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Thank you for visiting my Scooby1970 blogspot. I update whenever I can and when I have something interesting to share. You will also find published work of mine at Gaming Illustrated. Gaming Illustrated is where most of my work now takes place, but I will transfer some of my more popular articles from there over to this blog, in extended format.

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:) Mark

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Sony ZX600 Headphone's Review

For the love of music
I love music, and everywhere I go I have music playing on my portable iPod or Mobile Device. Although I’d had a decent pair of headphones for a few years for home use, I’d only used good quality in-the-ear headphones for travelling. A time came when I needed over-the-ear headphones that would match my needs. The boxes that had to be ticked were first and foremost good sound, with a punchy bass, and clear mid and top ranges, plus good looks and a price that was affordable.

So over a few weeks, I spent much time doing numerous side-by-side sound test’s of different headphones. Thankfully, the local HMV has a gangway of 20 pairs of headphones all lined up, and with 3.5mm connections to attach your listening device (in my case this was a Samsung S3 with MP3 files ripped at 320kbps, and a wide variety of headphones from the very cheap (£15 Sony’s and Skullcandy’s) to the very expensive (£350 Beat’s Audio).

I listened to a variety of styles of music, from pop to rock, and even a bit of classical. I also listened at different volumes, and with my graphic equaliser on and off at various settings. My ideal headphones though would have sounded perfect with the equaliser turned off, giving off the qualities I wanted.

Specifications & Quality
There was one pair of headphones I kept coming back to, the Sony ZX600’s. With their 40mm neodymium drivers and 6Hz-25kHz frequency range, along with their stylishly good looks, these headphones sounded simply stunning with everything I threw at them.
The cheaper headphones, and even some of the more expensive models sometimes had not enough bass and way too much treble, while some of the more expensive headphones (and I’m pointing at you Dr Dre!) had way too much bass and an average mid and top end. The £60 Sony ZX600’s stood out because they had excellent sound at all range’s no matter what they played.
As can be seen in the photograph, the ZX600’s are good looking headphones, they are not too heavy, but have a good weight, while the ear-pads fit over the ears perfectly. The cable is of a thin and flat type, meaning that it does not get tangled when stored. The headphones themselves do not fold, although the ear-pieces can be turned to make the headphones fairly flat.

The Sony ZX600 headphones were put through some strict tests before buying, competing with headphones from all manufacturers, and all costs. Each time I kept going back to them, because on a price-per-performance level they outshone every other pair of headphones that I tried. Without telling a few people who I looked around the store with, I asked them to try the headphones, and they came up with the same conclusion.

Listening to the headphones in the home environment, especially when the room is dark, the headphones shine like no other headphones I’ve tried. They have great stereo-separation  with the music literally filling your brain, and the bass is thumpy without giving you a headache. As for the mid and high ends, you can hear every cymbal splash, every cow-bell and every guitar note plucked clean and crisp. Even on the go, they sound amazing, and when played at high volume, they do not let any sound escape, so you don’t annoy anyone around you.

Overall they’re an amazing buy, and are available from time to time on special offer, which ,ake them even better value!

Monday, 21 April 2014

The 5 Best Photo Editing Software Programs

People are taking photographs more and more these days, in no small part to the fact that their mobile devices such as phones and tablets now have very good quality camera’s built into them. For a lot of people though, there is a need to edit photographs, allowing you to perform things such as layers, or take objects out of the picture or simply change the colours to make them more vibrant, or even just black and white.

There are a wealth of options out there today, but this article looks at the five best free photo editing software programs that are out there today. Each one has been used extensively by myself, and each one has a reason why it has been used more or less than the other programs.

For many people, the holy-ground of photo editing and manipulation is the PhotoShop program. An expensive and complete package that many professionals use. However, there are other programs that professionals and nonprofessionals alike use which do the job without the overkill of PhotoShop. Some are simple to use, others very similar to PhotoShop, but all are free to use and do the job more than adequately.

GIMP 2.8
No photo editing list would be complete without GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) on the list, and for a good reason too. GIMP 2,8 is used by professional photographers more and more because of it’s free nature, it’s feature-packed options and the fact that it does things that PhotoShop doesn’t do, and with the addition of free-add-on’s, it forever getting better and more customisable.

To a lot of people the idea of a free program that is as good as PhotoShop is quite absurd, however GIMP is that program. As of GIMP 2.8, it now features a single-window mode, which means that it’s even more accessible to people without much knowledge of such packages, and it looks great too!

Feature-wise we’re talking major league programming here, with an infinitely customisable interface, rich photo-enhancing capabilities, multiple layers, advanced digital retouching, hardware-support for almost any device imaginable, a huge range of file formats that it can deal with and it’s available across Windows, Linux, Mac Operating Systems and more.

It’s a great program, with a lot to offer, although for many it has a lot of features that the average person will just never use (just like PhotoShop). GIMP has a high learning curve, and is ideal for people with a bit of a background in photo manipulation programs. It can’t be faulted, and it is updated on a regular basis meaning it always has the newest features fast.

PhotoFiltre 6
Although a little known program, PhotoFiltre is the go-to photo manipulation program for myself. It is available in a number of versions, catering for all levels of ability. Even the most basic version of PhotoFiltre though (version 6) is an absolute beast when it comes to helping you with your photo editing.

PhotoFiltre can be thought of as PhotoShop without all the crap that you don’t need, put nicely into a well designed package that allows you to edit photos quickly and effectively. It’s fast, well supported and will have your photo’s looking better after just a few minutes of use.

As for it’s features, PhotoFiltre is now slouch, as it has all that you need to edit your photos, with a great range of filters, selection tools, retouching tools, various brushes and paints to edit photos and the ability to add additional plug-in’s to the program to the things that you need. The more advanced versions also have layer support.

PhotoFiltre really is a great program, and one which deserves to be used a lot more by people. It’s available for Windows in various versions from the basic free-version, a more advanced free version and a paid versions, and there is also a Linux version which is currently in the works. Each of them is ideal for anyone interested in working with photographs and making them look even better.

Pixlr Editor
Unlike GIMP and PhotoFiltre, Pixlr Editor is a browser based photo editor that runs quite happily on any machine as long as your browser supports it. Pixlr Editor is quickly becoming my second-most go-to photo editor, as being in a browser, it’s quick to access and simple to use.

Compared to the previous offerings, Pixlr Editor is on a similar standing on what you can achieve with it, and as it’s browser based, it keeps getting updated itself, and you can edit your photos no matter what machine you are on, even if it normally struggles with photo editing software.

Pixlr Editor features a host of great editing features, with a great array of filters (including Vignette without having to add a plugin or add-on as you have to in some other programs), colour adjustments, layers and a wide selection of touch-up tools. There are not as many file options as in other editing programs, however the most common file formats are supported.

Pixlr Editor is quick and easy to use, and has some good quality features that are simple to use and give a good result. While it may not be as customisable as the others, it’s great to use when you want something done quickly and want a good result.

Where Paint.Net excels is it’s ability to be a middle ground for all of the above programs that have been mentioned. Paint.Net is like a combination of everything you love about GIMP, PhotoShop, Paint, PhotoFiltre and Pixlr Editor, lovingly packaged and quite simple to use.

Paint.Net has a great selection of tools to enable your photo’s to be edited quickly and simply. The designers of Paint.Net have tried to make the fasted photo editing software available, and to some extent, Paint.Net does feel fast, however, it’s all about preference, and for some reason I’ve never really got-on with Paint.Net as much as other software, that said, it’s a great program with a lot to offer.

Picasa 3.9
Google has this wonderful offering, a simple yet powerful photo editing software program that has some great results. Although it doesn’t have all the features of a GIMP 2.8 or PhotoFiltre 6, it does have some nice filters and simple cropping effects that allow you to make an effective looking picture very quickly.

Picasa 3.9 concentrates on the most popular filters, such as fading or colourising photo’s and adding vignette effects to them. As a stand alone program, Picasa will load in all the photos on your PC, thankfully there is the ability to hide any photo’s or albums that you do not wish to have in your editing list.

As mentioned, this is meant to be a quick fix for photographs, with minimal cropping tools, you won’t be able to copy and paste or crop to your hearts content, or even resize your photograph easily, however you will be able to get good results and send them quickly to a new folder or to Google+.

Picasa 3.9 is a good alternative program to have on your PC, and although not used as the main photo editing software on my PC, it is there for times when I want something done quickly and differently.

There is no one piece of photo editing software that everyone is going to like. Some people have different preferences for different programs mentioned in this list, while others will only ever use one piece of software.

If I was to recommend one of these photo editing programs, it would be PhotoFiltre. It is the easiest to use, and gives the best results, and once you’ve added all the plugin’s, it becomes a very powerful piece of software that you’ll find yourself using daily.

Friday, 28 March 2014

Installing Linux To Make An Old PC Better

You have an old PC or corrupt version of Windows...
Many people use their PCs and Laptops until the machine slows down to a halt and dies. This slow-down of machines is caused by many things, usually because the hardware can no longer keep up with the demands of modern software, plus a full hard-drive full of unused programs, viruses, Trojans and general age of the Operating System meaning it’s no longer a viable option.

You can of course go out and buy a new laptop (we’ll stick to laptop’s, as this is what the majority of people buy now, and everything applies to both them and PCs), although that will cost you a lot of money. There is another option which can bring even the oldest netbook (low-powered mini-laptop) back to life and alive and kicking. It’s a simple process, but one which many people are afraid of, because it involves that scary word “Linux”.

Do not be afraid of “Linux” though, as these days there are many versions around, and it is now a fully-fledged and tried-and-tested Operating System that is on the same level as the new Windows versions that are currently in use. The reality is, once the hard part has been done, and your old PC has a shiny new Operating System on it, you won’t even realise it’s not Windows! New versions of Linux are simple to use, intuitive, and run straight out of the box, usually bundled with a host of software, meaning that you don’t even have to download anything!

What are the best versions of Linux out there?
To make things as simple as possible, I will only look at three versions of Linux, each of them based on one particular type of Linux, but all very different. Don’t be afraid of the term “Linux”, it’s just the same as “Windows”, in that it’s just a shell that runs the programs you need.

My first choice is Linux Mint 16 Cinnamon Edition, the most complete and user-friendly version of Linux. Once installed, Windows users will be instantly familiar with the interface, it’s slick and modern, and looks very similar to Windows 7. It’s requirements for running  very low, at only 512MB of RAM, 5GB of hard-drive space, a graphics card capable of 800x600 resolution, and a CD or USB drive. Once installed, Mint runs smoothly, and really does have everything you need readily installed.

Secondly, for those wanting to experiment a bit more to play with, and a different experience, there’s Ubuntu 13.10 with it’s Unity interface. This Operating System looks a little different to a normal Windows set-up, but is again intuitive, and super-fast compared to Windows. Minimum requirements are a 700mhz processor, 512MB of RAM, 5GB hard-drive space, a graphics card capable of 1024x768 screen resolution and a CD or USB drive. Ubuntu is more for the power-user, but is a great replacement for those who want more.

My third option is Puppy Linux, which is ideal for those with a really old and low powered laptop or PC. System requirements for Puppy are only a 333mhz CPU, 64MB of RAM, minimal disk space and a graphics card that works! Puppy Linux looks like Windows, but is much faster and although basic compared to the other versions mentioned, it will resurrect your old netbook or Laptop and make it work in ways you never thought possible.

How do I install Linux onto my old machine?
The first thing you need to do is go to the downloads page of your select Linux and download the correct version of Linux for your machine. All this means is either the 32-bit or 64-bit version, which will usually be a .iso disk image file.

Once you've downloaded the .iso file, you need to burn it to a CD/DVD (you can use USB drives, Google for how to create an image with a USB drive). Simply click on the downloaded .iso file and the computer will burn the image of the Linux distribution that you want to CD or DVD.

Insert the newly burned CD/DVD into the machine you want to install Linux on, and for best results turn the off and then back on again. The CD/DVD will then begin to load, however, do not worry, as this will not usually install Linux on the machine, but give you a Live CD that let’s you use the machine as if Linux was installed onto it.

If you’re happy with the way your computer is working, simply click “Install” from the desktop, and follow the on-screen instructions. It’s that simple! After a short while, your old laptop or PC will be as good as new with your chosen version of Linux on it.

What next?
Have fun! If you've chosen Mint as an Operating System it’ll be instantly familiar to you, as will Puppy Linux. If you've installed Ubuntu, then don’t be afraid to experiment! Which ever Linux you have installed, visit the Store which can be found in the options, and start downloading programs! For the most part they are free, and depending on which version of Linux you installed, there will already be a selection of programs installed ready for you to run, such as Libre Office (to replace MS Office), Chrome or Firefox browser (to replace Internet Explorer), Gimp (to replace Photoshop) and so much more! They may have different names, but these programs do the same thing!

You’re machine with Linux freshly installed will be like a new machine. If you don’t like the version of Linux you have installed, simply put another version on there, although if you stick with Linux Mint 16 Cinnamon you shouldn't go far wrong to having the perfect computer, as it’s a stunning OS that’s leaps and bounds better than Windows. If you want to download your favourite WIndows program, there are many alternative in the Store on your new Linux. For most people though, just using the internet is all that a laptop or PC is needed for, so go ahead and surf!