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3DS Cyber Save Bank lets you backup saves from game card


With elves!
Jun 02
// Dale North
Your 3DS cart games saves can be moved to your PC with this Japanese device from Cyber Gadget, called Cyber Save Bank. It's a USB device that lets you plop in your 3DS games to pull their save data as a file. I need this for ...
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Wii U getting a GameCube-inspired fighting controller


Just in time for Super Smash Bros!
May 21
// Hamza CTZ Aziz
[Update: Note original image was for PDP's Wii aftermarket controller, not their upcoming design.] The Wii U doesn't really have a good controller for fighting games, so enter PDP with their Wired Fight Pad as they're calling...

Review: Klipsch KG-200 Pro Audio Wired Gaming Headset

May 06 // Dale North
Product: Klipsch KG-200 Pro Audio Wired Gaming HeadsetManufacturer: KlipschInput: USB, analogMSRP: $129.99 The KG-200 is a lightweight, shiny gaming headset that we could only really appreciate after managing to pry it out of some unnecessarily complicated packaging. Once we pulled it out of too much plastic and had all the cabling fall all over the place, we could appreciate its sharp looks, silver-on-black trim, and its sporty ear padding. Seriously -- the packaging is terrible.  These phones look good on your head -- you won't look like you should be in a flight control tower with these on. They feel pretty nice with their soft ear pads and squishy rubber head band padding. Headphone nerds will tell you that gripping force is important for sound quality as it keeps the sound in (bass!) and disturbances out. If you have a normal-sized head like mine, you'll appreciate the abnormally strong squeeze that the KG-200 puts on your ears. But if you're big-headed, this could be an issue. Similarly, if you have longer than normal ears, these smaller earcups are either going to mash down on the top of your ears or your ear lobes. The KG-200 qualify as over-ear phones, but just barely. The grip force and the tuned 40mm drivers mean that plenty of sound gets to your ears. Lots of it -- these things can go really loud! That's really great if you've been looking for a set that will put out a lot of sound. Unfortunately, this set is so bass-forward that anything beyond mid-level listening will fill your eardrums with a boomy mess. Explosions sound amazing, as do big mech footfalls, but you'll strain to hear anything else over the low end as the frequency response is so skewed that it's in danger of just sounding like your audio source is malfunctioning.  Tweakers will like the EQ presets that give users a choice between combat, stealth, and sport-tuned curves; these presets are selected by a button found on the right ear cup, alongside buttons for chat volume, game volume, and mic mute.  I think the clear, balanced default preset sounds best, but, again, they're all overly boomy. The bass is so present that the headset will actually vibrate on your ears at higher volumes.  Another issue is that the KG-200's active amp is always making a hissing noise. Unless you use these at a higher volume, you'll hear plenty of hiss alongside your game audio. We're talking enough hiss to have me concerned that my ears were about to be blown out when the audio started. But even set at minimum volume, these headphones output some serious electronic noise.  An avalanche of cabling and accessories fell out of the packaging after pulling out the KG-200. All of this cabling gives the set a lot of flexibility as it provides the required connectivity for the various consoles it works with.  For the Xbox 360, the bundled RCA connector is required to send audio to the set, as is the Xbox AV cable. This is a kind of loopback, with the audio coming out of the piggybacking RCA jacks sending signal into the 1/8" headphone jack of the headset. Coming back out, the mic requires an additional cable to send your speech into the system, doubling up the cabling. Xbox One isn't as bad, but it does require the new Xbox One connector block accessory. For PlayStation users, the PS4 supports straight up USB connectivity (you'll need to update your system firmware) for just audio, but the recommended setup for both composite and RCA output will still have you using the RCA cable splitter to draw audio from your television. You really can't do that if your television or display doesn't have RCA jacks, or if the video connection type doesn't support audio options. Keep the receipt. I could not get my gaming television to work with the prescribed PS4 setup so I ended up using the USB audio instead. It sounds puny and quiet in comparison, and the volume and other controls on the headset won't work when connected this way. PC connections can use the standard green and pink split 1/8" headphone and mic jacks, with the USB port supplying power. It comes with a supplied lift attachment for the USB jack so that it only receives power. If your notebook computers do not have a mic jack, you're out of luck, as Klipsch did not include a 1/8" headphone/mic splitter cable.  Beyond these cables, the bundle also includes a detachable boom mic that is sufficiently bendy and features a foam pop cover. It seems to be a very good mic (good sensitivity and response) from the couple of test runs I gave it. I don't want to open that can of worms on how a quality set of non-gaming headphones and a USB mic will kill just about any gaming headset combo out there, but I couldn't help thinking about that when using these for PC gaming. The latter solution would sound better and have less cable clutter, most likely. And when it comes to console gaming with the KG-200, I didn't like the cable fight. It's just too messy and confusing for my tastes. Worse, some of the cable lengths are too short to fit the recommended cabling setups, and some of the prescribed setups from the manual didn't even work for me. For the asking price of $129 you're getting one of the loudest headsets I've ever used, and that's saying a lot. If you've been looking for loud, or for a lot of bass, you need to check out the KG-200. This is all the bass you'll ever need. But if you are craving clean, clear audio, I'd look elsewhere, because the hiss noise is a pretty big issue and the frequency response is seriously skewed.
Klipsch KG-200 photo
BOOM BOOM BOOM
Many of the very same Klipsch gaming headphones we spotted at CES earlier this year are now here in our office, with the Klipsch KG-200 set being the latest to get our review treatment.  While Klipsch has always been a b...

Review: Cambridge Audio DacMagic XS USB DAC

May 03 // Dale North
Product: Cambridge Audio DacMagic XS USB DACManufacturer: CambridgeInput: USBMSRP: $199.99 ($189 on Amazon) The Cambridge Audio DacMagic XS USB DAC is a tiny little thing, just barely bigger than a Zippo lighter, and far lighter. Its top edge of its brushed aluminum body features a mini USB port and its bottom edge has only a single 1/8" audio jack. On the front face you'll find volume buttons and the Cambridge Audio logo -- and that's it. Simple and clean. That USB port connects the DacMagic to any PC or Mac (via the included mini cable), which lets you completely bypass the internal DAC, giving you access to high-quality sound. I first tried it out on my office computer, a Macbook Pro Retina (the device is 100 percent plug-and-play on any Mac). I didn't expect it to much for what I was listening to at the time -- streamed music on YouTube -- but it did. I immediately picked up improved definition, a tighter low end, and a smoother top, making songs I've heard dozens of times on my office sound setup sound better than I've ever heard. Intrigued, I quickly jumped to trying out the DacMagic with higher quality source material. Most of my newer playlists are stored in Apple's format at 320kbps, so it was no problem putting the DAC through its paces. R&B tunes had a very satisfying kick/bass guitar range through my main listening headphones, the AKG K545. I'm not really an EDM guy, but listening to Japanese artist M-Flo's new album, Edm-Flo, had me grinning wildly for most of the time I sat through the 20-track album. My other favorite phones, the AKG K702, took all that sweet, clean high end the DacMagic put out and made my ears happy, like they were born to be together. For high quality audio file rips (DacMagic supports up to 192kHz sample rates in its optional USB 2.0 mode), I was quite pleased with its performance as I heard a new depth to songs I've heard many times before. But for older MP3s I could hear every tiny little compression artifact and cymbal crunch. Too much power can be bad sometimes. This tiny little box was equally impressive in gaming. It only took a few seconds to appreciate the improved balance and detail while poking through my Steam library with the DacMagic connected, and gaming headphones on. It made my SteelSeries phones sound better, no question. I'm already unbelievably bad at CloudBuilt, but I was even worse this time as I was too busy appreciating the sound work and the outstanding musical score to get anywhere. I did side-by-side comparisons using several sets of phones on the same games, switching between the DacMagic and the internal sound of my gaming rig, Razer's Blade 14. Again, no contest: through the DacMagic, games sounded shiny, impressive, and considerably more immersive. In Cloudbuilt, I picked up on atmospheric effects that I never noticed before, like voice echos and musical reverb trails. Even simple games like DuckTales Remastered and Joe Danger had me clearly hearing the benefits of an upgraded DAC. It got to the point where switching back was a bit of a bummer. I'll never look at my rig's headphone port the same again, sadly. It's too bad I have to send this thing back. If you are looking to improve sound quality for gaming, music, movies, or anything else that comes out of your computer, the DacMagic is a really easy and convenient way to do that. It's so small, light, and portable (and comes in a nice drawstring bag) that you won't ever sweat taking it with you. A DAC like this might be a tough sell to gamers with its $189 street price, especially when it's hard to convey what exactly it would do for their gaming experience. But I think gamers are becoming smarter and more selective about audio, and the headphone/audio business is growing rapidly as a direct result of gamer demand for quality listening experiences. We now have access to very high-quality headsets, and we should want to plug these into only the best source. That's where a DAC upgrade makes sense to me. Just short of $200 is a tall order for this  matchbox of a thing, but hearing is believing. This little thing made a big difference for me, and if you're running motherboard stock audio, it probably will for you too. If you're the type that wants your games to sound their best, check out the DacMagic. It might be exactly what you're looking for.
USB DAC review photo
USB DAC can make your games sound better
Before I tell you why you need this DAC or any other, let me tell you what it actually is.  Think of a Digital to Analog Converter as an external upgrade for the circuitry of your audio device's innards. Every modern aud...

Review: Razer BlackWidow Ultimate

Apr 22 // Dale North
Product: BlackWidow UltimateManufacturer: RazerInput: USBMSRP: $139.99 Before we get to the keys, let's cover the board itself. The newly updated Razer BlackWidow Ultimate is built to impress with its solid weight and flex-free casing. The matte finish is welcome! They went with their standard green-on-black scheme, with cool backlit keys that made my office look like a science lab with the lights off. The light is super bright, though. The new, in-house designed mechanical key switches (nope, not Cherry this time) are so responsive that, again, they feel connected to my fingertips. I love how it feels to type. But this is a more dampened feel than their previous board, which positively affects sound levels (more on that later). I don't feel like much was sacrificed to dampen the sound, but those looking for that super crisp feel might think some of that exciting edge is missing with the BlackWidow Ultimate. I like the middle ground here because I never felt like I was making accidental key strokes, and I never typed my way to a headache from the sound. With gaming, the experience was so good that I forgot about what I was using after awhile. It became transparent. I felt very dialed in playing games like Earth Defense Force and Resident Evil Revelations. The space bar is a joy. Apparently there's a shorter travel time for Razer's switches, but I never felt that difference. No matter, though -- what they have was definitely working for me. Outside the feel and responsiveness of the keys, there's very little in the way of gaming-specific features to point out for the BlackWidow Ultimate. You won't find much beyond the row of five macro keys on the left side of the unit, which may not be enough for some types of gamers. It's just the goods and not much else. You can use Razer's Synapse software to do key bindings and macros, mind you. My favorite part? The keys are clicky, but not noisy. I love the mechanical feel of a premium board, but I'm usually out the door on even the best keys when it comes to very noisy clicks. The last model I tried had me distracted, even with gaming headphones on. That's not a problem with the BlackWidow at all.  The Razer BlackWidow Ultimate does one thing and does it very well, with no frills or dorky features getting in the way. It's a good-looking, solid board that seems like it'll hold up to years of gaming and typing. It's a bit expensive at $139, but you're getting a quality input device that should last you a while for the asking price. For many, this will just be an update to a long-respected gaming board. They'll want to try out these new switches for sure (there's a hole in the box that lets you do so). But if you're in the market for a new gaming board, this one is definitely worth a look. 
Razer BlackWidow Ultimate photo
2014 version
asdf;lkjas;dlfkj;aslkjdf;lakjsdf;lkj Home key attack! It feels so good to type on super responsive keys, especially for someone that spends 6-8 hours a day typing on those chicklet-style laptop keyboards. Razer's new BlackWid...

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New Wii Remote Plus controller styled like Peach


Pretty in Pink
Apr 15
// Dale North
Nintendo did a nice job with their new Princess Peach Wii Remote Plus controller. It's Peach pink and has some colored accents to make you think of Mushroom Kingdom's royalty. It sort of makes a set with the Mario and Luigi W...
Indie controller exhibit photo
Indie controller exhibit

The amazing alternative controllers of the ALT.CTRL.GDC exhibit


ROFLPILLAR
Mar 20
// Dale North
A new alternative controller exhibit made its debut at GDC this year. Amazing selections from 14 independent teams were shown at ALT.CTRL.GDC on the GDC show floor yesterday, and every one of them had my imagination running. ...
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Myo is a hands-free alternative for the Oculus Rift


Uses your muscles to determine your motions
Mar 15
// Hamza CTZ Aziz
The Oculus Rift is a great piece of equipment, and up until now you needed to use motion--based controllers to simulate your own arms in some Rift games. Myo looks to take things one step further by freeing up your hands, th...
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PlayStation 4 price increased in Canada


Along with the camera and controller too
Mar 14
// Hamza CTZ Aziz
Sony has confirmed to the Toronto Sun that the prices of the PlayStation 4 will be going up effective March 15. The consoles were $399.99, but will be $449.99 going forward. The camera and Dual Shock 4 controller will also se...
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Google buys Android controller company Green Throttle Games


The mobile gaming arms race continues
Mar 12
// Hamza CTZ Aziz
Green Throttle Games was part of the whole Android-based gaming arms race alongside Ouya, GameStick, and others. What made GTG unique was their Atlas controller, which paired with the company's Arena software, allowed for mul...
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Xbox One stereo headset and adapter coming in March


Use any headset you already own
Feb 11
// Hamza CTZ Aziz
Microsoft is releasing a stereo headset adapter for the Xbox One in March. The adapter is $24.99, and will let you plug in any headset with a 3.5mm audio jack or the Xbox 360's headset with 2.5mm chat cable. It'll also offer ...

Review: Polk N1 Gaming SurroundBar

Jan 17 // Dale North
Polk N1 Gaming Surroundbar Manufacturer: PolkMSRP: $299 (available at Amazon) The N1 is a sharp-looking but compact (about 39" wide, 4" tall) sound bar that manages to pack in four small drivers and a subwoofer behind its cool horizontal slats and under its brushed-top finish. It might be a tad bit bigger than the models that have a separate subwoofer, but it's nice and tidy, and still small enough to fit underneath your television's screen. It's available in both black and white finishes. You won't find a wealth of ports on the N1, but it does have all the bases covered. Two digital connections (SPDIF and Optical) and one 1/8" audio jack will cover just about any need. There's also a SUB-OUT port for those that would like to add a subwoofer. Connectivity is expanded by the built-in Bluetooth chip, which lets you stream audio from just about any compatible device. Polk came to Microsoft for a bit of help with the sound processing for the N1. They were paired up with 343 Industries and Turn 10 Studios to work with their engineers to create a couple of genre-specific sound modes for the sound bar. There are even little buttons on the remote that feature the Forza and Halo logos. Of course, you don't have to be playing Halo 4 or Forza 5 to benefit from the shooter and racing genre modes of the N1. My first impression was that the N1 gets loud! A big sound comes out of this relatively compact sound bar. I did not expect it to put forth such a clean, full sound. That subwoofer may be invisible, but it's definitely working somewhere in there. The N1 has a full range sound that is well-balanced and tight. There's none of that nasty time separation between highs and lows (a wireless sub problem), and it gets away from the hollow, processed sound that so many sound bars suffer from.  The game sound processing modes are interesting in that they perked up the sound of the games I tried it on without harming the audio quality. Too many of the EQ curves thrown into gaming audio products hype frequencies to be exciting, but eventually end up causing ear fatigue. Trying the racing mode with Forza 5 had the sound field widening a bit, making the sound effects more immersive. The shooter mode seemed to make all the foreground sounds even more pronounced. It began to wear on my ears at high volume, though. Neither mode as as gimmicky as I originally feared, and the racing one in particular is quite good. There are a few drawbacks of note for the sound processing. The sub can distort with some of the sound processing on at higher volumes. Also, you need to be sitting dead center for full immersion. Anything outside of that skews the sound field in a weird way.  The non-gaming modes, Music and Cinema, were as useful as they were named, with the Cinema preset working well for content that I tried with my cable box. Again, the N1 put off a rich, full-range sound, with this mode bringing more pronounced dialogue than the others. The N1's sound can easily fill a large room. The Bluetooth streaming mode works like a charm, and it has great range, too.  A few gripes: The remote is a tiny little thing that seems to respond when it wants to. I don't expect it to hold up. Thankfully there's a programming feature included to let you use your existing remotes. I also found that there aren't enough steps between the digital volume settings to fine tune the volume exactly to my liking. And not having a sound-mode button on the speaker is an oversight. My personal preference for gaming, music, and movies is stereo speakers and a proper receiver. While you couldn't manage full tower speakers and an amp for the N1's $299 MSRP, you could swing a budget receiver and some fuller-ranged bookshelf speakers, or a budget set of powered monitors. Even Polk's TSi100 Bookshelf speakers would be a great solution for gaming and music. But the N1 is better than any sound bar that I've had in my home so far, and it has gaming sound modes to boot. Its Bluetooth connectivity makes it even more useful as a big wireless speaker system. If you want a tidy, clean, and loud solution that fits underneath your television set, the Polk N1 Gaming Surroundbar is a solid choice for your gaming rig. 
Polk N1 soundbar photo
With Forza and Halo sound modes
I don't have the best history with sound bars. I had this bigger JBL one that sounded nice, but it stopped working. Kaput. I tried to replace it with one of Sony's budget models, but that one sounded so bad that I laughed at ...

Review: Nyrius Aries Pro Wireless HD for Laptops

Jan 14 // Dale North
Aries Pro Wireless HD for Laptops Manufacturer: NyriusMSRP: $399.99 ($249 on Amazon) The Aries Pro Wireless HD for Laptops is a streaming solution that sends 1080p HD video and its accompanying audio wirelessly, letting you use your PC or laptop (or console) without having to bother with rewiring. A transmitter the size of a pack of gum has an HDMI port on its end, and this is to be plugged into any video source. A small box about the size of a deck of cards acts as a receiver. Its HDMI port lets you run a cable to any television or monitor to receive the streamed A/V signal. The transmitter is powered by a USB cable, while the receiver is powered by a 5V DC power cord.  My house is a mess of game systems. Now, I'm not bragging, but I have game systems everywhere. In multiple rooms -- bedroom, living room, offices --  you'll find both current and next-gen consoles as well as debug/test kits, and that's not to mention my work and gaming laptops. My home office is where most of them reside, but they never seem to stay completely together. I can't tell you how often I'm carrying systems around my house to get work done.  I've just come off a week-long marathon gameplay session for Square Enix's Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII for an upcoming preview and review, so I had moved my PS3 test kit into my living room to get comfortable with this lengthy RPG. In getting back to work the following week, I wanted to return to my office where I could take notes during gameplay. The Aries Pro let me simply unplug the HDMI cable from the PS3 kit and plug in the transceiver instead of moving the system. The USB power was supplied by one of the PS3 kit's front ports. Back in my office, which is about 20 feet away in the corner of my house, I turned on my office gaming television and used a DualShock 3 controller to play wirelessly.  It works like a charm. The television showed that it was receiving an HD signal, and my audio receiver showed that it had locked into a Dolby stream. I loaded up the game and found that it looked pretty good for a signal that had traveled across a couple of rooms. While not pristine like a direct HDMI connection, the gameplay still looked sufficiently HD, with even the smallest text remaining readable. Dark scenes had the signal quality occasionally dropping, making it look more compressed. But, for the most part, I was totally fine with the compromise. I played for about two hours, and I found that after awhile I completely forgot that I was playing over a streaming connection. I was impressed with the responsiveness. While I have no doubt that some kind of signal lag is introduced, it had no effect on my gameplay of Lightning Returns, which has a new battle system that favors action over menus. I noticed no lag in a couple of hours of play. Nyrius claims there is "zero lag" with its solution. In a shorter-range test, I had the Aries Pro streaming across my office to send a signal from my Wii U to my office television. I found that shorter distances had the video quality improving greatly. From about 10 feet away Super Mario 3D World looked almost indistinguishable from a direct HDMI connection. We're talking absolutely flawless -- no stuttering or pixelization at all.  More importantly, Super Mario 3D World played perfectly. I had no problem with any delays as I made precise jumps and turns in a few test levels. Very impressive. Couch surfing and playing through my Steam game collection from my couch had me really seeing the appeal of the Aries Pro. I have a pretty long living room, but the connection had no problems keeping up. In the process of going through several games and websites, as well as watching some streaming video, the stream never broke from its highest quality. The experience was completely free of issue. For a range test, I was able to use my long living room and line of sight from adjacent rooms to test Nyrius' claims of a 160-foot range for the Aries Pro. It may be that it had to pass by three large clusters of wireless electronics, but the best I could get was about 60 feet before the signal dropped intermittently. The signal had no problem going through walls for this distance, but when I tried to push beyond 60 feet, or add another room between the transmitter and receiver, the signal would drop out. But even at 40 feet the signal was fairly clean between my laptop and my office television. For some reason I got even better results from my laptop than I did the PS3. I found that below 25 feet seems to be a sweet spot for the Aries Pro. Again, in my living room and in my office, the streams were always flawless. Latency was never a problem for any of the games I tried, either. This should be more than enough for most living rooms. My bedroom television is connected to a Roku box for watching streaming content, and I make do with that, leaving my only DVR in the living room. Using the Aries Pro, I was able to catch up on shows in bed without having to run any cabling. Of course, changing channels meant that I had to go to the other room, but the streaming video never faltered. If you had a ceiling-mounted projector, the Aries Pro would be an ideal product. You could have a clean installation, never having to worry about HDMI cable runs up your walls and on your ceiling.  The Aries Pro supports eight transmitters, so the included remote control will let you switch sources wirelessly.  A drawback to the transmitter design is that its width prevents it from being plugged into some consoles. I couldn't test it on the Xbox One because the HDMI port is placed so closely to the power port that the transmitter wouldn't fit. The PS4's HDMI port is surrounded by plastic in a way that the transmitter won't fit. Nyrius includes an L-shaped female-to-male adapter to help with this issue, but this has the transmitter sticking out, and it may prove to be too tall or wide for your entertainment center setup. Yes, the HDMI signal is compressed or compromised in some way, and the range isn't quite as great as advertised, but the Aries Pro manages to impress despite these issues. Again, for the most part, the video signal is good enough that I forgot that I was playing on a streamed connection. And I still can't believe that there's no perceptible lag with the Aries Pro when it comes to gaming, even after a week of using it.  If you need to send HD video and audio wirelessly, the Aries Pro is an excellent solution, and at about a $250 street price it's quite a bit cheaper than any of the professional products you'd have to buy to get similar results. Highly recommended.
Wireless HDMI? photo
Wireless HD video
Connecting your PC (or game console) to your television isn't necessarily difficult, but the cabling can be a bit of a hassle. The HDMI outputs on better laptops and most GPUs make it easier by sending both video and audio ov...

Gaming headphones photo
Gaming headphones

Premium audio brands get into gaming headsets at CES


Several new sets debut at CES
Jan 10
// Dale North
The business of gaming audio is growing so fast that the makers of many premium audio product brands are throwing their hats into the ring. Several new gaming headsets debuted at CES 2014, with entries from top names like Aud...
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This gaming subwoofer is the bomb


Energy XStream M-21 speaker system
Jan 09
// Dale North
This is the bomb, son! No, really. You are looking at the subwoofer of the Energy XStream M-21 speaker system. That bass be blowin' up, son! This is a 2.1 speaker system designed for gaming, with both the speakers and sub lo...
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The best PC desktop speakers we found at CES 2014


Can I borrow some money?
Jan 09
// Dale North
PC desktop speakers usually suck. Most of the ones you see in electronics stores center around a particle board subwoofer and satellite speakers that remind me (and sometimes sound like) the cups with string tied to them that...
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Eyes-on with Gunnar's Intercept Color collection


Deal with it
Jan 09
// Dale North
Hey, who is that cool-looking mothertrucker over there in the blue-framed glasses? Oh, that's me in a mirror, wearing Gunnar's new Intercept Color Collection gaming eyewear.  I went eyes-on at with these at CES this week...
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Seconded: Another thumbs up for SteelSeries' H Wireless


Loooong-range
Jan 09
// Dale North
I know that we brought you a full review of the SteelSeries H Wireless headset a few days back, but after trying them out at CES today I wanted to say a bit more about them. Chris did a fine job, but I liked these so much tha...
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Nyko shows off their first nex-gen accessories


Double your DualShock4 battery life
Jan 08
// Dale North
We met with Nyko today at CES to get a look at their first accessories for next-gen consoles.  The PS4 gets an Intercooler this spring, with the price set at around $25. Just like Nyko's PS3 version, the PS4 Intercooler ...
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HipShotDot puts a red dot right on your screen


Never lose sight of your... sight
Jan 07
// Dale North
I thought something was wrong with a television I came across at CES tonight. There was a big red dot right in the center of a screen, like a really bright bad pixel. At second glance I noticed that a game of Call of Duty Gho...

Steam Controller first hands-on impressions

Jan 06 // Dale North
First off, those pads: Skimming your thumbs across the top of the controller pads has them working kind of like trackpads. That's really neat to experience at first. But the controller pads are so sensitive. Soooo sensitive. I suppose the resolution is great for shooters (one for camera, another for aim), but I had trouble getting a feel for the precision I needed in these games. Walking around in shooters felt pretty good, but when any kind of precision pointing was needed (read: actually shooting), I felt like my pants were down a bit.  The pads are one big disc, and when you press down in any one area, they work as a button. The problem is that you don't have a feel for where you're pressing. Of course, the controller's many buttons will let you remap to your heart's content, but the issue is that none of the alternatives fall directly underneath your thumb like we're used to. There are bindings to play with, which makes middle grid and grip buttons ripe for customization. In the bindings screen we saw that you could also select community-made bindings for your game. There were some creative combos mapped for Portal, I found. The typing wheel is neat, though I wouldn't call it intuitive. The left stick has you moving to pick one of several 4-letter zones, with confirmation for one of the four coming from what you do with the right pad. Click down on the north, south, east, or west directions to pick a letter. The UI was navigated by either the left pad, using it much like you would an analog stick on a console, or with the right pad, using it like a mouse, with one of the right triggers working like a mouse click. I found the latter method best for getting around the library. It's just like surfing the web and clicking links. But the UI is kind of messy, and there are too many buttons. Jumping into navigation cold turkey, I found myself completely lost in trying to figure out which buttons do what. If I had a few hours to get used to this controller, I'd be okay. I got used to Metro: Last Light and Portal enough to play them, but I never felt totally comfortable with them. I fared a bit better with platformers like Trine 2, though pointing took a bit to get used to. The bottom line for me is that it's weird not pressing something. A shape. Something I can feel. I want buttons under my left thumb. But, when that right pad is used as a mouse, it's great. This would be a dream for couch surfing. For the left pad, I think it would take a good long time before I got used to it as a d-pad or analog movement control. If there were some way to attach an optional stick to the left pad, that would be neat. The Steam Controller is a neat thing, and I definitely want one to play with. It does everything you need for PC gaming on your couch (save for fighting games, I'm guessing), so hats off to Valve for that. But I think it will take me a bit of time to get used to.
Steam Controller photo
Getting used to it
Valve had plenty of Steam controllers for press to try following their press conference tonight at CES. I gave it a spin with several games, with varying success. I also played around with the UI a bit. Read on for my first impressions. 

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EyeX lets you interact with games just by using your eyes


New eye-tracking peripheral coming mid-2014
Jan 04
// Hamza CTZ Aziz
SteelSeries has partnered with Tobii Technology to create an eye-tracking peripheral set to come out mid-2014. The device will let gamers use their eyes to control certain aspects of games. The eye-tracking is used in conjun...
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Wikipad to produce Gamevice mobile gaming controller


Detachable accessory designed to fit wide range of tablets
Jan 03
// Conrad Zimmerman
The manufacturers of the Wikipad gaming tablet have announced plans to release a controller accessory compatible with other brands of mobile devices, Gamevice. The controller, which can expand or contract to fit various table...
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See a bunch of games get played with the Steam controller


The future of gaming!
Dec 25
// Hamza CTZ Aziz
Wet with anticipation for Valve's Steam Machine? While you're wishing for Santa Gabe to gift you the machine of the future you can witness YouTube user Trial By Game demonstrate a bunch of games played with the Steam Machine...

Review: Beyerdynamic Custom One Pro headphones

Dec 10 // Dale North
To my ears, most gaming headsets have a similar sound formula. Again, this is not to dump on some of these sets, but more often than not they have a constrained upper end, an over-boosted low end, a painfully bloated mid-low end, and everything between these ranges usually suffers for the resulting frequency curve. I could get more technical and talk about how they're usually dry, honky, and have weird imaging issues, but I'm not here for a rant, and I'm not out to sound like some kind of headphone snob. I think that any gamer who has tried more than a couple of pairs out can identify that there's a particular sound you get from a lot of these headsets. It's not hard to hear. The 'custom tuning' bullet point you see on the boxes of many of these headsets is to blame most times. But you can't blame the headset makers for doing this tuning as the result is geared toward gaming use. For example, their sharp high end lets you hear the footfalls of enemies in first-person shooters, and that exaggerated low end keeps your ears filled with wooly rumbles at all time. That's what we want, right? But sometimes the digital processing used to get them there takes things too far. So while the headset will hit those bullet-point marks for the high and low end, the details suffer, giving you cold, lifeless audio.  So, I have headsets I'll use because they're wireless, have a bendy boom mic, have a nice range and battery life, or have cool glow-y lights. But those are all features that do nothing for sound. I'd much rather have something that sounds better.  Again, the Beyerdynamic Custom One Pro (MSRP $299, ~$200 street) headset sounds better than anything I've tried. And that's probably because it's a legitimate pair of listening headphones first and foremost, with some options that make it a good gaming solution. So know that you're not going to get the flashy lights or surround-sound features. It's all about great sound here. What the Custom One can do is give you your choice of frequency responses, which is rare in what would normally be considered monitor-style headsets. There's a four-position switch on each earcup, letting you customize the sound to your liking. The default setting is a clean and un-hyped frequency plot, giving you a wide, open, and detailed sound. This is sound quality that would make any audio enthusiast smile. These would be right at home in a pro audio setup, and would even work in the studio. But even with everyday listening they sound delightful.  If you need more, push that switch forward to one of the more bass-pronounced settings. One click forward enhances the lower range, and another click past that makes bass frequencies take center stage. The last? BOOM! This last setting is a bit heavy for my ears when listening to music, but it made a PS4 session of Killzone: Shadow Fall pretty exciting, if a bit tiring. The steps take your ears from delightfully punchy to full-on bass head territory -- something for everyone. Here's the kicker, though. All of these sound modes are dynamic and musical, which is more than I can say for a lot of the gaming headsets with sound tuning options. The full-on bass setting is, again, a bit tiring to my ears, but if you like the boom, it's certainly here. Even the default linear setting is still quite lively in the low end, though. I've been enjoying this set with the response tuned to the first notch, which has proved to be perfect for both gaming and music listening. Side-by-side tests with other headsets had my lip curling at how poorly some of my standby sets fared in comparison. I won't throw any of the others under the bus, but I will say that only set that fared reasonably well in the comparison was my SteelSeries Siberia set, and even then the Beyerdynamic set sounded a fair bit better to my ears. In all cases, the semi-closed-backed Custom One were more open and clean, shining with their unmarred midrange and their amazing imaging. Games and music sounded bigger and more exciting, dialogue was much easier to hear, and explosions and sound effects were more dynamic. In just about every respect the Custom Ones has a clear advantage.  The sound isolation is also great, as the world fades out when you put these on.  For gaming, the Custom One Pro has another trick up its sleeve. The port at the bottom of the left earcup that lets you plug in a removable cable can also take Beyerdynamic's Custom Headset Gear extension. This replaces the default audio cable with another that has a split Y-cable that lets you plug in the set into headphone and mic jacks. The bottom of the extension has a port where the included gooseneck microphone can be attached. With a quick unplug/plug the Custom Pro One changes from a listening-only set to a gaming/podcasting solution. This Y-cable configuration was good for my gaming PC, but not my notebooks, where a single 1/8" jack handles both signals. I had the same issue with the PS4, as the audio jack on the DualShock 4 is the same kind of all-in-one mic/headset jack, much like the one on most mobile phones. StarTech's $7 headset splitter adapter made for an easy and cheap solution, though it would have been nice to see this adapter included in the headset extension kit. Or, better yet, Beyerdynamic should have included a 4-pin 1/8" jack with in-line mic for mobile/gaming use. Test calls and party chats with the Custom Headset Gear extension showed that the included mic does the job fine, with clean voice coming through. I did find that rotating the gooseneck mic in its jack created a quiet scratching noise, though. The mic is also missing a marking to show where the mic diaphragm is, so you'll have to remove the foam cover to see where it is to set its position near your mouth.  Of course, this set will need an amp for game systems that do not have an analog jack. The Custom One Pro comes with an allen wrench that lets you remove the four screws on each earcup to replace the default plates with custom ones. The headband and earcups are also removable to make them customizable as well. The Beyerydynamic shop has several part options already available.  These are a very nicely made set of headphones from Germany. The Custom One Pro's metal headband and rugged plastic earcups make them feel solid but keep them light. They're supremely comfortable because of this, perfect for extended wear. Once more, we've never tested a headset for gaming that has sounded this nice. The Custom One Pro is sparkling clean, miles wide, and impressively dynamic, with a soundstage that competes with professional headphones. Gaming on everything from a 3DS to a PS4 showed that these are a treat for the ears, and they performed just a nicely with an iPod and through stereo amps for music listening and movie watching.  If you need something that's wireless, digital, or has a bunch of surround sound modes, this set may not be for you. But if you want something sounds outstanding and has a high level of customizability, I can't think of a better set than the Custom One Pro. Highly recommended!
Custom One Pro photo
Our favorite headset yet
If you read this site regularly you'll know that I've reviewed a lot of headsets. A lot of gaming headsets, I should say. I'm not out to dump on any of them, but I want to start this review by saying that these Beyerdynamic Custom One Pro headphones sound better than any of the phones I've reviewed for this site. Flat out. No question. 

Review: Razer Kraken Forged Edition headphones

Dec 09 // Dale North
Razer says that the Kraken Forged are hand-assembled, made out of matte-finished aircraft-grade aluminum. I believe them. The finish on these babies? Incredible. Damn, these are great-looking headphones.  The headband is soft and flexible, contrasting with back of the the ear cups, which are cool to the touch with their all-metal build. They're almost all matte aluminum, save for black grills and a bit of chrome trim. Even the extension band that comes out when sizing them looks nice.  The cups fold inward, making the Kraken Forged pretty portable. The padded semi-hard case holds the headphones nicely, though its design adds quite a bit of bulk. I'd carry them in a soft bag instead. A port on the bottom of the left cup lets you change out cables, picking from the included audio-only and audio/in-line mic cable sets. As cables wear over time, having the ability to eventually replace them is always nice. The in-line mic worked nicely for a test phone call over the holidays, and it plugs in and works perfectly through the PS4 controller's mic/headphone jack. It's too bad they passed on including a splitter cable for other gaming uses, but these are inexpensive and can be purchased easily.  The Kraken Forged are pretty comfortable. I was a bit worried that their metal build would have them being too weighty in use, but I used them for hours on end during my Gran Turismo 6 review session this week, never feeling like I needed to give my head or ears a rest. You do feel that there's a fair bit of weight on your head, but between the headband and the soft, deep earcups, it's fine. Weak-necked gamers should test out a pair first, though. The Kraken Forged Edition headphones are purely analog, which will be music to the ears of any audiophile. Their tuned 40mm neodymium drivers are putting out pure, high-quality audio, with none of the digital blues to bring them down. I like the sound they offer up, but there's a definite emphasis on the lower frequency range. Razer says that the drivers are custom tuned, and I expect that they're geared to meet the needs of both gamers and music lovers, so a big low end makes sense. Explosions boom and ring out, and kick drums resound cleanly in the ear. The 250-300Hz range -- where everything from bass guitars to car motor sounds resides -- is a bit thick for my tastes, though. While this tuning is perfect for cinematic action, situations where both music and sound effects overlap might have this range sounding a bit muddy.  The very high end of the frequency range (these are rated 20 – 20,000 Hz) is clean, which is nice to hear as a lot of gaming headsets can be fatiguing in this range. I suspect that some of the mid-highs are scooped out a bit, which is why some voices and dialogue sat back in the mix a bit. I personally prefer a flatter response for my headphones, but I think most gamers will dig how explosive the sound can be with this set's pronounced low end. Know that the low end is clean and impressive, thanks to the quality drivers Razer uses. So, are the Kraken Forged Edition headphones worth $299? They could be for the right person. I thought they sounded great with drum-heavy music, and they impressed when the big explosions and car crashes hit in games. But if Razer was aiming at the audiophile audience, its over-emphasis on the low end and its scooping out of the high-mids seems like an odd move. Music that uses the full frequency spectrum, like orchestral music, sounded a bit less impressive to my ears. I think they're a better fit for the gamer that wants a really, really nice, well-made set of headphones. But, even then there's only so far you'll get with the audio and in-line mic cabling. If you're okay with that, the Kraken Forged are beautifully made, and their sound is full and immersive. If you play a lot of action or shooter games, and listen to a lot of hip hop or rap, you might really dig these.
Razer Kraken phones photo
Fancypants
Niiiiice. That's what you'd expect to say trying out a premium set of audiophile-quality headphones, especially when they're priced at $299.00. Razer's Kraken Forged Edition music and gaming headphones are certainly nice in both form and function.  But are they $299 nice? Do they have a look and sound so good that you'd be okay eating ramen for the next month?

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