Monday, July 1, 2013

Computer Break Down and Ouya Review

On Wednesday I turned my workstation on, several capacitors exploded like fire crackers, and smoke came out of my computer. A quick run on my PSU tester made it clear that the PSU was, in fact, dead. So, while I was waiting for my new one to arrive, I decided to give the Ouya a go.


Let me put this here, for those of you (and there are many) who are suffering from this problem on your Ouya. This will help you resolve the problem and get you up and running:

1) connect to a wired LAN with internet access (this MIGHT work with a wlan, but it's unlikely. The first update breaks android's ability to retain wireless network data, including the password, IP, MAC, etc).

2) Go to Manage>Advanced>System and then go down to Backup and Recovery. From here, select factory reset. Repeat this process about 20 - 30 times, or until the Ouya boots to the main menu.

If you're stuck in network configuration, you'll need to press Y on ethernet (most likely ETH0) to enter network settings. From there, press Up and O get to system settings and press down until you highlight Backup and Recovery. Do a full system restore.

Repeat this process until you make it to the main menu/account creation. 

Anyway, on to the review.

I'll start off by saying I'm not a founder, nor have I been following the Ouya development very closely. As you know (if you've read my blog) I do 3d work and Android programming, so that was the extent of my interest with the Ouya. Well, that an XBMC, but we'll get to that in a moment. 

I ordered my Ouya on June 18th, knowing it would ship on the 25th. I have Amazon prime, so I figured I'd get it on the 27th with free 2 day shipping. Well, not so fast. Apparently the Ouya was either very popular or very limited, because Amazon went from pre-order to sold out on the 25th. However, I recieved notice that I would receive the Ouya that Friday (only 5 days late). In Amazon's defense, they did bump up to free next day shipping. I can't imagine they actually made any money off my order, so I can't really complain about the service.

The Ouya came in good condition and has interesting packaging, though they underplayed the fact that it's also a developer kit and is also compatible with PS3 controllers. Those of you who already have a few of those controllers don't need to spend anything extra to start your party games.

The Good
At only $99, and sporting a quad core tegra, the Ouya makes an excellent home theater PC. It does have problems with very large files (4 gig blue ray rips, for example), but hopefully that will be resolved soon. If you have a media server like me, and you want a small, inconspicuous box to stream media on the cheap, the Ouya does a passable job. 

There are currently just over 200 games available for download, and you can try all of them for free. The quality of the demo ranges from one level, to a good portion of the game depending on what that specific developer chooses to give you. The games are also pretty cheap, topping out around $15 for larger games like Final Fantasy 3, and as low as $3 for some of the basic Android ports. The games are currently very retro and abstract heavy, with only a handful of what I would consider polished games, but there are definitely about half a dozen gems in the lot, such as Bomb Squad and Flashout (a clone of Wipeout XL).

The controller is solid and feels medium-well built. It has a touch pad in the middle, which is just as frustrating as it is essential for using the system. It is a cross between the xbox and PS3 controller, and I'm told it had some problems early on with the O button sticking. That appears to have been fixed for the final release, as mine didn't have any problems at all. The controller is mostly comfortable, but I don't like the top bumpers. It also lacks select and start buttons, which can cause problems for PS1 games. My last pet peeve is that the same button that pauses many games is also used to quit out of them if held slightly longer.

Finally, the box is very small and compact, needing only a power cable and HDMI cable to work, though you'll want to use the wired LAN port for now.

The Bad
As much as I like the value and performance, the Ouya fails in a lot of critical areas. For one, the day one patch kills the Android network service and is a brick wall for 98% of the people who buy it. The fix requires an wired connection and a bit of patience. The company essentially blocked almost all its new customers, and required factory resets for everyone with an existing configuration.

It took me about an hour to figure out the solution, which basically involves factory resetting the Ouya 20 - 30 times, which effectively finishes the update in small increments between network failures.

The next problem is that XBMC and Emulators do not work out of the box as Ouya led everyone to believe. XBMC needs to be downloaded and manually installed through the built-in web browser using the atrocious touch pad and (I hope you have one) a compatible tablet or usb/bluetooth keyboard. Once installed, it takes further configuring to optimize it for Android, and you should expect to set aside about an hour to complete the task. Oh, and yes, you heard me right. More on that in a moment. Emulators, one of the biggest draws for me, do not come with any roms (I was hoping I could buy them from the Ouya store). Instead, you have to load them on a flash drive and plug it into the only USB port on the Ouya. But the Ouya won't access attached storage unless you sideload a terminal and reconfigure the linux mount permissions (facepalm). So, the 2 things that would make you want to buy this for your parents/grandparents require complex work arounds and googlefu or linux skills.

Speaking of linux skills, the Ouya just uses a custom Android overlay that isn't complete. This means in many areas, even games (!), you need a keyboard. For example, Final Fantasy 3 takes you to an Android text screen so you can type in the characters name. Now, it's fine if you never want to change their names, but to do so requires a tablet with Blue Board or the USB/Bluetooth keyboard. In fact, there are so many areas that break you back out into the native Android OS that you'll wonder why they didn't just use Android without any custom UI. Want to uninstall a game? You'll have to go into the Android System (yes, exactly the same as your phone/tablet), go to Applications, then uninstall the game just the same as if it were on your phone.

Now, some people may be asking "So, what's the big deal with that?" Well, the idea behind this console is that it was supposed to be easy and accessible. If people wanted to play on their phone, they would do it - they wouldn't spend another $99 to do the same exact thing. This makes it great to give to your kids before the giant consoles hit with their $300 and $400 price tags - except for the biggest problem of all:

You need a valid credit card before you even get to the menu.

Yup, you have to front them your credit information to even get past the welcome screen. This may well be the idea that killed the Ouya. Why would I give this kids, knowing it has my credit card pre-loaded and ready to buy all 200+ games? The NES emulator (the only one that comes with a range of old nintendo games) works on microtransactions. Yes, it has parental controls, but it doesn't say that anywhere on the box. As a parent, I would be deeply concerned about junior maxing out my card to buy extra lives on Castlevania.

Finally, it's case was very poorly thought out and designed. First, it's mostly aluminum with plastic and it has an internal antenna. As you might expect, the wifi performance is basically unusable unless you remove the chip and lie it on the counter. The second issue is that there is no airflow, so it gets far too hot. The small 40mm fan they have cooling it does not bring any cool air in, or vent any hot exhaust. It just keeps pushing the same hot air over the burning chipset.

There is already an aftermarket brewing for 3d printed cases made of plastic with vent holes.

Bottom Line
It's not a bad system overall. It lacks any games that make it a "must have," but it's a good $99 time killer while you wait for a major console to release. It's not user friendly enough or suitable for kids or your grand parents and requires prior knowledge of Android to fully use.

Honestly, I wanted to develop games for it, but right now I'm on the fence. As with any developer, I don't want to waste time on a system that will attract little or no audience with purchasing power.