Digital Life: Will internet kill the video store?
In 10 years' time, we'll probably look back and laugh at the quaint notion of driving down to the video shop to rent a movie. The massive pipes of the internet will bring all our entertainment to us.
Even now, you can download high-quality versions of new films to rent and buy via your Xbox 360, PC/Mac and even some of the latest TVs.
Apple has been plugging away in this space too for years with its Apple TV device, but to little avail.
The latest re-design of the Apple TV makes the box much smaller, cheaper and focused on rental only, though you can also browse YouTube and videos on your computer.
It connects to the Net via your home WiFi or Ethernet and hooks into your TV via HDMI. With a simple but awkward remote, you can browse Apple's online video store, where rentals cost from about €3 (eg, Casablanca) to €6 (eg, Kick-Ass, Get Him to the Greek) depending on their vintage. Once you start watching, you're allowed 48 hours to finish the movie before it expires.
With a fast internet connection, Apple TV works flawlessly to stream the movie to your TV in high-definition 720P. But there are plenty of caveats.
The catalogue numbers in the low thousands -- with quite a few of them "straight-to-DVD" duds -- and the latest movies generally don't appear for a few weeks after your local Xtra-Vision. Unlike the US, we don't get TV episodes nor the Netflix online video library, which has a much greater choice than the iTunes Store.
That's the new Apple TV's greatest failing -- the relative lack of stuff to watch.
But at €120, it's an inexpensive way to dip your toes in the waters of online movies, no computer required.
Whether by choice or by diktat, almost everyone uses Microsoft Office. It's not that there aren't viable alternatives, such as the free Open Office. Even on Mac -- where Apple's own iWork suite is cheaper, slicker, if not as powerful -- Office still rules.
Microsoft Office for Mac 2011 strives to become even closer to its Windows cousin while remaining elegantly Mac-like.
That means you're saddled with Windows "innovations" such as the annoying "ribbon" toolbar but also brings Mac Office nearly to parity in terms of power, speed and features.
Word, Excel and PowerPoint all get useful updates but Outlook has actually gone backwards because of bugs and features missing compared to the mail program it replaces.
In this age of recession, it's frustrating, too, that Microsoft no longer permits installation on two computers. Your €110 (home version, no Outlook) or €250 (business version, with Outlook) buys just one licence.
A royal appointment with a medieval Stephen Fry
The medieval world of Fable has always flattered to deceive -- promising more than it could deliver with its morality system.
But the game is filled with so many spectacles and absurdist humour that it's easy to overlook how the makers fall short of their ambitions.
Fable III kicks off with an eerily familiar set-up, pitting your hero against an evil royal who happens to be your brother. What ensues is Fable's blend of sword-fighting, wife-loving, property-dealing, favour-fulfilling and wilderness-wandering.
Each element can be shallow but the sum of their parts is greatly enhanced by the typically English humour, much of which is ably supplied by voice actors including John Cleese, Ben Kingsley, Simon Pegg and Stephen Fry.
At times glitchy and inconsistent, the Fable III universe nonetheless exerts an irresistible pull.
If the PlayStation Move hardware needed a poster child for its motion sensitivity, Tumble is it. A block-building puzzler, it demonstrates how accurately the Move controller tracks the twists and turns of your hand.
Available only as a download from the PSN store, Tumble suffers from its dry presentation. But there's a real magic to manipulating objects on-screen via the Move wand.
Shawn White Skateboarding
With genre king Tony Hawk still smarting from the disaster of his last outing, the carrot-topped snowboarder has stepped into the breach. SWS reaches back to 2001 PS2 classic Airblade for its riff on an Orwellian society ripe for some skateboarding anarchy.
It's an efficiently tooled effort, too, rendered a little bit special by the ability to create your own grind rails out of thin air for go-anywhere skating. MySims SkyHeroes
With naff-all to do with the famous Sims, SkyHeroes' value rests solely on its premise of a cartoonish aerial dogfighter. With comic power-ups and forgiving flying, it's like Mario Kart in the skies -- only not half as much fun.
Even the young 'uns won't be fooled by its relentlessly repetitive action for long.
Bits and Bytes
- An Post joined the iPhone bandwagon last week with its new app to help you find your nearest post office, calculate postage and track parcels.
The app is free to download from the App Store.
- If you can't make it to the rugby tests at Lansdowne Road over the coming weeks, O2 has a nifty idea to broadcast the ref radio live via its Be The Difference website and on an iPhone app.
The catch? It'll cost a rather steep €2.50 a pop for the All Blacks and Argentina, while at least on iPhone it's only €1.60.
No doubt the exercise is a test for the forthcoming Six Nations matches.
Competition: Win an Xbox 360 with Kinect
The battle for domination of the Christmas games market really kicks off tomorrow (Nov 10) when Microsoft unleashes Kinect, its innovative motion-tracking camera for Xbox 360. Instead of a controller, you direct the on-screen action with your whole body.
Thanks to Ubisoft, we have an Xbox 360 plus Kinect camera to give away -- plus three Kinect games: Your Shape, Fighters Uncaged and MotionSports.
Just answer the simple question and you're in with a chance to win.
Question: What type of game is Your Shape? A) Fitness B) Gambling C) Shooter.
Email your entry together with your name and address to firstname.lastname@example.org -- multiple entries will be disqualified. Closing date is Friday, November 12.