Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Reluctant Spice World

When I began my tenure at Reuters in 1996, the Spice Girls appeared on the pop scene and, mentored by their manager Simon Fuller, sold the ideological premise of "Girl Power!" wholesale to the masses.

This equated to a license to print money and, whatever you may think of the Spice Girls musical oeuvre, there's no denying Fuller's conquest of the retail aisles! From CDs to posters and toys to sweets, the Spice Girls foreshadowed the arrival of Bratz and the brand dilution of Barbie!

Incidentally, Victoria Beckham (then Adams) AKA Posh Spice, allegedly auditioned for a Bournemouth University BAMP production prior to the Spice Girls! Please don't ask me for details as I don't have any further information!

In anticipation of their upcoming tour...


10.00 pm, Thursday 25 October 2007 (repeated Sunday), BBC TWO

MELANIE ‘Sporty Spice’ CHISHOLM confirms she was slow to sign up for the Spice Girls’ forthcoming world tour when she joins GRAHAM NORTON this week.

‘I was Reluctant Spice’ she says, ‘I was the last to make my decision because it was a hard decision to make .. I was scared we couldn’t do it again. It was a weird time of my life, I had a lot of personal s**t to get over after the Spice Girls.’ But she denies press rumours that she was bullied; ‘I never said that. How can they quote you? I wasn’t bullied at all. .. I just love the British tabloids, they’re so imaginative! In America they’re more of a joke.’

About the forthcoming single she says they all share the singing honours; ‘We all sing the chorus, we all have an equal part in the song .. it’s a very ‘Spicey’ ballad, it’s lovely to hear all our voices again, I love doing that kind of stuff.’

Mel also comes out in support of troubled Britney Spears. ‘Poor Britney, I feel bad for her. She used to be looked after. Obviously she’s not happy, she really needs someone to step in.’

And she also reveals she’s been round to the Princes’ for tea; ‘I met them a while ago. We [the Spice Girls] were invited to Highgrove for high tea. Some of us didn’t like cucumber sandwiches and we made this known to our hosts, and we were made peanut-butter on toast by Prince William (but) the kitchen was rubbish, like MFI!’ she said.

Graham is also joined by Hollywood royalty JOSH HARTNETT whose latest blockbuster 30 Days of Night is released in the UK next week; and RUFUS WAINWRIGHT performs his new single Tiergarten live in the studio.

Watch the interview clip (iTunes required).

The Graham Norton Show is a So Television production for BBC TWO.

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Vanquishing Vista

Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard is released to retail on Friday October 26th and Amazon.co.uk is offering 6% off the pre-order price for both client versions:

Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard (Single-user license)
Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard Family Pack (5-user license)

*Introduces over 300 new and enhanced features to OS X, including a new desktop and updated finder enabling easy browsing and sharing between multiple Macs
*Take advantage of the latest developments in processor hardware with full native 64-bit support, multi-core optimization, and new Core animation
*Preview files without opening an application using Quick Look
*Easily and automatically back up and restore lost files or a complete Mac with Time Machine
*Create groups of applications and instantly switch between them with Spaces

Will Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard be worth the wait? Of course it will! And pre-orders are more than double that of Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger! Various online forums are positing that the increase is related to the advent of Boot Camp and native Microsoft Windows OS support! Certainly PC-based games, such as the stunning Half-Life 2: The Orange Box, can now be played with a copy of Windows Vista Home Premium installed! And, in fairness, I've experienced no problems with running Windows Vista on my Intel-based Mac!

I'll post my Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard review in short order!

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Unreal Tournament PS3

My PS3 has been up and running since the weekend, and I have to say that the build quality is on a par with Apple and Panasonic (two of my favourite brands)! I adore the retro future look and feel.

The picture quality, via composite video connection, is surprisingly vivid and crisp! Heaven knows how good Tekken 5: Dark Resurrection will look when my Panasonic TX-32LXD700 arrives in November and I can switch to HDMI 1.3! Panasonic's black beauty won plaudits in both What Hi-Fi? Sound and Vision and Which? magazines. Believe the hype!

Sonically, the PS3 is no slouch and effortlessly extracted every last essence of musicality from Timbaland's celebrated contributions to Justin Timberlake's Future Sex/Love Sounds CD. Therefore I'm compelled to replace my current ailing Sony amp with its newer HDMI-equipped sibling - STR-DA1200ES! It's cheaper and prettier than Onkyo's impressive TX-SR605.

Sony’s plans to clear the retail channel of 60GB PS3s appear to be well on course following the unit’s recent price cut in the UK!

As reported in the mainstream press earlier this week, the aggressive price cut to the 60GB PS3 and the introduction of an entry-level 40GB unit sans SACD playback and multimedia card reader saw weekly PlayStation 3 sales jump 178 percent. According to sales monitor ChartTrack, sales of the 60GB model accounted for 89 percent of PS3 sales last week.

“PS3 went up by 178 percent over the previous week, which puts it third in terms of overall hardware sold behind DS Lite and Wii,” ChartTrack director Dorian Bloch told MCV. “It was PS3’s biggest week since weeks one and two in March.”

“As expected, everyone’s buying the 60GB PS3 as it is such a bargain – the split is about 89 percent to 11 percent in the 60GB console’s favour.”

As I said in my previous post; there really is no contest between the 60GB and 40GB models! The 60GB is unassailable in terms of technological prowess and value for money! I encourage any reader, who is considering a pre-Christmas PS3 purchase, and that includes any prospective Blu-ray consumers amongst you too, to buy the 60GB model before it's sold out! Incidentally, Sony has introduced an 80GB model, in the USA, based on the reduced functionality of the 40GB machine. If you need a larger HDD, it's very easy to swap!

I can't wait to finally see Pan's Labyrinth (Blu-ray) as it promises to be the most audacious movie presentation released on a silver platter to date!

Friday, 12 October 2007

The Blu-ray Dream Machine

After 5 years my ageing, but trustworthy, Toshiba SD-520 multi-region DVD player finally stopped working on Tuesday night! Sony's PS3 (60GB Premium Version) price cut, announced on Wednesday, couldn't have been better timed! A backlog of Doctor Who DVDs and a desire to indulge in Blu-ray eye candy notwithstanding!

I most certainly couldn't justify a PS3 purchase at launch! £424.99 was far too high an entry fee! However, the new price, £349.99 (including two selected video game titles) while stocks last, is a veritable bargain! Why? The key selling point is Sony's ongoing firmware update strategy (combined with technological trimmings)! And this month is no exception to that rule!

Not satisfied with adding standard definition DVD upscaling for HDTV. This month's firmware update will usher in Blu-ray Profile 1.1, which includes upgraded interactivity featuring true video picture-in-picture playback, and improved DVD player performance (the 40GB model ships with the latter). Future updates purportedly will be headlined by the highly-anticipated DTS-HD Master Audio upgrade!

Such firmware-based scalability arguably puts the PS3 at the forefront of Blu-ray playback and no other standalone Blu-ray machine can compete at this price point! I can't comment on the intrinsic value or merits of Microsoft's external HD DVD drive for Xbox 360.

Throw in PlayStation 2 backwards compatibility, SACD playback and MemoryStick / SD / CompactFlash connectivity (options only available on the 60GB model) and gadget-geeks (myself included) have an all-in-one multimedia hub worthy of the 5 stars awarded by T3 magazine!

My advice is to invest in the 60GB model, HDMI 1.3 compliant cable and Sony Blu-ray Remote, because the 40GB is nowhere near as good value by comparison! And, while you're at the checkout, be sure to grab a copy of the amazing Spider-Man Trilogy (Blu-ray)!

Friday, 5 October 2007

New PS3 for the masses?

New PLAYSTATION®3 Model to Take Holiday Season by Storm

Aggressively priced hardware and a terrific software line-up make for an unbeatable combination New 40GB PS3 at €399

London, 5 October 2007 – Sony Computer Entertainment Europe (SCEE) today announced details of its exciting new PLAYSTATION®3 (PS3™) model that will launch throughout the SCEE territories on 10th October 2007 at the highly attractive price of €399.

Providing an incredibly appealing entry point to the world of High Definition gaming and entertainment for the holiday season, the new PS3 brings the next generation of interactive home entertainment to homes all across Europe, Middle East, Africa and Australasia.

Along with an ever expanding line-up of PS3 titles (a total of 65 titles tracking across all genres by Christmas), the new PS3 is equipped with a 40GB HDD and includes all the features central to the High Definition entertainment experience; true next generation gameplay, stunning High Definition Blu-ray Disc™ movies, SIXAXIS™ wireless controller, Wi-Fi and HDMI connectivity, all powered by the Cell Broadband Engine™, the digital heart of PS3.

As with the 60GB PS3, the new PS3 features upgradeable firmware allowing new features and functionality to be added to the system as time progresses. A recent firmware update, for example, enabled PS3 to upscale DVD’s played on the system to full 1080P High Definition.

The introduction of the new PS3 has been determined following user feedback from thousands of existing PS3 owners as well as research into future potential PS3 owners. The new model features two USB 2.0 ports rather than four and no longer includes the multi memory card port.

The new model is no longer backwards compatible with PlayStation®2 titles, reflecting both the reduced emphasis placed on this feature amongst later purchasers of PS3, as well as the availability of a more extensive line-up of PS3 specific titles (a total of 65 titles across all genres by Christmas).

The existing Starter Pack*, comprising a 60GB PS3 with extensive backwards compatibility, an additional SIXAXIS wireless controller and two first party titles will be reduced in price to €499. Remaining on sale while stocks last, the 60GB model represents outstanding value for the keen gamer wishing to upgrade to the High Definition capabilities of PS3.

“The introduction of the new PS3 has been the result of extensive research into the entertainment needs and preferences of the next generation of PS3 owners,” said David Reeves, President of SCEE. “It has allowed us to deliver an extremely advanced, yet incredibly affordable High Definition gaming and entertainment system, configured to the needs of the next generation of European PS3 owners. PS3 has always been the device of choice for the discerning gamer and entertainment seeker, and the new PS3 is more than ever the perfect High Definition entertainment system.

*In the UK and Ireland, the Starter Pack will be replaced by a separate in-store promotion on the 60GB PS3.

PLAYSTATION®3 40GB Specification
Product name PLAYSTATION®3
CPU Cell Broadband Engine™ Processor
Sound Dolby 5.1ch, DTS 5.1ch , LPCM 7.1ch, AAC,
others *1 *2
Memory 256MB XDR Main RAM, 256MB GDDR3 VRAM
HDD 2.5” Serial ATA 40GB
I/O USB 2.0 x2
Communication Ethernet x1 (10BASE-T, 100BASE-TX,
IEEE 802.11 b/g Included
Bluetooth 2.0 (EDR) Included
Wireless controller (Bluetooth) Included
AV Output
Screen size 480i, 480p, 720p, 1080i, 1080p
HDMI OUT x1 *3
(Read Only) Maximum Read Speed BD 2x (BD-ROM)
CD 24x (CD-ROM)
Dimensions Approximately 325mm (W) x 98mm (H) x 274mm (D)
Weight Approximately 5 kg

*1 A device compatible with Linear PCM 7.1 Ch. is required to output 7.1 Ch. audio, supported by Dolby TrueHD or a similar format, from the HDMI OUT connector.
*2 This system does not support output from the DTS-HD 7.1 Ch. DTS-HD 7.1 Ch. audio is output from a 5.1 or lower channel.
*3 "Deep Color" and "x.v.Color (xvYCC)" defined by HDMI ver1.3a are supported.

Thursday, 4 October 2007

The Movie Hero

Ultimate Bumblebee has eclipsed my modest expectations! Here he is, case fresh, direct from Hasbro UK's warehouse!

Shut Up & Drive

Ultimate Bumblebee elicits the kind of gadget-geek excitement once reserved for Tomy's Omnibot! It's no wonder he's made it into this year's Toys R' Us Fabulous Fifteen and among the toys chosen as "12 Best toys of 2007" by Parija B. Kavilanz, senior writer at CNNMoney.com. Or was it the profit margin?

Fiscal matters aside. Ultimate Bumblebee is one cool electronic toy for boys and girls of any age! Omnibot who?

Monday, 1 October 2007

Stocking Fillers

Christmas comes even earlier this year! Cards, decorations and seasonal promotions are already hitting high street shelves and QVC!

Without further ado, here's my official top 20 holiday gift ideas, traversing books, toys, music, video games and electronic gadgets for all ages:

Please note that these are affiliate links.

1). Nintendo Wii
2). Super Mario Galaxy (Wii)
3). iPod nano 8GB
4). iPod touch 16GB
5). iPod classic 160GB
6). Xbox 360 Elite
7). Halo 3 (Xbox 360)
8). PSP Slim and Lite
9). PS3 (60GB Premium Version)
10). Panasonic TX-32LXD700 - 32" Widescreen Viera HD LCD TV
11). Sony KDL32D3000 - 32" Widescreen Bravia HD LCD TV
12). The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass (Nintendo DS)
13). Transformers Movie - Leader Optimus Prime
14). Be Bratz
15). Metroid Prime 3: Corruption (Wii)
16). Change Sugababes
17). iLife '08
18). iMac 24" Core 2 Duo 2.4GHz/1GB/320GB/ SuperDrive
19). Doctor Who: The Key to Time (Limited Edition 7-Disc Box set)
20). The Making of "Star Wars"

Newer readers may wish to read:

Review of the Year 2004
Review of the Year 2005
Review of the Year 2006

Stay tuned for Review of the Year 2007 coming this December. Why not subscribe?