By Collin Allen

Xbox 360 HDMI+Audio Output

September 17, 2007

After purchasing my new HDMI-equipped Xbox 360, I decided to hook the console up to my LCD computer monitor to check out the video quality the system can produce. As I wrote about earlier, Best Buy pestered me throughout my visit with offers of pricey cables, including a $40 HDMI to DVI adapter, an $80 HDMI cable, and more. Not wanting to pay those ridiculously marked-up prices, I found a much cheaper solution.

Getting high quality video out of the Xbox 360 is quite easy with the help of a $15 (shipped) HDMI to DVI cable from NewEgg. Connecting the console and the display is a snap, and the video settings are easily adjusted to match the native resolution of the LCD panel.

Audio, on the other hand, is another matter. The placement of the HDMI port on the Xbox 360 is quite poor. It resides directly below the standard A/V output, and the component+composite cable that ships with the premium console is too bulky to plug in above the HDMI cable. It’s only possible to plug in one at a time, as one connector blocks the other. Frustrated, I turned to Google to see if anyone else had run into this design oversight. As it turns out, the Xbox 360 Elite package comes with an HDMI cable and an audio adapter cable with a much thinner plug. Unfortunately, the audio adapter cable is not available as a separate purchase, and can only be bought from Microsoft as a $50 HDMI+audio adapter cable kit (or on eBay for $30 and higher). Clearly a better answer was needed.

I took a trip to my local GameStop store to see what kind of cabling they had in stock, and I managed to score quite a deal that easily solved my audio problem. A standard composite+stereo audio cable, presumably from a now-discontinued Xbox 360 Core package, was available for $5, and it had a thin plug attached.

Using the HDMI to DVI cable and the regular video/audio cable, I can get crystal clear video and stereo audio out of the Xbox 360 for a combined total of $20, which trumps Microsoft’s kit by a great margin. After digging up some additional stereo adapters of my own, I now have a pair of headphones connected, ready to play Halo 3 in crisp 1280x1024 video without waking the neighbors.

Xbox 360 First Impressions

September 10, 2007

In preparation for the impending release of Halo 3, I finally got around to picking up an Xbox 360 yesterday, after nearly two years of waiting. Best Buy has stock of some of the newer consoles with a built-in HDMI port, so I opted to get one of those, so I could hook it up to a DVI computer LCD if need be. After being bombarded with offers of expensive extended warranties, unnecessary accessories, and “nitrogen injected cables”, I got out of there with just the new console and a game. After unboxing it and playing for a while, these were some of my impressions:


The power brick for this console is huge. It’s quite literally the size of a standard red masonry brick, only a little longer. Taking a slightly modified computer power cord for AC input, the adapter consumes just over 200 Watts of electricity when fully active. It has a big indicator LED to let you know when it’s working or failing (yikes), and at least one fan for cooling. This is one power-hungry system.

Cables & Wireless

Xbox 360 came with everything I needed to get it up and running, including a few extras like a wired headset and RF controller. Noting that the headphone jack on the controller is the same mini port on the audio unit from the original Xbox, I was pleased to discover that my Halo 2 headset attached and worked with no trouble (sans the volume control and mute button). Being able to remotely boot up the console from the couch with the Xbox button is the ultimate in advanced laziness technology. Count me in!

Performance and Games

The system is louder than an off-the-shelf original Xbox, but the noise isn’t too much of an issue. Graphics performance is quite good from what I’ve seen: high polygon models, textures heaping with detail, and plenty of processing power to sustain high framerates will serve the 360 well for years to come. I was decidedly unimpressed with gameplay in Gears of War, and felt thrown into action with little instruction. Normally, I enjoy first-person-shooter games, but the lack of a constant targeting reticle, somewhat confusing controls, and weak plot will send me back to the store hoping to swap for BioShock or another title.

Overall, the Xbox 360 seems to be a fine console with plenty of horsepower and extras, but my (admittedly short) gameplay has not impressed me so far, save for the graphics. Here’s hoping Halo 3 will make it all come together… Only 16 days to go.

iPod touch

September 6, 2007

I’m sure you’ve all read the big news from Apple today: everything is smaller, and with video. Oh, and a touch-capable iPod, with WiFi and mobile iTunes Music Store. As far as I’m concerned (in my spacious AT&T-free Mountain Time zone) Apple took the best parts of the iPhone and the iPod, and made an ultra-slick little device that’s a mere 8mm thin. I couldn’t be more excited about it, not just because of the killer features and gorgeous interface, but for the true mobile web.

I’ve never owned a portable device that was capable of browsing the web, and I think Apple’s implementation is just spot-on. I can’t wait to develop for both the standard web browsers plus the iPod touch. Many have already jumped on board with the mobile web as presented by the iPhone, and I hope to add my skills to the fray, including CSS and JavaScript. I’ve been using both technologies full time for the last 6 months now, and am excited by the “limitation” of a small screen. Using a smaller space will undoubtedly lead to some simple interfaces and creative solutions for the pocket web world.

Inkscape and X11

August 24, 2007

While attempting to install the open source vector graphics program Inkscape, I found that I needed to install the latest version of X11 (a window system used on Unix systems as well as Mac OS X). However, I couldn’t easily find the installer on Apple’s site, but I did discover it buried on my MacBook Pro Install Disc 1 at: /System/Installation/Packages/X11User.pkg. It’s also likely available for installation during system setup and while booted off the disc, however no reboot is necessary to install and run X11.

Seagate Hard Drive RMA

August 10, 2007

In the past, I’ve had the best luck with Seagate brand hard drives – avoiding Maxtor like the plague – but just recently I had a 320 GB Seagate SATA drive start failing on me. It started with what sounded like a few small read/write head hiccups, and turned into widespread sector failure, causing several diagnostic utilities to red flag the drive.

I bought the drive from NewEgg, but they referred me to Seagate for support and returns. With no other alternatives available and a failing drive on my hands, I got in touch with Seagate and filled out their online return merchandise form. Just a few days after shipping off the dying drive, I received an email letting me know that a brand new drive was on its way to me. I’m happy to be kept in the loop while the return is in progress, and I’ll update this post when I get the new drive!

While I had to cover the nominal shipping costs myself, I feel compelled to note how easy and fast their service is. I’m attempting to make a habit of documenting good customer service as well as the bad. After having dealt with some online returns that are a real hassle, Seagate is a refreshing change from some of the other rather lame options out there.

Update: Received an entirely different “Certified Repaired” hard drive in a very well packed box! It works great and passes all my tests!