Here at TR, we generally can't be bothered with things that don't raise the electricity bill or contain copious amounts of caffeine. However, over the years, we have developed a fondness for the folks at Sumo Lounge and their ludicrously large (and comfy) bean bag chairs. It simply doesn't get much better than sinking into one of Sumo's plush blobs for a marathon session of gaming, movie watching, reading, or laptop productivity. Gargantuan bean bags are a little offbeat, but even the most dedicated geeks need a cozy place to unwind.
A few years back, Geoff reviewed Sumo's Omni, and SumoSac chairs. This time around, we've got the Titan, a Texas-sized version of the SumoSac that's been stretched out, inviting you to lie down rather than sit on its vast cushy expanse. At 70" x 49" x 36", the Titan is currently the second largest bean bag that Sumo Lounge offers. We're here to figure out if it's phat or just big boned.
Like its predecessor, the Titan arrived with its guts vacuum-packed inside an enormous, bulging cardboard box. The entire package tipped the scales at 76 pounds and was reinforced with the type of plastic strapping typically found stabilizing freight pallets during transport. After helping the FedEx driver (who thought it was a sumo suit) unload the awkward parcel, I discovered that it didn't quite fit through my front door. A running nudge was required to coax the box into its new home.
Upon peeling the box away from its bloated contents, three items were revealed: a quality inspection sheet, the removable cover, and the brain-like stuffing. Unfortunately, my overzealous unboxing technique proved too much for the vacuum seal, and the innards expanded before I could get a good snapshot of what must be a zombie's wet dream. Seemingly missing from the ensemble was a simple instruction sheet with washing directions and a recommended methodology for cramming the stuffing into the cover. It's not hard to figure out, but for some reason I'm programmed to expect a product of these proportions to come with documentation. A little direction would be a nice touch.
Thankfully, rather than stitching the brain bag shut, the makers were nice enough to install a zipper. This saved me the trouble of having to resort to Tauntaun tactics to inspect the inner workings. The stuffing in this model is a mix of polyfill material, like you'd typically find in pillows or teddy bears, and pea-sized styrofoam beads for some texture. Sumo Lounge claims that this mixture will never go flat, but even so, some maintenance will be required. After only a week, I found that each day I progressively sat a little bit lower to the ground. Much of the stuffing had migrated to the sides of the chair, requiring a WWE-style fluffing session to rearrange the filling. To be clear, the stuffing did not go flat, it just shifted around a bit... like a bean bag chair. Alternating seating positions periodically might be a more civilized way to keep things even.
With Geoff having tested the Sumo's nylon and microsuede coverings already, I opted for the navy blue corduroy skin. The Titan is offered in either microsuede ($379) or corduroy ($399) with four different color options for each material. If you want microsuede, your choices are pitch black, khaki, funky brown, and fiery red. If you spring for the corduroy, you can choose between pitch black, navy blue, royal purple, and raspberry red. That selection should provide enough variety to match just about any room's decor. However, I wish all the color options were available for both materials. Funky brown corduroy would have been my first choice.
Despite my personal preferences, the navy blue covering looks quite classy, and the color is neutral enough to blend in well with most environments. The surface feels extremely soft and plush, too. It actually reminds me of a microsuede covering with ribs added for texture... and your pleasure.
Once you get the innards shoehorned into the outer cover, you simply zip it all up and start lounging. To prevent any potential discomfort, the external zipper is thoughtfully covered by a corduroy (or microsuede) flap bearing the Sumo logo. For me, this flap also serves as a reference point to determine the front of the blob from the back. The cover is designed for easy removal, so that it can be washed when necessary. While no instructions are included, I'm assuming one should follow general machine-washing guidelines for colored fabrics: cold water, hold the bleach.
Since I live in a cozy, almost-urban apartment, this piece of "Urban Lounge Gear" feels right at home in my domicile. I've been using it as the primary seating unit in my living room. When placed lengthwise against the wall, the Titan can comfortably seat two people with enough space between them to suit most personal bubbles. With just one person in the center, a custom armchair is formed around your body as you sink in. By rotating the Titan 90 degrees, so that it protrudes into the room, you now have a fantastically comfortable recliner, complete with headrest. This is my preferred seating arrangement for solo movie-watching and console gaming. You can still fit two people on the chair in this configuration, but you'll have to be pretty comfortable with your seating companion.
The way the Titan molds itself to your body makes the chair extremely comfortable for long periods of time. I successfully watched a full season of Top Gear in one sitting without any of the soreness one might experience from a less hospitable piece of furniture. The same goes for console games that don't rely on body motion. If your controller is wireless, or the cable is long enough, you can comfortably frag your opposition all day long.
If you happen to have pets, as I do, they will no doubt take an interest in the Titan. My cat decided to claim ownership within five minutes of my getting the thing zipped up and situated in my living room. Despite the upholstery's dark coloring, I haven't seen a lot of pet hair on the chair. I'm sure it will build up over time, but a quick once over with a lint roller or a thorough machine-washing should make the cover as good as new again. Be sure to set up the Titan in a clean environment, though. When I unfurled the corduroy cover fresh from the plastic bag it ships in, there was enough static electricity to light up Las Vegas, which attracted every little bit of dust in the area. After a couple minutes, things calmed down and the Titan was no more susceptible to accumulating dust and dirt than any other item in the room.
The Titan takes up as much floor space as a love seat, making it the largest bean bag chair I've ever encountered. Despite the fluffiness, the chair feels heavier than one might expect when maneuvering the thing. This may not be the best choice for a dorm furnishing, unless you've got a loft setup or an abnormally large room. In a pinch, however, the Titan can make a passable bed for wayward friends.
Sumo Lounge identifies the target market for the Titan as those who want to "chill out with [their] favorite movie, game or album." After a couple of solid weeks engaged in those activities, I can confidently state that Sumo hit its mark. I'm finding it hard to convey with words just how comfortable this bean bag is.
Despite my personal adoration, the Titan is not an altogether perfect seating device. I'm not a monstrously tall person, but having spent my adult life at six-foot-two, I've discovered that the world is in fact built for people of slightly less vertical stature. The Titan is no different. When sitting in recliner mode, with my head resting at the back end of the bag, the Titan runs out at the knees, resulting in a less-than-optimal reclined position. People topping out at five-foot-nine or so should fit entirely on the bag, but the rest of us will require some sort of ottoman. Sumo will happily sell you the $75 Otto companion chair to fulfill this need, but it's only available with a nylon cover. In a perfect world, the Titan would be stretched out another 12 inches or so to accommodate taller folks and give couples a little extra space when sitting together. Of course, Sumo already offers a larger option in the Gigantor, which measures 86" x 60" x 40".
When the Titan is in armchair mode and is situated against a wall, your head ends up resting against it, which gets painful after a while. Enlisting the aid of a pillow quickly solves this problem, but I think Sumo is missing a potential opportunity here. A matching headrest/body pillow would be an excellent companion for anyone looking to seriously lounge around in one of these enormous bean bags. If such an accessory were just large enough to pull double duty as an ottoman, it would solve most of the minor comfort issues I encountered with the Titan.
While I'm making suggestions, it would be extremely useful if the Titan included a pouch to store remotes, game controllers, books, or other gear. My remote always seems to be just out of reach on the end table or floor, forcing me to roll out of my comfortable cocoon to queue up the next video.
Overall, I have been immensely impressed by the Titan. This massive bean bag chair won't make your games run faster, but it's a ridiculously comfortable place to be while playing them. Sumo has built a blob perfectly suited to gamers and film buffs. Ringing up at close to four Benjamins, the price might turn some people off initially. Shipping is free, though—or included in the price, depending on how you want to look at it. I took a stroll around the local Nebraska Furniture Mart to see what $400 would buy me, and nothing I saw even came close to the level of casual comfort afforded by the Titan. I wouldn't have guessed so from the outset, but frankly, this chair is worth every penny.
I'm sorry, discs. It's not you, it's me. You've treated me well all these years, and perhaps we can still be friends, but I think we need to take a break. I want a format that uses less physical storage space. I want a format that is only as far away as the nearest Internet connection. And, truth be told, I kinda want something a little less high-maintenance—something that is patched and updated from the get-go.
Recent experiences with moving have shed some light on the considerable amount of physical space required to house my game and movie collections. As a creature of habit, I've continued purchasing software the old-fashioned way, on optical disc, long after the titles became readily available online. The vast majority of my PC game collection, from the original Lemmings to Far Cry 2, is proudly displayed in a DVD rack near my desk. Only recently have I ventured out of my comfort zone and started purchasing games over download services like Steam. In short, I'm hooked.
Steam provides numerous benefits over traditional media. A huge assortment of titles is offered, including many indie games. There are no discs to lose, damage, or store. You don't need an optical drive to play, and you can download your game collection almost anywhere. Anything you do download will update automatically or come pre-patched, so there's no need to track down updates yourself.
Achievements are attached to your Steam profile, and titles that take advantage of the Steam Cloud can store your settings and game progress. All will be preserved if a reinstall is needed or you're setting up a new system. Steam also offers Xfire-like friends lists and chat integration. The cherry on top: frequent sales and promotions often offer deep discounts on popular titles.
In fairness, there are a few drawbacks. If Steam (or a similar content provider) goes out of business, what happens to your game collection? Some cursory searching on the topic reveals that Valve may allow users to download all their games locally, but no official statement has been made on the subject.
If you don't have Internet access, you won't be able to acquire new games and will have to play existing ones in offline mode. Slow Internet connections can also make downloading new games painfully tedious. You won't have physical evidence of your purchases, either—no box art, manuals, or "new game smell."
In a recent poll, we asked which back-alley dealers you use to get your PC gaming fix. An astounding two-thirds of you reportedly purchase your games from Steam already. Looks like I'm preaching to the choir. But, as a fresh convert, it is often customary to offer up a testimony to the congregation. Can I get an amen?
Like many of you, my first encounter with Steam occurred back in 2004, when Valve unleashed Half-Life 2 on the world. True to form, I purchased the DVD version at a local retailer. I was still required to install Steam to activate my new toy, though. Once the verification went through, I largely ignored Steam as just another unwanted piece of crapware cluttering up my system tray. It wasn't until Valve offered the original Portal as a free download last year that I actually used Steam to nab my first game from the cloud. That one, small gateway game was all it took to get me hooked. Now, I'm constantly poking around Steam looking for more of the good stuff.
I've since downloaded quite a few game demos and Half-Life 2 episodes. Most recently, I picked up the time-vampire that is Left 4 Dead 2. Even more than Portal, L4D2 has shown me how valuable Steam can truly be. Anyone who has ever downloaded a large patch for a game only to discover that it won't work until you've downloaded and installed several older patch versions first will understand my elation when Left 4 Dead 2 decided it was out of date and downloaded everything it needed on its own. Patcher's purgatory is now a thing of the past. Valve has also rolled out several large updates to the game since my original purchase, and they have all automatically installed without issue or nuisance. I've also had the misfortune of a total system crash and OS reinstall during that time. Being able to point, click, install, and resume killing zombies where I left off is a valuable feature that makes my disc-bound games seem old and busted by comparison.
My experience hasn't been all sunshine and third-gen SSDs, though. One thing that particularly frustrates me about Steam is its inability to add most of my retail-bought games to the library. Steam allows you to add shortcuts for any local application on your system, but it doesn't fully integrate them into the Steam ecosystem. It would be nice to enjoy the full Steam experience for games I've already purchased without having to buy them again. Valve does allow this with some games, but it doesn't cover most of what I already own. GRID and Call of Duty 4 are two of my favorite games, and they're often offered for sale on Steam, but there's no way to add my existing licenses to the library and enjoy the same benefits as those who purchase the games through the system. I understand that, because I didn't buy those games from Valve, the company might see little incentive to coughing up the bandwidth required to maintain them. I also don't pretend to know the intricacies of the licensing agreements involved. From the consumer's perspective, however, any additional effort in this regard would be a welcome gesture. Allowing users to bring more of their existing games into Steam would surely promote future purchases using the service.
From a gamer's perspective, Steam seems to offer the best blend of social features, cloud storage, automatic updates, and ease of use of any current distribution system. I'd like to see Valve work to integrate other commonly used third-party gamer tools into the package. For instance, the ability to merge my Xfire friends list and chat capabilities with Steam would be great. This would eliminate having to maintain duplicate lists and manage multiple IM programs.
Fragmentation worries me, as well. If every game studio decides it wants a piece of the pie, how many of these delivery platforms will we have to put up with? I'm certainly a proponent of healthy competition, but the danger of alienating gamers with too many sales channels and social networks is something that aspiring services need to consider.
Despite its shortcomings, I believe that cloud distribution is the future for mainstream games and applications whether we like it or not. Steam is but one of many solutions in this field. Modern consoles and smart phones have similar application distribution systems, and consoles in particular have picked up on the social side of things. Big boys like Microsoft and Apple are bringing similar services to Steam's back yard, too. It's only a matter of time before today's optical discs go the way of the punch card.
Pinpointing the beginning of the digital distribution revolution is difficult, because hackers were sharing programs over ARPANET well before many of us were even born. Through the use of various Linux/Unix repositories, penguin huggers enjoyed the online distribution and update love for many years prior to Steam's arrival. Some of the interfaces used to organize these repositories have helped shape the "app store" look and feel as we know it today. To whomever is responsible for getting the ball rolling, I'd like to say "Thank you!" Because of your foresight, we can finally stop using optical discs for the tedious task of data storage and focus on more exciting applications, like microwave lightning shows and cheap ninja stars.Teaching an old PSU new tricks
Years back, while still an angsty teenager, I had a bug in my head telling me that A+ certification sounded like good times. With trepidation, I proceeded to check out related books from the library and download studying apps onto my Palm IIIe (yes we had apps in the prehistoric times before iDevices). Countless practice quizzes and several sets of AAA batteries later, one question continued to give me problems: in a standard Molex-style connection, what are the respective colors of the wires carrying +12V and +5V currents? For some reason, and despite various mnemonic devices and my PDA’s digital taunting, I could never reliably remember the correct color coding. As an active learner, it wasn’t until I began snipping wires and frying various electronics that everything finally clicked. For the record, yellow is +12V and red carries +5V.
Armed with this knowledge, I've put the oft-forgotten PSU to good use in a variety of ways befitting the T-shirt slogan "I void warranties." My first hack was innocent enough. After sweating out several sticky summer days in a used computer warehouse, I assembled a 3x3 block of 80-mm server fans joined together with packaging tape. The nine red and black wires stemming from the fans were grafted to a Molex tip ripped from a junked power supply, and the whole thing was given freshly squeezed 12V juice. The result was somewhat loud and hazardous, having no grills to guard the spinning rotors, but it ultimately kept me cool.
As it happened, the fans were powered by an old AT-style unit with a push-button power switch. Modern ATX power supplies require an extra step if you want to use them for your own devious purposes. Looking at the 20/24 pin motherboard connector, you will spot a lonely green wire in the bundle. This is your power button; touching the green lead to any of the black (ground) leads will bring the PSU to life. You can use anything from a paper clip to a wire or other electrically conductive material to complete the circuit. If the power supply has a built-in on/off switch, the green wire can be left connected to a ground line, with the switch used to toggle power.
While rigging up a noisy, finger-chopping desk fan is all well and good, it's a rather simplistic example of what can be done with a discarded PSU. In my experience, the most useful application of old power supplies has been powering or testing obscure electronics devices that have been separated from their wall-warts. Most small devices like routers, switches, modems, external drives, and even some LCD monitors require a DC input of either 5V or 12V. By MacGyvering PSU wiring with assorted connector tips from a universal adapter, you can power just about any of those gadgets directly from a standard power supply. Unless you enjoy the smell of smoke that accompanies electronic assassination, be sure to double check your wiring and the device's required input voltage first.
Oftentimes, the device you are powering will call for much less juice than a PSU can provide. Typical consumer adapters are limited to between 500 and 1500 milliamps, while even the crummiest of PSUs should be able to pump out at least 10 amps. The additional current capacity shouldn't damage less-demanding devices, and it'll give you the option of powering much bigger toys.
Back in the day, I built a LAN party rig with two 15" desktop LCD screens mounted in the case's side panel. The screens hung on a large piano hinge, sat side by side when in use, and folded flat for transport. Each screen required 4A of 12V power, and I was able to feed both from the system's PSU using a wiring harness that attached with just a single Molex connector. That harness was built using a couple of universal adapter tips, some custom wiring, and a male Molex plug taken from an old case fan. After replacing the original, cheap PSU with a quality Antec unit to fix some video distortion issues, the rig ran like a champ for several years before it was decommissioned.
PSU hacking can be useful beyond the realm of computer peripherals, as well. I recently constructed a 5V wiring harness for a local auto mechanic's handheld diagnostic scanner. With the charger MIA and no time to order a replacement online, an old power supply stepped up to save the day. The electronics inside automobiles typically runs on 12V power, too. I've used old PSUs to test head units and car-mounted LCDs from the comfort of my own home. If you're feeling ambitious, and your PSU can sustain 18 amps or more on the 12V rail, it's entirely possible to build a custom home stereo using car audio components. You could even mount a head unit in a spare 5.25" drive bay and connect your sound card to an auxiliary input for integrated amplification.
Old PSUs can be great for projects involving motors, LEDs, displays, or other devices requiring DC current. If I had been handed a power supply to use in my science fair projects as a kid, things might have turned out differently. At the very least, my baking-soda volcano would have had some rad wires coming out of the top. One of my grown-up dream projects is someday to build a custom slot car track (and cars) from scratch using a computer's power supply to make it all run.
With a little creativity and some duct tape, an old PSU can be dusted off and put to any number of clever uses. As always, be careful when playing with electricity. Even if you know what you're doing, it's still possible to damage yourself or your electronics using an unofficial power source. Old and/or low-quality power supplies should be approached with caution, as they can produce "dirty" power that could also prove harmful to your devices.
If you’ve hacked a PSU and lived to tell the tale, we'd love hear about it in the comments section below.Confessions of a multi-monitor madman
The first thing guests will notice upon entering my home office/playground is not the functioning-but-retired T-bird Athlon motherboard adorning the back wall, nor the pair of shadow boxes to its left containing a genealogy of Intel and AMD processors. Inevitably, new arrivals divert their gaze toward the 2x2 grid of mix-and-match monitors towering above my desktop's keyboard. Some scoff at the arrangement. Most are merely amused by dragging dialog boxes from screen to screen. Others will ask if I've launched any space shuttles recently. At the end of the day, however, it doesn't matter what people think about my monitor obsession, because I love my LCD array and cannot fathom going back to a single monitor.
This fascination with multi-monitor setups was borne out of boredom and curiosity while working as a technician at a local computer sales and repair shop. During some down time, I rounded up five old ATI Rage 128 video cards, slotted them into a single Pentium II box, attached five used monitors, and set up a scrolling marquee screen saver that spanned all of them. Customers were captivated. The old "doorstop" computer had a new purpose in life, and I had unknowingly committed myself to spending way more of my future income on monitors than most rational people.
If you've never worked on two (or more) monitors before, it might be hard to understand the appeal. Using single-monitor systems is kind of like breathing through a stuffy, particle-filtering face mask. Adding a second monitor feels much like removing that mask and inhaling a deep, full breath of crisp morning air. Suddenly, your desktop is opened up. You can see and do more things at the same time. The computer feels a bit more sprightly for some reason, and that hint of pixel claustrophobia you now realize existed is gone.
As far as PC upgrades go, I would argue the addition of an extra monitor offers about the same perception of boosted performance and functionality as a hefty RAM upgrade. I'm not saying everyone should run out straightaway and purchase a multi-monitor setup—because then my rig wouldn't seem as cool and unique. However, I would like to discuss some of the pros and cons, so you can arrive at your own conclusions about what pixel nirvana looks like.
What do I need?
Most multi-monitor setups found in advertisements and trade-show demos are comprised of identical panels on custom-built stands. Often, all the displays are linked to one monster graphics card. The beauty of running multiple monitors is the flexibility one has when configuring them. Take my current setup, which is a bit unorthodox. The primary display, a 24" HP LP2465 with 1920x1200 pixels, sits at eye level on my desk next to a 20" Dell 2001FP with a 1600x1200 resolution. Both are hooked up to an aging rock star: a GeForce 8800 GTX. Above those displays, bolted to the wall on articulating arm mounts, are two 1080p, 21.5" Acer G215HAbd panels connected to a GeForce 8600 GT.
Most discrete graphics cards from the past decade have at least two video outputs available, as do most motherboards with integrated graphics released in the last two or three years. Odds are, your computer is already capable of driving multiple displays. Doing so with a single graphics card or IGP is pretty straightforward. If you opt to use multiple graphics cards, as I have, be sure they use GPUs from the same manufacturer and DirectX generation. Otherwise, driver issues and hair loss will inevitably ensue. Also, make sure your monitor, graphics card, dongles, and cables all speak the same language.
I, for one, cannot stand bezel interference while gaming. Even when the bezels are razor thin, they're still a distraction. When AMD introduced Eyefinity, it made a valiant attempt to resolve this issue by cropping on-screen images to create the impression that part of the display exists behind the bezel. At the end of the day, though, you've still got big strips of bezel interrupting your view of the game world.
To make matters worse, my mismatched displays and 2x2 configuration are hardly ideal for gaming, even with bezel compensation. As a result, I restrict games to my main 24" monitor. Setting this display as the primary panel in Windows works nicely with games, which automatically use the monitor and the more powerful graphics card connected to it.
I don't want to discount Eyefinity or other multi-monitor gaming setups. 3x1 display configurations can be a lot of fun with racing sims and some first-person shooters. That said, for my particular collection of monitors, playing games on a single screen is the way to go. Your mileage may vary.
Of course, you don't have to lose out on multi-monitor goodness while gaming on a single screen. On my other displays, I can still see the cluster of widgets displaying clocks speeds, hardware utilization graphs, temperatures, and network conditions. I can also keep several IM windows open and an eye on my inbox, all while having a web browser showing the latest weather updates, so I know when there's enough cloud cover for safe outdoor expeditions.
There is one caveat with this arrangement, however. Some older games, particularly real-time strategy titles, refuse to lock the mouse to a single screen. Click outside the boundary of the game window, and you'll send the computer flickering and stuttering back to the desktop. These interruptions can sometimes be avoided by adjusting your style of play, but there are times that I've had to disable my auxiliary monitors as a last resort. Most modern games aptly accommodate multi-monitor configs, so this issue seem to be an exception rather than the rule.
Some thoughts on productivity
Multiple displays really shine when you put down the games and focus on productivity. The ability to have your main task open on one monitor and any number of ancillary windows open on the others can dramatically speed up research and data entry. If you are serious about web programming or content creation, running multiple monitors almost becomes a requirement. While writing research papers in college, I would often have a Red Bull in hand, a Word document open on my primary monitor, and the other three loaded up with two-abreast browser windows or PDF documents as I gathered information and cited sources at the last minute.
My favorite thing about living with so much screen real-estate is having a place for everything, with everything in its place. Outlook and Winamp (I kick it old school) go side by side on one monitor, while another is occupied by Skype, Pandora One, and various other widgets that display stock quotes, calendars, and vital system information. This arrangement frees up the bottom two displays for the main course—whatever I happen to be working on at the time.
If you use your computer for more than email and Minesweeper, you'd do well to assess the potential for improved productivity versus the cost of additional displays. (Pro tip: Windows 7's "snap" feature is a godsend for multi-monitor users. For a good time, try holding down the Windows key and pressing the left or right arrow keys.)
I’ve got 27 monitors in my Newegg cart now... should I check out?
Whoa there, killer. Take a deep breath (sans face-mask). Before you pull the trigger on some extra liquid crystal goodness, there are a few more things to think about. Consider the cost of failure. Just like hard drives in RAID, the more of LCDs you have, the more likely you are to have one fail. When part of your monitor grid goes dark, you realize just how much you used that space and divert all available resources to sourcing a replacement. If the old model is no longer available and you want to maintain a pristine array of identical displays, you might end up shopping for a set of replacements.
Be aware of ergonomics. Having more monitors isn't necessarily better if staring at the one in the upper-right-hand corner for any length of time puts unnecessary strain on your neck.
More pixels also means more responsibility. Running auxiliary monitors provides additional desktop area for distractions that can diminish overall productivity, so be mindful of what you're putting on those extra displays.
Finally, be mindful of my feelings. If you run more than four monitors, you might make this author feel jealous and inadequate. You wouldn’t want that on your conscience, would you?
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