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    • FIFA 13 (Xbox 360) / Xbox 360 Game / 13 Readings / 10 Ratings
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      06.11.2012 02:10
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      It will take some getting used to, but can be a thoroughly enjoyable game now that it's been patched

      Building on the success of last year's outing, EA Sports have released FIFA 13 to critical acclaim from many within the gaming industry. The consumers, however, are less than satisfied.

      -Menus-
      The same old FIFA menus are back. Straight forward and simple to use, with a boxed design. It flows well when sliding across to select something, but when selected, the menu still pauses for a moment, while your selected player runs off into the distance to continue a completely irrelevent animation. During this time, the game will communicate with the servers for seemingly no reason whatsoever.

      Access to the EASC (EA Sports Club) feature has been improved. A simple 'X' on your Xbox 360 pad will take you there, and from here, you can see where your favourite team is in the league standings of FIFA players, while also being able to purchase items from the shop which will help you along your FIFA path. Be it Pro improvements, extra coins in Ultimate Team or a free pass for the next match, it's all in there, and the purchase can be made with EASC Credits (bronze in colour, to help separate it from the gold coins you use in Ultimate Team) which can be earned match-by-match, or bought using Microsoft Points and/or cash from a Credit/Debit card. This is essentially another money-making scheme from EA for those who want to get ahead of the game quickly, and are willing to pay through the nose to do it, which is majorly frustrating when playing against them online.

      -Licenses-
      All major leagues, bar the Italian Serie A league, are licensed, and an update brought about Napoli's kit change, as the stock game had a generic strip listed due to licensing disagreements. The Saudi Professional League makes its debut alongside the familiar leagues of FIFA 12, while recently-relegated Glasgow Rangers are included despite their current place in the Scottish Divison 3.

      International additions this year include India, Paraguay and Venezuela (who have fictional players in the default starting XI, but this is editable), and, surprisingly, the Czech Republic

      -Appearances-
      Comparisons with Pro Evolution Soccer are usually made here, with FIFA again having most of the correct lettering and numbering, as official licensed vendors of the teams/leagues. This means that Premier League numbering has the Barclay's lion on it. A small, yet satisfying point that makes the experience feel more in depth.

      Stadiums are also, once again, excellent. All developed to the specific scale of their real-life counterparts. Player faces, however, still lack that customisation at "smaller" teams, meaning even the most recognisable player that team has, will be generic footballer number four. Sad that EA don't do a new round of faces during the year that they develop the next game, instead electing to carry the last ones over with minor adjustments and additions.

      -In-Game-
      The cosmetic side of the game has once again improved, as well as the additional control of 'RB+A' for the passing player to make a run. The goalkeepers are slightly better and more aware of the "sweaty" (read: Barcelona) goals that were scored on FIFA 12. Finesse shooting has been made less reliable, but is still there if the player doesn't power up as much as they would if they wanted to place it in the top corner, instead placing it under the keeper. Passing is also a little more manual, and the tackling has been made easier. Also included are mini-games (also available in the menu under 'Skill Games'), which you can earn medals for. These include free kick taking, penalty taking, chip shots, volleys, and so on. Scoring a set number of points for hitting/clearing targets will unlock the medals, unlocking achievements, XP and EASC Credits (remember, the bronze ones to buy things with!) to improve your playability. It's just a shame you can't buy a "turn all players into Dolphins" one once you've done it, because that would make my day.

      Negatively, there are serious issues with the game's coding. One of the major problems is the lack of a visible ball in certain games. Yes. The ball disappears and doesn't come back.

      EA claim that this is rare, however there are enough videos on the internet to tell you otherwise. And as of writing, I have not seen it patched, almost two months after the game was released.

      Off-the-ball-player intelligence also seems to have nose-dived. Once upon a time, just looking at the player would have him setting off to run, either taking the defender with him to give you space, or for them to find space while the defender comes out to tackle you, by which point you will have put the ball into the runner. Now, the players make the run, but will stop randomly - usually as you're about to play the ball - like they believe themselves to be offside. In my opinion, it is down to the player to play the perfect ball. The runner should just keep running until he KNOWS he's offside, at which point he can wait for play to catch up, or run back onside.

      The ability to control the runner was a feature added to Pro Evolution Soccer 2013 this year, and has opened a new dimension to how a manager should be able to control the team he's managing. FIFA will need something to combat this, as currently this surpasses FIFA's "Artificial Intelligence".

      -Online-
      Online is the key player for FIFA 13 this year. EASC, as explained, is all server-based, meaning that the EA Servers know how much you have, how much you will earn and what you can and cannot buy from the shop. Along with that, Pro Clubs makes its triumphant return, only this time in a season format, where you can claim promotion as champions, or be relegated from your division. There's also an occasional cup window that opens and closes during points of the real-life months, allowing you to compete in something different and try and fill your trophy cabinet.

      After much hassling from the FIFA community, EA have given in and implemented a filter to omit clubs that use Be A Pro Goalkeepers or use an 'Any' (control of all players, rather than one) from the search, making it a much more enjoyable experience. However, once again, EA presumably didn't test this feature, as it didn't work at launch. It didn't work weeks after launch, so I gave up on the game mode.

      It also continues to pack a simple 1v1 season, which gives you 3pts for a win and 1 for a draw against your opponent in a short season, extending the playability of the online 1v1 mode without it getting tedious.

      A note: all online features require an online pass. These cost 800 Microsoft Points (the equivalent of £8), so take this into account when considering buying a pre-owned copy. All BRAND NEW copies come with the pass inside.

      -Ultimate Team-
      Once again, EA Sports' biggest money-spinner is in. Create a club, or carry your club over from FIFA 12 (this should give you a bonus pack or two) and it's all about playing matches with your fantasy team and winning more coins to buy bigger, stronger, better and rarer players from packs or from the market.

      Of course, once again, EA allows you to pay cash, or earn coins steadily by completing tasks during matches. Winning by a big margin, avoiding the use of fouls and not being caught offside all contribute to your points tally, so keep it simple, but a word of warning - watch out for addictive behaviour. This is like collecting cards and/or stickers back in the day, and if buying this for your kids, make sure they watch all the time. It's a gamble, buying packs and hoping for a rare card, but they are rare for a reason.

      A major issue with this mode has been the disappearance of coins and players purchased with real money. EA have apparently looked into this issue, and patched it.

      -Game Modes-
      EAS FC, Ultimate Team, Online Seasons and the Skill Games, you can also play a career as a Player (Pro) or a Manager. This is slightly different, in that you can't be a Player-Manager now, unlike previous titles.

      Other Game Modes include Tournaments and Be A Pro Friendlies.

      -Overall-
      The game is excellent and a clear improvement on the last year in places, but once again falls behind in others. The major issues that EA really should have noticed during the testing period are unacceptable, to the point where the BBC's Watchdog programme actually briefly covered the game on their show. There are still flaws that must be sorted out. Hopefully, before the Christmas rush, EA will have sorted them (on previous experience, you'll probably be waiting until FIFA 14 for them to be fixed) and it will justify its current price of around the £30 mark.

      The service from EA lets this game down, as the patches are not forthcoming quick enough, nor are they frequent, however this has been the same for many FIFA games over the years, with the consumer just putting up with it.

      If these problems affect you if you purchase the game, be aware of your return rights. Usually, the game cannot be returned once the seal has been broken.

      UPDATE: Patches have been issued for the game, which have improved and fixed most issues listed above. Another will presumably come after the January transfer window has shut in the real world of football, updating players with new clubs and fixing other issues that may have been brought to attention.

      Star rating improved to reflect these patches. The amount of time it has taken EA to implement these was considerable, however.

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    • More +
      25.09.2012 04:06
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      A good game at a reasonable price that could be a FIFA-beater with some small improvements.

      Many fans of this popular gaming series know how stale the PES (Winning Eleven in some countries) franchise has become. Many have persistently bemoaned the spiral downwards after changes came after Pro Evolution Soccer 6 - arguably the best PES by far. That is, until now.

      -Menus-
      The first things you'll notice when the disc is loaded in your Xbox is how slick and sophisticated the menus are. Neatly laid out at the bottom are icons which to the average football fan are self-explanatory. But it's okay if you don't know what they are, as selecting over them with the left or right on your control pad will also bring up the competition or the mode's name.

      The menu looks very 21st Century - something that its rival FIFA never seems to be able to master. It also flows well from one to another without the need for load screens or stuttering, which FIFA is known to do as it communicated with the servers and so on.

      -Licenses-
      Loading straight into a match is simple, selecting your team can be a struggle, given the licensing issues with many clubs (mainly Premier League clubs in England) while the biggest teams in the world remain, such as Barcelona, Manchester United and Juventus. Licenses, of course, cover the correct logos, names, kits, players and stadiums - something PES has always lagged behind with. The licences included in this year's version cover the entire Spanish Liga BBVA (La Liga) , Japan's J-League 1 and 2, the Dutch Eredivisie and Ligue 1 from France. Italy's Serie A clubs and the Brasilerao (Brazil) league clubs have licenses in there, but the league omitted their license from the games.

      Competition-wise, this is the only officially licensed UEFA Champions League and Europa League game, with both incorperated into the leagues and with their own game modes.

      -Appearances-
      While the kit name and numbering isn't official, it's passable, and will be correct with the above licensed teams. Player faces are where the game truly gets exciting though, having individually scanned every licensed player possible. The faces are magnificent parallels of their real-life counterparts, and look stunning when in full attire of the team colours.

      The stadiums are also scanned seat-for-seat, license permitting again. Juventus' stadium in particular looks stunning.

      -In-Game-
      The mechanics of the game still need a lot of work if FIFA enthusiasts are going to switch over though. While the controls are simple and effective out of the box, sometimes it's hard to understand why certain things happen, such as the inability to shoot if you're sprinting with the ball. But tactically, the game surpasses FIFA, having added a very intuitive ProActive AI. This is basically the computer controlling the runs of other players in a mature way. Say, there is no left-winger and the midfield in front of you is closing up. The ProActive AI will ensure that the left-back give you an extra option to give the ball to, making the player run into the open space like a real person would. This does appear in FIFA titles, but can be infuriating at times.

      Such things as 'Knuckleball' shots have been included as well, which I'd not heard of until purchasing the game. It requires you to power up your shot bar, then tapping shoot again as he is about to strike the ball. This riffles the ball towards the goal like a rocket, but is a very hard thing to master. If you don't get it right, the power bar will just increase, and you'll sky your shot. Unleashing one of these, however, is very satisfying.

      Goalkeepers have also received some significant upgrades from previous versions, allowing them to be more realistic in situations you would expect them to be. I personally have found average goalkeepers prone to mistakes, such as the inability to get up quick enough after parrying a shot. I guess this is to add realism - you wouldn't expect Stefano Sorrentino to be as reactive as Iker Casillias, for example.

      Holding possession is a doddle in the game, however shooting is where the challenge can come. There is an ability to finesse your shots, but without direction, these will just go straight to the goalkeeper, so try and get them as far into the corner as you can without sending it wide.

      Animations after fouls are much more realistic than FIFA also. The players will argue, shout, confront one another and be dragged away from each other - something taken out of FIFA to promote sportsmanship, even though it is still seen on football pitches the world over. The controversial diving technique is also still included in this installment, as it has been for a number of years from Konami, the developer of the game. Again, a realistic element of football (as prominent as ever in the footballing world today) included for the user to have that ultimate experience while playing the game. Just be careful, because the referee will book you if you clearly dive.

      Certain things you might consider a foul may very well not be, so don't stop play when you think you've won a free kick. The referees seem a lot less strict on this game than on many other versions I've ever seen.

      -Online-
      Of course, Online features are present, allowing you to create a team and take them online to compete against other PESers. It allows transfers of players also, which is a very unique tool to have.

      Online access does require a key which comes packed with brand new copies of the game. Pre-Owned copies will more than likely have had this code used and render it useless. In which case, you must purchase a new one through the game's screens.

      -Game Modes-
      As well as the UEFA Champions League mode, Quick-Play Match mode and Online, there is Football Life, which is your chance to create, well, you, and become a legend through the ranks of the PES League and beyond. With the use of an Xbox Live Vision Camera (available for next-to-nothing these days, and sometimes bundled with You're In the Movies), you can take a photo of your face to plaster onto the Legend edit. I've had mixed experiences with this, as the camera is very sub-standard in quality. Matching the saturation and the red, green and blue with the skin tone can be difficult, but with this function having been in PES for a number of years, I can't understand why Konami haven't allowed users to just select a picture to stick on the Legend from a flash drive, for example. Vision Cameras are massively outdated, but if you can match it up, it will look quite impressive. Not as impressive as FIFA's alternative with Be A Pro building on the official website, but it's still fun, in my experience.

      Become a Legend will take a while to reach the pinnacle of your expectations - you are, after all, starting at the very bottom as a 17 year old breaking into a no-name side and with an agent negotiating with any bigger club you may wish to join. You also earn a wage, XP points that can be spent on upgrades to your performance points, fitness, etc. and you will also unlock items such as boots along the way too.

      Become a Legend is definitely more of a career mode for the long-term.

      -Training Mode-
      The training mode will allow you to practice and master the tricks and techniques in-game in training drills. - a handy tool if you're new to PES, and something that will prompt as soon as you load the game up.

      -Overall-
      The game is enjoyable. The mechanics still need work, as I feel they still act too robotic at times. The fluidity is good, however, and the graphics at their best are a good match for the rivalry with FIFA, and the game modes are plentiful. Become a Legend does take time.

      The game is currently priced at £35 at certain supermarkets such as Tesco and online at Zavvi, however I would expect this to come down as Christmas draws nearer.

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    • lovefilm.com / Internet Site / 24 Readings / 22 Ratings
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      06.07.2012 20:22
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      The post service is great,and I highly recommend it. Great library, but Instant needs work.

      Having been a customer with LoveFilm numerous times over the past three or four years, I've found their service to be excellent. The prices range, particularly if you are a new customer signing up to a trial (some are 14 days, some 30 says, some 90 days, so if you're looking to become a member, look out for the 90 day trials) on a selection of packages.

      The first, and cheapest, is what they call a "starter kit". Priced at £4.89, this allows customers 2 movie discs a month (one at a time), or for an extra £1, you can add games to that selection also.

      The second highest priced is the worst, in my opinion. LoveFilm Instant has been promoted and promised to be a great way to watch films via your laptop, PC, mobile devices, PS3 and Xbox, and at £4.99 a month could have been groundbreaking. There seems to be more of a selection directly from the website than from a streaming app located on the Xbox 360 marketplace. Why this is, I don't know. The selection in general seems rather limited. (I was astounded to find 'Clerks X' on there, but no 'Jay and Silent Bob'.)

      An example of one film missing from the Xbox 360 as opposed to the website is 'Michael Jackson: Life of an Icon.'

      The service itself operated fine, however it did seem to play HD material in SD quality. Whether this was down to a limited broadband speed on my end, I don't know. (HD streams will require a decent broadband connection, whereas SD is a lot less demanding.)

      The TV section was again limited, but there was some good stuff in there, including the likes of the complete 'Only Fools and Horses' collection, as well as all the 'Red Dwarf' episodes also.

      By Post, without streaming, you pay £5.99, and this limits you to 3 discs a month (one at a time). This is a decent deal, but would probably work better if it was 4 discs a month, given most months have 4 weeks in them, and this would allow those that watch a film routinely every week an option to continue to do so.

      The most popular package is split into three - for unlimited streaming and unlimited DVD's and Blu-Ray's in a month, but for only one out at a time, you would pay £7.99. The same package with two discs is £9.99, and the same with three at a time is £13.27 (weird price).

      LoveFilm also do games, which is excellent, however the prices do increase significantly. For unlimited streaming, unlimited DVD's and Blu-Ray's a month and unlimited games (two discs at a time), you would pay £11.22, and for the same, but three at a time, it would be £14.99 a month. The game deals do not require that you have a movie while you have the game(s) so you can just as easily pay the money and rent games constantly.

      The process for returning a disc is simple. Given to sign up, you have to enter your address, they send you the disc for free. The envelope is reusable, and already has the return address on it, so it is as simple as putting the disc back in the sleeve and posting it when you've finished with it. Each envelope is paid for by LoveFilm and can handle three discs at a time, however, if you find that one is damaged, you must return that by itself.

      If you wish to cancel your subscription, there are a number of things you can do. The first is obviously to contact LoveFilm and tell them outright that you wish to cancel. They may ask you on the phone if they can send you marketing stuff for LoveFilm and why you wish to leave. The free trials are usually the reason why.

      Also, you can just cancel your Direct Debit details with your bank. This, again, is a requirement when you sign up to LoveFilm so that they can take the money once the trial is up. Cancelling this means LoveFilm cannot take money from your account, and they will subsequently suspend your account. Either of these options are fine, however you MUST not have any discs at home at the time you do it, as the account will only be suspended when ALL discs have been returned. You should also do this before the Direct Debit process begins. This can vary from bank to bank, but normally, if you cancel two weeks (14 days) before the end of the trial/start of your billing date, you will be fine.

      In overall terms of value for money, that would depend on how much you intend on using the service. For a family that may have a movie night a week at home, the £5.99 option with 3 films might just service your need, however, it would leave that final week without anything to do.

      Personally, I have used the '2 a month' service, and found that to be well under what I wanted. I have had my best experience with the unlimited everything and 2/3 at home. Games can be completely in only a few days now, and films are watched once, so this cycle could result in you seeing a lot of films and playing a lot of games.

      The service does give users chance to rent new games and movies, however, as with everything, there are limited copies and there may be users that got in there before you, so there could be a short wait. If there is, this will be detailed in your list on the website. You should compile a good list of titles just in case this happens.

      The website is very easy to navigate, and searching comes up with a cover shot of the film/game, with the ability to watch online (if available), rent it or buy it. You can also review the title whenever.

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    • Virgin Media TiVo / Set Top Box / 26 Readings / 22 Ratings
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      13.10.2011 18:46
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      While Cable areas are limited in comparison to Sky satellite areas, this box should still worry Sky.

      The TiVo brand, launched in 1999, is massive in North America's competitive DVR (Digital Video Recorder, also known as PVR - Personal Video Recorder) market, but is by far the number one choice for consumers in the States. So it was only logical that TiVo try to extend their brand into other markets, and at the turn of the millennium, TiVo signed an exclusive agreement with BSkyB (Sky, to you and I) to change the way people watched TV in the UK. But, instead of changing our lives, TiVo failed to make a significant impact, subsequently being dropped by BSkyB two years later.

      Reasons vary depending on who you talk to as to why TiVo "failed" in the UK. Sky say the technology wasn't appealing to the British market. TiVo say the relationship between the two companies was part of the reason, which was soured because Sky were developing and promoting their own PVR behind the back of TiVo - the Sky+.

      TiVo left the UK, with their debut experience being a failure. But were contacted by the newest-kid-on-the-block Virgin Media in late 2009 to have another bash and to work together. Along with Cisco, TiVo developed this exclusive box, the CT8685DVB, released in December 2010 with a massive £200 activation fee, £49 installation fee and extra £3 a month on top of your TV service.

      Boasting three tuners for recording, the TiVo experience is definitely a serious competitor to the hugely successful Sky+HD product currently at the height of the British PVR market. Those three tuners allow you to record three (yes, THREE) programmes at one time, compared to one with Sky+HD, and two with Virgin Media's V+ service. And, as with all PVR's, you can record by using a series link by simply pressing the "R" button and selecting one of the options it gives you. TiVo allows you to select whether you'd like it to record a series of reruns and/or new episodes, which means you can filter out all those annoying daily reruns from your stored recordings.

      If you're out and about, the Virgin Media TiVo app, available on the Android Market and Apple Market for free, allowing you to set a recording remotely (away from home), presuming you've left your TiVo box on and a data connection from and to your smartphone.

      TiVo will also record suggestions for you, based on what you've watched and given the "thumbs up", so if you're a regular viewer of Emmerdale, the box will see that you like soaps, and record other soaps for your viewing. This is completely optional in the settings, but is enabled by default, so if you feel you'll be filling the hard drive up with your own recordings, you may want to disable this.

      Hard drive capacity varies on which "size" you select. Both models of the set top box are exactly the same in every way other than the capacity of the hard drive, with the two options being a 500Gb and 1Tb (1024Gb) options. The 500Gb capacity allows for 250 hours of standard definition recording, and 50 hours of high definition recording from Virgin Media's ever-expanding range of HD channels, whereas the 1Tb doubles those numbers to 500 hours of standard and 100 hours of high def.

      Also under the hood is a dedicated 10Mb modem, which downloads information on movies, shows and their stars on-the-fly, for use with TiVo's search options, as well as to stream videos using the TiVo app for YouTube. The 10Mb modem allows users to experience these features without it affecting their existing broadband service, allowing simultaneous surfing and streaming in your home.

      As touched on, the TiVo search option is very in-depth, finding films, actors, actresses and TV shows by simply punching in a few characters in the search bar, and is very handy in finding your favourites and offering you any instance that they will be next on the TV. Such an impressive service still has slight teething problems, as the character input is momentarily slow to react, and pressing left too many times there sends you back to the previous screen. Also, upon searching last night, Discovery Real Time's NY Ink was nowhere to be found, even though the show exists but is currently not shown on TV. Juventud Guerrero, a professional wrestler who has one movie to his credit in "Ready to Rumble", shows up, even though the film isn't available on demand. But aside from that, the database is extensive and very impressive, allowing me to see instances within the next two weeks of Juventus' games to be shown on ESPN.

      Also previously mentioned is the TiVo apps function, which is very handy and entertaining.

      Currently available in the apps is YouTube, which is an excellent tool to have via the set top box, and isn't confusing with its very basic layout and search function. Quality of the video depends on the original uploader and his or her's upload quality, but the TiVo box does an excellent job of stretching it to fill the screen and the quality of videos I have watched through it have been very good.

      Other apps include the BBC iPlayer, which is already part of the Virgin Media On Demand service, eBay, CNBC news, a Who Wants to Be A Millionaire game and weather app. One can only presume that TiVo and Virgin Media will allow more apps to come into the fold over time, and confirmation came in September that an update will improve the layout of the YouTube app, as well as other tweaks to the service.

      Picture and audio quality is of the highest standard, even allowing for Dolby Digital 5.1 where available in specific programmes and movies. This is something many users of previous boxes from Virgin Media were disappointed not to have been able to experience.

      If you've joined the craze of 3D viewing, you might be happy to know that the TiVo box is 3D-enabled, however, Virgin Media's selection of 3D content is rather limited at this time. The main focus is their On Demand platform, which offers films in 3D for a one-off rental price.

      On the back of the box, there is a power switch to completely turn off the box so that no power runs through it for all the green people out there. A scart socket for those without a HD TV, one HDMI port for HD and 3D output, ethernet, two USB 2.0 ports and Optical Out.

      The front has buttons for standby, home, TV, back, left, up, right, down, OK and record, which will be very handy if your remote dies or goes hiding, or you can't find replacement batteries.

      The box itself isn't attractive, as seen in the picture accompanying this review, not looking too dissimilar from the PlayStation 3, and only comes in a charcoal colour, which will go well with other appliances of the same or similar colours. Those of us that picked silver for our set-up all those years ago are left with an odd-one-out, but for what the TiVo offers, I think many are willing to let that slide.

      The remote, however, is a very sophisticated controlling device for the TiVo, and your TV's volume. Fitting in your hand perfectly with its monkey-peanut shape and grooved back for extra grip, the remote allows your hand to comfortably control everything you watch. With well spaced buttons, raised up well from the chipboard and plastic chassis, it would be the perfect remote for older users, although people with issues with sight may struggle with the writing on each button. The home button is located at the top, directing you to the main screen of the Virgin Media TiVo, with your basic PVR functions smack-bang in the middle with the TiVo "thumbs up/down" buttons being just above on each side, with volume functions and channel up/down opposite each other, numbers at the bottom and colours for shortcuts to all channels in the TV guide, access to help and so on. The remote itself is a typical TiVo design, and there's a reason why TiVo have stuck with this design, as it is quite magnificent.

      Finally, I will take you onto the EPG - the Electronic Programme Guide and home screen design. Decorated in a tasteful dark-tinted red, associated with the Virgin brand, everything is curved and suave. The EPG bar at the bottom of the picture on the television has been given a lot of thought. Again, curved and with that lovely dark red tinge, it takes up around 20% of the screen, allowing you to view information for the programme, set a series link for recording, or simply see what the time is. Pressing "OK" will bring up a TV guide below that small EPG, increasing the amount of the picture taken up to around 50%, but with a hint of transparency, so you can still see what's happening behind the guide. It shows you three channels in the sort of TV guide format we're all used to. Scrolling up and down or punching in a channel number allows you to view now and next for the next two hours, and even allows you to view forthcoming programmes for the next TWO weeks (yes, the EPG has a two week TV guide), using the "fast-forward" button will forward you two hours and the"slow-forward" button on this will forward 24 hours. A very nice feature, handy for forward planning.

      Going to the home screen shows you the current TV channel in the top-right hand corner, a permanent feature for Virgin Media boxes since the ntl: days, which disappears (as does the sound) when you open certain apps and go to certain screens, including the options for recording series links. Still red, and still with curved boxes for highlighting what you're clicking, it's very simple to use, using the arrow buttons on the remote, and the "OK" or "right" button to advance to the next screen, or the "left" button to go back. It isn't instantly responsive, but it isn't slow either - something cable services have become known for in the UK.

      At the top of the home screen, there is a bar of discovery, showing you shows, movies and tips you may be interested in, allowing you to click and be directed straight to without any mess. It also refreshes to offer you different things throughout your day. Just highlighting a block in the discovery bar will bring up information, a rating and even a cover image you might see on a DVD or poster for the show.

      One vital flaw the service has is its inability to alert and remind you that a show is starting. While the three tuners stop you from missing the show completely, the reminder function is a much-loved addition of many boxes left out of this specific device. TiVo and Virgin Media have confirmed that the consumer community has spoken out loud about the lack of this feature, and have acknowledged that they are looking into adding it.

      The 500Gb is now available to new and existing customers for free, with a subscription of £3 a month on top of what you currently pay, and is absolutely a bargain for what you're getting in this excellent piece of kit.

      An update in December will improve various things, including 'Express Series Link', speeding up the process of recording entire series. It could possibly add the one function missing from the TiVo that many consumers are very used to - reminders.

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      • FIFA 12 (Xbox 360) / Xbox 360 Game / 21 Readings / 20 Ratings
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        13.10.2011 00:42
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        Buy it and take your time with it. Through the wall, there's a thing of beauty waiting for you.

        Maybe you read my review on FIFA 11 last year, or maybe you'll go back and read it after you've read this one. Maybe you didn't and won't. Whatever category you sit in, I'll let you know that I considered FIFA 11 to be the very best football game EA Sports have offered for a long time. But EA Sports have now made that review pointless and seriously outdated with their release of FIFA 12.

        The first thing I must point out is one major change in the engine EA Sports use to make FIFA games.

        Tackling has been "improved" to avoid the over-use of the "A" (X360) and/or "X" (PS) which frustrated many last year with it being too reliable. This time, it's much more of a challenge, with "A"/"X" now putting pressure on the opposing player a yard away from him. "B"/"O" will lunge in for a standing tackle, or grab the opponents shoulder if he is by his side or behind him (which can result in a foul if persistently done) and "X"/"Square" will slide tackle, and from the standing tackle last year, compared to this year, it will take a few games to wrap your brain around. But it's perfectly possible, and while you can look quite foolish missing a tackle, you also get a sense of accomplishment for being successful in a good tackle.

        With tackling comes player collision, and herein is where a problem lies for this quite remarkable game.

        Players react to everything now. Barring coded wind or rain, when the ball or another player, opposing or a team-mate, your player will react to him if there is physical contact. They will fall over, spin around, and players even turn to the referee and protest about the other players conduct. And because of this, little bugs and glitches can be seen, with players being known to fly off unrealistically and even awkwardly fall and land in sometimes-amusing positions and ways. It can be entertaining. It can be frustrating. YouTube for FIFA 12's collisions will show you some fine examples. But don't be so down, as the game itself is still lots of fun and glory with perseverance.

        Dribbling has also been tweaked, allowing your player to shield the ball for more control on where the ball goes.

        Making their way back is the Be A Pro and Be A Goalkeeper mode, custom chants and music for entrances and goals, a fully updated player roster and updated club kits. Online, we're treat to the same sort of stuff that made FIFA 11 so addictive, including FIFA Clubs, where your Pro can go online to join a club, which can work as a cohesive unit to climb leagues and battle against other clubs around the world. Problem number two arises here, in the form of Online Pass.

        Online Pass is EA's way of stopping people from buying pre-owned copies of the game. Economically, EA claim that the money someone may be spending on a pre-owned copy should go to them, rather than to the local shop you bought it from. And Online Pass is the ONLY way to use FIFA's online services. New copies of the game (RRP: £55, available for much less, so shop around!) have a code pre-packed, which allows you access, but if you did indeed buy a pre-owned copy, you'll be required to buy an Online Pass from the Xbox Live Marketplace or PlayStation Network, priced at 800 Microsoft Points (around £8).

        Also seen from FIFA 11 is Game Face, which allows you to upload GOOD pictures of your face to the server to download onto your Pro to put yourself in the game truer than ever before. This can take a few tries, but is satisfying once perfected. Downloading your Game Face to the Pro gives you 10XP, for which allow you to reach targets to level up. However, I've not actually seen the point of the level idea. The EA statistics also make a return, giving you up-to-the-second info on players passing, distance covered, completion rates, shots on goal, saves made and so on. You'll have seen these if you have watched Sky Sports football games over the past year.

        While on the subject of Sky Sports, Martin Tyler and Alan Smith (not Leeds United and Manchester United's Alan Smith) are the main commentators for the game, but with an added extra, EA have offered Clive Tyldesley and Andy Townsend as alternative commentary too, which is very good for the career mode, where the Premier League matches will be announced by the Sky duo of Tyler and Smith, and cup games by Tyldesley and Townsend. It's just a shame that the commentary is still amazingly repetitive and shows its age with Townsend stating "England are still in the lead thanks to Paul Robinson" when playing as Blackburn Rovers. But heck, I'll put up with that for the general idea of having both commentary teams on the game for that little extra realism.

        I keep saying it, but I believe that any football gamer will love this game IF they persevere. Don't let the first few games dictate what your brain will believe is the whole game. It takes time to get used to, but once you do, you'll fall back in love with the game.

        Buy it, but don't buy it for £55.

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        • More +
          08.02.2011 10:17
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          Not my cup of tea, but if you're a CoD or First-Person Shooter fan, you'd have to give it a go.

          Reviewing this is a very hard thing for me to do because the game really isn't that impressive at all. It's developed by Activision's favourite son Treyarch, who also developed Call of Duty 2 and 3 upon Infinity Ward's first blockbuster. And, in my opinion, Infinity Ward have always had the upper hand when it came to making games in the CoD franchise.

          The game's single-player is based on numerous major historical events, rather than previous Call of Duty plots that have specifically stayed in one time-frame. Vietnam. The Cold War. The Bay of Pigs. There is something for everyone in the storymode, such as the older weaponry and scenery, to the more "modern" combat. And while I say the game isn't that impressive, the storymode does have its moments that grip you and hold you close, almost dragging you into the situation for real. I found that feeling to pass pretty quickly, though, whereas other CoD games, particularly Call of Duty 2, Modern Warfare, World at War and Modern Warfare 2, all dragged you in and keep you there, emotionally and physically.

          The combat system and engine is very average and not as smooth and responsive as Modern Warfare 2. The guns are what you would expect of Treyarch, and are the sort of guns I would expect from a game 5 years ago, not in 2010/11. It's almost as if this is a port of Treyarch's last outing - World at War. Many of the games sounds are imported from World at War, that's for sure. Even the Zombie mode has made a reappearance. Yet Treyarch said thousands was spent on getting each weapon recording individually for this blockbuster. But the "he said, she said" is not the point here.

          One thing Call of Duty has become so renowned for, is the online multiplayer. Ever since buying an Xbox 360 in 2006, online multiplayer has been a consistent staple in my gaming life. Without it, gaming wouldn't be such a passion or an enjoyment. And while I do still play Black Ops frequently online, I simply cannot rate it as one of the "must-buy" games solely for that reason. It seems to have lost its magic. The magic that the two Modern Warfare's gave it. It's lost some of its realism and has become quite laughable in replays of kills, seeing the position of your killer and where he is firing at, for example.

          Aside from all the negativity I feel towards the game, and the developer, there are good points to make. If there is one thing Treyarch do, is put all its efforts into something and do the best they can. And online, this year, Infinity Ward were well and truly shown up in certain sections.

          Some of the maps really are excellent. Particular favourites of mine are Firing Range, Grid, Hanoi, Launch, Nuketown and Villa. A lot of effort has clearly gone into these maps, and it shows. Some seem to be the biggest I've ever seen in a CoD title. The frequent updates to the playlists (match types) and patching of problems is first rate. And the fact that they listen to the community of gamers is a major plus. Customising weapons with your clan-tag initials was something they wanted, and they got it! Some asked for certain weapons, but I'm not sure many of them expected a bow and exploding arrows! A very nice touch and a personal favourite of mine. The SR-71. A ship in outer-space that shows you the position of all your opponents on the UAV radar, regardless of their perks. Or the much talked-about RC Bomb? Three kills and it's all yours. Just make sure you don't press the right trigger to accelerate, like you would on normal racing games.

          A silver lining in a very average sequel to the excellent Modern Warfare 2. I couldn't say to you "don't buy this because it's awful" because, well, you might enjoy it. Keep an open mind if you do decide to go for it. The jury is out and opinion is divided. But personally, I will be going back to Modern Warfare 2 until the Infinity Ward/Sledgehammer Games offering comes sometime in the next year or two.

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        • FIFA 11 (Xbox 360) / Xbox 360 Game / 10 Readings / 8 Ratings
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          08.02.2011 08:41
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          A game for all football fans, be you FIFA or PES, this should sit in your collection.

          Football games are one of the highest selling games on consoles. They always have been, and there seems to be no signs of them slowing down. FIFA 11 is this years offering from EA Sports, who have offered the FIFA series to us for 15+ years. And what an offering it is.

          Year upon year, EA have offered a football game that breaks boundaries. Something new appears in every new title, and the engine itself is tweaked in such a way to offer a more realistic and advanced experience to the player. But every year, those advantages came with their problems. Bugs, bad coding, glitches and basic AI stupidity have marred the FIFA series for years. FIFA 10 was no exception. Any reader here who hasn't scored or conceded a 50 yard thunderbolt on FIFA 10 really hasn't played the game enough. The Goalkeepers positioning is something that players hated in the last venture, and I experienced coding errors, particularly with the assigning of shirt numbers to players and statistics of players. But this year, after extensive playing since Christmas, I can safely say that for the first time since the transition of the new engine (2006) we have the perfect football game.

          What makes it perfect? Graphically, there isn't much upgraded from the last two years apart from the odd tweak here and there and a few more added players faces. The kits are updated, the players and their teams present and correct pre-Winter Transfer Period (update coming late-Feb) but the engine is grittier. Not as flowing as it once was. Not as easy. Your shots from outside the box aren't always guaranteed to beat the keeper, and if they do, you've hit it sweetly and must be a pro to do it frequently.

          The main additions in the game are the ability to be a Goalkeeper for the first time, using the left analogue stick to move the Goalkeeper, and the right analogue to dive and save the ball. A smashing introduction which seems to have fit right in first time without much in the way of faults.

          The other addition is the ability to input your very own music and chants. We all know the generic FIFA chants. We imagine them to say "[insert managers name here]'s [insert team colours here] army!" But we all know that really it says "Mrmmrm mrmrmmr's mrmr mrmrm army." Not any more. Google and YouTube are going to be your friends here, and you can find user-uploaded chants to download, convert and then put onto your console to play in the background during your match, making that ultimate experience even more special. Maybe you just want to record yourself drunk on the game. Not a problem! Just set up a playlist, change the settings in the relevant section and off you go! You can even come out to "The Final Countdown" by Queen if you so wish to! A small addition that adds that little extra spice and realism.

          But the games primary focus is the beautiful game of association football. Leagues across the world represented by the best teams in the world and their not-so-good counterparts. There are still teams missing for whatever reason (the Argentinian league doesn't exist on the game, for example) but the engine, the teams available in both club and country and the players likenesses for the major teams is second to none. Additions inside the game are improved statistics for players passing, distance covered, completion rates, shots on goal, saves made, etc. A very nice touch, especially given accomplishments in the "Be A Pro" mode need to be done. These give you an occasional update on how you're doing. They do, however, take part in the "must sit through" cut-scenes, which mast a couple of seconds before rapid pressing of the A-button finally skips them.

          The tackling inside the engine has been improved also. No longer is it too easy for the A-holders to tackle you without giving away a free-kick with their endless conservative tackling. Now they sometimes trip the player, obstruct him or just knock him over, resulting in a free-kick to the victim. The animations afterward can be quite amusing too, seeing players throw their hands to their sides in frustration.

          One addition that has the whole FIFA gaming-world debating, is the re-introduction of the handball. Hitting the ball anywhere at the top of the players body usually results in a handball, meaning it is quite easy to get hold of free-kicks in vital positions. It is, however, easily turned off in the options, but kudos to EA for including it in another element of realism that we all can appreciate.

          Mutliplayer is included as standard too, allowing friends to create leagues and face each other until their thumbs can take no more. There are still massive issues with lag and players quitting out of the games because they are losing, etc. which do need addressing.

          It does have its negatives, though - the commentary. For years we had Clive Tyldesley and Andy Townsend telling us what was happening on the pitch. Even Ally McCoist! These days, it's the slightly boring but no-less iconic Martin Tyler, and Mr. Andy "women don't know the offside rule" Gray. Previous to this, the commentary had been getting stale and repetitive for some time, but now, it is very hard to hear Gray's voice knowing what his true feelings are on women in football.

          Another gripe is that of EA starting anew online policy. Basically, a one-use-only code is packed with new versions of the game for EA updates on EA servers and playing online. This code's specific purpose is to stop the trade-in market from swallowing profits EA believes is theirs. Basically, if, once you have stopped playing the game, for whatever reason, you trade it in, the shop will firstly offer you a silly amount down to this, but EA will stop all vital traffic and bombard you every time you switch the game on to buy an online pass. Trading in games and shops selling them second hand is obviously something EA don't take kindly to. And it's a shame, because many budget gamers look forward to seeing what bargains can be had in the used section. I felt the introduction of online passes was a very bad idea which could have alienated many FIFA fans. It did leave a bitter taste.

          FIFA have built a monster on top of what they previously had offered. It'll be very interesting to see what they do in October 2011 to top this. New commentary is guaranteed, that's for sure. For now, EA must be thinking that the glass ceiling is getting closer. New ideas are needed, improvements to justify that we all go and spend £35 on the next one without feeling we have paid for an update. But for football fans the world over, this game should be in each collection. It is a shame that the game is slightly tarnished by the idea of paying for a code if you bought the game second hand. It's a very greedy thing to do on the part of the developer and publisher, Electronic Arts, but should no way detract away from the magnificent single-player mode it has.

          My Girlfriend and Grandparents both paid for this, £20 at Gamestation over Christmas. The price has risen since, and can be obtained for £25 brand new.

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          • LG GT540 / Smartphone / 11 Readings / 10 Ratings
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            08.02.2011 08:04
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            A superb phone at an excellent budget that I am very happy with the purchase of. Recommended.

            In this day and age, you need a mobile phone. Basic functions that users specify are a decent, clear screen, the ability to dial out, receive calls, take a quick photo, maybe a video and send and receive text messages. You'll be quite lucky to find a phone that doesn't do all of these things. But as time is passing, phones seem to be turning into entertainment devices, capable of gaming, magnificent data speeds and full-clarity film viewing. The LG GT540 "Optimus" is no exception to this.

            My reason for buying this phone was because my previous phone, the HTC S710 on Windows Mobile, was becoming out-dated and severely restrained in functionality. With the Apple iPhone on the market, I found it frustrating that the S710 would only do certain things, while other phones ran off into the distance with their abilities. The S710's only saving grace, in the end, was its WiFi ability. The 200MHz processor was unbearable at times and the bulk the phone had with its slide-out keyboard looked very unfashionable. Windows Mobile 5 had been surpassed by the iOS, Android, Blackberry and even Windows 7. I felt it was time to move on, and Android would be my next stop.

            At first, I had resigned myself to waiting for the Sony Ericsson Xperia X8, which was due to arrive in Q4 of 2010. My own impatience got the better of me, and I saw the LG "Optimus" at a very attractive £129.99, which was coincidentally the same price as the X8 was due to be released at. I clicked, ordered and received a couple of days later.

            So, what makes the "Optimus" stand out? Well, its design is very sleek. Rather than a rectangle with rounded off edges, or a clam-style flip-phone, LG opted for a very 21st Century design. At 109mm x 54.5mm and 12.7mm thick, it isn't the smallest phone you will ever see, but fits snug in the hand and in the pocket. Its sides are straight, with buttons on the left for Volume up and down, and two on the right for the camera and search functions. The USB input is also on the right, at the top, and requires you to get your fingernail in to pull out the protector, which hangs on with a sturdy thread. Connecting the USB requires drivers, but after that, is drag-and-drop through your OS's explorer. No need for additional PC Suites, as applications on the Market, available for free, will back up your important messages and contacts to the Memory Card when you ask them to.

            The top of the phone has a 3.5mm jack, which fits those average headphones you will have at home for iPod's, PC and Laptop music, etc. However the headphones that come with the phone seemed to work better than the ones I had been using at home, and also have a microphone on there for hands-free, which is why I still use them over any other headphones. The top and bottom curve inwards slightly, taking away the boring rectangle look.

            The cover of the battery, the microphone and speaker, are made of a plastic, but are slightly grooved with an almost wood-finish, which compliments the phone very nicely and looks stunning in the default colour of Black. (The phone is available in Pink and White also, to my knowledge.)

            The screen is a 320 x 480 pixels (3 inch) TFT resistive touchscreen, which is very handy to know when converting videos down to a size that your bundled 2Gb memory card will easily store, without losing a lot of quality on the screen. The colours are superb, and the brightness is easily viewable on the lowest setting in the dark. In the light, however, the screen does suffer from glare, and thus a brighter setting is required, as well as a possible hand over the top to shade the screen while you look at it. The debate between resistive and capacitive touchscreens rages on, which some preferring one or the other. Personally, I find no problem using the GT540's resistive screen. It works on the principle of slight pressure rather than just a slide of the finger, but I've also found it to be very responsive to a slide of the finger on occasion. It will work with your finger, some gloves and a stylus. (Not supplied) An accelerometer is also built in, which means rotating your phone will change the screen to the nearest 90 degree angle. This is handy for typing in particular, if you prefer the QWERTY keyboard layout. (I personally prefer the keypad layout with T9.)

            Underneath the screen are the main buttons you will use to access the menu's and to make/end/answer calls, if you so choose not to use the swiping method on the screen. In the top left is a sensor for the menu and settings, on the top right is "back," which should not be confused for delete. On the bottom, left is answer/make call, the middle is the "Home" button to take you back to the main screen, and the right is call end.

            On the inside of the machine, a 600MHz CPU is at your beck-and-call, with the much-acclaimed Android Operating System (OS) from Google. The phone does come stocked with Android 1.6, but there is a stock update to 2.1, which fixes minor and major bugs, as well as offers a few extra tidbits and improvements in the system. The 2.1 update also comes with "The Sims 3" game, available for free via the LG website with instructions on how to install the game.

            Games such as "The Sims 3" run very well on the device, providing that some CPU-hogging applications are closed with the use of a task manager, available for free on the Android Market. The much-loved "Angry Birds" however seemed to jitter at times. Again, I found closing certain applications running in the background helped with this. The games are extremely responsive on the device, providing there is no jittering.

            Application-wise, there is probably way too much to go into. Given the phone is on an OS provided by Google, you will need a Google Mail account. Being with Virgin Media, I thought that my email would suffice, given Virgin Media now uses Google Mail for the mail service. Sadly, this wasn't the case, and I am unsure if there are plans to introduce this in the future. (The message on the phone specified the problem as Virgin Media not enabling the calender function on their part.) The Google Account is required to access all Google services including Google Talk, Google Goggles, Google Maps, Android Marketplace and YouTube, amongst others.

            There is one camera on the phone, which is billed as 3.0 Megapixel, but has been clocked at 3.15MP - a resolution of 2048 x 1536 pixels. There is no flash, so night pictures are going to suffer. The camera during the daytime, in a decent light, is very good though. The camera also offers video recording in an MP4 (Android 1.6) and 3GP (Android 2.1) format. The video, again, is very good, however the sound is quite poor and sounds almost boxed-in.

            GPRS, EDGE, 3G , Wi-Fi (802.11 b/g) and Bluetooth come as standard. Infrared does not.

            The built-in Media Player has problems playing some formats. I have experienced problems with certain types of DivX and XviD encoded videos. Again, the marketplace will help here, as there are plenty of Media Players to choose from.

            The music quality through both the headphones and loudspeaker are very good. The music can go quite loud, so a precaution should be taken when wearing the headphones. There is also a built-in radio, which does require any wired headset to be connected to the phone to listen to. However you can listen to it through loudspeaker while the headset is connected.

            The call quality is also of an good standard, and there are numerous options while you are on the phone to people, such as mute, loudspeaker and the ability to browse the OS behind the phone call.

            The battery (1500 mAh) lasts around 450 hours in my experience, when it is not used at all. I tested this when I first got the phone, as it was locked to O2, and I am on Orange. I usually get around two days of infrequent WiFi usage, phone calls, text messages and market updates out of the battery, and charge overnight with the charger comes packed with the phone. You can also charge by USB as long as there is power running through the device you are charging from. Be it a TV in standby, your Laptop in standby or your TV's Set Top Box. I would advise not using GPS, WiFi and 3G when they are not needed to conserve battery power. GPS and 3G are set as standard and will need turning off by the user.

            All in all, the phone itself is an excellent and powerful piece of kit, for the price particularly. I would expect to be still paying around £129.99 maximum at the moment, but I'm sure there are other retailers out there that will offer it cheaper. The Carphone Warehouse pushed this phone very hard during the Autumn of 2010 for around £99.99, before the 2.1 update came along.

            A word of warning, however, is that LG seem to have stopped rolling out updates for the GT540 now that they have other "Optimus" models on the market that they would rather concentrate on. There aren't huge steps that an upgrade to 2.2/2.3 will do for the phone, so 2.1 does suffice and operates excellently on the device. The phone is also unable to handle flash, unlike other makes and handsets (namely HTC) on the market. The applications, such as YouTube and SkyFire browser can help ease the burden slightly, with videos, but games on Facebook will not work through any browser on the phone, because the processor cannot cope with it. There is, however, a chance that the makers of the games you wish to play are also making an Android application. Certain Poker applications have successfully been made and use Facebook Connect to get your Facebook details and allow you to play without a browser running.

            A recommendation to anyone wanting to try out Android without a massive price-tag, along with the HTC Wildfire. A superb phone at an excellent budget that I am very happy with the purchase of.

            Thanks for reading.

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          • Skype / Utility / 11 Readings / 11 Ratings
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            21.10.2009 01:20
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            Well wortj having if you have a PC at home. On a Mobile, check with your network for Internet Prices

            Skype. Preached as a service which uses the Internet to transmit your voice, slightly delayed, from my personal experience, to another user of the service without the need of a phone number for free, with no strings! And, surprisingly, IT WORKS!

            The basic jist, is that you download this fundy software on you Voice Over IP Phone, PC or Laptop, and get your friends and family on it as well. And with that, we go into what the software offers. Firstly, theres a friends list, which is like a phonebook without numbers. Clicking their name, and clicking 'Call' will make their software ring if they are online, and ask them if they would like to accept the call, or to refuse it. Once that is done, and they accept, providing all your drivers, speakers and mic is working correctly, you will have a crisp clear call, free for as long as you like! AMazing!

            Another addition is the ability to Instant Message and Webcam chat as well as voice, which seems to point into the direction of the Skype Company trying to take the place of the ever popular Windows Live Messenger, formerly MSN Messenger. The major difference in the two being the start-up time, which takes the Mick with WLM and can slow your high spec computers down, whereas Skype is speedy and is barely noticeable... until the sounds come on to tell you that it is starting up. (These can be muted.)

            Other ways to contact people, are through the extensive directory built-in, which allows you to search by name, town and other ways to find people you know, might now, or just randomly want to call.

            The lay-out is very simple and is even operated by my 'computers really do bite' Mum. Buttons and so on are big enough so that anyone can use it. Simplistic works with everyone. And its design is very 21st Century.

            Installation, I found, to be the same as any other application install. No restart was required until I realised my Drivers were knackered. Please make sure you have all of the necessary ones installed and working.

            With 18m people regularly online every day, Skypes popularity is high now and can only get higher. Id recommend it to everyone... so I could get in touch with them for nowt!!

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          • Littlewoodsextra.com / Online Shop / 11 Readings / 11 Ratings
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            21.10.2009 00:59
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            Good service and definitely worth buying stuff for the 3 Monthly payments after receipt of items.

            So, LittlewoodsExtra.com.

            Well, technically, Ive never shopped with them, because this is the former former name of what we now know as Very.co.uk, which is owned by the company Shop Direct Plc.

            Along with this online catalogue, there are also Littlewoods, Kays, Choice, Great Universal and so on. Very.co.uk, Marshall Ward and Additions Direct are the cheaper of the catalogue companies, which, in turn can make it quite difficult to obtain credit with them.

            Now, when you browse their prices online, you will see that they arent the cheapest, but are quite competitive compared to other Shop Direct Catalogues mentioned above. Signing up usually entitles you to a new customer discount which will reduce the price of your First order as a one off welcome. This is usually some sort of £30 off £60 spend thing, which can turn out to be very reasonable!

            The payment options are the same as the other catalogues, which you pay for monthly at a set weekly rate that are displayable on the site. If you stick to the minimum payments, you WILL end up paying an APR, which is where things get slightly expensive, and are, in turn, where Shop Direct make their money.

            My advice, is when ordering with them, take the 'Take 3' option, which totals your order, and breaks it into 3 monthly payments, which means you dont pay APR, and you dont pay for it all in advance, which is particularly advantageous to lower income customers, and people who dont fancy splashing out all at once, but want the products as soon as possible.

            Delivery for things are provided by the Home Delivery Network, who are excellent, and usually deliver things the next day if you order before 3pm. Some items are sent directly from the manufacturer, such as JML products and Computer Games.

            The customer service from Very.co.uk, again, are the same as the other catalogues, and are based in Merseyside, as is the Shop Direct Company. As with all CS, some people havent got a clue, but some do, so if you dont find yourself satisfied with the answers given, you can try again with someone else, but beware - the phone numbers arent free. I think they are local rate.

            Paying online is the easiest way to go when paying. This way, your not paying for the call while paying for a bill.

            The website is very nicely layed out, and attractive (And aimed) at the female of the species. It is also very quick for a site with quite a bit of flash player elements. (If your not computer literate, ignore that bit.)

            All in all, after ordering, I was extremely satisfied with the price, the service and the delivery of the items. One of the items came with a slight damage, but I know that returns and replacements are very reliable when the rare occasion arises. Just dont go looking for codes online which you arent entitled to. Shop Direct can and sometimes WILL charge you the discounted amount if they find you arent eligible.

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          • FIFA 10 (Xbox 360) / Xbox 360 Game / 9 Readings / 7 Ratings
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            20.10.2009 23:55
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            Definitely a must have game for the next 12 Months!

            After my FIFA 09 review yesterday, it seemed only fitting that, after 5 days if FIFA 10 play, I review the latest offering from EA Canada. And what a transformation from FIFA 09 this is.

            Previously, I spoke about the new-ish engine and the playability, controls and personal settings. And all of those have been vastly improved over the past 12 Months.

            The engine, although looks almost the same, has a brand new 360 degree control system, which means whichever way you point the player to go with your Analogue, it WILL go. That includes odd angles such as 57 degrees, for example. Does this work? Well, it has its positives and negatives. The positives? The main one is that shooting has more angles to hit the net from. Passing, and, in particular, long through ball passes go in the direction you are pressing, which makes the experience a lot more free, smooth and silky.

            The negatives are that the engine still has an obsession with taking the ball very, very close to the touchline, and this usually means that you are bound to tackle the opponent, and it will spend quite a bit of time out of play for a throw in. Or controlling near said line, which can result in controlling the ball which is pre-set into the game. This can mean that frustrating bounces off the chest, or trapping of the ball on the feet can go out of play. Then there is the problem of you having the ball, and wanting a quick attack, which can result in you not having the thumb directly at 90 or 270 degrees to run along the wing. Chances are, youll end up running slightly diagonally, and while you look for a pass, you end up near or over the line.

            It plays excellently in the middle of the field, though. Staying a few 'FIFA Feet' away from the line will result in some exceptional play, if done correctly.

            Be A Pro makes a return, with a few advancements on last years offering. The main one being that your player can now have a Pro Evolution Soccer inspired 'Game Face' which means you can take a picture of your face, upload it to EA Sports Website, and download it in the game to put on your player. This works out much better than the PES version, which allows you to use the sub-par Xbox Live Vision Camera to put your face on a player.

            Along with Game Face in Be A Pro, theres also a running update on Accomplishments, which will unlock like Achievements for your player, as they are completed. This, as a reward, will give your player additional points in the respective area of their game. So, for example, once you make 2 slide tackles, your defensive game goes up by some points. Once you shoot X amount of finesse shots from outside the area, your striking game improves, and so on. This sort of thing did happen last year, but was a gradual improvement over the course of the seasons rather than accomplishments.

            The AI in Be A Pro can still be a rather frustrating affair, particularly if you start off low (as I did with Accrington Stanley) and the team isnt as fluid as you would like them to be. Still, as long as you stick it out, and improve, theres always a chance of that dream move to Barcelona!

            Achievement-wise, the game is mostly the same compared to last year. Many achievements have carried over, like beating a 5 Star Team with a Half Star Team and Upload a Video (which is a welcome continuation of being able to share your amazing trickery and strikes with the world via EASportsFootball.com. EASportsWorld.com and other domains) and the only changes are here and there. Given there are secret achievements, I wont go spoiling them for you.

            Stadium effects seem the same, really, however a new addition in the Download Content folder is available - The Bernabeu. And it looks fantastic. Hopefully we will have more of these downloadable stadiums, rather than the generic 'Ivy Lane' sorts.

            Online, at the time of writing, there are problems - namely lag, which EA will put down to connections. Putting that theory to the test, Cable 10Mb Broadband and an ADSL 8Mb (with around 4Mb download) was laggy as hell, and theoretically shouldnt have been. Whether this will be patched remains to be seen, but being that its pretty early in FIFA 10s existence, a patch is almost guaranteed.

            The game is available in the right places for a very good price, given the games excellent playability. Expect to pay £30-£35 for this game, which is cheap!

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            • FIFA 09 (Xbox 360) / Xbox 360 Game / 15 Readings / 15 Ratings
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              19.10.2009 22:29
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              Worth a go, particularly at the price it is now, but EAs after support was terrible.

              FIFA games have become the corner-stone of Football (or Soccer) games in the World, right now. With only this and Pro Evolution Soccer on the market as current Generation games, there is an element of competition between the two, as they battle for supremacy in the market. And officially, FIFA wins year in, year out with sales figures constantly improving year on year.

              In 2006, with the launch of the new Generation of Consoles, EA Sports Canada decided it was time to change everything to take advantage of the High Definition graphics and further advanced CPU power offered up. And with the engines birth came problems. And even though it was an arguable change that made some players look even less realistic than the previous, football fans knew that there would be advancements year upon year. And FIFA 09 was the first of the franchises new engine that showed people that you could have a decently replicated game.

              The graphics are excellent. The controls are nice and easy. The settings are quite in-depth which helps you to have complete control over the game, and the way it plays. Particularly, the game speed. Original settings have it as Normal, which doesnt replicate the beautiful game well for me. So putting that option to fast is definitely how football is, in my opinion.

              The game itself, when I played it, was very, very buggy. Particularly in the debuting 'Be A Pro' Mode (in which you take over one player for games, rather than the whole team) there were major problems after a few seasons, as players retired and squad numbers were dished out. Other bugs were seen and reported on the FIFA Forum, but EA seemed against fixing them. Patches were produced for major issues, but with the Goalkeepers in particular, they refused to fix their blatant inability to produce some of the most basic saves expected.

              All in all, the game itself has innovation with 'Be A Pro' which will continue throughout the franchises future presentations, as well as the continuation of the EURO 2008 invention of Celebrations that you control after scoring goals. But the AI can be frustrating.

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            • More +
              17.10.2009 20:57
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              Ill buy it time and time again. Superb!

              Fabric Softener can be a very touchy subject to those of us with a particularly fussy skin sensitivity. Im one of those people, so when buying stuff that is going to wash my clothes, the two things I look for are something that smell strong, and something that wont irritate.

              Lenor Infusions tick both of these boxes for me. Firstly, dont let its liquorish-looking exterior fool you. The liquid is a slightly grey colour. But within that liquid are the ingredients to make anyone smell like a walking Garden full of the scents of an upper-class plant collection. The smell is powerful. And by powerful, I mean just that. You can smell this from a distance. And that, for me, is a good thing. It means your clothes smell like this for a lot longer! Having said that, what the hell is the smell of a Black Diamond?? I think a better name for it might have been 'Lenor Infusions - This one smells really nice, and powerful, too!'

              Eitherway, this keeps some moisture locked into the clothes you wash it in. Leave them to dry, and when it comes to folding them and putting them away, youll notice that they are very soft indeed, but can still be ever so slightly moist. And given I dry my clothes on a drying rack in my Dining room, the smell rises and wafts all around the house, acting as an air freshener at the same time!!

              All in all, this is an excellent product to buy. Slightly over-priced at around the £2 mark, but for the smell and power of the product itself, its worth a pop if used in a decent quantity. Brilliant for bedding, as well!! Lovely smell when you hit the sack!

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            • More +
              22.09.2009 00:59
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              WAIT FOR THE NATAL CAMERA, OR PAINT YOUR WALLS WHITE!!

              Theoretically, this game should have been ground-breaking. Putting a human being into a Movie via the Live Vision Camera by having them act out the scripted instructions, such as 'run away from the Monkeys,' whilst eliminating everything in the background, leaving only you, and the game will intelligently place Monkeys, monsters and all sorts of things in the background, and show you a final product that any low budget director would be proud of.

              As I said, theoretically.

              Sadly, the game really doesnt work that way, particularly in a day and age of Energy Saving Lightbulbs. 'Lightbulbs!?' I hear you cry. Well, Energy Saving Lightbulbs are a lot less powerful than the old pear-shaped ones. And a requirement of this game, is closed curtains and lights on. This will make the camera show you on the TV without flaws.

              After trying it with all those directions, it failed to work flawlessly for me, and instead showed my image with blotches of my anatomy missing from my body. This was because the camera had taken a photo of the background, which had dark places, such as a doorway, shadows... even the red wallpaper showed up.

              After this, I decided this game was useless unless I was willing to completely redecorate, and move all of my furnature around.

              So, if you live in a house with white walls, super-thick curtains, and powerful lights, you havent got a problem. If you live in a house with anything else, the chances are the camera and game arent going to be a fantastic gaming experience for you.

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            • More +
              14.09.2009 23:14
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              Worth a pop if your a transformers fan, or looking for a cheap game to play.

              How many movie-accompanying games can you name that actually are good?

              There arent many. King Kong? Quantum of Solace? Pirates of the Carribean? Well, you might just have to add Transformers to that list. From publisher Activision, gamers come to expect nothing less. As they have broke records and published excellent games over the past 2 Years in particular, nobody expected this game to be good, or to live up to the hype of the film. But these days, Activision seem to be putting quite the effort into the majority of their games.

              Transformers is a direct copy of the film. All the film characters appear, including the ever popular Bumblebee, Optomus Prime and Megatron, and in the campaign you get to pick which side you actually go on - Autobots or Deceptorcons. With a slightly open-world feel to it, much like Grand Theft Auto with the view behind the car/robot, Green and Yellow markers will shine on your radar, placed in the top right corner, to direct you to your destinations. Running in the 'bots isnt quick, so transforming into the car is the easiest option. This is where my only gripe comes in. The controlling of the car is terrible. Clunky and very mechanical. Not as smooth as the GTA games or racing games some of us might be used to. The 'A' button is accelerate, which takes getting used to, after years of the Driving Games drilling Right Trigger into our brain as the Accelerate button. But, the quickness of transforming from 'bot to the car is impressive and flawless. Theres no glitching there, and a well polished before, during and after transformation is impressive from the afore mentioned reputation of movie-to-game titles. The surroundings in the game can look cartoony sometimes, and when you accidently hit people, they dont die, which takes some realism out of it, but given this is a PG title, I guess thats what they had to do to get the rating.

              After playing the first, I will be giving the second a go with open arms and baited breath.

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