Archive for January 7th, 2010

Virtual whipping boy

Gaming has become such a huge market that CES has established a separate area for it. I don’t know if the segregation was for the benefit of the gaming industry or for CES itself. As I’m betting CES didn’t know what kind of crowd it might attract, and saw the parking lot as a safe out-of-the-way place to stash it and see what transpired. Regardless, it appears gaming and the billion dollar industry it feeds is here to stay.

While at the Creative booth I met the world’s premier gamer, Johnathan Wendel, who goes by the screen name of “Fatal1ty“.  He’s won about a half a million dollars in prize money and millions more from business partnerships with Universal Abit, Creative Labs, OC Labs and XFX who produce motherboards, video cards, mice, headphones and other computer devices, and even has a clothing line … all under his gaming handle. He’s the only person to have won world championships in five different games. So you’d think that either he’d be the stereotyped gaming freak (over-weight, introverted and pale) or have such an over-the-top ego as to be an insufferable bore. If those would be your first guesses, you couldn’t be more wrong. I found him to be outgoing, extremely polite and patient. The NBA, NFL and MLB should use him as an example of how a top athlete should behave. I use the term “athlete” as he believes you must be be physically fit to compete at the highest levels and succeed. Who would have guessed? After watching how he dealt with all types of fans, both in groups and in between his skill demonstrations, he was a representative any company would love.  A proverbial gaming “Tiger Woods” in his prime, without all the personal baggage and typical pro athlete attitude.

For his personal appearances, Creative set up a stage with matching computers and huge screens for anyone to test their skills against him. Before attempt that feat, you spun a wheel to determine how he would play you (full tilt – no handicap, using a cardboard sheet with only a two inch square cut out in the center covering the monitor, or a bizarre contraption that looked like a board with a keyboard and mouse pad nailed to it, a-la-guitar style).

Since I play well enough to speak of myself in the third person, using my gaming moniker … enough to really disturb my wife … I raised my hand. I spun the wheel and got lucky … he had to put the cardboard in front of his monitor and could only look through a two inch square hole. If I were to “kill” him just once (I didn’t have to win, just a single “kill”) there were very substantial prizes.  The game was an old fav of mine … Quake. I felt that there was a real possibility of me going home with the prize of an expensive new video card … despite the fact he was the current world champ. The bell rings and it takes him almost two minutes to get me twice … I came sooooo close at one point, and it was at that point I felt as though a different person had just gotten into his seat. He got down to business … I couldn’t stay alive for more than three seconds (sometimes much, much less). He had been toying with me the whole time … I was shocked at just how good he really was. If this had occurred while playing online, I’d just “know” that the guy was cheating. There could have been five of me playing and it wouldn’t have made the tiniest difference. As I walked off stage after being crushed, I was handed a “Fatality” dog tag … I didn’t even read what it said as I assumed it probably stated in print that I was a “noob” (a terrible insult in the gaming world).

Over the next three days probably hundreds of people, including some gaming pros, went up onto that stage and left as empty handed as I did. Imagine sparring with Ali, pitching to the “Babe” or chalking it up with “Fats” … I played the best gamer on the planet and found that some people are just gifted beyond what anyone could comprehend until experienced.

Yes, I still talk about myself in the third person around wife, after slapping down all my opponents in “Halo”, who after losing, accuse me of cheating. But it’s tongue-in-cheek now.

Only if they had any idea of what a truly exceptional player could do … they’d probably stop playing all together.

3D … The “Not Ready for Prime Time” set

A few years ago I had the unique and somewhat terrifying experience of a full blown cattle stampede at my parents’ farm. I learned quickly that I actually could balance my six-foot plus frame on the top strand of a barbed wire fence to avoid become a footnote in the “Darwin Awards”. The first day rush to enter CES at opening time can be just as pleasurable. Definitely not for the faint or squeamish. My nephew tells me about “crowd surfing” at concerts, and therefore, I must conclude this qualifies as “crowd undertow”.

Wandering into the huge Panasonic booth I find the world’s largest (and certainly the most energy hungry) TV on the planet. Using a “to be released at some point in the future” technology, and offering more than double the resolution of even the very best plasma set, the now defunct Pioneer Kuro Elite. This Godzilla of TV’s offered an image that reminded me of something straight out of the movie “V”. All it needed was a close-up of a screaming, spitting John Hurt to frighten the bejeebers out of you.

Truly a huge picture, absolutely flawless image quality and weight something north of a Volvo station wagon. I walked (pushed through) away from the huge, very much unyielding crowd and wondered if radiation badges were in order.

On to the first of the much hyped 3D sets for an extended viewing session. The glasses you must wear aren’t anything like the cardboard red/blue lensed versions you probably remember. These new shutter glasses cost over a hundred bucks, and have batteries that must be recharged or replaced to power them as they are actually using the same basic technology as a LCD TV. Each of your eyes are independently blacked out for a fraction of a second by a syncing signal sent by the TV. This trick of nature fakes the 3D effect to various degrees of success. Watching a video of the Grand Canyon, the image ranged from impressive to distracting. At times it too closely mimicked a 1950’s Vincent Price 3D horror flick with the image moving from the background, to seemingly into my lap, in about a millisecond. Other times the image looked flat. Other times fantastic … a little balance would have been appreciated.

I can see the possible advantages of these cutting edge sets, but in my opinion, they’re more like bleeding edge sets. The technology clearly isn’t ready for prime time. After using the shutter glasses for more than a few minutes, my eyes began to be in distress. This effect is more or less pronounced on everyone who uses them, but there nonetheless. I’d give Panasonic an “A-“ for effort and a “D” for execution. Glasses just to watch TV? I hate having to wear my prescription glasses, why would I put on a heavy/hot pair for fun? My spouse complains now about the double-digit number of remote controls in the family media room. And now we have to keep up with one more item to be lost. What were they thinking? Had the engineers asked their wives about this viewing penalty and demonstrated it to them, we wouldn’t even be looking at prototypes of this inferior system … back to the drawing board.

Contest to be odd

Ok, now after changing hotels, I believe I’ve found the hotel that Borat would have loved. Only in America could you find a hotel with a sandwich vending machine on each floor. Never let it be said that Vegas doesn’t have classy hotels … why go out to Emeril’s, when a tuna fish sandwich is only quarters away.

You’d think that the zipper booth was the oddest thing I’ve seen today … and you’d be wrong. From guys with 5 o’clock shadows in a dress and high heels, to probably the most bizzare thing I may have ever have seen at CES, Vegas never fails to impress. Imagine a baseball cap with a bill four times longer than you have ever seen on the MTV video awards, with a sheet of black cloth four inches long hanging from the entire perimeter of the bill. Then add a clip at the end of that bill, for a iPhone. And in between you eyes and the Apple moneymaker is a fresnel lens, for that “big screen” effect. I had to keep looking around for a camera to see if this was a joke. All your for only $19.95! Only these folks were dead serious about this “revolutionary device”. Never let it be said that entrepreneurship is dead in the USA.

Zipper Hell, part 2

Once at the Chinese zipper booth there was a great deal of very loud and animated conversation in their native tongue amongst the guys and quite a bit of gesturing. The lone woman there didn’t look particularly happy about something.

Having traveled in the far east, I understand native formalities that may accompany visitors to our shores. So, as that veteran of Asian travel I knew that I might be given a gift of an experimental zipper and would have to present a gift of equal or better value to the folks at the zipper booth. So with a well prepared bow I presented my host with the brochures and the phone condom I had just received from the blonde Swedish bikini-clad girl splashing around in the hot tub directly across the aisle from the zipper booth. They were well as well received as I’d hoped.

Well, I couldn’t identify my guy (insert joke here at your own peril) from last year at the Chinese zipper booth. I’m fairly certain his closest associates killed him in mid-sentence about the benefits of solid brass teeth versus plastic in cold weather, high-stress repeat usage. But, the remote controlled zipper has made its debut. You should have seen the look on the faces of booth folks when I asked what radio frequency the remote operated on. Why, they asked … Then I explained I was a remote control hacker. Suddenly, I wasn’t welcome. I bet they have to go back to the drawing board and build in digital encryption to safeguard the worlds’ trousers.

As a geek, I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that I couldn’t imagine a use for the zipper that had built-in headphones … and no, this isn’t a joke. I stood there for a while trying to imagine the reason for this invention. And even after a few drinks to loosen my thoughts this evening … I still can’t.      But you can’t stop progress.