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Review: AVerMedia Live Gamer EXTREME

Jun 29 // Jed Whitaker
Product: Live Gamer EXTREMEManufacturer: AVerMediaMSRP: $179.99 1080p, 60fps is the holy grail of console games these days and the Live Gamer EXTREME (LGX) handles those specs without issue. Footage looks exactly as intended by the game's developers. The LGX also has all the frills you'd expect a capture device to have such as HDMI input and output, its own recording software, but also includes some things I've never seen on other cards. Included in the box is an HDMI cable, a component cable, a 3.5mm cable, and a PS3 cable. The latter cable can be used to connect directly to a PS3 instead of connecting it with component cables, a feature only on the LGX, though I'm not sure how useful it is as it seems gamers and game publishers have mostly moved on from the previous generation. A component cable adapter is also included for capturing legacy consoles.  The included 3.5mm cable can be used to connect an external audio input source to be mixed into streams and captures alongside a 3.5mm microphone jack. Personally I opt to go with USB microphones, as they tend to offer a better sound quality overall, but for those on a tighter budget, a 3.5mm microphone might be a better fit as they are typically less expensive. The purpose of the 3.5mm jacks is to allow the LGX to be used in place of an external audio mixer, though most streaming software allows you to do this already. Also in the box is a manual, the Rec 2 -- AVerMedia's own capture and streaming software -- and a three-month subscription to the streaming software XSplit. I could go on for days about the various streaming software out there, but currently there is no one true winner. Rec 2 is pretty simple and great for beginners, allowing for picture in picture and layout designs with ease, while XSplit has more options and advanced features but runs a monthly fee. I personally use OBS, as it is free and covers most of my needs, though sometimes I still use Rec 2 or XSplit if they have a specific feature I need at the time.  The main feature that the LGX touts is ultra-low latency uncompressed video, meaning you see the game as intended with no real lag or delay between what you'd see on your TV. In my pseudo-scientific tests, I shot 240fps footage with my iPhone of my computer screen versus my TV screen with Mario Kart 8's timer on the screen, and found that AVerMedia's claim of under 0.05 seconds of latency is true. On average, it seemed be around 0.04 seconds, sometimes going up to .08 at worst and .02 at best. The latency is better than any previous capture device I've used and allows me to play off my computer screen instead of switching inputs, as I use a single-screen setup with my desktop in the living room connected to my TV. This allows me to react to my onscreen follower and subscriber alert without having an impact on my gameplay.  Also included is the ability to print your own cover image for branding and vanity purposes. It doesn't serve much purpose, in my opinion, but you can easily make what you'd like with the included cover creator software. I personally suggest a Red Bull can overlaid onto an image of Destiny for the coolest of covers. Overall, AVerMedia has made the Live Gamer EXTREME the capture device to beat. It is more feature rich than competitors at the same price point, and no other device has offered the minimal latency. [This review is based on retail hardware provided by the manufacturer.]
AVerMedia LGX review photo
Live streamer's delight
I've been making gaming videos and streaming for what seems like forever, and I've gone through my fair share of capture devices. My original card only did 720p and 30fps, required hard drives setup in a RAID, and only captur...

Review: The Controller Shop custom DualShock 4

Jun 26 // Kyle MacGregor
Okay, so maybe it wasn't a complete enigma. Still, cracking the case open and laying eyes on the controller for the first time, I was taken aback. It wasn't at all how I pictured it in my mind's eye. The thing literally glittered, metallic paint beaming in the sunlight, its splashy buttons distracting from the intricate detailed artwork in the periphery. It was shocking, really. Maybe a little gaudy. Certainly more than I bargained for, more vibrant and impressive than anything I might have conjured up. My attention was soon drawn to the portrait of Mr. Destructoid along the left handle. At a glance, our robot mascot looked flawless, so impeccable that I figured it was a decal. Upon closer inspection, though, you can see its tiny imperfections. This didn't roll off a conveyor belt in a factory somewhere. It was painstakingly rendered by hand, a labor of love. Subtle stripes and understated circuitry art accent the front panel, while the rear is underscored by a dozen or so little Space Invaders and an elaborate pattern of triangles clustered around the edge. While The Controller Shop offers rear paddles (similar to the ones featured in Microsoft's upcoming Xbox One Elite Controller) and foot pedal accessories, ours didn't come included with any significant hardware upgrades. But that isn't to say it feels identical to a standard DualShock 4. The surface is more glossy than matte, and the anterior lacks the grippy feel of other DualShock 4s. Having spent an extended period of time gaming with it, I can't say I prefer it over the basic edition, nor can I say it's any worse. Just different. Though there are a few specific instances where I might favor one over the other. In a side by side comparison, The Controller Shop's face buttons feel more satisfying. They're a tad clickier -- if that makes any sense. The shoulder buttons feel slightly heavier. The biggest difference was the D-pad, though. It takes more effort to move around, making it feel ill-suited for fighting games or other genres where a more rigid range of motion might be an impediment. On the other hand, the analogs feel firm and potentially more durable, which could be a plus, given how the set on the standard model are prone to falling apart. Whether or not a custom look and vaguely different feel is worth $100+ (or, in the case of this one, closer to $250 due to its hand-painted graphics and whatnot) is debatable and highly subjective. I can say that if you're in the market for such a luxury item, you could certainly do a lot worse. This may not have been the particular design I would have chosen for myself, but that was kind of the point. I wanted to see what The Controller Shop could do, and they produced a finely-made work of art that exceeded my expectations in many respects. If you can afford to channel that craftsmanship into your own style, it might very well be worth it. [This review is based on a retail unit of the controller provided by the manufacturer.]
REVIEW: Custom Controller photo
Handcrafted hardware
When a custom controller outfit offered to let us design our own tailor-made gamepad, it was a proposal we couldn't refuse. Except designing things is hard. So we rolled the dice and left that task in their hands, hoping thei...

Review: New Nintendo 3DS XL

Jan 23 // Chris Carter
New Nintendo 3DS XLManufacturer: NintendoRelease Date: February 13, 2015MSRP: $199.99 Look and feel As a whole, the New 3DS XL feels a tad lighter than the original XL. It's only 0.03 ounces less in reality, but it may have to do with the shifting of internal bits to give it a more centered feel. It also doesn't "creak" when I hold it like a few of my old XLs did, so perhaps the frame is sturdier. Just to get it out of the way, this doesn't come with an AC adapter, so if you don't have one, go ahead and tack $15 on top of the $199.99 price point. It's also a shame that the US isn't getting any "non-XL" units, so say goodbye to those face plates. In terms of general use, it's easily my favorite model yet. I love that the home button is now the only input in the middle of the bottom touch screen (that original melded style and even the slotted old XL style weren't ideal), and the face buttons feel better in general. The power button is now located on the bottom of the device, along with the stylus and the slot to insert cartridges. This is definitely an upgrade, as there's no fear of accidentally popping out a cart while playing or rubbing up on the stylus hole. The most noticeable change is the integration of the entire Circle Pad Pro with a more graceful design. I'll get to the second analog stick (nubbin) later, but the addition of two triggers at the top of the 3DS feels great, and any Circle Pad Pro functionality is already built into previous games which is convenient. It isn't easy to accidentally bump the new ZL and ZR buttons, in case you're worried about that. The only part of the physical hardware I dislike outright is the MicroSD situation. It's fine that Nintendo wanted to switch the memory solution up from standard SD (32GB cards are $20, and it is still better than proprietary Sony crap like the Vita), but you have to unscrew part of the 3DS to actually change it out. That's not really a problem for me since I'm happy with a 32GB card, but it's not particularly user friendly, and it will be annoying if you're the kind of person who switches cards often. It comes with a 4GB MicroSD ready to go inside of the unit if you aren't picky. Extra features The hardware has also been upgraded as a whole, and software boot times are 5-10 seconds faster on the New 3DS compared to past models. There's an extra auto-brightness feature as well, which operates similarly to mobile phones and tablets, gauging the general light in the room and adjusting itself accordingly. You can turn this feature off if you want, which is something I did immediately. Of course, the marquee upgrade is easily the enhanced 3D feature, which now works at practically any angle. The way it operates is that it essentially tracks your vision and instantly makes the 3D easier on the eyes, rather than in the past where you had to hold your 3DS at a "certain" viewpoint to really get the full effect. So does it work? Absolutely. I was skeptical of it before trying it out, but unless you have your 3DS at a really weird angle it will work, and the 3D does look sharp. Just know that it's not magic, and that it will take 1-2 seconds to adjust if you do shift your unit around more than a few inches. If for some reason you don't like this feature, you can also turn it off. The New 3DS has its own built-in NFC feature that supports amiibo at launch by way of the bottom touch screen, but since no games have been updated to actually support it at this time, I can't comment on it. Expect plenty of coverage going forward though, including Super Smash Bros. and Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. functionality. Also, keep in mind that Nintendo is going to release an adapter for older models, so you don't need the New 3DS to utilize amiibo figures. At least, that's the plan. The nubbin Ah, the nubbin. The ire of many fans who thought that the 3DS didn't need a second analog stick like the Vita. I've always been a fan of options, and the nubbin allows just that, but without using a percentage of the portable's processing power like the Circle Pad Pro has in the past. As a result, you're likely going to be seeing more games that use it, and given the retroactive support of old CPP titles, it's a win/win addition. Having said that, the nubbin is not a perfect solution. It's a lot more rigid than I thought it was going to be. In fact, the actual nub doesn't move -- it's kind of like an old school laptop ball but without the rolling sensation. It feels weird, but thankfully it doesn't take up a lot of space, make the 3DS look bad aesthetically, or get in the way. If you don't like it, you don't have to use it. My experience using it in-game varies drastically depending on the title. With a game like Majora, Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance, or Monster Hunter 4, it was perfect for swinging the camera about. For games like Resident Evil: Revelations, where the nubbin is used for precision aiming, it's not so great. I'm glad it exists, but it's not a game-changer, and you shouldn't upgrade just because of the nubbin. Haha, nubbin. Software support Right now buying a New 3DS strictly because of software  is a grim prospect. There is one -- count it -- one New 3DS exclusive announced so far in Xenoblade Chronicles. Because of the enhanced processing power the ability to create Wii ports or more graphically intensive games is there, but we aren't quite at that threshold yet where anyone besides Nintendo has stepped up to announce anything. And even then, this is seemingly a direct port we're talking about with very minor additions. There are a few slight differences right now with at least one new game -- Monster Hunter 4. As a general rule when I compared it side-by-side with an old and New 3DS XL, the latter seemed to have a more consistent framerate, and the 3D effect looked sharper in general. That's not to say that the framerate is bad by any means on the old model, it's just very fluid on the New unit. Slight improvements are the name of the game right now in the New 3DS' lifespan, and that principle permeates throughout the philosophy of the New 3DS as a whole. As a side note, I did test cross-generational play, and was able to play every multiplayer title I owned with an "old" unit -- so don't be worried about segmenting yourself if your spouse or child doesn't pick up a New 3DS right away. [embed]286495:57004:0[/embed] Verdict Only hardcore Nintendo fans need to adopt the New 3DS right now. All of the improvements outside of the enhanced 3D feature are marginal, and even though the feeling of picking up new hardware can be exciting at first, you may even start to feel underwhelmed on your first day. It does feel like an upgrade overall, but Monster Hunter 4 and Majora's Mask play just fine on the older models. Additionally, with a planned amiibo adapter coming out at some point in the future, you should be good to go in March for Code Name S.T.E.A.M., and the only true exclusive in sight is a port set for an April release. Lastly, although bulky, the Circle Pad Pro will technically net you all of the benefits from the added triggers and nubbin for now outside of Super Smash Bros. 3DS. As you can clearly see, this is an "only early-adopters need apply" situation, since a lot of solutions exist, or will exist to accommodate old 3DS users. On a personal level I am enjoying the upgrades and have purchased one myself in addition to this review unit, but the real payoff just isn't there yet for me to make a full recommendation. [This review is based on a retail build of the hardware provided by the publisher. The reviewer did not attend the Nintendo event.]
New 3DS XL review photo
A nice, but nonessential upgrade
Nintendo has an interesting history in terms of portables. Outside of the rare add-on like the expansion pack for the Nintendo 64 or the Game Boy Player for the GameCube, they play it rather conservatively when it comes ...


Review: Logitech G910 Orion Spark

Nov 23 // Darren Nakamura
G910 Orion SparkManufacturer: LogitechMSRP: $179.99 Logitech has been making gaming keyboards for a while now, but the G910 Orion Spark is the first to use the specially engineered Romer-G mechanical switches for the keys. These are tactile switches -- they require a minimum applied force before they will begin to depress -- but the actuation distance is lower than that of its closest competitors, which theoretically improves actuation speed. A more obvious design element are the facets found on the keys. More angular than standard keys, the intent is to keep the user's fingers centered over the keys in order to decrease unintentional key presses. Almost all of the keys at least have inclines on the right and left sides, but each key within three spaces of WASD also has a lip on the top side. I could not detect a noticeable improvement in accuracy due to these facets, but they do feel like they can help keep fingers from sliding around unintentionally. Among the three-faceted keys on the G910 are the nine custom G keys: G1 through G5 run down the left side of the keyboard and G6 through G9 span across the top of the F1 through F4 keys. Fully programmable, these keys are meant to take the place of additional functions that are usually assigned to keys furthers from WASD, or to use as macros in place of multiple key presses. The keys along the left side took some getting used to, because I could typically hit the CTRL key without looking just by finding the bottom-leftmost key on the keyboard. With G5 in that place, I mistakenly hit it a few times when trying to quickly copy and paste outside of a game. It is not a huge deal, but it requires a bit of reprogramming, either of muscle memory or of the G5 key itself. [embed]284169:56422:0[/embed] The last design innovation of the Romer-G switch worth noting is that it is built to allow the most light through, allowing the LED underneath to really shine (so to speak). The G910 comes with four lighting modes, each boasting millions of colors. The first lighting mode is Freestyle, which simply allows the user to assign any color to any key at will. For regular use, I just go with this, with all of the keys set to a dark green. The Zones mode groups certain keys together and lights each group individually. WASD is its own group, lit up while the rest of the letter keys are dark, the G keys are a group, the F keys are a group, the number keys are a group, the arrow keys are a group, and the keys to the right and left of the space bar are a group. This could be used to quickly find important keys and re-center for those who look down and move all around the keyboard. The Commands mode seems more functional for learning a new game or keeping track of games that use a lot of key commands. Upon loading the Logitech software, common games are detected and their profiles loaded. When playing a particular game, only those keys that have a function are lit; useless keys are unlit. Some of the newer releases were not automatically added (for example, Civilization V was detected but Civilization: Beyond Earth was not), but profiles can be manually created for any new games. The last lighting mode, Effects, is simultaneously the silliest and the prettiest. Different visual effects can be applied, including a rainbow wave, a slow illumination and delumination, a random key twinkling, and lighting that shows up and slowly fades after a particular key has been pressed. They are neat to play around with, but they are far from functional. Another use for the lighting is to help visualize the heat map, which is probably the most useful feature for the average gamer. Before starting up a gaming session, the user can initiate key press recording. This part of the software keeps track of the play session, counting how many times each key is pressed. The reason this is useful is that it provides a visual for which keys are used and to what extent. For instance, if the Y key is used more frequently than the T key, it would make sense to switch the mapping in order to decrease the travel distance of the finger between WASD and the desired function. In extreme cases, it can help to move a game function from a key that requires the player to look at the keyboard to one that is easily touch-typed. The one major downside to the heat map is that the key recording seemed to take a significant chunk of my CPU process, slowing down the game I was playing while it was active. My rig is getting on in its years, so newer systems may not be affected like this. Along the top of the unit is a simple docking area for a phone or a tablet. This is not a true docking station with any sort of electronic connection, but it is meant to be used for games with second screen capability or along with the Logitech companion app ARX Control. This app can be used to quickly launch games, monitor vital system statistics, remotely control audio and video, and easily remap the G keys. The app's functionality is not necessary for the operation of the G910, but it is a cool free addition.  Overall, the G910 Orion Spark is a fine product. Though most non-competitive players will not notice a huge difference in performance, it is clear that a lot of work went into engineering it specifically for gaming. The keys have a nice tactile feel without being too clicky and loud. The lighting modes run the gamut between form and function. The key press heat map can help improve players of all skill levels. For those willing and able to plunk down the cash, the G910 Orion Spark is a great gaming keyboard. [This review is based on a retail unit of the keyboard provided by the manufacturer.]
Logitech G910 Orion Spark photo
Reaching for the stars
In high-level competition, every little advantage counts. It is why Olympic swimmers shave their bodies before a race, why pre-med students fight tooth-and-nail for every half point on every test, and why gaming keyboards exi...

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...

Review: PlayStation Gold Wireless Stereo Headset

Feb 20 // Dale North
But the headset is fine. Great, in fact. Sony's Gold Wireless Stereo Headset is a nice all-arounder, though I don't know if I like it quite as much as I did its predecessor, the Pulse. The sleek, rounded design of this new set is a bit of a move away from the Pulse's black gloss and metallic trim, though that doesn't mean it's bad. It just doesn't look as fancy, and it feels slightly less substantial in the hands. But it feels fine on the head. Nice and light. The earcups are huge and squishy, though the padding is thin enough that you can feel some hard plastic edges near where the cups meet their backing. It's a set that may not look like comfortable, but it is.  The Gold works with the PS4, PS3, and PS Vita, covering all of your PlayStation bases. For the consoles, plug-and-play means hassle-free usage: simply pop the small dongle into a USB port and turn on the headphones to get going. Small is nice for the on-the-go gamer, but it's not nice for folks who easily lose things.  Volume, mute, and other functions done from the headset's controls get on-screen confirmation natively, just as the Pulse headset did. A Headset Companion App is available on the PlayStation Store, and it works with both the Gold and Pulse headsets. With it, you can select factory sound profiles to be uploaded to the headset, or even create your own with a three-band equalizer. There's not a lot of room for customization, but it's still nice to be able to tune the sound to your liking and save it as a selectable preset. By switching the power switch beyond the standard audio profile notch, you'll be able to hear your custom preset.  For the Vita, the Gold headset works in passive mode through an included detachable 1/8" headphone jack. And with this same cable you're able to connect it to mobile phones, tablets, and other portables. The headset's mic functions in this passive state, and seemed to work pretty well in both a test call and a Skype meeting. The PlayStation Gold Wireless Stereo Headset sounds nice. It hits the marks that I'd expect a $100 quality set of headphones to hit with its clean, balanced sound. In my tests, it gets nice and loud, and even at its top setting is free of audible distortion. Virtual 7.1 surround can be toggled on and off by holding in a dedicated button. The sound was wide and crisp in test sessions of Strider and The Last of Us: Left Behind. This was some of the best simulated surround I've heard in a gaming headset.  But I think the headset sounds much nicer overall with the virtual surround sound mode off. Again, the VSS seems to work just fine, but the nice, full-frequency response takes a small hit with it on. It's switched on by default, so if you're wondering about the sound right out of the box, that's why. The Gold Wireless has a raised volume rocker on the rear of the left ear cup, and a sound/chat balance rocker on the front. The mute button is just below the volume rocker, but it's so smooth and barely raised that it's kind of hard to find by touch.  The bottom of the left phone features a micro USB port for charging (a very short cable is included) and an audio input jack for passive use. The battery charged to full out of the box very quickly, but after draining it following a full day of use, it took a few hours for the charge light to shut off again. I got more than seven hours of use on that first charge. If you'd like to charge while you play, the DualShock 4 micro USB cable works fine. The ear cups fold inward toward the headband for portability's sake. Closed up like this, the headset fits nicely in the included drawstring carrying bag. The faceplates are also easily removable (they slide downward and off) and customizable. If you're a PlayStation-only gamer, you're getting everything you'd need in one $99 headset with the PlayStation Gold Wireless Stereo Headset. It's not as classy looking as its predecessor was, but it's comfortable, works well, and sounds great. 
PlayStation Gold headset photo
For PS4, PS3, and Vita
When I opened the box for the PlayStation Gold Wireless Stereo Headset there was a big, black hair waiting for me. A greasy one. Greatness Awaits!

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...

Review: SteelSeries Stratus iOS controller

Jan 06 // Chris Carter
Product: SteelSeries StratusManufacturer: SteelSeriesSupported devices: iPhone 5, iPhone 5s, iPod touch (5th gen)MSRP: $99.99 The controller has an extremely simplistic look and feel that should be familiar to anyone who has touched a Dualshock controller before. It has all of the essentials, including a d-pad, two analog sticks, a pause button, four triggers and four face buttons. Since it's Bluetooth based it has a convenient on and off switch on the side, and comes with a charging cable (sadly, it can't be used while charging, which is a bummer). In terms of battery life the Stratus lasted me quite a while (hours upon hours), and the simplistic LED lights on the face show you how much juice it has left.  You should note, though, that this controller is tiny. Take a look at the comparison pictures and see just how tiny it is, as it may result in hand cramping after prolonged use. The face buttons feel perfect, and are just sensitive enough to ease into without accidentally triggering them. The same goes for the pause button, which is far enough away where you won't hit it automatically. The d-pad is pretty much on-point and precise, and doesn't have a "sticky" feeling to it -- although I wouldn't put it on the same level as a Dualshock pad. While the L1 and R1 buttons work perfectly, the L2 and R2 are strangely shaped, and are actually pretty small -- they don't work nearly as well as full-on triggers. Everything else works great though, and even though my thumbs were pretty close together with the two analog sticks I still didn't have too much trouble. [embed]268158:52103:0[/embed] My tests with nearly every game I tried it with came out positive, mostly because of the addition of the two analog sticks. If a game didn't support either option, much like the MOGA Ace Power I could easily just switch between the directional inputs, and the face buttons work like a charm. I have no real complaints with the d-pad or sticks throughout my sessions, and the only minor problem I ran into was constantly "finding" R2 to accelerate in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. It's far from unplayable, though. So what really sets the Stratus apart from its competitors? Wireless support. Simply put, the ability to go wireless and play via Bluetooth allows for the use of the Stratus on older model iPhones, iPods, and of course, iPads -- which the other controllers can't fit into. Bluetooth syncing could be better though, since the only indicator you have of a successful sync process are the cheap LED lights, and sometimes it can get pretty ambiguous. I've also had the signal drop a few times (this isn't normal though), and had to re-sync. But the minor inconvenience of sync ambiguity is far outweighed by the ability to play on any device, and it also frees up the lightning port for the Lighting Digital AV Adapter for HDMI based Airplay on your TV, or any other accessory you might plug in there. As an added bonus, multiple controllers inherently support multiplayer sessions like any ol' console would. Sure, it isn't going to function as a backup battery for your phone like the Powershell or Ace Power, but since most people are probably going to buy a controller to control things, I don't see that being a problem. SteelSeries really knocked it out of the park with this one with a solid controller that opens up more play control options. There's just one elephant in the room -- the $99 pricepoint. I'm sure SteelSeries was just running with the pack and not overextending on this one, pricing themselves against the other two competitors, but with the limited library on iOS, it's still a tough sell. Having said that, iOS controller support is getting stronger every day, and eventually, you may want a wireless option -- the Stratus would be a good bet whenever that day comes.
iOS controller review photo
Wireless support allows for iPhone and iPad play
MFi controllers really have the ability to be a game changer for iOS devices. But they're in their infancy, and not only are a select amount of games supported, but they also have some limitations. So far, I've reviewed the L...

Review: D-Link DGL-5500 Gaming Router

Dec 17 // Joshua Derocher
Product: D-Link DGL-5500 Gaming RouterManufacturer: D-LinkMSRP: $199.99 The D-Link DGL-5500 is a dual band router, with a 2.4GHz band and a 5GHz band. It supports Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS), four gigabit LAN ports, one gigabit WAN port, a USB 2.0 port, and all of the security features that you would expect in a modern router. It has an MSRP of $199.99, which is normal for a high-end router. Setting up the DGL-5500 is very easy. It comes with an installation CD, and if you don't have an optical drive you can access the router's set-up from your web browser. I had it up and running in a few minutes, and the default setup wizard left me with a setup that I haven't needed to mess with since. Basically, if you have been able to set up any other router on your own, you will be able to set this up just fine. Once the router is online, you can access its settings by going to http://dlinkrouter. The interface has been updated from older D-Link products I have used -- it's clean looking and easy to find the settings you need to change. You can clearly see what devices are connected to the network, and how much bandwidth each device is using. You can prioritize devices very easily to make sure the internet is going to where you need it the most. The DGL-5500 is great at showing you where all your bandwidth is going, and how it's being used. A statistics page in the router's settings will show you charts of how much data an app uses, how much time is spent in each app, and the times the apps were active. Apps include most software programs that connect to the web, such as Netflix, Twitter, Steam, Pandora, etc. This would be extremely helpful to anyone who has a bandwidth cap on their internet service. You can also see what apps on each device are using bandwidth, so you can tell how much data your laptop has downloaded from Steam or Netflix. The range on this router is fantastic, even on the 5GHz band. My desktop is a floor above where my router is located, and it's a couple of rooms over with old thick walls that are the enemy of wi-fi signals. A $50 Netgear router was completely unable to provide a good connection upstairs on the 2.5GHz band. Before setting the DGL-5500 up, I was using a Linksys EA2700 Smart Router, and while it had great coverage on the 2.5GHz band all over my apartment, the 5GHz band would only work on the first floor where the router is located. The DGL-5500's 5GHz band covers the whole apartment, even up here in my office. I was shocked, actually.  While the DGL-5500 might not offer speeds that are faster than some other routers, I did notice that my overall experience was smoother when using multiple devices. The DGL-5500 uses a technology called "StreamBoost," which works automatically prioritize your network's bandwidth in an intelligent way. To put it simply, it can tell what data is for your games, or your video streaming, and it will make sure the things that need constant internet will get it. To test out what this thing can handle, I had a PlayStation 3 in the living room streaming Amazon Instant Video, a Roku upstairs in the bedroom streaming video on Plex, my PC was streaming Amazon Instant Video, I had BitTorrent going around 200 kB/s, and I was playing EVE Online. There also about three or four phones hooked up to the network while I was testing it, but they weren't doing anything special. I did not experience any slowdowns anywhere. The video streaming was constantly smooth, and I was still able to browse the web. That test wasn't too far from what our normal internet usage every day. There are four people living in my apartment on the network, and we all rely on the internet for our television watching, so there's usually one to three people streaming video at any given point in the day. The DGL-5500 has been able to handle the load without any issues, which is more than I can say of the Linksys EA2700 I was using before this -- it would start to buckle when two people were streaming video, or I had BitTorrent open. I really love this router. It can withstand the heavy internet usage we have, and it doesn't flinch when ten or more devices are hooked up and are fighting for bandwidth. The speeds are similar to routers you can get for a lot less, but the the extra cost is worth the amazing 5GHz range and for how many devices this thing can handle at once. If you live alone in a small apartment with only two or three devices, then this might be overkill for you. If you live in a larger apartment with other people, then a router of this grade is almost a necessity if you want to keep everyone connected.
D-Link DGL-5500 photo
A high-end router for gamers
Having a good router is a necessity these days. Every electronic device you own connects to the internet, and many play games online and stream HD video. Your PC and consoles are beginning to rely more and more on digital cop...

Review: Logitech PowerShell iOS controller and battery

Dec 16 // Chris Carter
Product: Logitech PowerShellManufacturer: LogitechSupported devices: iPhone 5, iPhone 5s, iPod touch (5th gen)MSRP: $99.99 The Powershell is a sleeker controller option, which nixes four triggers in favor of two, and removes dual analogs in favor of one d-pad. In short, it's more like an SNES pad than a fully-fledged modern design, which has its own advantages and drawbacks. It supports the iPhone 5, iPhone 5s, and 5th Generation iPod Touches, but strangely, there's no iPhone 5c support. Like the MOGA Ace Power it also is a lightning-based attachment -- meaning there is no Bluetooth, and no compatibility with iPads. All you can do is slide your iPhone into the Powershell, just like the other current competitors. Having said that, the design is near flawless. Somehow, it's super easy to fit a device into it, and even easier to pop it out. It's not only snug against the hardware without any feelings of looseness, but all you have to do to remove it is press in the rear camera slot from behind, and it just slides out. Unfortunately headphone support isn't plug and play, as you need to fit in a proprietary adapter first before plugging in headsets. [embed]267288:51871:0[/embed] So how do the buttons work with actual videogames? Quite well, actually. The d-pad and face buttons felt sticky at first, but I broke them in with roughly an hour of use. Beyond those controls there's a much-needed pause button, and a switch that triggers your iPhone's power toggle. It's extremely simple to use right out of the box, as what you see is what you get. Bastion was the absolute king of my tests with the PowerShell, and I really have to commend the developers there for their impeccable iOS 7 update. Everything operates exactly how it should just like the console version, and the button mapping was perfect. I was only going to test out the game for a few hours for the purposes of this review, and ended up beating the game due to how smooth it was. But in the end, I think it's tough to justify the cost when the device doesn't work with every game. If you look at the design again, you'll notice there are only two triggers, and a lack of a second analog stick (or first, for that matter). That means when you play FPS games on the Powershell, you'll have to take your right thumb and place it on the screen to aim while you use the left pad for movement. The Shell really shows its stuff for games like Bastion, Limbo, or LEGO The Lord of the Rings -- games that don't need two analog sticks or four triggers. Because of the lack of these essential functions though, Logitech should have made the device cheaper than its competition to compensate. When compared to the MOGA MFi controller (which has four triggers, dual analogs, and a dpad), it loses its luster a bit simply because it doesn't work for every single game. For FPS games in particular, I felt the sting pretty hard. When testing out Neon Shadow and Dead Trigger 2, it was annoying to have to still use the touchscreen, when I could just bust out the MOGA instead. It was doable, but not ideal on a $99 piece of equipment. A few games also don't have full iOS 7 support and only lazily implemented partial mapping, so you may find titles that are supposed to work with an analog stick that's simply not there. Like the MOGA the Powershell is also a battery booster, and it can charge your iPhone while it rests inside. Using a USB cable you'll charge the device, which cleverly lights up the back of it, and pulses the logo while it powers up -- when it's fully lit, you have a max charge. Although you can't see the exact battery level at any given time, my tests with the Powershell yielded roughly an hour more of charging time compared to the MOGA. It's not much, but it's something, and the battery aspect works like a charm. I really enjoyed my time testing the Powershell, and its sleek design makes it easy to get an iPhone in and out. It also doesn't look very conspicuous in public, if that matters to you. In the end though, you need to make the choice between a lack of analogs entirely in the Shell and the implementation of two in the MOGA, and almost every time I'm going to side with the latter. If the Powershell drops in price though, it's a solid option for a subset of iOS titles.
iOS controller review photo
A lack of analog sticks hurts this decent option
The time has finally come for iOS gaming to shine with those of you who hate touch controls. For years mobile gaming has alienated those who can't stand playing things without tactile feedback, so iOS 7 and various peripheral manufacturers have answered the call. I already gave the MOGA Ace Power a pretty positive review, so how does the Logitech Powershell fare?

Review: MOGA Ace Power iOS controller and battery

Dec 16 // Chris Carter
Product: MOGA Ace PowerManufacturer: MOGASupported devices: iPhone 5, iPhone 5c, iPhone 5s, iPod touch (5th gen)MSRP: $99.99 Right off the bat, you might notice a similarity between the MOGA and any given popular console controller. That's obviously the goal, as the Ace Power very closely resembles a 360 remote, all the way from the four triggers, to the four similarly colored face buttons, to the d-pad and dual analog setup. It also has a pause button, which is incredibly convenient. Surprisingly, all of the buttons and triggers are analog-based outside of the pause button. It's a good way to make the MOGA future-proof, even if hardly any games actually support it currently. The Ace has a very odd design, as it slides open to house your device inside, and uses a button to "lock" it in place. It's extremely comfortable even though it feels a bit cheap -- especially when you put it into perspective that it's a $99 accessory. There's no iPad model right now, but the MOGA works with the iPhone 5, 5s, or a 5G iPod Touch. Unlike the Logitech Powershell, the Ace Power is compatible with an iPhone 5c as well. The connection itself is by way of the lightning port and not Bluetooth, so you'll have to actually put the device into the MOGA instead of using the controller separately. [embed]267328:51806:0[/embed] You'll also have to take your device out its case entirely, which can get annoying if you're doing it constantly. Headsets plug and play directly into the unit, with no adapter required like the Powershell. But let's get to the good stuff: actual game support. I'm not going to beat around the bush here -- the MOGA is outright my favorite iOS controller option right now, mostly due to the dual-analog setup. Simply put, it works on everything that supports MFi controllers, and then some. If you have a platformer that only needs a d-pad like Shantae: Risky's Revenge, you can totally go with a classic setup. For FPS games like Neon Shadow, you'll have the two analog sticks available for both movement and aiming. It helps to have both, because some games just have faux-iOS 7 support and don't "unlock" the d-pad, and vice versa. That's mostly on the developer, and having the option to switch fills in their cracks. It also works wonderfully for everything in-between, like Bastion -- a game where you might want to switch between analog and d-pad controls at any given time. For those games that do fully support MFis (and not just basic mapping), the experience is pretty surreal. When I booted up Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, I was blown away at how perfectly everything was mapped -- it was like I was playing on a console with the acceleration triggers and face buttons. I found myself enjoying a few mobile exclusives in a new light, and more importantly, it made a handful of games playable. Twitch platformers like the Super Crate Box-like Muffin Knight are infinitely better with physical controls, and for those games that fully support it, the virtual "buttons" disappear, leaving 100% of the screen real estate to actual gameplay. Like the Powershell the MOGA is also a battery booster (1800mAh). Using the provided USB cable, you basically just "charge" the Ace on any device, and it's good to go with hours of extra battery life for your phone (although the controller stops charging when it's at 25%). It's as simple as flipping a switch, and it's like your phone or iPod Touch is basically charging in any standard socket -- you just need to remember to turn the charging function "off" before you rip your phone out. Given the limitations it basically caps out at a 50% charge, but it's something to use on long flights or during travel. On a few occasions I even kept it in my car just to boost my phone should I need it -- gaming or otherwise. The MOGA Ace Power is pretty much the perfect control option out right now for iOS devices. Although the price is very steep at $99 given the relatively small list of games that support it, expect more developers to retroactively update their games to allow it, and more big-name titles to implement it in the future. Once that point in time hits, I'd recommend the MOGA to most every mobile gamer out there.
MOGA Ace Power photo
The second stick makes a difference
As you may have heard, MFi (Made for iPhone) controllers have started to roll out. In a nutshell, they work with a limited amount of games, but they allow you to use real, physical buttons for titles that may not work as well...

Review: Roxio Game Capture HD Pro

Dec 12 // Chris Carter
Product: Roxio Game Capture HD ProManufacturer: RoxioInput: USB, HDMI, ComponentMSRP: $149.99  Aesthetically, the Roxio HD Pro is unflattering with tons of connections popping out of it, and the top is busy with logos and icons. It's very lightweight however, and easy to transport, which is a plus. But what really matters here is the functionality, and the good news is that it's very easy to use. The Roxio is simple to hook up and run with, and either capture video directly (720p, 1080/60i or 1080/30p with HDMI or component support), or stream to Twitch. SD resolutions are supported, but there is no direct composite support -- so no legacy devices. My tests with the Xbox 360 and PS3 in particular were practically flawless. All you need to do is connect a console to the Game Capture HD Pro, run a cable to your TV, attach the USB cable to a PC (it's bus-powered, so you'll need to have it attached at all times), and you're pretty much good to go. The software will pop up a tiny view window for the captured console, and from there, you basically just press record, or set a finite record time -- at which point, the video will record in your selected format and render itself in the folder of your choice (with an h.264 encoder). It only comes with the USB cable, so you need another HDMI cable to handle the video out -- not a big deal, but it's kind of annoying all the same. What is a big deal is that the unit doesn't come with the appropriate PS3 cable, which you'll need since Sony's console doesn't support direct HDMI capture (and is limited to 1080i at that). Whereas the Elgato does include the special PlayStation 3 hookup in its package, you're basically left on your own to order it and configure your console properly with the Roxio. Just like the Xbox 360, the Wii U is plug and play. So how does it hold up on the newest consoles? The Xbox One is supported, but the Roxio is a bit janky on it at the moment. Evidently, the software will lock you out of recording "protected content" if you've watched certain videos on it within a given time period. In order to fix the issue you have to restart your console at least once, then re-run the software and hook the unit back up. At that point, it should work, but it still locked me out roughly 50% of the time. The PS4 however, doesn't support any form of video capture, so the Roxio (or any other unit) isn't going to help you out there. I reached out to a representative to see if this will ever be a possibility, and they noted that Sony will "eventually" update the firmware to allow capturing -- but there's no timetable in sight. In short, your options are limited for the brand new generation. The software is where the Roxio is a step up, as it offers up a few more options than its competitors, complete with a decently packed editing suite. After installing it with a CD key, all the typical extras are here, including audio and mic support, as well as the ability to encode and convert videos into a number of formats with Videowave. Voice mod support, captions, and other animations (including 90 transitions) are at your fingertips, keeping this a cut above a simple "copy and paste" tool. The encoding rate also caps out at 15Mbps, whereas the Elgato tops at 30. As a side note, FFSplit doesn't work with the Roxio, whereas XSplit does if you have the premium version. All in all I'd still recommend the Elgato Game Capture HD over the Roxio. It's easier to use, it sports a sleeker design, it comes with a PS3 cable, and the software is much simpler. Roxio does boast a better in-house editing suite, but you'd be better off with a superior third-party piece of software anyway if you really care about video.
Game capture review photo
Not quite the market leader
Game capture devices have gotten easier and easier to use with each passing year. What once was an elite craft is now easily accessible with the right unit, as it's as simple as plug-and-play functionality. Recently I had the...

Review: SteelSeries H Wireless Headset

Dec 11 // Chris Carter
Product: SteelSeries H Wireless HeadsetManufacturer: SteelSeriesInput: 3.5mm jacks with USB adapter included (wireless)MSRP: $299.99 So what's the deal with this headset anyway? Well, they're basically another set of wireless headphones from SteelSeries -- except this pair will work with full feature parity on the PS4, as well as the 360 and PS3 (more on supported platforms later). With a sleek black and orange design, the H Wireless headphones look great, and have enough flash without being too flashy. The foam headband is comfortable, but not nearly as comfy as SteelSeries' own Siberia Elites. It's adjustable, but for those of you who have bigger heads, it may fit a tad too snug. Having said that, this is one of the lightest headsets I've ever used, so other than the snugness I don't have any problems with the design. It thankfully comes with a ton of cables should you decide to hook it up to legacy devices, or essentially any other device out there with an audio port. Sound-wise, it's a cut above the vast majority of headsets out there, but the lows weren't particularly strong during my time with it (they suffer especially on bass-heavy music during my non-gaming tests). The "H" is competent for non-gaming, but it's really build for its intended use. Still, the 7.1 virtual surround sound is near perfect in all the places it matters, as you can hear pretty much everything in any given game -- whether it's above, below, or behind you. The advertised range is 40 feet, a number that's been accurate with my tests with it, and as is the case with most wireless sets, a volume control knob is located on one of the ears. [embed]266582:51730:0[/embed] The best part of the H Wireless unit however is the transmitter. It's a full-lit display showing everything that's going on, including the system that's being used, and the current profile. It has a convenient volume dial, as well as a power button, which allows you to access the unit's many menus. You can change practically everything audio-wise from the box, including multiple settings for different output devices. The display is only a few inches wide, but it sports plenty of real estate to clearly read every notification and not take up too much space in your setup. It can be hooked up with a standard AC power cable included in the box, or it can run directly via USB from a console. Then you have my second favorite function -- the dual battery system. Built into one ear of the Wireless H and the transmitter itself is a tiny slit for the two included battery packs. This ensures that at any given time, your set is charging, which is a really nice touch. The transmitter shows your battery level, giving you plenty of opportunities to pause the game and quickly pop out the fresh battery pack. As someone who's dealt with failing wireless headphones in many online games leading me to rush for a charging cord, this small feature is a godsend. It also helps that the set has a whopping 20 hours of charge per lihium-ion battery. So what platforms are supported? Basically everything from Android, iOS, PS3, Xbox 360, to PCs, up to and including the PlayStation 4 (the Wii U doesn't have an optical port). It does pull audio from the Xbox One, but it doesn't work with the chat function -- nothing will, actually, until Microsoft finishes their development of the chat adapter. I've been using these on my PlayStation 4 for the past week, and they work like a dream. The retractable mic is perfect as well, as I don't even notice it when it's slipped into the headset -- it also glows red while muted, which is a nice touch. Voice chat sounds crystal clear, and the addition of ChatMix allows for a great balance of voice effects and in-game sound. At $299.99, the H Wireless set is a cut above the median price for other wireless headsets -- a headset that by its very definition of lacking wires, is typically inferior in sound quality. The good news is it's future proof, and as soon as Microsoft gets to work on a chat converter, it'll function on basically every modern gaming platform. The dual-battery concept is also genius, and ensures that you can stay truly "wireless" at all times. All in all this is my new favorite headset for my gaming needs, but it doesn't do a whole lot more than existing sets for the price. For those who find the price point to be a little too rich, Turtle Beach and Astro offer more affordable wireless options. Or just deal with wires, pay less, and get better sound quality.
SteelSeries H photo
The best parts are the transmitter and batteries
Wireless headphones can be pretty expensive, but they can also be pretty damn convenient. Sometimes I don't feel like fumbling with wires, as it helps keep my setup clean, and the ability to wander around within a limited dis...

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: Xbox One

Nov 19 // Dale North
Xbox OneManufacturer: MicrosoftRelease Date: November 22, 2013MSRP: $499 Design The Xbox One sports clean lines and has some sharp accents while still managing to keep things simple. The mix of black matte, gloss finish and the cooling slat pattern are sleek, and the trim work on its face is attractive. But it still looks like a set-top box -- a really nice set-top box. This makes sense, as Microsoft is positioning the system to be the centerpiece of the world's living rooms. The Xbox One is a hefty brick of a game system, and it looks oversized when compared to other recent game consoles. At 13-inches wide and just over three inches tall, weighing in at over seven pounds, the Xbox One will hog up more space in your entertainment center than you might like it to. And that's not including its large power brick and its thick cabling. When you add the system's depth to the lengths of the cable jacks for the Kinect and power cord, you'll need shelving 14-inches deep.  The Kinect sensor matches the Xbox One's design with its black gloss and matte mix and its matching glowing Xbox logo.   Specifications An eight-core AMD CPU is the heart of Microsoft's powerful new system, supported by a 853 MHz GPU and 8GB of DDR3 RAM. Games will be installed via a slot-loading Blu-ray drive, with data going onto a 500GB hard disk. For connectivity, there's both Gigabit Ethernet and 8012.11 a/b/g/n WiFi (2.4 and 5 GHz) with WiFi Direct support. And with three USB 3.0 ports, a digital audio port, the Kinect sensor port, and HDMI input and output ports, there's plenty of places to plug things in. The Xbox One is fairly quiet, though it's never completely silent. Most of the time it'll emit a faint whirring, but when some games start, it'll crescendo to a full roar for a few seconds. Even the power brick makes a noise with its own cooling fan.  The Xbox One seems to run hot. When games are running, the unit is pretty warm to the touch, especially around its cooling vents. This system needs plenty of room for ventilation, too. We had to pull our test unit out of a cabinet after finding that it was hot to the touch, even with about two inches of clearance around the top and sides. Even on standby some heat comes out of the top vents.    Controller While the Xbox One controller looks a bit like the Xbox 360 controller, Microsoft made so many improvements that they seem worlds apart in use. They did an incredible job of tweaking and refining just about every aspect of the Xbox 360 controller, so much so that it's hard to use it now after having this Xbox One controller for about a week. The new analog sticks are fantastic. Their dead zone has been diminished, they move so much easier now, and the textured edges are perfect for increased grip for high-action games like shooters or racers. The new d-pad is click-y and responsive, as are the new shoulder buttons. The new triggers are outstanding with their upturned ends and their rolled shape, letting your index fingers rest naturally on them. I'm still enamored with their smooth travel and their dampened end strike even after dozens of hours of use. The trigger haptic feedback impresses in Forza Motorsport 5 -- a buzzing in your fingertips lets you know you're pushing your vehicle hard. Around back, the grips have been redesigned, making this controller much more comfortable to hold than its predecessor. The removal of screw holes and seams on the back and a tweaking of weight distribution also add to the comfort factor. A removable battery compartment panel (it takes two AA batteries) fits beautifully flush with the rear surface. Microsoft also ditched the start and back buttons, changing them for view and menu buttons. The only oversight in the design of the Xbox One controller we could find is how much noise it makes during use. The d-pad makes a sharp clicking noise under heavy use, and the stems of the analog sticks cause a loud knocking against the edges of the ports they sit in. Having multiple players in one room using Xbox One controllers adds a fair bit of noise! I prefer the symmetrical placement of the analog sticks (see our PlayStation 4 review), but I'm still extremely impressed with the Xbox One controller. It needs to win some kind of award for the most improved piece of gaming tech ever created.   Kinect Sensor The included Xbox One Kinect sensor is tethered to the system with a long, hefty cable. This cable continually transmits data from Kinect 2's 1080p camera, motion sensors, IR sensors, and microphones, enabling the system to instantly act on motion and voice commands. The camera's view is extremely wide, allowing for small rooms to get proper coverage. The Kinect sensor is immediately useful out of the box. After being told to recognize a user's face, they can log in by simply walking into the room. From that point on, the system is always scanning for that person's presence, and given the proper command ("Xbox, sign in"), the system will switch to their settings.  The Xbox One supports a few UI gesture commands using Kinect's sensors. Users can clench their hand to grip corners of some apps to zoom in and out, for example. Pulling two fists together from a distance can bring the user back to their home screen. While these commands are smart, they're a bit fiddly, and likely more difficult than picking up the controller to accomplish the same task. Kinect's microphones are always on, waiting for the next voice command. By simply calling out "Xbox," the system readies its voice recognition, letting users start games, switch to applications, video conference, and more. When it works, it's incredibly handy. It's so nice to be able to pause a television show from the other room by simply calling out, for example. The problem is that the voice recognition, while initially impressive, lets you down sometimes. We've had several instances of the system completely ignoring repeated commands. The most used ones, like "Xbox, go Home," or "Xbox, go back," are pretty reliable, while ones that launch specific games and apps have a lower success rate. In completely quiet rooms, with a fully projected voice spoken three feet away, facing the Kinect directly, commands sometimes failed. In another test room, at only two feet away, recognition was more reliable, though never perfect. In one sitting, the Xbox One refused to take my "Xbox, record that" command until I shut the game down completely and restarted it. If the voice commands aren't consistently reliable, users are going to pick controller commands over them, which would defeat the purpose completely. I've found that a hybrid works best in my office and home. For example, while playing games, your hands are busy, so calling out "Xbox, record that" makes a lot of sense. But I'd rather use the controller to navigate the dash. The Kinect sensor is also a high-powered IR blaster and receiver, which makes it able to control just about any A/V device in your living room. During initial setup, Xbox One asks for the make and model of your television and other components. From there, the system pulls remote codes from the cloud to have Kinect control them all. The IR control works like a charm, provided that the system understood the voice command first.   User Interface Microsoft has been all over the map when it comes to user interfaces for the Xbox brand, but it looks like they've finally settled on a UI that looks clean, modern, and uncluttered. The home screen has a main tile for the currently running application or game, and four smaller tiles under it represent the most recently run applications, allowing for quick switching. And aside from a profile bar and a few shortcuts, as well as three boxes to show recommended content, that's it. Nice and simple. Pressing the Xbox button on the controller will bring you back to this screen at any time. Scrolling left from the main screen (using either the analog stick or the bumper buttons) brings you to a field for pins, which are Xbox's version of shortcuts and bookmarks. The screen to the right of the home view is where you can purchase content from Xbox Live, including games, movies, television shows, and music. Logging in, users will find their own unique settings, apps, and pins on their Xbox One dash. They're even welcomed by name. Any other user in the room can identify themselves to Kinect to have the home screen immediately change to theirs.  Microsoft built in enough power under the hood to support multitasking, making it easy to jump from, say, a game to an application. For example, you could be playing Forza Motorsport 5, and then leave it to open Internet Explorer. Through the Xbox One's multitasking power, Forza 5 will stay running in the background as you do your browsing; switching between the two apps would be instantaneous. In my last week with the system, I've grown to really count on this ability to jump between two applications, to the point that I'm not sure how I got along without this ability before. It makes the Xbox One feel more like an environment and less like a simple game box -- in a good way. As an extension of this, Xbox One's snap ability lets you take certain apps and snap them to the right side of the screen. For example, Internet Explorer could be snapped while watching television, allowing you to browse and enjoy your favorite program at the same time. You could play a game and listen to music at the same time, too.  With as much power as the Xbox One has under the hood, we were surprised to see several instances of user-interface lag. We saw the Xbox One's loading spinning wheel so many times that we lost count, with it popping up in everything from friends list navigation to applications opening. Switching between open tasks is always respectably snappy, but several other aspects lacked that speed.    Online, Social, Sharing, and Broadcasting Calling out "Xbox, record that" has the Xbox One grabbing the last 30 seconds of gameplay as a file, which can then be shared with other Xbox Live users. An app called Upload Studio lets you take game recordings and edit them, adding voice overs, inserting pictures, or themes, and then exporting to be shared. At launch, these videos can only be shared with Xbox Live users. Microsoft aims to have sharing to other social sites, like Facebook and YouTube, set up by next year.  [embed]265900:51474:0[/embed] Similarly, broadcasting of live gameplay via Twitch will not be available at launch. Microsoft is aiming for an early 2014 launch of this feature. As a workaround, clips can be uploaded to Microsoft's SkyDrive from launch. Once uploaded, the clips can be shared from any computer. It's another step, but it works fine. Friends management and tracking has been upgraded with Xbox One. A new feed gives a real-time view of what your friends are doing on Xbox Live, showing both Xbox 360 and Xbox One players in one view. You can mark friends as favorites to make them easier to track among your friends list. Microsoft has done away with confirmations and requests -- simply add a friend and they'll appear in your feed, much like following a person on Twitter.    Connectivity A new Xbox One SmartGlass App lets you navigate the home screen with your fingertips on Windows 8, iOS, and Android devices. We used a beta version of the app on a Microsoft Surface to flip through our friends list, respond to messages, and browse our content. These functions work wonderfully, making SmartGlass a fine companion to the whole Xbox Live experience. A rudimentary control mode found in the beta let us try to control the Xbox One via SmartGlass, but it didn't work reliably. Swiping motions are to serve as a stand-in for controller input, while touchscreen virtual buttons did the job of physical controller buttons. Again, neither worked well, but the app is still in development. Microsoft plans to have SmartGlass working as a remote for all devices in your living room through Xbox One in a future update.    Disk Management and Installation The Xbox One's Blu-ray disc drive feeds the 500GB internal hard disk with games, as installations are required. To boot the game, you'll still need to keep the disc in the drive, even after installation. If you try to start a game without the disc, the system will ask you to insert the disc or buy digital rights from the online store. With some games, gameplay can be started before installation is finished.  With new games sometimes filling Blu-ray discs -- and when you add in the space the OS and other apps take -- the 500GB drive will likely only hold a handful of games at one time. Thankfully, Microsoft plans to add external storage support at a later date.    Video and Audio The Xbox One aims to be the hub of the world's living room with its HDMI pass-through capabilities, letting users plug in their cable or satellite boxes to have the system acting as a go-between, handling everything from channel navigation to volume control. Between the Xbox One's voice recognition capabilities and the Kinect sensor's IR blasters, you can control just about all of your television-watching experience without ever having to pick up a remote control. To begin watching television, you only need to say "Xbox, watch TV." As we mentioned earlier, Xbox One's voice recognition is good, but it isn't reliable. Our tests showed that while voice commands would bring up Xbox One's television guide -- called OneGuide -- reliably navigating through it wasn't as easy. We had mixed results in trying to get the channel to change by calling out its station name. It was just easier to pick up the controller to manually scroll through the listings more often than not. Thankfully, some of the most useful commands were the most reliable. Calling out to have the Xbox One take over transport controls worked well. It's really convenient to be able to pause the program you're watching with your voice when the door bell rings, for example. Having the Xbox One turn the volume up or down via voice command was too slow, but being able to ask it to mute was nice and quick.  The Xbox One supports some of the bigger streaming video services, like Netflix and Hulu, at launch with new apps, though my personal favorite, Crunchyroll, is not yet available. Any of these apps can be added to OneGuide as channels through what Microsoft calls App Channels. So, for example, your Hulu Plus queue could be an App Channel, listed right alongside your television listings in OneGuide. Finally, Microsoft's Xbox Video and Xbox Music apps let you rent or purchase television shows and movies or stream music on Xbox One.   Conclusion The Xbox One is a powerful PC connected to a cutting-edge sensor array that handles every living-room duty, from television watching to video streaming to web browsing, and it does it all with a multitasking UI that supports voice and motion control. This has to be the most full-featured game console offering ever brought to market. It does so many things that it's hard to keep track of them all! A few key features, like social sharing and game broadcasting, are not ready for launch, making the Xbox One feel somewhat incomplete, especially when compared to its main competitor. All of these technologies and features for Xbox One are pointless if there aren't great games to play on it. While future offerings look promising, the Xbox One's launch library is somewhat lacking. There are plenty of interesting experiences to be had, but only a few of the offerings are truly notable at this point. It's clear that Microsoft doesn't have this generation's Halo yet.  The way we see it, gamers likely have a good all-in-one gaming/media box now with the Xbox 360. If you're dying to add voice-controlled television channel surfing to the mix, the Xbox One will definitely get you there. The console will also give you access to a couple of decent launch titles, and a fantastic new controller to play them with. But you're going to have to make the call on whether these things are worth $499 to you. If not, wait. The Xbox One will still be around when you're ready.
Xbox One review photo
All-in-Wonder
Microsoft's Xbox 360 grew from being a simple game console to an all-in-one entertainment box over the last eight years or so, somehow squeezing in everything from multiplayer gaming to streaming movies and television. And no...

Review: PlayStation 4

Nov 18 // Dale North
PS4Manufacturer: Sony Computer EntertainmentRelease Date: November 15, 2013MSRP: $399 Design The PS4's sleek, angular design surprised us all when it was unveiled at E3 this year. Sony ditched the rounded space hog for a sharp, thin box that somehow manages to catch your eye while not being distracting.  Looking down at a PS4 laying flat, its top is just slightly off from 12 inches square. Sony keeps it elegant with a simple black gloss and matte split, marked with a small system logo. These textures are separated by a thin light bar that can change color to indicate status. On its two-inch tall face, tiny touch sensitive slivers function as power and disc eject buttons. In the recess that runs the entire face and sides hide two USB ports and a slot-loading Blu-ray disc drive. On its rear, Sony continues the theme with only the bare minimum for ports: a power port, an HDMI port, an optical audio port, an Ethernet port, and a port for optional accessories, like the PlayStation Camera.  Coming in at about six pounds, the PS4 feels dense but not heavy. The whole package is self-contained, so no external power supply is needed. It's a slim, sharp-looking, elegantly designed system that seems to completely make up for how awkward the PS3 was. No more George Foreman grill jokes. No more Spider-Man font jokes.   Specifications The PS4's hardware build isn't far off from what you'd find in a respectable PC gaming rig, which was exactly the intent of chief hardware architect Mark Cerny. Sony wanted a system with an architecture that would be easy to make games for, so they ended up bulding around an eight-core x86 AMD Jaguar processor and a Radeon GPU. These number crunchers are supported by 8GB of GDDR5 RAM and a 500GB hard disk.  For communications, aside from the Ethernet port, the PS4's 802.11 b/g/n and Bluetooth 2.1 chips handle connections.  The PS4 keeps quiet. At normal speed, its fans won't cut into room noise, and when they do spin up to a higher speed, its sound is still subdued. The only time you'll ever hear the PS4 make any marked noise is when it's installing a game from a disc.   Controller You're either a DualShock person or you aren't. While I have no problems calling the DualShock 4 the best controller I've ever used, I don't think that any of Sony's improvements over their last controller will win over anyone who dislikes the symmetrical analog stick placement. But, for those who liked previous DualShock controllers, this one is a huge improvement.  The hand feel of the controller has changed considerably with grips that will feel more comfortable to those with larger hands. A super-fine texture covers the entire rear of the controller for improved grip. Despite being packed with several pieces of new tech, the DualShock 4 is light. It's solid and well-built, and seems like it'll be able to take some wear. The thumbsticks are spaced farther out, which is nice for those that had trouble with their thumbs touching before. They're topped with smaller, concave tops, which makes them easier to grip. The d-pad and face buttons have improved spacing and feel, with the latter losing their analog touch capabilities in the upgrade. Finally, the rear triggers now curve upward to give your index fingers a place to rest. Between this new curve and their improved action, the triggers perform fantastically in shooters and racers.  One of the most visible new additions to the controller is the light bar. This can change colors to indicate game modes or identify players. As far as we can tell, it cannot be shut off.   A new touch pad lets you use gesture-based control in games to do things like scroll through maps or swipe commands. For example, Killzone: Shadow Fall lets you send commands to a drone by swiping in different directions. The pad is smooth to the touch and easy to reach, and can even be clicked as another input type. So far, it has no real use in interface control, which is a shame.  The new speaker port can play programmed audio from games. Resogun uses it in conjunction with game audio to create a neat echo effect. More useful is the DualShock 4's headphone jack, which will accept any standard headphone (skip the one Sony packed in -- it's junk). What's neat is that you can have all of a game's audio sent to this jack, which essentially gives you a cordless sound rig. Very neat. Finally, while battery life is down when compared to the DualShock 3, it's still plenty enough to last you for a full day's gaming. I worked through a few full eight-hour days playing PS4 games for review last week. The DualShock 4 controller would be drained by the end of the day, where a DualShock 3 might go two or three days before needing a recharge.   User Interface Logging into the PS4 is very quick and easy. Simply selecting a listed profile and pressing X brings up the UI instantly. The PS4 boots so fast that it's easy to take for granted. Curiously, the PS4's facial recognition log-in takes a little bit longer than the default method. You'll face the optional PlayStation Camera and then move the controller to line up with a specific zone on the screen to log in with this method. The same simple elegance Sony shot for with the hardware design seems to carry over for the PS4's user interface. Sony likes horizontal bars (see the system design or the PS3 UI, the XMB), so the PS4's Dynamic Menu keeps with that. A primary line is populated with tiles representing all of your games and apps, sitting alongside tiles for What's New, a Library section, a video section, and the built-in browser. Simply scroll from left to right to pick any one to open. Hit down on any selection and see more details on the game as well as social activity and DLC listings. Hitting up from this primary bar takes you to a secondary one that gives you access to settings, social functions, chat, your profile, your messages, your friends, your trophies, the PlayStation Store and more. The trophies sync across all PlayStation platforms now, and Party Chat also works cross-platform. The Dynamic Menu seems to keep your most recent played game at the far left for easy access, but there appear to be no rules when it comes to how other games or apps are placed. What happens when you have 50 games to pick from? How will they be organized? So far, this new menu seems to be a cleaner, more manageable XMB. There are parts of the Dynamic Menu that will have to change in the future as the system grows. For example, the TV & Video section is already overcrowded with apps, and the Friends list has no sorting support. Let's hope Sony addresses these and other issues with updates soon. Again, there's no touch panel navigation for menus, so it's all done with the d-pad and the face buttons. Hitting Option will open a sub-menu for any bar item, giving you finer control. The Share button can also be accessed from the Dynamic Menu's main screen, giving you access to all of your shared/stored image and video content.  Text can be put in through the standard d-pad on-screen keyboard method, but the motion-sensing point-to-type method is a bit faster. To use this method, simply tilt the DualShock to point to the letter you'd like to enter and then press X to select it. Hopefully they'll add a touch panel method in the future. In use, the UI is nimble. While its appearance is minimal, there's this feeling of quiet power that permeates the experience. The system can jump from an app back to the main menu in a blink, with no visible loading issues. Games might take a few seconds to load, but the wait is never long, and getting out of them and back to the UI is immediate.    Online, Social, and Broadcasting There's a socially connected backbone that ties all of the PS4's functions together. After logging into Facebook and Twitter (at least one service is required to use the share functions), screen captures and gameplay clips can be shared with a press of the Share button. The PS4 is always recording, giving players instant access to the last 15 minutes of play. By pressing the Share button, clips can be edited and trimmed, tagged, and uploaded to Facebook (Twitter only accepts images). The process is impressively fast and easy.  The default sharing settings for each service has it so that all game starts and trophy acquisitions are announced and shared. If you value your friends you might want to shut these options off.  And if you'd like to share a broadcast of your live gameplay on Twitch.tv, PS4 makes that just as easy. When you first try the Share button's broadcast option, you'll be asked to log into Twitch's service. You can input a broadcast message for social networks and then begin streaming instantly. Again, it's so easy anyone could do it; there's almost nothing that has to be done to start streaming. The optional PlayStation Camera does a fine job of facilitating game broadcasts. The system creates a picture-in-picture window for your face, fed by the camera. The two newest lines of chat show up at the bottom of the screen, just under the gameplay feed. The camera feed is clean, even in poor lighting. The camera's microphone lets you interact with viewers with clear, pristine voice. It's a very good solution for those that want easy streaming. That all said, those that need streaming options will not be satisfied with the PS4's limited options. You can't resize screens, add graphics, or mix other audio sources into the stream. It's nowhere near as flexible as a PC would be. But, for those that want the easiest way to be up and broadcasting, the PS4 wins. Streaming works great in the box, but if you want to capture HDMI output with an external device, you're out of luck as Sony's HDCP copy protection is always running.    Connectivity We didn't expect that the PS4-to-Vita cross-play would be so easy to set up. It's as simple as asking the PS4 to generate an eight-digit code, and then entering that code into the Vita's PS4 Link app. After a few seconds of processing, the connection is made, and the screen view of the PS4 is shared. It works so well that it's kind of hard to believe! [embed]265875:51433:0[/embed] In this Remote Play mode, the Vita can navigate the Dynamic Menu fully, meaning that you can manage your friends lists, enter codes, upload content, and shop from your Vita. The only thing that didn't work was streaming video from streaming video services, which is a shame.  Of course, the real draw is being able to play any PS4 game remotely. Even fast-paced games, like Need for Speed: Rivals and Resogun, seemed to work perfectly well over the Remote Play Wi-Fi connection. Your mileage may vary with the Vita's lack of an secondary triggers and clickable thumbsticks. These buttons can be remapped to touch zones on the touch screen and rear panel, but it's not quite the same. Remote Play will serve slower, simpler games better than it will any action or shooter title.   Disk Management and Installation The PS4 has a Blu-ray disc drive, but that drive is for installation only. So, just like your PC, your hard drive space limits how many games you can have playable at once. With a 500GB hard disk, you'll eventually find yourself deleting games so that you can install others. Thankfully, the system makes deletion easy: press the Options button on any game and select Delete.  You'll be glad to own a retail copy of a game when it comes time to reinstall. Putting in a disc has the PS4 automatically copying files over, which is sure to be faster than any re-download.  There's no way the launch library of the PS4 would fit on the hard disk. Both Battlefield 4 and Killzone: Shadow Fall weigh in at over 35GB, taking a fair bit of time to install. Though smaller, Assassin's Creed IV is still over 20GB and Need for Speed: Rivals is over 15GB. Digital-only games aren't as offensive: Flower is 736MB and Resogun is only 466MB. What's nice is that games do not require a full installation to begin play. I only needed to wait a couple of minutes before I could begin Need for Speed: Rivals, though the full install comes in at a hefty 16GB.    Video and Audio The PS4 serves as a hub for streaming video content, launching with apps for the most popular providers, including Amazon, Hulu, and Netflix, all housed under a Dynamic Menu item named TV & Video. I was pleased to find anime service Crunchyroll in the mix as well. All of the apps are clean and simple, and all work without issue. As with the PS3, Sony has included its own video store, letting you buy or rent movies and television shows to watch on your system. A menu item houses all of your purchased and rented content for ease of access. If you'd like to watch a Blu-ray movie on your PS4, you can do that too. You just can't play media files as PS4 does not have a media player.  Music Unlimited is the only option for music listening at the moment. Sony's all-you-can-listen streaming service is free for a month with the included trial, but requires payment for continued use after that. It's the only way to listen to music on the PS4, as there is no support for MP3 files from drives or media servers.  Hopefully Sony will add some kind of player and external media support soon.   Optional Accessories The PlayStation Camera is not included, and that's likely because there aren't enough good reasons to own one yet. Sony's included Playroom software is fun to toy around with, and the system's optional facial recognition is handy for easy log-in, but that's about all you'll do with it, save for one exception. That exception is broadcasting gameplay through PS4's share feature. Let's be clear: if you plan to broadcast from the PS4, you should definitely pick up a PlayStation Camera.  An optional system stand lets you prop the PS4 up on its side, letting you show off its sharp angles. Note that the system can be propped up on its side without this stand, but it'll knock over easier.   Conclusion If there's one thing that's apparent from using the PS4 for a couple of weeks, it's that Sony has been listening. This system shows that they've heard our gripes over the PS3's XMB, and that they've heard our many George Foreman grill jokes. It shows that they know that game broadcasting is a rapidly growing segment of gaming. It shows that they understand how important being socially connected is.  The $400 offering they've released in response is a sleek beauty with plenty of power under the hood to usher in the next generation of videogames. While only a few of the launch games look to bring us beyond the current generation of console graphical power, it's clear that there's enough power and potential to eventually get us to where we want to be. For those considering a purchase, know that you're buying into a system with a very limited game library. You're essentially buying potential, as the launch library has limited appeal. There is already decent third-party support, and publishers are working on more games, but they're a ways off. Depending on your tastes, the PS4 library might be missing that must-have title.  That all said, if technolust is taking over, go for it. Go get a PS4. Sony came out strong this generation, and the future looks bright for them. 
PS4 Review photo
Investing in your future
Remember daydreaming about a system that would let you buy and download games online, and then let you share your experiences socially? There was a day when the concept seemed so far off, but now that system is finally here.&...

Review: SteelSeries Siberia Elite Gaming Headset

Oct 18 // Chris Carter
Product: SteelSeries Siberia Elite Gaming HeadsetManufacturer: SteelSeriesInput: 3.5mm jacks with USB adapter includedMSRP: $199.99 First things first, the Siberia Elite is extremely comfortable. The cup material doesn't feel sticky (meaning it won't get sweaty over time), and it does an amazing job of isolating pretty much every bit of noise -- even my wife, who I didn't notice calling me on multiple occasions. For good measure, I tested them out for multiple-hour sessions on many devices, and I was never tempted to take them off due to discomfort. The self-adjusting suspension headband feels fairly comfortable (especially at the top), but it's a tad flimsy -- like it could potentially snap in half if dropped on a hard floor. One of my favorite things about the headset is the volume control dial that's available on the right earmuff. When I first threw on the Elite I noticed that the volume was severely low, even with my device's volume set at the maximum level -- come to find out the dial was at the lowest setting, and it was capable of a much louder range. I really enjoyed the ear dial after extended use, as it's better than fumbling with a corded volume control or a dongle. Elites come in a black or white variety, but I prefer the latter due to the unique look -- especially when the LED functionality is enabled. [embed]263498:50985:0[/embed] While testing out these levels, I noticed that the quality of sound didn't drop, even near the "hearing loss" standard of volume. The lows aren't nearly as powerful as they would be on other headsets, but everything else sounds perfect. When coupled with the bundled equalizer, most everything sounded like it should, boasting up to 7.1 channel surround sound. The right cup also comes equipped with an additional headphone jack, should someone else want to share a movie on a plane or listen to your playlist. Thankfully, the included cords are fairly long (short cards are a pet peeve of mine with other headsets), clocking in at 1.2 meters, which is approximately four feet. The extension cord is two meters, which is around 6.5 feet, and more than enough room for most setups. Along with the extensions, a USB Sound Card is also included, which allows the headset to gain a few extra features when plugged into a PC. The Sound Card itself is a proprietary design, with standard green and red audio/mic inputs, and a USB connection. Functionally, it allows you to connect your headphones to SteelSeries' software suite (SteelSeries Engine 3), enabling sound manipulation, noise-cancellation for the mic, and the ability to change the LED lights on the muffs for fun. The software itself is fairly non-obtrusive, and easy to use, with giant buttons and clear descriptions for all of its features, like Dolby toggling, the equalizer, mic compression/volume, and LED customization (including the rotation of certain colors, and pulsing). Of course, the headset has to measure up in extended gaming tests, and I was pretty pleased with the results. Whether it was with my Vita, 3DS, iOS device, or my PC, everything sounded clear as every nuance like footsteps was captured, and the microphone worked as advertised -- especially when I used the noise-cancellation option through the software. As an added bonus, the mic lights up to indicate when you're muted or not, and it's retractable, so you won't look ridiculous wearing these in public with a giant mic sticking out. Additionally, the left earmuff has a mic mute control that operates in the same way as the right-ear volume dial. SteelSeries products tend to be really expensive (like the Siberia Elite), but I had very little complaints from just about every aspect of the headset. The Elite is sleek and well-designed, it's flashy, and best of all -- it actually works and sounds great.
SteelSeries Siberia Elite photo
My new go-to headset
Over the past year or so, I've acquired a decent amount of headphones. Some of them have fallen by the wayside, some of them relegated to certain devices, and a few have become decent "catch-alls" for most of my needs. Seeing...

Review: Nvidia Shield

Sep 25 // Jim Sterling
Nvidia Shield Manufacturer: NvidiaReleased: August 29, 2013MSRP: $299.00 The first thing you'll notice about the Shield is how it refuses to compromise on the things handheld gaming systems most commonly acquiesce. This is a big lump of plastic -- it can just about fit in the pocket, but you'll look like you've got the world's worst thigh tumor. It's chunky, and possessed of not inconsiderable weight, but that's because it's a screen sat atop a full-fledged, console-level controller. There's very little difference between it and an Xbox 360 controller, with its full-size, clickable dual analog sticks, face buttons, bumpers and triggers on the shoulder, and D-pad. The center of the controller also features a large button to access Tegra Zone, a back button, a start button, an Android home button, and a button to bring up volume controls. The obvious downside to having a full-on controller as a handheld is that you're, well, carrying a full-on controller around with you. The upside, however, is you've also got the most game-capable handheld system ever made, able to do things other systems simply can't.  [embed]262335:50645:0[/embed] Where it's taken the PlayStation Vita over a year to get one first-person shooter to get it right, and even then it has to compromise, the Shield launches with a rock-solid alternative right out of the gate, one that doesn't have to skimp on functionality in the least. While Dead Trigger isn't exactly the most impressive shooter ever made, it's nonetheless thoroughly enjoyable to be able to play a handheld FPS that actually feels like a real FPS, rather than a developer's noble approximation. Games like Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, Sonic the Hedgehog, and The Bard's Tale are all simply better here than they are on other Android devices, making the Shield a viable choice for those who want to try some of the souped-up Android releases, but aren't into the idea of touchscreens.  This is also where the Shield humiliates its closest comparative system, the Ouya. Like Ouya, the Shield is a dedicated gaming system that gives you physical controls for Android-powered games. Unlike the Ouya, the Shield's native controller is responsive, the system itself is incredibly powerful, games feel like they belong on it, and the system is overall just more pleasant to use. The Shield also has full access to the Google Play store, with a real Android OS that can run any app. Of course, games not designed specifically for Shield controls are awkward to run on a touchscreen with a great hunk of plastic hanging off it, but the fact it has the option to access so much more than the Ouya makes it a superior alternative.  Comfortable in the hands and capable of running games at their highest settings, Shield is a lot of fun to play around with -- and this is not taking into account its ability to run a range of emulators for old games that you totally already have the physical copies of.  So far, my only real complaint with the physical design of the thing is the D-pad. The Shield really did elect to imitate the Xbox 360 controller in every way possible, including a rather dreadful and imprecise directional disc-thing. For the most part, it's not too much of a problem to deal with, but it can make twitchy platform games more of a hassle than they should be, and it certainly doesn't make playing something like A Link to the Past any easier.  Android games specifically designed for the Shield are thinner on the ground, and while more Tegra-powered games are appearing on the Shield Store, it's going to need a lot more support. There are already some solid titles worth getting, with the aforementioned Dead Trigger, Vice City, and Bard's Tale all good choices, but there's a very real risk at this stage that the game's library could suddenly dry up. I hope it doesn't happen, but it's not uncommon for a handheld system to become a software wasteland in a short span of time.  As well as the physical controls, the Shield's screen supports multitouch, and you can even use the right stick as a mouse, bringing up a cursor for menu and web browsing. The left stick acts as a traditional console controller would, meaning you have three methods of input and can interact with the system as you would a console, PC, or smartphone.  The screen itself is a five-inch display that flips up and rocks a 1280x720 resolution. On top of such a large controller, it feels comparatively flimsy, but it's all solidly built stuff. Games, naturally, look pretty damn good on the screen, and it does a more than adequate job of showcasing the Tegra-4 titles it was built to support. Audio is where I was really impressed, however. The two front-facing speakers are situated neatly above the face buttons and D-pad, and are capable of blasting out some damn loud sound. Handheld systems typically fail when it comes to providing sufficient audio, but these speakers are frankly incredible.  Another plus point is the battery life. Up to 20 hours of life can be gotten out of the system when streaming content from a PC, with a fair few hours of regular use available too. I want to say you'll get at least five hours from the thing if you're running games from the device itself, and altogether I found this machine working far longer than any comparable device.  As well as utilizing a full Android OS, the Shield also run's Nvidia's own little playground, TegraZone. Here, you get quick access to your Shield game library, as well the Shield Store, which collects those Google Play games customized specifically for Shield controls. Not all of these games are as elegant as they could be -- some confusingly utilizing touch-only menus or requiring a full recustomization of the buttons (looking at you, Shadowgun Deadzone) -- and some of them are straight-up garbage. Still, the titles worth getting are really worth getting.  TegraZone's biggest feature, however, is its "PC Games" section, allowing users to stream games from their PC directly to the system using Steam. The feature is still in beta, something Nvidia warns users about with good reason. While a fantastic idea, it is currently unreliable, as well as a complete pain to set up. To even get a game to work, it requires diddling around on your PC first. You'll need to make sure everything is updated, download TegraZone to your computer, run your desired games at least once, ensure you've a fast enough wi-fi router, and potentially fiddle with your Firewall and DPI settings. Even when you have everything in order, sometimes messages can pop up on your PC that interrupt streaming, or the connection could terminate for unknown and seemingly arbitrary reasons.  The beta status also limits the amount of games that currently work, and even among the ones that do, only a few work very well. Sleeping Dogs, for example, puts a mouse cursor in the center of the screen while it streams, and an attempt to move it using the Shield's touchscreen will disable all controller input. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is just laggy, and suddenly stopped working completely after only two successful attempts to get it running. Also, the less said about Half-Life 2, the better.  However, all complaints aside, when the planets align and the thing actually works as intended, it's seriously impressive stuff. BioShock Infinite runs pleasantly, with only vaguely perceptible controller lag, while Borderlands 2 is almost perfect. If it weren't for the mouse cursor issue, Sleeping Dogs would also be triumphant, looking lovely on the Shield's screen and running at an impressively silky pace. When everything comes together smoothly, there's definitely a magical quality to the process.  A lot of critics have been down on the Nvidia Shield, but I honestly don't know why people have been so harsh. Games look great and run superbly, the controller is big but beautifully functional, and its wide range of features makes it superior to dedicated systems like the PS Vita in several ways. It delivers on several of the Ouya's promises better than the Ouya ever did, and while the PC streaming is still highly problematic, it at least works, and one would hope its post-beta performance is far better. Of course, it has to be said that it's an expensive little toy, with an asking price of $299, and that's really going to be the dealbreaker for a lot of people. For an Android system with an unsure future and no guarantee of continued software support, three hundred bucks is going to be too rich a gamble for most. As a piece of hardware, I feel the Shield fully justifies its asking price, but these days it's so much less about the hardware, and more what you can do with it. That said, having full access to Google Play, and its range of emulators (most of which work with the physical control options) severely opens up what the Shield can do beyond its "official" uses.  The Shield's biggest feature needs to get itself out of beta soon, and it will need a lot more Tegra-powered games under its belt before it can be a real competitor. However, the device is quickly becoming one of my favorite handheld gaming systems to date, and as a generally big fan of portable gaming, that says a lot. It was never going to appeal to everybody, but to the right buyer, the Shield may be the perfect handheld.  You've just got to be the really, really niche type of buyer it's gunning for. 
Nvidia Shield review photo
Come back with your shield, or come back on it
[Disclosure: Nvidia has provided Destructoid with a number of computers for PC game review purposes in the past. If you feel that may make our reviews of any of their products "biased" or "paid off," you are welcome to.] The ...

Review: Wikipad 7-Inch Gaming Tablet

Sep 18 // Chris Carter
Product: Wikipad 7-Inch Gaming TabletManufacturer: Wikipad, Inc.Input: Micro-USB, Micro-HDMI outMSRP: $249.99 Once upon a time the Wikipad was supposed to have glasses-free 3D and a large screen. But eventually, Wikipad Inc ended up with this particular model, which has a seven inch screen (1280x800) and no 3D to speak of. If you want more specs, the Wikipad ships with Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean), an NVIDIA Tegra 3 processor, and 1 GB DDR3 RAM. These specs aren't top-end in the slightest, but they can handle the vast majority of what the Google Play store can throw at it. Just keep in mind that it can strain a bit on a few higher-end games, which may be an issue. You likely won't run into much trouble at all in the short term as I rarely ran across a performance problem, but just know it's not future proof. The screen itself isn't the absolute cream of the crop, but good enough to deliver a sharp high quality image. There's 16GB built into the unit itself (which is really nice right out of the gate), with the option for expandable memory via Micro-SD (up to 32GB extra), which is a really great touch since you'll most likely want to load it up with high capacity games. Other connections include a standard headphone jack, and the ability for TV-out via Micro-HDMI -- so you can pretty easily hook the Wikipad up to a big screen. Like most tablets, there's a power button on the side in addition to two volume controls, and the touch screen itself works great. But one of the main selling points of the Wikipad is the included gamepad cradle, which attaches directly to the seven inch tablet. To be blunt, the cradle is hideous, but hey, it works. It's literally plug and play, which is crazy because all it takes is a quick snap into the tablet's Micro-USB port. It's very firm and fits like a glove, so there's no fear of dropping it or the device slipping out. You can even charge the tablet while it's cradled, which is nice. The analog stick placement is a tad weird as they're not quite as off-centered as the 360 controller's sticks, but they're not awkwardly side by side like the Dualshock -- so it's somewhere in the middle. Before you work them in the buttons feel a little cheap, but I didn't have issues like sticky triggers or unresponsive inputs. Like most standard controllers these days there's two trigger buttons, two buttons on the top (LB/L1, RB/R1), four face buttons, start, select, an eight way d-pad, and two clickable analog sticks. Keep in mind though that the Wikipad isn't wholly unique, as there are a number of gamepads that can be paired with Android tablets, not to mention straight controller integrated devices like the Nvidia Shield (which has a better performance rate than the Wikipad with a 1.9GHz Tegra 4 chipset). So there are options out there if you want a gaming tablet. The OS itself is technically dated (it launched last year), but it actually works quite well. Pretty much all of your typical Android functionality is alive and well, and I didn't have any major issues engaging in typical tablet based business. Thankfully there's no strings attached with the Wikipad, as it grants full access to the Google Play storefront -- not a gimped, fragmented version like other Android based devices. As an added bonus, the Wikipad is a PlayStation Certified device, which means it has access to the PlayStation Mobile storefront (note that this doesn't mean PSOne Classics, just PlayStation Mobile) with full support for the Wikipad's control scheme. As such, I was able to load up my PSN ID and queue up a few downloads right off the bat like Super Crate Box. It also ships with a Tegra Zone app that finds compatible games for your Wikipad. So on to the important part -- the games. Not every app supports the Wikipad's controller out of the box specifically, but if it supports gamepads, you can certainly remap it with ease. The Wikipad comes pre-loaded with a few games, most notably Shadowgun: Deadzone (an online shooter), and Dead Trigger by Madfinger Games. All of the native games work wonderfully, and I almost felt like I was cheating in Shadowgun while playing online due to the precise analog movement. Games that would logically make sense like GTA: Vice City: 10 Year Anniversary also work, but you have to double-check for gamepad support (or cruise the Tegra app) before you plunk down your cash. The Wikipad is basically a different incarnation of an older Nexus 7 with a giant controller attachment packed in. I enjoyed my time with it and found the controller to be surprisingly comfortable, and the ability to access Google Play, the Amazon App Store, and PlayStation Mobile is great. But considering the device won't age well, I'm not sure if it's worth the full asking price, and the Wikipad may have entered the market a tad too late.
Wikipad hardware review photo
Terrible name, neat device
I'm constantly reminded that we're in a rather strange era of gaming. While past generations have decidedly kept console and portable gaming completely separate, the two experiences are converging more and more with the rise ...

Review: Elgato Game Capture HD

Sep 13 // Chris Carter
Product: Elgato Game Capture HDManufacturer: ElgatoInput: USB, HDMI, ComponentMSRP: $179.95  After opening the box for the Elgato Game Capture HD, I was really surprised at how minimal the presentation was. The unit itself is tiny (2.9 x 1.0 x 4.3 in, with a weight of 5 oz), and extremely portable. The entire package includes the unit, a quick reference guide, a USB cable, an HDMI cable, a PS3 cable, and a component adapter. Now, I don't want to sound like an advertisement, but I was literally up and running within five minutes. All you have to do is plug an HDMI cable (or AV for PS3 -- more on that later) from the source into the "in" part of the unit, plug another HDMI cable from the TV into "out," and hook up the unit to a PC via USB. That's it. There's no giant bulky power source, since USB handles power and data. Once you've downloaded and run the software, the unit automatically configures itself and starts previewing your captured video for up to 1080p recordings, in addition to support for 720p, 576p, 576i, 480p, 480i, 288p, and 240p. But it also does a whole lot more than show your game in a preview pane, as the last 10 minutes of your session are automatically captured and cached from the moment you start running it. This is especially useful for competitive gamers who need to capture that perfect kill or amazing escape, but weren't actively recording at the time. [embed]261417:50447:0[/embed] Once you've captured your raw footage, you can either keep it uncompressed, or have the program automatically compress the video into a codec of your choice. All of the sample videos at the bottom of this review were compressed with the default settings, so you can see the results for yourself. The speed is extremely fast, and from the moment I hit "stop" it only took me a few minutes to put a short clip onto YouTube, including compression and upload times. The actual software suite is very easy to read, with huge buttons and a blue/black user interface that's easy on the eyes. All of the video's parameters (recording and compression) can be set through the options menu, and all of the pertinent info is readily available on the main menu. To record, you just hit a big red button, and to stop, you hit it again. Cutting and editing video can also be done in-house through the edit tab, but it's fairly rudimentary and will only suit less experienced content creators. Live commentary is supported, and like setting the unit up in general, took no time at all to get sorted. You can have the game's audio automatically lowered when talking as well, which is a great touch for those who are new at creating Let's Plays and don't want to mix audio. If you're not keen on letting the software decide for you, you can easily turn off all these options and just edit it in post-production. Streaming is possible with the device, and the software makes it pretty simple to utilize. You can stream to Twitch with live commentary, as well as use XSplit, which is fully supported. There are also easy buttons to share on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter (as well as via email, iOS, Apple TV, and Windows Movie Maker). The 360 is the probably the easiest device to connect, and recording is practically a plug-and-play affair. Because the PS3's HDMI port is encrypted, you'll have to go another route with the included AV cable, but don't worry -- it still captures in HD at 1080i if the game supports it. The Elgato also works on other devices like the Wii U, which instantly connect just like the Xbox 360, and older devices are supported by way of the packed-in component cable. If you're thinking about getting into the video side of the gaming world and hate all of the technical aspects that come along with it, the Elgato Game Capture HD is a really solid option. Between the ease of use of the software and the simplicity of the device, pretty much anyone can record a bit of gameplay and have it up for the world to see. Sample recordings: PS3 Wii U Xbox 360
HD capture card review photo
The easiest capture method I've ever used
Creating and cutting videos can be extremely time consuming. For those who have been doing it for years, it's like second nature -- all of your advanced equipment ready to go, and all you have to do is press a button to have ...

Review: Razer Ouroboros wired/wireless gaming mouse

Sep 12 // Dale North
Razer Ouroboros Wired/Wireless Ambidextrous Gaming Mouse (PC/MAC)Manufacturer: RazerMSRP: $149.99 The Ouroboros is a USB mouse equipped with a 8200dpi 4G laser sensor. Razer says it gives a 1ms response time with its 32-bit ARM processor innards. Everything about it seems responsive in use, from its tracking to its hair-trigger buttons. Right out of the box it's an impressive device, from its spaceship-like looks to its fit and finish. Hell, even the packaging is nice. But when you start pulling it apart to customize it, the Ouroboros becomes even more impressive. Two different sets of side panels can be switched out easily, as they're attached by strong mini magnets. You can also pull the base of the mouse out to have it fit any length of hand. My favorite is the palm rest, which has a dial that lets you fine tune its height for maximum comfort.  Through Razer's Synapse 2.0 software, the Ouroboros is also customizable on the software size. You can dial in everything from tracking to surface calibration for maximum accuracy. Being able to customize the use of any of the buttons is also nice. Get it exactly as you want it with the mouse's 11 buttons and save it to a profile for easy recall.  What's neat about this mouse is that it's both wired and wireless. Simply plug in the included braided USB cable and you're good to go, with the USB port charging the internal battery. Take that cable and plug it into the included base dual-purpose charge base and hit the sync button and you're wireless.  Despite all its fancy innards and functions, the Ouroboros is very light. It glides wonderfully on a good mousing surface. Both aspects make this mouse perfect for extended play. I put a few hours into leveling my character in Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn without any hand fatigue.  Wired or wireless, it performed beautifully in just about everything I tried, from shooters to MMOs to rounds of online golf. I was perfectly happy with my SteelSeries Sensei mouse, but trying the Ouroboros out showed me that there is better out there.  But better will cost you a hefty $149.99. That hit to the wallet may sting a bit less in knowing that the Ouroboros is probably the most high tech, customizable gaming mouse out there.
Ouroboros review photo
Ambidextrous!
I've been playing PC games with Razer's Ouroboros wired/wireless ambidextrous gaming mouse for a bit now, trying out everything from MMOs to FPS to casual games. This is one really nice mouse, but it had better be for its asking price of $149.99. 

The Ouya is a nice idea ... at least

Jun 25 // Jim Sterling
The most adorable console ever At a squat little 3x3", and designed as a cube with a curve toward the bottom, the Ouya is certainly a cute little thing. In terms of visual design, I like the box very much. Streamlining and ease of use is a core philosophy of the design, with a setup process so intuitive it'll take all but the least tech savvy of troglodytes to get it working. Simply pop the provided HDMI cable in the right slots, do the same for the power, and you're away. I do wish the included cables were longer, but for most homes, that shouldn't be a problem.  The back of the system -- and it's so small it's hard to even consider it a "back" -- has only ports for the power and HDMI cables, standard USB, micro USB, and an ethernet lead. The one single button is place directly on top of the unit -- a large round one for the power. It's really all you need.  Losing control Things fall apart at a basic fundamental level, however -- the controller. Reports of lag and a cheap, sticky feel to the controls were a major part of reviews of early "beta" units, and while the Ouya team has gone to lengths to improve these problems, they're still pretty damn noticeable. First of all, having to remove two separate faceplates to inset batteries on either end of the device makes no good sense to me, and the way the plates ostensibly slough off do little to discredit the "cheap" impression the lightweight plastic gives.  It only gets worse when you actually use the thing. In navigating menus, I found lag to be unnoticeable, and it was fine for playing regular action or role-playing games. As I got further into games like Deep Dungeons of Doom, however, where timing and precision become more important, the Ouya controller simply is not up to the task. Even worse, the face buttons tend to get stuck inside the removable faceplate fairly easily, requiring an extra flick to get them to snap out of their holes.  It's reported the controller lag gets worse the further away from the system you get. I was actually playing with the Ouya maybe three feet away from the controller, and still found it insufficient for playing games with any degree of precision.  The controller is also worthless when it comes to turning the system off. Every single time I attempted to remotely power down the Ouya via the controller, it switched itself back on. It got the point where I yanked the power cable out of the wall to make sure the bloody thing stayed off.  The real shame is that, as a controller, it's not badly designed otherwise. It feels comfortable in the hand, the analog sticks and buttons are well spaced out, and the touchpad is a nice idea, even if it is too small to be useful and suffers even worse lag than the buttons. Many recommend you pair the Ouya with a PS3 or Xbox 360 controller, and I find it hard to disagree -- though the lack of a touchpad may screw you over for some games that inexplicably demand its use in menu navigation. Inside the Ouya The UI is about as straightforward as you can get. Once you go through the process of downloading any firmware updates (which can take a long time) and entering your credit card information (which I don't appreciate being asked to do as a first action), you're tossed into a bright orange menu screen with four distinct items -- Play, Discover, Make, and Manage. They all do exactly what you expect, one being the game library, one being the store, one being for developer content, and one housing all the system settings.  Libraries and the store front are simply rows of pictures of games, not enticingly set out, but at the very least functional. The store front can be browsed by genre, though most space is given up to eShop-like gatherings of games by contrived type, such as "couch play for friends" or the confusingly titled "sandbox" group of games that have nothing to do with sandbox play. An elegant layout it isn't, but it's no worse than any other console storefront, and it's generally pretty quick to load as well.  Ouya mandates that every game provide a working demo, and while that's a noble goal, in practice it leads to a convoluted purchasing system. You cannot buy games from the Ouya marketplace, you can only download demos, and then purchase the full version within each game. Downloading The Bard's Tale involved downloading the free demo, buying the game from within its main menu, and then waiting almost an entire day for the "additional data" to download -- a process that hogged the wi-fi in the house, and kept needing to be jumpstarted due to "connection errors."  Downloading a large game like The Bard's Tale, by the way, exposes how little space the Ouya actually has for games. It wasn't long after nabbing the game that I started being informed the system was too full for anything else. An external hard drive is one storage solution, but in doing so, we must admit the Ouya is a console that needs a third party controller, and a third party storage solution, in order to be viable. Not exactly a great selling point.  Games, Games, and ... Amazing Frog  Ouya boasts over 170 games and counting, and while it's tantalizing to think of playing some awesome mobile games on an HDTV, it only takes a short while to remember exactly why iOS is given more attention as a gaming platform than Android. Most Android games are absolute crap, and some real garbage is already all over the Ouya. Even among the storefront's most promoted exclusives, there are maybe one or two games worth checking out for even a second. Others, like No Brakes Valet or The Little Crane That Could, are embarrassing.  Ouya's proprietary market does not have access to the full range of Android games available on Google Play, yet somehow it managed to get its hands on some astoundingly bad dreck. Amazing Frog. Have you tried Amazing Frog? I sincerely urge you, if you're getting an Ouya, to try Amazing Frog. Go try it now, and come back here. What the FUCK was that, right? It's not all bad, of course. In fact, Ouya's scored some nice games that I love playing on a television. Canabalt, Pix n' Rush, and Knightmare Tower are all great fun, and there's some benefit to playing them on a television with a sound system pumping out their genuinely excellent soundtracks. Even so, however, these games are all designed primarily for touchscreens, and as such there's always a sense of subtle disconnect between your physical button presses and the onscreen action, even outside of any perceptible lag.  It must also be said that some of the more graphically intensive games run like shit. The Bard's Tale and Chronoblade, two games that should benefit most from the Ouya, suffer choppy framerates and moments of complete performance breakdown. One hopes further patches can sort this all out, because right now, the games the Ouya needs most to showcase what it can do simply aren't making it look good at all.  And yet ... I still kind of like it This article has been about as unflattering as one could possibly get, but I want to make it clear I don't hate the Ouya -- not yet, anyway. It's true, I struggle to find almost anything truly good to say about the thing, and even my praise is littered with important caveats, but I can at least say it works, and for a crowd funded open platform designed with home developers in mind, working is something of an achievement.  As disappointed as I am with the Ouya right now, I still maintain a flicker of excitement for what it could still be, especially once (if) the market becomes populated with homebrew and garage developers. Of course, it could also become a Wild West of utter trash, the Xbox Live Indie Marketplace in console form, but it could also house some genuinely interesting and inventive things.  The Ouya needs a lot of work still, and one wonders exactly how much of that work can be done in firmware updates alone. As of right now, I'd urge all but the most curious to wait and see before dropping even the relatively minor asking price, but I'd still suggest everybody keep an interested eye on it. I honestly want it to improve, and grow into an excellent, successful platform. It's just not there right now, and it has some ways to go. 
Ouya reviewed photo
Impressions on the little console that almost could
The Ouya is on sale today, and I've spent a few days with the final retail unit. For $99, you can get your hands on a cute little cube that runs a selection of Android games, a handful of apps, and is designed for amateur dev...

Review: On-Lap 2501M Portable LCD Gaming Monitor

Apr 22 // Dale North
Product: GeChic On-Lap 2501M portable LCD monitorManufacturer: GeChicInput: HDMI, VGA, MHLMSRP: $249.99 The GeChic On-Lap 2501M portable LCD monitor is exactly that. It's a 15.6" LCD that weighs just over 2.5 lbs, with an internal battery that lets you charge it up and take it with you. As far as connectivity goes, you'll find HDMI, VGA, and MHL video ports on its slim side, as well as power and headphone jacks. It even comes with a screen cover that doubles as a stand. It's a really unique solution that traveling gamers should check out. The various slimline ports on the right edge of the unit let you plug in just about anything you can game on, including consoles (via HDMI), computers (HDMI or VGA), or tablets and phones (MHL port). To truly test out how the monitor would make for a portable gaming solution, I threw it and the new slim PS3 into a bag and went elsewhere. The combo fit in a standard backpack with no issues, and the combined weight of the two was so light it felt like I was missing something I'd need. At my destination only one power plug was needed for the PS3. The included cable connected the HDMI port of the PS3 to a micro HDMI input on the monitor's side. It couldn't be easier. The On-Lap display does 720p no problem, as it runs at 1366 x 768. The screen itself is matte, making it easy on the reflections, though it's a TFT panel, so viewing angles won't serve more than two players sitting dead on. The colors or contrast ration (400:1) won't blow anyone away, but the images I saw in testing were sufficient and pleasantly clean. I also liked that glare was never an issue. What it lacks in color depth it makes up for in response time. Testing it with puzzle and fighting games I found that the monitor holds its own against the best in my arsenal, the Asus VH236H, one of the fastest and most recommended gaming monitors available. GeChic claims 8ms typical and 16ms max. I have no tools to test display lag other than my gamer instincts, but I will say that I don't think it hits those numbers. It's definitely not as fast as my Asus, but it's better than any television I own. Trying out some highly sensitive games, like PS1 rhythm game classic UmJammer Lammy, I was impressed with how much better I was faring on the monitor than I could on the HDTV in my office. I managed to reach rockin' "cool" status in no time flat. The internal battery must be huge because it lasts for a very long time. I originally planned to time it, but eventually lost track of time. You know a device has good battery life when you forget you were timing its battery! I'd say expecting a full day of play is reasonable. Another plus is that, switched off, this monitor holds a charge for a very long time. And if the extra long battery does run out, the small and light 5V power brick allows for direct powering. It's also chargeable via USB, meaning you could plug it directly into your Xbox 360 or PS3 for charging. The 2501M does have internal speakers that put out sound from two rear grilles, but they're small, so there's no low end response. They're plenty loud, though, and will do the trick in a pinch. You'd do better to bring along some earbuds and use the device's headphone port.  This monitor is useful beyond console gaming applications, too. You could flip it out on your desk and use it as a small second monitor with its VGA port. If you own Android devices, the 2501M will accept connection over the included MHL video cable for gaming or video viewing. There's even an included smartphone holder that lets you clip your device to the screen. Before I started testing the On-Lap 2501M I found myself questioning the need for such a device. I honestly don't see your computing road warrior or typical tablet/mobile user needing one. But now that I've put one through its paces, I can easily see the monitor fitting into a traveling console gamer's life. Its light and highly portable form factor, great battery life, and wealth of connectivity make for a unique display solution, and in the right context it could be worth the $249 asking price. If you've ever felt the need to take a display with you for gaming, definitely check this one out.
Portable gaming monitor photo
Grab and go
Are you an on-the-go console gamer? If so, taking your gaming rig with you usually requires a television to be waiting at your destination, which is not ideal. While bringing a smaller television or monitor with you...

Review: Logitech G700s Rechargeable Gaming Mouse

Apr 20 // Chris Carter
Product: Logitech G700s Rechargeable Gaming MouseManufacturer: LogitechInput: USBMSRP: $99.99 My initial negative vibe with the G700s went away after a few short hours, as my hand had actually gotten used to the grip, and I found it extremely comfortable from then on out. The off-putting "lightning bolt" design can't be helped of course, but in terms of pure comfort, I was extremely surprised at the quality of the texture grip around my fingers, and the physical feedback from the material. Specifically, even the buttons feel great; there's a very light feedback on the thumb buttons that doesn't get too "clicky," but lets you know that you triggered it. The G700s comes with a tiny nano-receiver that plugs into a USB port for the wireless connection, and a Micro-USB cable in case you need an extension for charging the AA rechargeable batteries. It is a normal cable and not braided, which was my only real complaint, since I've gotten used to the latter. Still, I haven't had any real issues with the cable itself -- it's fairly sturdy. If you want to use a replacement cord, any micro-to-USB connection will work, making the mouse fairly flexible for use anywhere. During my testing, I had no issues with the wireless connection or the cable, and the nano-receiver is a dedicated line, creating a 1ms latency that makes this mouse reliably accurate with no movement hiccups to speak of. [embed]251274:48234:0[/embed] I was utterly confused at first as to why the scroll wheel was so sensitive, but then I found out the mouse featured dual mode scrolling -- meaning, you hit a button near the wheel, and it switches the wheel's sensitivity. The wheel itself is metal, and you can toggle notched mode with a quick press. By default the other buttons on the G700s allow you to raise and lower your DPI, switch profiles, change your resolution, and so on, but you can customize the twelve buttons (thirteen if you count the scroll wheel tilt) to anything else. To my surprise, it was extremely responsive for a wireless mouse -- as in, one of the best I've ever handled. I mainly tested with FPS and RTS play, and the accuracy I experienced previously from image editing and everyday use translated over to gaming quite nicely. Logitech Gaming Software (LGS) is supported for the G700s. You can utilize the software to build five profiles, which allow you to customize DPI settings, power modes, and multi-key macros. The mouse also houses a tiny three light LED display on the left side (in plain sight and not blocked by fingers), which shows battery level in green. It seems as if the mouse was designed more for performance than battery life, as the G700s will last around 8-10 hours with pure constant gaming use before you have to plug it in. That shouldn't be an issue for most competitive gamers though, who will have their mouse plugged in anyways for 100% reliability. For everything else non-gaming related, I was able to use it for days on end without a need for a single recharge. I was previously using the Razer Mamba for my review rig, but over the course of a week of testing, I've slowly acclimated over to the G700s. It took a bit to get used to and doesn't look the prettiest, but it's extremely comfortable to the touch, especially now that I've slowly adjusted the settings to suit my needs. If you already have a G700, there may not be enough here to warrant an upgrade, but if you're in the market for a gaming mouse, Logitech is pretty much always a solid go-to -- the G700s included.
Logitech G700s review photo
Don't let the odd design fool you
There's so many options for mice out there, it's tough to narrow down what you actually need. With options for everyday use, gaming, image editing, and everything in-between, sometimes things can get confusing. Enter the Logi...

Review: MOGA Pro Controller

Apr 18 // Dale North
Product: MOGA Mobile Gaming SystemManufacturer: PowerADevice compatibility: Android 2.3+MSRP: $50 The MOGA controller was a great idea, but fans of traditional controllers might have felt a bit limited by its portability-focused design. In short, it was a very small controller.  For this pro version, PowerA went from pocketable game pad to a full-on Xbox-style controller design. Aside from increased comfort and familiarity, this size increase let them add more shoulder buttons and proper analog sticks with click button functionality. They did a nice job in making a bigger controller; it feels nice when you pick one up with its solid build and rubberized hand grips. The MOGA Pro seems to share design elements with PowerA's console release, the FUS1ON Tournament Controller. While the primary idea behind the system is to get some real buttons and sticks under your fingers for portable Android gaming, PowerA has added some functionality to make the Pro more of a versatile gaming solution at home as well. Being fully wireless and rechargeable, the MOGA makes for a fine couch controller for a tablet connected to a television, making your HDMI-connected device work and feel more like a gaming console.  Another major bonus comes with a new switch to flip to HID Bluetooth compatibility mode, making this controller even more versatile. The compatible library is already fairly sizable, but now you're not stuck playing only MOGA approved games. I played a little bit of everything using the MOGA Pro on a Samsung Galaxy Tab to test the controller out. I booted several games from the MOGA Pivot app, which doubles as a game launcher and storefront for MOGA compatible games. All worked without a hitch, with controller mappings already in place -- no setup required.  The controls performed admirably in games like Pac-Man and R-Type, though I couldn't figure out how to use the d-pad over the analog sticks in the latter. First-person shooters like Dead Trigger and N.O.V.A. 3 worked surprisingly well with the system, though some might feel that the sticks travel a bit farther than Xbox 360 ones, which took a bit of getting used to. Overall, experiences with the MOGA and the Tab were smooth, precise, free of lag, and free of problems.  A flip-out arm in the middle of the controller holds just about any Android phone. It even extends just far enough to get a tight grip around massive phones like the Samsung Note. And if you're gaming on a tablet, PowerA has included a nifty tablet stand to hold your rig up.  If you're happy flicking at your screen, fine. There are plenty of games that are built solely for touchscreen play, and for those this controller will do nothing for you. But if you have a few games in your library that need proper controls, the MOGA Pro is probably your best bet. And if you don't, for a limited time, MOGA Pro comes with a free download of Gameloft's N.O.V.A. 3 - Near Orbit Vanguard Alliance. The MOGA Pro is certainly a worthy successor to its pocketable predecessor -- it's bigger, more comfortable, and more familiar. The price of entry gets you console-style controls for portable gaming, but also a nice controller for the home for Android gaming on your television. The HID compatibility is a good bonus for now, but I suspect will turn into a major selling point in the near future. For whatever your use, the MOGA Pro is recommended.
MOGA Pro photo
Mobile gaming controller system for Android
Remember the MOGA controller for Android that we reviewed late last year? PowerA took the idea behind the system and has now gone pro with it with what they're calling the MOGA Pro Mobile Gaming System. We've put this brand new controller through its paces this week to bring you this launch day review.

Review: Pro Controller U

Apr 07 // Patrick Hancock
[embed]247806:48005:0[/embed] The Pro Controller U may look like it's just a haphazard combination of the Wii U Pro Controller and an SNES controller, but it is actually comfortable to hold. It is a perfect weight, not feeling too heavy or too light. It feels slightly lighter than a PlayStation 3 controller and the wireless Xbox 360 controller, if that helps to put it in perspective. Whether or not you like your analog sticks to be both on top, both on bottom, or asymmetrical is a completely personal preference, but be aware that this controller has both analog sticks on top. Personally, I find the analog placement to be quite comfortable, with no problems whatsoever. The triggers and bumpers, to borrow Xbox jargon, also feel very nice, and are laid out just as they are on the Wii U Pro Controller. Even the SNES buttons are replicas of the originals, with X and Y being concave while both A and B are convex. The controller feels really nice to use, and that's about where the niceties end. First of all, allow me to reiterate a previous statement: This does not function as a Wii U Pro Controller. Despite using the words "Pro Controller U," this is not a Wii U Pro Controller in any capacity. I tried using it in ZombiU's multiplayer mode with no success. There's even an eensy teensy tiny line in the included pamphlet titled "TIPS FOR PRO GAMERS ONLY" that says, verbatim: "The Pro Controller U does not function as a Nintendo Pro Controller. This is correct.", as if they knew people would be disappointed and needed to console them with that last reaffirming yet disappointing remark. I expected a "We're sorry" after that, but alas none is present. Even if it just acted as a wireless Classic Controller and functional Wii Remote that pairs with Android devices, it would still be a really useful product. However, the controller I received malfunctions when trying to play games. After spending about two hours playing Xenoblade Chronicles with the Pro Controller U, I noticed that the main character, Shulk, would take a few stutter steps even after I stopped moving the analog stick. "Not a big deal," I thought to myself. Then about 30 minutes later, Shulk was stuck moving forward indefinitely. The left analog stick was sitting comfortably in the default position, yet there Shulk was, running head first into a wall forever. This digital input issue seems to mainly happen when changing the controller from Wii Remote mode to Classic Controller mode using the switch on the back of the device. For whatever reason, switching back and forth almost guarantees that the digital input will get stuck, rendering the controller unusable for most games. To be fair, you should never really need to change the controller between the two modes while in the middle of the game, and if you do, it can sometimes be reset by rebooting the system. The controller can also function as a Wii Remote with the flick of the switch on the back of the controller. This works exactly as you would expect, allowing a game that only uses a Wii Remote control scheme to be played on a more traditional controller. The problem here is that the buttons cannot be reconfigured and the SNES-like buttons are spaced far enough apart to make them awkward to use in conjunction as you would while performing a running jump in a platforming game for example. In addition, the D-pad will register a downwards input if your thumb is on the lower half of the left and right sides. This becomes a huge issue when playing platformers -- your thumb is bound to naturally press the area that activates a downwards input while attempting to move left or right, causing the character to lose all momentum in games like New Super Mario Bros. U. Pairing the controller with a bluetooth device is easy, as it just needs a third-party Wii Remote app to work. I used the "WiimoteController" app on my Galaxy Nexus and it paired easily and quickly. Not that any of it really mattered, since the D-pad and analog issues still persisted. I did get a pretty decent score in Canabalt, though, since that game only uses one button. The Pro Controller U is not only a terribly sleazy and misleadingly-titled controller, but it's also a barely functional one. Given the analog issues combined with the D-pad issues, it doesn't matter if it connects to every single gaming device known to man, since it would be unusable for almost every game. It's a shame, too, since if it were a functional controller for the Wii, Wii U, and Android devices, it would be a stellar device.
Pro Controller U review photo
Not for U
[Update: For clarification, this product is not made by ThinkGeek and simply retails on the site. The headline of this post has been changed to reflect this. Sorry for any confusion!] The Pro Controller U really appears ...

Review: V-Moda Crossfade M-100

Mar 03 // Daniel Starkey
Now, obviously that claim doesn’t go without qualification, and what I really mean to say is that this set is practical compared to what else is on the market at that price level, but these things are pretty incredible for their cost.  At $300, you’re mostly getting into reference-class headphones. That tier consists headphones that are very, very well made with a bunch of cool things like gold contacts, large, well-calibrated diaphragms for accurate sound reproduction, and all that other fancy goodness. V-Moda has all of those nifty features here too, but they've also brought a pragmatic mindset.  For example, most of those sets can often have a resistance of 300 or 600 ohms. The M-100, though, only have a resistance of 32 ohms. For the average consumer, all this really means is that you can use these guys on a portable media player or a laptop without having to go out and buy a separate (and often very expensive) headphone amplifier to boost the signal. That portable philosophy is really what is so impressive about these. They can be used almost anywhere, with almost any set of equipment. The Crossfade M-100 isn’t quite like anything else. Portable, light, and relatively small with interchangeable cords and a built-in microphone by default, it's very unusual but totally amazing. All of these features are the result of its crowd-sourced design. Headfi, a forum for headphone aficionados like myself was tapped by V-Moda to figure out what people really wanted in their next set. The result is something of a cyberpunk version of Frankenstein’s monster.  The cable for the M-100 is, thankfully, replaceable. This means that damage to the plug and the cord, which are typically the first parts to fail, doesn’t necessitate that you replace the whole set. Beyond that, the cords themselves are reinforced with Kevlar. The stuff they use to make bulletproof vests. And you get two of them. Taking it a step further, either ear cup -- the left or the right -- can be used to plug in the cable. So if one of those fails, you still have another option. V-Moda also includes a few caps to keep the unused plug from getting dirt or grime inside. Of the two cords that come with the headphones, one has a TRRS connector (which really just means that it has a built in microphone and pause button), perfect for a standard cellphone. The other is something that the company calls a “SharePlay” cable which really just means a super-awesome version of a splitter so that your friends can listen too. The entire frame is made of steel, which is a welcome change from most other headphones which tend to take the cheap route with plastic. This means that the headphones don’t creak at all with pressure. There was no give when I applied force, and I even dropped them on the ground a few times without noticing any scratches or damage. The steel does add a little weight overall, but this set is still quite a bit smaller than other $300 sets, so the difference isn’t too noticeable. Ear pads are another place where most companies tend to go pretty cheap, but again we see a dedication to quality throughout -- in this case, the cups are made of memory foam and well-designed for almost any sized ear. I can also say as someone with pierced ears, that the memory foam works splendidly -- it didn't place any additional, unnecessary pressure on my ring-ed lobes. I found that I could wear the set for 5-8 hours straight with no discernible discomfort whatsoever. Your mileage will vary of course, but I can’t imagine anyone wanting to tear off their ears in horrific, unbearable pain. Speaking of which the M-100s also comes with a really, really tough carrying case that can definitely take a good hit. I took a few solid swings at it with a hammer and did no permanent damage to either the case or the headphones inside. It also has little harnesses for all of the cords and small accessories included. With any luck this set will last you a good long while. Now, the set that I reviewed also came with a dedicated add-on mic for gaming and eSports and Skype and stuff. This too comes reinforced with Kevlar, because why the fuck not, guys?! Other than that, though, it’s a pretty standard, flexible boom microphone. It’s not quite as cool as the one on the A50s that are muted automatically when you flip it away from your face, but it definitely holds to the same ridiculous level of quality seen everywhere else in this set. Its only notable downside is that the connectors provided pretty much make it impossible to use with a console. With only a TRRS connector and an adapter for PC users, you would be hard-pressed to jury-rig the thing to get it to work on the Xbox 360 or PS3. Thanks to that adapter it is theoretically possible, but it would be a huge pain in the ass. I do have a few tiny nitpicks that don't neatly fit into any category I’ve discuss thus far. On either ear cup, for example, a small cord runs up into the headband. While aesthetically that cord looks totally badass, I’ve managed to get it caught on a couple of things. It is Kevlar reinforced like the other cables, but these things aren’t user-replaceable, so I freaked out a bit. Obviously, this is a very expensive set and causing damage is no bueno. I can’t tell you just how much I love these things from a purely “Holy shit, why doesn’t everyone make life easy for like this” way. But they do sound damned awesome. Allegedly they have a dual-diaphragm design with 50mm drivers in each cup. What does this mean for the non-aurally fixated? Well, balancing high tones and low tones in a set of headphones or in any set of speakers that don’t have separate tweeters and woofers, is really hard. The kinds of stuff you need to produce good bass and good highs are very different. Most reference-class headphones go for the mid-tones instead. As a result, those of us that like heavy bass for ... I dunno rap, or techno, or gunshots in Half-Life 2 miss out on what we tend to prefer. Now, a lot of people don’t like the heavier bass of DJ-class headphones, but that sound profile can mostly be fixed with a decent equalizer. Having that deep, rich bass capability as well as the range to really make the highs sing is a rarity though. In all of my tests, I noticed no tinny sounds, nor any bottoming out on the low end. Everything performed perfectly. To cause failure I had to connect them to amp and run a dangerous amount of power through them. The M-100s will keep up with whatever crazy stuff you like to listen to at any volume that could ever be called “safe” or “reasonable.” If you want to go deaf, then they might start sounding like crap, but you won’t know anyway. Because you'll be deaf. Okay, I think I’m done raving. Wait ... steel construction. Gold connectors. Kevlar cords. Interchangeable parts. Great case. Incredible sound. Excellent comfort. Super-portable. Versatile. Now I’m done. I’m amazed by what crowd-sourcing people’s preferences in headphones can do, and now I’ve started thinking that every other headphone company just hates its customers or is too self-absorbed to consider what features customers actually want in a high-end set. Granted, they are by no means cheap. I get that, but if you can swing that amount of cash and don’t need to use them on an Xbox 360 or PS3, then you cannot go wrong with the M-100s.
Crossfade M-100 review photo
The first crowd-sourced headphones
I realize that the percentage of our readers that are legitimately in the market for a $300 set of headphones is fairly small, and honestly if you don’t think dropping that much cheddar is ever worth it, then I probably...

Review: Razer Taipan gaming mouse

Feb 22 // Patrick Hancock
Product: Razer Taipan Gaming MouseManufacturer: RazerInput: USB MSRP: $79.99  Regardless of any amount of gizmos or doodads, comfort is a big key factor for a gaming mouse. The Taipan is incredibly comfortable for me, as someone who uses the aptly named "palm grip" on his mouse. Both the left and right sides have rubberized grips running up towards the front which feels nice and also helps with gripping the mouse for extended periods of playtime. The Taipan is also suited for lefties since its design isn't biased on either direction. The grips and mouse buttons on the left side are also on the right side, so no features will be missed for lefties using the Taipan due to this symmetry. I've had long gaming sessions playing games like Dota 2 and Path of Exile that rely heavily on mouse movements and constant clicking, and never did I start to feel uncomfortable while playing. Careful attention was paid to make this mouse ergonomic and it shows. [embed]246380:47133:0[/embed] The Taipan mouse is wired with a braided cable. The braided cable looks and feels neat, but in practice it may be a bit of a nuisance. I've been using this mouse for about two months and the wire still isn't exactly straight like a rubber wire would be, and still has slight kinks from how it was wound and packaged. The braided wire has also begun to fray as it rubs against the edge of my desk. Not exactly the best sign for the longevity of the device. Beyond the standard left, right, and middle mouse buttons, there are two buttons on both the left and right sides and two buttons below the mouse wheel, for a total of nine buttons. The box calls them "hyperesponse buttons" but they feel like regular ol' buttons to me. By default, the side buttons will go forward and backwards in browsers while the two below the mouse wheel will adjust the sensitivity of the mouse on the fly. There are up to five sensitivity stages that can be set, all of which are completely customizable with a maximum of 8200 dpi. Being able to customize the stages as well as adjust the dpi as needed is a strong addition, though on a few occasions I did find myself accidentally hitting the top sensitivity button nearest the mouse wheel. As a righty, I have also hit the buttons on the right side of the mouse when simply moving the mouse to the left and eventually ended up disabling them altogether in the software. There is also a "Dual Sensor System" in place, using both a laser and an optical sensor in order to provide good tracking capabilities on any flat surface. It works as well as expected on the flat surfaces I could find; just don't use a shag rug as a mouse pad and you'll be satisfied. The software used is the Razer Synapse 2.0 and it works quite well. Of course, it allows you to remap any of the buttons on the mouse, and will even make sure that a “left click” is always assigned to prevent getting stuck without one and bricking the device. Macros can be recorded and set, liftoff range can be adjusted, and the colored lights in the mouse wheel and top of the mouse can be turned on or off (though they are not color customizable). Profiles can be saved and then accessed on any other machine without setting them up again using the almighty cloud service. This is meant for players going to tournaments and such, but it's a nice feature to have for more casual gamers, too. The Razer Taipan is a great middle ground for those who like to play competitively, regardless of whether or no they're playing in actual tournaments. It's simple enough as to not be overwhelming, while at the same time having plenty of features that the more hardcore players want to see, such as quickly adjustable dpi settings and macros. Priced at $79.99, it's hard to recommend it over the very popular DeathAdder, but the Taipan is still a great mouse to handle most competitive gamers' needs. The braided cord can definitely be a cause for concern, but the mouse feels great, the software works with no issues, and it's as customizable as anyone could want.
Razer Taipan mouse review photo
Taking the middle ground
Until recently, I had always used the same mouse forever: the classic, three-button optical mouse with nothing special about it. It was, and still is, passable, but my competitive gaming needs are a bit higher these days. Usi...

Review: Razer Orbweaver Gaming Keypad

Feb 07 // Chris Carter
Product: Razer Orbweaver Gaming KeypadManufacturer: RazerInput: USBMSRP: $129.99 Despite the overall complexity of the device on paper, once you actually open it up, the design is fairly simple. The Razer Orbweaver is a keypad with a wired USB connection, and 20 mechanical keys (including an eight directional, non-analog thumb-stick). It weighs about 10 ounces, and the keys require a minimal amount of pressure to activate (50g of force, technically). The non-braided cables are lower quality than what Razer has done in the past, but they don't feel super cheap, either. Out of the box, WASD is configured to buttons 8, 12, 13, and 14 respectively (the arrows are shown on the pad), which is a nice touch. The backlit keys help for late night gaming sessions, and although you can't customize the color outside of green, you can choose to turn the lights off, constant, or pulsing. The keys have a feature called "anti-ghosting" which allows for every key stroke to be recognized by the system, regardless of whether or not you hold down or press multiple keys at once. In terms of form factor, the Orbweaver is actually pretty comfortable, despite how awkward it may look. The palm rest is rubberized and didn't become grating after hours of gaming. It's also fairly compact with its one USB cord, which makes it really easy to carry with you if you're gaming on the go with a laptop. Both the thumb and the palm rest are adjustable to conform to your hand, should you need it. The improvements to the Nostromo are fairly small, seeing as it only has four more buttons, and a more ergonomic design. So if you already own a Nostromo, you probably don't need to upgrade. You also have the option of Logitech's G13, if the Orbweaver's price is too steep (although the G13 is not mechanical). As previously mentioned, it does work out of the box by mapping WASD and some standard gaming keys (like left shift and E) across the numpad, but you're going to want to take advantage of the full macro capabilities of the device through Razer's software. So while you don't necessarily need it, Razer’s Synapse 2.0 utility suite needs to be downloaded in order to enhance your experience with the device. The guide is also available online should you need assistance figuring out how to use the thing. Synapse 2.0 allows you to configure a near unlimited amount of profiles through the use of cloud technology, which means that you'll be able to pick up your scheme on multiple machines -- which again, is useful given the portable nature of the device.For those of you who may be turned off at the thought of more software, even if you opt to use both the keyboard and the Orbweaver without bothering with Synapse 2.0, it is doable. The vast majority of games have an alternate key setting that will allow you to utilize the secondary controls without screwing up your keyboard mapping. When you're setting up multiple profiles, a colored indicator on the side shows your current map profile selection, and you can dynamically change your profile to create more. The ideal situation is to configure a game in windowed mode in tandem with Synapse 2.0, then link the program to the Razer dashboard so it keeps that profile forever. For the purposes of this review, I tested the following games: League of Legends, The Binding of Isaac, Diablo III, Call of Duty: World at War, Frozen Synapse, Torchlight II, Dungeonland, Guild Wars 2, From Dust, Wizardry Online, and Star Wars: The Old Republic. For MMOs and RTS titles that can utilize a near limitless amount of macros, I found the Orbweaver to be pretty invaluable. I was able to pretty much craft anything I could ask for control-wise within the confines of Synapse 2.0, which came in handy once I learned how to use it. The more complicated the game, the better the Orbweaver will serve you. One particular use I found is for pet classes in World of Warcraft. Being able to utilize multiple summoned minion abilities in swift succession completely trumped relying on a keyboard -- and I have to say, after playing with mechanical keys, their responsiveness makes it hard to go back. The D-pad is also a huge plus for many games, eliminating the need for WASD use in some cases. There's also nothing stopping you from using your keyboard in tandem with the Orbweaver, the latter of which can function as a separate macro-enabled numpad, to so speak. But for certain types of games, it may be too much. For instance, League of Legends (or other MOBA games for that matter) don't need a complex control scheme when you only need to micro-manage one unit (barring summoning classes), and a few skills. FPS games as a general rule also don't need complex control schemes, and the standard WASD setup with a few outliers will probably cut it without the need for the Orbweaver. Of course, there are exceptions, as some games in either genre happen to utilize more than a few keys. Despite the tough learning curve, after a few days of constant testing, I started to acclimate myself to using it for even menial tasks in my daily PC life outside of games -- specifically, image-editing. I found that using Synapse 2.0 made it fairly easy to program macros for Photoshop, and allow for quicker editing through the use of the directional thumb-pad. All in all, I don't see myself using the Orbweaver for absolutely every game I own, but I keep it hooked up to my PC all the same, next to my keyboard. I've found that for basic image editing required for my writing career, and my frequent MMO habits, it suits my needs fairly frequently. I've created a number of profiles for a few MMOs I play, and one for a few image touch-ups that I'll be using for the foreseeable future. If you don't play a lot of PC games I don't see a need for splurging here given the high price point, but for everyone else, it's a decent investment.
Razer Orbweaver photo
Fits like a glove
Do you really need multiple methods of control outside of a mouse and keyboard? Well, in today's PC climate with the vast amount of games available at a moment's notice for pennies, it's never be a bad thing. Between bluetoot...


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