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April, 2019

Optimus OLED Keyboard: from legend to laughing stock

With 102 configurable mini-OLED screens as keys and a gorgeously understated look, the Art Lebedev-designed Optimus keyboard became a thing of legend. Geeks and gadgeteers around the Internet fawned over the keyboard as though it were the face of their chosen God: each key radiating with the brilliant OLED beauty that only a true geek can appreciate. Even we here at Ars couldn't escape the siren song of this unrivaled device. HangZhou Night Net

The appeal was fairly obvious. Dynamically changing input based on whatever you were doing on your computer. Launch a game and the keys would automatically change to reflect the controls of the game. Start up Photoshop and instantly the hotkeys would be labeled.

Naturally, the ambitious project was met with countless delays. Originally popping up in July 2005, the project was eventually pushed into 2007 release territory. First the input was changed to black-and-white, then back to color. Then it completely fell off the map in the stead of the similarly-designed 3 button mini-keypad. However, that didn't stop the e-masses from continuing to worship the ultimate keyboard—even facing strict competition, the Optimus managed to win itself a place on the most anticipated devices of 2007 and eventually returned to the limelight for one last final hurrah before it would fall from grace.

And boy did it ever fall from grace. Just over a month ago, concrete details began to surface about the availability and price of the long-awaited deity of the keyboard world. When word came out that the keyboard, allegedly due for Christmas 2007, was to hit for a whopping $1,490, the keyboard instantly fell from its pedestal of greatness to a more lowly position somewhere far beyond the scope of even hardcore tech enthusiasts. It was simply too hard to believe; some speculated that the first price was just a rumor and not confirmed. To a certain extent, the naysayers were right, as it seems the keyboard is now even more expensive and more limited than was originally imagined.

The Optimus keyboard has now been confirmed for release this November at a cost of $1,536. Only 200 units will be produced through the end of this year, with 400 more due out in January. It is uncertain whether production will continue after that point. Needless to say, the price-point and limited quantities have taken this artistic derivation from the realm of the desirable to the realm of the ridiculous. As beautiful as this keyboard is, $1,536 is simply an order of magnitude greater than what I, and I assume many others, would be willing to pay. So, dear Optimus, object of my affection for so long, I bid you adieu. May you rest in peace. I'll be sure to pick up your descendant once Logitech pumps it out for a much more modest price.

Demo impressions: Ninja Gaiden Sigma

Getting to the game play of the Ninja Gaiden Sigma demo is a painful experience. I started the download last night, and although the demo weighs in at a not-uncommon 900+MB, it took hours upon hours to finish. Apparently the servers were taking quite the beating. After the demo was done downloading, it had to install. After the installation, you are forced to watch a text-crawl telling you that you will be arrested if you do anything with the demo other than play it in awe. So the time from turning on your PS3 and playing the demo is about five hours. Okay, most of that was the time to download, but still. HangZhou Night Net

You'll be forgiven if you get a sense of deja vu from the demo; this is the same level that was on demo discs before the first Ninja Gaiden on the Xbox was released. Of course, the graphics have been updated, but we're all about game play and really don't care about…

Dear sweet Miyamoto, this is an attractive game! It runs at a perfect framerate, Ryu and the other ninjas animate fluidly, and the backgrounds are all newly shiny-fied. Like the later revisions of the Xbox Ninja Gaiden, the right analogue stick controls the camera, which is a nice touch if you like to really take in your surroundings. We're looking at a showpiece game for the PlayStation 3 here—it's beautiful.

The demo includes the use of your stock weapon as well as the nunchuks, the oversized Final Fantasy 7-style beast known as the Dabilahro, and the new dual katanas dubbed the Dragon's Claw and Tiger Fang. The double katanas are slower than I expected, and while I still need to practice with them to become proficient, they look great and are badass in battle. The other change is your Ninpo attacks: you can now shake the Sixaxis controller to make your magic attacks stronger. I'm not sure about that madness.

There isn't much new content, but the facelift is incredible so far. We have to wait until June 26 to play the full version, and that could require some patience. Ninja Gaiden has always been a gamer's game, and this version retains everything that makes the series great. As well as very impressive graphics. Which we're not supposed to care about.

It's so pretty.

High-speed CD ripping with CD Stack

Back in the 90s, I bought one of the first car stereo head units available that could play MP3 CDs. Not long after, I embarked on a massive CD ripping spree to convert my entire CD collection (around 300 at the time) to MP3 CDs so that I could carry it with me in the car. It took me nearly a month and I hated every second of it. I then spent much of the next decade dreading thetime when I'd have to do that again, and I think that time is soon coming. HangZhou Night Net

CD Stack is an application that tries to minimize that pain mainly by separating the ripping and the L.A.M.E.-based encoding into two separate tasks. Instead of waiting to rip track two until track one is finished encoding, CD Stack places each ripped track into an encoding queue and continues on its merry way, allowing you to rip your CDs faster than they encode. This makes the most efficient use of your time by minimizing the time you spend sitting in front of the computer, especially if you have a large number of CDs to rip. It has many options for customizing file names and supports automatic import into iTunes. It also allows you to include your own L.A.M.E. switches if you're a L.A.M.E junkie.

Despite the rather ugly interface and incredibly sparse progress information, CD Stack's workflow seems smooth and problem free. And splitting the ripping and encoding into two separate tasks managed by the machine is a great idea. Unfortunately, it may be an idea that has come too late.

The value of CD Stack's two-pronged approach is going to depend a lot on how you like to encode your files and the power of the machine you're using. Using the standard present (which, as CD Stack helpfully informed me, will result in files in the 170kbps-210kbps range), my two year old Quad G5 with the standard optical drive and HD was able to encode just as fast as it could rip. Bumping the preset up to extreme only forced the encoding to fall behind by less than a minute. I had to use the Insane preset to get any significant gains. Still, with a solid workflow and a nice set of presets, if you're looking for a L.A.M.E.-based encoder to re-rip your entire music collection, and especially if you like to milk L.A.M.E. for all it's worth, you could definitely do worse for $14.95.

Nintendo reports monster profits, promises increased Wii production

Over five months after launch, the Nintendo Wii is still hard to find. Nintendo president Satoru Iwata thinks that's a problem, saying that the situation is "abnormal," according to Forbes. "We must do our best to fix this abnormal lack of stock," said Iwata to a group of reporters. "We have not been able to properly foresee demand." HangZhou Night Net

That demand continues to be strong, although some have accused Nintendo of manipulating shipments to increase demand: GameStop COO Dan DeMatteo said last month that he believed Nintendo held back Wii units to create a shortage.

Whatever the case may be, Nintendo has a vise-like grip on the top two slots when it comes to total console shipments. For the first quarter of 2007, the DS was in the top position, selling over 1.23 million units during the quarter. Nintendo shipped over 1.02 million Wiis during the quarter. Sony's venerable PlayStation 2 was in the number three slot; the next-most-popular next-gen console was the Xbox 360, which shipped 721,000 units.

Nintendo said that since the Wii's launch last November, it has sold over 5.84 million of the consoles. That includes 2.37 million in the Americas and 2 million in Japan. For the fiscal year ending in March 2008, the company hopes to sell 14 million more.

Iwata was unwilling to discuss Nintendo's production capacity in any detail, refusing to disclose how how much Nintendo will raise capacity. The efforts to crank out more consoles will come as good news for those who are still waiting to get their hands on one, and will need to bear fruit in order for the company to hit the 14 million mark.

Nintendo also reported its earnings for the fiscal year that ended on March 31, although it chose not to break out its fourth quarter figures. The last fiscal year was very good to Nintendo. The company's profit soared 77 percent to ¥174.29 billion ($1.47 billion) on sales of ¥966.53 billion ($8.53 billion). That's a 90 percent increase, spurred by insane demand for the Wii and continued strong sales of the Nintendo DS. Using some highly-specialized math skills (calculator.app), we can learn that the fourth quarter rocked as well, with sales tripling over the same quarter last year.

Motorstorm to receive extensive May update

Motorstorm started off as a great game, and when they updated the online support to include buddy lists it got even better. Now we have the details of what we can expect from the upcoming patch in the middle of May. While apparently we won't see the new tracks or game modes, we will see a bunch of fixes. Here's the list: HangZhou Night Net

Game List Improvement: "Game Status" is now displayed with the game list in the online lobby making it easier to find a session where you'll be able to join and race promptly.Host Identification: Within the game lobby the host is now clearly identified by a 'host' icon visible to all players and updated during host migration.Boost Exploit: A bug involving the boost system that allowed a player to use boost in an exploitative manner has been resolved.Buddy List Size: This has been updated to support up to 50 friends.Text Cut-off: When playing in standard definition all messages will now display as intended.Improved Stability Online: Online gameplay stability has been improved.Audio issues: All known issues with 5.1 / 7.1 surround have been fixed. Audio issues within the front-end have been resolved.Player Ranking: Players were found to be ranked incorrectly due to a bug. Because of this all online rankings will be reset and the ranking system should now function correctly. Evolution and Sony apologise for this measure but it will result in a fairer and more stable ranking system for all players. Auto-Start: Races will be forced to start after a fixed countdown which should dramatically reduce the waiting times in lobbies. Hosts may delay this countdown up to three times.Save Data Corruption: When quitting the game using the PS button it was possible to corrupt the save game data. This will no longer occur.Lobby Information: Upcoming track and current lap details will be displayed in lobbies.Vehicle Damage: When restarting a single player race during a death camera the damage wasn't always reset at the start of the next race. This has now been resolved.Missing Audio: Audio effects were missing from the death camera, these have now been reinstated.Name Tags: Added ability to switch the player name tags on/off during online races using a single button press (L1).

Not bad… a bunch of little fixes that should add up to a much smoother online experience. We'll give it a whirl after the patch is released.