Digital Life: Yes, it's really all app-ening. Now your TV's getting smarter
Published 05/07/2011 | 05:00
'There's an app for that" has become the new punchline to geek jokes.
Can't decide whether to have Chinese or Mexican for dinner? There's an app for that. Worried that mole on your arm could be skin cancer? There's an app for that (no really, there is, it's called Skin Scan). My girlfriend left me -- there's an app for that. Well, maybe not the last one.
Three years after Apple launched the App Store for iPhone, even your granny has heard of apps, and any smartphone worth its salt is stuffed with them.
Now the new frontier for apps is your tellybox. The first tentative efforts initially appeared in high-end TVs last year, with the likes of Sony, Panasonic and Samsung incorporating internet-connected widgets such as weather and news.
But this year Samsung goes the whole hog with its Smart TV range, which promises a swathe of smartphone-like apps and full access to the internet with its web browser.
Mercifully, this tech doesn't feature only in the eyewateringly expensive top of the range, which runs as high as €5,000, but has trickled down to 32-inch sets starting at €700, too.
Digital Life tried out Samsung's €1,750 D8000, a sophisticated Smart TV just 8mm thick boasting remarkable picture quality and a wealth of features, including 3D and Saorview.
But we're here for the apps, and Samsung groups everything neatly into one screen it calls Smart Hub. Once you've connected the TV to the internet via your WiFi or Ethernet, you can download dozens of apps such as Facebook, Google Maps, Twitter, internet radio and BBC News, play simple games, such as Sudoku, and stream video from the likes of YouTube and Vimeo. You can even Skype with an optional €150 camera.
Samsung also does its bit to push 3D with a video app offering a welcome collection of cartoons, documentaries and trailers in the third dimension.
None of the apps costs a bean, except the so-so Acetrax movie service, which offers a small selection of Hollywood hits to rent or buy.
If the apps don't grab you, there's always the full web browser which, thanks to its Flash compatibility, also allows access to services, such as RTÉ Player and TV3 Catch-up.
The fly in the ointment for Smart Hub, though, is the difficulty of navigating apps and internet via the standard remote, which proves slow and clunky. Free Samsung apps for iPhone and android can control the telly, but make the process only marginally easier -- Samsung has much work to do here.
Overall, though, you're still looking at the smartest TV on the market. The choice of apps is small, true, and they feel redundant if you have an iPad or laptop to hand. But we've come a long way from dumb tellies showing just two channels in black and white.
Child of Eden
Like a maestro conducting a great orchestra, your hands are your weapons in Child of Eden. Using the motion-sensing of the Kinect camera, you guide an aiming reticule to target waves of a 'virus' invading a digital archive soundtracked by a pounding electronic beat.
Yes, it can only be the new game from the fevered imagination of Tetsuya Mizuguchi, creator of previous rhythm classics such as Rez and Lumines.
With an imperious sweep of the hand, your aim locks on to the target and another flick of the wrist sends a missile or laser pulse to atomise the invaders, resulting in a furious kaleidoscope of sound and colour.
As you duck and weave on rails through mazy tunnels, the Kinect control system feels both empowering yet at times frustrating as the camera fails to keep up. But it's so much more enjoyable than the alternative control method of the gamepad.
It's all over a little too soon but if you have a Kinect, Child of Eden packs enough fresh ideas and visual fireworks for it to be unmissable.
Dungeon Siege III
A dungeon crawler injected with the storytelling firepower of the people who brought us Fallout New Vegas? Yes, that would be worth playing.
But the plot of DSIII turns out to be the least engaging part of this comfortingly familiar take on the classic Diablo.
With a choice of four playable characters (the usual suspects -- warrior, mage, and so on), the game loses little time in throwing you into endless corridors filled with monsters to be slaughtered and loot to be collected.
Combat is fast and furious thanks to co-op play and there are graphical treats aplenty on your adventures underground. When you come up for air in the towns, a host of side quests interwoven with sly humour keep the gameplay from getting stale.
But you never shake the sense of deja-vu that says it's all been done better before.
White Knight Chronicles II
A sequel to a Final Fantasy wannabe that no one was asking for, WKCII commits many of the sins of its predecessor -- ponderous, elongated cut-scenes, poor acting and confusing controls.
This time, even the ability to metamorphise into a 50ft-high knight cannot save this generic effort from mid-table mediocrity.
Bits and Bytes
Food for thought
> Two new apps worth a mention this week -- the ubiquitous Neven Maguire gets his mug onto the iPad/iPhone with a collection of more than 60 recipes and a shopping list function. The app costs €5.
Also just out is iSpySculpture, a €3 app which introduces you to a collection of 50 famous sculptures around Dublin, all within a 1km radius of the city centre.
G-unning for a 'like'
> Just when you thought we had all overdosed on social networking, along comes Google with another bash at matching the likes of Facebook and Twitter.
With failures such as Orkut, Buzz and Wave behind it, Google will be hoping the new service called Google+ will have more success.
It allows users to share photos, messages and video chats with their friends.
Initially available to only a small number of users worldwide, Google+ has its work cut out catching up to Facebook, which has more than 500 million members.
Sky's no limits
> Sky is revamping its online catch-up service, rebranding the Sky Player as Sky Go and giving subscribers free access to more than 30 live channels on a range of devices from iPad to laptop.
You will be able to watch two different channels on different devices with just the one subscription, making that €76 a month for the top package a little easier to swallow.
The change goes live from tomorrow.
> The winner of the Child of Eden competition was James Glynn.