Friday 14 December 2018

Digital: Plug your hi-fi into the 21st century

Review: Bayan StreamPort Universal

BioShock Infinite
BioShock Infinite
Streamport Universal Bluetooth receiver
Ronan Price

Ronan Price

Old world, meet new world. Since music went digital, most people's collections are centred on their phones, laptops or tablets.

But a few of us old codgers cling to the antediluvian notion that tunage sounds better coming from proper speakers instead of those pathetic squawkers built into portable electronics.

To this end, we like to hold on to our expensively acquired hi-fi gear (kids, ask your parents what that is). The problem is how to bridge the old with the new.

A cheap cable suffices, obviously, but if you want to go wireless, the options narrow.

Apple has got there already with its €100 AirPort Express box, which doubles as a wireless router but works only with – surprise! – Apple products.

So the Bayan StreamPort Universal is a less ambitious but more, ahem, universal alternative.

It's simply a small Bluetooth receiver with cables (3.5mm and phono) to connect to your hi-fi – pair it with almost any phone or tablet and you'll be pumping out decent-quality audio in seconds.

The usual Bluetooth caveats apply – the sound is vulnerable to occasional pops and clicks and the range isn't in the same class as Apple's wi-fi-based solution.

At €70, it's a little pricey for a one-trick pony, though, with rival products from the likes of Belkin coming in up to €20 cheaper.

www.bayanaudio.com

Could your phone withstand a bowling ball falling on its screen or a battering with a hammer? If you believe the demo video from the makers of the Zagg Invisible Shield Extreme (ISE), it would.

Like a screen protector on steroids, the ISE (which fits most popular smartphones and tablets) adds no bulk to your phone but shields it from careless damage of the extreme variety.

It costs from €20 for screen only to €50 for the whole body.

www.zagg.com

GAMES

Bioshock Infinite

X360/PS3/PC

*****

When you put it down on paper, it sounds vaguely ridiculous, even by videogame standards: A giant bird protects a young woman who has been imprisoned her whole life in a gilded tower atop a city floating in the sky.

But master storytellers Irrational weave another stunning narrative around a heady combat cocktail in this latest serving of BioShock.

Though unconnected to the underwater dystopia of the first two games, Infinite perches its plot in the similarly troubled sky kingdom of Columbia, ruled by an autocratic religion.

Mixing a sun-lit take on the architecture of early 20th-century America with a fanciful steampunk vibe, Infinite packs layer upon layer of incidental detail to wrap around your drive to rescue the young woman, Elizabeth, and escape.

Naturally, nothing is what it seems. Half the entertainment stems from wallowing in its period detail, the warped machinations of the colony's ruler and the believable relationship with Elizabeth as it shifts from suspicion to trust.

But you'll not want for action either, the two-handed system of weapons plus supernatural powers allowing for a satisfyingly personal style of battle.

This is gaming at its zenith, fusing story and interactivity in a way no other medium can touch.

Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm

PC/Mac

****

Like many of the best-selling games, there's a distinct division about Starcraft, broken down into campaign and multiplayer factions.

Some players will never attempt both. Solo players will often be intimidated by the fearsome reputation of its multiplayer real-time strategy battles, which have turned into televised events worldwide played at blinding speed.

Seasoned competitors will look down on the cheesy campaign, slickly produced but bordering on parody.

Heart of the Swarm may be just an expansion pack – it's the second of a planned trilogy for SCII – but it tinkers successfully at all levels.

The entirely new campaign focuses on the alien Zerg race, with all its gleeful capacity for body horror, but as usual barely stays the right side of over-acted and melodramatic.

Multiplayer may be offputtingly competitive at high levels but smart matchmaking rarely pits the beginner against unwinnable odds.

Irish Independent

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