BY EBENEZER SAMUEL
The sound of video games is changing.
Once upon a time, you just played them with the volume way up, right?
These days, that doesn’t always work. As online gaming has grown, more and more gamers are donning headsets, making it easier to talk to friends in other parts of the country — heck, the world — and often creating a surround-sound experience for a fraction of what you’d spend on a high-end sound system.
That’s not to say that gaming headsets are cheap; one of the best on the market, the Astro A50 gaming headset, will set you back $299. But a handful of headsets are aiming to be cost-friendly, and two recent releases will deliver solid experiences without leaving your wallet in tatters.
Meet Sony’s Pulse Wireless (above) headset ($149.99), and the PDP Afterglow Wireless headset ($89.99). Neither can match the Astro A50, but both units do deliver nice experiences at friendly prices.
We’ll start with the Pulse. Sony has long had a great sound pedigree, and the company applies that to this set.
As gaming sets go, this one is tremendously versatile. There’s a sleek black headband, with a few touches of silver. It’s a unit that you won’t be embarrassed to don to listen to music on the train. The Pulse is comfortable, too, despite the amount of hardware it houses.
The highlight of the unit’s sound is its bass production. Even when the internal amp is powered off, the Pulse delivers bass of such strength that Jay-Z’s “American Gangster” will leave your head shaking. It’s amazingly clear bass, so good that it puts many commercial pairs of headphones to shame.
All of this makes the Pulse an excellent set of headphones, and that barely take into account the unit’s gaming prowess. I never once had to yell at somebody on the other end (except by choice), and the Pulse solidly replicated the crowd noise and commentating in NBA 2K13 and Madden 13. The powerful bass was also excellent in other games, such as Journey and God of War III.
If the Pulse has a downfall, it is an overabundance of buttons.
You can turn the internal amp on and off, adjust the volume of the headset, alter the bass impact and shift the balance between in-game sound and the voice of the person with whom you’re gaming.
Thing is, there are so many buttons that you’ll sometimes take off the headset just to figure out what you’re doing. Additionally, the Pulse doesn’t come with a USB cord to charge its battery. In one more minor — but not unexpected — bummer, the Pulse will work with only one console, the PlayStation 3.
PDP’s Afterglow (below) betters Sony’s Pulse in some ways, even if it falls short in others. The Afterglow isn’t nearly as elegant as the Pulse; in fact, it look big and clunky. Put it on and look in a mirror, and you’ll see a large halo around your head.
And yes, as the title hints, these units do glow, a slick blue hue showing up on the ear cups and the headband at the press of a button.
It’s all incredibly flashy and not exactly mature, but your 10-year-old son — and the “Tron” fan inside you — will love the visual bling.
The sets are also comfortable, and PDP makes sure you have a USB charging cable, too. Battery life is quoted at 10-12 hours, and in my gaming and music listening, I found that true.
The Afterglow’s sound doesn’t quite reach the incredibly clear heights of Sony’s Pulse, especially when it comes to bass production, but it does offer a nicely balanced sound. No, the clarity won’t completely wow you, but if you’re in a headphone pinch and trying to listen to Kanye West’s “Power,” these babies will get the job done.
The Afterglow’s sound doesn’t shine with music, but it does deliver in the gaming realm. Unlike Sony’s Pulse, the Afterglow keeps all its functions on the left ear cup, and it’s intuitive and simple to make adjustments on the fly while gaming.
Sound quality in games is tremendously balanced, never overpowering.
It’s a joy to play games with the Afterglow on, and it’s so comfortable that you can play for hours on end.
The lone downside is the setup. Older consoles, such as the Nintendo Wii or PlayStation 2, can easily rely on the included RCA piggyback cables to transmit sound to the headset. But if you use an HDMI connection on your Xbox 360, set-up can be far more challenging. And if you’re running things through some fancy surround-sound, you’ll have to play with a few connection options to get the Afterglow up and running.
In some ways, that’s more trouble than it’s worth, but it’s also par for the course in gaming headsets; I had to play with a handful of PlayStation 3 settings to get my A50s to work back in August, too.
The Afterglow certainly won’t be for everyone, not with its glow-in-the-dark profile, but it’s well-priced and delivers a great sound. It’s certainly not a bad Christmas gift for the 12-year-old Call of Duty fan on your list.
Yes, that kid will want a gaming headset. Trust me on it.
WRESTLING WITH WWE’S NEW GAME
CM Punk may be a heel in WWE these days, but the Straight Edge Superstar still shows some love on occasion. One thing he’s currently in love with? The upcoming WWE 13 game.
“It’s amazing,” Punk said Wednesday. “It’s awesome.”
That’s coming from an admitted video game guy.
“Graphics, game-play, new features, it just blows me away.”
Sure, it was a bit of hype by the game’s new coverboy, but hey, that’s what wrestlers do. And few are better at hyping — and talking on stage — than Punk.
That makes his partnership with loud-mouthed manager Paul Heyman that much stranger. So why did the WWE pair one of wrestling’s best showmen with Heyman? Even Punk and Heyman weren’t sure at first.
“CM Punk is the best talker in all of WWE,” Heyman told the System Update. “The last two things that he could use are a spokesman and a ringside manager.
“I think the reason why was Vince McMahon was so tired of the fact that we were ganging up behind him behind the scenes.”
Truth is, both guys have known each other for years, Heyman said.
According to the manager, Heyman and Punk have worked together since WWE brought Punk on board, and even when Heyman left wrestling, he talked regularly with Punk. The result is a unique relationship.
“It’s not really about anything,” said Punk. “I get to capitalize on getting to enjoy something I never thought I’d get — the opportunity to work with Paul. When you see him and me on camera, I’m a happy camper.
“We’ve worked together extensively.”
“We’re going to the public with the fact that we’re best friends,” Heyman added. “The public at large gets to watch our little circle. But it’s not invited in our little circle. Because we’re excluding, we’re not letting everybody else into our little circle, that bothers them.”
Don’t like it? Just grab the game when it hits stores next week and change it all.
TAKING NOTE OF SAMSUNG
On Wednesday, the day after Apple made a series of announcements in a big media event in Cupertino, Samsung followed with a smaller event of its own in Manhattan, and the tech company showed off two products.
The first, the Samsung Galaxy Note II, is gradually showing up in stores this week. A sort of cross between a tablet and a smartphone, the Note II features a beautiful and massive (for a phone) 5.5-inch AMOLED screen and a quad-core processor. It’s already available at T-Mobile and Sprint stores, and Verizon and AT&T are taking preorders on the devices.
I’ll test it out further by next week, but early returns are impressive. Yes, the phone’s extra-large, but it still fits comfortably in my back pocket, and the screen is absolutely beautiful.
It’s a little large for one-hand navigation, but when a company includes a stylus with its phone, it’s pretty obvious that Samsung doesn’t want you navigating with one hand.
Samsung showed off a second device as well, the upcoming Galaxy Camera, a fully functional digital camera that has a 4G connection, allowing users to instantly post pictures to their Facebook and Twitter accounts. The device screams “niche audience,” but it certainly looks impressive. Details are scant on when the Galaxy Camera will hit stores and how much it will cost, but word is AT&T will get it first.
Want to give something different to trick-or-treaters this year? Hook them up with a video game. According to a new survey conducted by PopCap Games and the American Dental Association, 93% of children between the ages of 5 and 13 would prefer a video game to candy on Halloween … The fourth episode of Halo’s prequel, available on Machinima Prime, launches today and is worth checking out … Want a little more Darksiders II? The second DLC pack, Abyssal Forge, will launch on Xbox Live, PS Network and Windows PCs on Oct. 30.
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