This is what Shawn Morton would look like if he had been made of LEGO sMoRTy71.com -- the personal website of Shawn Morton
Thursday, November 30, 2006
Blockbuster Online comes through
I recently received a "We want you back" e-mail from Blockbuster Online. About 6 months ago, I did a free trial of their service as I struggled with Netflix' throttling. I ended up canceling Netflix for a while and just letting the BB account lapse.

Now, they're offering 2 weeks of the Total Access, which allows you to return online movies to retail locations and get a new disc, for free. Considering the trouble I am having with getting HD-DVDs from Netflix, I figured it was worth a shot.

This morning, I got an e-mail saying that Mission Impossible III (HD), You, Me and Dupree (HD) and Clerks 2 had all shipped. Of course, Netflix has all three of those same DVDs in various states of Long Wait. In fact, I've been waiting on MI:3 for several weeks and You, Me and Dupree isn't arriving in HD-DVD on Netflix until December 5th.

Being a new HD-DVD drive owner, the speed and availability of HD-DVDs will be the determining factor of which service I stick with. Sure, NF has a slicker website; however, if I can get more HD-DVDs from BB, I'll make the switch.
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
Played a Wii today
We got a Wii at the office today and I got to play with it/watch others play with it for about an hour. I have to say that it was much more fun than I expected. We only have the WiiSports disc that was included with the console; however, that was enough to attract about 10 different people who took turns playing.

I played Tennis, Baseball and Boxing. All of them were fun and very easy to figure out. We had the Wii connected to a projector in a conference room, so it really made you feel a part of the game, especially in baseball and boxing.

As others have mentioned, it does take some getting used to the sensitivity of the Wii remote. While it wasn't super difficult to target and select menu options, it was a little harder than I expected. I'm sure that will get easier with more play time.

One other thing that I noticed was that the nunchuk looks and feels really cheap. It is very lightweight plastic that feels like it could break if you squeezed it too hard. That was a little disappointing. Also, the doors on the top of the console (for the Gamecube controllers and the memory units) felt a little flimsy, too. This was surprising considering how solid the DS Lite feels.

I am hoping to take it for a spin some more tomorrow. I guess it is time to put some Wii games in my Gamefly Q.
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
XBOX 360 Video Marketplace is live
The new video download service for XBOX 360 is now live. I have browsed around it for a few minutes and it seems they have a decent selection of content. Over 40 movies and over 40 TV shows are available. Several of them are in HD. They've also got movies clips and music videos.

Pricing is a bit steep. An HD movie, which you only rent, is over $6. I would much rather see someone step up and offer a subscription service rather than ala carte. Considering MSFT is offering XBOX Live as a subscription, you would think that they would offer a premium tier that costs maybe $15 per month to get unlimited downloads.

The other issue is storage. The 20GB hard drive isn't going to cut it. It would be nice if you could use an external hard drive so that you could have multiple movies downloaded at once.

I guess that, at $6 per movie, they've pretty much priced a lot of people out of the option to download lots of movies at one time.

UPDATE: One more issue I've noticed. If you are downloading an HD movie, like "V for Vendetta," then you will need to leave your XBOX 360 on for hours (the movie is 6.1 GB). I have been downloading a free clip of the "Viva Pinata" show for my kids and the 589MB file is taking *forever* to download. I'm not a big fan of leaving my 360 on for several hours in order to download something.
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
Netflix *is* at it again...
or a better title might be "The mission is truly impossible."

As I mentioned last week, I have been having an issue with Netflix skipping over DVDs that are available "Now" in my Queue. Mission Impossible on HD-DVD seems to be the one that they really don't want me to see (could there be secret information about throttling? Is that what the Rabbit's Foot device is?).

After getting a helpful comment from David Freeberg about setting up a separate HD-DVD Queue (which I did), I figured I would wait it out and see how it worked.

Being impatient (I want to make sure movies get shipped today so I will have them over the holiday weekend), I decided to add Mission Impossible:III to my non HD-DVD queue since I returned those 2 movies on Monday.

As you can see from the screenshots, MI:III was listed as available "Now" and at the top of my Queue. Note that Ice Age 2 was listed as "Short Wait."

Netflix: The mission is truly impossible! (1 of 2)

Now, notice my Queue less than an hour later. They seemed to find a copy of Ice Age 2 lying around the warehouse and decided to ship that instead of my #1 choice MI:III.

Netflix: The mission is truly impossible! (2 of 2)

I guess the silver lining in all of this is that the throttling appears to be less than before (i.e. they are shipping my movies out as soon as they receive them). They should maybe just change to the name of their "Queue" to the "Netflix Randomizer."
Monday, November 20, 2006
Playing 360 with the King
Picked up the Burger King XBOX 360 games

Burger King is offering 3 new XBOX 360 games for $3.99 each (with a Value Meal purchase). So I did something that I haven't done in about 3 years -- I ate at Burger King (which I regretted later in the afternoon).

We picked up Sneak King, Big Bumpin' and Pocket Bike Racer. The kids have played all of them (and they really like them). I've played Big Bumpin' and Sneak King. Both were fun and seemed in line with what you get from the XBOX Live Arcade games. I was surprised to see that all of the games were in high-definition, too.

I'll post more thoughts when I've played them a bit more. I have so many new games (Tony Hawk's Project 8, Gears of War, Viva Pinata, Elite Beat Agents and Yoshi's Island) at the house that I haven't had much time to game with the King. I'm hoping to have time this week since I am on vacation all week.
Thursday, November 16, 2006
Is Netflix at it again?
I went back to Netflix a few weeks ago in anticipation of picking up the XBOX 360 HD-DVD drive. Up until this week, things have gone pretty well.

This morning, though, things are funny again.

I had two movies at home and, trying to avoid a throttle, I shipped them back a day apart (it seems that when you return two at a time, they are a little slower to ship new ones).

Today, I get notice that the second one has been received, but not the first. No big deal, the HD-DVD that I really want to see (Mission Impossible III) is listed as available "Now" and is at the top of my Queue.

After checking my Queue moments ago, I find that Mission Impossible III is still available, but they shipped the 3rd item in my Queue (which is older and less in demand, presumably). Irritating!
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
Halo news
Bungie decided to use the anniversary of the XBOX (and Halo) to announce some things about Halo 2 and 3.

1. Halo 3 CGI commercial on Dec. 4th episode of Monday Night Football (with an XBL Marketplace download to follow)
2. New multiplayer maps for Halo 2 in the Spring
3. Halo 3 multiplayer public beta in the Spring

All very cool stuff, but also a painful reminder of just how far off the final game really is.
The XBOX turns 5; XBL turns 4
Today marks the 5th anniversary of the release of the original XBOX and the 4th anniversary of XBOX Live.

I still remember my wife surprising me with an early Christmas gift back in 2001. We had just bought a house and were preparing to move in, so we were trying to save our money for house-related stuff.

The following year, I was chosen to be an XBOX Live beta tester, so I spent too much time playing NFL Fever 2002 and doing all of the beta tasks.

Four years later, XBL is still the key differentiator for MSFT. No one else has been able to build such a reliable online gaming platform. Just look at EA's miserable network if you need an example. I won't buy EA games that I would want to play online because EA's network performance is so bad. And I'm betting Sony is going to have similar problems.

And with the upcoming launch of HD movie and TV downloads, XBL is only getting better.

XBOX.com has other gamers' thoughts on the past 5 years.
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
EoDM in Zune commercial
Although I won't be buying a Zune (I won a 5G iPod last year and rarely touch it) any time soon, I do like the fact that Microsoft is using Eagles of Death Metal in their Zune "Concert" commercial. Even better, they use one of my favorite tracks "Cherry Cola."

November 14, 1970
Today is the 36th anniversary of the plane crash that killed most of Marshall University's football team, its coaches and some fans. In all, 75 people were killed when the Southern Airlines Flight 932 crashed returning from a game at East Carolina.

As an alum of Marshall, I always remember this date, even though I wasn't born when it happened.

Warner Bros. is releasing a movie about the crash and its aftermath, which I am hoping doesn't suck, on December 22nd. It stars Matthew McConaughey and Matthew Fox.

More on the crash
More about the movie
FFL: sMoRTy71 88, Hotspurs 72
I didn't post an FFL update last week because I was too ashamed. In my big showdown with the league's number 1 team, I was pummeled 100+ to 60-something. In my defense, I had 4 starters on a bye and two of their replacements were injured. Not the way you want to face the number 1 team.

This week, though, I was able to bounce back against the Highlands Hotspurs.
Monday, November 13, 2006
Elite Beat Agents is so fun!
I received 2 games in the mail from Gamefly today -- Gears of War for the XBOX 360 and Elite Beat Agents for the DS. Although I have been looking forward to GoW for months, I can't put Elite Beat Agents down. It's like crack!

Below you will find a video of someone playing it since I find it difficult to describe the game accurately.

It received an 8.9 rating from GameSpot and retails for less than $30.

Check out this video of someone who has obviously been practicing a lot longer than I have. Very cool!
Sunday, November 12, 2006
XBOX 360 HD-DVD impressions
I've been playing around with the new XBOX 360 HD-DVD player off and on all day, so I though I would share my initial impressions.

XBOX 360 HD-DVD player unboxed

1. Installation
The player is a breeze to install. After plugging it in and connecting the USB cable to the 360, all you have to do is insert the setup disc (in the 360, not the HD-DVD drive) and wait about 10 seconds for the software to install.

2. Picture quality of HD-DVDs
The picture quality with HD-DVDs is very impressive. Better than the HD I was watching throughout the day on DirecTV's NFL Sunday Ticket.Using the included "King Kong" disc, I was able to see even the smallest beads of sweat on Jack Black's face. You could also see every piece of stubble on Adrian Brody's face.

3. Picture quality of DVDs
Standard DVDs look much better when played on the new HD-DVD drive than they did on the 360's DVD drive. I am able to see a noticeable improvement in the PQ compared to the DVD in the 360 itself (I used "Revenge of the Sith" for the comparison).

4. The menus
I think my favorite part, aside from the PQ, is the menu system that HD-DVD uses. All menus are accessed in real-time as the movie plays. The video below shows how the menus work and how quickly each scene loads.



XBOX 360 HD-DVD in action on Vimeo

Overall, I think the XBOX HD-DVD is the best way to jump into the HD-DVD/Bluray battle. For less than $200, you get an HD-DVD player (most standalone players are $500), a better 360 remote and the "King Kong" HD-DVD. And if you're a Netflix subscriber, you don't have to shell out a bunch of cash to try out some HD-DVDs. I've got "Mission Impossible 3" and "V for Vendetta" coming this week.
Circuit City saves the day
After the hassle I was having with Amazon, I went with Frys.com to get the new HD-DVD player for the XBOX 360. However, just like Amazon, Frys.com dropped the ball, too.

See, when I went to the Frys.com product page before I ordered, it said "in stock, same day shipping." That was the main reason I went with them. I figured that ordering on Saturday would mean that my package should arrive on Monday (Tuesday at the latest).

However, after not seeing any change in my order status throughout the day yesterday, I called Frys.com this morning to make sure it shipped. The CS rep said that my order wouldn't ship until Monday since they don't ship on the weekends. I asked about the claim of "same day shipping" and she said it just meant that during the week, not on weekends. Nice!

So if you choose to order from Frys.com, remember that "same day shipping" on the weekends means the same as their other distinction of "ships in 1 business day" during the week. Why they don't just put "business day" in all of their status messages is beyond me. Seems it would eliminate confusion.

So I decided to check the Sunday paper to see if any local retailers had replenished their stock. Turns out that both EB Games and Circuit City were both listing the player in stock locally. Since CC allows me to pay online and then pick it up, I opted for them.

The whole process went smoothly and I now have the player at home. I'll post some impressions and photos in a bit.
Saturday, November 11, 2006
I'm through with Amazon
I've never really been a big Amazon shopper; however, recently I decided to order the new XBOX 360 HD-DVD player from them. They were one of the only places taking pre-orders, so I didn't have much choice.

That turned out to be a big mistake. I ordered on November 7th and paid for overnight shipping (only $3.99 by using the trial for Amazon Prime). The product page said that it would ship in 1-2 days.

As of this morning, the item has still not shipped and my expected ship date has been bumped twice. They have also changed the estimate on the product page to "ships within 3 to 4 days."

Based on the comments in the product forum at Amazon, it seems that those of us who chose to try out their Amazon Prime service and upgrade to the $3.99 overnight shipping are the ones affected. Some other people have received their drive or at least have confirmation of shipment. Of course, there are still people who ordered earlier than I did who haven't gotten it either.

Finally, this morning, I decided to search around and see if any other retailers have it. Circuit City and Best Buy are sold out. However, I did find it in stock at Frys.com. They also offer same day shipping. So I canceled my Amazon order and went with Frys.com. This will actually be cheaper in the long run because Frys.com doesn't charge sales tax in Kentucky.

I should have my drive on Monday.
Wednesday, November 8, 2006
"The Dirt" will be a movie in 2008
One of my favorite books ever is "The Dirt: Confessions of the World's Most Notorious Rock Band" which chronicles the rise (and ridiculous excesses) of Motley Crue in the 1980's. It's an absolute must-read for anyone who loved hair metal or anyone who likes to watch those E! True Hollywood Stories (even though it goes *waaaay* beyond anything you would see on TV).

According to ABC News, "The Dirt" is currently being made into a movie by Paramount and MTV. Even better news is that Christopher Walken is playing Ozzy Osbourne. And Val Kilmer is playing David Lee Roth.

I can't wait for this movie!
Tuesday, November 7, 2006
Microsoft comes back strong
Everyone, including me, has been down on the XBOX 360 for not delivering the big-name games and not challenging Sony and Nintendo this holiday. However, this week, MSFT is proving everyone wrong.

First, Gears of War was released today. Many felt it would be something to tide us over until Halo 3; however, according to GameSpot, it could be the game of the year. They gave it a 9.6 rating.

The HD-DVD drive is also launching this week. Of course, it is launching for $300 less than a standalone HD-DVD player (with media remote for just $199). And if you get one of the early bundles, it includes HD-DVD version of "King Kong."

And finally (and most surprisingly), Microsoft will be launching a video download service on November 22 that allows you to download HD shows and movies to your 360. This is something that everyone expected Apple or Netflix to roll out first; however, ol' MSFT gets first-mover advantage on everyone. Nice!

Plus, you've got games like Tony Hawk's Project 8 (which is awesome) and the new wireless headset in stores as well.

It took a year, but it's finally a good time to be a 360 owner.
Saturday, November 4, 2006
Profilactic launching Dec. 1st
We are shooting for a December 1st launch date for our private beta. Of course, with our various schedules, the date could slip (in either direction, really). However, that's what we've set as our goal.

Friday, November 3, 2006
GoW+HD-DVD+THP8 = No Wii
I know that I have been going crazy over the Wii since before E3; however, as the launch approaches, I just don't want to shell out the cash for a new game console.

Part of the reason I had been looking forward to the Wii was the lack of quality games for the 360. However, there is a lot of good new stuff coming to the 360 that I would rather have right now.

First, there is Gears of War. Next to Halo 3, it is the most-anticipated 360 title yet. That comes out on Tuesday. Then, there is the HD-DVD drive that also launches next week. Since Netflix now rents HD-DVDs (at no extra charge), I can try out HD-DVD without shelling out cash for the movies. And finally, there is Tony Hawk's Project 8 which is also out next week. I downloaded the demo last night and I am already cracked out on it. The Nail the Trick feature is awesome.

So for $75 less than I would have spent on the Wii, a game and an extra Wii-mote, I can pick up an HD-DVD drive and 2 great games for the 360 (especially when you factor in Gamefly's pre-played pricing).
Thursday, November 2, 2006
My 360 returns, but do I plug it in?
My repaired XBOX 360 is being delivered today; however, after reading about the problems with the Fall update, I am a little bit hesitant to hook it back up.

UPDATE [11/3/2006] Got a brand new replacement console and the Fall update worked without incident. Hopefully, this one lasts.

About Shawn Morton

Married father of 6; VP of Social Media at JPMorgan Chase; gluten-free; gadget enthusiast; hair metal aficionado; #Movember man View more on LinkedIn.