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Nintendo Classic Mini spells end of emulation

Nintendo’s refreshed version of the 1986 Nintendo Entertainment System has finally arrived in South Africa, changing the culture of games emulation, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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The Nintendo Classic Mini, a 2016 refresh of the wildly popular Nintendo Entertainment System first released in 1986, has finally arrived in South Africa, and it spells an end to the culture of game emulation that has been particularly strong in this country.

Emulation of the 1986 Nintendo Entertainment System has long been popular for playing classic games on computers without forking out thousands for what is now a collector’s edition. The argument for emulation is almost always backed with, “I purchased this game in the ‘80s or ‘90s but I don’t have the console anymore so I’m going to emulate it with an online back-up”. 

This argument seems fine, in the traditional media back-up sense, because consumers have been backing up their vinyls, tapes and CDs to digital formats for ages. Moreover, this is a perfectly legal thing to do with audio media. Some consumers with damage discs, scratched vinyls and stretched tapes have been digitally downloading the media that they own, often from free and illegal channels, claiming the legal territory of fair use. Is this different to downloading Super Mario Bros if one has purchased it before?

However, the digital backup method becomes illegal with video games. Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft have explicitly outlined the rules: a consumer does not have the right to make back-ups, obtain back-ups and/or use these back-ups to play their games. The reason behind this is that piracy is rife in the game industry, and back-up copies are usually very difficult to create. 

If back-up copies can be made, the media won’t work on the original console. Sony and Microsoft have implemented special copy-protection measures into their disc media to transmit a “disc wobble”. Their console’s lasers read this wobble, to prove that the disc is not a back-up. Blank discs cannot be purchased with this wobble.

Nintendo has taken a slightly more interesting approach to copy-protection. Apart from the Wii and Wii U, every console the company has produced runs off proprietary game cartridges. This has made the need for back-ups irrelevant, as cartridges are far more resilient to damage compared to their disc counterparts. While dust might be a problem on the older cartridges, they just needed a quick blow of air on the receivers, which Nintendo highly recommended against doing, to get the game working again. 

These cartridges were notoriously difficult to back up, but were not immune. Many websites offer backed up games for download, and Nintendo Entertainment System games are not larger than a megabyte, making them extremely attractive to download when one compares the amount of equipment required to back-up one’s personal copy.

Bearing this in mind, emulators found their way through consumers not being able to play copied games on copy-protected consoles and the rapid increase in computing power. Emulation of copyrighted games is still illegal and will continue to be illegal for decades to come, as copyright stands for 75 years and the earliest Nintendo game is less than four decades old. 

Nintendo doesn’t condone emulation at all and has made it clear that it will never produce an emulator for computers. 

Hidden deep in the legal documentation on its corporate website (see https://www.nintendo.com/corp/legal.jsp#helping), the company goes into great detail on its attitude to emulators. 

It states emphatically: “Emulators developed to play copied Nintendo software promote piracy. That’s like asking why doesn’t Nintendo legitimize piracy. It doesn’t make any business sense. It’s that simple and not open to debate.”

That being said, Sony and Nintendo have seen the market for retro gaming and have released solutions to counter emulation.

Sony released a monthly-subscription service called PlayStation Now which allows consumers to play a vast selection of popular PlayStation and PlayStation 2 games on their PlayStation 4 consoles. This service has been well-received in the launch countries, but licensing issues are restricting Sony from going global with this service. 

Nintendo’s Classic Mini is a different story.

It solves a lot of the issues that Sony is facing with licensing through the release of a separate console. This allows licensing to the console itself, which allows worldwide release. The introductory price of R1200 once-off, with 30 pre-installed classic games like the original Super Mario Bros and Donkey Kong, makes this an extremely attractive offer to consumers who want to get the best retro experience while staying on the good side of the law.

The bottom line is, it makes emulation of the console’s games defunct.

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Low-cost wireless sport earphones get a kickstart

Wireless earphone brands are common, but not crowdfunded brands. BRYAN TURNER takes the K Sport Wireless for a run.

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As wireless technology becomes better, Bluetooth earphones have become popular in the consumer market. KuaiFit aspires to make them even more accessible to more people through a cheaper, quality product, by selling the K Sport Wireless Earphones directly from its Kickstarter page

KuaiFit has an app by the same name which offers voice-guided personal training services in almost every type of exercise, from cardio to weight-lifting. A vast range of connectivity to third-party sensors is available, like heart rate sensors and GPS devices, which work well with guided coaching. 

The app starts off with selecting a fitness level: beginner, intermediate and advanced. Thereafter, one has the ability to connect with real personal trainers via a subscription to its paid service. The subscription comes free for 6 months with the earphones, and R30 per month thereafter. 

The box includes a manual, a USB to two USB Type B connectors, different sized soft plastic eartips and the two earphone units. Each earphone is wireless and connects to the other independently of wires. This puts the K Sport Wireless in the realm of the Apple Earpods in terms of connection style. 

The earphones are just over 2cm wide and 2cm high. The set is black with a light blue KuaiFit logo on the earphone’s button. 

The button functions as an on/off switch when long-pressed and a play/pause button when quick-pressed. The dual-button set-up is convenient in everyday use, allowing for playback control depending on which hand is free. Two connectivity modes are available, single earphone mode or dual earphone mode. The dual earphone mode intelligently connects the second earphone and syncs stereo audio a few seconds after powering on. 

In terms of connectivity, the earphones are Bluetooth 4.1 with a massive 10-meter range, provided there are no obstacles between the device and the earphones. While it’s not Bluetooth 5, it still falls into the Bluetooth Low Energy connection category, meaning that the smartphone’s battery won’t be drastically affected by a consistent connection to the earphones. The batteries within the earphones aren’t specifically listed but last anywhere between 3 and 6 hours, depending on the mode. 

Audio quality is surprisingly good for earphones at this price point. The headset style is restricted to in-ear due to its small design and probable usage in movement-intensive activities. As a result, one has to be very careful how one puts these earphones, in because bass has the potential of getting reduced from an incorrect in-ear placement. In-ear earphones are usually notorious for ear discomfort and suction pain after extended usage. These earphones are one of the very few in this price range that are comfortable and don’t cause discomfort. The good quality of the soft plastic ear tip is definitely a factor in the high level of comfort of the in-ear earphone experience.

Overall, the K Sport Wireless earphones are great considering the sound quality and the low price: US$30 on Kickstarter.

Find them on Kickstarter here.

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Taxify enters Google Maps

A recent update to Taxify now uses Google Maps which allows users to identify their drivers, find public transport and search for billing options.

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People planning their travel routes using Google Maps will now see a Taxify icon in the app, in addition to the familiar car, public transport, walking and billing options.

Taxify started operating in South Africa in 2016 and as of October 2018 operates in seven South African cities – Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni, Tshwane, Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth and Polokwane.

Once riders have searched for their destination and asked the app for directions, Google Maps shares the proximity of cars on the Taxify platform, as well as an estimated fare for the trip.

If users see that taking the Taxify option is their best bet, they can simply tap on the ‘Open app’ icon, to complete the process of booking the ride. Customers without the app on their device will be prompted to install Taxify first.

This integration makes it possible for users to evaluate which of the private, public or e-hailing modes of transport are most time-efficient and cost-effective.

“This integration with Google Maps makes it so much easier for users to choose the best way to move around their city,” says Gareth Taylor, Taxify’s country manager for South Africa. “They’ll have quick comparisons between estimated arrival times for the different modes of transport, as well as fares they can expect to pay, which will help save both time and money,” he added.

Taxify rides in Google Maps are rolling out globally today and will be available in more than 15 countries, with South Africa being one of the first countries to benefit from this convenient service.

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