Join James Croft, Raj Deut, and Anthony Agius as we wander through the fields of technology news for this week. We got the government sharing your deets like they’re confetti at a wedding. We got EVs! So tantalizing, but much like a pair of socks on Osher Günsberg, nowhere to be seen. We got another Apple event coming up, will I finally get that PowerBook G5 I’ve been longing for? And much more. Shooooow notes, light the corners of my mind. Misty water-coloured shoooooow notes, of the show we did.
My couch is essentially my home office and for the past six years the computer sitting atop that comfy, warm, and highly non-ergonomic desk has been an 11″ MacBook Air. She’s served me well and almost everything you read on this website has been written on it, whilst most likely sat upon the couch.
Sadly both the MacBook Air (and the couch) are past the “overdue” and now heading dangerously into the “long overdue” territory of needing to be replaced. The problem, with the computer side of that at least, is finding something good enough to replace the Air and with Apple basically pretending that it, along with the Mac Mini & Mac Pro for that matter, don’t exist, it’s been a difficult thing to do.
I’ve tried the new hideously keyboarded MacBooks, I’ve tried iPads and both the 10″ & 12″ versions of the iPad Pro version but nothing has really been the right fit (or the right price) for a couch based home-office computer at the ready.
That was until the Surface Go came along. Many journos and critics out there wondered who the “Go” was really for. Its screen was too small for anyone wanting to do be productive, it’s CPU was too underpowered for anything grunty and demanding and it hovered in this weird in-between land obscured by the Surface Pro & a pure tablet. It was perfect! Continue reading
They say the simplest things in life are often the best and the newly Australian-available BenQ EL2870U is one of the best examples of that sentiment. This 28” 4K HDR beauty takes two of the most requested features in the current gaming landscape and packages them into a no frills, non-ghastly, light strobing free enclosure that retails for under A$600. Continue reading
Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears and allow me to cover them in Plantronics most comfortable and biggest sounding headset series to date; the new 500 PRO.
I say “new”, because Plantronics have had about a million versions of the 500s before these (or there abouts), I could be exaggerating slightly there. My point is when you’re googling for places to buy them be sure they’re the latest version released this August and not the company’s prior offerings.
Fortunately there are some really easy ways of making sure you’re looking at a brand new pair of the 500 Pro series and not an older model. These just so happen to be the main talking points as to why they’re worth investigating in the first place. Synergy. Ain’t it grand. Continue reading
We were lucky enough to have the first pre-production unit of the new NKMOS Premium Magnetic Modular Mount system sent to us to exclusively review before their Kickstarter campaign ends on Friday August 10th.
Developed in Brisbane the new system uses a combination of industrial hardware to create one of the most robust, secure & versatile mounting systems I’ve ever seen.
Enjoy a very special episode of “Unedited” (available to everyone) for our raw and unedited take of the system below.
One box to rule them all
NVIDIA’s Shield TV is one of those products, that as an Australian, has been a long time coming. Half streaming box, half game console, the Android TV powered unit has been wildly successful across North America and Asia for years. Now, finally, we’re seeing the latest version of the Shield released into the Australian market for the first time. Continue reading
Imagine Apple updated the Mac Mini.
I know, I know it’s ludicrous to even imagine at this point but stick with me here.
Imagine Apple update the Mac Mini. When Intel released a new CPU every year they put it inside it. When the crazy, mind-blowing, never thought it would happen deal of Intel and AMD putting their tech together in a single integrated graphics solution came to fruition that Apple, whom already has relationships with both companies, took advantage of that and used it in their machine. Then on top of all that they put not one, but two thunderbolt 3 USB-C ports, two HDMI ports, two DisplayPort ports and say… hmmm… I dunno… seven? Yeah why not… seven USB ports essentially making both the front and backs of the machine a cornucopia of inputs and outputs.
Then for shits and giggles take out the SSD & RAM, make it run Windows and put it in a black box with a ghastly illuminated blue skull (that you can thankfully disconnect) and you’d have the Intel Next Unit of Computing (NUC) 8, Enthusiast Edition.
Intel’s NUC lineup has been going gang busters since its introduction. Small, compact, and in this case – gaming orientated – PCs that pack a punch both in power and their wide range of connectivity options. The new NUC 8, is no exception. The 221 x 142 x 39mm unit is smaller than my mouse pad and yet kitted out with the latest of Intel’s 8th-gen core i7-8809G CPUs it has more brain power than my gaming PC.
The new integrated AMD Radeon Vega RX M graphics also mean that it’s no slouch in the graphics department either. Capable of pushing out a 4K HDR signal at 60Hz with full HDCP 2.2 support the “little NUC that could” can even serve as your VR rig whilst being compact enough to sit alongside your living room TV without being intrusive.
Naturally an integrated GPU, whether it’s AMD’s or not is still no match for a full tower’s performance however it did remarkably well in the play testing I did. Bethesda’s Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus had no issues running at a smooth 60fps with medium settings at the full 3440 x 1440 resolution of my Acer Predator 34″ Ultra Wide display. Pushing things towards the game’s higher settings did of course slow things down but had it been plugged into my TV at 1080p there would’ve been no issue, a nice balance point before embarking on 4K, which despite being capable of is not overly realistic.
With each game I tried I was surprised by how well the NUC performed. No I wasn’t playing in 4K with Ultra settings on but this thing costs less than a graphics card that could do that and by having slightly less detail you got a really competent & reasonably priced gaming PC.
Other games I took for a spin included PUBG, Rainbow Six: Siege and The Witcher 3. All of them performed similarly with The Witcher being the hardest on the little guy chugging to the point I scaled down to 1080p at medium in a couple of spots.
While the NUC itself is quite comprehensive it’s also very bare-bones. Just like its predecessors the new model comes with no drives or RAM pre-installed. Immediately you’ll need to invest beyond its sticker price should you not already own an appropriate SSD and RAM, which some will consider a good thing and others bad.
In terms of drives it makes use of the relatively new m.2 connector meaning you’ll need an SSD like Intel’s Optane m.2 series to use as a drive. I tested the unit with two 800p SSDs which were ri-donk-iously fast booting into Windows in a couple of seconds.
RAM wise there are two slots with the unit supporting up to 32GB of dual channel DDR4 RAM in total.
Both the RAM and drive slots are easily accessible with an included Allen Key along with a pictured instruction guide stepping you through the process of popping the machines backplate and having at its guts.
The greatest annoyance of this setup/installation process, and of the machine entirely in my opinion, is its illuminating skull. When opening the case you’re required to disconnect the small jumpered lead that controls the light being switched on and off. It’s fiddly and a pain that blocks you getting to where you need to be immediately.
It’s also ugly. I understand it was a brand aiming the NUC towards gamers from Intel’s beginnings of the line with its Skull Canyon model but it seriously needs to go.
Speaking of Skull Canyon the new Hades’ size absolutely dwarfs its predecessor. It’s still small, don’t get me wrong but the new version with its emboldened processor and GPU means adding fans and thinking about airflow effectively forcing the chassis to grow.
It’s nothing to be concerned by and to illustrate the fact Intel include a VESA mounting bracket which will mount the NUC smack bang on the back of your display completely hidden away.
I can see the Hades NUC being used for a lot of situations beyond the gaming world it’s being marketed to. Just like the Canyon before it, which found many homes in areas like small business, home computing and other inventive low powered needs outside gaming the Hades shouldn’t be pigeon holed as purely a budget gaming box.
A great use case for the Hades would be for streamers for example. Quite often more professional level streamers will employ a second PC to handle the ingestion and production of their stream before being routed out. The NUC 8 could be that perfect box acting as a go between as well as being a portable solution for effective gaming-on-the-go whilst travelling perhaps.
That doesn’t mean the NUC 8 isn’t a capable gaming rig, it more than is. That fact it’s VR capable is more than enough to qualify it of that. If you want to squeeze even more out of it though you can even spring an extra couple of hundred for an overlocking ready version that can be pushed even further to take it deep into the next level. That’ll cost you a few extra hundred bucks though, the more expensive version comes with a more powerful RX Vega M GH GPU that has the ability to be easily overclocked instead of the standard RX Vega M GL GPU on the cheaper version.
Despite comparing it to the Mac Mini at the beginning Intel’s NUC 8 is really an orange that can’t be compared to an Apple. A better comparison would be Valve’s ill-fated SteamOS boxes, the new NUC 8 Enthusiast is everything they should’ve been and more.
It’s always nice to be surprised by a game.
I’ve known about Wildfire for a couple of years now but I just never got around to giving it a go for some reason. Even after taking home an award PAX Aus’ Indie Showcase for “excellence in art” it just felt like something that wasn’t my cup of tea. Now, after playing the most recent Alpha build, I have nothing but regret because playing Wildfire has turned out to be one of the most fun and enjoyable experiences I’ve had playing a video game in recent memory.
As the game’s protagonist you begin the game searching for a meteorite that hasn’t crashed into Earth not too far from your village. Reaching it only moments before warriors from an unknown tribe arrive you touch the stone and through it gain the power to control fire. Hiding from the enemy you return to your village to find it empty and ablaze, without a soul in sight. And thus begins your quest; find your fellow villagers, return them all safely and if possible, do so without being detected.
The game is a series of a self contained 2D platformed areas that include elements to stealthily manoeuvre behind to avoid detection as well as sections that are combustable such as grass, vines and wood. Completing a stage can be as simple as getting through it without detection, others are more complicated and you’ll need to rescue one of your fellow villagers. There’s even a unique version of an escort style mission guiding a group of your friends to safety. There’s no one way to complete the levels either. Yes they can occasionally be blundered through with blind luck and speed but more often than not you’ll spend time making use of the game’s panning feature to explore the map and meticulously plan out and ultimately stuff up your attempt before you try again.
Each stage has additional and optional objectives that can be completed too. These come in a few different varieties, the standard stealth “complete without detection” along with the more tough “complete without restarting” as well as some more unique such as “don’t touch any water”. You’ll also find every stage to have a speedrun time allotted to it, which if you manage to complete the stage faster than awards you yet another optional objective complete. The game is definitely built for replay-ability and will have you wanting to revisit stages to tick off more and more boxes.
Beneath all of that is a robust skill tree system that allows you to grow and extend your powers that you advance through the collection of “brooch” strewn about the world. For instance the fire ability you’re given at the beginning of the game can be upgraded very early on to function as a smoke bomb and then for the fire you throw to bounce off of stone, each skill advancement adding to the possibilities of solving a stage in a different way.
Visually the game is gorgeous. If you’re a pixel art fan then jump in the Wildfire train because it’s as good as it gets, it won an award for it after all. There are some animations that look to be a little clipped or perhaps still in the “to-do” basket but being an Alpha it feels remarkably complete and any quibbles I have are extremely minor.
Complimented with a a beautiful score Wildfire whisked me away. I enjoyed every minute of it and completely lost myself in its puzzle, platformer, stealthy world. I can’t recommend you give it a go enough.
For those of you not particularly interested in watching me play through an hour’s worth, the video follows the same format as other “Raj plays…” with an intro, gameplay and my final thoughts. You can of course skip directly to those should you wish, coming in at the 73 minute mark.
Wildfire is due for release this year and will be available on PC via Steam; however should you wish to get your hands on the Alpha version straight away you can do so for A$20 over here.
Where the Water Tastes Like Wine is the first game from Gone Home co-creator Johnnemann Nordhagenn’s new indie studio Dim Bulb. In it you play as a tasked vagrant; sent to wander the American landscape in search of stories to collect and retell.
It’s a game about story telling. With each encounter a tale is told. Beautifully narrated and wonderfully written the stories can often be interacted with adjusting their outcome and potentially what type of story it ends up being to add to your repertoire. Funny, sad, thrilling and more, with each tale you hear it slots into a category for you to later retell to the games’ NPCs.
“Tell me a story that’ll make me laugh” says Quinn, one of the game’s main NPCs upon my first encounter with them. I have none to tell though and instead regale an action packed story I was told when I first wandered the game’s large, 3D map (a vast contrast to its 2D, animated illustration interface).
Quinn’s expression is sullen and unhappy with my tale and asks for another more appropriate, which I do have and as a reward begins to open and tell me more about themselves.
This is the game’s main loop, learning more about it’s 16 NPCs that also travel and shift their location across America’s wide landscape. By retelling the stories you’ve heard you advance your relationship with them as they let you in further in a beautiful mechanic buried deep in the ageless practice of folklore.
There are over 200 stories to collect. Each has been hand written for the game by a series of extremely talented writers. They’re beautifully brought to life as they’re retold by the game’s narrator Keythe Farley with their own hand-drawn illustration to accompany them.
The game features a “who’s who” of voice talent to further engross you in its fairytale like series of stories and interactions. Telltale’s The Walking Dead’s Lee (David Fennoy) and Clem (Melissa Hutchinson) both feature in the game as well as Mass Effect’s Ashely (Kimberly Brooks) and Firewatch’s Delilah (Cissy Jones). It’s tentpole however is none other than musician, actor and songwriter Sting who embodies the game’s antagonist.
Playing through the hour as beautiful and well done as the game’s story are I could feel myself slipping and becoming less and less interested in them and more concerned with the game’s mechanics to advance my own retelling abilities further. It’s very much an adventure for those who love to imbibe the art of story telling. I constantly felt the game reminding me of one of my favourite author’s Neil Gaiman and his love for tales and folklore but perhaps ruining it with it’s 3D map and its awkward traversal at times.
For those of you not particularly interested in watching me play through an hour’s worth, the video follows the same format as other “Raj plays…” with an intro, gameplay and my final thoughts. You can of course skip directly to those should you wish, coming in at the 70 minute mark.
Where the Water Tastes Like Wine is available today on Steam for US$20 on Mac, PC & Linux.
Apple’s HomePod is the company’s biggest product deviation in over a decade. Sure they’ve made some accessories and dabbled with smart watches and headphones but the HomePod represents a departure from the company’s main hardware streams and instead is born of their software services.
Part digital assistant, part music delivery device the HomePod could also been seen as a phoenix of the Apple’s failed past. Channeling the long forgotten iPod HiFi the HomePod embodies many qualities of the former product including an incredible level of sound reproduction as well as the exact same sticker price of US$349 (A$499).
The HomePod also includes a series of new features, such as the ability to analyse its surrounding environment and adjust its output accordingly. It will also, potentially, have the ability to automatically pair with a second HomePod seamlessly within the same room if Apple finally get that to work.
For most my review will be no great revelation. It largely reiterates the consensus of many that have circulated before it. What I hope it does do though is help to convey just how impressive its sound quality can be while highlighting how significantly Apple’s walled ecosystem continues to turn away consumers.
The HomePod, as incredible as it is, is just another unfortunate example of Apple shooting themselves in the foot in a post Jobs era.