A Truly Smart TV

Last year, I wrote about Switching to 4K video and how reluctant I was at the prospect. I figured I’d hold out longer but was also starting to warm to the idea because I’d love to play games in 4K. Well, guess what? We upgraded!


After being content with our 40” HDTV for the past 9 years, we finally bought at 4K TV at 55”. There were only two things we we’re wanting: the bigger screen (for more immersive/expansive entertainment) and the higher resolution (for more stunning life-like imagery). To our surprise and delight though, we got a lot more than we bargained for.

I don’t keep up with TV tech trends; I’ve always treated my TV like a computer monitor, just a simple “dumb” display. Our previous HDTV had the Nintendo Switch, a Bluray player, and a Roku connected. The latter stick was our portal to online streaming content like YouTube and AppleTV.

Now our new UHD TV is smart in many ways. It totally eliminated the need for our Roku. Every streaming service you would want is built-in and runs great: Prime video, Netflix, and Disney+ to name a few. I can even AirPlay stuff from my iPhone to it with ease.

The shiny new rectangle (not curved, by the way) also has more HDMI ports than our former polygonal movie portal, and one of them has the ARC capability as does our existing soundbar. So now we can connect all our devices directly to the TV, removing the need for the janky cable splitter while also minimizing cables.

Things are also simpler since we’re now able to control our soundbar with the TV remote rather than a separate remote. Also cool, the new TV is smart enough to detect when a connected device powers on, which auto-switches to the correct input. Another bonus, the TV has Bluetooth, so now I can enjoy stuff on the big screen using my wireless headphones so I don’t disturb those in slumber.

There is one minor downside to our new set-up, but it’s not the TV’s fault. Our DSL internet is, by definition, not broadband (it pains me to even say it). So it’s simply not fast enough to stream 4K content. I sampled 4K HDR videos on YouTube and have been able to watch only a few. I tried selecting the full 4K setting on some videos but they collapsed inside a buffering black-hole. The next resolution down (1440p I think) is something like 3K or 2.5K and we’re able to stream that, so at least we have improved over 1080p full-HD (or what you might consider 2K).

If we want to watch full-4K videos, we’ll need to buy a 4K disc player, but those are still very expensive. Frankly, this gives me pause as I consider no longer buying physical media for movie watching and instead may rely on streaming. Hopefully, in the next year or two, our local service providers will finally roll out fiber optic internet to our house (we live in a rural area).

Playing Switch games in HD upscaled to “4K” on the bigger screen is awesome for the improved immersion in 3D environments. Overall quality looks better too. Part of that is due to the smoother motion thanks to a simulated (or interpolated) refresh rate of 120Hz (true native is 60Hz). When Nintendo unveils a 4K Switch, I’ll certainly want to upgrade my gaming. Glad I have a TV ready for it. That said, I’m more inclined now to also buy a PS5. One thing at a time.

I resisted the march of progress for more pixels until now. The cool thing is we got more than that. We have a truly Smart TV that meets our entertainment desires with less effort and greater efficacy than ever. Looks like a smart move to me.

Video Game Music Rabbit Hole

A few days ago, I was scrolling the home page on YouTube. I do that. Maybe too much. One of the videos that surfaced was of a composer’s reaction to the Final Fantasy VI song, “Dancing Mad.” Intrigued, I watched the whole video with glee! And a rabbit hole of Final Fantasy music swallowed me up.


When I was a teen, circa 1994, I played FFVI on Super Nintendo. It was called FFIII here in the west. And I recall the great final battle with Kefka and the music that played. Nobuo Uematsu’s score, “Dancing Mad,” was epic! The whole game and the ending were too, of course.

What intrigued me about the YouTube video were two things: the guy who reacted to it is a music composer. And he had never played the game, so he did not know the context of the song! His reaction would be purely based on the quality of the composed score itself, even in its SNES form. Nice!

Good news: I liked his reaction.

This led to me wanting to hear full symphony orchestrated renditions of Final Fantasy songs from the SNES and PS1 days, back when audio quality was still poor and video game music sounded only slightly better than the blips and beeps of 80’s gaming with Atari and the NES.

I discovered several YouTube renditions and covers and orchestrated pieces of FF music – lots to enjoy! Best of all, I also found some of these on Apple Music!

My favorite so far is the album, A Place To Call Home featuring orchestral tributes to Final Fantasy IX. One of my fave songs is Freya’s Theme! This song has so much emotion in it; you have to feel it, like ineffable earnest heartache with a twinkle of hope. Hultgren’s tribute captures the spirit of the song.

So after more than an hour, I was saturated in compelling symphonies of Final Fantasy video game music. What a time it was. Sonic serendipity.


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Geek On Games

Lately, since I’ve been obsessed focused on video games, especially JRPGs, I stumbled upon two cool websites.

RPGFan

One is RPGFan.com. It’s got some great reviews on games, and it’s great to compare different ones to get a better idea about a particular game one might want to dive into.

My next one on the backlog is Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch.

Of course, it gets fun to geek out over different battle systems and leveling systems, and the pros and cons of traditional Japanese (JRPG) versus action (ARPG) versus strategy/tactical (SRPG). Then there’s the similar discussion about Japanese versus Western RPGs. But I don’t wanna digress here.

Grouvee

At some point I wondered if there was like a “goodreads” for games. Turns out, there totally is!!

I discovered Grouvee and am loving it so far. Uh, yeah, I joined!

I am FullyRendered.

There’s a nice geek gamer culture there where it’s fun to share your love of video gaming with others. Or you could use it as a simple cataloging system to track what you’ve played or want to play. Plus, there’s more!

The site has been run by only one guy since like 2012 – impressive! Talk about a passion project. Much thanks to the site developer! I plan to “Go Gold” and pitch in my monetary share to support the site via subscription; it’s that cool.

So, if you wanna know what game I’m currently playing, I’ve got a new widget at the bottom of the blog for that. It happens to be Final Fantasy X HD Remaster on Switch.

Escapism is a good part of reality.


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Final Fantasy Role Play

Hey fellow web denizens, are you ready for Summer to end, anticipating Autumn and cooler temps? I am! Halloween stuff and pumpkin spice is already popping up in stores!

Summer found me reading several books until recently. I’ve been finding my stories in another medium: video games. I decided to dive into one of my old faves, Final Fantasy. A good ol’ JRPG!

This post is kind of a response to a couple posts I published last year about Final Fantasy here and here.

I was impressed last October with the new Final Fantasy VII Remake coming for PlayStation 4. I wondered then, would I buy the console just to play the game!? And if so, would I play through the whole game like I first did back around 1997. Answer: no and yes.

Final Fantasy VII

Instead of a PS4, I bought a Nintendo Switch last Christmas! And I’ve now played through Final Fantasy VII (the re-release version) after many years and many attempts at replay. Since first finishing the game in the late 90’s, I restarted it several times but was never able to get through it. Until now!

There are several plot points and events in the story of the game that I didn’t remember, so I relived it both afresh and with nostalgia – it was fun! Yes, the graphics are dated, but the nostalgia factor for me made it enjoyable. When it first came out, the game was impressive on the PlayStation (PS1)!

What made FFVII so impactful circa 1997 was its over-the-top visual storytelling in a video game. It blended full-motion CGI video with pre-rendered backgrounds and 3D polygonal characters in a seamless way, within the tech limits of the time.

While the storytelling was spectacular, the story itself was, dare I say, epic!

You literally must save the entire planet with all its inhabitants from total destruction and utter ruin. No big deal though, right?

Squaresoft (Square-Enix) had a knack for huge stories with existential overtones. They’re full of drama, tragedy, betrayal, love, camaradiere, danger – all the stuff of relationships. There are plot twists and turns. And like the JRPG genre Final Fantasy is in, there are often well developed character story-arcs. And of course, lots of magic and action. (Summons!)


This Summer, finishing FFVII for the second time was more than a mere fun replay. For me, it became a stepping stone on a path I never finished. I went back a little before I would go forward.

The path started in the 90’s with FFVI on SNES, then jumped to FFVII on PS1. Next, I played FFVIII and FFIX, also on the PS1.

The next FF installment, number ten, debuted in 2001 on the PS2, a console I didn’t own. So I never played Final Fantasy X but have always wanted to.

And now I’m finally playing Final Fantasy X for the first time!


Final Fantasy X

FFX is nearly 20 years old, but to me it is brand new! I read some reviews (no spoilers!) about it and was pretty stoked. It’s one of the best in the long running FF franchise. Here’s a salient quote I found:

“Whereas many of the previous Final Fantasy games were games with story elements, this is a story with gaming elements.”

Hear that? FFX is big on story – like reading a book!? Sounds good. Although it might be more like an audiobook since the dialogue is full of voice acting, a first for FF games back in the day.

The only real downside I’ve read about FFX is that the game, driven by a great story, is more linear than previous FF games. But I think that straightforward approach will help me play through the game. So bring it on.

In the Final Fantasy franchise, there’s always been a steady progression in Square-Enix’s ability to cinematically showcase the story with advancements in graphical quality. I enjoyed the visual experience starting in the 16-bit era with FFVI (FFIII SNES). It got remarkably better with FFVII, FFVIII, and FFIX (PS1).

Now that I’ve started FFX, I’m super impressed with how much Square-Enix has improved everything. And I’m lucky, since waiting almost 20 years to play FFX means I not only jumped from PS1 to PS2 level pizzazz, I jumped to the high-quality version with the FFX HD Remaster!


So that’s what I’ve been up to lately, geeking out on gaming. Overall, I’m consuming more content than creating it. That happens. The scales tip from one side of the balance to another.

For now, I’ve got to save the world again from crazy-bad destructive forces. Wish me luck!


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Animal Crossing New Horizons

A year ago, my pleasant pastime was playing Animal Crossing: New Leaf… Now, I’m doing it again in a whole new way! Today is the official release of Nintendo’s excellent game Animal Crossing: New Horizons


Last March, my wife and I leisurely explored Animal Crossing: New Leaf for Nintendo 3DS. It reminded me of the time when we first played Animal Crossing on the Gamecube – almost 20 years ago! But New Leaf had improved graphics and other gameplay enhancements that made it more enjoyable. It’s totally casual, labeled a “Life Simulation,” and it’s not everyone’s cup-o-tea.

There have been other Animal Crossing main titles over the years, including a few spin-offs that just were not the same. Now, Animal Crossing: New Horizons looks to be the best, most robust, main entry of the title ever. And since it has been many years in coming, the hype has been through the roof!

A month ago, I was in my local Gamestop where I ended up pre-ordering the physical copy of New Horizons. I was supposed to get a free poster of the game as a perk, and there was going to be an early release at 11pm the night before launch day. But thanks to the COVID-19 virus plaguing the planet, those plans got canned.

Regardless, all that matters is: I got the game and started life on my deserted island! What did I name it: Escape! Because of course.


I’ve been trying to ramp my blogging habit back up, but it looks like I’ll be playing New Horizons for a while! And the thing with Animal Crossing games is you’re never really through! There is no “end.” Time rolls by, seasons change, anthropomorphic animals come and go, affecting the unfolding of events in the game. And life goes on.


Will you be playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons, or do you have a different new game going? Comment below, or write to me here! Thanks for reading!