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Monthly Archives: October 2012

Apple Special Event, October 2012, Impression

Apple streamed the video very quickly. I’m guessing they are now extremely well rehearsed and confident about the performance to even do a live streaming. Well, let’s cut to the chase, and drop my 2 cents.

Just with any Apple keynote, it starts with stats. Tim Cook on stage, iPhone 5 selling like hotcakes, pretty neat video, iPod Touch selling like hotcakes, yada yada yada. Tim was highlighting how the new iOS6 features are already used in the millions.

Tim also took the opportunity to emphasize that iPad apps are not “stretched out” phone apps. Punch #1 against Android.

iBooks stats. Sorry Tim, imo e-ink is still the ideal screen for eBooks. New iBooks featuring continuous scrolling, a departure from the classic idea of pages. Beautiful Korean fonts, and Chinese, said Tim Cook.

Bam, the Mac. Yeah, so much for a segway. Apple is selling more. Yeah, most people know that Apple is printing money.

Phil Schiller on stage. Beautiful, gorgeous, best, describing the 15″ retina display. And as expected, now retina display comes to the 13″ Macbook Pro. Lightest Macbook Pro ever. Well… DUH! The retina display resolution continues to astound me. 2560 x 1600. Yeah, more than even my iMac. I still drool over the idea of photo editing on a retina Macbook Pro.

And, what’s missing from the inside? Discreet graphic. Yup, the 13″ Macbook “Pro” only has the HD4000 intel graphics. Advise to people, you may want to sit this one out and wait for Haswell. You’ve been warned. I doubt the “better” speaker is worth the price of this one. Starting price $1699. Shipping today. Again, THIS is why Apple is succeeding. Many other companies cannot even ship their products months after announcement, let alone same day.

17″ MBP is still MIA. 17″ retina display would be mind blowing.

Next, Mac mini. A refresh for the step child. Might be one of the few Macs left with Firewire 800. Quad core at this tiny footprint is amazing though. Starts with dual core i5 for $599. Server version uses quad-core i7 with 2x1TB drives (but only 4GB of RAM?) for $999.

And the big one, the iMac. No more optical drive, and what you get is a super thin display unit. It’s… amazing. I mean really, being able to make an iMac that thin, with a full computer inside, it’s mind blowing. Sure, it’s just the edge that’s 5mm, but it’s still damn thin. This is why I love Apple, and why I hate Apple when Phil said how a new thing can make the previous one look so old. Damn you Apple.

No retina display, but it’s fully laminated and individually calibrated. Phil keep saying how much better the speaker on this new iMac too, but who cares as a separate 2.1 speaker would probably still be better. Something gotta give right, for something this thin. The obvious one is the optical drive. Well, the hard-drive got a downgrade too, starting with a 5400rpm drive, which we know is kinda slow for a desktop. Apple’s best marketing is upselling, and they want you to upgrade to the fusion drive, basically Apple’s marketing scheme for hydrid SSD+traditional hard drive. Apple is using its own software to optimize performance on what files are going to the SSD.

21.5″ iMac starts at $1299. Yes, Phil conveniently skipped the fact that it comes with 5400rpm drive. 27″ starts at $1799. Shipping in November for the 21.5″ and December for the 27″. And I bet it’s non-user upgradeable at all, not even the RAM, which is unfortunate as Apple gouges you on upgrades. Another odd design decision, due to the thinner edge, the SD card slot goes to the back, like the Mac mini. That’s not really intuitive, but at least you won’t mistake the SD slot with the super drive. Seriously, one time I slipped an SD card into the super drive of my iMac without realizing it, and was freaking out in trying to get it out.

Tim is back, and iPad stats again. 100million iPads sold. It’s interesting that Tim is showing how Apple is selling more iPads than Windows PC manufactures, AFTER the new iMac announcement. Yes Tim, everybody loves iPad, and everybody use iBooks.

Interestingly enough, Tim Cook mentioned how the new iBooks allows publisher to “update” text books. Yeah, good luck with that. Publishers love to gouge students by having them buy new books every year.

Phil is back. You know that “new” iPad that you just bought? Well, yeah, that’s no more. Apple is releasing the iPad 4, a “newer” iPad, and discontinued the short-lived iPad 3. Interestingly enough, the iPad 2 is still available. This boggles the mind on why Apple would do this, but they did it. The “newer” iPad comes with an A6X processor and lightning connector. It also has 720p front-facing camera, and the more world-compatible LTE radio. Same price points. Yeah, so much for the iPad 3…

Along the new iPad, Apple is also announcing lightning to USB, SD adapter, HDMI, and VGA (individual adapters).

And finally, iPad mini, hiding behind the newer iPad. Really great segway. New design, look a lot like the new iPod Touch. Even the black one has a black back. It looks more like an iPod Touch XL than an actual iPad mini, and alas, the specs say so. 7.9″, 1024×768, IPS display. Yup, no retina here, which is ironic considering how Tim Cook was pushing iBooks. The focus is thinner and lighter. Phil didn’t even bother to mention the display being IPS, let alone it not being retina.

Oh, the Nexus 7, punch #2 against Android. It’s plastic, thicker, more bezel, and heavier. But guess what Phil, the Nexus 7 has higher PPI with its 720p display. Also, it starts at $199. Phil did point out the disadvantage of ICS/Jelly Bean’s virtual buttons that is taking up screen space. Oh, and Phil just keep on going in comparing iPad apps with Android apps.

Now, the letdown. A5 chip. Yeah, Apple can put an A6 on the iPhone, but only an A5 for the iPad mini? REALLY APPLE? Come on. At least it has 720p facetime camera, and LTE version, unlike the Nexus 7 that is stuck at 16GB wifi only max (and doesn’t even support 5GHz wifi n). Cue in another documentary by yours truly, Johnny Ive. They keep comparing the iPad mini with the iPad 2. Well, guess what Apple, you yourself was just talking about the iPad 4. That’s number 4, 2 more than the iPad 2. I want the iPad mini to be a smaller version of the CURRENT iPad, not the iPad 2 generations behind.

Oh, new smart covers for the iPad mini. Gone are the aluminum part, just the clothed colored cover.

It’s amazing how they are pushing this iPad mini on the documentary, despite the obvious failures (no retina display, no A6).

Pricing, 16GB wifi at $329. $100 to double the capacity, and $130 extra for cellular radio. Pre-order October 26, shipping the wifi version first to a lot of countries, again showing the reason Apple is so successful.

Tim is back to close the presentation.

So, how did my prediction go? Well, I over estimated Apple. I thought Apple would not cut corners with the iPad mini, using A6 processor, but I was wrong. At least I was correct in mentioning the use of IPS, where many tech blogs said otherwise that the iPad mini would’ve used the inferior 3GS screen. I was correct in the pricing, but I missed the fact that Apple is keeping the iPad 2 (and instead discontinuing the “no longer new” iPad with an A6X iPad).

A mixed bag presentation. I’m not bothered with the retina Macbook Pro until Haswell. The new iMac design simply awed me. It’s incredible, period, but real-life usability, I would still need an optical drive on a desktop. However, the reason I was excited about this was for the iPad mini, and I was disappointed that Apple is cutting corners on the iPad mini, by making it a smaller iPad 2 instead of a smaller iPad 4. I’m torn. I was so ready to get one, but now I’m cautious, fearing that Apple would release the real iPad mini (with retina display and A6) in 6 months from now. *sigh.

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Posted by on October 23, 2012 in apple, event, impression, Keynote

 

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Apple’s “a little more” November 2 Event Prediction

The iPhone 5 was just released, but it feels like an old news now. The rumors are now focused on the next Apple event on November 2nd. The speculations are highly geared towards the venerable iPad mini, a smaller ~8″ iPad. The photo leaks are bountiful, so it’s pretty much a given imo. So now the speculations move on to the spec and price. I’m joining in with my 2 cents.

There are many speculations around the screen, how it’s going to be similar to the iPhone 3GS, ie. an inferior screen to the IPS panels used for the regular iPads and iPhone 4/4S/5. Imo Apple wouldn’t do this. Apple is not that stupid. The 5th gen iPod Touch itself has an IPS screen, so it wouldn’t make sense to “downgrade” the iPad mini. Apple is proud for its choice of panels on its various products (Macs, Macbooks, etc). The iPad mini will have the same IPS panel. Resolution wise, per the rumors, would be 1024 x 768, making it denser than the original/iPad 2’s screen, but not retina. Considering the yield and cost for retina screens (for the “new” iPad, iPhone 5, and “new” Macbook Pro), I’m going to guess Apple will do this and save a retina version for next revision. It will be highly criticized as the competitors are employing 720p screens for their 7″ tablets, but I bet Apple’s marketing machine will spin it in a magical way that you won’t care.

Going down to the chip used, IMO it’s going to be the A6. The rumors are speculating that Apple would use the A5 (to differentiate it as a lower model than the big iPad). I doubt it. The iPad is a flagship brand, and I don’t think Apple would treat the iPad mini like the iPod Touch, which is the step-child of the iPhone. I was already surprised that Apple put the A6 inside the iPhone 5, instead of parodying the “new” iPad (using A5X). The A6 has the advantage of being smaller and more power efficient than the A5/A5X, something that is needed by the smaller iPad to keep the tag of “legendary” battery life.

RAM wise, I hope it would be 1GB just like its bigger brother, but I won’t be surprised if Apple decided to put 512MB instead. 512MB is still usable (iPad 2, iPhone 4S, 5th gen iPod Touch).

The leaked SKUs is showing multiple models, parodying the lineup of the regular iPad, ranging from 16GB to 64GB, each with 3G/4G wireless version. Having cellular radio version from day 1 will definitely be an advantage against the popular Android tablet, Nexus 7.

The highly controversial topic is the pricing. In the past, Apple used to have fairly comfortable price gaps for their lineup (I remember the 64GB original iPod Touch selling for like $600). Today, with the ceiling being $499 from the 16GB wifi “new” iPad, and the floor being $299 from the 32GB 5th gen Touch, there’s not much wiggle room. Currently, the rumor is $329 for the lowest end (presumably 16GB wifi version), adding $100 for double the capacity, up to 64GB, and just like the regular iPad, adding $130 premium for the models equipped with cellular radio. As you can see, the pricing becomes a jumble of mess. I don’t know how Apple is going to approach this.

Speaking about price, the obvious thorn is the iPad 2, which is still being sold today at the $399 price point. I’m going to guess that it will be discontinued (relegated to the refurbished section) to at least leave a bit of breathing room for the iPad mini. The iPad 2 itself is still a great device, and if an even further price drop happened, it will be a good deal snatching one up from the refurbished store.

Oh, and how about the name? iPad mini makes sense. Simple, straight, and parodied the Mac mini (and the defunct iPod mini).

Besides the iPad mini, there are other Apple products that are due for an update. The regular iPad themselves are rumored to be refreshed with the lightning dock connector, eliminating the 30-pin models. The Mac mini is als overdue for Ivy bridge update. Same thing with the iMac. Another contender is also a 13″ retina Macbook Pro, which would also fit the “little more” tagline, to go side-by-side the previously announced 15″. The dilemma here is due to the late update, one may want to actually pass on these Ivy Bridge Macs, especially the retina Macbook Pro, and wait for Intel’s Haswell next year.

So there you go. Imo this is going to be a smaller event, unlike the iPhone 5/iPod announcement. Focus will be the iPad mini. I’ve been liking the 7″ form factor of my Nexus 7, as it’s a lot more convenient to take with you, while still having a decent screen space compared to a smartphone. The downside of the Nexus 7 is the limited storage and the lack of cellular radio version. If Apple makes a 64GB iPad mini with cellular radio, that’s it, I’m getting one.

 
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Posted by on October 21, 2012 in 2012, apple, event, Keynote

 

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Accel World: Awakening of the Silver Wings PSP Review #accel_world

Finally cleared Accel World Ginyoku no Kakusei for the first run. This is the first game based on the franchise Accel World, available for the PSP and PS3. I bought the PSP version since the PS3 version is so expensive. Besides, having it on my PSP allows me to play it wherever I want. This game, like most Japanese only games, are also available in a cheaper Asia version, and it’s the same thing (even the special edition with the OVA is available). There’s no English manual at all, so prepare to consult the internetz and/or trial and error if you don’t understand Japanese.

Let’s start with the review. (Note: there will be spoiler.)

First and foremost, Accel World’s story is revolved around Haruyuki Arita and a virtual fighting game called Brain Burst. In this game, you will be Haru/Silver Crow. For a game based on a virtual fighting game, Accel World Ginyoku no Kakusei is not a fighting/action game. So if that’s what you’re hoping for, save your money. Just looking at the screenshots online, one can deduce that it’s the typical Japanese adventure/dating simulation game.

Basically, you will be seeing a static image most of the time with dialogues on screen. Most of the time, all you will be doing is pressing circle to move to the next dialogue. You can press the left shoulder button to toggle an auto-mode. There are few decision trees to pick your date and unlock some pictures. There’s a light RPG element in the game where you can improve the special moves of your duel avatar, but that’s about it. Picking up the right response and giving the right gifts for your dates are more important here. Having said that, Brain Burst battle is there, but it’s not what you think. The Brain Burst battle is basically a turn-based rock/paper/scissor fight, where you assign values to your duel avatar’s offense, defense, accuracy, and evasion points, and hope that yours are more than the opponent’s during the fight. It might feel hard or complicated at first unless you understand Japanese, but it’s actually pretty easy once you understand the concept and pattern. This feels tacked on though, as you don’t even participate in many of the “battles” that are part of the story. You can always do a free battle on your own, but it doesn’t give you any experience or anything. Your level is hard-coded with the story. That’s right, you don’t get to level up on your own. The story dictates what level you are, again emphasizing that this is not an RPG/fighting game, the main game is the adventure/dating simulation.

(Battle tip: Press and hold the triangle button, and use the D-pad to distribute your purple gauge into points for your stats)

There are two mini games that are unlocked once you pass certain points in the game. First one is a game based on Silver Crow’s training with Sky Raker, having to climb Tokyo Tower. You climb by alternating the left and right shoulder buttons while matching with the timing of the on-screen cue, with the D-pad to move left/right, and circle to do a head-butt. While you’re climbing, Sky Raker will drop bread or wash basin (yeah, go figure). Bread will increase your health, which is important as your health continuously drops through time. So not only you have to climb, you have to catch some bread and dodge the basins, and reach the top before times up. It’s pretty hard.

Second game is Love Squash, based on the virtual squash game that Haru played in the beginning of the anime. You move with the d-pad, serve and hit the ball with circle, and when your special move gauge is filled, you can push triangle to unleash a special move that will speed up the ball. There are two opponents, Scarlet Rain and Black Lotus. I managed to beat Scarlet Rain, but Black Lotus is impossible. Good thing you don’t have to win this game in the story.

Both mini games have retro 8-bit music with them, which is amusing.

Now to the graphics. Most screenshots you see online are clearly from the PS3 version. The graphics on the PSP version is a meh, for obvious reasons. The PSP is an old system. Jaggies are aplenty due to the low resolution, but that’s expected. The character models are actually not bad during the adventure mode, but what hurts the most is the low-res/low quality textures for the 3D models. This is most apparent on the duel avatars, especially Silver Crow. From the screenshots of the PS3 version, Silver Crow really looks metallic. On the PSP version, he’s just, well, kinda grey colored. The battle stages are no better, mostly barren with low-res textures. Having said that, the graphics would probably be acceptable during the PS1/PS2 era, and considering the limitation of the PSP system and the UMD media, I guess it’s a decent trade off as you can see later. Again, the emphasis is on the adventure part. The 2D illustrations themselves are beautiful and vibrant, with the same style as the anime.

The best part of this game is the sound. Why? Because the game is mostly fully voiced, by the same seiyuu of the anime. This is AWESOME! Heck, they really went overboard with this, by having each characters do a version of the legal warning. My favorites are Niko’s version, telling onii-chan that pirating the game is bad, and Ash Roller’s “Terra bad!!” ^_^ And yes, every dialogue of the characters are voiced, even the opponents in battles (which includes Yellow Radio, Rust Jigsaw, Black Vice, etc) with the exception of the player’s (Haru) in the adventure mode. Haru is voiced when there’s a special scene in the Accelerated World and during battle. I noticed though in battles, Haru’s voice is clearly encoded at lower quality. Now considering the extensive voice work, you can expect the limited space of the UMD might be an issue, so I can excuse the use of low-res textures for the graphics.

The music itself is okay, but can be repetitive, especially the battle music. I wish they used the same BGM as the anime. Oh well, at least they put the Anime’s OP when the game starts, complete with may’n’s Chase the World. Alas, the animation seems jerky and suffers from color banding. Seems like they encode the video at a low frame-rate and low quality, probably due to the limited amount of space of the UMD.

Now, the story (major spoiler). The story right after the first arc (Cyan Pile). Kuroyukihime is recovering in the hospital, and Taku starts going to the same school as Haru. However, the story differs completely from the original after this. In the original, Chiyu didn’t become a Burst Linker until after the second arc (Chrome Disaster) when they are in second year. Here, Chiyu decided to install Brain Burst right away, while they are still in first year.

Some differences of the story points between the anime and the game (may not be in chronological order. I’m just basing these off memory):
-Niko’s deception pretending to be Haru’s cousin is extended. They even played out the scenario that Taku in the original story thought, where Niko tries to appeal for Haru’s help by pretending to be bullied by her peers. Also, there’s no Chrome Disaster nor Cherry Rook (Chrome Disaster is conveyed differently, in the Dusk Taker arc).
-The circumstances of meeting Sky Raker is not due to Silver Crow losing his flight ability. The Dusk Taker arc is played way later, at the last part of the game. Sky Raker, and the meeting of Fuuko with Kuroyukihime, happens way early here in the game.

-Haru and Taku learning of the incarnate system is before the Dusk Taker arc
-There’s a completely original story with its own arc, where Silver Crow is leading a minor legion with members from various legions, including Blood Leopard and Ash Roller.
-Rust Jigsaw and Black Vice are introduced fairly early, before the Dusk Taker arc
-Kuroyukihime’s trip doesn’t coincide with the Dusk Taker arc
-Seiji Noumi started as a goody two shoes boy. He even friends with everybody.
-Silver Crow had his flight ability stolen by Dusk Taker in front of the Nega Nebulous members, and the mystery is they don’t know who Dusk Taker is.

Of course, the major attraction of the game is the dates between the player (Haru) and the various characters (including Taku). Meeting them, picking the right responses during dates, and giving them gifts will improve Haru’s relationship with the characters, and will unlock the various 2D anime illustrations. Haru and Hime are so cute together.

Due to the choices you made, you probably cannot unlock all the pictures in one go (I don’t). The game will let you save a cleared game and do a “game plus” mode where you keep your money and duel avatar’s skill level from the previous game. Any dialogue you’ve been through will be in grey, which is kinda annoying as it’s harder to read.

Overall, I enjoyed the game, mainly because I’m an Accel World fan. The fact that the game has a completely different story and timeline than the original kinda bugs me a little bit, but the game’s original story is also fun and still carry the same feel as the original (although the Dusk Taker arc and ending have much less impact compared to the original). Again, if you expect a fighting game, move along, nothing to see here. If you are familiar with the Japanese style adventure game, you’ll be right at home. The high production value (the voices by the original seiyuu) is worth the price of admission. PSP or PS3? I assume the content is the same, with the PS3 having better graphics and textures, although judging from the screen shots, it’s nothing to brag about (ie. it’s no Uncharted/Final Fantasy). If you want the Blu-ray of the OVA, then the choice is the PS3 special edition. Other than that, having a portable PSP version imo is more convenient as I can play it whenever and wherever.

Being an Accel World game, I’m a bit biased. Story wise, I would give the game 9 out of 10. As for the overall game itself, probably more like 7 out of 10. There’s not much interactivity in the typical Japanese adventure/dating simulation game, and the graphics is a meh. However, the voice work takes the cake. I do wish they voiced the game 100%. For non Accel World fans, or for those not familiar with this type of game, I would say it’s about 5 out of 10. Like most anime/light novel-based adventure/dating simulation games, it’s basically a fan service for the fans, not for the general audience.


A sequel of the game is obviously planned as Utai appeared briefly without any introduction. It’s a great distraction to ease my addiction after the anime ended. Now if only they would officially release the light novels in English.

 
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Posted by on October 7, 2012 in anime, game, review, video

 

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Accel World Ep 04 Censorship #accel_world

People talks about anime being censored outside Japan, but even in Japan, anime do get censored, usually in the broadcast version which is used on most fansubs. A lot of times it involves partial nudity (eg. nipples, butt crack, etc). The common method used is to apply some patches of bright white bloom over the area, or some get creative by using an additional image (usually a chibi ver of the character) over the area, acting like a “sticker” on top of it.

Accel World, interestingly enough, is being censored too, with episode 4 being prominent. The most noticeable is the scene of the car accident, where Araya tried to run over Haru and Kuroyukihime. When I watched the broadcast version, I noticed this:

I thought like WTF? There’s a huge white bloom over what supposed to be Araya’s face. Were they trying to keep it a mystery? Well, even Haru said it’s Araya, and it’s portrayed in the manga too. Well, I guess it’s censored. Here’s the uncensored screenshot from the blu-ray:

Question is, why? Is Araya’s face too “violent”? It’s not that different than other countless anime characters out there.

Next scene is when Haru woke up. The broadcast version simply crop out the whole frame to exclude most of the image of the car in the background, resulting in less than sharp/a bit blurry frame as it’s “lower resolution” than intended.
Broadcast version:

Blu-ray version:

And lastly, when Haru cried over Kuroyukihime, the broadcast version simply had a grey bloom over the car. At a glance, this can actually be seen as a smoke coming from the car.

Blu-ray version:

Thanks to the power of the internetz and google, this was done actually in relation to an accident happening 2 weeks before the broadcast. A man driving a minivan in Kyoto had an epileptic episode, and ending up killing and injuring pedestrians. Not sure how it relates to censoring Araya’s face though.

Well, there you go. If you’ve been wondering about those scenes, they are uncensored in the DVD/Blu-ray. Were the censors necessary? I don’t know. It’s understandable to be sensitive about the accident, but to what extend? It’s not like you won’t know it’s a car crash. Curiously, they didn’t censor the blood oozing out from Kuroyukihime. Curious to see how the censorship went with animes like Mirai Nikki, Death Note, etc.

 
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Posted by on October 6, 2012 in anime

 

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