The TR Podcast 55: Phantom Menace II, the Christmas ’09 system guide, and a pair of pairs

The Tech Report Podcast Date: December 6, 2009

Time: 1:10:45

Hosted by Jordan Drake

Co-Hosts: Scott Wasson, Cyril Kowaliski, Geoff Gasior

Download: MP3 (48.7MB) | M4A (66.5MB)

Subscribe: RSS | iTunes

Listen now:
Sponsored by MSI. Be sure to check out our review of the MSI P55-GD65 motherboard, which earned TR’s Recommended award.

Show notes

The fall movie season is well under way, and Scott starts this episode by asking the panel whether $500-million megafilm Avatar will be worth the cost of a ticket and popcorn. Jordan and Cyril suggest James Cameron will score another hit, while Scott and Geoff are dubious and draw parallels with Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace in 1998—a lot of hype and a big letdown. Scott goes on to relate the woes of giving tech buying advice to friends and family.

Moving on, it’s time for another TR system guide, and our Christmas ’09 edition is rife with compromises to combat the RAM price hikes and GPU shortages. We talk about the possibility of GPU scarcity continuing well into 2010, as well. Also in this episode: Microsoft is trying to combat Steam, we pit two 2TB hard drives against each other, and choosing between Dell and Asus for a 14″ notebook turns out to be somewhat complicated.

Send in listener mail, and we’ll answer on the podcast. – jdrake@techreport.com

Tech discussion:

That’s all, folks! We’ll see you on the next episode.

Comments closed
    • ieya
    • 11 years ago

    Having gone to see Avatar with fairly damped-down expectations … I have to say that it really is badger-twistingly good. It doesn’t end up mattering that you can see some plot twists coming a mile off, or that a similar story has been told – this is breathtakingly good looking and tells its tale enjoyably.

    • UltimateImperative
    • 11 years ago

    About the sound stuff: look at §[<https://techreport.com/articles.x/14500/18<]§ If you look at the numbers, the results of the ALC889A are much worse than that of the other cards, but in the absolute sense, they're pretty good. Crosstalk is below -60 dB at all frequencies; that is, more than 1 to a million. Frequency response drops badly after 16k; this is sort of bad, but a 30-year-old probably can't tell. Intermodulation distortion; is always below -60 dB (1 to a 1 million) Noise; always below -80 dB (1 to 100 million) THD; always below -60 dB (1 to 1 million). I don't think these things are perceivable under most circumstances, at least with speakers. From §[<https://techreport.com/articles.x/16073/14<]§ we learn that under load, the quietest "affordable" power supply does around 47 dB of noise, and that the room it was measured in had a background field of around 40 dB. Now let's take a really nice speaker setup for music: 2 Paradigm Atoms (http://www.paradigm.com/en/paradigm/speaker_only-specification-1-1-2-4.paradigm) and a theorical perfect amp. Those have a claimeed room sensitivity of 90 dB at 1 m; Paradigm recommends an amp of no more than 50 watts.

    Let’s take them to their word, and stand 1 m from our speakers. The maximum level we can reach is 90 dB + 13 dB (-> 50 watts) = 103 dB. In the TR room, the very best S/N ratio we can hope for in 63 dB.

    You may be able to hear IMD, THD and Crosstalk, but it’s highly unlikely: pretty much every speaker setup out there has > 10% THD+N. That’s -10 dB.

    Indeed, with hearphones, all bets are off: the distorsion induced by the transducers can be reduced drastically, and you are insulated from the room noise.

    There’s the funny thing: we probably won’t be able to argue about the THD+N figures of speakers, because practically nobody publishes them: they look bad. But hey, Turbosound does: §[<ftp://ftp.turbosound.com/datasheets/ta500t.pdf<]§

      • Dagwood
      • 11 years ago

      When it comes to sound your brain is just that good. Your brain is very good at voice reconition in a noisy environment. Even with a signal that is mostly noise your brain can pick out the vocals with realative ease.
      Sound remains more of an art than a science. Yes, even good speakers have a very high distortion rate, when compaired to amps. Speakers generally color the music to the point that you can tell the difference between any two brands of speaker. But you can also here differences in amps played through the the same speakers. Even two different brand amps with similar THD numbers can be heard through speakers with 10 times the distortion that the amps produce.

      In other words… If Scott want to pay 100 bucks for sound card because for him the difference is night and day, then is money well spent.

      Now those tweeters made out of diamonds, maybe not such a good purchase.

      §[<http://www.loudspeakershop.eu/accuton-m-20.html<]§

        • UltimateImperative
        • 11 years ago

        No, my brain (or, at least, the auditory part of it), isn’t all that hot: §[<http://www.dself.dsl.pipex.com/ampins/pseudo/subjectv.htm<]§ But I believe in objective science when it comes to audio; when it comes to almost everything, actually. There's a real problem in that the onboard codecs are sometimes poorly implemented, which can lead to real audible differences between crappy implentation on a mobo and the correct one on a sound card. Unfortunately, reviewers often neglect to check onboard audio, so it may make sense for Scott to buy a $90 soundcard because the jackass who designed his sub-$200 motherboard couldn't be assed to follow Realtek's implementation notes. But it would make more economical sense get a board with a correct implementation. But hey, your ears, your money.

      • dale77
      • 11 years ago

      So your paradigm atoms might be $250, add two more surrounds plus a sub-woofer and you’ll be approaching $1000, before you add a receiver to act as an amplifier/digital decoder. I’m still liking the z-5500 package + ALC889 for $300.

        • UltimateImperative
        • 11 years ago

        I was only using these speakers as an example of how loud home loudspeakers can be (that is, not extremely loud), relative to the noise floor in your typical home.

        I haven’t heard them, but they have a very good reputation for budget loudspeakers. I may in fact buy them, but only a pair, since I mostly listen to 2.0 music.

    • Krogoth
    • 11 years ago

    Avatar = catering to “furry” demographics.

      • Meadows
      • 11 years ago

      Stop repeating what I said.

    • Silus
    • 11 years ago

    Sorry guys, but comparing Avatar with Phantom Menace is quite ridiculous. Not to mention compare James Cameron and George Lucas. George Lucas has good ideas, but he is a very, very crappy director. Basically all the films he directed shows that. James Cameron however has great ideas and knows how to write a good story and make a great movie out of it. Every single movie he has done, is proof of that too. Avatar will be no different. Now hype is a problem of course. The more hype, the higher the expectations. As a fan of James Cameron, I’m waiting for a kick ass movie, with a good story and an entertainment factor of over 9000!!!

    • d0g_p00p
    • 11 years ago

    District 9 was amazing. Make me want to play though HL2 again 😉

    • ssidbroadcast
    • 11 years ago

    The whole time I was listening to you guys hem and haw over whether or not Avatar will be the sci-fi movie of the year, I wanted to scream: “*[

      • Silus
      • 11 years ago

      And I think you haven’t seen Avatar yet, to even say that…

      • indeego
      • 11 years ago

      /[

    • dale77
    • 11 years ago

    I have built an HTPC, sans receiver, and I’m pretty pleased with the result. Scott was thinking that a soundcard in an HTPC would be rare, based on the fact that most would combine the HTPC with digital output to a reciever. I wanted a budget system, so I ended up with logitech z-5500 for the sound system, and analog out from the realtek ALC889 onboard. For $300, the z-5500’s provide a pretty good audio setup. The sound through this setup is really nice to my ears, but I wonder if a really decent sound card would improve matters. My system has bluray reader + powerdvd player, mediaportal PVR and music.

      • Meadows
      • 11 years ago

      Is that what you call “budget”? Hmm.

        • dale77
        • 11 years ago

        I assume you are referring to the z-5500’s? Compared to the cost of a receiver and separate speakers, the z-5500’s are “budget”. This system has to play bluray movies with the full “theatre” experience, Scott is right that most people will go with a receiver and audiophile speakers to get that, for a price. I doubt that price is $300.

    • clone
    • 11 years ago

    Avatar, I want to see it at IMAX, I can only hope that the “you aren’t in Kansas anymore” is trailer only…….. I know the story won’t be amazing but I do hope it’s solid.

    the whole guy falls in love with natives and kills his friends is absolutely terrible but whatever.

    if 40nm is such a production problem how hard would it be to move upcoming and existing chips to 45nm production and how bad a penalty would it be?

    as of this exact moment having just checked NCIX.com’s real time stock checker they have multiple 5870’s (powercolor water cooled) and multiple 5850`s (XFX black editions)

    • mi1stormilst
    • 11 years ago

    Scott, I am right there with you on what I like to call C.R.A.P. Computer Related Advice for People. It kills me because I experience the exact same thing from my friends and family. It has nothing to do with trust and has everything to do with delusional and narcissistic people that refuse to accept that they know absolutely nothing about computers. They think that all they need to know is DELL, HP or understanding that 4GB is better that 2GB. They know you know better, but they can’t accept it and ultimately it comes down to a “feeling” and a price tag. Kind of the same phenomena that envelops most MAC users, but they are not even smart enough to pay attention to the price 😉

    • alphacheez
    • 11 years ago

    I could see the type of arrangement of small discrete GPU with switchable integrated graphics the 14″ Asus has being used in future Apple notebooks since there doesn’t seem to be a possibility of an nVidia “chipset” for the Core i* series of CPUs.

    I’d like to think all PC manufacturers will start to include higher performing GPUs to allow at least some fairly recent games to be playable and potentially take advantage of the GPU compute capabilities that are starting to become more prevalent (video encode, Flash acceleration, etc.). I specifically singled out Apple since they’ve made some effort to include some minimum GPU capabilities (widespread use of nVidia’s 9400m for example) in most of their systems for a while and I don’t think they’d like to take a step back on that front which the intel graphics that are on package with the 32 nm dual core CPUs definitely would be.

    The 14″ Asus notebook shows how well switchable graphics can achieve excellent battery life when that is the priority and extra GPU muscle at the expense of some battery life when performance is desired.

    • marvelous
    • 11 years ago

    Do you think Nvidia dropped some money on TSMC to have supply problems to stop ATI’s momentum. I mean TSMC have been making 40nm for quite some time and still have supply problems kind of absurd to me.

      • UberGerbil
      • 11 years ago

      Hanlon’s Razor

    • mcnabney
    • 11 years ago

    Avatar is going to be nothing but eye-candy. Cameron has always done a great job advancing new ideas within existing genres. His Terminator was very novel. Aliens brought a strong female heroine within a vibrant universe. The Abyss was a unique adventure. And Titanic successfully fused a chick-flick and an adventure story into a massive film that worked for a wide audience.

    And now Avatar is building a massive technogical leap forward onto an overused Hollywood plot.

    Lawrence of Arabia
    Last of the Mohicans
    The Last Samurai
    Dances with Wolves
    plus numerous others.

    A damaged hero goes ‘native’ and rebels against the evil within our own culture. If it was only a small aspect of the film, I would be okay with it. But it is following the plot of The Last Samurai almost to the letter. I expected a whole lot more from Cameron.

    • crazybus
    • 11 years ago

    I’m with you Geoff, it should be pronounced zed.

    • codedivine
    • 11 years ago

    Man this podcast probably just barely missed the Larrabee news 🙁

    • Skrying
    • 11 years ago

    The trailers alone make me loath Avatar. Scott hit the nail on the head with the “You’re not in Kansas anymore” line and the probable quality of writing this movie will have. The story is a repeat of a repeat.

    • bdwilcox
    • 11 years ago

    You do realize that the red stocking in that podcast graphic looks like a bent, striped phallus, right? I guess it matches the flaming balls from Newegg.

    The funniest part is that it looks like she’s gazing at it and totally speechless.

      • ssidbroadcast
      • 11 years ago

      I guess you see what you want to see…

        • bdwilcox
        • 11 years ago

        If that were true, it would look like your Mom. 😛

          • ssidbroadcast
          • 11 years ago

          Wow, not doing yourself any favors! You just went from kinda-gross to really-gross with that post there.

            • Meadows
            • 11 years ago

            Why, is your mum that ugly?

            • bdwilcox
            • 11 years ago

            Or old? But I do like older women.

            • bdwilcox
            • 11 years ago

            Mission accomplished.

    • PRIME1
    • 11 years ago

    Will James Cameron’s Avatar be any good? (0:02:06)- Trailer
    l[

      • Meadows
      • 11 years ago

      g{<40-nm yield problems could drag into next year (0:39:28)- Read more
      Luckily no one tried to force a DX11 part early...<}g That's the most, MOST DESPERATE attempt I've EVER seen at trying to save nVidia when they've already lost this round. You've sunk from "annoying" to "pathetic".

    • ssidbroadcast
    • 11 years ago

    Dangit. I sent in an email question today but you dudes probably recorded on Friday. Oh well.

      • jdrake
      • 11 years ago

      Yup – got your email – we’ll answer next episode.

    • albundy
    • 11 years ago

    half a billion for a movie? thats some expensive cgi. probably even more than transformers…omega supreme style.

      • Meadows
      • 11 years ago

      Let’s hope it’s not as bad as Transformers.

      • ssidbroadcast
      • 11 years ago

      The first Transformers movie was $150 million to produce. Not sure how much the 2nd cost.

      • kvndoom
      • 11 years ago

      That’s what I was thinking. I don’t even remember the last movie to snag that much in the domestic box office. They’ll probably need domestic and foreign ticket sales /[

        • BobbinThreadbare
        • 11 years ago

        You don’t remember Dark Knight? I mean it really wasn’t long ago.

          • kvndoom
          • 11 years ago

          I remember it well. Even went to see it twice. I didn’t know it broke 500 mil in ticket sales though. I thought it was upper 300’s. I’ll have to look that up.

          edit… yeah it did it in 7 weeks. Yow…

            • shaq_mobile
            • 11 years ago

            yeah but it also had a huge amount of publicity. everyone and hteir mom was stroking heath ledgers ego, i hope i get taht much pity when i die. jack nicholson was way better. certainly not quite as “point where on the doll did uncle phil touched you”, but it was the 80’s. i caught some of that movie on the other day, and he still creeps me out. with heath ledger, hes blatantly violent, i felt like he was a murderer with a chip on his shoulder. not a psychopath with maniacal murderous tendencies.

        • grantmeaname
        • 11 years ago

        where do you get into a new release for $5?

          • kvndoom
          • 11 years ago

          AMC24 in Hampton VA. 5-dollar matinees (any movie that starts before 12PM on weekends). This applies to new films, old films, anything they’re showing. I love going there… best cinema I’ve ever been to.

      • kravo
      • 11 years ago
    • Meadows
    • 11 years ago

    Just watched the trailer, and I can already say that Avatar is going to be a furry craze no matter what.

      • no51
      • 11 years ago

      When does it stop being ‘furry’ to being sci-fi?

        • Meadows
        • 11 years ago

        I’m not sure I get what you’re trying to point at.

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