Why SteamOS?

I’ve seen quite a few people wondering what the point of SteamOS is and why you would want it.

It simply boils down to uncoupling PC gaming from its reliance on Microsoft. At the moment the PC gaming market is dependent on Windows, DirectX and more recently Xinput for controllers. Each of these places constraints on the experience for the end user which SteamOS aims to lift.

Performance
Consoles are generally considered to have better performance given their hardware compared to PCs. This is due to fewer overheads and developers being able to coded closer to the metal. DirectX is starting to look rather constrained , dated and as a result there is a move towards alternatives such as AMD’s Mantle API which work at a lower level and better leverage the parallel nature of modern technology.  If Valve’s promises are realised gamers who typically spend large amounts of money to suck out every last frame rate improvement should get better performance than they would on Windows.

Controllers
Since its introduction alongside the Xbox 360 XInput has standardised controller input for PC games. This has been somewhat of a double edged sword as although it makes it using an Xbox 360 controller seamless on a PC it makes any other controller a step more difficult to use. For example to use a generic controller on Sonic & All-Star Racing Transformed you need to either use an Xbox controller emulator in the background or edit config files for each and every game.

Cost
If you build a new PC you currently have to factor in the cost of a Windows licence, with SteamOS you just need the hardware. As more developers migrate away from Windows towards SteamOS it also opens up the doors for more Linux distributions and Mac OSX to become mainstream players rather than side attractions.

Simplicity
A typical user either doesn’t want to bother with the maintenance and complexity involved in Windows PC gaming. SteamOS promises are simpler out of the box experience which just works out of the box and requires less knowledge by the user.

Each of the aspects of Valve’s ambition require a long slow push to move the direction of the industry which should eventually be beneficial to everyone.

More Contactless

I would like to be able to pay with NFC on my phone please! My current Nexus 4 and my previous Nexus S have both sported NFC yet I still cannot make payments using it. I use Google Wallet for online payments, my details are in there and I know users in the US can download the Wallet App to their Android handsets to make payments but I’m not allowed. Its not just obscure handsets either, think of all those Galaxy S3 handsets out there! No doubt there is some level of paperwork holding it back somewhere but it’s almost like they don’t want it to take off. The technology is there, the infrastructure is there, it’s just people getting in the way.

There is a new version of Google Wallet on the way which will hopefully remedy this. If your interested but haven’t done so already sign up! http://www.google.co.uk/wallet/

Stories in my ears – Retold

It has been a long time since I first encountered Audible. My first impressions weren’t good, but I have now been a member for over a year and during that time my feelings towards the service have greatly improved.

My initial problems were with DRM and lack of apps. Thankfully someone was listening as they got their act together and made a Audible app for Windows Phone 7 and no doubt there will be one eventually for Windows 8. Having a system that just lets you get on with listening to your content flawlessly on any device kills of most of my previous frustrations. Unfortunately there is still is a convoluted process to burn them on to CDs if you want to listen to them in the car but other than that it is fairly plain sailing.

Although several people have rightly told me I’m missing out on the complete mental involvement of actually reading the book I do think the trade of being able to listen anywhere whilst doing basic tasks is a good trade off. The delivery of the audio book is also a massive factor which dictates the enjoyment of it, again this can be quite a trade off. For example I listened to the “The Way of Kings” and the Mistborn Trilogy by Brandon Sanderson which were extremely well acted and executed by Michael Kramer. On the other hand the Black Magician Trilogy by Trudi Canavan had a poorer performance by Richard Aspel who I found to be flatter and uninspiring. Michael had a range of very distinct voices, you knew exactly which character was speaking. Richard’s character voices were very similar which often left me waiting for the “said Bob” at the end of the line to make complete sense of a conversation. As a result I came away with a very mediocre feeling book. The books are essentially being performed and so can go either way, sections of the books are often made more memorable by a good performance.

The Audible model is based around a subscription. For most people you will want to a token or two a month at a fixed price. These tokens are then used to pay for Audiobooks, most cost a single token although some with higher production or that have more commercial potential like Game of Thrones are some times broken in to 2 parts requiring a token each. This does sting a bit but generally the increased production quality is worth it. In addition to the tokens you can also buy Audiobooks on their own and there are often members only sales which have great bargains.

In terms of entertainment hours per pound it is extremely good value. For example I recently finished listening to “The Stand” by Stephen  King, this came in a over 30 hours for £8. This is worlds away from the huge expense of cassette audio books from decades ago. Given the convenience of always having an epic tomb secreted in your pocket ready to go at any moment whilst you are doing other things I would have to say audio books are now one of my favourite forms of entertainment.

Virgin Media – YouTube TV links with your Mobile/Tablet

David Tenant and Stephen Fry are under selling Virgin Media’s Tivo box, at least in the YouTube department.

 

Shortly after getting our Tivo we had a quick look at the YouTube app and quickly dismissed it as being to clumsy to use with a remote control. After having a play with it for a while I realised I could not be more wrong. This is the best thing since…Spanish Tortilla

In short you can pair one or more Phones or Tablets to it and use it to queue and play videos. Its all very impressive stuff.

Pairing

On Tivo open the YouTube App ,Go down to “My YouTube” , Go right until get to “Pairing”. This will give you a Pairing Code and QR Code

Android

There are there options on Android:

YouTube application – Open the YouTube app and go to a video, once it starts playing hit your menu key and go to Add YouTube TV, Enter the pairing code displayed on screen and any name of the screen. This is so you can have multiple screens attached and select between them.

YouTube Remote – Download the YouTube Remote app then scan the QR Code and open choose to open it with YouTube Remote.

YouTube Mobile website – See Below

iOS & Anything Else

Open the internet browser on your device and go to youtube.com/pair , you should get the mobile version which will ask for a Pairing Code and a name.

Once you have done that when you go to play a video from the YouTube mobile website you should see a little red screen symbol. When you start the video it should display on the TV rather than your device.

Virgin Media – Technology Win , Human Fail

Recently we have moved, with this came the opportunity to get a TV package and faster internet. Our new flat had previously had cable so Virgin Media seemed like the best option. Being a lovers of everything new, shiny and fast we decided to get Virgins new Premier Collection. This gives you the top TV package with a Tivo box + 60MB/s Internet and an old school phone line. In addition you also get a second V Box which so that you can watch the same HD TV content 0n a second TV.

Come installation day on a Friday the engineers arrived at 6pm. Due to the second V Box another cable needed to be run upstairs, this apparently caught the engineers off guard as they weren’t expecting it. The old tradesman’s saying “Measure twice cut once” doesn’t appear to be employed late on Friday afternoons. After a few minutes of hammer drilling and pinning cables we had the V Box upstairs, all it cost us was chunks of wall and badly done cabling. We now have cable curving slackly around the bottom of the stairs and pinned at an odd angle up the side of a wardrobe. After giving me the land line telephone number and connecting a laptop to the wireless the engineers prompted left. No demo of the Tivo, no signature to sign off the work.

An hour later after we have cleaned all of the brick dust of the carpets we called customer services. After a few minutes of waiting we were put through to lady who took on our concerns and said someone would call us back and arrange a visit in the next 48 hours. After two days of hearing nothing we called back. Customer service had it noted that we needed to be called back but couldn’t  give us a reason why it hadn’t been done, but we would be called back in another 48 hours. After another two days we called back again, originally “Lets get ready to rumble” whilst waiting for customer service might have been endearing but not any more. Same story again, 48 hours.

Eventually we received a call to arrange an engineer to come and inspect the work. He confirmed the state of the drilling and cabling was unacceptable, took some photos and said they would send the information back and would be in touch for when the repairs and rerunning of cable would be done. Several days later I received another call to arrange another engineer visit, apparently they need to inspect something else before the proper work could start. I asked what they needed to know, customer service didn’t know but they would find out.

After several more days of getting no where we used Twitter as Virgin have a customer service account.  After a little back and forth we were sent a form to fill in:

https://help.virginmedia.com/system/web/custom/socialMediaEnquiryForm_ssl.jsp

If you want anything done fill this in. It will take a day or two but someone with some power will call you. After doing this the ball actually started rolling, be it slowly.

Now that everything has been resolved how do I feel about Virgin Media? Although the technology and service is fine I absolutely dread ever having to deal with customer service. I would never recommend it anyone.