A dream turned nightmare: Bethesda Softwork’s Fallout: New Vegas on Xbox 360

October 23, 2010

UPDATE 2/2/11:
I take it back.  This game is NOT rock solid but it’s doable.  I’ve had the game lock up on me a dozen times now, but each time, I’ve been fortunate enough to have had a save done relatively shortly before the lock up.  The lock ups require a complete power cycle on the Xbox 360.

Of course this is insane but this never happened back during Fallout 3.  Really makes me wonder what these dudes at Obsidian were doing while they were busy not testing the game adequately.  Again, I return to the fact that the original Fallout 3 that FO: New Vegas is based on, never had these issues.


UPDATE 10/28/10:
Well, my bad.  This game has been pretty rock solid throughout with very little issues.  I had one enemy visibly get stuck in a rock and upon dying disappear, meaning I couldn’t collect his loot.  And I had another sequence when I attempted to save and the system froze for 10-15 seconds while I panicked… but then came back and the save apparently took.

Other than these two incidents and the whole “system freezes when you attempt to customize your character”, not much has gone wrong.  I am annoyed by how the list of miscellaneous objects gets REALLY cluttered by playing cards that you find/buy.  It makes navigating an already long list much more difficult.  But whatever.  The game’s been pretty fun so far.

I am a little disappointed that the game didn’t come out of the gate with a really cool playable environment.  In the original Fallout 3, there was Vault 101 and then there was Megaton, both of which were amazing places to freely roam around and visit, with lots of valuable & functional places to enter and engage.  So far FO:LV has NOT done that at all.  In fact, the places I’ve been to around the Goodsprings area and the quests that lead from it are really pretty bland and unappealing.   Primm & Nipton have been areas that are at least sort of interesting but other than that – not much.  I suppose that’s to be expected to some degree since we are in the Mojave desert… but it doesn’t make for fun game play.  I don’t think this is going to get as good reviews as the originao FO3.

UPDATE 10/23/10:
Alright.  I’ve played the game pretty much all day… and having just come back from Las Vegas myself after a speaking gig at a banking convention, I have to admit:  I haven’t run into any major issues since getting past the character creation issue.  This game, despite my initial rage & aggravation, is wonderfully crafted with a flow so reminiscent of the original Fallout 3, it feels like Fallout: West Coast.

3 things I love:  Fallout, Xbox 360, and Las Vegas… all in a single package.  Yeah, my wife is gonna be a Fallout widow again for certain.  DragonAge?  You’re gonna have to take a backseat for another 6-9 months, assuming the DLC for F:LV is as good as that for F3.

In the meantime, check out this interview with Wayne Newton – yes, THAT Wayne Newton – that plays the Radio Las Vegas DJ on your PipBoy 2000.

VIDEO:  http://www.hotbloodedgaming.com/2010/10/14/watch-wayne-newton-talk-about-the-strip-in-fallout-new-vegas-video/

imageYeah, that title may be a little dramatic but it really does represent my feelings about Fallout: New Vegas, the new game release by Bethesda Softworks.

Let me be clear:  I ADORED FALLOUT 3.  Possibly more than any other Xbox 360 I’ve ever played… and that includes the Halos, Bioshocks, Mass Effects, Half Lifes, Crackdowns, Star Wars Force Unleashed, CODs, Borderlands, Grand Theft Autos, etc. and I’ve played them ALL.  I’m simply not that much of a multiplayer gamer so long-running single player games like Fallout 3 often have me reveling in delight.  But none have captivated me in the same way as Fallout 3.

So you can only imagine how much I was anticipating Fallout: New Vegas!

I booted the game.  A big patch is required to download.  Fair enough.  I let it patch and reboot the game.  The opening sequence is a bit long and belabored considering all it is for the most part are stills, but I don’t mind that much.  Upon selecting “new game”, there’s a cut scene introducing one to the New Vegas mythos & environment… then the beginning of a character creation sequence where you determine the look of your character.

Upon changing the “race” of my character to Asian… the game suddenly freezes.  Nothing works, not even the Xbox 360 guide button.  I have to stand up and power off my Xbox 360 –not that big a deal mind you, but something I haven’t had to do in a VERY long time.  Not even in beta tests of pre-released games like Halo 3 that I’ve had the opportunity to participate in.  No bother… maybe it was just a temporary glitch.

I reboot and start again.  Again, long intro sequence.  There’s apparently no autosave yet, so again, I start a “new game”.  I hit the character creation sequence and change the race:  Again, the game freezes/locks up requiring a complete reboot.  5 minutes into the gameplay and this thing locks up?  This is getting annoying.

3rd time’s the charm right?  I boot up, new game, hit character creation… locked up.  F#CK.  Time and time again, any attempt to create a character results in a total lock up.  I spend 2 hours trying to get past this sequence and finally give up and go to sleep.

I boot the Xbox 360 up again… game intro, new game… but this time before I even get to the character creation sequence the cut scene with the ‘doctor’ right before character creation freezes.

OMFG.  This is getting worse by the minute.

I power off the Xbox 360 and eject the game.  I try the game on my 2nd Xbox 360 – yes, I have several 360’s in my home – and I get the exact same freeze during character creation.  This is clearly an reproducible issue – one that Obsidian/Bethesda/whoever never bothered to test.

I finally return to Xbox 360 #1 and try something:  I run though the game until character creation… THEN QUICKLY SKIP THROUGH IT ACCEPTING EVERY DEFAULT ASPECT.  (Caucasian, random face, etc.)

BAM.  I’m in. 

The only problem now is, I don’t trust this game as far as I can throw it.  Fallout 3 was near perfect for me.  It never FAILED or locked up like this.  Sure, there were some glitches here and there, but never anything this catastrophic.  I’ve now read about folks that have lost their autosaved games… folks that have had to revert to previous saves… etc.  Who wants to invest 6 months of exploration in a game that could very well nuke all your work?

Bethesda… I adore your work.  I’ve defended the Gamebryo engine as being the least important part of Fallout 3 and preached from the top of the mountain the value of great story telling and immersive dialogue. And I realize that Obsidian did the work on this 2nd release…

…but ultimately y’all are the one’s responsible for the game’s quality as it’s published.  Simple two words:  EPIC FAIL.  You have an opportunity to redeem yourselves over the next month or so with a persistent stream of patches and I really hope that you get it right, because this initial impression was VERY disappointing and tainted my view of you as the Gods of first person sandbox gaming.  (You guys dropped in my mind to TakeTwo’s level… which is good company to be in, but I thought you were much better than them.)

As a software publisher myself, I understand how hard it is to get things right at launch, but locking up on something as basic as the introductory character creation demonstrates to me that your testers really didn’t do a very good job.  I worked as a Software Test Engineer for many years and I know how hard the job is, but there’s got to be contractors that do regression testing for areas that people don’t want to repeatedly test between releases and it’s clear no regression testing was done for character creation… and that’s just bad process – it really is.

Whatever happened to simply beta testing?  If you did do a beta test… who the hell were your beta testers?  Was a it a group of rabid, undisciplined chimps?  Because they didn’t do a very good job for you.

After many months of waiting, I’m just very disappointed, Bethesda.  But this entry will remain editable and I hope to update it with better news in the upcoming months.


COMMENTARY: Why I love my Zune

November 29, 2006

With all the hateful and vitriolic commentary going through the ether, I admit that my personal faith in the Zune project was beginning to waver… what, with:

  • PlaysForSure Rights-protected music being incompatible with Zune
  • Weight & size of Zune being slightly bigger than an Apple iPod
  • Look of the Zune being less aethetically pleasing than other media players
  • Missing features like "WiFi Broadcast DJ" that were originally promised

…yep – even this kool aid drinker started falling off the wagon, so to speak. 

Then the reports came in from folks like the guy at the Chicago Sun Times that just hated the device.  And the comments made by some other critics started to filter in screaming, "I can’t migrate my iTunes Music Store music!"  and "It’s a total version 1.0 product!"  I admit started to feel rather sad like we’d failed again.

Then I got one.  My own Zune.

It’s a small package with a rather strange moniker inside:  "Welcome to the Social."  <insert doubtful smirk here>  But then I noticed a few things as I turned it on, installed the Zune software, and even more things as I saw some other people using it.

First of all, during the Zune desktop software installation, it makes mention of a little known fact:  The Xbox 360 can leverage the same music that you have on your Zune.

Secondly, two gals in our office got Zunes.  They spend every other day swapping music files and samples between each other between cubicles… even though they’re down the hall from each other.  They really do love the ability to share their media.

Thirdly, this isn’t a fluke.  I saw two high school girls doing the exact same thing.  They owned Zune players and with the typical human instinct, "pointed" their Zunes at each other every time they transferred a file.  I was going to tell them that they didn’t need to "point" the devices at each other but it was clear they were having way too much fun so I decided not to butt in.

Oh?  You still think it’s a fluke?  Still think the Zune folks didn’t know what they were talking about?   Alright then… I’ll ask you, "What color do you think is going to be the least popular amongst the Zune’s sold:  White, Black, or Brown?"

If you guessed "brown", you’re not just wrong – you’re DEAD WRONG.  Brown is the most popular color we sell.  Now guess what color Zune all the girls I’ve talked about own?  Yep.  That’s right.  Brown. 

Shows you what you know, ‘eh?

I’m secretly one of the most critical people there are when it comes to our products.  I know EXACTLY what’s wrong with a given product… but I also know exactly what I find useful about it as well.  And the Zune?  There’s an overwhelming amount to like about this product.  The WIRELESS SHARING OF MUSIC & VIDEOS really is a big deal. 

This has been a serious re-education in how to form an opinion.  Start with the facts and what you know 1st hand, not 2nd hand opinions & critics commentary.  After all, if it were up to the critics, shows like "American Idol" would have never made it on the air:  TV critics originally panned the show as being banal and lowest common denominator.  For the record, "American Idol" is the #1 TV in the nation getting more than a 32 million viewers per episode and having the largest 18-45 viewership amongst all shows easily topping popular shows like 24, Lost, Desperate Housewives, Grey’s Anatomy, CSI, and Heroes.

So to hell with all you haters.  I’m going to make the world’s biggest, highest quality Windows Media library known to mankind with the best content I can find for Zune… not these lousy podcasts that you see all over the place mind you but GOOD content.

Oh.  And by the way, check this out:


Don’t cry for the Zune just yet

Microsoft’s challenger to the iPod takes second place in digital audio player market in first sales week, according to report.

By David Ellis, CNNMoney.com staff writer
November 29 2006: 2:06 PM EST


NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) — Reports of lackluster sales of Microsoft’s Zune that surfaced earlier this week might be a bit premature.

Microsoft’s newest MP3 player, which launched just over two weeks ago, took second place in the portable digital player market in its first four days of sales, according to numbers generated by the market research firm NPD Group.

"Considering it is a new brand, it’s a very good first-week showing," said Ross Rubin, director of industry for NPD Group.

Taken from:  http://money.cnn.com/2006/11/29/technology/personaltech/zune/index.htm?source=yahoo_quote

Are Apple’s Steve Jobs & Sun’s Scott McNealy separated at Birth?

August 15, 2006

I don’t often refer to other blog entries.  Part of the reason for that is that I don’t want people thinking I approve or disapprove of an author’s line of thinking.  More often than not, I’ll read one entry that I think is spot on, the 24 hours later, I’ll read something else that’s just plain asinine.

But this one caught my eye and considering my background, I feel compelled to publish something about it:  It’s Paul Thurott’s article on Apple Macintosh’s Mac OS X Leopard entitled "Who’s the Copycat Now?"


I stopped being surprised a long time ago at how bizarrely the average Macintosh user acts around me once they discover I work for Microsoft – never mind that I’ve been the Mac software champion locally within Microsoft for several years – none of that seems to matter.   The most professional individual in the world seems to regress into a primordial Mr. Hyde at the mere mention of the word "Windows" as if it were the name of the person that beat up their grandmother.  If it’s not some attack about, "Why don’t you release MacOffice at the same time as Windows Office?", it’s some tired dig about, "Microsoft doesn’t know how to innovate… they copied the Mac’s <insert feature here>."

(By the way, just as a total non-sequitur, have you ever noticed that Mac users are always the ones randomly "hanging out" in coffee bars, tooling around with their Palm Treo(p) devices, driving around in VW Beetles – usually those lima bean green-colored ones, wearing bohemian clothing made of hemp fibers, and walking around with either fanny packs or tattered backpacks with writing on them made with a blue Sharpie?)


Recently however the Cult of the Mac’s fanatic behavior has taken on a completely new level.  Apparently, cult leader & Apple CEO Steve Jobs has started publicly laying in on Microsoft & Windows Vista at the Apple Worldwide Developer Conference – a move that Apple has until recently held back from acting out.

Not unlike the former CEO of Sun Microsystems Scott McNealy, Steve Jobs has apparently resorted to sustaining a constant barrage of insults and sneers as his main weapon of choice in his personal war against Microsoft and anything that doesn’t lie within his domain.  It should be noted that just like Apple, Sun’s primary source of revenue was its extravagant hardware margins… effectively killing it in the early 2000’s when it was discovered by the computer market that hardware "wasn’t where it was at".


Even with all the shouting from Cupertino, for the most part, no one in the real world seems to really give a rat’s ass.  I mean, for those of you who weren’t aware, Apple’s marketshare has slid steadily downward over the past 5 years.  That’s right:  Downward.  Macintoshes now occupy around ~2% of the computing market whereas they used to be ~6% just 5 years ago.  All those switcher commericials… all those revisions of Mac OS X… all those iPods sold hoping to hook people into buying Macs… all the hype about moving to Intel…

None of that made a bit of difference.  The world is still moving along to it’s own beat and it’s not using an Apple branded drum.  There’s been no halo effect from iPod sales, meaning there’s no correlation between Mac sales & iPod sales.  There’s been virtually no "switchers" and the move to Intel might make Macs more affordable but they haven’t changed anything in the way of software availability, programmer friendliness, or partner integration.  In fact, the day that Apple has to start dealing with System Builders pirating their OS and putting it on cheaper "clone Mac" hardware, is the day Apple starts to see what a mistake it was to move to Intel.  At least they had a chance while they were on a proprietary non-commoditized platform.


Apple makes it’s money off of the high margins it gets from it’s hardware, not from it’s OS or services.  If other manufacturers start producing hardware that MacOS X runs fine on and looks like Macs (which we’ve seen many clones of), why would anyone want to pay Apple’s margins in a commodity Intel hardware market?

And that last one is the killer:  Apple’s own agenda is to own everything – the Apple Hardware you buy, the Apple OS you buy, even the Apple applications you buy like Final Cut Pro, Keynote, & Safari… leaving very little of the pie for anyone else.  Ironically, this is the attack most often used against Microsoft by Apple fanatics:  "Microsoft wants to own everything!"  Sure the iPod has succeeded in this model, but the iPod succeeded primarily because as every think tank out there will tell you, everyone else was just so bad at marketing and coordination in this space – Microsoft & its partners included.  From advertising to device-design to end-to-end experience… it’s all been just plain BAD, next to Apple’s moderately good campaign.


So that’s been their success:  The iPod.  Their second revenue stream.  Mac was somewhat sustainable but while the XServe, Quicktime, and their other investments have virtually tanked (FinalCut Pro, while successful is too small in revenue to really be considered a factor), iPod has essentially become the other breadwinner in the family.  What’s weird though is that for all the talk about what a success the iPod’s been, what people haven’t mentioned is what happened with iTunes Music Store?  It turns out that iTMS is a complete wash for Apple.  They neither lose, nor make money on their investment in iTMS.  They’ve commoditized the cost of selling music down to a level so low that no one can effectively compete with them and turn a profit.

Why would they do that?  Because Apple makes money on the iPod.  That’s right.  Apple makes money on the extravagant prices that people are willing to pay for a high margin item that is technically inferior to most other devices on the market.  In fact, that’s the ONLY time in the iPod lifecycle that Apple makes money.  As soon as the device is sold, that’s the end of Apple’s revenue stream.  The iPod accessories ecosystem brings in virtually nothing in Apple’s 10K financial report.  Meanwhile, iTMS exists simply to provide services to iPod users, and since it’s a breakeven venture, it’s no skin off of Apple’s back as long as iPod device sales continues to make money for them.

Enter Microsoft & Zune.  If Zune can become even modestly successful and begin to take away iPod marketshare with a lower margin, well-integrated, more capable offering, Apple iPod projections could quickly take a turn for the worst.  And even if Microsoft doesn’t do it, how long before someone does?


The irony is that Linux was the worst thing that could have happened to Apple:  Apple’s no longer the only other viable game in town.  With Ubuntu Linux and that bazillion and one distros that are out there, Apple is just another OS vendor, making Apple very vulnerable to the whims of the market.  Microsoft no longer has to continue to support them.

So let’s say that Windows Vista is found to be much more secure than Windows XP, effectively ending the onslaught of security vulnerabilities typically associated with Windows.  Let’s also say that the bar set by Windows Vista in terms of hardware makes it as attractive as Apple visually.  And let’s say Microsoft works with OEM vendors to start manufacturing cool, elegantly designed hardware.  Now imagine a full subscription move for corporate customers to Windows Vista.

What do you think that would do to the Macintosh?  Add to that the threat on the iPod and I’d say you’ve got yourself a head-to-head challenge.

Oops.  Silly me.  All of this has already happened.

COMMENTARY: Your tax dollars at work – “UC Joins Google Book Search Project”

August 14, 2006

While I’m not exactly Switzerland when it comes to talking about issues involving Google, I’m a little concerned about the University of California dedicating time, energy, and most importantly, its libraries and resources to Googles’ Book Search project.  Millions upon millions of volumes will be scanned, imaged, and indexed into Google Search Indices on Google Servers and effectively become Google controlled information.

Information that my tax dollars are providing exclusively to Google.

Doesn’t it bother anyone else that a state-funded institution is unilaterally giving a commercial company the exclusive benefit of its people and libraries to enhance it’s project to search books?  Doesn’t anyone else consider this to be a blatent abuse of the UC’s powers?  Why isn’t the same benefit being provided to Yahoo?  Ask.com?  Microsoft’s Live Search?  I’m CERTAIN all 3 engines would be happy to provide the necessary back ends to index the same content.

This isn’t altruistic at all, for those of you that are fans of Google’s mantra of "Don’t be evil":  Google blatently states that their agenda explicitly commercial in this quote:  "The company sees the effort as a way to attract more vistors to its Web site, and in turn, sell more ads. Google’s text-based advertising generates the lion’s share of revenue for the company, and ads placed aside scanned works could help increase its profit margins."

Traditionally, assets like the IP and labor being contributed here by a state funded institution are collectively integrated into a shared source in an open standards fashion so that anyone can take advantage of them using things like open standards protocols. No one private entity owns the information being aggregated this way and everyone – Yahoo, Ask, and yes, even Microsoft – could make use of the fruits of the state, while also maintaining competition – not just Google. Google would be more than welcome to SPONSOR an effort again maintained and operated by the UC but certainly not own & control the environment upon which the data resides upon.

If the UC were to state that it’s contributions could be formally extracted and/or repurposed in the same way that Google is – even on Google’s own servers using remote queries – I think that would nix my concern.


BetaNews | UC Joins Google Book Search Project



COMMENTARY: More on why Blu-Ray’s video quality is so poor compared to HD-DVD

August 10, 2006
As you read in my last post, the reason Blu-ray’s video quality is so poor in its high definition DVD’s is that the codec being used is MPEG2 – a really boneheaded move by the folks assisting the studios in producing the content.  One might think, "Hmmm.  HD-DVD has access to H.264, VC-1, and MPEG2… but so does Blu-Ray.  Blu-Ray could have used a better codec."
Let’s completely ignore the fact that Blu-Ray players are $1000 & that HD-DVD players are $500. The $64 technical question has to be:  Why would the Blu-Ray folks use MPEG2 and why would they encourage such a fundamentally lousy viewing experience for their customers?
Apparently, the story I’ve heard is that Sony’s braintrust decided that MPEG-2 produced a better image than H.264 or VC-1 so they went ahead and pushed studio production teams to use their MPEG2 encoding technology in their transfer tools and author the first-release content exclusively in a format that would take much more storage space than the other two codecs at roughly the same image precision.  This made sense when they thought they’d have larger dual-layer disc capacities available at Blu-Ray’s launch.
The problem was that they didn’t have the 50GB discs available at launch (they still don’t have mass production apparently – media manufacturing yields are horrible according to ZDnet and various other reports) and had to move forward with MPEG2 encodings but at lower-bitrates on smaller capacity 25GB discs. 
Less sophisticated codecs + smaller disc capacities = poorer video quality.  Plain and simple.
So can Blu-Ray get better?  Yeah, probably – if they encourage the use of VC-1 or H.264 as the codec in use or they manage to start reliably and affordably producing 50GB Blu-Ray discs – which is unlikely.  But the fact that they didn’t release in anything but MPEG2 even when it should have been relatively easy to produce mastering samples in all 3 codecs for side-by-side comparisons tells me that something technical likely prevented this from happening. 
While their Blu-Ray disc production tools description says that they will support encoding in other formats other tha MPEG2 – I’m betting that the first wave of studios using the tools only had MPEG2 as an usable option being that everyone reviewing Blu-Ray discs are saying that the images across the board just aren’t very dramatically different from standard def DVD…most say that the video is just plain disappointing relative to HD-DVD’s demonstrable clarity and quality.
Oh.  And in other news, Microsoft demonstrated the XBox360’s upcoming HD-DVD drive.  Apparently, all the playback is done on the Tri-Core processor on the box and in software meaning that the HD-DVD drive is just a drive, which should make it VERY AFFORDABLE.

COMMENTARY: Why does the video in Blu-Ray-based HD movies suck so badly?

August 7, 2006
First of all, for those of you who missed it, the high-definition world is discovering in the first head-to-head disc-to-disc challenge between HD-DVD and Blu-Ray that HD-DVD’s picture quality has absolutely beat down Blu-Ray. 
HD-DVD and BluRay Compared Using Identical Source Material
"In our first head-to-head comparison, we found the HD DVD to be superior. The unfortunate cropping of the Blu-ray image, coupled with more noticeable compression artifacts and an overall darker cast, can’t compete with the more consistently pleasing presentation of the HD DVD … I must say, our first Blu-ray versus HD DVD comparisons continue to yield surprises. I wasn’t expecting to see much difference in video quality between the two formats with ‘Rumor Has It…’, yet the two discs did bear noticeable differences, with the HD DVD boasting better detail and a more film-like look."
The question people are asking is, "Why?"  Why has Sony apparently laid yet another goose egg along side BetaMax, Memory Stick, MiniDisc, UMD, and "ATRAC" (Like MP3 or Windows Media or Apple’s AAC, this is the audio format they use on Sony Connect, Sony’s proprietary music service… no, I didn’t think you’d heard of it.)
There are many reasons why HD-DVD is better consumer choice, but in the case of the mysterious video quality difference, the answer lies in the fact that the people at the controls of Blu-Ray decided that MPEG2 was a perfectly acceptable encoding format for high definition content.  You will recall that MPEG2 is what SD-DVD (Standard definition DVD’s) use for encoding the video stream.
Meanwhile, the folks helping the HD-DVD studios used VC-1, the documented version of the Windows Media Video 9 codec, and as a result the video quality is 100% demonstrably better to even the most unseasoned eye.  Remember that Windows Media Video 9 was created by Microsoft Research along with the Windows Media team – it’s a technological quantum leap relative to most other codecs.
"Rumor Has It…" was a movie available in both Blu-Ray & HD-DVD.  The HD-DVD version of the movie was a "flippable-DVD" meaning it provided the SD-DVD version on the opposite side or some other content, making only half the disc available for the high definition movie material.  In techie numbers, this meant that only 15GB was available for the HD-DVD content.  Compare this to the full 25GB of space that Blu-Ray had for it’s MPEG2 version being that it used the entire disc.  (Those of you that are confused should remember that contrary to the hype, Blu-Ray discs are going out to consumers as 25GB per disc.  The much ballyhooed 50GB per disc is not what consumers will have available to them when it comes to high definition movies – it’s too expensive and too hard to manufacture in quantity for something where the storage really isn’t necessary with codecs like VC-1 available)

HD-DVD >> Blu-Ray

August 7, 2006
I’m beginning to firmly believe that HD-DVD has a very good shot of beating Blu-Ray.
It initially seemed that the war was over: 
– Blu-Ray had acquired the commitments of 90% of the content owners with Sony Pictures & Entertainment, MGM, Walt Disney, 20th Century Fox, Lion’s Gate, Paramount/Dreamworks, Warner Bros, New Line Cinema and HBO committing to publish their high definition movies in Blu-Ray. 
– Additionally, companies like HP, Apple, Sun, were supporting Blu-Ray for one reason or another.
– Oh, and there’s that little thing about Sony providing a free Blu-Ray drive in each of their Playstation 3’s.
And then there was the FUD war between the technical camps:
– It was widely acclaimed that Blu-Ray promised 50GB discs relative to HD-DVD’s 35GB capacity
– It was claimed that Blu-Ray supported 1080p and HD-DVD only supported up to 1080i resolution
– It was even claimed that Blu-Ray would support lossless audio and HD-DVD wouldn’t.
Meanwhile the story for HD-DVD began to look bleaker and bleaker. 
– Only NBC/Universal was providing content for HD-DVD
– Only hardware companies like Toshiba, and Microsoft were committing to HD-DVD.
– And only the #2 market player, XBox, was supporting HD-DVD
Suddenly a string of announcements started pushing Blu-Ray off it’s pyrrhic pedestal.
– Paramount/Dreamworks, Warner Bros, New Line Cinema and HBO all announced dual format support
– Hewlett Packard reconsiders their position and supports both platforms (after a frank discussion with Microsoft and Toshiba about HD-DVD’s support for desktops & server computers, relative to Blu-Ray)
– All the assertions people were making about the technical superiority of Blu-Ray turned out to be patently false:  HD-DVD supports lossless audio as does Blu-Ray.  Additionally, media manufacturers have been completely unable to massproduce movies on 50GB Blu-Ray discs and instead have had to resort to producing movies on 25GB Blu-Ray discs.  All HD-DVD discs are recorded on disc in 1080p.
– Blu-Ray’s first player is announced at $1000 relative to HD-DVD’s first player which is $499.
And now, it’s become very apparent from reviews that HD-DVD is superior in picture quality to Blu-Ray by a long shot.  It’s so superior that it’s very visibly noticable.  HD-DVD looks to be a major step up from conventional DVD, whereas Blu-Ray looks to be a rather minor shift in quality relative to conventional DVD.
This is the first comparison of Blu-Ray vs HD-DVD’s quality & usability that I’ve seen by actual video experts, instead of CNET or Register.co.uk.
  • On the Samsung BDP1000 Blu-Ray Player:
    "Overall, our initial experience with the Samsung Blu-ray player and the initial Blu-ray discs leaves us underwhelmed. The image quality does not measure up to what we would expect from a high definition source, and it certainly falls short of the hype. Though there is an obvious difference in quality between the three Blu-ray discs we have on hand, even the best of them falls short of the video quality of our HD-DVDs. "
  • On the Toshiba HD-A1 HD-DVD Player:
    "…when the first images from the HD-A1 began to light up the screen Tuesday afternoon, all of my doubts melted away in short order. The image quality was superior to any of the previous demos I’d seen—pure, rock solid, pristine, razor sharp, highly detailed, and virtually artifact-free are just some of the superlatives that come to mind. It actually surpasses broadcast HDTV, for it is in the same class in terms of image resolution, but it is free of the noise and compression artifacts that are part of the broadcast signal. We have used several 720p resolution projectors for our initial look at HD-DVD and the results are beyond any expectation I had. Our associate Bill read my mind when he said "After seeing this it will be hard to look at standard DVD again."
  • On quality of the HD-DVD:
    "We started by viewing the film U-571 in both standard DVD and its new HD-DVD version side by side. The DVD was played on the Oppo 971 DVD player, and the HD-DVD disc was played on the Toshiba HD-A1. Both players were set to feed the signals at 1080i via DVI.
    The result: a night and day difference. The HD-DVD image was much higher in contrast and showed beautiful detail in high resolution that was completely lost in the DVD. It was smoother, cleaner, and much more three-dimensional. The standard DVD looked surprisingly dull and grainy in comparison. This was true despite the fact that the U-571 DVD is actually a much better than average video transfer."


VALUE:  I believe that $499 for HD-DVD players versus $1000 for Blu-Ray Player will make a big difference on who buys what this Christmas holiday.

  • On the topic of cost and value:
    "The Toshiba HD-A1 is currently retailing for a mere $499. HD-DVDs are selling at discounted prices as low as $18.99 through our Amazon-powered DVD store (click here for current and soon-to-be-released HD-DVD titles). For this modest investment you can literally transform the performance of your home theater."
    "From the outset we were happily surprised by the substantial improvement in image quality being delivered by the $500 Toshiba HD-DVD player. And after investing $1000 for the Samsung BD-P1000, we were expecting to see at least comparable results. After all, the player is twice the money, and the discs are encoded in the same 1080p resolution format. How different could it be?
    Quite different, as it turns out. The Blu-ray launch delivered a rude surprise—picture quality that is moderately better than that available on standard DVD, but not rising to the level of anything one could call high definition. We viewed The Fifth Element, Terminator, and The House of Flying Daggers side by side in their DVD and Blu-ray versions, deriving the same results from each test: the Blu-ray discs showed somewhat better contrast and detail over their DVD counterparts. But the difference was not nearly as dramatic as the comparisons between DVD and HD-DVD. Moreover, none of the Blu-ray discs matched the higher quality of the HD-DVDs."
    [There is a huge section entitled "The Price Factor" on the site]

MARKETING:  I’ll leave this one for later.  I have a lot to say on this.

Steve Ballmer & the “cult of Microsoft”

July 21, 2006
Someone recently passed this on to me, originally from Break.com:
This video’s been going around the Internet – it’s a employee’s recording of SteveB’s opening keynote "excitement" at our annual field sales meeting last year.  I was a little surprised to see it posted online being that this is a company confidential gig, but the content is just his introductory remarks so it doesn’t contain anything revealing.
Anything that is, other than his extreme enthusiasm for Microsoft.
Steve Ballmer is Microsoft’s CEO.  Many people use Steve’s behavior at company events like this as an example of Microsoft’s weirdness.  The fact of the matter is that Steve has been this way since I first joined the company in the early 90’s and while I see newbies come into the company (especially folks that used to be employed at IBM or Oracle) and find these sort of antics strange, I’ve never found them out of place.
This is the culture we have at Microsoft.  And Steve really does love the company.  How do I know?  I’ve had the opportunity to talk to him for long stretches of time, either in staff meetings or in past customer meetings where Steve was the executive representative for my customer.
His enthusiasm, believe it or not, is very infectious.  Many Microsoft employees used to refer to our annual field sale meeting as the time to "recharge" the batteries.  It was a very important time for FTEs to get a renewed sense of enthusiasm from those that "know the most about the company".  Naysayers might call this, "getting a refill of the company kool-aid", and maybe they’re right.  All I know is that we believe in what we’re doing, we reject what we don’t believe in, (and believe me – we have a lot of dissenters willing to call b–s— on bad decision making at this company) and we have a lot of fun executing.  These events give us an opportunity for everyone to get onto the same page from some people that everyone in the company respects.
Why?  For individuals that are engrained into the culture of Microsoft, while Bill Gates may be the embodiment of the brain & intellect of Microsoft, Steve is the embodiment of the spirit & heart of the company and it’s employees.  Steve symbolizes one of my favorite Japanese quotes:
"Lead not through instruction but by example."

25 Reasons Why attending UCLA is so special

July 5, 2006
[I found this at 3:48AM this morning and just had to blog it.]
Here are 25 major reasons why attending UCLA is so special:
1. UCLA finished as the #1 overall Collegiate Athletic Program of the 20th Century and is #1 into the 2000’s.
2. Into the 2004 school year, UCLA led all colleges in NCAA team championships won with 90. All 90 championships have been won since 1950. No school can match UCLA’s variety of successful teams.
3. Since the 1976 Olympics, UCLA has produced more Olympians and Olympic Medals than any other university. UCLA was #1 in overall gold medals among all college since 1976 going into the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.
4. Since the 1997-98 academic year (1997-98 thru 2003-2004), UCLA has been the nation’s most popular university to attend, with over 40,000 applications for admission currently. More students apply here than any other college for UCLA’s 4,000 admission spots per school year. The average student applying has over a 4.0 gpa and 1200 SAT.
5. In the latest U.S. News & World Report survey on top academic universities across the nation, UCLA is among the Top 4 public universities. UCLA has five times as many individual academic departments ranked in the Top 10 as its cross-town rival from USC. In fact, UCLA had over 60 more departments ranked in the Top 20 in the annual academic survey. Several UCLA academic departments rank with the Ivy Leagues in overall recognition and prestige.
6. UCLA won the National Championship in football in 1954. The Bruin men’s basketball team has won a record 11 NCAA titles. The Bruins have appeared in more championship games than any other school. UCLA won the 1978 Women’s Basketball National Collegiate Championship, the first major university to ever do so in front of a record crowd of 9,351 that stood for 8 years. UCLA is one of only a handful of universities that have won national championships in football and basketball.
7. The most successful active coach in NCAA history is UCLA’s Al Scates, with a record 18 NCAA men’s volleyball titles. Scates is believed to be the only current NCAA coach to have won titles in five decades – 60’s (two USVBA’s), 70’s (seven NCAA’s), 80’s (six NCAA’s) and 90’s (four NCAA’s) and the first title of the new millennium (2000). He has over 1,000 career victories.
8. Since the early 1970’s, UCLA is the only Division I university to never have had a head coach leave for another Division I college coaching job. This stability in coaching is because UCLA is the nation’s No. 1 school to desire to be a head coach. If a head coach leaves UCLA, it is usually for a position in professional sports.
9. If you add the current UCLA professional players in major league baseball, pro football, pro basketball, pro soccer, tennis and pro beach volleyball, there are more Bruin representatives playing professionally than any other school by a wide margin.
10. Michelle Kwan, the 2000 World Figure Skating Champion, attends UCLA around Olympic training. In the summer L.A. Laker Kobe Bryant has taken classes here. Sean Astin of ‘Lord of the Rings’ fame was an English honor student here. Numerous celebrities, including actress Heather Locklear and Academy Award winner Tim Robbins, have attended UCLA. There are numerous famous individuals who are attending or who have attended UCLA that are constantly in the public eye.
11. The internet was invented at UCLA. This university awards more doctoral degrees to minority students than any other college. UCLA was the first university in the Western United States at which open-heart surgery was performed. UCLA’s Medical Center has been ranked No. 1 on the West Coast every year since 1989. It is the #1 on-campus college facility in the nation.
12. Since national athletic department overall sports rankings began in 1971, UCLA is the only university to be ranked in the Top 6 every year. Only one other school has ranked in the Top 10 every year. UCLA was honored 21 times as the No. 1 men’s or No. 1 women’s program, more than double of any other university. The first time a combined athletic program was recognized, it was UCLA. Since the Director’s Cup rankings
began in 1993-94, UCLA has ranked in the Top 6 every year, a record matched by only one other.
13. UCLA is the only university to produce an NFL player who has helped his team win three consecutive Super Bowls — Ken Norton, Jr. — and a quarterback who has won three Super Bowls in four years — Troy Aikman. In 36 of the 38 years the Super Bowl has been played, UCLA has had a player in the game and most times on the championship team.
14. On the USA Women’s Beach Volleyball Professional Tour, a UCLA player has been in the championship match at every event from April 1993 through the start of the 2004 season — over 11 years and almost 200 tournaments. A UCLA player has won over 80% of the USA women’s pro beach events. UCLA has produced the teams currently ranked among the top 3 in 2004 Olympic qualification –Holly McPeak/Elaine Youngs and Jenny Johnson-Jordan/Annett Buckner-Davis. 1996 Olympians Linda Hanley, Elaine Youngs and Holly McPeak (also 2000) are both UCLA graduates. UCLA has also dominated men’s beach volleyball with the top three all-time win leaders–Karch Kiraly, Sinjin Smith and Kent Steffes all being Bruin graduates. Kiraly is the only 3-time Olympic gold medalist in VB.
15. When ‘Sports Illustrated’ rated the nation’s collegiate athletic programs for the first time, UCLA was selected No. 1. UCLA was recognized for its balance in academics, athletics and social life. UCLA remains a national fixture when thinking of top schools.
16. UCLA’s Paul Caligiuri scored the goal that advanced the USA team to the 1990 World Cup in Italy, its first appearance in decades. In virtually every international USA match since that time, UCLA has had more players on the USA team than any other college. A record five former Bruins –Cobi Jones, Brad Friedel, Eddie Lewis, Frankie Hedjuk, and Joe-Max Moore were contributing members for the 2002 USA World Cup squad that advanced to the quarterfinals.
17. The Pac-10 named UCLA’s Natalie Williams as its first female Athlete of the Decade for her All-America play in both volleyball and basketball. She followed a long line of multi-sport Bruin athletes which included stars such as Jackie-Joyner-Kersee, Rafer Johnson, Jackie Robinson, Ann Meyers-Drysdale, Jonathan Ogden, Kristee Porter, Freddie Mitchell (football & baseball), Lauren Fendrick (volleyball & softball), Whitney Jones (soccer and basketball) and current athletes like Jarrad Page (football and baseball), Ryan Hollins (basketball and track & field), Matt McKinney (basketball and volleyball) and Brittany Ringel (volleyball and basketball). UCLA’s Quarter Academic System makes multi-sport student-athletes a strong possibility.
18. UCLA was the first university in history to win seven consecutive football bowl games. UCLA has played in the Rose Bowl game in five straight decades. UCLA traditionally produces at least one first round NFL draft choice.
19. UCLA’s is situated in one of the nicest areas in Southern California, just five miles from the Pacific Ocean. The campus is surrounded by Bel Air, Beverly Hills, Westwood and Brentwood. The average home price within a three-mile radius of the Bruin campus is valued at almost $2 million dollars. The average year-round temperature is 74 degrees with little humidity.
20. Located in the nation’s No. 2 media market, UCLA student-athletes receive national exposure as well as local coverage from a dozen newspapers, seven television stations and cable networks such as ESPN and Fox Sports Net. UCLA’s web site is one of the 10 most looked at college sites in the nation. The UCLA Daily Bruin is as large as any college newspaper in the nation for parents to be able to follow their sons or daughters on a regular basis.
21. In the sport of tennis, UCLA is the only university to have two players from the same school play for the prestigious Wimbledon title–Jimmy Connors and Arthur Ashe in 1975. On the collegiate level, UCLA has been one of the two most dominant programs, winning numerous team and individual titles.
22. The UCLA job placement system for college students to locate full-time and part-time jobs plus internships is #1 in the nation as an important academic resource. UCLA is a clear No. 1 in placement of its students and student-athletes in these positions, and the Quarter System allows internship experience with class credit around playing sport seasons. The most internships are in business, communications, and science.
23. UCLA had the longest streak in NCAA history for consecutive winning seasons in the sport of men’s basketball, a record that lasted over 50 years in length dating back to 1948-49 and extending through 2002. No other major program was/is close to that figure.
24. UCLA is the university/country that has produced the women’s 100-meter dash winner in four straight Olympics – Evelyn Ashford in 1984, Florence Griffith-Joyner in 1988 and Gail Devers in 1992 and 1996. UCLA is the only university to produce Olympic gold medalists in the decathlon (Rafer Johnson in 1960) and heptathlon (Jackie Joyner-Kersee in 1988 & 1992).
25. When you combine UCLA’s prestigious academics (its graduates average over $75,000 per year in income), a great all-around athletic program that produces championships and professional athletes, and an incredible social life so close to the beach, there is no university that can match the "total package" that UCLA offers. 

COMMENTARY: Why a new blog?

July 3, 2006
Back in 1999, I had a blog that I ran on Blogger for a few years until they got acquired by Google.  Microsoft started up their blogging service and so I started up my primary blog site on MSN Spaces.
I also branched off and did http://sake101.spaces.msn.com – a blog exclusively for sake information but I realized that I really need something to satisfy my need to just do a complete and total core dump.  And frankly, none of my other two blogs really were appropriate places to talk about personal topics that are important to me like Animal Shelters, the Game Console wars, livin’ large in Las Vegas, UCLA sports, why Macromedia Video sucks… stuff like that.
So enter http://kurtsthoughts.spaces.msn.com.  I consider this a real diary.  And don’t be offended if I start to really go off on topics – uncensored.  Seriously.  I’m not gonna link this sh-t to any of my other blogs.  This is not a customer-friendly place to be, and I’m not writing as a Microsoft employee any more.  I’ll be blogging in between doses of the Microsoft kool-aid and I’m not wearing my ‘Borg’ helmet.
’cause hey… if Scoble, Rory, and others can do it…