Turns out they're not as intrusive and annoying as the HP drivers, but the drivers shipped on the CD caused all Twain-capable applications to crash as soon as they tried to read the Twain Data Source plugin in /Library/Image Capture. Not a good start. I downloaded the latest drivers off the web and fortunately Epson have fixed whatever bug they'd let slip into the shipping drivers, because the new ones work great. Epson's scanning utility really is quite reasonable. If you excuse the obligatory "made in Visual Basic" look to the buttons it's pretty functional stuff. So far so good.
1:47 pm
Tue 24th Oct 06

Waiting for Wii

Waiting for Wii

Keywords: nintendo wii
Category: Gaming
I pre-ordered my Wii today.

It was an impulse purchase. By impulse, I mean not that the decision to buy it was an impulse, but the decision to walk into my preferred EB Games outlet, walk up to the counter behind which the small asian gent whom I knew for a Wii buff was standing, and proclaim aloud "I want to buy your Wii !" whilst holding out a wad of cash equivalent to the price of the full console. Oh but the wii jokes are just too hard not to use. My personal favourite, were the Wii to ever be marketed in a special edition colour, as Nintendo have done throughout history, would be "What colour is YOUR Wii ?".

Back to reality again. I purchased the Wii console for $399 AUD, and the Play Pack for an additional $79. I couldn't actually tell you what was in the Play Pack, because I was so giddy at fully committing to having a Wii in my lounge on November 19th.. or wait.. is it December 8th ? It seems just the day before, some posters had been glaring an evil message at me with a date which was different than the date I was so familiar with. I had carefully wiped them from my memory upon sight though, refusing to admit that Nintendo could be giving Australia the raw prawn.

With my purchase I got the rather dubious privilege of getting a Wii VIP Club card, which turns out to be a plastic card with a bar code on it, which is used to confirm that you are eligible for special discount offers which are advertised via an email list. Since EB didn't actually take my email address down, I'm wondering how much use this is going to get, but we'll see. It also came with a pamphlet offering $20 off Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam, which is of little interest to me.

I'll be pre-ordering Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz, as we've always been huge Monkey Ball fans, owning both the GameCube classics, and the DS versions, and Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, because Zelda is just a must have. I much adored the cel shaded Link from Wind Waker, and I'm sorry to see it go back to hard 3D textures, but I'm sure the adventure will be just as in-depth as ever. I'm eager to play Red Steel as well, but I'm hoping it becomes available as a preowned game quickly ;")
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