Tuesday, January 11, 2011

CES 2011 Wrap-Up

Well, folks, I just flew in from Las Vegas and, boy, are my arms tired. (rimshot)

But seriously, CES 2011 was incredible. My first ever trade show. I first decided that I had to go to CES after reading about it in Nintendo Power magazine at age 9. This was the first time in my life that I had the means to go. I had a ball. This was a solo mission. The event was held at the Las Vegas Convention Center, which is the size of about 14 football fields, and that's not even the whole show. The Venetian Hotel houses the spill-over, which is mostly high-end audio. CES is not open to the public as such. You have to be "in the industry." I went as the CEO of my own non-existant computer consulting firm, Panoptic Solutions, Ltd. Little did I know that lying was unnecessary, as I could have gone as the IT buyer of the company I actually work for, for whom I actually am the tech buyer, and which would have been totally legit. Oh well, no harm or foul. The CEA (governing body of CES) has my $100 entrance fee, so whatever.

I basically spent all day this past Thursday and Friday walking, playing with gadgets, looking at new technologies, and bullshitting with vendors. The LVCC portion of CES was divided into 3 halls: North, Central and South. North had video game stuff and automotive stuff. Cars and car stereos. Central was mostly A/V. South, twice as big as North and Central combined, was mostly phones and computer stuff.

There were no show-stopping devices or technologies this year. There was, however, 120,000 attendees, which is a "holy shit" number for everyone involved. The 3 recurring themes of this year's show were: tablet PC's, 3D TV's, and electric cars. I only saw a couple electric cars, but I saw tons of 3D and tablets. Tablet computing seems to be the new laptop. People must really like touchscreen typing. I don't, but whatever. There are definitely applications for this type of thing, like touchscreen jukeboxes, but give me a laptop or netbook any day over these, at least until the software side matures a bit.

I had a long discussion with a Panasonic rep about electronics recycling. They made a big deal out of the fact that they are really pushing to use non-toxic and recyclable materials in their electronics. They're also pushing out a recycling program for all their old stuff, like tube TV's. This is promising, but I told him he NEEDS to have his superiors approve marketing these eco-friendly programs, and if it's not bullshit, meaning they actually are doing something, then that can translate in to real dollars in their pockets by tapping into the hippie market. I'm not holding my breath.

Disappointment #1: No Oppo, Nintendo, Apple, or HTC. Oppo, my favorite DVD/Blu-ray player vendor, may have been there, but I couldn't find them. HTC didn't need to be there because all of the cell carriers and phone OS-makers were already showing off their stuff for them. Nintendo holds its own show in Japan the same week as CES. Apple basically says "F-you" to everyone. Side note: Apple actually stole the show by allowing Verizon to "announce" during CES a special press conference, held today, which everyone knew was going to be to annouce the Verizon iPhone, which they did.

Disappointment #2: 3D is not ready yet. I tried every TV makers' 3D TV's. I tried active glasses, passive glasses, and even glasses-free technologies. Bottom line: it sucks for everything except still imagery. The colors are dull, the backgrounds are blurry, you see double most of the time, and the images are juddery. The exception to this, besides still images, might be video games. Might. Since I'm not a gamer, I could care less, but some people might dig it for first-person shooters, etc. You won't catch me watching any 3D movies any time soon. Avatar in 2D looks beautiful.

See my Top 5 CES gadgets here.

Also, I have a new crush. I saw this video playing in an elaborate living room home theater setup on the show floor. I was so enthralled with this woman, Diana Krall, and her music that I actually started clapping after the song was over, completely forgetting that I was not at a concert. Seriously, she's unbelievable.

Even though I had a great time, I'm not going alone again. I need a partner in crime for something of this magnitude. A kindred spirit. A fellow geek. If I can find someone like-minded for a future show, then it's on.

You can view my full CES 2011 photostream here.

My Top 5 Gadgets of CES 2011

As part of my CES Wrap-Up, here's my picks for Best of CES 2011, in no particular order:

2012 Ford Focus

Plug-in electric car from an American carmaker. 'Nuff said.

Panasonic VT30 Series Plasma TV's

I picked this series of TV out of all of them because I believe this to be the best 2D TV on the market, not for its 3D performance or features. 3D is not ready for prime time, as I mentioned previously. Panasonic has the best plasmas on the market, which I enjoy more than LCD/LED sets. These TV's represent the best of display technology, with super dark, inky blacks, bright whites, accurate colors, and few motion issues, if any. I wish I could afford one.

Asus Transformer

I'm really not interested in a tablet PC for myself. I just don't see a use for it, personally. Having said that, the Asus Transformer blends tablet and netbook in a way I can definitely get down with. If its performance is up to snuff, and we won't know for sure until probably this summer, then I may get one.

Motorola Atrix

This phone is closer to a PC than anything before it. You travel with it, bring it home, dock it, and use it as a light PC, and maybe even watch a movie on it. It has the CPU and RAM to do it as well. Wow.

XI3 Modular Computer

For a guy like me that digs lightweight PC's, this was very interesting. From what I understand, you can swap out a bunch of little daughterboards, and upgrade them as new hardware comes out. You can also use 1 as a centrally located system, and have a few others around the house as thin clients or dumb terminals. I'm keeping my eyes on these guys for sure.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

My Top 10 Favorite Neo Geo Games

In the wake of the completion of my Neo Geo Bartop, I've had a chance to play most of the games for the Neo Geo. Here's a list of my favorite games as of now:

10. Blazing Star

There are several shmups (shoot 'em ups) for the Neo Geo. Most are pretty good, but this is my favorite. The game looks great, with rich, detailed levels and smooth game play. Not too easy or too hard. Fun power-ups and weapons.

9. Magical Drop III

I started playing this puzzle game recently. It's pretty addictive. Much more fun with 2 players than 1, but great nonetheless. I still haven't figured out a foolproof strategy. Sort of similar to Columns, but with a top-down push/pull instead of just push.

8. Garou: Mark of the Wolves

There must be 50 fighting games for the Neo Geo. Many are terrible. Garou is an exception. Great graphics, solid physics, and a character named Butt. What more do you need? Yes, there's the King of Fighters series, which has a few decent titles, but Garou just feels better to me. I have to admit that I only like a couple of Neo Geo fighters. I'm much more into Capcom's fighters, but SNK has a few winners, including this one.

7. Nightmare in the Dark

If you like zombies, and you like Bubble Bobble, then you'll love Nightmare. Plays almost exactly the same as BB, but with huge boss characters every few levels. In the game, you're a graveyard caretaker that lights zombies and mummies on fire. Awesome.

6. League Bowling 

It's no Wii Bowling, but it's a stripped down, fun as hell bowling game with goofy animations. One of the first Neo games, and one of the best.

5. Neo Mr. Do! 

A remake of the original 80's arcade hit, Mr. Do!. The original can't hold a candle to this one, though. The game is the same, but the feel is far more smooth, and the graphics are cartoony, crisp and colorful. The cut scenes are goofy, but well done. I'm actually getting pretty good at this one, which should tell you how often I've been playing it. Overall, a beautiful and fun puzzle/action game.

4. Neo Turf Masters

Greatest golf game ever, hands down. Golden Tee and Tiger Woods got nothing on Turf Masters, as far as I'm concerned. The simplicity of the game play is what makes it so great. The courses are well designed, and frankly, quite difficult. If you can stay under par for a round on hard difficulty level, that's an accomplishment. If you like golf games, you'll love this one.

3. Metal Slug 3

Any game where you can turn into a zombie and puke blood on your enemies is going to make it into my top 10. I love this game. Like the other MS games, it's basically a run 'n gun (i.e. Contra) on steroids. This one is unique, however. You can play though it a total of about 72 different ways because of all the possible paths available, which makes for huge replay value. The graphics, bosses, gameplay, and overall fun are all way up there.

2. Baseball Stars 2

Best baseball game ever. Basically an updated RBI Baseball. Great graphics and gameplay. The power-ups in this one are unique to baseball games, at least that I've played. Neo Geo isn't necessarily known for its sports games, but this one is a winner.

1. Puzzle Bobble/Bust-A-Move

The funnest puzzle game since Tetris. The game is really simple, but really tough to master. Match the colors, that's it. There are many sequels to this one, with powerups and other bells and whistles, but the stripped-down original is the best. My girlfriend and I have an ongoing competition to set the high score on this one. She's way better than me.