Tag - microsoft

Turtle Beach Ear Force X41 – A Review

Turtle Beach has been in the gaming headset business for a while now, and their previous Xbox 360 wireless headset, the Ear Force X4, was a solid solution for gamers. However, they have released the new Ear Force X41 and blown the lid off of the console headset market.

DESIGN
The Ear Force X41 features a hard plastic frame with the head band wrapped in comfortable, padded material. The ear cups are primarily foam mesh with also a good amount of comfort and fit nicely around the ear so that you do not get earache after a few hours of usage. The snake microphone protrudes from a pylon on the left ear cup with a limited pivoting ability. On the bottom of the left ear cup you will find the headset controls. You will find a power button, game controller jack, bass boost button, and game volume slider. The right ear cup slides open to reveal the unit’s power source: Two AAA batteries.

The base station features an array of status lights on the front of the unit as well as an input sensitivity volume dial. Conveniently, extending from the top of the base station is a metal stand which you rest the headset on. This makes storing the X41 much more feasible and attractive, visually-speaking. The base station connects to and is powered by the Xbox 360 console via USB cable.

INSTALLATION
Installing the X41 is very simple. Just plug the USB cable from the base station into the Xbox 360, then put the included AAA batteries into the headset unit. Turn it on, set your volume levels, and you are all-set for gaming goodness. Also, don’t worry about turning the headset off when done playing, the unit will detect the inactivity and turn itself off shortly after playing ceases.

SOUND
The ear cups each contain one 50mm driver with neodymium magnet. The frequency response is good, with a range of 20Hz – 20kHz, and the unit even features a bass boost. Utilizing Dolby Digital, Dolby Pro Logic IIx, and Dolby Headphone surround processing technologies, the virtual 7.1-channel sound in the Ear Force X41 is believable and crisp, due in part to the 2.4GHz radio connection to the base unit. This is in contrast to the X4’s IR connection, which needed a line of site path to the base station. With this new connection protocol line of site is not a necessity.

Additionally, the in-game voice chat is exceptional as the headset features several automated functions to help this aspect along. The headset features a ‘Chat Boost Dynamic Talkback Expander’ module, which dynamically increases or decreases the voice-chat volume as the actual game volume changes. This system works very well and when things got hot and heavy in Left 4 Dead 2, other players were still audible as opposed to when they were drowned out by gunfire without the X41. The headset also features microphone monitoring which allows you to hear your own voice/volume levels while you speak. This helps avoid ‘shouting’ syndrome, where you lose control of your own volume, having your hearing hijacked by the headset’s closed audio environment. Another wonderful feature of the Ear Force X41 is that the voice-chat volume and game audio volume are controlled by different rotary knobs. This means that you can customize a balance between the two based on your preference, not what the hardware or game company preset it to be.

ISSUES
There are only two real issues with the X41, one of which is not even the fault of Turtle Beach. The first issue is that the new headset uses standard AAA batteries. I would much rather the X41 come with a rechargeable battery and a charger on the base station. One way to circumvent the battery issue is just to use your own rechargeable AAAs but I digress. The second issue which is not the fault of Turtle Beach is the use of the Xbox 360 game controller cable to tether the controller to the headset in order to get voice-chat capability. Unfortunately, this is one of Microsoft’s rules and won’t be fixed until they allow voice-chat to be sent wirelessly as well.

OVERALL
The Turtle Beach Ear Force X41 gaming headset is the best wireless headset solution you can get today on the Xbox 360 when looked at from a dollar to value ratio. You would be hard-pressed to find any other system out there capable of what the X41 can do for less than its $200 dollar price point. If you are in need of a wireless headset for your Xbox 360, you need to get one of these – you will not be disappointed.

*DISCLOSURE: Turtle Beach sent GamingShogun.com an X-41 unit for the purpose of this review.

Microsoft Sidewinder X4 Gaming Keyboard – A Review

The Microsoft Sidewinder X4 keyboard boasts a super-slim design and tons of features to make gamers everywhere jump into some fast paced games. Being an avid gamer I was excited to get this keyboard in my grubby little hands for a test drive. Let’s jump in and check out how the Sidewinder X4 held up to our challenge.

TECH SPECS
– Super slim design
– Advanced anti-ghosting capability
– Mode Switching
– Automatic profile switching
– Programmable macro keys
– In-game macro record button
– Automatic macro repetition
– Backlit keys
– Media keys

DESIGN
The Sidewinder X4 is a glossy black keyboard with an ultra slim design. It has a contemporary look which could be paired up with any fancy-looking computer system. It matched really well with my office space and fit well in my slide out keyboard tray. The X4 is designed with a bit of a tilt that keeps your wrists comfortable when typing. The X4 is a very light keyboard that does not feel clunky when you need to move it. The connection cord for the X4 is not braided and could see some damage over time if you were rough with your system.

One complaint I have with the design of the X4 would be the key backlighting. The eerie red backlight has three different brightness settings and, even so, was never bright enough for me. There are plenty of times where I am gaming or working in the dark and need that little bit of extra light. I found myself having a hard time locating keys at times.

INSTALLATION

Installing the Sidewinder X4 was easy and painless. After placing my keyboard where I wanted it and routing the cable I just plugged the USB connector right into an available port. Since I am running Windows 7 it picked it up right away and installed the necessary drivers. To get the most of the X4’s features you will want to install the software that comes with it. Install time for the X4 took around 5 minutes total.

GAMING TEST
One of the big features in the Sidewinder X4 is its anti-ghosting technology. Most people are going to say ‘I have no idea what this means’. For you non tech savvy gamers, the easy explanation is that you can press all kinds of key combination without fail because each key is scanned on its own. No more macros messing up because your keyboard can’t recognize what is going on through all your key-mashing.

So the big question is does this really work? The answer is yes, yes it does. The anti-ghosting feature works really well and I was able to hit all kinds of keystrokes and macros with a really fast response time. During one test I was able to fire off 3 macros and use a push to talk button in the middle of one fight. While this wasn’t a full keyboard test it was pretty impressive that there was no lag in response time.

I am a MMO gamer and macros are a key for high level playing. Setting up the macros is really easy using the included software and I had no problems hitting what I needed on the fly. The great thing about the X4 is that you can set up different profiles depending on what games you play. The Sidewinder X4 offers gamers up to three profiles to create and switch between on the fly. The profiles also auto switch so if you enter a different game it will recognize that profile. I tested the profile switching going from a MMO to a FPS and it worked great. Very easy to use and very fun for every level of gamer. If you wanted to switch profiles mid game for different events it is easily done via the keyboard.

For non hardcore gamers you probably wont use the macro or profile features quite often. Fear not fellow gamers this keyboard is still great for the casual gamer. The response rate from the keyboard is fantastic and it works great for all user levels. As standard with most gaming keyboards these days there are media controls along the top of the keyboard to control your media files. I did find that the caps lock button was way too close to the main keyset for my large hands. There were plenty of times where I found myself hitting that caps lock key while typing only to have to go back and erase the ‘yelling’ words. A little bit of spacing between the main keyset and the side keys would have been nice. If you have small or normal sized hands this should be no problem for you.

FINAL THOUGHTS
The Sidewinder X4 keyboard is a great keyboard for all levels of gamer. If you are a hardcore, tournament-gamer you are going to love all the options as well as the quick response rate and anti-ghosting technology. For casual gamers, the keyboard’s ease of use will have this sitting on your desk for a long time. Microsoft’s Sidewinder X4 is a solid product and a welcome addition to the gaming keyboard market.

*DISCLOSURE: Microsoft provided GamingShogun.com with one Sidewinder X4 keyboard for this review.

Games for Windows Sale Begins with Batman: Arkham Asylum


If you missed picking up Batman: Arkham Asylum on the PC (shame on you), here is your chance. The Games for Windows team has announced a sale-a-week for the next five weeks. The sale kicks-off with, get this, seventy-five percent off Batman: Arkham Asylum! That makes the game a very cheap $12.49 to pickup. The next sale will be announced on March 5th.

In the meantime, head over to the sale page and buy B:AA right now!

Welcome to Our Official 2009 Holiday Gift Guide


Welcome to the 2009 edition of the GamingShogun Holiday Gift Guide. Here we tackle the long-pondered question of what to buy for your friends, family, and ‘special friends’ (you know who you are) this holiday season… We will cover gifts of various types, categories, and price points so look sharp! You never know when you might just see that winning gift idea.

VIDEO GAMES by Platform


– PlayStation 3: UNCHARTED 2: AMONG THIEVES. This title just won game of the year at the 2009 Spike Video Game Awards and for good reason – it’s blend of cinematic action and adventure captivated gamers as they took protagonist Nathan Drake on the treasure hunt of a lifetime.
Price: $59.99
Product Link

See the rest of our 2009 Holiday Gift Guide, After the Break!

– Xbox 360: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. With a much larger scope, the story of the sequel to Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare comes out of the gate swinging and doesn’t let up until its riveting conclusion. Many characters from the original return… and some won’t be back for the third Modern Warfare game, so be prepared for some serious ‘yelling at your monitor’ moments!
Price: $59.99
Product Link

– Windows PC: Dragon Age: Origins. My personal love-fest with this epic RPG from BioWare and Electronic Arts continues as it is my official pick for the PC category in our gift guide. The sweeping story, interpersonal relationships between party members, and amazing voice acting will leave you speechless. It’s also an incredible-blend of old-school and contemporary RPG gameplay styles.
Price: $49.99
Product Link

– Wii: MadWorld. A very mature title for such a kid-friendly platform, MadWorld is a great playthrough featuring some amazing art direction and ultra-violence. Impale your foes and a whole lot more in a sick and twisted game setup my a mysterious terrorist organization. It’s a bit on the short side, but for twenty bucks it’s a mad deal (doh)!
Price: $19.99
Product Link

– PSP: LittleBigPlanet. LBP made a huge splash on the PS3 when it originally was released, but the PSP version is bringing some new life into an ‘aging’ handheld platform (I include the PSPGo in that remark – give us something new, Sony!). In fact, I would wager it is one of the best PSP titles ever made. The platformer-action and sack-boy antics translate over to the PSP very well and it is easily our top PSP game recommendation for 2009.
Price: $39.99
Product Link

– DS: Scribblenauts. Making a largely-positive impression in everyone who attended this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo, Scribblenauts allows players to utilize almost any noun they can write on the DS touch-pad to complete various objectives – or, even just to mess around! Want to see who would win in a fight between a ninja and a pirate? Just write those nouns on the touch-pad and watch the two appear, setting off a deadly brawl. It’s not a violent game by design, mind you – that’s just one of countless scenarios that can play out for the imaginative gamer. It’s a great edutainment/puzzler game for youngsters and old-timers alike.
Price: $29.99
Product Link

PERSONAL ELECTRONICS by Category

– Personal Media Players: Microsoft Zune HD. The Zune seems to be following Microsoft’s standard pattern of market penetration – release a solid product in an area dominated by others and let it sink in slowly to the public consciousness. Similar to the Xbox 360, the latest incarnation of their media player, called the ‘Zune HD’, is a step above the rest. It features something that no other PMP on the market, including the various iPhone and iPod models, has right now – an HD radio tuner! Finally, you can walk the streets listening to those ‘secret’ radio stations everyone has been hyping up over the last few years. Not to mention the fact that you can play HD videos on its incredibly crisp screen and you can also get the Zune Pass subscription system where, for a set price every month, you can download just about any album you want! It is available in 16GB and 32GB flavors.
Price: $219 16GB / $289 32GB
Product Link

– Netbooks: HP Mini 311. This small, 11.6-inch netbook is a veritable powerhouse with its Intel 1.6GHz Atom processor and Nvidia ION GPU. It is also equipped with 2GB of RAM as well as 160GB HDD. Purchase it with Windows 7 for a very smooth experience in the world of Microsoft’s new OS as you power through your next World of Warcraft raid – that’s right, the HP Mini 311 is capable of some PC gaming! It is also very reasonably-priced for a netbook providing all of the aforementioned features. Don’t like the specs? HP allows you to customize the Mini 311 to feature even an 80GB SSD for the best gaming performance possible on such a small computer.
Price: $399 Base HP Build / $559 Recommended HP Build
Product Link

– e-Readers: Kindle DX. As far as e-Readers go, the market is getting pretty packed out there with many units featuring dual-screens and other gimmicks. While models like the new ‘Nook’ may offer a lot of flash, I always go with three features when shopping for an e-Reader: screen size, cellular access, and a huge bookstore. Only one of the units out there at the moment fits this bill – the Amazon Kindle DX. With a 9.7-inch screen the Amazon Kindle 2 actually fits within the screen dimensions of the DX – it offers that much real estate. The e-Ink display is a step up from the first Kindle model and cellular access is quick. The DX also features a rotating display and the ability to read books too you in a fairly life-like voice! All of this coupled with the fact that the Amazon library is insanely gigantic and you have a winner. Numerous newspapers and magazines offer subscription models for the Kindle family and there is nothing like hitting the coffee shop before work and finding your morning edition of the San Francisco Chronicle has already been downloaded and is ready for your perusal.
Price: $489
Product Link

– Gaming Mice: Razer Imperator. Razer’s high-priced ‘Mamba’ gaming mouse feature wireless capability and a 5,200 dpi 3.5G laser sensor but, for most folks, that’s just too darn expensive. Razer recently-released the ‘Imperator’ gaming mouse which, while wired, features an ergonomic (and right-handed) shape as well as the Mamba’s laser sensor. It also features a braided chord and adjustable side-buttons to accommodate various hand-sizes.
Price: $79.99
Product Link

– Gaming Headset: Plantronics Gamecom 777. This is another device category where everyone and their brother claims to have one on the market. Some are very good – others are clearly just labeled for use in gaming and do not perform up to snuff. The Gamecom 777 from Plantronics features a very robust construction and crisp audio response for even the most keen ears. A retractable, noise-canceling microphone boom will allow you to keep communications clear with your teammates as you fight the enemy hordes in your favorite game. This headset features virtual 5.1-channel surround sound in its USB flavor that is very believable thanks to an included Dolby dongle. The analog version does not include the dongle or USB interface but will still provide you with solid audio and enjoyment over long hours of play.
Price: $59.95 Analog / $109.95 USB
Product Link

GEEK TOYS by Price Range

– Small Budget: Black Mesa Coffee Mug. Nothing says ‘start off the day right’ more than drinking some of the bitter black urine men call coffee from a Black Mesa mug. Is the alternate dimension known as ‘Xen’ sweetening your cup o’ joe or is it just the Splenda?
Price: $12.99
Product Link


– Medium Budget: The Skooba Netbook Messenger Bag. Netbooks are such a hot item these days, it’s a wonder more of these kinds of bags don’t exist. How common is it to see someone dragging around a netbook in a bag built for a full-sized laptop? Darn common! Skooba’s Netbook Messenger bag features a ton of internal storage areas and special pocket designed to accommodate up to a 10.1-inch netbook.
Price: $49.99
Product Link

– Large Budget: Tauntaun Sleeping Bag. Have you ever wanted to be a half-dead Luke Skywalker, clinging to life inside the smelly innards of a Tauntaun while awaiting rescue with your good buddy Han on the ice planet of Hoth? Me too! And now we can with the Tauntaun sleeping back!
Price: $99.99
Product Link

Well I hope you found this year’s Holiday Gift Guide to be useful in your shopping aims. If you have any suggestions for holiday gifts, post them in the comments below or in the forums!

A Review of the New MSI Wind U210 Netbook

MSI’s Wind U200 netbook turned heads with its sleek design and crisp widescreen display. Powered by a 1.4GHz Intel CPU, MSI has upgraded the unit in its successor, the Wind U210. Forgoing Intel, the new Wind U210 features a 1.6GHz AMD Athlon Neo CPU while also doubling the system bus speed to 1600 MHz. Coupled with its large, 12.1-inch widesceen display, the Wind U210 is still turning heads. Netbooks have come a long way in their relatively short lifespan as a consumer product, and the U210 can really be seen as a cross-over in the way that many SUVs are these days. It is way more powerful than most smaller netbooks while not performing as well as a full-fledged laptop.

DESIGN:
The basic layout and design of the Wind U210 has not changed much since its predecessor. The netbook features a graphite composite frame with a sleek shine that eagerly picks up the available light in the room giving the unit a showroom-feel. The roughly 2” x 2” touchpad is functional, but not ideal for netbook usage. It does not feature a slide pad to help navigate large documents or web pages. It does, however, feature a slight texturing to its surface which creates good feedback while not hampering the pad’s slickness.

The netbook’s keyboard, while not as large as a standard laptop’s, has more then enough typing area to be comfortable and not make your hands cramp up the way some smaller netbook keyboards tend to. Each of the keys on the U210’s keyboard also feature what MSI calls EDS (Ergonomic De-Stressing). The keys are slightly concave, more fitting to the natural contours of a human finger-tip. While I do not have any type of stress-measuring device to judge this, I can say that the keyboard feels comfortable even after many hours of use.

The biggest flaw in the U210 is the lack of an internal Bluetooth receiver. It actually took me off-guard as there is a button on the U210’s keyboard with the Bluetooth symbol on it as well as a Bluetooth Assistant program which loads automatically with the operating system. Unfortunately, this assistant is looking for you to attach your own BT dongle. Why MSI would include a webcam and not a Bluetooth adapter is beyond me. Nevetheless, USB-powered BT adapters are only a few dollars on Amazon.

DESKTOP:
Utilizing Microsoft’s new Windows 7 Home Basic OS, the Wind U210 is very stable in the desktop-department. I experienced no hardware lock-ups or glitches denoting an incompatibility and it is clear MSI has done the required work to get the netbook working with the new OS. Applications such as MS Office 2007 worked smoothly and the netbook provided enough power to sift through the fairly complex GamingShogun.com database with ease.

GAMING:
I have always wondered how a netbook would do in the gaming arena and with the U210’s ATI x1250 GPU and shared 2GB of RAM, this would be the one to test it with. I need to mention that our review unit came with an ATI x1270 GPU, at least according to the Catalyst Control Center software. MSI’s website continues to say the U210 is equipped with an x1250. Why this discrepancy? We don’t know yet but will update this review when we find out. Unfortunately, even with this large amount of shared system memory, as well as the x1270 GPU, the U210 is not the mini-gaming powerhouse I had hoped. Honestly, I was not all that surprised – with gaming performance comes a loss of battery life as well as an increase in retail price – neither aspect being appealing in a netbook. That is not to say you can’t game with the Wind U210 – you just have to be very selective of what you choose to play. For instance, the demo for World in Conflict at the lowest possible visual setting yielded an average frame rate of 6. Play a title like Gratuitous Space Battles or even the Flash-developed Bloons Tower Defense and you will be a much happier gamer.

MULTIMEDIA:
Featuring a very bright, and crisp, 12.1-inch widescreen display, the U210 is a treat for the eyes. In helping with this is the fact that the display features a low-power LED back-lighting. Not only is the light distributed more evenly and brightly across the screen, but you will save some precious battery life too!

The 1.3 megapixel camera of the Wind U210 is more than fine for video conferencing and basic web chatting. Here is an example of a 1.3 megapixel image shrunk down to 540 pixels wide and compressed to 70% of its original quality via Photoshop. Yes, I took it at a Starbucks. What can I say? I like coffee.

The Wind U210 also includes both VGA and HDMI outputs on the left side of the netbook. The VGA output performs perfectly for presentations and other more work-related needs. The HDMI port was a bit of let down as I was hoping for better performance outputting 1080p video to LCD displays. During 720p video output, the video quality performed fine. Whether or not the HDMI output issues are due to the CPU, GPU, or some combination of the two is up for debate. If any new driver updates fix the issue in the future, I will update this review accordingly.

The netbook features two small speakers which do an adequate job of providing sound output. There are microphone and headphone ports on the right side of the netbook.

BATTERY LIFE:
MSI estimates that the Wind U210 will last about 6.5 hours while running in what the have dubbed ‘ECO Mode’. For those of you who are not aware of this mode, MSI includes some power-managing presets into most of their new laptops and netbooks. The presets range from ‘ECO Mode’, which gives MAX batter life, to the ‘Gaming Mode’ which uses power much more liberally. During our general-use tests we found battery life to hover from 3 to 4 hours depending on what we were doing and other factors such as screen brightness.

DEVELOPERS:
Being a web designer and programmer, I could not resist the urge to install Microsoft’s Visual Studio 2010 Beta as well as Adobe’s Photoshop CS2 on the netbook to see how it would work in this regard. I created a small test website with some custom graphics on the netbook’s localhost server and can report that the process was very smooth. There was a slightly longer than normal load time for both Visual Studio and Photoshop but it was nothing very painful. Once loaded, both programs pretty much performed as I have seen them on more powerful desktops, which is to say – well.

CONCLUSION:
Filling the gap between a standard netbook and a full-fledged laptop, the MSI Wind U210 is portable, yet powerful, and will be a welcome addition to both your school bag, briefcase, or even journalist’s jump pack (which is where this one is going).

*DISCLOSURE: MSI gave GamingShogun.com a Wind U210 netbook, which was evaluated over a period of several weeks.

Xbox LIVE Launches New Services With Fall Update

Microsoft has launched the latest update for Xbox Live today giving Gold Subscribers access to the new features they announced back at E3 2009. When you sign into Xbox Live you will be prompted to update your system to include the following.

Facebook and Twitter:
Located under the new ‘My Community’ section are built in clients for both social networking sites. The Facebook client will even search out people on your friends list who are also on Xbox Live.

Last.Fm:
Feel like playing DJ in your own home? The popular web music service now has it’s own client under the ‘Music Channel’ blade.

Zune Video:
Located under the ‘Video Channel’ section of your dashboard you can enjoy some free clips and popular movies for a fee. Zune Video is instant 1080P streaming for your movie watching needs.

Madden NFL Arcade Gets Release Dates

EA Sports has announced that its upcoming arcade footballer, Madden NFL Arcade, will hit the Xbox LIVE Arcade and PSN for 1200 Microsoft Points (or $14.99) later this month. PSN gamers can expect the game on November 24th while Xbox LIVE Arcade gamers can expect it a day later on November 25th.