D-Link DIR-X1560 Wi-fi 6 router review

I’ve always been a fan of D-Link routers so was interested to see whether it’s new Smart DIR-X1560 wi-fi 6 would “unleash” the “lightening fast” speeds that the marketing brochure promised me.

D-Link seems to targeting the connected/smart home market with this wi-fi 6 router as it says the AX1500 is the “ultimate router for the connected home”, perfect for device-heavy homes and offering more bandwidth without affecting data-intensive applications like 4K streaming and gaming.

D-Link says wi-fi 6 (which uses the 802.11ax protocol) delivers speeds up to 2 to 3 times faster than 802.11ac routers and offers up to 1200 Mbps on the 5GHz band and 300 Mbps on the 2.4GHz band.

Out of the box, the DIR-X1560 is a pretty bare bones router offering four gigabit LAN ports, an WAN port, a WPS connection button and the power button at the back  – and that’s it. There’s no anti-malware protection and parental controls are fairly basic.

It’s also quite a bit smaller than the DIR 3060, too, with four antennae instead of six like on the DIR 3060.  There’s also no USB port so when you need to update the router’s firmware you’ll need to do it via the internet and not using a USB stick. It also supports Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa, but I didn’t test out those features.

Setting up the DIR-X1560 was super simple like most of the other D-Link routers I’ve used  and you can either scan the QR code in the supplied documentation and use D-Link’s smartphone app or connect it to the internet via ethernet then visit the D-Link site to complete the setup. I chose the QR code/app route and it was hassle free: Within a few minutes I was up and running and connect and the unit had even upgraded its firmware.

My five-year-old home is internally wired with ethernet ports in various rooms (ie study, bedroom, kitchen, family room) so I can plug devices directly into the walls to ensure consistent internet speeds but the services panel where everything technical enters the property is located in the garage about 15 metres away from the main living areas  – and that’s what the DIR-X1560 was plugged into.

I tested the speed of the wi-fi from three rooms in my house: The main bedroom (which is one of the closest rooms to where the router is situated), the study/spare room and the kitchen/dining area.

The bedroom speed test returned around 38.5Mbps down and 34.5Mbps up, the study, which is about 12m or so away from the router, returned speeds around 25Mbps down and 15Mbps up, while the the kitchen/dining room gave speeds of around 10Mbps down and 11Mbps up [Not spectacular speeds from the kitchen but the signal had to travel from pretty much one end of the house to the other, passing through several walls on the way.]

My main test of the DIR-X1560 was to stream countless hours of Netflix and Neon (a New Zealand-based streaming service) across a variety of devices (Samsung smart TV, Apple iPad, Macbook pro) – often two of them at the same time – and I experienced no lag or drops in the connection or quality from the moment I set it up. It provided perfect speeds for interruption-free streaming.

Look, the DIR-X1560 isn’t the most feature-packed wi-fi 6 unit –  if you want more features and more LAN ports you’ll have to look elsewhere – and I get faster speeds from my DIR 3060 but for $NZ279/$AU249, it’s a solid entry level router that delivers good speeds if you’re wanting to head down the wi-fi 6 route.

PNY launches HP memory products into New Zealand and Australia

HP’s x796w flash drive.

PNY Technologies has launched HP memory products into Australia and New Zealand for the first time. The initial launch centres around four HP USB flash drives: the HP x796w, HP x760w , HP v245w and HP v150w.

PNY Director Sales, ANZ & Oceania Richard Clarke says the HP products are PNY’s major and continued commitment to launching high-quality memory products into New Zealand and Australia. “They are the first of many across the entire HP memory product range that we will launch local,” he says.

The HP x796w offers a USB 3.1 mobile solution to store and share your music, photos, files and more. With a durable and metal casing, it has a push-pull design and is ideal for large files. It’s also backward compatible with USB 2.0 and comes in 32GB, 64GB, 128GB, 256GB, 512GB and 1TB sizes.

The x760w comes in 32Gb, 64Gb, 128Gb and 256Gb storage sizes (USB 3.1) and has a clip-on hook meaning it can be securely attached to a backpack.

HP’s v245w flash drive.

The pint-sized v245w is water and shock resistant and comes in 16Gb, 32Gb and 64Gb sizes, and the v150w has a sliding, lid-less and cap-less design, weighing in at 32Gb, 64Gb and 128Gb sizes.

All four USB sticks are available from JB Hi-Fi across New Zealand and Australia.

JBL Quantum 600 headset review

Byte-sized review

Not so long ago on this blog, I reviewed JBL’s Quantum 300 wired gaming headset which I said “My ears were in audio heaven with the aural goodness being fired into them from these JBL ear cans.

Now, JBL have sent through one of the 300s bigger siblings: The Quantum 600, a wireless gaming headset that is clearly aimed at gamers –  although you can use it for other things like video conferencing (but, personally, I wouldn’t.)

Targeting PC gamers, the Quantum 600s connect to your PC using a thin USB dongle that plugs into a free USB slot. You can also use them with consoles using the USB dongle – such as a PlayStation 4 – or the supplied connection cable that has dual 3.5mm headphone jacks if you want (Nintendo Switch).

The pairing button/on-off switch is housed in the right ear cup, while the rotary dials that controls the volume and chat and microphone functions are integrated into left air cup.

The Quantum 600 is comfortable with nice padding on the ear cups and head band and being wireless, they’re certainly heavier than the wired 300s, with a sturdy braided cable snaking out of each ear cup into the headband. Tipping the scales at 346grams, they’re definitely heavier than my personal favourite headphones: Bose’s QC 35s.

That said, I didn’t find the extra heft annoying while I was wearing them and it didn’t cause me any discomfort but it’s just something to be wary of if you plan to do extended gaming sessions. I didn’t get “hot ears” either while wearing them.

The foam around the ear cups is thick enough to offer a little bit of noise cancelling but they won’t drown out external noise: you can still people talking if they’re in the same room as you. They’re charged using USB C.

You can adjust the tempo of the RGB lighting on each earcup.

When using them on your PC, you can tweak a variety of settings using JBL’s Quantum Engine software, like the sound field you want (DTS, JBL’s Quantum surround), microphone and chat levels, and manage the RGB lighting of the JBL logo on each ear cup, which ranges from the lighting pattern to how long each colour is active for.  If you love a bit of RGB bling, these things will make you smile from ear to ear.

When you use the USB dongle on your console you don’t have access to the Quantum Engine software so you can’t tweak RGB settings or sound options, you’ll just have to make so with whatever surround sound option the game itself supports, which is what I did.

Sound is incredibly good, too, with the headphones offing not only DTS surround sound but 7.1 audio and I tested them with Sucker Punch’s Ghost of Tsushima (PlayStation 4)  and the PC version of Death Stranding.

You can select the type of surround sound using JBL’s Quantum Engine software.

Minute details popping around my head as I slashed mongol invaders through the island of Tsushima or tip toed through BT infested landscapes, hoping not to be sucked into a pool of black goo. I really was impressed by the sound quality with these headphones while gaming.

The only non-gaming thing I did with the Quantum 600s was use it during a work Teams call and while sound quality was good, my work colleagues couldn’t hear me talking. Maybe it was a glitch, maybe I had inadvertently muted the microphone (flipping it up will mute the sound) but I wouldn’t use this headset for non-gaming endeavours.

JBL claims that the 600s have a 14 hours music playtime with the RGB lighting off before needing a recharge and while I didn’t log my usage minute by minute, I reckon I got at least eight hours – with the RGB lighting on (despite not actually benefiting from seeing them being on) – before needing a recharge.

Bottom line is JBL have another winner on its hands here with the Quantum 600 wireless gaming headset, which will set you back around $250 which seems a reasonable for a headset of this build and sound quality.

Your ears will love you for it.

 

Ghost of Tsushima review: Way of the samurai

Tsushima is an island situated between the Tsushima Strait and the Korea Strait, approximately half way between the Japanese mainland and the Korean peninsula.

According to Japanese mythology, Tsushima was one of the eight original islands created by the Shinto deities Izanagi and Izanami and its two islands have a long history and was  an important trading post during feudal Japan, which was invaded by the Mongols between 1274 and 1281.

In 1274, the first Mongol invasion of Tsushima killed a great number of the island’s inhabitants and it’s with this historic backdrop that development studio Sucker Punch has set its latest creation Ghost of Tsushima – and I rather liked it [That’s the short version but I’d be rather thankful if you stuck around to the end as it took me a while to get these words just how I wanted them].

Sucker Punch has a long and illustrious history with PlayStation 4 and it kicked off its PlayStation 4 relationship with the rather excellent inFamous Second Son and now as we near the end of a console generation it ends it with PlayStation 4 exclusive Ghost of Tsushima, first announced way back in 2015.

The game opens with the Mongol invasion of Tsushima and Jin Sakai is one of the last remaining samurai, left for dead and his uncle Lord Shimura  captured, presumed dead. Leading the Mongols is Khotun Khan, the nephew of Ghengis Khan, and a brutal, well-studied enemy who offers the people of Tsushima a bleak future: Bow to him or they will die.

Jin is found and nursed back to health and he vows to rally the splintered factions across Tsushima to his join his cause, defeat the Khan and reclaim Tsushima.

As a highly trained samurai, throughout the game Jin constantly battles internal demons as he tries to reconcile what it means to be a samurai while being forced to evolve his tactics to face a new, more brutal enemy, something unlike the Japanese had seen before.

As a child being trained by his uncle, Jin was taught the ways of the samurai: “Loyalty to our lord, control of our emotions, fight bravely, and honour the legacy of clan Sakai.” As his legend grows, Jin must decide does he kill stealthily to become the Ghost or challenge foes face-to-face as is the way of the samurai?

I played Ghost of Tsushima from start to finish with how I personally feel is the most appropriate way the game should be played: With the Japanese language track and English subtitles. It just didn’t feel right to me to play a game set in feudal Japan and featuring samurai in any other way, at least not in my first play through.

Central to combat is something called resolve, which is earned by killing enemies, parrying attacks and completing tasks. Resolve can be used to activate special attacks, as well as used to replenish your health when it falls dangerously low.

Completing story quests earns Jin technique points which can be used to upgrade his stances and combat tactics, allowing him to be a stronger fighter, or unlock throwable weapons such as kunai (knives), sticky bombs (which sticks to an enemy before exploding) or wind chimes (which can be used to distract an enemy).

Sucker Punch has made a point of mentioning that GOT doesn’t have an on-screen pointer to tell you where your objective is – and they’re right: Apart from a small line of text in the top left corner showing the current objective title and how far you are from your destination is, the screen is devoid of any other elements.  It is a minimalist’s dream and a recent patch brought an even more sparse UI (recommended for “expert players”, apparently).

So if there’s no on-screen objective marker, how the heck do you know where to go? By following the wind, my friend, by following the wind. If you swipe up on the Dualshock 4’s touchpad,  gusts of wind blow in the direction you need to go. It’s effective and is frankly refreshing to find a game that is using the technique.GOT is very much a game where you look for visual cues to tell you something is nearby or where you’re going: Tori gates point you to cliff top shrines that grant you charms that help in defensive and offensive moves; yellow birds flying to hot springs where you can soak to recover health or religious monuments; foxes lead you to inari shrines.

Visual cues also play an important part in combat: From the yells of Mongol archers which indicate they are about to unleash arrows on your to the red glint of an enemies weapon, meaning an unblockable attack is coming and you need to roll out of the way.

Then there are the standoffs where Jin challenges opponents to lethal one-on-one face offs. Press, hold and release the triangle button just as the enemy strikes and Jin will kill the enemy with once slice of his razor-sharp katana. A downed fow will stagger forward briefly, grasping his neck, blood spurting from the wound, before crumpling to the ground, a lifeless body.

By the mid-point of the game, I had maxed out Jin’s standoff ability, enabling him to take down three enemies in quick succession during a standoff encounter  (if I didn’t screw it up, of course), each strike captured in glorious slow motion.

There has been talk online by many that the combat looks Sekiro like: It’s nothing like Sekiro a game I downright hated and gave up on. GOT is all about learning attack patterns, parrying blows and striking hard and fast.

Make no mistake, though, the combat can be brutally unforgiving, especially if you get surrounded by a group consisting of the game’s four main enemy types: Sword wielders, shield carriers, spear bearers and big dudes [but I just call them tanks because that’s what they are] and crucial to defeating them all is mastering the four “stances”: Wind, stone, water and moon, each more suited to a particular enemy.  You’ll find yourself switching between stances on the fly as you tackle all the Mongels have to offer.

I mastered the combat but even late in the game I was still getting my arse handed to me on a plate sometimes when I managed to get surrounded by too many heavy enemies or I screwed up a stand off. If I have one piece of advice it’s this: Use the right stance against the right enemy and max them all out as soon as possible.

As Jin becomes more powerful and his legend grows, he gains the power to terrify nearby enemies through the sheer brutality of some of his attacks and frightened foes will run off, too scared to face you. Assassinations are brutal, too, with sprays of claret erupting from the chests or necks of hapless Mongels.

I have to talk about the side quests because they’re incredibly well written and varied but, importantly, feel a natural extension of the main narrative and not just tacked on to pad the story out. It might be a woman barricaded up in a remote wooden cottage who requires medicinal herbs that mongols at a nearby camp stole from her or a quest to find a mysterious vengeful spirit that rewards you with a mystical power that comes incredibly handy in combat against some of Mongol’s more formidable warlords.

There is so much to discover and much of the time you’ll just stumble across things, be it side quests or points of interest.

Ghost of Tsushima starts off slow, perhaps too slow for my liking, with Act one rather pedestrian at times and I did wonder at one point “Does it get better than this?”. It does and once you start upgrading Jin’s abilities the game opes up dramatically, combat is more free-flowing and the narrative gallops ahead.

For all that is excellent with Ghost of Tsushima, it is still lumbered with the odd tired old gaming tropes from time to time, like instant fail stealth sections if you’re spotted by an enemy and a “Follow this person of interest for a bit to see where they go but don’t get spotted” mission. Thankfully, that one didn’t last long but I had flashbacks to the Assassin’s Creed games I’ve played with its stealth mechanic.

I also encountered the odd “Return to the tale zone” messages (complete with a countdown timer) after I’d apparently stepped outside the prescribed area for an active tale. Aren’t we past this type of mechanic this late in the current generation? Here’s hoping the new generation will see an end of those tired cliched tropes.

Animation is generally top notch, especially in combat, but from time to time you’ll notice Jin’s feet not quite sitting right as he wanders about and climbing is not as smooth as I’d hoped for.

Visually, Ghost of Tsushima is stunning, which you’ll hopefully see in the screen shots peppered throughout this review  – and it gets more stunning as you move through the game world. It’s particularly nice to see that in an industry where many of its products are so often dominated by browns and greys, Ghost of Tsushima is a burst of vibrant freshness, with the island of Tsushima bursting with explosions of colour: Golden yellows, vibrant purples, bright reds and greens, piercing blues and glowing orange.

There has been much talk about the Kurasawa mode which pays homage to the movies of Japanese director Akira Kurasawa and it’s a nice touch, with the black and white image featuring film grain and more dramatic camera angles, but, personally, I couldn’t play the game from start to finish like that. I switched to the mode for a few minutes to see what it was all about then reverted back to the normal mode.

 

For those video game photographers, GOT also has got you covered, with a great photo mode. I found myself pausing the game and framing photos far too often: Before too long I’d captured 3.7Gb of images and video, some I can show here, others I can’t until after the game is out in the wild, so to speak. It’s an amazingly comprehensive photo mode, too, with a huge number of tweakable options including a black and white mode, the ability to determine the amount of on-screen details and a day-night cycle.

By the time the credits rolled on the main story, I had found 12 of 49 fox dens (yes, you can pet the foxes), gained two of the four mystic powers, soaked in six of the eight hot pools, visited six of the 16 Shinto shrines (all atop rocky peaks) and visited three of the eight lighthouses. My goal is to find everything this game has to offer, no matter how long it takes, and I reckon I’ve already sunk more than 35+ hours into it (an hour counter would be really helpful), with my play time including at least two six hour sessions. I plan to take my time and discover al the hidden locations and mop up the remaining Mongol stragglers.

The bottom line is I enjoyed Ghost of Tsushima immensely and while it doesn’t fundamentally do anything radically different from all the other open-world games out there, I enjoyed the narrative and its characters.

If you plan to play it, I have this advice: Don’t rush it. Take your time, explore the world, soak in the atmosphere, discover what lies behind that hills, over that rise, behind that stand of trees. Take. Your. Time.

With Ghost of Tsushima, Sucker Punch has delivered a wonderful closing chapter that not only fittingly celebrates the Japanese samurai but is a fitting farewell to this Sony console generation.

*Thanks to PlayStation New Zealand for the advance copy of Ghost of Tsushima. I completed the main campaign on a PlayStation Pro.