Halo Home Theater
Posted by Frankie at 4/8/2004 4:41 PM PDT

A beginner's guide to filling your house with awesome expensive gadgets in the pursuit of Halo perfection.

Surround Yourself With Victory!

One of the coolest, yet most underutilized features of the Xbox generally, and Halo in particular, is its use of Dolby 5.1 digital surround sound. What does that mean to you, the gamer? A lot, if you have the equipment.

Dolby 5.1 surround sound basically splits the game audio into five digital channels of surround, plus the ".1" bass effects of an accompanying Subwoofer. That means that audio can be sent to any of the five speakers center, front left and right and rear left and right. In movies this makes for cool effects like a spaceship sweeping by and around you. In Halo, it's actually gameplay. If a Covenant soldier is behind you, he'll sound like he's behind you you can use the audio to improve your performance in the game.

That becomes especially important in multiplayer games when the radar is turned off you can actually hear the direction of approaching footsteps or vehicles and plan your tactics to suit. An explosion directly "behind" you means it's time to get moving, even the rattle of falling shale and debris can be a useful clue.

Marty O'Donnell, Bungie's in-house maestro reminds us that one of the first sounds you hear in Halo is Dolby 5.1, "That shield charger is real 5.1, it's processed to literally spin around your head as it charges and depletes the shield. It's probably the first in-game surround sound most Xbox owners heard."

Of course, you need some equipment to get this working. For one thing, in order to get a digital audio connection, you must have either an Advanced AV Pack or a High Definition AV Pack both of which have a digital optical connection built-in. And it goes without saying that you will need a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound system and these can come in a number of shapes and sizes.

The most common, practical and easy to use is one of those Home Theater In a Box deals that you'll find stacked at your local electronics store. For about $300 you can get a pretty decent system with six speakers (including the subwoofer) and a digital surround processor. That should give you sharp sound, lots of bass and plenty of options, like an FM tuner, support for other formats (like DTS) and more. Spend a little more, you'll get either more power or perhaps a built-in DVD player.

If you want to get really fancy, you could take a look at a pair of Dolby 5.1 headphones, which use some aural trickery to produce surround sound from a pair of cans and in the case of the infra red wireless Pioneer SE-XB1 phones, they do an amazingly convincing job, without shaking the drywall off the TV room. They may however blast some of the loose gray matter out of your brainpan.

It costs around $450 and is hard to come by, but nothing says hardcore like this Pioneer SE-XB1 wireless surround headphone setup.

And staying with the Xbox branded theme, a speaker company named Spherex has created a sub-$500 home theater system designed specifically with Xbox in mind although it does have some muscle to back up its aesthetic appeal. The most interesting feature in the Spherex Xbox 5.1 setup is its use of Omnipolar technology for speakers that spread the sound in all directions, as opposed to conventional speakers which simply "fire" sound in the direction they're pointed. The result, according to Spherex is "a deep wide and tall soundstage."

We actually use these speakers here in the office, and can vouch for their clarity. The sound does seem more natural and lifelike. The fancyness extends to the electronics as well as the actual speakers. Located in a small box, the processor has upgradeable firmware and a USB port, so you can not only use your PC to customize your setup, you can upgrade to new features as they become available.

Spherex has built a system that's either sexy or frightening, depending on your sensibilities.

Rez up for Rezults

Halo supports two resolutions 480i, which is your regular vanilla TV resolution, and 480p which in spite of the numbering, is basically twice as sharp as 480i. The "i" stands for "interlaced" which describes the fact that old school TVs only draw every other line simultaneously, at about 30 frames per second. Your brain simply blends the two alternating pictures together for a smooth, convincing image. In a 480p display, "p" stands for "progressive" as in "Progressive Scan." Almost all HDTVs and PC monitors can handle this display format, which draws every line simultaneously. The result is a much sharper image, with a great deal more detail and clarity.

These resolutions for the most part apply to the North American NTSC TV system other countries use incompatible standards like Pal, and SECAM and since most of Europe doesn't have HDTV yet, this part of the article kinda skips 'em. Sorry!

In Halo, a 480p picture isn't just a cosmetic boost it can be a big gameplay advantage, especially for snipers. You can simply see more detail, and pick out players who might otherwise be hidden in a combination of blurry 480i display and in-game camouflage. Of course, the enhanced definition can make you a victim as well as a victor. Even better, split-screen games become much less of an ordeal, since each player gets more detail.

There are a couple of things you'll need (aside from an Xbox and Halo of course) to enjoy 480p resolution and a couple of options to consider. The most straightforward is a combination of an HDTV or EDTV television set and an Xbox High Definition AV Pack. The former are two types of TV capable of displaying 480p and the latter lets you connect directly to your TV's component video inputs just make sure to enable 480p in the video section of your Xbox dashboard.

The next big problem is buying an HDTV. There are so many competing technologies and acronyms, you might lose your mind trying to juggle it all. In our research (and for research, read, "asking dude in next cubicle"), the biggest confusion seems to be the difference between HDTV and EDTV. As far as we're concerned, EDTV is NOT the way to go, since you can't really use it to watch HDTV programs (although it's fine for 480p gaming). Don't worry too much about having a tuner built-in, since most HDTV signals will come from an external box like a Satellite tuner or cable box. Built-in HD tuners only give you access to broadcast signals. And in just how much hi-res can you take Leno's chin?

Now, HDTVs and monitors can support other high resolutions, including 720p, 1080i and even 1080p. Halo however, will only function in 480i and 480p modes.

Samsung's DLP projection sets are among the best in terms of value and quality.

You also want to make sure that your TV has plenty of inputs for your console and more. Component video is used for most HD applications, including your Xbox, but you will also want DVI, since most future devices will use this superior digital connector, and maybe even HDMI which is compatible with DVI but can also handle digital audio. So what you really want to wait for is a TV with DVI, HDMI and Component Video Inputs. Confused? You should be. All this mess is caused by multiple companies with competing standards.

And then there's screen technology. Basically CRT screens still have the best overall image quality, but they're heavy and limited in size. LCD projection screen TVs offer the most real estate for the dollar ($2000 will get you a huge quality set) while Plasma and LCD flat screens are both at the higher end of the price scale, but dropping rapidly. In about two years, you'll be able to pick up a 42 inch Plasma for less than $1000 is our guess.

There is another, more unorthodox, but considerably cheaper option, in the shape of a VGA adapter. A few companies, including Neoya (http://www.x2vga.com/) with its X2VGA device, let you plug your Xbox into a PC monitor for near identical 480p results. Since most people already have a VGA monitor at home, it's a pretty cheap solution coming in at around $70 for the adapter which like the High Definition AV Pack, also lets you attach surround sound via an optical or "SPIDF" connector. One downside is that VGA monitors usually cannot display 480i so your dashboard will look like ass, clearing up only once the game loads. The X2VGA has a filter of sorts that makes the dashboard visible, if ugly, and dip switches for customizing the output. It also supports 720p and 1080i resolutions.

The Neoya X2VGA lets you plug your Xbox into a VGA monitor for HDTV thrills without the associated expense.

Postural Posterior Gluteal Recumbinator

Or chair, as we like to call it. LaZboy could be the only way to go, especially now they make recliners in Sci-Fi and animal patterns that may or may not horrify your significant other. And if you leave a coffee stain ring on the arm rest, you can always claim it's the afterglow of the destroyed Halo


EDTV - Enhanced Definition Television (limited to 480p but fine for Halo)

HDTV - High Definition Television (usually supports 480p, 720p or 1080i or all three)

Dolby 5.1 Surround - A digitally encoded sound that splits an audio signal into five speaker channels and a bass channel.

Subwoofer - Big giant box that makes room go boom.

VGA - Video Graphics Array (basically a PC monitor)

DVI - Digital Visual Interface (lets you get a high def purely digital signal into your monitor or TV)

HDCP - High bandwidth Digital Content Protection (Basically an anti-piracy measure, but you might need it so you can watch unscrambled movies in the future)

Up and Over, Chief! 

Posted by urk at 3/17/2010 9:18 AM PDT

And take that Marine with ya.

HBO picked up on yet another High Impact Halo feat. Pretty cool that these guys are still beating up our old gal after all these years. That's a terrible analogy. I'm sorry. To make up for it, check out this sweet trick video.

High Impact Halo - Up and out of the light bridge pit...

Tags: Halo (Xbox)


So Our Game's Called Halo... 

Posted by urk at 7/21/2009 3:07 PM PDT

Party like it's 1999.

Read Full Top Story

The Gamer Girlfriend 

Posted by urk at 12/18/2008 8:50 AM PST

"Don't ever let her go."

If you can get her to play Halo with you, that is.

G Spot28 from 411mania.com wrote in to tip us off to a new series of articles he's running where gamers' girlfriends sit down, play titles, and then give tips on how you can make the experience a good one for your significant other.  First up, Halo.

Turns out the lovely lady in the article didn't have such a good time with her playthrough.  5 out of 10?  No replay value?  Looks like Andi's gift grab bag must have gotten lost in the mail.  Oh well, girls are icky.  You know it.  I know it.  Hit the link below for the evidence.

The Gamer Girlfriend

Tricking Out Old School 

Posted by urk at 11/6/2008 10:33 AM PST

Up hill, both ways.

HBO alerted us to some really nostalgic tricking videos over at High Impact Halo this morning.  The videos are zipped up in an archive for download at the link below.

Lone Starr's "Pile Up" of Tricks

Dedicated Members Recreate First Ever Halo Screenshot 

Posted by lukems at 6/23/2008 5:42 PM PDT

Truly a blast from the past.

These fellas submitted their post to the blog, but I wanted to include the images for easy perusal. t was made by XxFLAWxLESSxX, Rockout514, and lxjarh34dxl.Download it here




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