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DigitalLife 2005

Loyd Case

Wet Beginnings

When we landed in New York, it had been raining eight days straight. This created a big headache for the Ziff-Davis crew plus all the companies setting up for the show, as the roof of the Javits Convention Center is not, as it turns out, watertight. The Javits staff mounted large tarps in the ceiling to catch the water, with plastic tubes to drain the trapped liquid. But every now and then, a tarp would burst, sending a small waterfall down to the show floor. We heard one report of a poor guy getting water dumped on him while working on his laptop PC, with the net result being one wet human and one fried laptop.

Still, everyone persevered, and by the time we actually arrived on the scene, the line to get tickets stretched hundreds of yards, and the show floor was buzzing with activity. By day two, the clouds had lifted, the sun was shining and the convention floor was packed with throngs of people checking out the latest gadgets and gizmos. Here are a few highlights we observed, and be sure to check out the slideshow.

DigitalLife is a show for end-users. But end-users ranged from absolute tech neophytes to hardcore gamers to people who can build and tweak their own systems. We hung out in the PC Magazine Digital Village, spending a good chunk of our time with PC Magazine's Gary Berline in the Do-It-Yourself section. The range of people who came by and asked savvy tech questions about SLI motherboards, Athlon 64 processors, and case modding was impressive, to say the least.

Later, we wandered around the show floor. Here are some highlights. Continued... All weekend long, the DigitalLife gaming pavilion drew healthy crowds of dedicated gamers, excited fans, and casual observers checking out the latest in computer and console gaming. While we didn't find any Xbox 360 demos set up for hands-on testing, there were plenty of opportunities to get acquainted with the eagerly awaited sequel to LucasArts' best-selling game of all time, Star Wars Battlefront II. New additions to the game include the ability to play hero and villain characters such as Darth Vader and Yoda, equipped with lightsabers and their own special Force powers. They've also added space battles featuring the full lineup of starfighters like the familiar X-Wing and the TIE fighter. If you get tired of flying around, you can land on an enemy Star Destroyer and battle it out on foot. Many of the scenario maps are taken directly from Episode III, but old-school fans will be happy to know they still can blow up the Death Star and relive other classic battles when the game launches on November 1st.

Of course, not everyone at the Javits center was there just to sample the regular buffet of digital entertainment and try to get within 20 feet of Jessica Alba. The DigitalLife Tournament Series, produced by the Global Gaming League (GGL) in association with XFIRE, brought in some of the best gamers from around the world in search of frags, fame, and a piece of the $100,000 prize purse fortune. Here's a breakdown of the tournament payout:

$33,000 Counter-Strike 1.6 5v5 Teams (PC) $22,000 Halo 2 1v1 (Xbox) $12,000 Unreal Tournament 2004 1v1 (PC) $12,000 Warcraft III: Frozen Throne 1v1 (PC) $5,000 Dance Dance Revolution (Arcade) Friday's open qualifiers were open to walk-ons. Contestants good enough to move on to Saturday's quarter- and semi-finals duked it out with the auto-berths in the Top-16 elimination brackets. Fans crowded around the on-stage semi-final Counter-Strike match between #1-ranked Team 3D and Fear Factor with commentary by ReDeYe, Jason, and SyN. Team 3D's close first round loss (16-14) revealed that Fear Factor was not to be underestimated. But Team 3D replied with two decisive victories, advancing them to the finals against CompLexity on Sunday. Continued... Over at the Nintendo booth, we snuck a quick peek at the Game Boy Micro. Its built-in motion sensor brings a new dimension to games outside the normal keypad and button input, but wagging the thing around makes it difficult to see what's going on onscreen. With interchangeable faceplates, it's possible for the fashion-forward to color coordinate the Micro with their wardrobe. It's also a simple fix for scratched screens and marred cases—typical wear and tear that pocketed mobile devices have been known to endure… A bit larger than an iPod Nano but much smaller than its big brother, the Nintendo DS, the Micro might feel a bit too tiny in small hands. But the uber-compact size is definitely a plus if you need your games with you everywhere, all the time. Continued... The visual quality of 3D graphics is constantly improving with innovative video card technology and better software, but getting a fully immersive experience from a 2D monitor still takes a bit of imagination. Enter eMagin's Z800 3DVisor. Using two high-contrast OLED Microdisplays, the Z800 delivers virtual 3D in 800x600, 24-bit color resolution in a headset weighing less than eight ounces. Combined with a MEMS head tracking system equipped with three gyros, three compasses, and three accelerometers, the 3DVisor detects a full 360 degrees of motion letting you navigate virtual worlds with the motion of your head. Hi-fidelity audio and a noise-canceling microphone round out the immersion experience.

On their FPS demo, moving the target reticle by turning our heads felt surprisingly natural with no detectable lag. According to eMagin, only Nvidia currently supports stereoscopic drivers. More third party drivers are expected soon. With an $899 price tag, virtual reality doesn't come cheap. However, the spousal acceptance factor will go a long way when you tell your wife you can game in silence and complete darkness, or even watch movies while lying in bed without bothering the person next to you. Continued... Western Digital, Maxtor, and Iomega were there, showing off various flavors of external storage. People are starting to realize that their "digital shoeboxes" are vulnerable. After all, if your hard drive goes down you may end up losing all your digital photos in one fell swoop. So external storage, which connect via USB and FireWire, are becoming an increasing part of people's digital shoeboxes.

The problem here, however, is that you're trading one point of failure for another. What you really want is redundant storage. To that end, Maxtor will be offering their OneTouch III line of external drives come November. The cool thing about these drives is that they're actually two physical drives in one compact box. You can configure the unit for RAID 0 (really big drive) or RAID 1 (pretty darned big, but redundant drive). We're fans of the RAID 1 approach for backup ourselves, and are looking forward to checking out the OneTouch III when it ships.

As more homes become networked, someone in the house gets to become the network administrator. While sophisticated network management tools exist for corporate networks, these are overkill for homes—and often too difficult to use for relative neophytes. Seattle-based Pure Networks has just started to ship Network Magic 2.0, a home network management utility. At $50 for a five-PC license, Network Magic works with a Windows network to assist in managing and configuring network shares. It can also see Linux and MacOS shares as well. Pure Networks is looking into offering a MacOS version in the future.

Network Magic can also see printers on the network, and push printer drivers to other client PCs. Through the Net2Go feature, you can access the home network securely over the Internet, and share folders and files that exist on the home network to anyone on the Internet with valid access. Continued... In a curious case of role reversal, Intel and AMD were at DigitalLife, but seemed to be trying to poach on turf that had been the strength of the other company. For example, Intel was sponsoring a number of the game tournaments, and the game PCs used by the contestants were all Intel-based. AMD was showing off content creation, particularly digital music authoring, on AMD-based platforms in their booth.

Perhaps the neatest demo at the AMD area was the eJamming demo. This is a cool product that allows musicians to co-operate and play together over the Internet, so they don't need to be in the same studio together. You can, of course, record and play pack your jam sessions. The service costs $19.95 per month, and there are bulk rate subscriptions. Not only can you jam with your remote friends, but you can even recruit other players for jam sessions. Until now, eJamming has been mainly Mac based, but the Windows XP version is in beta. Continued... PC Magazine set up their "Digital Village," which showed off how various rooms in a house could make use of some of the nifty hardware and software available. Robert Heron talked up HDTV and gave demos of HDTV service, and the HDTV feed of the weekend's football events proved a popular draw. The digital bedroom and home office featured laptops and smaller HDTVs on display. The mobile area featured cool cell phones and other mobile devices.

Creative Labs was present, showing off their new Zen Vision mobile digital video and music device, with a screen size that makes the new Video iPod look anemic. Nokia had a large booth, and was showing off cell phones and still trying valiantly to push the nGage phone / portable gaming platform.

A number of educational panels were featured, and focused on HDTV, mobile phone use, home networking, and others. Loyd Case moderated a panel on Demystifying HDTV, and the panel fielded questions from the audience on the complexities of buying, installing, and using HDTVs. Continued... As if the F.E.A.R. and Battlefield: 2 demo machines at online superstore's booth weren't enough to keep us around, renowned case modder Paul Capello was there showing off his hand made, sci-fi themed custom PC cases. Captivated case modding neophytes came back to the booth for tips and techniques from the case modding guru, as well as demonstrations of a cold cathode lamp, fan controller panel, and liquid-cooling installations. Of course, it wasn't just about competition. The less hardcore could experiment with Star Wars Battlefront II on a variety of platforms, play Sega games on PS/2 and Xbox, and check out Nintendo's Gameboy Micro. Sony Online was there, with a booth showing off Everquest II, and they even had Anna Wainscott, the winner of their "Quest for Antonia" contest in full costume, handing out autographed photos. The line was pretty long. Continued... Based on the throngs of people who flocked to Javits Center, this year's DigitalLife was a resounding success. Ziff-Davis is even talking about taking the show to other parts of the country, though those plans haven't been finalized yet. It really was great to see and speak with real users of products. The kinds of questions we heard, even from relative neophytes, made us realize just how technology-centric our culture is becoming. Speaking as someone who's lived in the techno-geek wilderness for a lot of years, that can only be a good thing.

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Copyright © 2005 Ziff Davis Media Inc. All Rights Reserved. Originally appearing in ExtremeTech.

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