PlayStation Home

One of the features of the PlayStation 3 has been the Home "game". I use game in quotes because it isn't really a game, per se, but a virtual environment where PS3 owners can mingle, see previews for game, movies, and accessories, as well as socialize with their brethren. If you have ever heard of SecondLife, PlayStation Home is a much scaled down version of that.

I've spent a few hours dabbling in Home. It's certainly an interesting idea: provide a 3D virtual environment that recreates a campus atmosphere and let players use it however they like. Unfortunately, it isn't a new idea, and it has rarely worked in other scenarios. Remember VRML? It was supposed to be the next big thing in web interfaces back at the turn of the millennium, allowing users to mingle at a 3D website together. Or more recently, how about Google Lively? Never heard of it eh? It was another attempt at 3D virtual social environments that just never had legs. Second Life has succeeded by filling a particular niche well. That niche being the ability for someone to anonymously fulfill whatever bizarre kink they like to indulge (furries much?) Oh, and some folks manage to make a living at it, but mostly it is about sex.

PS Home doesn't have that aim. Worse, it doesn't have any aim. After spending several hours listlessly wandering the sterile environments (a personal apartment, campus plaza, bowling alley, mall, and theater) I found absolutely nothing compelling to do. The few games that are available feel half-baked, and aside from Echochrome, there is no reason to play them (playing Echochrome wins you a new outfit). Like SecondLife, there are shops where you can use real money to purchase upgrades for your avatar, such as new clothes or furniture for your apartment. Unlike SecondLife, there is no way to earn that money, or to get the virtual items without spending cash. As such, it feels like a shallow attempt to nickel and dime the players ($7 for a santa outfit you have to buy a piece at a time!!!)

Let me take a step back and describe my first experiences. The night that the beta was opened to the general public, I logged on around 11 in the evening to see what the fuss was about. After a few minutes dressing up my avatar with the paltry set of clothing and shaping selections (the Wii has this totally beat for being able to create a recognizable representation of your likeness) I was delivered to my apartment. A sterile, empty place with a seaside view, and all the furniture facing the wall. I'll leave out the bits about the application crashing (it did, a lot). After familiarizing myself with the controls, I stepped downloaded the rest of the environments and stepped out in the plaza. Here I was met with probably hundreds of other likeminded curious gawkers. Most were milling about, wandering from place to place to see what Home had to offer. The bowling alley was chock full of folks waiting in line to play the games that were available at the lanes and in the arcade. This post and comic from Penny-Arcade sum up that experience pretty well. The Mall environment had a few stores, but I wasn't about to start spending 50 cents to $2 for the privilege of "personalizing" my avatar or apartment.

Twenty minutes later I had seen everything in home, and was unimpressed. I went to the plaza again to see if I could find any interesting conversation going. That's when I noticed that the demographic of the plaza was 99% male. The one poor female avatar had a crowd of 20 or so other avatars dogging her around from place to place, kicking on dance moves whenever she would stop. Of course, this quickly led to the act of gender-bending pranks now known as pulling a Quincy. When I did find a group of folks with a conversation going on, I found it really hard to participate. I have a bluetooth headset, but only a few others were using voice chat. Most were text chatting, but doing so with just a controller was very difficult. By the time I had entered my comment, the subject of my comment was already off the page and so I came off as non-sequitur. Annoyed at this and the over-all feeling of meh, I gave up and just played a game.

A couple of weeks later now, and I have a new PS3 Wireless Chatpad to assist me in communicating, so I decided to give Home a second look. There was a new update, and I notice that one of the changes is that voice chat has now been turned off for all but private zones (your apartment, premium gaming clubs). On entering the plaza I see not the hundreds of avatars from before, but possibly ten. The demographic is now closer to 60/40 male/female, but I'm fairly certain that most of the "girls" are just boys waiting to pull a crying game prank. A new movie is playing at the theater. I picked up with a small group in the plaza that was just having a amicable chat. Participating with the chat pad was much better than the joystick entry I was using before, and I was actually able to be a part of the conversation. This was certainly a viable way to pass the time and potentially meet other players with similar interests. One frustration in chatting was the draconian word filter. A lot of words are banned from use, and result in a your text appearing as **** where the banned word would be. Unfortunately, there is no contextual help. Even if that banned word appeared as part of another word, it got the star treatment. So Hello became ****o and Christmas became *****mas. It frequently broke up the flow of conversation as we tried to figure out what the speaker meant (and the speaker gets no indication that their word was filtered either). Worse, there is no way to disable this feature. A second frustration is that the ability to add a new friend to your friend roster is not part of the interface. The whole point of Home (in my mind) is to meet with other folks and find new friends to play with, yet Home doesn't facility either adding friends nor launching games. It's a major oversight in functionality.

I can't say that I'm disappointed in Home. It is a free application, and I'm free to not use it. I can't say I'm surprised by what I found in home, as it was about what I expected from my experiences in Lively and SecondLife. I am a little surprised at how much effort Sony is putting into this environment though. If they want it to be a success, they need to make it integrated with friend making and game launching. Above that, they need to find a hook to make spending time in Home worthwhile, and not just another empty virtual environment.

Fields vs. Properties

One element of C# that is very useful is the Property member.  Back in the days of C you would declare a struct and the members of that struct (the fields) were all public.  When C++ came along it gave use the concept of hiding our fields behind accessor methods, namely getters and setters.  Java continued this design.  C# introduces a new member type called the property, which makes managing your field getters and setters a little bit easier.  So where you might have Java code like:

public class MyClass
  private int myValue;

  public int getMyValue() { return myvalue; }
  public void setMyValue(int value) { myValue = value; }

Your C# code might look like this:

public class MyClass
  private int myValue;
  public int MyValue
    get { return myValue; }
    set { myValue = value; }

It's a subtle difference, but the IDE and language pickup on that syntax and make organizing your "function" methods seperately from your "attribute" methods much easier.  In fact, the latest version of the .NET framework includes a handy syntax feature called auto-properties which let you condense that declaration to:

public class MyClass
  public int MyValue { get; set; }

Here the private variable is auto-generated by the compiler.  The advantage to providing getters and setters, regardless of your language choice, is that you can later create a derived class that provides additional actions based on the setting or getting of the attribute.  So you might have:

public class MyClassWithSmallValues : MyClass
  public override int MyValue
    get { return base.MyValue; }
      if ( value > 10 || value
        throw new ArgumentException();
      base.MyValue = value;

That example is pretty contrived, but you get the idea.

So where does that leave our old friend the public field?  It is still legal syntax to declar a public variable on your class, i.e.

public class MyClass
  public int MyValue;

At the base class level, this class would behave identically to either the Java or C# implementation above, and it saves you a bit of coding.  So why is this considered "bad practice"?  Well, as mentioned above, you are now trapped with that attribute on your class.  No matter how many levels of derivation you go, you will always have a MyValue and you have no way of reacting to request or change to that variable.  Still, there are times when this construct can be useful.  If it were bad in all cases the language maintainers would simply strip it out.  Here is a case where I find the public field to still be useful:

public class MyClass
  public readonly byte[] MyByteArray = new byte[4];

The goal in this implementation is to provide a class that has an array of bytes that is exactly 4 bytes long.  It can never be less, it can never be more.  Each element in the array always has a legal value for a byte.  The readonly keyword above is to instruct the C# compiler that this value can only be set once, and only at the time the class is created.  It can never be written to again, but it can be read.  A user of the class could change the values at each index of the array, but they could never modify the array itself.

The net result is that you save yourself from creating a lot of error catching code.  You don't have to check for the array to be too short or too long, nor for the array being null.  The property is indexable right off an instance of the class, and that without needing to create your own Collection class (which was a bear until MS introduced generics in the framework).  

The one drawback I can see to this implementation is that certain framework components will inspect class properties, but do not perform reflection to find public fields.  So where a DataGridView will data bind to all of the properties in a class automatically, it completely ignores your public fields.  That's just as well, because I don't think that control behaves properly with arrays, but it is worth mentioning.

So to all of the OO programmers of the world: do you still have a use for the public field?  Or is this a concept that can be eliminated from modern compilers?

Google Calendar Sync

I am giving up my BlackBerry in at work and reverting back to the use of my PDA (thus the previous posts looking for a cell phone).  As part of this process, I've been looking into different ways of keeping sync'ed, both with my work items and home items.  I tried an open source product called GMobileSync from RareEdge.  On paper it had everything I wanted - it would pull appointments from my Google Calendar and put them on my PDA calendar, and would also push appointments on my PDA to my Google Calendar.  This would allow me to use my PDA as a single source for all of my home and office appointments (and would allow my wife to easily check my availability for doctor's appointments or schedule me as away for any family related things).  Unfortunately, the execution is quite there.  The code is at version 1.3.6, and while it will update my PDA with appointments from my GCal, it won't go the other way (NullReferenceError).  I considered grabbing the code and debugging it, but I'd rather have a solution that just works out of the box.

Enter Google Calendar Sync from Google.  This application runs on the desktop rather than on the PDA, but it does 2-way synchronization between your Outlook calendar and your Google Calendar.  This is perfect, because my PDA syncs with my Outlook calendar anyway.  Now all of my work appointments show up on my Google Calendar, and all of my personal appointments show up on my Outlook calendar.

Cell Phone Search - Continued

I got a couple of interesting suggestions on that last post.  The parameters of my search have modified slightly.  I have the following choices before me: 

  • Choose any phone I want, and any plan I want, but I have to pay for both
  • Choose any phone I want from Verizon and get voice only service, completely free to me
I know a lot of folks are passionately averse to Verizon due to their draconian tactics with regard to phone features.  They do have the best coverage though.  Free is definitely a good thing to me.  If I were to go the Verizon route, I think my choice would be between a Samsung Saga and a LG Decoy.  If I were to go outside Verizon, there are lots of interesting options.  Is it worth the cash outlay on my part though?

I think I'm leaning towards the free option.  Any reasons why I should change my mind?  Any suggestions on a particular Verizon phone model?

Mobile Phone

I'm in the market for a cell phone, and I need some recommendations.  Here are the base requirements:

  • Voice communication
Really, that's it.  At the base level I just need a phone that I can be called at or place calls from.  However, there are a lot of features I would love to have:
  • Personal E-mail support (gmail, yahoo, hotmail, etc.)
  • Work E-mail support (exchange-sync)
  • Instant Messaging support
  • Internet browsing
  • Full QWERTY keyboard
  • Candy-bar form factor (sliders are ok)
  • 802.11g/b support
Things I don't need:
  • SMS Texting
  • MMS Texting
  • Movies
  • Music 
  • Television
So of course the first thing that comes to mind is....iPhone!  The iPhone is a beautiful machine, but it is also very expensive.  Not only do you pay $200 for the phone with a contract, but you end up paying a very hefty monthly fee for voice and data.  I don't use my phone much now, and I'd like to keep the monthly fees to a minimum.  My wife is on a pay-as-you-go program and that works great.  A $20 card on that program will stretch out for a long time.  Finding a plan for $20 a month is nearly impossible too.  

One thought that I have rolling around in my head is to get a phone that can run Skype and then purchase a data only plan.  As an example, get a T-Mobile G1 (the Google phone) and their $40 per month unlimited data plan.  Then use Skype as my full time mobile number ($60 per year for unlimited calling).  That's still a little pricey, and also questionable about whether it would even work, but it definitely satisfies the geek in me.

The PEEK e-mail device really has my attention.  At $20 per month the price is very right, but that doesn't include voice.  Voice is definitely required, so another option would be to have two gadgets with me: a simple cell phone on a pay-as-you-go plan for voice, and a PEEK for e-mail access.  Then again, access to my personal e-mail isn't all that critical to me, and the PEEK doesn't offer any web browsing, instant messaging, or anything else compelling really that would make it a must have for me.

At the end of the day, what I'm probably going to need is just a simple, inexpensive cell phone that I can use on a pay as you go plan.  From my wife's experience I know you can put any phone on those plans, so that really opens the options.  I'd like to spend less than $100 on a phone.  Any suggestions or models out there that you like? Are there any inexpensive phones out there that have 802.11b/g support that aren't an iPhone?

TV Follow-Up

The television issue has a happy ending.  As a result of very good customer service on the behalf of both Samsung and HH Gregg, I have a replacement set in the basement now.  The day after my last post I plugged in the set and it wouldn't come on.  The power indicator was lit, but it never showed a picture.  I was at day 11 on the set, and HH Gregg policy says they don't do returns after 10 days, so I was afraid I was going to be stuck.  I called anyway and was thrilled that they would replace the set.  I put it in the back of the van and within two hours was back home with a new unit in back.  This was a much better solution, because once something breaks, even after repairs you'll always wonder how much longer it has.  The new set is working just fine.

I also received my second day delivery package from Samsung.  I was expecting just to get a CD with the firmware and it would be on me to transfer it to the television through a USB key.  Instead, it contained a 1GB USB key with the firmware already loaded!  So kudos to Samsung customer service for that!  

Even though I initially had trouble with the first set, I think this experience really validates my opinion of both Samsung and HH Gregg.  Samsung is a quality manufacturer with excellent customer service.  HH Gregg is staffed with knowledgable folks that go the extra mile for the customers.  They will both definitely be getting more of my business in the future.

TV Trouble

All is not well in the land of the new TV.  The first week I had the set, it gave me a scare.  After a few hours of playing Burnout Paradise on the PS3, the TV picture suddenly went black.  The set would seem like it was trying to power the picture back on, going from a dark black (off) to a powered on black (light black?).  It would make a short buzzing sound, then back to off again.  A few seconds later the cycle would repeat.  I let it do this for about a half an hour but the picture never came back.  I tried to turn the set off, but it wouldn't respond to either the remote or the power button on the front of the set.  In the end, I just had to unplug it.  After it was unplugged for about ten minutes, I plugged it back in and everything was working again.

I wasn't just going to ignore this problem, so I called Samsung technical support.  I let them know what happened, and that the set was running firmware version 1006.1.  The tech support agent recommended that I downgrade the firmware to 1005.3.  I did that, and for the next week I had no issues. 

Until last night.  Again, I had been playing Burnout Paradise for around an hour when the picture went black.  The same cycle of attempted power on, then off repeated.  Again, the only way to turn off the set was to unplug it from the wall.

So this morning I called Samsung tech support again and they are going to have a service agent out to take a look at the set sometime next week.  Frankly, I'd prefer if they would just swap my set for a new one so I don't get stuck with a questionable build, but I'm fairly certain that won't be their first course of action.  I haven't heard anything negative from my father-in-law who purchased the same set, so this is likely just a flaw in this particular set and not something wrong with the set design.  

Just for completeness of information, here is the setup:

Samsung HL61A750 61" LED DLP
HDMI Port 1 - Connected to AT&T U-Verse set top box (non-DVR).
HDMI Port 2 - Connected to PS3
A/V Port 1 - Connected to Xbox
A/V Port 2 - Connected to PS2
RF Port - Connected to "rabbit ear" antennae

Unit is plugged into a APC UPS on the power conditioning side (not that battery backup side).

When the unit experienced the issue, I tried holding the front power button to get it to power off.  I tried unplugging HDMI and A/V connections.  I tried using the Source button.  I tried using the power button on the remote.  The set did not react to any of these actions.

I'll follow-up later with whatever the Samsung tech finds out.  At least the set has some working time so I'm not completely out of enjoying it, but I definitely want to get this resolved long before the 1 year parts and labor warranty expires.

The Economic Crisis

My wife asked me a great question last night, "Are we really in an economic crisis, or are we only in trouble because the news is telling us we are in trouble?"  In other words, are all the layoffs, plant closings, and personal penny pinching going on around the country truly a reaction to the current economic condition, or are we just reacting to what we are seeing on the news (a self-fulfilling prophecy).  It is a little of both in my opinion, but you have to really look at what has happened to our economy to understand why I say that.

So what has happened?  In my understanding, there was a lot of bad debt out there, and it finally got called.  The ridiculous mortgage debt gets the lion's share of the blame because it was by far the most readily visible form of bad debt, but there was lots of other bad debt mixing around hidden in accounting books and financial forms not so readily recognizable to most folks.  What happened was that this bad debt that could never be recouped simply became too great.  Financial institutions were forced to realize that they were never going to be able to call those debts, so they had to write them off.  Unfortunately, there was often only a pittance of tangible assets to back those debts, if anything at all.  This means that when the financial institution wrote off the debt, they didn't have any collateral to recover.

Take the example of a home mortgage.  Let's say that the builder constructs a home and sells it for $100,000.  Let's say that this home is in an area with explosive growth.  The first owner then sells it to owner #2 for $200,000.  Owner #2 sells to owner #3 for $400,000.  Finally, owner #4 purchases the property for $1,000,000 by taking out a loan from his bank.  Owner #4 is not able to make a down payment, and elects to take on a interest only 2 year mortgage that will re-adjust to the current lending rate after two years and become a 30 year ARM.  On paper, owner #4 now has a tangible asset (the house) worth $1,000,000 and an outstanding loan of $1,000,000.  Let's say the interest rate was set at 6% so his monthly payment is $5,000.  Now, let's say owner #4 only makes $6,000 a month.  After a couple of months of being able to make his payments, he starts to fall behind.  After 6 months, he simply can't pay, so he stops paying his mortgage altogether.  The bank forecloses on the property and evicts the owner.  So now the bank has a (on paper) $1,000,000 property ready to sell in a hot market.  However, imagine that this happened for EVERY property in that neighborhood.  Or at least a majority of them.  Suddenly that $1,000,000 home isn't worth quite so much.  In fact, it may fall to the original builder price of $100,000.  This means that the bank is out $900,000.  Even worse, it is out that kind of money on every home loan that failed.  

The net result is that the lending institutions were incredibly cash short.  Without any money to spare, the lenders have to be very rigorous in determining who they will lend to, and have to increase rates in order to make any attempt to recover from this loss.  For some lenders, it is simply too much, and they fail altogether.  We saw this on a daily basis through much of the third quarter.  For others, they reach out for a government loan (that $700 billion dollars you've heard so much about) to keep them afloat long enough to start recovery.

Now comes stage 2.  The majority of businesses rely on some form of short term credit or debt to get by.  Whether it is a car salesman who needs short term debt to acquire inventory, or a small services firm that uses credit to fulfill paychecks, short term debt is a primary cog in the business machine.  With little money to lend, only the most reliable businesses are going to get the credit they need.  Those who don't are forced to make some hard decisions: fold the business, reduce costs (through layoffs), or find some other cost savings measures.  It's not a free ride for those businesses that do receive their credit either, as they get much less than they had hoped for.  The net result here is what you see in the news every day: massive layoffs and corporate bankruptcy.  

So what's next?  Stage three (again, my own interpretation here) is a drastic reduction in purchasing, both at a personal and corporate level.  Sales predictions for every business are heading south because there is very little money available to buy any more than the bare necessities to get by.  All of the workers that went through layoffs are cutting every corner they can to get by until the next job comes along.  Businesses aren't investing in new equipment until their own sales improve.  It's a nasty downward cycle.

And here is where I get back to my wife's question: does the financial crisis really impact us?  To some extent, yes.  My company is very profitable, and we look to remain profitable throughout these tough times due to the nature of our products.  However, we do recognize that sales are going to be significantly less, so we've made some prudent cost cuts to help insure our safety.  One of those cost cuts includes my not receiving a salary increase this year.  This across the board measure will help save the company millions, and will help us to avoid any layoffs.  So in that sense, yes, the economic crisis has affected us, but only by three degrees of seperation from the root cause.  On the other hand, I have no concerns about losing my job, nor of not receiving my paycheck.  Although the news talks every day about personal spending cuts, our house can continue to live as we always have.  Part of this is due to job and financial security, and part of that is due to the way we live.  We have always chosen a lifestyle that means living well within our means.  We don't carry balances on credit cards, nor do we regularly depend on short term debts / credit.  Our only debts are a car loan and mortgage, and we've made sure those are well within our budget to pay each month.  We also were prudent savers, with four months salary in our cash reserves as well as healthy 401K, Roth IRA, and 529 savings plans.  This may come off as a bit boastful, but it is because of our conservative behavior that, for the most part, this economic crisis will not have a significant impact on our lifestyle.  In fact, this may be a time where our lifestyle improves due to the increased buying power of our dollar.  

So in answer to that original question, yes, we as a nation and as a world are in a very difficult economic time.  At a macro level, the economic crisis is real and great number of people are going to be affected by it.  The only way out of it is to find a way to recover from the bad debts that started this mess, prevent it from happening again, and make good credit available to those who can pay it back.  At the micro level, assuming that there are no further bombs to drop, our family will feel very little affect from this economic crisis.

Samsung 61" 750 series DLP

I've had a few days now with the new television in the basement, and I have a few thoughts.  If you want to lookup the specifics yourself, the television is a Samsung HL61A750, which is the 61" DLP set in the 750 series.  I've gotten a lot of the same questions, so I'll try to answer them here.

Why a DLP and not an LCD or Plasma?
The choice between DLP, LCD, and Plasma is going to be different based on what you will be doing with your set.  For me, I knew this set would be used mostly for gaming and movie watching with a little television thrown in, and possibly connecting a PC.  Gaming and PC usage leads to having a static image on the screen for a long period of time.  A static image on the screen for extended periods can lead to burn in.  We can see this on our television upstairs, which will show the shadow of the Nickelodeon station mark in the lower right corner any time the set displays a solid color background.  Plasma displays are very susceptible to burn-in, so this type of television was out for me.  LCD screens can get burn in, but it is much less likely.  DLP sets do not burn in at all.  So DLP is a pretty good candidate.  I also didn't have any aspiration of mounting the television on a wall.  A DLP is a rear projection set, and is a little thicker than an LCD.  The HL61A750 is around 14" at the base, but the rear of the unit is angled such that it is only a couple of inches wide at the top.  Still, this prevents wall mounting, but that wasn't a concern for me.

The other big difference between these television types is price.  There are only two manufacturers that are making DLP sets anymore: Samsung and Mitsubishi.  If you are looking for a very large screen, this is your best buy for the dollar.  At 61", the DLP can be had for $1200 by a bargain shopper, while an equivalent size LCD will run at least 30% more.  Until recently a Plasma set was also price competitive at this size, but while the LCD and DLP costs have continually gone south, a plasma set has retained the same price of just over $2,000 for 60" or higher.  To highlight this, when I was pricing out the HL61A750, I also looked for an LCD from Samsung in the similar price and feature range.  The LN46A650 is a 46" model with equivalent features and a $1500 price tag.  So you would lose 15" of screen real estate.

The drawback to a DLP (as with any other projection set) is that off angle viewing is degraded.  If you are sitting at more than  45 degree angle off to the side of the set, or more than a 15 degree angle above or below the set, the picture washes out.  In our home, we have very direct viewing, so this is not an issue for us, but could be for others.

Why the 750 series?
Samsung breaks down their sets into series.  The lower the series number, the less features in the set.  In the DLP line you can get a 56" in the 550 or 650 series, or a 61" in the 650 or 750 series.  The 56" 550 series is below $1,000.  The difference between the 61" 650 and 750 series is about $200.  So why spend that money?  The big deal to me was the use of three LEDs in the light engine rather than a halogen bulb.  A DLP set requires a light source, and for most televisions the light source is a special bulb.  This bulb ages over time, and is often expressed in the technical specifications as a bulb life of X thousands of hours.  A typical bulb might have a 5,000 hour life, which is the number of hours the television is on before the bulb is at half the brightness when first used.  The 650 series uses a halogen bulb with a 10,000 hour life.  The 750 series uses three colored LEDs instead, which have a tremendous lifetime.  In addition, the LEDs are much more energy efficient than a halogen bulb.  I'll easily get back that $200 in the saved energy cost and avoiding any need to replace the bulb.

Any other thoughts?
The set is beautiful!  I hooked up the PS3 and the games are simply gorgeous.  I've watched bits of the Iron Man Blu-Ray and it looks good.  I have to admit, though, I was expecting more from a Blu-Ray film.  I think I've just gotten spoiled on the HD we get from AT&T.  The 1080i signal looks great.  I was hoping to get the same "Oh Wow!" sensation that I had when watching my first DVD and HD content.  It does look better, but only by a little.  I don't know that I would change out my existing DVD collection for Blu-Ray, but I might get a few select titles in that format (like Pixar films).  

The set really demonstrates how much impact the source of the video has.  The over-the-air high def tuning looks amazing on our local NBC affiliate.  That same signal from the AT&T service is a little degraded, but still quite good.  The ABC and CBS affiliates look about the same as the non-HD content.  The PS3 games look fantastic.

I've only encountered one bug with the set so far.  Last night, after around 3 hours of gaming on the set, the picture suddenly went out.  From time to time the screen would flicker between a projected black and off.  Meanwhile, the LED light on the front of the set would pulse on and off.  I read through the manual and it indicated that this happens when the lamps get too hot.  I read online that this can sometimes happen when the set really isn't that hot, and that firmware upgrades can solve it in most cases.  I left the set off for about five minutes, and then it came right back up without any problem.  Firmware upgrades are as easy as downloading the file to a USB drive and plugging it into the back of the set.

There is also a ethernet jack on the back of the set that I haven't connected yet.  This allows for scrolling news and weather across the screen anytime.

I'll keep playing with this thing and post back if I have any other useful information.

New TV

If you've been into any major electronics store lately, you probably couldn't pull yourself away from looking at the enormous, beautiful televisions on display.  With the economy in a slump the prices on these units have come way down.  For several years I've wanted to put a nice big HDTV in the basement, but finding the money for one amid all of our other needs just wasn't in the cards.

Lately, I've been eyeing two different models of Samsung television.  Last year the Samsung DLP sets caught my eye.  These are rear projection sets that support full HD (1080p) and have a beautiful picture.  Even though the set is rear projection, the footprint is relatively small.  Earlier this year we bought a LCD for our bedroom to replace an aging set, and at the time we ordered the 56" Samsung 650 series DLP.  The bill rang up to a little over $2,000 and I immediately had buyer's remorse.  The next day I cancelled the order without ever picking up the set.  The other model I like is the 52" Samsung LCD in the 6 series.  This is the "Touch of Color" model that has a red bezel.  We got to see one over the Thanksgiving holiday as my wife's uncle had purchased one.  It is a beautiful television, and he had it nicely mounted on the wall.  He got it at a price of around $1,600, which got me to thinking about televisions again.

So I kept my eye on the TV ads to see if Black Friday would bring any stellar deals.  Unfortunately, most big box vendors were discounting only the in-house brands, and the Samsung's were keeping their price steady.  That is, until I happened to browse Amazon for their price on the DLP sets.  Amazon had the 61" DLP 7 series set for $1497!  I mocked up an order and saw that shipping was free, no state sales tax, and they were offering 24 months same as cash.  That is one heck of a deal.  Still, buying something major like that over the internet gives me a little worry.  What if it breaks or needs service?

In these cases I really like to head to HH Gregg.  They have their headquarters close by, and I've always found their staff to be top notch.  I went to the store armed with my Amazon details and was amazed to find that they would be willing to match the Amazon offer!  The salesman set the price of the HL61A750 at $1400, which meant my price after tax was $1498.  I was picking up the unit so there was no delivery charge.  In addition, if I should have any trouble with the unit I know I can bring it back to the store locally for service.

I was still high on this experience later that day when we visited my father-in-law for his birthday.  My wife's folks have a 15 year old rear projector that was on it's way out.  I told him about the deal and we got him the same set at the same price.  

This television is gorgeous.  I'll write another post to give the ins and outs, but I definitely have no buyer's remorse this time around.  I know the economy is rough, but if you've been prudent with your income and have been looking for the right time to buy a television, this may be it.

Jade Mason