December 17, 2008

Trade shows are dying — only not fast enough

You know, there was a time -- long, long ago -- when I actually relished the thought of going to Vegas. Come to think of it, there was a time when I relished trade shows, too -- back when I was 12 (my dad took me to an Apple show in San Francisco, circa 1982; I loved it, although I nearly passed out from being on my feet all day).

But after five trips to Las Vegas in three years -- all for trade shows (three times for CES, twice for CTIA Wireless), I gotta tell you ... I'm done, both with Sin City and big trade shows in general. Now when I'm in Vegas, I don't gamble at all and I rarely drink; instead, I'm running around all day, hauling a laptop on my back and talking up PR reps, or chatting (uncomfortably) with my (often posturing) competitors.

The good news -- well, for me, anyway -- is that trade shows are slowly dying, and from a reader standpoint, it's no big loss. DigitalLife up and died this year, Apple just pulled out of Macworld, and CES -- while still huge -- is the smallest it's been in three years.

So, what's the deal? Well, CE makers big and small are discovering that it's just as effective (and much cheaper) to hold their own, smaller events as it is to haul their asses -- and mine -- out to Vegas every January. Tech enthusiasts probably won't even notice the change; after all, they're getting a daily parade of gadget news over the Web, courtesy of a zillion blogs (including this one).

But even though CES is the smallest it's been since 2006, it's still the Super Bowl of tech coverage. I've been inundated with calls and e-mails from PR flaks this month (some more insistent than others), with the volume steadily increasing as the days go on. Everyone wants an appointment, but you've got to be judicious -- after all, you won't have time to write (or explore) if you book yourself solid, and getting from one hall to another (especially if you're trekking from the main LVCC to the Sands) can take a good hour. My favorite is when a company books a meeting in a "nearby" hotel; believe me, when you're dealing with the sprawling, cavernous, and confounding hotel lobbies on The Strip, there's no such thing as "next door."

Anyway ... I'll stop my whining. CES is a veritable playground for true tech geeks, and I'm lucky to be covering it. I am. Really. Lucky.

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December 11, 2008

PlayStation Home open beta, Day One: Uh-oh...


Hmmmm...this isn't good. Reminiscent of the great Xbox Live meltdown of '07, no? Will keep an eye on this and see if Sony's servers buck up in the next few hours.

Update: It's nearly 12pm EST, and Home is still inaccessible; meanwhile, the PlayStation Store appears to be hosed, as well ("An error has occurred").

Another update: OK, so it appears that we're talking pre-launch maintenance, not a crush of new users (or at least, not yet). A post on the official Home forum notes that a "couple of technical problems" are holding things up. Stay tuned.

Yet another update [6:56pm EST]: The open beta is supposedly live, but my connection keeps timing out -- and judging from the comments on this post, it appears I'm not the only one.

And finally: Managed to get in shortly after 9pm Eastern ... but not for long. Booted about an hour later.

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December 09, 2008

"The Dark Knight" on Blu-ray: Wow…


Today's something of a milestone in the history of Blu-ray—or rather, it will be, once all the receipts are tallied. That's because the Blu-ray version of "The Dark Knight" finally arrived in stores today, and it's a safe bet that it'll become the fastest-selling Blu-ray disc yet—something akin to what "The Matrix" was for DVD way back in 1999 (or at least, that's my prediction).

I got a copy of TDK via Netflix today, popped it into my PS3, pulled my chair up nice and close, and … whoa. The standard 35mm "scope" scenes look sharp enough, but the four IMAX sequences (presented on Blu-ray at 1.78:1, compared to 2.35:1 for the rest of the film) are simply stunning. At the risk of gushing, I've gotta say … here's a movie that was truly meant to be seen on Blu-ray.

I'm also impressed by the BD-Live features on TDK—mainly, the ability to record your own full-length, picture-in-picture commentaries. It's a simple process: You just set up your Webcam and log on to the Warners BD-Live site on your PC/Mac; next, you launch a Web-based video player, hit "play" to start the movie, and start recording. Personally, I love the idea of fan-generated commentaries (pictured above)—the more the better. (Sorry, but the standard "we're so brilliant!" actor/director commentaries bore me stiff.) Also nice: The ability to set up live "community" screenings with fellow Batman fans in other households.

But will "The Dark Knight" manage to vault Blu-ray into the mainstream, as "The Matrix" did for DVD nine years ago? For now, it's an open question. Blu-ray player prices have finally fallen below $200, but as I've written before on Y! Tech, I've heard from plenty of folks who are just fine sticking with DVD (especially given the crappy economy). Guess we'll have to wait for the sales figures before we know for sure.

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December 08, 2008

Nerd alert! Radio Shack catalog archive spotted

I admit it—as a kid, I used to spend hours sifting through Radio Shack's mammoth annual catalogs, dreaming of hi-fi tower systems (with dual cassette decks!), TRS-80s (I called 'em "Trash 80s" too, but hey—they were still computers, and computers were cool), headphones, turntables, tuners, Walkmen (well, "Stereo-Mates," as Radio Shack called them) … you name it. I was even fascinated by the microphones (I'm pretty sure I got the $6.99 "Pencil-Type Dynamic" model from my parents), the turntable cartridges (like the Shure RXT4 with a dynamic stabilizer and "viscous dampening"—just $49.95!), and of course, wires, cables, and adapters galore.

So imagine my delight when Boing Boing Gadgets spotted this: an online archive of old Radio Shack catalogs, with issues ranging from 2003 all the way back to 1946. My favorite: the 1982 catalog, complete with airbrushed, feathered-haired models (some holding champagne flutes, others hugging puppies) posing with the latest in early-80s tech gear. And behold, the coolest Radio Shack offering of them all (on page 2): The Realistic CED-1 Video Disc Player, a CED player similar to the old RCA SelectaVisions, yours for a cool $499 (in 1982 dollars, mind you).

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December 05, 2008

Adios, Sunshine Suites

After about two years of toiling away at various cubicles at 419 Lafayette Street, I'm pulling up stakes and moving my HQ back to ... my kitchen. Yep, it's another case of scaling back in rough economic times, unfortunately. That said, I'm actually ready for a change. As handy as it was to have an office for PR visits -- not to mention the therapeutic benefits of going out in the world every day -- I was getting pretty sick of the jam-packed F train, and when you're dragging your feet to an office that you're paying hundreds of dollars a month for, well ... probably time to move on.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to a much shorter commute moving ahead -- as well as more opportunities to use my Sprint EV-DO modem for remote blogging at Starbucks or Bobst Library in the Village. And Sunshine ... thanks for everything. Perhaps we'll meet again.

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December 03, 2008

In for review: Samsung X460 laptop

I've been waiting patiently for this one -- a four-pound, 2Ghz Intel Core 2 Duo notebook, complete with Nvidia graphics, a 14.1-inch WVGA display, and a 250GB hard drive, starting at $1,699. (There's also a 13-inch, 2.8-pound version available -- nice.) So far, pretty peppy -- Web pages and Office apps are opening quickly, and streaming HD videos on Hulu are looking impressively sharp and smooth. Doesn't look that bad either. I wouldn't mind toting around one of these things at CES. (I hope my MacBook Pro didn't hear me say that.) Full review on the way.

Side note: I'm finally in on the PlayStation Home beta, but ... well, I'm not allowed to discuss it. Aren't embargoes fun?

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December 01, 2008

What I'm playing now: Resistance 2 (PS3)

I wasn't all that impressed with the original Resistance: Fall of Man; standard story, iffy graphics, familiar gameplay ... and that goes for the sequel as well, for that matter. But as far as the multiplayer experience in Resistance 2 goes, well ... it's fast and it's furious. Why? It's all about the numbers, and in the case of Resistance 2, we're talking -- wait for it -- 60 players at once. Not 10, not 16, not 24 ... 60 at a time, all tossed into a potpourri of wide-open (and gorgeously rendered) multiplayer arenas, along with enough artillery to blow up a small country. There's nothing subtle about it, but I have to admit, it's addictive.

On deck: Gears of War 2 for the Xbox 360, if I can ever get out of this Resistance 2 fracas ...

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