Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Watch PPStream In English On Windows

PPStream is a streaming video player popular with users in mainland China. The technology PPStream uses is a combination of YouTube and BitTorrent. Users can stream video instantly, storing the data on their computers, and then upstream this data to other users.

What is unique about PPStream is how centralised and organised this content is made available to users. The range is phenomenal - it includes DVDs, camcorders of current films in cinemas, Asian dramas (from China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Korea and Japan), and most importantly, a gigantic range of American and British movies and TV shows. Almost all of the content is moderated with care, and most sources include subtitles in Chinese (Simplified). For example, the entirety of Lost seasons 1-6 can be streamed, as can Battlestar Galactica (dual subtitled in English and Chinese), Mad Men, True Blood, The Simpsons, Firefly, as well as more obscure things like British snooker games, pro StarCraft II matches, Little Britain, Australian Top Gear, The IT Crowd, the British rebooted Sherlock Holmes series, etc.

For this reason, I believe that PPStream is the most ridiculously, blatant and well organised wholesale infringement of copyright that has ever occurred on the internet. The content streams are very fast, the software and website is centralised and user friendly, and the breadth and range of content is staggering.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Make World of Warcraft Load Faster Using Solid State Drives

Solid State Drives are in their infancy in terms of mainstream adoption in the PC market. Barring the cheap SSDs found in notebooks, finding an SSD that offers good performance can be very expensive. The price to storage ratio is of an SSD very poor when compared with traditional hard drives. For example, a 128gb SSD will cost around £213.99 whilst a 7200rpm 250gb HDD will cost around £28.71.

With huge cost and tiny storage spaces, SSDs are not really meant to be used for replacing your 500gb of storage of movies or even for your games collection. However, in a game like World of Warcraft, SSDs make a huge difference in terms of speed increase in loading times. Any loading speed boost has a multiplicative effect on the entire game experience. This is because logging into a character, taking a ship between continents, dying in a dungeon and entering an instance or a battleground will take a long time if you are running from a slow hard drive, whilst a SSD will make your loading speed up to 60% faster.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Fixing Lord Of The Rings Online Borderless Windowed Fullscreen

Update 20 March 20120: please refer to this page on PCGamingWiki for further updates on borderless fullscreen windowed mode for any game.

I've been trying to figure out a way to fix the windowed border issue present in games such as Lord Of The Rings Online (LOTRO) in Windows. Usually when trying to run a game in borderless windowed fullscreen, I would set the resolution to the monitor native resolution and  use the program ShiftWindow to coordinate the screen so that the borders would not be visible (guide). However, games like LOTRO forcefully resize the window so that the border is always visible, no matter how you try to manipulate it. So I thought about some other solutions, and hopefully some more intelligent person will help me to figure it out, and in turn, help to fix the same issue in lots of other games too.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Civilization V And Borderless Windowed Fullscreen

Update 20 March 20120: please refer to this page on PCGamingWiki for further updates on borderless fullscreen windowed mode for any game

I've been trying to make Civilization V work using my normal method of windowing the game, and then using the program ShiftWindow to push the game to fullscreen (guide). However, it hasn't been working as well as I had hoped. Firstly, the windowed border refuses to stretch to the correct aspect ratio of the screen, so that it always leaves a border either at the top or the bottom. Secondly, the mouse is not bound within the window, so mouse edge scrolling is disabled (mouse scrolling is an important part of any game involving large amounts of units and terrain).

Buy New Games For Less Using Graphs

Buying games is an expensive hobby. The key to saving money is to resist the urge to impulse buy on the day of release. However, game companies are making it harder and harder to wait for prices to go down as they pile on tempting preorder bonuses and collector's editions for games that you may have been waiting for years to be released. However, the key is knowing how long to wait, and how to get the best deal.

There is a new service is available called camelcamelcamel uk which is an Amazon price tracker which is what I have been using to produce these graphs. It started tracking prices in March 2010, so it's a perfect tool to see how much prices of new games can drop within 6 months.

For demonstration I've take a look at the price fluctuation of Just Cause 2. Just Cause 2 was released on PC on March 26th 2010. This was retailing at an RRP of £34.99. This game began retailing in most establishments at £29.99, including Steam. Incindentally, Just Cause 2 is one of the few games whose serial key within the box will allow a Steam activation. A handy list of other such games is available on Steam Support. As of 23rd September it is available at the price of £29.99 on Steam. However on the retail side of things, Just Cause 2's price has dropped much further than that.

Data involving 'used sales' has been removed leaving only Amazon stock price (green) as well as the 3rd party new price (blue). The lowest price is available from a reputable 3rd party store called 'gzoop' which offers Just Cause 2 for £9.87 + £1.99 shipping which totals £11.86. This is a 61.5% drop in price from the original retail price of £29.99 after just 6 months, between March 26th and September 23rd 2010.

You can also check the current price of Just Cause 2 here: http://uk.camelcamelcamel.com/product/B002ZRQ3U.

The lesson here is to be patient, because games often fall in price much faster than you think!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Review: DAVE From Ikea, An In-Depth Look At The Best Couch Desk / Laptop Table

As a response to my previous article (How To: Do PC Gaming On Your Couch Or Sofa) I've been asked to give a more in-depth look at the Ikea DAVE.

The Ikea DAVE is marketed as a "laptop table", but really for the rest of us it is the ultimate adjustable couch desk for the keyboard and mouse. It allows the keyboard to be stable at exactly the right height and to give plenty of level space to use the mouse. This single purchase has is the single most important part of the PC couch gaming setup and has completely changed the way I use my PC. It is more comfortable than using craning over on a coffee table to use a keyboard, or having the keyboard on your lap. And the mouse is much more accurate on a hard and firm surface instead of on a couch arm.

The cost of most "laptop tables" are priced ridiculously. This one is £75.12, and this one is £51.08. DAVE is available from any Ikea internationally for the price of £14.99 and $17.99.

Also makes a great laptop table (this is a tiny 8.9" laptop).

Monday, September 20, 2010

Do PC Gaming On Your Couch Or Sofa

Sometime in the last console generation, it became unfashionable to sit at a desk to play games. This happened sometime around the release of Halo, when - shock horror - people sat on their couches to play a first-person shooter of all things. Although there were plenty of FPS games released on consoles before this, none had quite succeeded as well as Halo did in bringing the hardcore game to the mainstream audience. In turn, this meant that millions of people previously playing Quake and Counter-Strike at their desks turned to their couches to get their hardcore gaming fix from games like Halo and Gears of War.

It is easy to see why people have turned to the couch to game. Firstly, it's just much more comfortable to sit on a couch than at a desk. People spend 8 hours a day working at an office, going to classes, sitting all day and people don't want to do that when they get home. Secondly, whatever TV and sound system that you have invested in also do double duty for whatever multimedia experiences you have, for example, high definition movies, music and TV can be piped through the same equipment. Why invest in a 5.1 surround sound system for your PC when it could be used in the living room for your whole family to enjoy? Thirdly, gaming in front of the TV on a couch is a more welcoming and social than your PC. The TV has replaced the fireplace as the warm thing that families huddle around. The couch is a 3-player co-op chair.

The PC wasn't designed to be used from the couch. It was designed to be used with a keyboard and a mouse whilst sitting at a desk. PC gaming, however, can exist in the living room too. Nay, the PC is best in the living room. Why play the watered down Xbox 360 version of Mass Effect when you can play it in glorious 1980x1080 at 60 FPS from your couch on your TV?

The reason people don't do this is because is firstly, it costs a lot. But more importantly, people have no idea that it can be done comfortably and without ruining the look of your living room. If you have the means, a few simple purchases can transform your living room couch and TV into the ultimate PC gaming setup.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Auto Sync And Backup World of Warcraft Interface Settings To Cloud Storage For Free

This particular article will focus on making World of Warcraft interface settings sync across multiple computers. This guide is also related to another one of my articles called How To: Auto Sync And Backup Any Savegames On The Cloud For Free. You can look there to see how to auto sync savegame and folder for other games.

World of Warcraft Interface Folders Introduction
All of your World of Warcraft interface settings are stored in a number of places:

X:\[World of Warcraft]\Interface\
This folder contains all of your downloaded AddOns.

X:\[World of Warcraft]\WTF\[ACCOUNTNAME]\
This folder contains all of your other AddOn settings such as the position of chat windows, the settings on Recount, etc.

X:\[World of Warcraft]\WTF\
Within your WTF folder is a file called 'Config.wtf'. This file contains details specific to your computer such as resolution and detail. We will avoid syncing this folder and the 'Config.wtf' folder because it may cause problems with the display of your AddOns unless your target computer has the same aspect ratio.

You may not want to sync the 'Config.wtf' file to another computer unless it has identical performance and resolution.

The rest of the settings such as spells on action bar placement (unless using an AddOn bar like Bartender) and friends lists etc. are stored on Blizzard's own cloud and do not need to be backed up.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Review: Kensington Ultra Portable Battery Pack (aka The Most Useful Accessory You Will Ever Own)

The Kensington Ultra Portable Battery Pack is a battery pack that can be used to charge anything that can be charged via USB. The small pack itself is a 1800mAh battery that can be charged from a computer or mains socket with the included via a mini USB jack, and can accept any USB cable to output charge to any other device. Coming in cheapest at £14.99 from Amazon.co.uk, it's the best value and most versatile of battery packs when compared to batteries like the £63.55 Mophie JuicePack Air, and it deserves a permanent space in your bag for emergencies.

Losing power in your phone is extremely frustrating. With modern gadgets like the iPhone barely lasting 8 hours of charge with frequent use, it's very likely that most of us will be caught out with low battery whilst we are out after work and without a power plug or USB socket in sight. With so many processor intensive distractions like media and games, smartphones will probably run out of power right when you need it most - when want to make a phone call at the end of the day. In this respect, the Kensington Ultra Portable Battery Pack does a great job of charging devices like the iPhone 3GS for 90-110% of its battery.

The fastest rising cause of heart problems in smartphone users.
The Kensington Ultra Portable Battery Pack is also extremely versatile, since it can be used to charge a whole host of devices. It's saved my life once when my TomTom would not charge from the car's power socket, since it accepts the mini USB jack from the battery. It can charge any proprietary power socket as long as it can be charged via USB, including devices such as my Archos 605 or my Nintendo DS and PlayStation Portable (of which universal integrated charge cables for these devices are invaluable).

I have way too much stuff.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Review: Toastabags

You may have seen Toastabags as one of the businesses pitched to Dragons Den UK back in 2008. After watching the episode, I was impressed and intrigued by the product so I decided to add one onto my next Tesco online delivery for a pair of these for a mere £1.69.

The Toastabag is a bag made of a heat resistant material that covers your sandwich so that the whole thing can be heated in your toaster. Covering the sandwich in a bag allow it to be placed in the toaster without everything falling out. The Toastabag makes the process of making a toastie much cleaner and easier than using the oven. And at £1.69 for two of these bags, it is also a lot cheaper and more space efficient than a toastie machine or a panini press. However, the proof is in the pudding. Are Toastabags any good at toasting sandwiches? The results are in after the cut.

Slightly hilarious JML advertising.

I love how the sandwich is moving so fast.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Auto Sync And Backup Any Savegames On The Cloud For Free

Or How To Integrate Steam Cloud Features Into Any Game
Updated 19th January 2011: changed name of Windows Live Sync Beta to Windows Live Mesh 2011 to reflect name change of the service. At present, the program, service and UI are identical to Live Sync Beta.

A World of Warcraft Interface folder being synced.
The Steam Cloud is a service that allows the synchronizing of savegames and settings from one computer to another. This means that one could play a Steam game on one computer, and then when logging into Steam on another computer their savegames and preferences would automagically be transferred. This is a feature on many Steam games such as Team Fortress 2, Left 4 Dead, Torchlight, Trine, Half-Life 2: Episode 2, Plants vs Zombies etc. However, although Steam Cloud is not available for all games it is still possible to sync savegames over the cloud using a program called Windows Live Mesh 2011. This free utility offers 2gb of storage (soon to be upgraded to 5gb) as well as automatically cloud syncing and peer to peer syncing.

Windows Live Mesh 2011 is far superior for the purposes of PC gamers to other popular syncing cloud services such as Dropbox. This is because Dropbox only allows a single designated Dropbox folder to be automatically synchronized. If you wanted to have automatic backup and syncing of say, your Mass Effect save game, you would have to either 1) manually copy the files or 2) create a fiddly symbolic link. Windows Live Mesh 2011 allows you to specify individual folders. This makes it possible to be extremely flexible in exactly what you want to synchronize. Windows Live Mesh 2011 also gives the option of direct peer to peer transfer bypassing the cloud, which gives a very good performance boost to certain syncs between computers and networks. Anyone who has used Dropbox or older versions of Mesh will know that it takes a long time to sync large files only through the cloud, so the peer to peer option is welcome.

Guide To Syncing Any Savegames Using Windows Live Mesh 2011

Step 1) Download the latest version of Windows Live Mesh 2011 using this link: http://explore.live.com/windows-live-essentials-beta. Windows Live Sync Beta is only available as part of the Windows Live Essentials Beta package. Make sure you only install what you need to (make sure to install Live Sync).

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Install Flash Without Administrator Priviliges

Offices and schools around the world do not and will not allow Flash to be installed on their machines, therefore depriving millions of users their YouTube and Flash games. This is a quick hack to make sure that you can access Flash on any Windows based computer.

Step 1) Download and install Firefox Portable. This is a version of Firefox that is designed to be run from a USB stick, and can be installed on any computer including those without administrator privileges. Make a note of where you have installed this program.

Step 2) Right-click and save the file in this this link: http://fpdownload.macromedia.com/get/flashplayer/xpi/current/flashplayer-win.xpi and follow these instructions:

a) Save Link As...

Monday, September 13, 2010

Reorder Activities On A Logitech Harmony Remote

Part of the Harmony Remote FAQ:
9. Is there a way to reorder devices and/or activities?

For remotes that have physical buttons for activities, you are not able to reorder the activities listed under the "More Activities" option.

Logitech support states that the Harmony 600, 650 and 700 (and possibly other Harmony remote controls) do not have the native ability to 'Reorder Activities'. This means that if the remote chose to place your favourite 'Activity' on the 4th page, you would have to scroll there every time you wanted to access that 'Activity'. This ordering feature is missing on the recent versions of the desktop software (7.7.0), despite the fact that previous versions of the software supported this. This workaround functions by accessing an older web version of the software (7.3.0) which is still works on newer remotes, although not in the most user intuitive way.

Reordering Activities Hack For Harmony 650

Step 1) Login to the following website: http://members.harmonyremote.com/. If you have been using your Harmony desktop software, this will have all of your settings stored here.