Microsoft unveils revamped Zunes

Microsoft announced on Tuesday that it will offer three new models of the Zune in November, including two equipped with flash memory. The 4GB and 8GB versions are iPod Nano look-alikes that will sell for a suggested retail price of $149 and $199 respectively. An 80GB player equipped with a hard drive will sell for $249. The pricing scheme for the devices exactly mirrors that of Apple’s iPods.

Some of the other changes include a complete overhaul of the device’s software and a redesign of Marketplace, Zune’s music store. Other interesting features include wireless syncing and the new Zune Pad, a touch-sensitive technology that enables users to slide their finger across the main navigation button instead of always having to click.

Microsoft is a living example of the “third time’s the charm” axiom. Windows, Internet Explorer, Windows Media Center, etc.; it usually takes Bill G and company three times to knock it out of the park. They’re certainly heading that way with the Xbox 360, and it looks like the Zune may follow this trend as well.

No one in their right mind – or at the very least, anyone without an axe to grind – believed or said that Microsoft would be able to unseat the iPod right out of the gate with the Zune. And they didn’t. They won’t with this revision either – but they’re much closer to parity. For now, I’m still sticking with the iPod for my portable media (just bought a 160GB iPod Classic) – but come next year and the Zune 3.0, it may be a different story. The Zune may never be the literal “iPod Killer”, but it may well give Apple a run for their money.

[CNET News.com]

“The 10-Megabyte Computer System, Only $5995”

“Sometimes we have to take a look back to really appreciate the technology we have now, especially since “the 10-Megabyte Computer System” cost a whopping $5995 at one time. Thanks everyone for sending in the pictures. First picture in gallery.”

One of the ads in this feature is for the Timex Sinclair, which I had briefly – a $99 computer was a pretty good deal back 25 years ago, though it was terribly crippled, even by 1982 standards.

[TechEBlog]

Xbox 360 spring update to offer h.264 and MPEG-4 video playback

Besides being a gaming console, the Xbox 360 has quite a bit of functionality as a media extender. Music, video, and pictures that are stored on your home PC can be streamed to the 360 for viewing on your TV – very handy, but up to this point it has been crippled quite a bit. Currently, the only video formats Microsoft has allowed users to view via the 360 are Windows Media Video, MPEG-1, and MPEG-2. There are a number of hacks out there that do a good job of shoehorning in support for other formats, including Transcode 360 and TVersity, but they both have a number of drawbacks.

The good news is, on May 7 Microsoft will be sending out the spring update to all internet-connected Xbox 360s. Listed among the many updates:

  • H.264 video support: Up to 15 Mbps, Baseline, Main, and High (up to level 4.1) Profiles with 2 channel AAC LC and Main Profiles.
  • Added MPEG-4 Part 2 video support: Up to 8 Mbps, Simple Profile with 2 channel AAC LC and Main Profiles.

This is a welcome update – whether or not Xvid will be supported is still up in the air, but this is definitely a step in the right direction. Not to mention a slightly obvious attempt to take a little wind out of the sails of the recently released Apple TV, which is primarily an MPEG-4/H.264 playback device. I was seriously considering buying one, but if the Xbox 360 I already own has the same functionality, I think I’ll stick with what I’ve got!

Related Entries

Free Software of the Week: Handbrake

Related Links

Xbox News: Instant Messaging Comes to Xbox 360

Transcode 360

TVersity

Star Diamond

Some 20 Christmases ago, my grandparents gave me a program for my Commodore 64 called Adventure Writer. Unlike the rest of the games I owned, this one actually allowed you to create games – specifically, text-based adventure games such as Zork.

For all practical purposes, the genre – known these days among enthusiasts as Interactive Fiction – died in the early 90s. At least in the commercial sense. But my first memory of using an actual computer was playing the original Adventure on the mainframe at the local community college with my dad when I was 7 or 8 years old.

So anyway – back to Adventure Writer. Like most kids interested in computers and videogames, I imagined myself being able to make games for a living when I grew up. With Adventure Writer, I had a way to make my own games without having to know one of the advanced programming languages (you can only do so much with BASIC).

I worked for weeks on my magnum opus, the creatively-named “Star Diamond”. I sent it in to Compute!’s Gazette for possible publication, but a few weeks later, I received a rejection letter – I was one devastated 11 year old. And so died my dreams of being a famous video game designer.

But thanks to the magics of the interweb, Star Diamond shall finally see the light of day! I usually dust off my Commodore 64 around this time every year, and last year I found a copy of the game on one of my ancient floppy disks. So, I’ve repackaged it and made it available for download here [1.8 MB] – it’s Windows-only for the time-being. After playing through it a while and trying to remember how to win the game, I realize how *bad* it actually is ๐Ÿ™‚ At any rate, the unwashed masses may now be witness to my game design genius.

Here are some brief directions, for those unfamiliar with text adventures:

The basic idea of the user interface is command and response. The program gives you a command prompt, then you type in some command and press Enter/Return. The computer chews on your input for a bit, then tells you the results and gives you a new prompt.

The most important question now is: “What do I type?”

BASIC COMMANDS

Most of the commands you use will be simple and direct. Typing OPEN THE DESK causes your character to (you guessed it) open the desk. Type GET THE PENCIL, and you will pick it up. The process is simple. When faced with the command prompt, just think “I want to…” or “What happens if I…” and let your mind work from there. INVENTORY (abbreviated I) displays a list of items you are carrying.

EXAMINE (sometimes abbreviated X and/or EXA) gives you a closer look at things. It’s used hundreds of times in the course of a typical game.

LOOK (abbreviated L) by itself gives you a detailed description of your location. I always type L just to be doing something while I’m thinking of what to do next.

This is one of the most versatile commands. You can LOOK AT THE CHEST, LOOK ON THE CHEST, LOOK IN THE CHEST, LOOK UNDER THE CHEST, LOOK BEHIND THE CHEST. All of these could give different, unique responses.

GO is a very important command, even if you may never actually type it. Even though GO NORTH, for example, is a command you need to move around, you can abbreviate it to NORTH or even just N.

GET, TAKE, and PICK UP are synonyms. You’ll find many objects you can pick up and carry around with you. If you can’t pick something up, the game will give you a reason, which you may be able to rectify.

DROP and PUT are how you put objects down. DROP is quick and easy, but it just puts the objects on the ground. PUT can be more specific,though, allowing you to PUT THE BOOK ON THE TABLE, for instance.

WAIT tells the computer you want to do nothing for a turn. In almost all games, no game time actually passes while the computer is waiting for your input. Use WAIT to force time to pass.

So… that’s about it. Have fun!

Download Star Diamond

Grooviest Program Ever*

*Until something better comes along

Emily noted that I hadn’t written anything in a while, so here you go ๐Ÿ™‚

I’m sure most people have, at one point or another, stumbled across one of the various satellite mapping sites where you can see your neighborhood from a 100 mile up perspective. Well, Google Earth takes this three or four steps forward. It is an interactive model of the *entire* earth in 3D utilizing satellite photos and terrain altitude data, and you can roam the earth freely – zooming in close enough to where you can see individual houses in some cases.

From the site:

– Fly from space to your neighborhood. Type in an address and zoom right in
– Search for schools, parks, restaurants, and hotels. Get driving directions.
– Tilt and rotate the view to see 3D terrain and buildings.
– Save and share your searches and favorites. Even add your own annotations.

My favorite spot so far is the Grand Canyon.

Check it out – it’s free!

Audioscrobbler

Trying a new thinger on the site – Audioscrobbler… if you scroll down, on the right side of the page is a list of the last few songs I’ve listened to. It *should* update automatically, and eventually be able to track my listening habits. We’ll see if it works or not.