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gerald-apes.jpgSo then. It's time to share some news I've been sitting on for some time now.

I'm...having a baby!

No, just kidding - I've not turned into some "Schwarzenegger-in-Junior" style freak of nature. The real news, as you've probably figured out by reading the headline here before my ham-fisted attempt at a joke is that today is my last day as Editor for Tech Digest.

* sob! *

After four great years manning the ship here, it's time for me to move on and to try something slightly different. It's been a blast, and I hope you've found my work here at Tech Digest over the past couple of years both informative and entertaining. If you've read the site much since October of 2009, you've been putting up with my ranting and raving, for which I salute you and am eternally grateful. I've written 6,463 (!) posts for Tech Digest, and if there's anyone out there mad enough to have read them all I'll buy that person a beer the next time we're down the pub together.

Behind being a member of The Beatles, it's pretty much been the best job I could have hoped for, from larking about in centrifuges and on roller-coasters, to meeting some of my all time heroes and getting my hands on some of the most cutting-edge technology out there ahead of the masses.

That last point in particular is an important one. Us tech writers are in an incredibly privileged position, standing on the frontlines of a rapidly changing industry, observing and reporting on the technologies and gadgets that could and often do shape and challenge the way we live. Keeping you loyal Tech Digest readers informed with that information has been a great and welcome responsibility, and one I hope you feel I've been up to the task for.

And there are few sites more exciting than Tech Digest to have done that reporting for. Through good times and bad, Tech Digest's co-owners Chris and Ashley have been the best bosses you could hope for, taking a chance on me when I arrived fresh on the scene back in 2009 and supporting me right through to my last days here. Cheers guys! And then there are the great people I've worked with over the years here, with special shout-outs going to Anna, Becca, Liz and Sheldon. You all kick ass, but you already know that anyway.

Tech Digest will continue to be a superb source for tech news and reviews, and Chris and Ashley have some really neat things lined up in the coming weeks and months. The site's in safe hands, so don't touch that bookmark!

As for me, I'll be popping up at another major UK tech website in the next few days, so keep your eyes peeled. If you just can't get enough of me, you can follow me on Twitter. Find me at twitter.com/geegeemidnight.

So yeah. Technology. Always and forever, always and forever.

Gerald

twitter.com/geegeemidnight

LIVING WITH: YouView with BT Vision

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youview-write.jpgreview-line.JPGLiving With is a new feature at Tech Digest where we re-visit big product launches a few months down the line to see how they've shaped up in the long run. Be it new services added to connected devices, hardware reliability problems or software quirks that have only reared their heads over time, Living With will be an open forum for our readers to share their thoughts too. Feel free to add your observations in the comments section below.

review-line.JPGAfter a series of delays held back the service many years until a final unveiling towards the end of 2012, YouView has gone on to become one of the fastest-growing TV viewing services in the UK, landing in over 230,000 living rooms by February of this year.

Tech Digest's own Chris Price reviewed the service back in August saying that while YouView did some interesting things with catch-up TV services, it ultimately has "a few big mistakes" making YouView boxes "less intuitive than they should be." Having lived with the box as part of a BT broadband package for the past few months, it felt like time to revisit YouView. Has its intriguing interface become easier to navigate over time, and have the service's few other problems been ironed out?

For the uninitiated, the YouView service combines both on-demand and catch-up content through a constant web connection with standard Freeview HD live programming, rivalling the likes of Sky subscription packages. Our BT package pumped YouView through a Humax DTR-1000 set-top box, which also offers 500GB of built-in storage space for TV recordings, as well as dual-tuners for recording two channels and watching a third at the same time (providing the third is on the same multiplex - the groupings that Freeview content is broadcast in).DSCF9379.JPGThe YouView box does a few really interesting things when it comes to catch-up TV, fully integrating online TV services such as BBC iPlayer, Channel 4's 4oD, ITV Player and 5 on Demand directly into the EPG. Not only can you set shows to record seven days in advance, you can also rewind seven days too within the TV guide, hitting long-past shows and have them play through their respective catch-up services instantly. It's a great feature, one sorely missing from Sky boxes and one I've really come to rely on when watching TV. Though it's frustrating that some content seems to be inexplicably missing from the catch-up services, it's totally changed the way I watch TV; I've watched hardly any live TV as a result of the catch-up integration, and don't sweat half as much when I realise I've forgotten to set up a recording.

Though initially jarring, the way that on-demand and catch-up services is integrated throughout the YouView experience soon becomes second nature. You can use the universal search feature to find content anywhere within YouView and it'll redirect you to the appropriate source without having to faff about in app menus, while on-demand and catch-up content is split into easily browseable categories. One of our main gripes here however has yet to be fixed - I find it very frustrating not being able to filter out free content from those requiring a payment, such as shows or movies from the Now TV or BT Vision box office services. Of course the intention is to get you to cough up cash, but I'd rather have the option to simply ignore premium content altogether rather than having lengthy search lists to scroll through.DSCF9377.JPGSearch could be improved too, as it's not all that intuitive inputting letters using the YouView remote's number keys. YouView have made the first steps towards addressing this through the introduction of an iOS app. While its functionality is currently limited to setting TV recordings remotely while on the go away from the set-top box (itself a great, forward thinking feature that combats similar options from Sky), it shouldn't be too much of a stretch to add a software keyboard here too in the future. It's a feature that could make navigating the box a significantly improved experience, and we hope that Android devices get similar app attention in the future too.

Though I'm still perplexed at the omission of a Wi-Fi connection (the Humax DTR-1000 requires you constantly be connected to the internet over an Ethernet connection), it's a decision that's made more sense the longer I've used the YouView box. Paired with a BT Infinity connection, the wired connection has mean't I've never once suffered the effects of buffering or connection drop out, and considering most of the TV viewing I've done through the box has turned out to be via online services, that's a more sensible choice than first assumed. Regardless, and despite the fact BT offer powerline homeplug units for those whose TV is not near their router, an optional wireless dongle should be top of the YouView to-do list.DSCF9376.JPGLastly, we're still waiting on more of the 300 content providers who were said to be interested in getting on YouView to land on the service. When YouView was first touted as Project Canvas in 2008, getting the likes of iPlayer and ITV Player alongside live TV content sounded like a revolutionary idea. To an extent it still is, but with the advent of Smart TV, that excitement has diminished slightly, and YouView is lagging behind in terms of online TV and movie providers. Where's LoveFilm Instant and Netflix? They're on every tablet and connected TV set, and sorely missing here. Bringing universal search across Netlfix and LoveFilm Instant through the YouView box to those who subscribe to both on-demand services would be the sort of killer feature that'd really turn heads, though simply having them on YouView in any form would be a good start.

Despite my concerns, I find myself at a loggerheads with Chris's initial dismissive verdict. Through its implementation of online services, YouView is a true rival to Sky's living room dominance in my opinion, and one of the more advanced (as well as speedy) PVRs on the market. It has its quirks, but it's a comprehensive TV viewing experience, one that I expect will see its kinks ironed out before long.

For more on YouView from BT, including pricing and broadband deals, click here.

source-code-kindle-fire-hd.pngAmazon have announced that they are to introduce their own currency in May called Amazon Coins to be used exclusively with the company's range of Kindle Fire tablets.

Supposedly aimed at making it easier to buy apps, in-app purchases, games and media on the Kindle Fire devices, Amazon will be giving away millions of pounds worth of the Coins worldwide to encourage adoption of the new payment system.

Developers working on apps for Amazon will still make 70% from each sale using Amazon Coins, but only apps and games approved by Amazon ahead of April 25 will be eligible to use the currency, which could lead to frustrating fragmentation of payment options within apps.

"Developers continue to report higher conversion rates on Amazon compared to other platforms," Paul Ryder, Amazon's Vice President of Apps and Games, said in a statement accompanying the news.

"Now we have another new way to help developers reach even more of our millions of customers."

Reach, customers, eh? More like more ways to confuse them. Amazon already have one-click purchases as an option for customers signed up to their store with a confirmed credit or debit card, and it doesn't get much simpler than that.

This sounds more like something like Microsoft Points on the Xbox 360, something that even Microsoft are rumoured to be considering dropping. If Amazon Coins are anything like the Microsoft Xbox 360 payment system, it's a way of cloaking the real monetary value of content, not to mention forcing users into buying arbitrary bundles of Coins that may not necessarily line up with the amount that users need to purchase the things they want. It's unclear yet whether or not you'll be able to turn unused Coins back into real-world currency, but it's unlikely, meaning you'll either need to leave them festering in an account or top up a few stray Coins in order to make a worthwhile purchase, likely leaving you with more leftover Coins and kicking off the cycle all over again.

For Amazon (whose profits are never quite as impressive as the revenue they generate), it's a shrewd move to counteract their loss-leading Kindle product pricing. But ultimately I fear that consumers are going to lose out.

jobs-ipad-mini.jpg"The 10-inch screen size is the minimum size required to create great tablet apps".

Not our words, but those of Steve Jobs, the late, great Apple leader. Kickstarting the tablet revolution with the launch of the first iPad in 2010, Jobs didn't spare a kind word for tablets in the 7-inch product category.

"No tablet can compete with the mobility of a smartphone, its ease of fitting into your pocket or purse, its unobtrusiveness when used in a crowd," Jobs continued during the 18 October 2010 Apple earnings results conference.

"Given that all tablet users will already have a smartphone in their pockets, giving up precious display area to fit a tablet in our pockets is clearly the wrong tradeoff. The seven-inch tablets are tweeners, too big to compete with a smartphone and too small to compete with an iPad".

And yet here we are today, just over a year since Jobs' death with our very own Apple "tweener", the iPad Mini.iPad-Mini-02.pngAt 7.9 inches in size, it certainly sits at the larger end of the 7-inch spectrum, and while offering more screen real estate than competitors due to its 4:3 ratio (roughly 30 square inches compared to 22 square inches for the 16:10 Google Nexus 7 and 21.4 square inches for the 17:10 Kindle Fire), it's still only two-thirds the size of a full-fat iPad.

Steve Jobs had mused over how to make up the difference, stating that "one could increase the resolution of the display." Apple have failed to do that, with the iPad Mini sitting at the same 1,024x768 resolution as the iPad 2, giving it a lower pixel-per-inch number than rivals the Kindle Fire HD and Google Nexus 7.

Even if they had upped the resolution, Jobs would still have branded such a jump as "meaningless", once even humorously concluding that Apple would have to throw a sheet of sandpaper in with any potential 7-inch tablet they may make "so that the user can sand down their fingers to around one quarter of the present size".

But the post-Jobs era Apple have pressed forward with the smaller tablet design regardless. It's gathering some praise, but a mostly muted response from analysts and consumers alike.

It's not the first time in recent months that Apple have overlooked the design philosophy that Jobs pushed. Jobs had often stated that for a smartphone to fit comfortably in a user's hand, 3.5-inches was the "sweet spot":

"A 3.5 inch handset size is the 'sweet spot' for mobile phone design; big enough to produce detailed, legible graphics, but small enough to fit comfortably in the hand and pocket."

And yet we now have the elongated, 4-inch iPhone 5. It's said to have been the last product that Jobs worked closely on, and it'd be amazing to have seen the discussion that surrounded the jump to a larger screen size, and Jobs' stance on the final decision.
iPhone-5-official-05.pngThere's anecdotal evidence that Steve Jobs had at the very least changed his mind when it came to 7-inch tablets. During the never-ending Apple Vs Samsung patent trial, an email from Eddie Cue, head of Apple's Internet software and services, was presented as evidence that suggested Jobs was warming to the idea of a smaller iPad. Cue wrote:

"Having used a Samsung Galaxy, I tend to agree with many of the comments below (except moving off the iPad). I believe there will be a 7' market and we should do one. I expressed this to Steve several times since Thanksgiving and he seemed very receptive the last time. I found email, books, Facebook and video very compelling on a 7'. Web browsing is definitely the weakest point, but still usable."

But such receptivity never left Jobs mouth in his lifetime, or at least not publicly.

If there was one thing that Steve Jobs really understood, it was great design and how to turn ideas into intuitive products. This is the man whose attention to detail, right down to the way his love for calligraphy inspired font choices, led to the sublime Mac OS, a completely graphical operating system that avoided command line trickery altogether.

This attention to detail, which characterised Apple during Jobs' tenure at the top, now seems to be missing; just take a look at how much wasted space there is in full-screen apps on OS X Mountain Lion, and the dated "paper texture" looks of many Apple-built applications. And then there's the absolute disaster that is Apple Maps, which is as useful a mapping app as drawing a squiggly line on a slice of bread, throwing it in a duck pond and fishing it out ten minutes later after the birds and water have had their wicked way with it.

That's not to say the iPad Mini will be a bad device. Far from it; we expect it to meet the high standards that all Apple's products do, and to be a similar commercial success to the iPhone 5, now estimated to have sold almost ten million units. All this despite Jobs' concerns about screen size.Thumbnail image for Screen Shot 2012-10-05 at 11.38.52.pngBut what's certain is that we have now fully entered the post-Jobs era, where the man's once-infallible opinions count for little.

Apple's continued successes prove that that doesn't spell financial doom for the company.

But what is worrying is that Apple at present don't seem too fussed about innovating. The iPad Mini is chasing a market dominated by Android tablets, one that Amazon and Google's loss-leading approach to hardware seems to have sewn up. The iPhone 5 sees Apple following the market trend towards ever-larger handsets, rather than re-inventing the wheel the way the iPhone once did. And the fourth generation iPad, also revealed last night, seems incredibly cynical, considering it follows just under 8 months after the launch of the 3rd generation "New" iPad. It wasn't new for very long, eh? While Apple don't owe their customers eternal bragging rights, it's easy to understand consumers' frustrations; when early adopters commit to forking out upwards of £400 for a new gadget, you're bound to rile even the most devout Apple fanboys when you relegate their relatively new toys to an understudy role so soon after revealing them.

One of Steve Jobs' favourite quotes was from ice hockey player Wayne Gretzky: "I skate to where the puck is going to be." Jobs always aimed to be one step ahead of the competition. Whether post-Jobs era Apple sees innovation as just as important as he did going forward remains to be seen.

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keira-daley.pngreview-line.JPGThe Queen Geek of cabaret, Keira Daley is set to take the Edinburgh Fringe festival by storm this year with her show LadyNerd. An infectious mix of tech anecdotes, wit and belly laughs, LadyNerd sees Keira join forces with musical director and piano geek Mark Chamberlain (Jersey Boys, The Last Five Years, Mornings With Kerri-Anne), in "an unashamedly brainy celebration where jazzy piano bar meets Sega Megadrive". In this exclusive guest post, Keira talks us through the rise of the nerd, and some of the incredible women over the centuries who've made it possible.

review-line.JPGI discovered my nerdy identity - or 'nerdentity', if you will - at a very young age.

I was five years old when my big sister brought home a mangled aquamarine coloured box with the word "Tempest" on it. It was adorned with screenshots of games - the only one I remember clearly is Pong, though it may or may not have been called "Bat 'n' Ball" for copyright reasons.

This is my earliest recollection of a computer.

Somehow, I worked out how to hook it all up, tune the TV to it (an old wooden box CRT - yes, I'm a child of the '80s), and get it running. Thus began my reputation as "person who knows how to make the gadgets work" (which is a somewhat less shiny title than "engineer", "programmer", or "techspert" - I am just a stage performer after all).

The Tempest was already old for its time - this was Atari's heyday - but it was pretty amazing to me. You press a button on a stick attached to a wire, attached to a dusty slab of a console, attached to a behemoth of a TV, and you can make things happen on the screen half a metre away. Incredible!

Fast forward to the early '90s. We had an Amiga 500. I shouldn't really say "we" though because I was the only one who used it (imagine a household now where only the 10-year-old uses the family PC...). Needless to say, it was a beautiful, exotic device at the time. Of course, it involved the somewhat less beautiful task of swapping floppy discs every time you wanted Willie Beamish to "Take backpack". But I loved it all the same.amiga500.jpgNowadays, we expect computers to be there at every turn, doing our bidding. It's hard to imagine life without mobile phones, let alone life without so much as a calculator. Strangely enough, in 1842 Ada Lovelace knew this is how things would go down before the first computer was even built. After learning of Charles Babbage's purely theoretical Analytical Engine, Ada felt mathematically inspired enough by the idea to write it an algorithm - a nerdy kind of love letter to a phenomenon she'd never live to experience.

This is what nerds do best - they embrace ideas.

History's greatest nerds have committed wholeheartedly to theories that others often overlook or dismiss. Had Marie Curie followed the pack, she'd never have discovered the true nature of radioactivity. Okay, so she also mightn't have been poisoned to death by radiation, but sometimes you have to take the bad with the good.

Meanwhile, Florence Nightingale's obsession with hygiene cut the death rate of wounded soldiers almost by half using two powerful tools - meticulous medical records and a little thing we call hygiene. Washing hands saves lives, who knew? I'd quite like a Florence Nightingale hologram next to the sinks in every public toilet, complete with pie charts (which she invented), explaining why a clean hand is better than a gross one. I'd probably go to high-five her every time, but my hand would sweep through and hit my own hand in the mirror.

And, damn it, why shouldn't we high-five ourselves? In an image-obsessed world, rife with inane pop cultural phenomena (not to say it's all bad, of course - there's some amazing TV around) nerds are the people restoring the balance. Nerds are the ones who reflect and redirect. Nerds make discoveries, they cure diseases and solve problems. They investigate, question, and research until the job is done. In other words, nerds do stuff.

"Nerd" is not a dirty word. If you are a nerd, you should wear it as a badge of honour considering your predecessors. And if you're not... isn't it time you joined us?

Keira Daley is a writer, performer, and life-long nerd from Sydney, Australia. Her award-winning cabaret Keira Daley: LadyNerd is appearing at Edinburgh Fringe 2012 every day 5.20pm at George Square Three.

For bookings, visit: http://www.edfringe.com/whats-on/cabaret/keira-daley-ladynerd

samsung-galaxy-s3-us-launch-announcement 2.jpegSamsung's Galaxy S3 is the posterboy for team Android. With a whopping 4.8 inch HD Super AMOLED touchscreen, nippy quad-core processor, an 8MP camera with 1080p recording capabilities and NFC technology built in, it's every bit the match for its Apple rival, the iPhone 4S. According to analysts JP Morgan, it's been a run away success selling 6.5 million devices and expected to hit 10 million units sold by the end of the month.

So why are there so few accessory manufacturers jumping on board to make accessories for the Galaxy S3?

Go into even the pokiest of supermarkets, and it's odds-on that you'll be able to pick up an iPhone case and compatible headphones and, if the store has an electrical section, almost certainly a compatible speaker dock too.

If you're looking to do the same for an Android phone, you're going to struggle. There are hardly any compatible docks (I'm not counting hooking them up over the 3.5mm jack) or headphones with in-line remotes, and the same goes for cases. To pick up extras for Android devices, you still have to head on to specialist online retailers, or delve into the murky world of shoddy eBay sales, where the quality and origin of your purchases are at times questionable.

The fragmented nature of Android phones has in the past gone someway to explaining this; with so many varying Android handsets out there third-party accessory manufacturers have struggled to pinpoint which devices are worth the effort of making gear for.

But it's not like the accessory manufacturers couldn't have predicted the S3's success. With Samsung's Galaxy S range now well established and much loved, it was clear months before release that millions of this specific handset would sell, and that a market for accessories existed here. Hyped to iPhone levels of anticipation prior to release, it is after all the follow up to Samsung's Galaxy S2, which has shifted a cool 24 million by June of this year.

Now that's not to say it's impossible to get Android-compatible extras. Proporta, Incipio and Belkin all do a range of cases for the S3 phone, Klipsch have an Android-compatible pair of S4A headphones with in-line remote, and Samsung themselves have put together a very attractive valve-based speaker dock too. But while there are a handful we've undoubtedly missed, it's nowhere near the range you can find for Apple's gear.

So what's the reasoning behind this discrepancy? It'd be naive to think the manufacturers have just overlooked this market. Is it a case of a lack of support from Samsung? Or, more worryingly, a fear of losing Apple-certification on their other gear if they get too close to an Android device?

When it comes to audio devices, speaker specialists Braven see no reason why more wireless docks cant hit stores: "Wireless accessories are the way to go with the Samsung S3, specifically Bluetooth headphones and speaker systems (both portable and home)," said a Braven spokesperson. "This is particularly pertinent because - unlike the iPhone - the Samsung S3 supports superior-quality aptX Bluetooth, meaning you can get a really decent sound from a wireless set-up. And unlike Apple AirPlay, you won't need a wi-fi network to get it, either."

Perhaps the Google Play store is also slightly to blame; iOS devices have access to Apple's superb App Store, where high-quality apps do so well that there's even a market for "appccessories"; gadgets designed purely to be used in conjunction with a sole iOS app. A quick look at the boom in mobile iOS audio recording interfaces to be used with Garageband and similar musically-inclined apps quickly proves this. Is a lack of quality of Android app development also to blame? Indeed, the Android app scene has come on leaps and bounds over the past year, but again fragmentation likely means we'll see few manufacturers taking a risk on "appccessories" for the S3.

\\'Historically, iPhones have been consistent strong sellers, so it was natural for us to develop custom cases for iPhone," said Wojtek Kolan, Head of Business Development at thumbsUp!. "iPhone users are passionate about the style of their phone and as so many people have the same model, users like to customise theirs and pick a design which stands out. This means that thumbsUp!'s novelty and retro designs have proved popular, and are widely accepted amongst iPhone users. "Obviously, the more variants of a case there are, the harder it is to manage, with minimum quantities, (there are 3 different models of Galaxys alone) so stock control would be a problem. But actually, introducing more of our custom cases for Samsung is something we are looking to do, as their market share in increasing. We like the design of the S3 and will certainly be looking to develop novelty and retro accessories for it."

In the meantime, Galaxy S3 owners are left with a top-notch handset with very little to soup it up with, while case, dock and other accessory manufacturers are almost certainly missing a trick.

02-microsoft-surface-190612.jpgWow! "Microsoft in cool, exciting product launch shocker!" Microsoft's first foray into own-branded tablet hardware may have been a long time coming (and long overdue in the fight against Apple's mobile dominance), but credit where it's due: the Surface tablet looks set to deliver the goods.

With a media circus of Apple-like proportions, Microsoft unveiled their Windows 8 tablet. A 10.1 inch device available in two configurations (one powered by a Nvidia ARM chip with Windows 8 RT and a "Pro" version with full-fat Windows 8 powered by an Intel Core i5 Ivy Bridge processor), it managed to set itself apart from the pack not only in terms of software as we'd expected, what with Windows 8 onboard, but in its hardware too.

Microsoft had put this altogether themselves, rather than slapping their branding on a third-party's machine. While tablets themselves aren't the easiest things to build fresh, exciting designs around any more, the super-slim keyboard/trackpad/cover combo that magnetically attached to the Surface was certainly a lust-worthy addition. Add to that a Gorilla Glass screen, full size USB connectivity and a genuinely attractive industrial design, and Microsoft seemed to tick all the boxes for a successful launch, aside from concrete pricing and release date information.
microsoft-surface-tablet.jpg
Then there was Microsoft's new approach to product design. Again like Apple, the Redmond company now seem set on having as much control as possible over their software by putting together their own tailor-made hardware to match it.

"We believe that any intersection between human and machine can be made better when all aspects of the experience - hardware and software - are considered and working together," said Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer at the event.

"We see that combination working in our PC ecosystem. We believe in the strength of that ecosystem. Much like Windows 1 needed the mouse, we wanted to give Windows 8 it's own hardware."

It is, however, a double edged sword. On the plus side, picking up a Microsoft Windows tablet need not be the dicey exercise it once was when picking up third-party hardware. Microsoft have built the Surface from the ground up, making hardware that's a perfect match for the software they've also developed.

However, that could lead to a slippery slope for Windows' "open" nature, and could mark the first brick in Microsoft's own "walled garden" approach, one of the key factors that keep Windows users away from the temptation of Apple's OS X. If tinkerers and manufacturers alike can't play under the hood of Windows and any new hardware associated with it as Microsoft want complete control over the user experience, the lines between Microsoft and Apple's approaches to consumer freedoms will be blurred.
microsoft-surface-tablet-2.jpg
What could start as Microsoft's effort to guarantee a quality user experience could eventually lead to strict hardware and software guidelines. Also, even if a manufacturer comes up with an interesting hardware design, what's to say Microsoft won't now feel pressured into defending and pushing their own hardware first?

For third-party manufacturers, the Surface represents the last time that the Windows platform will be a level playing field in which to work in. Microsoft have now set a hardware precedent, and every major software release coming out of the Redmond stable will now likely be paired with a hardware release. Microsoft will always be first to deliver the latest Windows hardware, and will have had the benefit of building it behind closed doors in tandem with the onboard software. Where once third-party device manufacturers approached new builds of Windows as equally removed from the software side of things as their competitors, Microsoft now have a key advantage over them. Third party manufacturers will have to work incredibly hard to win over consumers when offered the familiar (and now certified, tried, tested and trustworthy "homegrown") Microsoft-branded gear.

Also, look at it in terms of hardware trends. Microsoft, the company whose software powers the majority of desktop machines around the world, chose to first develop a mobile tablet device. Component and accessory manufacturers who work exclusively in the confines of the desktop and PC market should take note, and heed the warning that for Microsoft, just as with Apple, stationary, traditional computing equipment will in the coming years be going the way of the dodo.

The Surface marks a line in the sand for Microsoft and the Windows operating system, with Microsoft now positioning themselves on the side that sees the user experience of the consumer more important than the freedom to tinker or having expansive hardware options. As a consumer, deciding which side of that line you want to be on could be a difficult choice to make.

troll-tash.jpgTrolls: as pervasive on the web as trojans, dodgy porn and those picture you just knew you should have deleted from your camera. Spouting out abusive comments on chat rooms, social networks and forums, the era of the web troll may soon be coming to an end thanks to a new "Troll Bill" that could name and shame perpetrators.

It's all been sparked by a British lady called Nicola Brookes. The victim of online tormentors who set up fake accounts in her name and branded her a paedophile, Brooks took Facebook to court, with the social network quickly handing over the details of the offending trolls to quell the tide.

It seemed at first certain to be a one-off occurrence, but set a new precedent for web law in the UK. Now according to the BBC, new government legislation will soon be put in place and added to the Defamation Bill that will require all kinds of websites and social networks to hand over the details of anyone who posts defamatory content online.

Great news? Sort of. On one hand, we'd finally be able to stop those really persistent idiots that ruin our web experience and have previously thought they were safe through cyberspace anonymity.

But on the other, it's another step towards web censorship, wrestling control away from webmasters who, for the most part throughout the relatively short history of the web, have policed their own communities very well. Will we be afraid to legitimately argue a point with a fellow netizen for fear of being branded a troll, resulting in having the authorities breathing down our necks?

Justice Secretary Ken Clarke reassured the BBC this would not be the case:

"The government wants a libel regime for the internet that makes it possible for people to protect their reputations effectively but also ensures that information online can't be easily censored by casual threats of litigation against website operators."

It's a contentious point. The web is a large, mostly healthy place full of great people and ideas, just like the real world. And just like the real world, a small minority look to ruin everyone else's fun. But, again just as with new proposed laws in the real world, we have to carefully weigh our online rights against any potential new online laws that may make the web a little less free and a little less open.

We may have to pay a high price to put a stop to online trolls. Is it one really worth paying?

censorship.jpg

As Twitter continue to expand their micro-blogging network globally, they've come into certain difficulties and cultural differences as they launch in new international territories. As a result, Twitter have announced new rules which could effectively mean Tweets in the future will be censored.

But what does this mean for you? Shiny Shiny's Becca Caddy sheds some light on the issue below.

review-line.JPGEver since it was first launched back in 2006 (THAT long ago!?) Twitter has been open and free for all of its users, regardless of of any issues of censorship or local problems in their home countries.

Well this week Twitter has announced that in the future that may no longer be the case, and if the micro-blogging platform is required by law to censor tweets, it will. Although it claims this will be on a country-by-country basis, many have been suggesting that those living in Europe and the US are likely to be most affected.

Here's the official explanation from the Twitter blog:

"As we continue to grow internationally, we will enter countries that have different ideas about the contours of freedom of expression. Some differ so much from our ideas that we will not be able to exist there. Others are similar but, for historical or cultural reasons, restrict certain types of content, such as France or Germany, which ban pro-Nazi content.

"Until now, the only way we could take account of those countries' limits was to remove content globally. Starting today, we give ourselves the ability to reactively withhold content from users in a specific country -- while keeping it available in the rest of the world. We have also built in a way to communicate transparently to users when content is withheld."

In many ways this shouldn't (don't hold us to that) affect most users and the blog post does go on to say that if your tweet has been censored you'll be alerted straight away and hopefully told what caused the issue (and hopefully why). Twitter also assures us all that it's working closely with a blog monitoring company, which specialises in online censorship, so you'd hope only the most problematic tweets will be weeded out.

It may seem scary to think our tweets could be censored in the future and Twitter is likely to face a lot of criticism in coming weeks. However, you only have to look at recent super-injunctions in the UK to learn that in actual fact there are many things we can't talk about in the street on a daily basis, so should we really be able to openly talk about those issues online?

The problem lies in the fact that there's a very fine line between restricting people from talking about serious issues that have legal implications and censoring things just because it's now possible. Let's hope Twitter works closely with each country as it promises and they all figure out where that line is.

[Image via Yoshiffles]

wikipedia-blackout.jpgTried to get onto Wikipedia today? If you're from an English-speaking nation, then you were probably presented with the image above, and not the free source of community-built knowledge that the web encyclopedia is known for. And it's going to stay that way until 5am (GMT) tomorrow too.

Why? In protest to controversial US anti-piracy bills: The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and its Senate partner, the Protect IP Act (PIPA).

The bills are intended to strengthen the position of intellectual property holders and content providers on the net, who argue their industries are being monumentally damaged by online pirates. Their argument is sound, but many feel the bills' combative methods are not; while the music, film and software industries may be protected by the SOPA and PIPA bills, Internet advocates fear the heavy-handed tactics proposed by the bills will lead to a stifling of free speech on the net.

The new legislation would support laws already in place to protect copyrighted material, like the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). However, while the DCMA targets the removal of the infringing content, SOPA and PIPA set their sights on the platforms hosting the content, giving the Justice Department the power to hunt down even foreign websites, cutting their support (and often revenue streams) from US-based advertisers, ISPs and card companies.

It essentially means all webmasters worldwide would have to vigorously monitor their sites for infringing content, something that many feel not only crosses the line into censorship, but, in the case of massively popular websites, would also prove a gigantic policing task and resource hog. Start-ups couldn't defend against possible violations, and the Internet's growth would be cut short.

And while the legislation primarily targets foreign sites hosting the infringing content, even domestic US sites could face heavy penalties, just for linking to the foreign pages in question. On a community driven site like Reddit, which relies on the sharing of content and healthy, open forum it has created to survive, it could eventually spell the end.

As a result, many sites alongside Wikipedia (including BoingBoing, Mozilla, WordPress, TwitPic, MoveOn.org and Reddit) are putting a "blackout" blanket over their sites to illustrate the potential dangers of the bills. Other sites, like Twitter and Facebook, have not took part in the blackout, but have been equally vocal in opposition, while Google too has a protest doodle with the message" Tell Congress: Please don't censor the web" alongside it.

"Today Wikipedians from around the world have spoken about their opposition to this destructive legislation," said Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia co-founder.

"This is an extraordinary action for our community to take - and while we regret having to prevent the world from having access to Wikipedia for even a second, we simply cannot ignore the fact that SOPA and PIPA endanger free speech both in the United States and abroad, and set a frightening precedent of Internet censorship for the world."

It's been an important few days in the fight against the bills. While no-one questions the fact that Internet piracy is a massive problem for the creative industries, even the White House has now began to withdraw support for SOPA, awaiting modifications for the legislation.

However the Senate is still scheduled to hold a procedural vote on PIPA on January 24th, which could yet see the bill instated.

If you think this is primarily a US concern, think again. The USA, in effect, could potentially hold the entire web to ransom, and where the US leads, the UK is sure to follow with similar legislation on our own domestic sites. With so many massive companies and media conglomerate's bank-balances tied to the success of PIPA and SOPA, there is heavy pressure for the bills to be passed.

The Internet as we know it could be about to change forever.

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Another day, another story about someone deciding to "quit" email. It seems it's very stressful, getting all these messages, and apparently this is a feeling "everyone" shares. Oh really?

Yes, I know what it's like to have thousands of unanswered emails in my inbox, looming large. And more than a few times I've started the day answering emails, only to look up and find the morning has gone already. This is why I have implemented rules for my email inbox: a few filters, some vigorous unsubscribing, and a frankly brilliant tactic that means turning the bloody thing off when I am on deadline. But quitting email altogether? Madness.

It brings to mind the time Kramer, the star of the strangely underrated sit-com "Seinfeld", decided to quit post. Infuriated with the amount of catalogues he was receiving, he boarded up his mail slot and decided to go off the grid. It didn't go so well - because however we feel about the post, electronic or otherwise, we need a way for people to get hold of us.

Consider the alternatives. Twitter is often suggested, but it's not exactly great for communicating as it's short, and very public. You can't exactly forward documents to people via Twitter, or inform your boss you need an hour off to go to the doctor again because that rash won't go.

Then what? The post? We can't go back there, it's consigned to history. The only thing I ever receive in the post are packets from Amazon, that free paper from the council that no one reads, and bank statements - I had to change these back to paper as I was denied a Russian visa because I could not prove where I live (true story).

So then, this means if you give up email you are left with the phone. Talk about disruptive - having that thing going off all day, cornering you with requests that need to be answered immediately. One day we will all be sufficiently cloud-based to rely on Twitter to swap links to documents stored elsewhere, but that day is years away. In the meantime you are just going to have to find a way of dealing with that bursting inbox. At least you can comfort yourself with the fact that unlike the phone, with email at least you have the option of hitting "delete".

5 reasons why we love the Nintendo DS

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Nintendo revealed today that over 10 million DS consoles have been sold in the UK so far. That staggering figure means one in six Brits now own a DS, and are happily catching Pokemon or training their brains. It makes Nintendo's console the best-selling machine in UK gaming history.

So what's made Nintendo's DS so popular? Here are Tech Digest's five top reasons why the DS is our favourite handheld.

Sleek design

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In case you didn't already know, the DS is packing not one, but TWO screens with great brightness and resolution levels. The touchscreen controls have made for some really innovative games, while the clam-shell design keeps the screens far safer from damage than the scratch prone PSP. Also, the wide range of available colours mean you could technically have a DS to match every outfit in your wardrobe. But that'd be a bit sad.

Great games

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Nintendo handhelds have always been the pack leaders when it comes to great games, and the DS is no exception. Classic Mario and Zelda titles have been given a dual-screen makeover with New Super Mario Bros and The Phantom Hourglass /Spirit Tracks respectively, while brand new IPs such as Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney and Trauma Centre have shown excellent, fresh bursts of creativity for handheld titles. The DS also represents handheld gaming's coming-of-age with adult orientated titles such as Resident Evil: Deadly Silence and GTA: Chinatown Wars all rocking onto Nintendo's otherwise-kid-friendly hardware.

Homebrew

If you pick yourself up a DS flash cartridge, you can open your DS up to the wondrous world of homebrew. From emulators of defunct consoles to video and MP3 players, the DS homebrew scene lets you unlock the full potential of your DS. A personal favourite is the SCUMM PC engine emulator, which lets you play all of the classic Lucasarts point-and-click adventures on your DS. Monkey Island, Day of the Tentacle, Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, all playable with the touchscreen! So long as you own the original PC games, running SCUMM on a DS flash cart is totally legit. What's less legal is putting DS ROMs onto one of the cartridges, though if it's for backup purposes you should be fine.

Excellent multiplayer options

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4-player Mario Kart in my hand?? Yes please. The DS has a whole host of excellent multiplayer titles, from war games such as Advanced Wars: Dual Strike right through to classic puzzlers like Tetris DS. Wi-Fi multiplayer makes connecting to each other incredibly simple, and many games require only one cartridge for as many as four players to take part. Sure, the whole friend code system is a little annoying, but at least it makes it easy to connect directly to just your friends and not some annoying little cheat from halfway around the world.

Girlfriends don't hate it!

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Yeah, we love spending time with our other halves, but we can't let our relationship with our games collections be neglected either, can we? So you'll be happy to hear that girls love the DS too. Score! Maybe it's the influx of super-cute games or the pick-up-and-play accessibility that finds even grandparents getting stuck into Brain Training, but it seems all sexes and age groups are united by the Nintendo DS. That said, I've even seen fully bearded alpha-male rugby players coo at Nintendogs. Something for everyone then!

Christmas Wishlist: Top Ten Games of 2009

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Oh, what a year to be a gamer! With the PS3 finally fighting fit and giving the Xbox 360 a run for its money, there were so many excellent games and so few hours to play them all. Even the weakening PC gaming market had a few notable titles, and a few welcome surprises were in store for DS owners too.

Before we go any further, let me offer my apologies to Empire: Total War, Borderlands, FIFA 10, The Sims 3, GTA: Chinatown Wars and Metroid Prime Trilogy. They are all worthy of your money, but just fell short of the cut for this list!

So let's crack on: in no particular order, here are Tech Digest's top ten games of 2009.

Assassins Creed 2- Xbox 360, PS3, PC

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Delivering on the failed promises of its predecessor, Assassins Creed 2 oozes quality out of every one of it's 15th century orifices. Taking on the role of young nobleman Ezio and following his rise into one of Renaissance Italy's elite assassins, the game was a stunning showcase by developers Ubisoft. Free-running around the lovingly modelled Florence is an exercise that never tires, as is knifing a corrupt guard in the back.

Batman: Arkham Asylum - Xbox 360, PS3, PC

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A superhero game that isn't totally pants? You're kidding right? We were sceptical when we first saw screenshots of Batman: Arkham Asylum. Could it play as well as it looked? Thankfully, Rocksteady Studios pulled it off with aplomb. Sneaky, dark and making excellent use of its source material, Batman: Arkham Asylum played like a comic-book Metal Gear Solid, with a ton of cool secrets to unearth. An honourable mention must also go to Mark "Luke Skywalker" Hamill, who puts in a superb voice-over performance as the twisted Joker.

Dragon Age: Origins - Xbox 360, PS3, PC

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They've conquered sci-fi epics with Mass Effect, now Bioware have gone all Tolkien on us with the excellent Dragon Age: Origins. A party based dungeon crawler, DA:O weaves a twisting narrative of political intrigue around its magic-casting, troll-slaying heart. Be careful though, the game will eat away hours of your life, so it's not best suited for a quick play while the brussel sprouts boil. If your computer can handle it, make sure you pick up the superior PC version, which irons out the few faults found in the console versions. Did we mention you can sleep with a dwarf?

New Super Mario Bros. Wii - Wii

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He's spent over a quarter of a century saving Princess Peach from lizard-king Bowser's clutches. You'd think if we weren't tired of it yet, at least Mario would be! But, on the strength of this 2D reboot for side-scrolling Mario platformers, it doesn't look like boredom or old age have kicked in yet. New Super Mario Bros. Wii is the first side-scrolling Mario game to feature four-player simultaneous co-op, and it's a total blast.

Killzone 2 - PS3

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Released way back in February, it could have been easy to overlook this FPS. However, Killzone 2's campaign mode represented the first glimmers of the PS3's comeback early this year, earning this Halo-killer's place on the top ten list. A bleak, cinematic shooter whose production values have only recently been bested by Modern Warfare 2, you can pick this game up now for around £15. An absolute bargain, and one PS3 owners should not miss out on.

Left 4 Dead 2 - Xbox 360, PC

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Maybe it's just my way of preparing for the inevitable zombie apocalypse, but I just cant get enough of blasting the undead back to the grave. Left 4 Dead 2 ups the tension already present in bucket loads in its predecessor, offering a more meaty set of campaign missions and that frantic four player co-op we've come to love. Again, the PC version is the one to pick up if you have the luxury of choice.

Scribblenauts - DS

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Maybe a bit of a leftfield choice this one. Let's be honest, was Scribblenauts the most polished game of 2009? No. Were some elements of the control scheme pretty busted? Yep. However, was it not the most wildly inventive game we saw all year? Too right it was. A cute little puzzler, the depth of your imagination was the only obstacle between you and solving each level's enigma. Typing a word into the in-game dictionary produced a little cartoon version of pretty much anything you can imagine. Ninja? Check. Hoverboard? Check. Freeze-ray-gun-glued-to-the-bottom-of-a-T-Rex? Your wish is Scribblenauts' command. Here's hoping a sequel builds on the excellent ideas on show here.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 - Xbox 360, PS3, PC

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Doesn't really need an introduction this one, but what the heck; Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is AMAZING. Playing like a bombastic feature-length episode of 24, the game threw up the biggest launch in video game history and broke all sorts of ridiculous sale records in the process. Featuring a hectic and controversial single player campaign and that crack-like multiplayer gaming, this one might be a bit of a moot entry, as you probably already own it, don't you?

Street Fighter IV - Xbox 360, PS3, PC

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Some things you never forget. Like how to throw Ryu's haduken fireball for instance. Ahh, down, forward, punch, why were you away so long? Street Fighter IV was probably the most gaming fun I've had with my mates all year. Both nostalgic and mind blowingly impressive, the cell-shaded reboot for the franchise was beat-em up perfection. Look out for the Super Street Fighter IV update in the new year.

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves - PS3

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Saving the best till last, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves has to be the game of the year. Sure Modern Warfare 2 will sell more, but the endearing charm of Indiana Jones-alike Nathan Drake and his breakneck, globe-trotting quest to solve the mystery of Marco Polo's last voyage was a master class in both story telling and game design. It's an adventure that's all killer, no filler, while running around the many exotic locales will make your jaw drop. Absolutely perfectly realised, it's the sort of game you dreamt up in your head but never thought could actually be made. And then there's the multiplayer modes, which I'm off now to play again for another couple of hundred hours...

wii.jpgIt was once the king of the gaming pile, so sought after that you'd have to give a kidney on the black market to get one in your home. But recent months have seen the Wii fall from grace, with profits down by nearly half over the same period a year earlier. Has the bubble burst for the Nintendo Wii? If so, what has caused it? Here's Tech Digest's five reasons why the Wii's star is falling.

1. The novelty of motion control has worn off.

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When Nintendo first started showing off its Wii motion-based controllers they were hailed as a revolution, taking gaming interactivity up a notch by adding a whole new level of physicality to gameplay. I literally lost hours to the boxing mini-game in Wii Sports, and many fell in love with the console's healthy-lifestyle ethos featured in games like Wii Fit. Anyone from a toddler to your grandparents could take part, with the Wii becoming as much a social centrepiece as it was a gaming platform.

However, despite innovations such as the Wii Motion-Plus ad-on, many developers never got the hang of making responsive motion controls. The pressure to add motion controls to a game where it was unnecessary caused many games to feel like patchwork hack-jobs. Far from being intuitive or immersive, games like Super Paper Mario suffered from inaccurate and distracting waggling or tilting. Many developers used the motion controls as a marketing novelty, rather than working on making them a useful, integral and most importantly fun aspect of gameplay.

2. Serious gaming has trumped casual gaming. Seriously.

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With motion gaming came the rise of the "casual gamer", people who were trying console gaming for the first time thanks to the Wii's perceived accessibility. While there were many great games that could be classed within the "casual" bracket (Wii Sports, WarioWare Smooth Moves, Let's Tap), the term for many gamers came to mean "cheap cash-in". Developers exploited this burgeoning group of inexperienced gamers by putting out games of a sub-par standard and then explaining their faults away as attempts to simplify gameplay to reach a wider audience. That's fine if your simplified games are good, but it's no excuse to make buggy, broken titles and market them as the best thing since sliced bread because your growing audience lacks the knowledge to notice otherwise.

Likewise, Nintendo's choice to favour accessibility over technological advancements has led to a console that is now seriously showing its age. Based on the core hardware that was present in the Gamecube (a console now over 8 years old) the Wii is visually miles behind what its cinematic rivals the PS3 and Xbox 360 are now capable of. Games like Uncharted 2 or Fallout 3 just wouldn't be possible on the Wii, so hardcore gamers are migrating away from the Wii. And with hardcore gamers the people left button-mashing away once the casual, novelty gamer moves on to pastures new, they really have to be catered for if you are going to have a consistent revenue stream.

3. Economic conditions.

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If, in these economically challenging times, you only have the money for one console, can you honestly say the Wii represents good value for money? The Wii-Mote controller comes in two sold-separately parts if you include the nunchuck necessary to play 80% of the games on offer, for crying out loud! It may feature free built in Wi-Fi and internet gaming, but both the community and content on offer with the Wii are sparse. Both the Xbox 360 and PS3 have at least DVD playback, with the PS3 also featuring free online gaming and doubling up as a Blu-ray enabled media centre. And with many cross-platform games being stripped back versions of PS3 or Xbox 360 titles (with shoddily added motion controls, of course) you'd have to dig deep to find a reason to choose a Wii over its competitors.

4. Lack of killer games.

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Nintendo have a historic gaming pedigree and to be fair, there are some shining examples at work on the Wii. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, Super Mario Galaxy, Retro Studio's Metroid Prime Trilogy are a few superb examples. But have a look over at review score aggregator MetaCritic; at the time of writing there are just seven games within the top 10 percentile range. And with the exception of the recently released New Super Mario Bros Wii and the aforementioned Metroid Prime Trilogy (itself a compilation of previously released titles) what killer content do Wii owners have to look forward to in the coming months? Sin and Punishment, No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle and Super Mario Galaxy 2 are the few titles really jumping out at us now, whereas there are innumerable exciting games headed to the other major consoles in just the first quarter of 2010 alone, such as Mass Effect 2, Red Dead Redemption, Alien Versus Predator and Bioshock 2 scraping just the tip of the iceberg.

5. Those awful adverts.

A personal bugbear this, but a valid one nonetheless, and not limited just to the Wii but the whole range of Nintendo products including the DS. Am I the only one who finds the whole celebrity endorsement of Nintendo a bit much? Sure, gaming is now a widely enjoyed hobby but come on, surely Beyonce and Nicole Kidman have better things to be doing than playing with Nintendo gear? Like spending their millions for instance? And I honestly don't care if Jamie, Louise and Harry Redknapp enjoy a go of Mario Kart, because it's plain to see all they are really enjoying is lapping up the pennies thrown at their feet by Nintendo. It's unconvincing and patronising to the leagues of gamers who have fought to have gaming considered a credible pastime. And don't get me started on Ant and Dec...

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Recent figures published by MyVoucherCodes.co.uk appear to reveal that this year's most sought after games console is the Xbox 360, outselling its nearest rival the PS3 by a ratio of 3:1.

But which machine really deserves to be crowned king of the console wars this Christmas; Microsoft's Xbox 360, Sony's PS3 or Nintendo's Wii?

To decide which console is worthy of your cash, we'll be looking at seven key areas that need to be of the highest quality in order to warrant your attention: Games, Exclusive Titles, Media Options, Online Gaming, Extras, Future Features and of course Value For Money. We'll then tot up the results to see who comes out on top.

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Games

A year ago this would have been an easy first point for the Xbox 360, with a massive range of quality titles. However it's been a superb year for games on the PS3, with its catalogue steadily growing. There is a fair bit of cross over between both gaming catalogues, with massive titles such as Assassins Creed 2, the Rock Band and Guitar Hero games, Modern Warfare 2, Left 4 Dead 2 and Batman: Arkham Asylum all available on both machines. It's a hard one to judge for now until you consider exclusive titles (which we'll be getting at next). The Xbox 360 and PS3 both boast HD gaming, becoming increasingly cinematic in scope and presentation. The Wii offers a far different experience; being a motion-gaming console, many titles such as Wii Sports Resort or Wii Fit offer pick-up-and-play fun that all the family can enjoy. However, other than first-party Nintendo titles, Wii games often lack the polish of those on the PS3 or 360.

Winner - Xbox 360 (for quantity alone over the PS3)

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Exclusive Titles

If you're only going to be able to afford one console this Christmas, knowing which titles are exclusive to each is a massive consideration. Again, last year the Xbox 360 would have won this one hands down, but it's anyone's game this year. PS3 owners can pick up the excellent Uncharted 2, Killzone 2 and Little Big Planet, with God of War 3 and Gran Turismo 5 all on the horizon. Xbox 360 owners can enjoy Forza Motorsport 3, the Halo titles, Fable II, the Gears of War series and Mass Effect (also available on the PC), with its sequel not far off into the New Year. Wii owners can delight in the fact that they will be the only people with access to gaming legends such as Mario, Zelda and Samus Aran of Metroid, though ports of games available on other consoles are often of a poorer quality.

Winner - PS3 (because Uncharted 2 is ridiculously good, and for turning the AAA exclusive title drought around this year)

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Media Options

Easy one this; the PS3, hands down. Not only does it throw in a top notch Blu-ray player, but compatibility with all sorts of media files is available. Both the PS3 and the Xbox 360 have media server capabilities, but the PS3's sleek Xross Media Bar UI and built in Wi-Fi make setting up these features very simple. The PS3 has also recently launched the Playstation Network Video Delivery service, allowing you to download or rent movies straight to your console. The Xbox 360 has DVD- playback and the option to download HD films too, but so far no Blu-ray option, despite constant rumours of an add-on in the pipeline. Both the PS3 and Xbox 360 have USB ports, and support many music files such as MP3's, which can then be integrated into the soundtracks of many games. The Wii is really weak here: no Blu-ray, DVD, no movie downloads, no nothing.

Winner- PS3

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Online Gaming

There's no denying the Xbox 360 has a thriving online community. 2 million users were clocked using the service simultaneously the week Modern Warfare 2 came out. There's no dearth of competitors to take on, but be prepared to get regularly battered by seven year-olds from the states. Subscription fees apply to become an Xbox Live Gold member (£40 for 12 months), and you'll also need an add-on to go wireless that costs around £45, but you do get regular content updates, lots of affordable and high quality downloadable games and a good service for the money. PS3 and Wii owners can enjoy the luxury of going online for free, which is obviously ace. There aren't a huge number of players online on the Wii, but they do have access to some real gems from the Nintendo gaming back catalogue. The PS3 has a growing userbase, all keen to get online and play for free. Downloadable games content is similar to the Xbox 360, though smaller in range, but does feature some classic PS1 titles such as Metal Gear Solid.

Winner - Tied (Xbox 360 offers the best online service but is costly, the PS3 and Wii offerings are free and have some good content but, for the moment at least, are on a smaller scale than Microsoft)

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Extras

The Wii and its channel set-up is a simple and easy to use portal to lots of features such as a web browser and BBC iPlayer, but it just cant compete with the PS3 and Xbox 360's offerings. PS3 users also have a web browser and dedicated iPlayer app, but also have access to Facebook too, with a whole slew of other add-ons on the way. Though it doesn't have an iPlayer, the Xbox 360 has everything else; Facebook, Twitter, Last FM, Sky Digital. Lots to be getting on with for 360 owners.

Winner - Xbox 360

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Future Features

Both the PS3 and Xbox 360 look set to throw new attempts at motion gaming into the console mix next year. In fact, the Xbox 360's Natal motion-controller is claimed to be so revolutionary as to be a console changing device. Rumours still abound for a Wii HD, but this would come in the form of a brand new console, not a feature, so should be viewed perhaps as a mark against buying a current-generation Wii.

Winner - Xbox 360

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Value For Money

The Xbox 360 budget Arcade machine will set you back around £150, but to get the most out of the console the £200 Elite version with 120GB hard drive is the best option. A basic Wii package will cost £100, but keep in mind it's pretty slim on content straight out of the box. The PS3 offers the best value for money; the PS3 Slim with 120GB hard drive costs around £250, but for that you're not only getting a gaming platform, but also a top-notch Blu-ray player, free online gaming, Wi-Fi straight out of the box and immediate access to features such as BBC iPlayer.

Winner - PS3

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Overall Winner - PS3

It's a close run race, but if I had to pick an overall winner, I'd side with the PS3. The Xbox 360 performs well, particularly in the breadth of its available content, but is let down by its costly albeit excellent online service. Finally affordable at £250, the PS3 has had an excellent year for exclusive titles and add-ons. The built in Blu-ray and free online gaming represent excellent value for money, and there are some hot titles lined-up for the New Year. I know which console I'd want Santa to leave under my tree.

xbox-live.pngMicrosoft have caused quite a stir this week, banning over 600,000 Xbox Live users for having modded their consoles. The move is an attempt to deter piracy and cheating in online games, two problems that obviously and validly need addressing. But have the bans hurt users with more innocent intentions for their modifications? Read on to find out.

Piracy in the games industry is no new thing; I can remember way back to weekend car boot sales in the early 1990s where dodgy Del Boy types would be selling knocked off Amiga 500 floppies for peanuts. Sales of software for the original PlayStation were marred by piracy-enabling mod chips, and the Dreamcast too was ridiculously easy to exploit, requiring just a boot-disc to play copied games.

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Widespread peer-to-peer piracy is rife too, with illegal downloads being cited as a major contributor to ever declining PC software sales.

Despite the might of Microsoft behind it, the Xbox 360 is no better defended against piracy-enabling mods. Specialist services will modify your Xbox 360 for under £100, allowing a user to download and burn their own software. Though Tech Digest does not condone piracy, it is easy to see how strong the temptation of buying cheap knock-off games or downloading them for free could be, especially with games like Modern Warfare 2 commanding an extortionate £54.99 price tag.

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Though the gaming industry is becoming increasingly wealthy, piracy costs companies billions of pounds in revenue. While larger publishers may be able to bear the brunt of such losses, small independent companies literally go hungry without legitimate software sales. It results in companies less prepared to go out on a limb and innovate with new creative games, instead focussing on an established series or intellectual property. Cue boring sequels, dire-movie cash-ins and derivative Halo-clones.

Even giants like EA are looking to cut as many as 1,500 jobs in the new year, which will cause a dozen games in the development stages to be canned indefinitely.

However modding does not necessarily equate to piracy.

Here is where the argument gets interesting. Piracy is bad, no question about it. But banning a console modded to increase hard drive space, when the only official alternative is a measly 120GB drive? That can't be fair, right? Microsoft seem very keen to limit the choices available to users to just Bill Gates branded gear; just look at the recent lock-out of third party memory units.

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Also, having shelled out for the inflated price of a game, shouldn't a user be allowed to back up their copy? Discs are still a fairly fragile, scratch prone medium. If something so fragile as a disc breaks, should the consumer really have to buy a brand new game? Sure, there is the increasingly available option of legal digital downloads, but, just like with digital music downloads, I think I speak for many people when I say that I like the ritual of walking into a shop, handing over my money and coming home with something physical in my hand.

Modded consoles also open up the Xbox 360 to the homebrew community, with gangs of bedroom designers the world over teaming up to try their hands at game making. This is often a well of creativity and a great entry point for designers with untapped talent. It's easy to forget that massively popular games like Counter Strike started life as software mods themselves.

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But perhaps the homebrew community wouldn't seem so vital to creative design if game companies had the money saved from piracy to invest in it themselves. It's a vicious cycle.

Piracy will never go away, but how we deal with it is important not just in terms of punishing cheats and thieves, but also in how we go about protecting consumer rights and defending those who just like to innocently tinker under the bonnet of their favourite toys.

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The Ovi Store launched today, promising thousands of applications for a range of Nokia's S40 and S60-based handsets.

What does Nokia need to do to give the Ovi Store the best chance of succeeding? Here are five for starters.

1. Create an easy to use Store

It's inevitable that all mobile application stores are being compared to the one Apple implemented for iPhone users.

There's no denying that the iTunes App Store offers a very slick and integrated system for the user, and Nokia needs to do exactly the same if it's to encourage users to spend and download.

Some early reports suggest that the Ovi Store's current layout is overcomplicated and difficult to navigate. Nokia would do well to make the store as easy to use as possible.

Does the Ovi Store really need a separate app to be installed prior to downloading other apps? If so, Nokia had better make that a seamless process. If not, scrap it and just give direct access to a WAP or web site.

Nokia also needs to make sure that it's easy to pay for apps. Users will always be able to purchase using a registered credit card, but some will also be able to pay via their mobile network provider. I sense complications could arise from this.

Nokia may be thankful that a lot of its users, by nature, won't have experienced other mobile app stores, because at present it's not as good as it could be.

PSP2-vs-dsi-eds.jpg
This morning we got some details on the the Sony PSP2, which they now seem to be calling the "PSP Go!". I thought it'd be interesting to compare and contrast it with the Nintendo DSi, which is by far Sony's greatest competition in the handheld market.

Storage

Sony's completely dumping the UMD format, after it's been such a massive flop. The new PSP will instead have plenty of storage onboard - 16GB or 8GB, and let you download content to the device over the air.

The DSi still relies on cartridges, though I suspect that's for backwards compatibility more than anything else. The latest version of the handheld lets you download content over-the-air as well, and you can store the content on an SD card upto 16GB.

Game Catalogue

For the PSP Go! there'll be 100 titles available at launch, including Gran Turismo. Any games you own for your PSP won't work, as the UMD format won't be supported. All DS games are still compatible with the DSi, though there's far fewer titles available in Nintendo's download store.

Controls

While the DSi's much touted touchscreen has proved a bit of a headache for some games developers, others have used it fantastically. There's no word yet on whether the PSP Go! will have a touchscreen but it will have an analog stick, a feature sadly missing from Ninty's handheld.

Size and shape

We don't know how big the PSP Go! will be, yet, but I wouldn't be surprised if it's rather more compact than the rather chunky original PSP. What we do know is that the slide-out screen will definitely be present.

The DSi, on the other hand, is a svelte 137mm x 74.9mm x 18.9mm and 214g. It folds in half like a book, and can easily be slipped into a coat pocket. Portability is obviously an important factor for these devices.

Release date

The DSi came out on April 3rd 2009 in Europe, and in November 2008 in Japan. The PSP Go! won't be out until the last quarter of 2009, i.e. not before October. It'll be shown off at E3 in June, though, so we should get some pictures of it soon that we can use in place of all the concept art that we've been employing up till now.

Conclusions

The most important things for Sony to get right are the look of the thing, and the game catalogue available. It'd be a good move for them to implement a system where you can get your old games on download when the PSP Go! is released, otherwise I think there'll be a certain amount of consumer backlash.

As for me, though, I'm sticking with my DS Lite. I don't feel the push, just yet, to switch to downloadable games - particularly as backing them up seems to be an issue. When the next generation of devices comes round, I'll be ready.

Guitar-Hero-WT.jpgI bought Guitar Hero on Friday night. I left Shiny Towers the minute I tapped my last key and made a beeline for Oxford Street, home of crowds, that horrible eternally vomiting zombie and one of the few stretches of road still left with more than one movies, games and music shops still standing.

I'd walked past the remains of a credit crunched Zavvi and then up and down between GAME and HMV trying to work out the best deal on guitar packs for either GHIV or Rock Band 2. Which was more expensive was less the issue than which game had the best tracks, after all, it was pay day. Who cares about being broke at the end of the month when you can stay in, turn on and rock out? That's budgeting baby.

So, there I was, on a sunny Friday evening, the first nights of summer in the air; beautiful people in beautiful clothes spilling out of pubs reclaiming the streets, golden light shining through pint glasses - and me, walking past with an oversized box embarrassing one of HMV's larger bags, heading underground and home to lock myself away from the world and screen hard. A little part of me felt guilty but I soon smothered that small voice with a series of rationalisations, and six pack of Carlsberg Export just to make sure.

I can't really give you many more details of the evening itself save the enjoyment of putting together my shiny, new, sunburst strat-like axe, cracking the first tin open and taking it from there. Suffice to say that, by the time I had my first gig under my belt, I was onto can three and on my feet posing at the imaginary crowd in my front room with further affirmation that I do indeed rock.

wow-valentines.jpgIf you don't play World of Warcraft, or a similar MMORPG, then you might not want to read this. You're going to think it's immensely 'sad'. But there's actually a lot of fun to be had playing World of Warcraft with a significant other, especially if circumstances mean that you're unable to be in the same place on the special day.

Of course, World of Warcraft holds its own "Love is in the Air" event, but we're not just going to limit ourselves to that, oh no. There's a whole world to see, so we'll pick out some of the nicest spots.

Click over the jump to begin the countdown.

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