Microsoft in Euro price cut shock

Europeans are used to having their wallets abused by, well, just about everyone and I had a whinge a short while ago about a US-only price cut.

Well, I’m surprised and delighted to report that to kick on the Leipzig-based Game Developers Convention, Microsoft have announced a price-cut on all their Xbox 360’s in Europe aswell.

No word yet on whether the new 360 Pro and 360 Arcade (that’s not confusing at all) will be featuring an HDMI port like the new revisions in the States or whether any of them will be featuring the larger heat-sink designed to make the 360 a bit more reliable.

For Brits, this is £30 ($60) off each version of the console which makes our price cut even bigger than our transatlantic cousins. Yay!

Creative X-Fi (Xfi) Digital Out Fix

Creative Xfi_thumb[2]

icon_download_product_large[3]“Fix Digital Out for Creative X-Fi (place in Startup folder).exe” download link

I’ve posted about Creative’s little, shall we say, quirk whereby the digital output on the Creative X-Fi Digital I/O module never works when Windows starts even though the little check box is, indeed, checked.

Well, I just stumbled upon this little exe (3.5k!) that you can just drop into your Startup folder and will fix the digital output every time Windows starts.

Remember, that dropping a program into the Startup folder creates a link to the program and doesn’t copy the program itself. If you want to copy the program instead, drag it using the right-mouse button.

Disclaimer

I don’t know who wrote this. I got it from a link in a forum post by a user named Blaise at 25/4/07 9:05:05 AM. I scanned it using AVG Anti-Virus which reported it as clean. I have run it myself and not hit any problems and my machine is still spyware / virus clean.

However, you download and run the program at your own risk. If you discover a problem with it, please let me know, so I can remove this link.

Un-Creative

This is the sort of tiny little glitch that Creative should be able to sort out and issue an update for but their history of bad drivers issued tardily continues. You do wonder how many people work for Creative in the driver / software department. Surely it isn’t a one person show.

Let’s end on a positive note

The Creative X-fi sound-card is the best sounding card I’ve ever owned. The HDA Xplosion is close in default trim (it has user-replaceable op-amps, how brilliantly techy is that?) but suffered from a significant audio delay issue which made watching video (my gaming PC is also a fully-featured PVR) annoying. (Important HDA tip: buy it direct from HDA, it’s a lot cheaper than buying it from a UK online store.)

I am extremely happy with the sound quality of the X-fi. The X-fi Crystalizer effect also works remarkably well and makes everything sound better without any hint of digital processing that usually accompanies such features. In the games which support it (not many, sadly), it also has a positive effect on frame rate which is always welcome.

In short, though the software and driver support is unsatisfactory the card is great.

I’m Impressed… with Microsoft’s Xbox 360 warranty update

It’s always a delight to comment on good news. July 5, 2007 saw Microsoft update their extended warranty package for the Xbox 360.

Red Ring of Death

The Xbox 360 is generally a successful games console with a class-leading online presence and an unmatched seventh-generation games library. The only significant fly in the ointment has been the legend of the red ring of death which some anecdotal reports estimate occurred on a headline-friendly third of all consoles sold. The red ring of death indicates a general hardware failure that can be caused by a number of issues.

We guarantee your Xbox 360 will last… 90 days

While the 360 originally came with a 90-day warranty here in the UK which was later then bumped up to a year for new machines. Outside of the warranty period, a standard-ish repair charge of the best part of £100 was levied for repair or a replacement (as decided by Microsoft). While this warranty is industry standard and the repair / replacement charge not scandalous for a £300 machine, it certainly caused much bad-mouthing and a significant pile of less than satisfied customers.

Microsoft extend themselves

So Microsoft’s announcement that they are now implementing an extended warranty that kicks in if your console shows the red ring of death. (Minor caveat: their wording is specific, this three year warranty doesn’t cover anything else.) This warranty covers the console for three years from the date of purchase, applies to new and previously-sold consoles and will provide a free repair service that includes shipping.

Not only that, customers who had consoles previously repaired from a red ring of death scenario will have their repair costs reimbursed.

One humble pie, please

While it could be argued that Microsoft should have made a more reliable console in the first place (both Sony and Nintendo have managed to produce reliable seventh-generation consoles), this step by Microsoft is outstanding. Not only is the action itself worthy of applause but the manner in which it has been delivered. Below is the Open Letter from Peter Moore on the subject:

To our Xbox Community:

You’ve spoken, and we’ve heard you. Good service and a good customer experience are areas of the business that we care deeply about. And frankly, we’ve not been doing a good enough job.  

Some of you have expressed frustration with the customer experiences you have had with Xbox 360; frustration with having to return your console for service after receiving the general hardware error message on the console.

The majority of customers who own Xbox 360 consoles have had a terrific experience from their first day, and continue to, day in and day out. But when anyone questions the reliability of our product, or our commitment to our customers, it’s something I take very seriously.

We have been following this issue closely, and with on-going testing have identified several factors that can cause a general hardware failure indicated by three flashing red lights on the console. To address this issue, and as part of our ongoing work, we have already made certain improvements to the console.

We are also implementing some important policy changes intended to keep you in the game, worry-free.

As of today, all Xbox 360 consoles are covered by an enhanced warranty program to address specifically the general hardware failures indicated by the three flashing red lights on the console. This applies to new and previously-sold consoles. While we will still have a general one year console warranty (two years in some countries), we are announcing  today a three-year warranty that covers any console that displays a three flashing red lights error message. If a customer has an issue indicated by the three flashing red lights, Microsoft will repair the console free of charge—including shipping—for three years from the console’s purchase date. We will also retroactively reimburse any of you who paid for repairs related to problems indicated by this error message in the past. In doing so, Microsoft stands behind its products and takes responsibility to ensure that every Xbox 360 console owner continues to have a fantastic gaming experience.

If we have let any of you down in the experience you have had with your Xbox 360, we sincerely apologize. We are taking responsibility and are making these changes to ensure that every Xbox 360 owner continues to have a great experience. 

This will take a few days to roll out globally, and I appreciate your continued patience as we launch this program. I’ve posted an FAQ that should address some additional questions, and we’ll update it over the next few days.

I want to thank you, on behalf of all us at Microsoft, for your loyalty.

The tone of this apology feels sincere and skilfully avoids self-aggrandisement or making unconvincing or weak excuses.

Not cheap

This activity will not come cheap either. Reports state that it is expected to cost Microsoft between $1.05 billion and $1.15 billion. That a one followed by nine (count ’em) zeroes. Ouch.

Slimm Says

While it is possible to come up with cunning business reasons for this announcement, this is a great result for Microsoft’s customers. It reaffirms their importance to Microsoft and makes them feel more secure in their current purchase or in making a new purchase.

Customer satisfaction and confidence really is the lifeblood of a company. If a company can keep that, they can survive. Even when a company suffers an ‘injury,’ such as high hardware failure rates, they can survive if they can continue to instill confidence.

I’m impressed with this policy change from Microsoft and applaud it wholeheartedly. I’m still saving up for an Xbox 360 (I was before this announcement) and this only makes my intended purchase more certain.

Why Backwards Compatibility Is Important

I’ve made a handful of posts about the backwards compatibility (commonly referred to as BC) features of the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 (PS3). In summary, Microsoft haven’t really bothered and Sony have.

Microsoft’s last BC update was April 2007, three months ago. It is unlikely there will be another update until autumn and that is unlikely to feature much joy for the BC crowd. Only a third of my original Xbox games are listed as working on Xbox 360.

Sony’s last BC update was last week with the 1.82 system software though I haven’t tested my few non-working games again yet. Almost all of my PS2 games work, most of them without noticeable issues. Not only that, they look significantly better and play smoother than they did on my PS2 and, in the case of multi-platform games, usually look sharper and play smoother than the equivalent Xbox version.

Cold Hard Cash

So is BC really important? Yes and here is why. I’m buying old PS2 games. I’ve bought about ten over the past couple of weeks each for a couple of pounds. Some were second-hand, some are new. I haven’t paid for than a fiver for any of them. Even if I’m only contributing a few pounds to Sony’s coffers, that is a few pounds that could have been going on visiting old Xbox games and into Microsoft’s wallet.

While the financial side may seem inconsequential consider that according to www.vgchartz.com there have been 3.57 million PlayStation 3’s sold (by June 2007). Even if my buying generated Sony just a couple of dollars and every PS3 owner did the same Sony would receive a very handy:

$7,140,000

Now Microsoft have sold 10.07 million Xbox 360’s. If the same financial logic is applied to that, it means Microsoft could have squandered:

$20,140,000

You know, that’s getting to be a significant sum of money. Even the fat back pocket of Bill Gates couldn’t object to that.

Warm Cosy Feeling

Not only is there the financial aspect to consider but also the feeling a consumer gets when they feel they are getting a bit of extra value out of their expensive shiny purchase. With each of Sony’s agreeably frequent updates, someone somewhere is getting a better experience with their PS3 than they were before.

It may be in enhanced backward compatibility, it may be in playback of more video formats, it may be in being able to use your old PS2 rumble pad or an PS2 arcade stick, it may be in DVD and PS1 and PS2 video upscaling and smoothing, it may be in industry standard multimedia network connectivity.

In a couple of areas, Sony are simply playing catch-up to Microsoft (network connectivity, for example) but the feeling is one of extra value for the consumer. When updates are released for either console, the consumer feels that the company is still actively working on their behalf and that is a good feeling. At the moment, Sony are releasing updates more frequently and with more significant features. Microsoft updates seem more targeted to tempting consumers to part with more cash. At this rate, I feel Sony will soon leave Microsoft behind in every area, not just backward compatibility.

Now all Sony needs to really drag themselves back into this console generation is a whopping pile of great games. :D

Super, indeed, fi

Superfi logo

After returning my projector to Superfi, Panasonic dragged their heels in collecting the unit (it took them nearly two weeks). Over a week later and Panasonic still haven’t offered any resolution at all. Somewhat fed up, I called Superfi and strongly requested a refund.

To their very great credit, they took this request seriously and immediately put me in touch with the person who could make it happen. The lady dealing with it simply took my name and request and gathered the other information herself from Superfi’s records and the Coventry branch. This was refreshing as it meant I didn’t have to re-explain the entire situation to another person.

A little while later I was called and made an offer. Superfi had told Panasonic that they didn’t want the projector back. Superfi obviously want to keep their sale and so suggested an equivalent Sony projector (the VPL-HS60) and refunding the difference in price. I rejected this offer because I was thinking about moving to an LCD / Plasma television if I got the refund. Superfi asked what product I would like to replace my projector with and I requested the Samsung LE40M87. It was on Amazon for about £1,000 but wasn’t in stock. Superfi said they’d get back to me after contacting their Samsung sales rep.

A short while later I was called with the news that Samsung did not have any stock of the LE40M87 and didn’t think they would be getting any until July! They also couldn’t match Amazon’s price and said that they would normally sell it for £1,500. Looking on the internet, the average price excluding delivery seems to be £1,100 and all the places that advertise it do not seem to have it in stock. The only ‘real’ shop to carry the LE40M87 is Comet and they sell it instore for £1,299.

Then Superfi stepped up to the plate. They said they could get the LE40M87 when it came in and that they would match the price of the projector (£1,200). They also offered to loan me a brand new Samsung LE40R87 (the M87’s predecessor) until the M87 arrived. They also offered to deliver the R87 free-of-charge the following day (they normally levy £25), a Saturday, by the way.

I decided to accept this offer and am absolutely delighted with the loan and delivery of a R87 until the M87 arrives. I may be paying a little over the odds when compared to an internet store but I am getting a terrific loan television until the M87 arrives (the R87 is a fabulous television in its own right, it was brand new and it’s also a 40 incher), I used my projector for about three months (in total spread over the course of about six months) and I feel far happier about resolving potential problems with real people at a local store who know my name.

Isn’t it nice when sellers treat you well, even after they’ve got your money?

Only one hurdle to go now. Superfi have got to provide the LE40M87. I’ll post back in July with, I trust, the good news.

Eye-sore

Panasonic logo

Panasonic PT-AX100E
My replacement Panasonic AX100 projector has become faulty. I’ve only had it three months. I’ve returned it to Superfi today for repair. I also asked them to ask Panasonic to provide me with the option of a replacement or refund. It will be interesting to see what transpires with that request.

Regarding Superfi, I sent them an email detailing the problem and told them I would be in later today to return it. They made the effort to call me first thing this morning and tell me that their weekly shipment to headquarters was scheduled for 10am and if I got the projector in before that time it could be moved on straight-away. Splendid.

The fault is something to do with the iris mechanism. This controls the amount of light that is emitted from the projector and, according to the manual, contributes significantly to the life of the bulb. Well, the bulb’s still going strong…

The most visible symptom is this: the projector turns itself off when you turn it on.

The “Self Check” option in the hidden / system menu places a red light next to the word “Iris”.

Looking back now, I can see that I first had an inkling of a problem about a month ago. The picture suddenly lost life and vibrancy. I had been operating the projector on its “Normal” picture setting up to this point and now the picture was underwhelming. It was fixed by changing the picture mode to “Vivid Cinema” and I remained very happy.

A couple of weeks ago, I noticed a slight discolouration of the picture on my browser window (which is predominantly white). The left edge of the picture was pink, the right edge blue. As time went on, this got worse and was joined by the bottom half of the picture being tinged grey. While playing games or watching movies, the discolouration was not noticable but, as I say, when using the computer it is distracting so.

About a week ago, the projector started misbehaving in the first couple of minutes after you switch it on. About thirty seconds to one minute after switching on, the image would suddenly go extremely dim for about half-a-second, then return to normal, then dim again, then return to normal and be fine until the projector was switched off.

A few days after this behaviour manifested itself, it started to switch itself off when turned on about one time in three. Now, it switches itself off every time.

I did manage a workaround however. You turn it on. It turns itself off. You can then hard switch it off using the power switch on the back. Wait a second or two for the light to go off and switch it back on. Power up and the projector will display a picture until you turn it off again. Then you’ll have to do this again.

Good Superfi

Had a much nicer experience with Superfi this week than with the repair / replacement of my projector. I was having an issue with 1080p output of the PlayStation 3 with certain content (specifically, Gran Turismo HD Concept 2.0) whereby the picture would go blank for a second or two frequently. The issue doesn’t occur on 720p or 1080i output (as set in the PS3 system menu).

My PS3 is plugged into a receiver and the projector is plugged into that. The problem doesn’t occur when the projector is plugged directly into the PS3 and so the HDMI cable linking the PS3 and receiver was the obvious culprit. I was using a £10 HDMI cable bought off eBay which had functioned perfectly with an upscaling Denon DVD player at 1080p but which I figured was having dramas here. So I purchased a £50 QED HDMI cable from Superfi and explained the situation to them.

However, using this more expensive cable made no difference whatsoever (as it turns out the problem is reported on the web and is generally thought to be a PS3 HDCP quirk). Superfi agreed to take the cable back and refund the price without any hassle at all. Indeed, in this instance, dealing with them has been a distinct pleasure.