The Wii, Windows 7

We have been looking at Wii’s for quite a while. But they aren’t cheap, that’s for sure.

I, personally, am not much of a game player and usually avoid sitting and playing games, as a bit of a waste of time. Though I can happily spend hours flying on a flight simulator; which many people may say is no different. 😉

Anyway, the whole Wii concept looks like a lot of fun and something completely different in the way of videogames.

And, well, the technology is amazing and has a lot of potential.

The prices, surprisingly, haven’t really changed any.

So yesterday my wife, Jennifer, decided to pick one up at our local mall’s Fye‘s. The deal was that you buy the Wii and get an extra controller with it, as well as a game that was included in the extra game controller package. Since we were going to get another controller anyway (the Wii game itself only comes with one controller and one Nunchuck) it was an okay deal. She also bought a used, repackaged game additionally.

It wasn’t long before I had the power plugged into our Monster Cable power strip (don’t get high quality home entertainment electronics without one!), as well as the rest of the cables; and had synced up the controllers.

A sensor bar attaches to the tv, or above or below it (the controllers use IR like your TV remote, as well as like my Air Hogs helicopter – mentioned in a previous blog entry. The idea of using IR instead of RF for something that needs moderate bandwidth is pretty interesting in itself. It’s carrying a fair amount of information – velocity and motion and other sensor info, as well as button control and the sound that’s transmitted to each controller).

First off I was a bit disappointed that the video and audio output is in analog, using a/v cables. Especially since the connector that goes into the machine itself obviously has a multitude of connections, yet the output itself is standard analog a/v cables. So it took one of our precious a/v inputs – the tv has plenty of HDMI inputs but only a few a/v inputs.

A quick look through the manual explains that there are component cables available (not bad) and it’s capable of 480P. Not great, but it’s not exactly known for its super hi-rez graphics either. Though screenshots of some of the nicer games are very good.

The machine itself seems to be built slightly better than your standard piece of crappy electronics nowadays. It can take memory cards (damn, gotta scrounge one up) as well as Game Cube games and controllers, and USB devices like wireless and wired networking, USB keyboards, etc.

It can also be mounted horizontally or vertically, and has a stand for the vertical mounting (which we used, fit nicely).

The gameplay is amazing, and takes your experience to a new level. The graphics themselves of the games we have are smooth but cartoonish (at least on these games), and the gameplay is hard yet easy to master enough to have fun. Oh, and to work up a sweat too! The graphics, despite being a bit cartoonish on these particular games, are nice with vibrant colors and good resolution.

I really like the boxing, and got quite a sweaty workout from it. My punches did seem to be sometimes faster than my character was punching. I suspect this may be the way the game is set up for the boxing part; so you’re not punching someone across the room or something. I can play the baseball game and swing the bat as fast as I possibly can, and it keeps up just fine.

The technology behind the whole thing is certainly interesting to contemplate. Velocity and motion sensors, rumble servos and IR technology that sends sound to the controllers, etc. And all in a fairly good quality package, unlike so many game machines (that are in comparable price ranges) as well as TV’s and DVD players.

The game that comes with the machine also has a whole fitness section where; instead of playing the games against other people or the machine, you go through this whole fitness regimen using parts from each one. I started it – it’s quite a workout! And maybe I’ll give it a try everyday, it’s sure more fun this my rowing machine and long walks in the cold.

On to Windows 7… I decided to go ahead and give it a try, despite my initial thought that I had neither the time nor the interest in trying it until at least a release candidate.

I’d tried it on customer’s computers (one who was even running it as their main operating system for their business! Not smart).

The installation went very smoothly and it picked up nearly every device I had, including lots of older USB devices (and I got a lot of USB devices). The only thing it didn’t install a driver for was the SM Bus (wonder if the driver for Vista would work? Probably) and a driver for the printer/copier/fax – though it did identify it correctly.

At first blush it’s pretty nice. Much faster than Vista, even with Aero running! Lots of new features, lots of good features that Vista had, and it seems to be MUCH more compatible with more software. I even found myself anxious to get up the morning after I installed it. The last time that happened was when XP came out. Yea yea, that’s a bit geeky…

Right away I had a bit of a SNAFU with one of my favorite programs – Rocketdock. This turned out to be somewhat my fault. It’s SUPPOSED to be easier transferred to a portable device using the option of saving the set up as a separate INI, which is what I have the option set as. That way I can easily transfer it over to other computers on my network.

Unfortunately this didn’t work for whatever reason. Maybe it had to do with Windows 7, maybe not.

But it messed up its entry in the registry to the point that even deleting and re-installing Rocketdock wouldn’t work.

I went on to install Stardock’s Objectdock instead, which also didn’t want to load quite right the first few times. But after a reset all was well with it.

After going back and scanning through the registry (yes, the registry editor’s exactly the same, it seems) and deleting the entries for Rocketdock and re-installing it; it worked perfectly. I’ve since switched back to Rocketdock though.

I then proceeded to load Win 7 down with lots of installations, here’s a few of my initial ones:

Rocketdock
Objectdock
Webcam32
Paintshop Pro
Paintshop Pro upgrade
Metapad
Keynote
Netscape
Expression web
K-meleon
Flock
Quicktime
Openoffice
Firefox
Thunderbird
Gimp and a bunch of plugins, including Photoshop ones
Mozbackup
Mappoint
Goops
Filemenu Tools (amazingly this works fine – see a previous blog entry about this tool)
GPSBabelWrapper
Google Earth with GPS control wrapper
Google Sketchup Pro
Adobe reader
Adobe reader update
Foxit reader
Flash
Garmin trip and waypoint manager
Driver for Garmin Legend HCx GPS works fine
Driver for radiosonde receiver works fine
Driver for Powershot a570IS works fine (I don’t like the camera connection wizard as well as XP’s, may use Faststone’s picture download as the autorun default)
Winzip 11
7-zip
Avira AntiVir
Wordweb
Weatherwatcher
Winweather
NOAA NWS Weather Spotter’s Interface
uTorrent
USAPhotomaps
City Navigator 2009
Free Download Manager

NASA’s World Wind didn’t work. A bit of a disappointment to me, but I still have my Windows XP partition working fine so if I want to use it it’s there for me.

I next installed the driver and software for the Logitech orbit webcam (though a generic driver was installed by Windows 7).

The controller that moves the camera on the servos was not available, and neither was the face-following option. A quick update from MS (using the handy Action Center) solved that problem.

I also updated the video driver but then my favorite resolution was not available. There was one very close, so that was no real problem.

MaxiVistaMirrorPro didn’t work at all, no surprise.

Comodo firewall also didn’t work, and neither did the newest version. Which seemed to work for some people.

Unfortunately at this point I tried to force it to install by using the compatibility tab under the install’s properties.

Erp, bad choice. While this method may have worked for some people it crapped out for me. And worse of all after installing half of itself.

After resetting the computer Windows 7 would not start. A couple of system rollbacks later and I was back in business, but not before a bunch of error-checking by the system and questionable messages.

To be fair – Windows 7 is a Beta and I was installing a low-level driver that shouldn’t have been installed, plus I had installed a bunch of updates. Not a good combination.

After this incident I continued to use the system but with a couple crashes per day.

I went ahead and messed recklessly with a few things – knowing that I was going to start over from scratch anyway – and outside of the problems likely related to the bad firewall installation; it performed pretty well otherwise.

So eventually I wiped the partition and re-installed Windows 7.

This time it was much stabler, though I did have one crash right off the bat but I haven’t had another though.

The built-in firewall is okay, and actually scored quite well with my own tests as well as Shields Up. But despite that I would rather have something with more control, and chances are companies like Comodo aren’t going to release a version for Windows 7 until the actual full release of it is done. Would you release a security program for a buggy Beta, or even for a release candidate?

So I found the very good (and free) PC Tools Firewall Plus which seems to be very compatible with Windows 7, as well as scores just as good on my firewall tests. Rather have Comodo but this is a good choice also.

The taskbar’s “combine with taskbar is full” is great, especially to us power users who have a crapload of programs open. XP’s handling of this was negligible at best.

And the Action Center seems to have replaced the security center. But you do get more options. Maybe MS has done something right with this also. I like it, I have to say.

As I said – the whole system is quite fast. Though occasionally while using certain programs it can pause for an alarmingly long moment, or get overloaded a bit. Of course, I do my best to stress it way past the point of normal use, even by me.

The above could be the result of it being Beta, I’m sure there’s going to be some memory management tweaks at the very least. It seems to take advantage of my full 4 gigs of memory anyway. Which is good compared to XP’s only handling 3.1 gig of the 4.

And it could use some tweaking – I’m running with the default services still intact. Many of which can be turned off for more speed and stability.

I’ve yet to run any REAL tests, like rendering some heavy-duty graphics – and comparing it to XP and Vista.

I do have a few problems, which seem to be fairly common problems with others. My taskbar icons seem to randomly disappear. The programs are still running and I can access them by using ALT-TAB or the Task Manager, but they disappear from the taskbar itself. Sometimes while I’m using them (it doesn’t affect the opened screen though, only the icon in the taskbar).

Also, I’ve noticed that if I’m restarting Windows 7 and I try to use the network or even access much of anything in those first few moments when the desktop pops up – sometimes things don’t show up or work properly along the lines of the network or displaying notification icons. Giving it a few moments to start without touching anything and all is well.

The disappearing taskbar icons is the most annoying thing for me, and hopefully there’s some sort of resolution for it at some point from MS. It’s maddening in fact, and makes it almost unusable when it happens. No matter what taskbar option I’ve tried it still happens occasionally.

But, Windows 7 is still in Beta. So there’s got to be some bugs at the very least. From what I have read there are many, yet it also has much potential.

I even thought I saw the login screen in the tv show “Heroes” last night.

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