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Reviews About Linksys WRT 1200AC with ExpressVPN

FOR

  • All-you-can-eat VPN
  • Ability to disable VPN per device

AGAINST

  • Tied to one VPN
  • Warranty is void when router is flashed

Routers, like pretty much every other piece of computing hardware, have reached a maturation peak with very little disruptive innovation now happening.

A few smaller vendors are trying new things to differentiate themselves from the rest of the competition, often by offering fine-tuned, bespoke services.

It certainly came as a surprise when one VPN provider, ExpressVPN, offered to send us the Linksys WRT 1200AC router with its services baked in by way of a customised firmware.

Note that in our case, the router was already preconfigured, but owners of the WRT 1200AC or the WRT 1900AC/S (the only two Linksys routers that support the native ExpressVPN option) will be able to install this particular firmware.

A couple of points here: changing the firmware of your router is not for the faint hearted and there’s a small chance that you could brick (break) your device during the process.

Doing so with a third-party firmware will invalidate your warranty although you can always go back to the original Linksys firmware.

ExpressVPN told us that, while this is the case, Linksys has done a good job to make this device a lot more reliable than anything else on the market.

Speaking of the WRT 1200AC, this is a relatively mature device that was launched well over a year ago; although the one that was sent to us is the v2 incarnation.

You can nab it for as little as £102 (around $125, AU$165) including delivery from online retailer Ballicom (and you can check out our review of the ExpressVPN service here).

Those who have used the now legendary WRT 54xx series will recognise the device’s blue-black colour scheme. The WRT 1200AC is the heir to that line with some pretty bold lines and a futuristic design.

There are plenty of holes in its enclosure, a sign that the hardware inside may well get warm under near-constant use. As expected, it sits comfortably on four big plastic feet and carries two detachable antennas at the back.

As with the vast majority of routers on the market, there are plenty of status lights up front (11 in all), a lot of ports at the back, and all the admin details about the router are on its base.

Overall, the 1200AC has a very solid feel to it with an air of nostalgia; it won’t wobble or fall off a flat surface thanks to a low centre of gravity.

The original router had 256MB of RAM while the new version 2 we evaluated doubles that to 512MB. There’s still a Marvel 88F6820 ARM system-on-chip at its heart, a dual-core model clocked at 1.3GHz. It has a theoretical maximum transfer rate of 300Mbps on the 2.4GHz band and 900Mbps on 5GHz; you can of course use both at the same time, depending on your devices.

Note that the WRT 1200AC incorporates beam forming technology which means that it can focus its wireless signals on devices connected to it.

At the back of the router you’ll find a switch, a reset button, a power connector, one USB 3.0 port, one eSATA/USB 2.0 connector and four Gigabit Ethernet ports.

You must have an ExpressVPN subscription for the VPN to work, something that can cost you as little as $99.99 (around £80, AU$135) for a year. You’ll need to enter your 23-digit activation code to use the router, and the VPN service will work on all the devices connected to it.

You will not need a subscription to use the router if you do not plan to use the VPN service, but presumably if you’re buying this product, you’re doing so for the bundled VPN. Still, if you change your mind down the line, the hardware will still work without the subscription.

Linksys also encourages you to register for its free Smart Wi-Fi service which allows you to monitor and manage your router using a mobile app from anywhere in the world. Very useful if you want to reset or troubleshoot when you’re not physically near the device.

The router’s user interface is well laid-out with some clear options that even include a speed test feature, one which connects with the popular Speednet service. You can configure the modem to run on OpenWRT or DD-WRT, two popular alternative router operating systems.

This, however, would require you to get rid of the ExpressVPN firmware (which is itself a customised version of OpenWRT).

While ExpressVPN usually enforces a limit of three simultaneous connections per account, that limit doesn’t hold for this router, and as we mentioned earlier, you can connect as many devices as your broadband can support, a real boon for households with loads of devices.

It’s worth noting that the only type of split tunnelling support is VPN (single location) or No VPN. Individual devices cannot have individual servers.

Users can select which devices they want to connect through the VPN, and which devices they do not want to be protected.

Connecting the router to our existing Virgin Media Superhub 2ac directly (without switching on the router mode) worked, with the WRT 1200AC consistently providing a better browsing experience than Virgin Media’s bundled router.

Early verdict

There are two parts to this verdict. The first pertains to the router itself which is a decent model that delivers a strong showing in terms of transfer rate and stability.

The user interface and the free mobile app are a welcome change from what you usually get with the router bundled with your broadband line. Sure, it doesn’t have features like MU-MIMO or triple band but then again, it is a £102 (around $125, AU$165) router and one of the cheaper AC1200 models.

And secondly, as for the ExpressVPN option, it is unfortunately a flawed one as it invalidates the hardware’s warranty (as confirmed by Linksys). If you’re happy to take this risk, there’s one incentive and that’s the fact that everything is done transparently.

Experienced users can always install VPN clients on their own devices and swap between providers as they see fit, either because features have evolved or they feel they could get better value-for-money elsewhere.

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Reviews About GAMDIAS Hephaestus v2 Gaming Headset For Gamer

By David Shields

Manufacturer: GAMDIAS Technology, Inc. Product Name: Hephaestus v2 Surround Sound Gaming Headset Model Number: GHS3510 UPC: 84847500156 EAN: 47129601300289 Price As Tested: $59.99 (Amazon)

Full Disclosure: The product sample used in this article has been provided by GAMDIAS.

In my last article, we reviewed the GAMDIAS EROS ELITE EQ Headset, a budget-minded base headset with plenty of useful features. Today, we have the Hephaestus v2 headset, a higher-end GAMDIAS product that comes with a few added features.

The GAMDIAS Hephaestus v2 Surround Sound Gaming headset features a 50mm USB connection, built-in smart controller, large ear cups, decorative LEDs, omnidirectional mike, and finally “bass impact.’ This takes low frequency bass tones and applies a slight vibration effect to let wearers “feel” the sound. In this article for Benchmark Reviews, we’ll look at the design of the Hephaestus v2 before diving into some basic performance tests.

GAMDIAS logo headband

Features & Specifications

Sensitivity
119±3dB
Impedance 32 Ohms
Driver Diameter 50mm
Microphone Size F6*5mm
Microphone Sensitivity -40db±3db
Vibration Unit Driver Unit Size 35mm
Cable Length 1.9m
Plug Type USB
Application UI YES
Model No. HS3510

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Hephaestus v2 Headset Overview

The body of the Hephaestus v2 is made from quality plastic that doesn’t collects noticeable marks or dust during use. I think it should stand up to repeated and long-term use over time very well.

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The headband and ear cups are covered in a layer of vinyl. Both are very comfortable and stand up well to extended use without causing perspiration or chaffing. An omnidirectional microphone with noise cancelling is included. We’ll get into it’s actual performance later, but for now its worth noting the microphone can be easily adjusted to any height and is placed for optimal voice pickup.

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GAMDIAS states that the Hephaestus v2 features a “Flat-foldable design to fit the lean space of laptop carrying bag,” as shown above. As demonstrated below, it can in fact by stored in multiple configurations to fit nearly anywhere, making it a perfect travel companion.

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This headset fits comfortably for long term wear thanks to the large ear cups and wide headband. One complaint I had with the Eros Elite was it’s weight – the double headband was very heavy and unsuited for long-term wear. Each side is fitted with an extension that allows roughly three centimeters of additional height on each side.

HephaestusIIWornView

In our next section, we’ll address some of the finer details of the Hephaestus v2 before moving on to testing and performance.

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News About Keyboard: Best budget gaming keyboard

Thermaltake Poseidon Z

Pros

  • Extremely affordable for a gaming keyboard
  • Decent build quality
  • Has backlit keys
  • Full numpad

Cons

  • Flimsy and slippery keycaps
The Thermaltake Poseidon Z has been around for nearly two years, but its tremendous value still firmly seats it as one of the most popular mechanical keyboards on the market. At the time of writing, you can easily pick one up for around $65. Those who crunch numbers will definitely appreciate the inclusion of the number pad. At a budget price, this is a huge bonus compared to many of the other tenkeyless (TKL) options in this price category. It also comes with blue backlighting, a feature that’s often lost in the pursuit of lowering the cost.

Thermaltake’s decision of going with Kailh switches instead of Cherry MX which may upset some die-hard Cherry fans. Kailh switches are often perceived as inferior in quality when compared to Cherry MX switches. In reality, you’d be hard put to tell the difference between Cherry and Kailh, even if you are a veteran.

The Thermaltake Poseidon Z comes in either Kailh Blue or Brown flavors. What you choose is up to you. Blues have fantastic feedback for typing but have a loud click, Browns offer slightly less tactility but are much quieter.

There are no ornate designs with the Poseidon Z: It’s cased in a plain but durable plastic chassis. While its shell feels solid, there’s an unsightly red logo sprayed above the number pad. The Thermaltake logo has also been etched into the center of the spacebar, but we’re willing to overlook these small details considering its price

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Reviews About Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past (3DS)

A gorgeous remake of the PS1 classic, but DQ VII’s slow start and fragmented story line fail to give it much of a future on 3DS

Specifications

Available formats: Nintendo 3DS

Dragon Quest VII is the original paint-by-numbers JRPG. Instead of throwing players into a huge, sprawling world they can explore from the off, it’s up to your band of heroes to restore each individual island one by one, journeying back in time to save them from the perils of the past so they might live on in the present day. The more you meddle with fate, the larger your world becomes, with each restored island filling in a new piece of the ever-expanding overworld map.

It’s classic time-travelling fare, and the sort of time-paradox story we’ve seen hundred times before in films, books and TV. And yet Dragon Quest VII stops short at what makes those stories so gripping, as each rescued world is simply a happier version of the one you left behind.

There aren’t any consequences to your actions and no cost you have to pay for having changed these people’s lives. Instead, everything is just fine and dandy, which rather makes the return visit a bit disappointing when you’ve spent so long bending time to your will. A statue would have been nice, you know, or a park bench with our names on it – is that too much to ask?

Admittedly, it probably was too much back when Dragon Quest VII first came out back in the hazy days of 2000 for the original PlayStation, but given that this new 3DS remake (which is the first time the game’s ever been officially released in Europe) has modernised the game in almost every conceivable way, you’d have thought a couple of small plaques wouldn’t have been beyond the realms of possibility. For much like the remakes of Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire, the 3DS version of Dragon Quest VII sees what was once a largely 2D game transform into glorious 3D, providing a brand new coat of paint for this ageing PS1 title.

At times, you can see the 3DS groan under the sheer weight of its ambition, with object pop-in and frame rate dips in battle being regular grievances throughout. However, when each monster is so beautifully animated and the environments so overrun with intricate details, you soon learn to look past its flaws and revel in its hopping, sword-wielding kangaroos and smiling, googly-eyed aubergines.

It’s charming to a fault, but even the sight of its puckering, lip-smacking slugs aren’t quite enough to erase what’s arguably the slowest and most tedious opening I’ve ever encountered in a JRPG. Fetch quests and lethargic story exposition abound, and it wasn’t until about 90 minutes in that I even got to swing my sword (err, stick) in an honest-to-god fight.

Thankfully, the pace does eventually improve, and the superb localisation of each individual village (complete with European accents and regional dialects) does an excellent job at giving each place its own unique flavour and personality. Some island stories are more absorbing than others, but they rarely feel repetitive. However, for all the time it spends setting up the game’s central premise, it actually does a pretty poor job at explaining why you need to save these towns in the first place, leaving the overarching narrative feeling rather weak by comparison.

As a result, the whole game ends up feeling rather fragmented, with these small, micro stories never really feeding in to a larger, more cohesive whole. It might have held together better if there were repercussions you had to face on your second visit, for example, or even a new set of quests, but when each saved town sees you visiting the exact same locations as before (this time to find more stone tablets to open up new portals to the past) as well as the same round of blank faces, the lack of anything new and different makes it feel very much like you’re just going through the motions to get to your next objective.

Combine that with its wearisome opening and I fear most newcomers to the game will end up leaving a lot of Dragon Quest VII’s map unfinished. However, if you were one of the lucky ones who managed to play it the first time round, either by import or playing it overseas, then you’ll probably get quite a kick out of seeing the game reimagined in its new 3DS form.

That said, there are certainly more compelling time-travelling games around – Chrono Trigger and The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D to name just a few – and compared to the likes of more modern 3DS JRPGs like Bravely Default and Xenoblade Chronicles 3D, Dragon Quest VII just feels a little too quaint and rigid to really stand out. It paints a pretty enough picture when all’s said and done, but this is one JRPG that simply doesn’t tolerate those who like to colour outside the lines.

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Reviews About Sony PlayStation TV: a PS Vita on your television

Nearly one year after its launch in Japan, Sony is releasing the PS Vita TV — now clad in black and rechristened the PlayStation TV— in North America today, Tuesday October 14th, for $99.99. Read our original Vita TV review below.

The video games industry has recently been chattering in hushed tones about the likelihood of an apocalyptic scenario. “I think Apple rolls the console guys really easily,”Valve’s Gabe Newell said of the possibility that Cupertino might extend its impact on the gaming scene, from smartphones and tablets to TV screens. “Apple has gained a huge amount of market share,” he says, “œand has a relatively obvious pathway toward entering the living room with their platform.” And with iOS 7 leading to the first game controllers with official support at the system level, that moment has never seemed closer.

The PS Vita TV looks an awful lot like Sony’s attempt to preempt that eventuality. Released in Japan this week, it mirrors the Apple TV in many ways: it’s a small, roughly $99 box that repurposes mobile hardware to fit your TV set. But the Vita TV is based on the PS Vita handheld, meaning that it can offer a premium gaming platform in addition to the usual media functionality. Sony has all the pieces of the puzzle here: the games, the controller, the content.

On paper it’s an exciting and promising system, then, but Sony isn’t doing much to talk about it. There aren’t any international release plans for now, and here in Japan it’s been quietly pushed out in the same week that the US is experiencing the full force of Sony’sPlayStation 4 marketing blitz. So what is the PS Vita TV? Is it an essential part of Sony’s living room strategy, or a consolation prize for Japanese customers who have to wait three more months for the PS4?

Console

The tiny PlayStation

Sony is marketing the Vita TV as “the world’s smallest PlayStation” in Japan, and it isn’t kidding. Measuring just 65mm x 105mm x 13.6mm (2.6 x 4.1 x 0.5 inches), the Vita TV is an impossibly tiny console. Its footprint is roughly the size of the handheld Vita’s 5-inch screen, making it closer to a smartphone than a typical gaming system; if it were much thinner, there wouldn’t be any room for the Ethernet jack on the back. It’s also beautifully minimalist, with a simple, silver PlayStation logo on top, an embossed Sony legend on the edge, and little else in the way of adornments on the plastic frame. The Vita TV’s origins in mobile hardware confer a few advantages: there are no vents to be found, the console is completely silent in use, and it boots from standby in just a few seconds. Like the handheld Vita, you can put the Vita TV into standby mode in the middle of a game and resume almost instantly.

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The Vita TV would be the least obtrusive console ever made were it not for its color. It’s only available in white, meaning it’ll stand out somewhat in most people’s entertainment centers. (Update: the US version will be released in black.) Product designer Taichi Nokuo toldFamitsu that while the team thought about making the console black, it ultimately decided to go for a slightly off-white tone that matches many people’s walls so as not to make the console stand out. Black would probably have been more successful in that regard, but the white color is attractive and draws attention to the system’s compact, austere frame.

NOT QUITE THE LEAST OBTRUSIVE CONSOLE EVER MADE, BUT CERTAINLY THE SMALLEST PLAYSTATION EVER

The most obvious way to place the Vita TV would be lengthways, so that the I/O ports point towards the back. But in this position the PlayStation logo faces the side, and the Vita game card slot —€” hidden behind a fiddly flap — is awkwardly oriented in the opposite direction. From the company that included rotatable logos on the PlayStation 2 and 3 to ensure the console looked right in both horizontal and vertical orientation, it’s a little jarring. The $99-ish (¥9,480) price doesn’t quite get you the same out-of-box experience as an Apple TV or Roku. You’ll need a PlayStation 3 (or 4, after a forthcoming firmware update) controller to use the Vita TV, for one thing, which doesn’t come in that base package. You’ll probably want more storage beyond the built-in 1GB, too, and for that you’ll have to splash out on Sony’s expensive proprietary Vita memory cards. For those not already entrenched in the PlayStation ecosystem, Sony is selling a Value Pack that bundles a PS3 controller, an 8GB memory card, and three months of PlayStation Plus for about $150 (¥14,280). If you’€™re not in Japan, you probably won’t get much use out of an imported Vita TV€” at present, you need a Japanese PlayStation Network account to sign in and access the system’€™s store and online services. Overall, though, the Vita TV is an impressive feat of engineering wrapped up in an attractive package. Unfortunately, Sony didn’t pay as much attention to the software that powers it.

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Software and interface

The Vita, in your TV

Say what you like about the PS Vita’s lurid, bubbly operating system, but it is at least responsive and clearly designed for the fingers that touch it. The Vita TV, on the other hand, copies and pastes this smartphone-style software onto a big TV screen and asks you to manipulate it with a D-pad and buttons. It’€™s the same simple system: apps and games have their own icons, and pressing them takes you to a “Live Area” that lets you view relevant information or start the game itself. This is fine for basic launching functionality on the Vita TV, but it doesn’t take long before problems appear. The Vita’s icons aren’t arranged on a four-way grid, so it’s often unclear where directional button presses will take you. Typing with the on-screen keyboard requires a Herculean effort to switch between panels of characters that were easy to select on the Vita. The handheld system’s touchscreen and rear touchpad can be awkwardly emulated on the analog sticks by clicking in the L3 or R3 buttons, but I never found a single good use for this.

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The careless grafting of the PS Vita’™s interface onto the TV is perhaps best exemplified by the way you close apps and return to the home screen. While PlayStations have used the O button to select and the X button to cancel since 1995 (the button order is reversed in the West), the Vita’s main interface dropped that in favor of touch control. Fine, but that leads to the Vita TV’s insane patch —€” after you’ve entered an app with O, you have to press the home button to return to the Live Area screen, then hold down the X button for a couple of seconds to simulate the handheld console’s “peeling off” touchscreen gesture. It’s functional but unbelievably unintuitive, even for someone who’s owned a Vita since its launch two years ago. Weeks after first starting to use the Vita TV, I still find myself pressing X when trying to exit the PlayStation Store.

THE VITA TV’S INTERFACE IS FUNCTIONAL BUT UNBELIEVABLY UNINTUITIVE

The Vita TV only outputs at 720p, but that’s the least of its worries when it comes to the UI. Everything is colossal on a TV — the Vita’s tap-friendly targets, designed for a 960 x 540 screen, result in comical situations like the Twitter app displaying just four huge tweets at a time, Fox News-style. Basic UI elements, such as the clock and notifications, appear several times larger than on a PlayStation 3. The Apple TV’s interface is no great shakes, but it’s a model of usability and restraint next to the Vita TV’€™s. The episode of Homeland I watched looked decent enough but still suffered from artifacting; the experience is nowhere near that offered by the Apple TV’s 1080p files. The 720p restriction limits the Vita TV’s appeal as a media box — not that there’s much HD content in the PlayStation Store anyway. Although Japan’s fragmented media landscape is no doubt partly to blame, the selection of content is lacking for now: Hulu Plus is the predominant streaming service here, for instance, but even though support was announced alongside the console it’s not available yet. Other preloaded services, like Tsutaya TV and DMM, are pricey and unintuitive. If Sony does decide to release the Vita TV outside Japan, it’ll need to make more effort to ensure that local audiences can access the apps they’ve come to expect.

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Gaming

From controller to touchscreen and back

The Vita TV makes a lot more sense as a gaming machine, and it does a pretty good job in that regard. It supports PS Vita, PSP, and PSone games, plus a selection of retro titles from more obscure systems such as the PC Engine. All games are upscaled to 720p, and Vita releases look the best by far. I tested ports of Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3, Limbo, andRayman Origins, and though the loss in fidelity is clearly noticeable, the games are more than playable. And, since the Vita TV is technically a Vita, you can use it to play local wireless multiplayer with owners of the handheld. For such small and inexpensive hardware, the results are impressive.

THE GAMES THAT WORK, WORK WELL €” BUT THERE AREN’T MANY

Less impressive is the selection of Vita titles that are actually available to play. Ostensibly due to the lack of touch input, a lot of Vita games are incompatible with the Vita TV —€” and that’s a bigger problem than you might think. For example, key launch-title Uncharted: Golden Abyss doesn’t work, despite being a spinoff of a series of PS3 titles that uses the very same controller as the Vita TV; it’s a casualty of developers’ earnest efforts to shoehorn the Vita’s “unique” control features into games that never really needed them. And it’s by no means unusual. Wipeout 2048, Gravity Rush, Killzone Mercenary; the list goes on. The Vita TV has its own section of the PlayStation Store to highlight compatible titles, but you can still view the full Vita catalog, of which vast swathes return incompatibility warnings when you try to download them. It’s possible that developers will patch their games to enable Vita TV support, but for now the experience reminds me of the early days of the Xbox 360, where Xbox backwards compatibility was limited to a slowly expanding list of seemingly random titles. While it’s understandable that inventive titles like Tearaway won’t be compatible, it’s ridiculous that simple racing games don’€™t work at all simply because of their elaborate touchable menus. Dscf2960-1024For now, the Vita TV is better at playing older games. Its PSP support is great, with games like Mega Man: Powered Up often looking surprisingly good on the big screen; until now, hooking up your PSP to a TV would result in a letterboxed picture. PSone games look a little rougher, of course, but they play as well as you could hope for in 2013. There’s no better way to return to Ridge Racer Type 4 or Um Jammer Lammy.

THE VITA TV IS BETTER AT PLAYING OLDER GAMES

The Vita TV can also be used as a wireless extender for the PlayStation 4, letting you stream next-generation console titles to another TV in the house. When paired with a Dual Shock 4 controller, it will effectively become a tiny facsimile of your PS4. I wasn’t able to test this at home due to the PS4’s delayed launch in Japan, but from what I saw at Tokyo Game Show — not the most hospitable of wireless environments — the Vita TV kept up smooth frame rates at the expense of a little image clarity. You probably won’t want to play through the climactic moments of Metal Gear Solid V this way, but it should be useful in a pinch when someone else wants to use the TV. And, though Sony hasn’t talked about this specifically in relation to the Vita TV, the possibilities for the company’s Gaikai streaming service are huge. (Update: the system will indeed support PlayStation Now, the cloud gaming service spawned from Gaikai.) The PS4 and Vita will get the ability to stream PS3 games at some point in the future, and there’s no reason why that shouldn’€™t come to the Vita TV as well. Though there aren’t many details about how or how well the service will work, in theory it could be a killer app for the Vita TV, dramatically lowering the cost of entry to Sony’s excellent library of PS3 titles — with the exact same controller. It’€™s not a reason to buy a Vita TV today, but it’s an obvious move for Sony, and a hugely compelling future for the console.

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