VR Is Amazing - So You Should Wait.

In the past few weeks, two new Virtual Reality (VR) headsets have been released - the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive. I haven't used either of them, but I'm sure they are amazing.

I've chosen to wait. I have a computer completely capable of running both of these headsets (yay for the R9 290) - and I have an Oculus DK2 - and I love it to bits. It is the most amazing experience that you can buy today. It immerses you in another world. It is impossible to describe what it's like to be able to move your head and be able to see in 3 dimensions without going to enormous amounts of effort to figure out what's in focus and what's not.

It is by far the best new gaming experience money can buy.

So why wait? Firstly - there's the cost. Both the Rift and Vive cost exorbitant amounts of money to ship to Australia. Considering what they do, they are actually not that costly. (Good computer monitors and phones easily cost that much.) But knowing that you will almost definitely want to replace them the moment the next generation lands (unlike a good 27-inch monitor) makes it a difficult sale.

Secondly, this is the first generation. And with the first generation, comes compromises. While the screen door effect is less apparent than it is in my DK2, the fact that the screens are not high resolution enough are definitely something I'm not happy with.

This combined with the fact that Elite Dangerous is definitely by far the only game I really want to play in VR at the moment means that waiting is by far the best option.

(Elite Dangerous has a lot of text - and while text is not the only thing pretty in that game; having bad text rendering kills immersion really quickly.)

(Screenshots belong to Tested.com - not me.)

(Screenshots belong to Tested.com - not me.)

Here's the recently released Final Fantasy IX on PC.

The background is clearly from nearly 2 decades ago, but the text is definitely sharp by today's standards.

The background is clearly from nearly 2 decades ago, but the text is definitely sharp by today's standards.

Lastly - and this is probably the most important part - there aren't enough games for it yet. I made this mistake with the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One - buying them the moment the console came out; only to find that there weren't many games to play. I have a DK2 now - so I can play most games that don't require the hand controllers, but really, knowing what I know from the Wii, those games will have limited longevity compared to deeper gameplay experiences that one would mostly do seated. There aren't enough games now - a year or two from now, that will change.

Batman: Arkham Knight Tweaking

Looking around for Arkham Knight tweaks, I found the this guide the most helpful.

Just to give you a reference point, I have an Intel i7 950 and an AMD Radeon R9 290, and most notably, the following tweaks seem to have helped me the most:

1. Texture Streaming

I've found this to generally be helpful, but I've only tried this on a WD Black and an SSD - your mileage may vary.



2. Upping Maximum Framerate

As my computer couldn't maintain 60fps, I chose to only increase the maximum frame rate.





; This is actually your refresh rate, set it to match your desktop's refresh rate and ignore what its name seems to imply

3. Motion Blur and Reflections

I found that turning off Motion Blur and Reflections also helped with frame rates, especially during rain, it does make your cape and the Batmobile less shiny, but sacrifices have to be made.



4. Update Drivers

This actually helped a lot - updating to 15.6 beta (now you can get 15.7.)

Hopefully this helped you get to roughly where I got to at the moment, which is about 60 fps with occasional dips to 30 fps. (I suspect some of that is due to my now 4-year-old CPU.)

Playing Fewer Video Games

I've realised that as time passes, I'm playing fewer and fewer video games. At first, I thought that I had changed. Maybe my tastes for video games have changed. Maybe I just have less time. I've come to the realisation recently that this is really not the case. There's quite a number of things at play - and they all conspire to make me play fewer games.

The Paradox of Choice

Ever since I ended my boycott on Steam slightly over 3 years ago, I now have over 500 games on Steam alone. This is counterintuitively very bad. Can you imagine trying to pick a single game to play out of a list of 500+? It has led to countless number of times where looked at my entire list of Steam games and gone: "I have so many games, and nothing to play." I'm so overloaded with choice on Steam that I literally can't pick a game to play.

I have Battle.net, Origin, Uplay and GOG Galaxy installed; and it becomes clear that it's much easier for me to pick something to play from these clients. I have a much smaller list on everything except GOG, but GOG Galaxy only shows you what's installed by default, and I only have 5 or so games installed (compared to around 76 or so on Steam.) It's no understatement that it helps a lot when you have fewer to pick from – I'm sure I'll find a solution for Steam one day, but for now, I'm just playing whatever tickles my fancy at the time.

(I'm guessing the solution involves curating a selection of shortcuts for my desktop.)

Quality / Quantity

Some games just sell really well nowadays. The proliferation of "AAA-titles" being released every year is probably giving me some amount of exhaustion. I'm sure the model works and it works well. I have high profile titles I like a lot and would buy and play every year – Assassin's Creed being one of them. On the other hand, shooters have really fallen out of favour with me. I'm not sure if it's because I haven't played a shooter with a fresh storyline or gameplay in a while, or it's just that all of them are really the same and I'm not imagining things. I still haven't played Wolfenstein: The New Order, but Titanfall, COD:Advanced Warfare and Destiny have not scratched that itch.

Batman: Arkham Knight just came out recently, and that was when I realised that quality might be the deciding factor for me. I worked hard at finishing the game like I did with Assassin's Creed: Unity and I enjoyed every minute of it. (OK, maybe the tank boss fights and collecting Riddler trophies weren't that fun.)

It's probably time to come to terms with the fact that I will run out of games to play – and that's really OK.

My Surface Pro 2

A while back, the Surface Pro 2 finally went on clearance with an included Type Cover, so I finally jumped on the opportunity to own one of these amazing devices. It definitely feels like it’s a modern (post-iPad) version of the Microsoft Tablet PCs which I remember selling way back when I was working at a computer store. My device came with Windows 8.1 pre-installed, which I’m very familiar with as I use it daily at work as well as on my gaming desktop. A lot of choices made in Windows 8 make a lot more sense on the Surface than they do anywhere else - being able to do gestures and having much larger touch targets in the Start menu.

I’m just going to mention a few niggling problems I had. One of them was that there wasn’t a default Explorer for tablet mode - this is a pretty big deal as that meant managing files involved going into desktop mode and dealing with the small fiddly touch targets with your fingers.

The Windows Store offerings are lacking and you will notice the difference coming from iOS. The good news is that you can supplement these by using desktop versions of a lot of apps. It being a fully fledged laptop also helps tons - it can run games and it runs them well. I was able to play Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls comfortably and load quite a number of Steam games without worrying too much about stuttering. (It does get hot though - whether it's apps or games, and if you’ve never had a metal case laptop before, you may be in for a rather toasty surprise.)

The Surface Pro 2 has a 1080p screen, which is set to 150% scaling by default (if I’m not mistaken.) This is usually not an issue with apps; Windows 8.1 automatic scaling is pretty decent if you don’t mind the blur on the apps that don’t support scaling as well. However, I ran into a few issues running some games where they would behave oddly if you tried to run it at a lower resolution than native like Prison Architect and Civilization V.

The Surface Pro 2 comes with a pen, which behaves much like a graphics tablet stylus or the old Tablet PC stylus if you’ve ever had one. Hovering over the screen moves the cursor, touching it clicks it, or you can press the buttons on the stylus. You can use handwriting recognition on it and while I’m sure some people might have trouble, someone like me who has used Windows Mobile devices for years and demoing Tablet PCs will run into few headaches here.

I have the usual grips about the Type Cover. It is backlighted which is nice, but it doesn’t seem to be the case that the sleep and wake is particularly reliable. The sleep is more reliable than the wake. You don’t get the Apple level of speed from wake here - I’m not sure about the ARM models, but my Surface Pro 2 behaved much closer to a Windows laptop with an SSD than my iPad does. The trackpad buttons are terrible - it’s difficult to tell when they will register (if at all) which leads you to resorting to some rather awkward touch screen interactions sometimes.

As I knew I was going to want more RAM, I bought the 256GB capacity version of it which comes with 8GB of RAM. The internal storage can be boosted with a microSD card. I bought a 64GB microSD card which worked perfectly with Windows Store apps, so I have yet to run into storage issues - but I’m sure people with only 128GB of storage will find themselves running out of storage much quicker.

Battery life is probably not amazing for a tablet, but pretty decent for a laptop. My own use which usually includes some comic reading, video watching and a little bit of a text processing generally has the Surface Pro 2 last a bit over 6 hours. I’m looking into getting a Power Cover which should give me “all-day” battery life. They seem to be very difficult to get a hold of outside of the USA - but I’m sure I’ll figure something out. The charger is some sort of magnetic connector which works both ways. My only real complaint about is that it seems to be rather abrasive on the finish of the Surface Pro 2, so I’m seeing scratches and removal of some of the finish around the charging port.

Of course, now the Surface Pro 3 is out and it’s better in pretty much every respect - bigger screen, better battery life, improved kickstand. The Surface Pro 2 is still amazing in its own right - I hope that the Surface Pro 3 does well enough that Microsoft continues to make these great devices.

4 Weeks With The Moto G

I recently bought a dual SIM 2nd generation Moto G to use while I was in Malaysia so I could keep both an Australian number and a Malaysian number active at the same time. Since I’m in a bit of a ranting mood, here goes nothing.

The Device

Amusingly enough, this Moto G is the cheapest Android device I’ve ever bought, and I think it’s actually the best experience I’ve had with Android so far too. No weird Chrome crashing, no crashing my wireless router and decent battery life, even with two SIMs in it!

The device does have a few flaws. It only has 1GB RAM which unlike on iOS makes itself known very quickly - almost every time you switch apps, you are looking at a reload time. The camera is so-so, but probably decent given the price. 8GB of storage was something I thought was enough for Android devices 4 years ago, but in this day and age, it’s not enough. It does have a microSD slot, but given that KitKat got stupidly strict with SD card permissions, it’s not necessarily predictable what you can use it with.

It’s a got a plastic back which definitely doesn’t feel as good as the metal or glass you can sometimes get nowadays, but it does the job - battery isn’t replaceable unfortunately, but it gives you access to the 2 SIM card slots and microSD slot. I found the headphone jack less than ideal, being slightly angled which made it less secure for my headphones - not everyone will have this problem.

The Software

It’s been slightly over a year since my last rant on an Android device - things have changed since then. Gmail now supports non-Google e-mail accounts, which solves my issue with the Email app being generations behind the Gmail app. Bluetooth behaviour is unfortunately still not great. The Moto G doesn’t crash my headset - but pressing play on the remote is still a dice roll if you don’t actively kill your audio players.

While my Moto G is still on KitKat, it still benefits from the Material Design revamp - the most useful of which I’d say is the swipe-from-left gesture to bring up the sidebar menu. It’s still a ways off from the huge library of accepted gestures on iOS, but anything that saves me reaching for the top-left of any screen larger than 3.5” is a win. The back button behaviour feels more random - this might be the fault of developers using Material Design incorrectly, but it’s gotten slightly more difficult to correctly predict if the back button will send me to the right place.

The Play Store CDN is still slow. Don’t know why, don’t know how, still a mystery to me how this is like the one odd department Apple is better at than Google. I’ve been looking and I still haven’t found a great Android substitute for some of the software I use:

  • Alien Blue: Flow Reader was a glimmer of hope which has died now. I’m using Reddit Sync Pro now (maybe Sync for Reddit by the time you read this.)
  • Downcast: Doggcatcher has improved significantly for the higher DPI screens now. I’ve actually replaced Downcast with Overcast now, and considering how difficult it can be to replicate Overcast’s headline features on Android with acceptable performance, I don’t think I’m finding an equivalent podcast player on Android anytime soon.
  • Reeder: Press is still in about the same place as last time, good, but not great. I’ve actually considered using Unread to replace Reeder since it’s full of more comfortable gestures.
  • Tweetbot: I’m still using Plume, which seems to have gotten worse - not sure how, but it’s still the only one which seems to have sane list support. Unfortunately there isn’t one I like now, chances are there won’t be one I like in the future, thanks to Twitter’s API user limits.

In general, I’m finding Android software quality still a notch below what’s available for iOS - while I’ve found candidates for replacing my iOS regulars without shopping for them, I’ve yet to find great Android candidates with shopping for them.

They’ve locked down the media scanning in KitKat which I think is generally a good move. Unfortunately, they haven’t gotten their rules for media scanning up to scratch to compensate, which can lead to a lot of frustration trying to get files to show up in MTP or in your music player if you don’t have root. I’ve wasted hours trying to get images and music off the thing.


I think the Moto G is an excellent Android device if you can live with the constant app reloading, slightly slow to appear share menu and doing a bit of juggling with the microSD card. Otherwise, you might want to get a higher-end phone with a little bit more RAM and more internal storage.