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A Brief Look at Net Neutrality

If certain ISPs and unknowledgeable politicians have their way, the Internet’s days could be numbered.

In the late 1960s, ARPAnet, the predecessor to the modern Internet, was formed. Starting out using a protocol known as 1822 which proved to be inefficient, ARPAnet soon moved onto what was known as “Network Control Protocol”, which served ARPAnet well until 1983 when the TCP/IP protocol that we use today was implemented. During its rapid growth, the Internet has never been “owned” or controlled by anyone or any corporation. Today, the “freedom” of the Internet is in jeopardy. Known as the fight for network neutrality, this issue has been a fiercely debated topic as of late.

While some may be well versed on this issue, others might be wondering “What is Net Neutrality?” Before you can explain what network neutrality is, you first have to establish what is considered neutral. In my opinion, a connection that is free of limitations on how it can be used (within reason) would be neutral. To elaborate further, this would include: no limitations on what devices can be connected, what applications can access the connection, and what you can access while using the connection. So why should you be concerned at all with Net Neutrality? Picture this: If certain laws are allowed to pass and are left unchecked, in the future you could see something similar to the following when you go to shop for a new ISP.

  • Basic Package: 1.5Mbps/256Kbps – includes access to over 300 websites! $19.99
  • Basic+ Package: 1.5Mbps/256Kbps – includes 300 websites as well as MySpace and Facebook, $24.99.

In addition to paying extra for access to certain websites, if a game developer isn’t paying your ISP $X amount of dollars every month, you will also be charged an extra $4.99 a month just to play games made by that developer. What would happen if the developer did pay your ISP(s) money every month so that you don’t have to? You’re still going to pay because the price of games would no doubt increase as a result. I hope that that invokes the thought of “well if (insert your favorite developer here) is paying every ISP in the country money every month, how much extra are they spending? And how much are games going to go up?”

You get the idea. You could end up paying extra money just to access things that you access now for nothing extra. Imagine how the traffic on GotFrag and FPSLabs would be impacted if they were included in a “gaming websites” package you had to purchase for an extra $10 a month? On top of only being able to only access certain sites, what if it came to such extremes as you having to pay a fee if the machine you’re connecting with wasn’t manufactured by a certain company? As I see it, the web and access to it could become heavily policed by corporate entities with money to throw around. We have already seen some of this creeping in with certain ISPs such as Comcast and their responses to increased Bit Torrent traffic. In an effort to avoid purchasing more bandwidth, ISPs have started throttling certain protocols such as Bit Torrent traffic due of the amount of bandwidth being used by these programs. I must say this to these ISPs: We understand that you have already oversold your bandwidth and now take action so that you aren’t sued for violating your own terms of service regarding speed and availability, but with more and more places offering legitimate files via torrents, this is a bad practice.

In fairness, there is another side that has to be presented. Proponents of imposing limitations on the Internet state that they wish to do so in an effort to guarantee the quality of service on their lines. First, I will explain a little bit about QoS and how it works. QoS, or Quality of Service, is a term used to describe a method of being able to give priority to a certain type of information. This gives a home user the ability to make his VoIP traffic the most important if he/she so chooses. QoS is generally used when dealing with a protocol that is very sensitive to dropped packets and jitter. Sensitive protocols would be VoIP or Video teleconferencing while insensitive protocols could include streaming videos which are heavily buffered.
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Current bills that have been introduced include those which allow “Limited Discrimination without QoS tiering.” Basically put, this means that ISPs would be allowed to give information originating from one application priority over another type of traffic, as long as there is no price premium charged to the consumer. For instance, your ISP could give VoIP traffic the highest level of access to the line and then give all other types of traffic (AIM, mIRC, BT, Streaming Video) less priority. The second bill introduced would allow “Limited Discrimination with tiering”, Meaning that ISPs would be allowed to offer higher priced packages with QoS guarantees, as long as there is no exclusivity in service contracts. This would be achieved by rolling out QoS over their entire network, which again is going to cost them more money that they would likely pass on to consumers.

The other argument for people who support imposing limitations on content and use is that this will help cut down on ISPs overselling their bandwidth by “shaping the product for the consumer.” I am all for having a product or service that does exactly what I need it to do and nothing more, but doesn’t the web do that now? When you build a computer, do you build it to just do what you are doing right now? I would hope that when it comes to spending that type of money that you think forward and do some future-proofing. I believe the same applies to the Internet; sure it handles my stuff great now, but in the future I could need more.

Violations of Internet and network neutrality are fairly widespread. In 2005, Telus, a big Canadian telco, blocked a website supporting the company’s labor union. In April of 2007, AOL blocked all emails that mentioned a website which was opposed to the company’s pay-to-send scheme. In my eyes perhaps the biggest violation is the limitations of Bit Torrent and other P2P applications imposed by some ISPs. I am not comfortable with people in high ranking political positions voting or discussing these matters when they have no clue what is going on. One example of an uninformed individual that comes to mind is US Senator Ted Stevens and his likening of the Internet to a “Series of Tubes.” To quote Mr. Stevens directly: “Ten movies streaming across that, that Internet, and what happens to your own personal Internet? I just the other day got… an Internet was sent by my staff at 10 o’clock in the morning on Friday, I got it yesterday [Tuesday]. Why? Because it got tangled up with all these things going on the Internet commercially.” His poor understanding of the Internet leaves much to be desired. He is blaming the lateness of his email or “Internets” on bandwidth issues rather than a possible problem with the email server or routing.

To sum up Net Neutrality I believe that there are many things that need to happen before it even be attempted. If the Internet is going to have limitations imposed (which I believe will never happen), then major ISPs need to start upgrading the capacity of their networks and start implementing wide-spanning QoS ability WITHOUT passing this cost on to customers. Someone also needs to clue in those who have the power to make a difference but do not know what it all means.

SteelSeries Siberia Neckband Review

SteelSeries Siberia Neckband Review

Introduction

SteelSeries has become one of the standards when it comes to gaming related hardware; from mouse pads, to headsets, and recently even mice. One of their most popular releases was the Siberia headphones that offered solid sound and was a favorite of many pro gamers. Fast forward to the present and before us we have the SteelSeries Siberia Neckband headset; the latest in a line of gamer-centric audio solutions.

I have never used the previous Siberia headphones aside from a brief trial while at a friend’s house. My impression was that they offered good but not great sound and had a very comfortable design. Earlier this year we got the word and saw pictures that SteelSeries would be going in a different direction with this release; from the over-the-head style of headphones to a behind-the-neck neckband. Many questions arose. How comfortable would they be? Would they have similar audio to the old Siberias or the more hallowed-out 5HV2 sound? And of the course the most pressing question: When could we get them? We are here today to answer those and many more questions.

The Packaging

SteelSeries is always on the ball with top notch packaging in my experience. The Siberia Neckband is no different. Solid artwork and a box that shows off the goodies inside that are just moments out of reach. On the outside we of course see SpawN from SK Gaming, a fan favorite of many aspiring Counter-Strike players. Apparently members from SK, and mainly SpawN had a hand in developing this input-wise. For gamers by gamers apparently; sometimes this is a positive (Ikari), sometimes not (Fat4lity 2020 Laser mouse).

On the back we have specifications in various languages and details on the contents of the package. The box includes the following:

  • Neckband/headset
  • Inline volume control/cord extension
  • Xbox 360 adapter

What is this? A 360 extension in a PC geared product? Oh the horror… just kidding. In reality this was one of the really cool features that I dug with this headset. With the quick switch of extension cords and removing the inline mic cable you can swap in the 360 connection cable. Very handy for those of you who spend serious time PC gaming and on Xbox Live.

The Headphones

Headphone

  • Frequency response: 18 – 28.000 Hz
  • Impedance: 40 Ohm
  • SPL@1kHz, 1V rms: 104 dB
  • Cable length: 1.3 m + 1.4 m = 2.7 m / 8.9 ft.
  • Jack: 3.5 mm (6.3 mm converter included)

Microphone

  • Frequency response: 80 – 15.000 Hz
  • Impedance: 2K Ohm
  • Pick-up pattern: Uni-directional
  • Sensitivity (1V/P@1 kHz): -38 dB

First impressions of the headphones were that they look pretty damn sweet. The white cans accentuated with black; black interior cushions, and a black cushioned neckband. This motif is very similar to the older Siberia headphones. It is a stylish visual package. There is plenty of cable which is often a concern of mine with headsets/headphones as I often find myself moving around quite a bit, and even getting out of my chair to grab something while leaving the headphones on.

The microphone works great. I love these retractable/rotate away mics. There are plenty of times when I am gaming that I don’t want the mic out there sitting in my face and I like to have the option of moving it out of the way.

The Xbox 360 connectivity works great. I tested them out on my brother’s 360 and it is a breeze to disconnect the inline volume extension and plug in the 360 adapter which snaps into the bottom of the controller. The cool thing is that there is an optional sound cable to run to the 360, so not only will you get over-the-mic-audio via the headset you can get in-game audio also. I don’t know if this is a standard with 360 headsets but I know the first party ones I used were lacking in this regard, as you could only get voice chat over the headset. Nice work on SteelSeries’ part with this additional feature.

Comfort

No matter how great they look or how stylish they are the real reason you guys read these reviews is right here, comfort and performance. So I am going to get down to business and give you guys the 411 on the Neckbands.

To be honest the whole neckband thing was a concern of mine when these were first talked about online well before they came out and it seems my concerns were a bit justified. I was curious to see how SteelSeries managed the tension to support the headphones that normally rest on top of the wearer’s head. I went into the review with an open mind regardless of first impressions, however, as I was worried there would be a lot of pressure around the ears, and some on top of them, to provide the support to keep the neckband up. To put the Neckbands on you have to pull the band apart slightly- think of how an accordion folds out- and then you put them around your neck and on your ears. At this point, the band contracts to fit more snug around your head. While the function works great, the application does not. The tension doesn’t get to you in short term use but during extended periods of time the force of the neckband caused a slight soreness. Not a particular pain by any means but it was annoying regardless. It is entirely possible that this may not affect everyone the same. Talking to my brother who has been using them lately and has a smaller head than I, even he notices it after a couple of hours.

Other than that issue the cloth cans are very comfy, and in short-term use they feel pretty good. Do they stack up to The Sennheiser HD555 or Audio Technica AD700 in terms of comfort? Not in this reviewer’s opinion in the short or long term. The bigger cans on each of the aforementioned headphones are more comfy than the smaller cans on the Siberia Neckbands. When you continue on to extended use, the over-the-head design in general seems tends to reign supreme in comfort.

Performance

I have been using the AD700 from Audio Technica, HD555 from Sennheiser, and 5Hv2 from SteelSeries at various points while testing these so I will compare the Siberia Neckbands to these headphones when appropriate.

I gave these a try in Counter-Strike 1.6, Counter-Strike: Source, and Team Fortress 2. One of the first things I usually ask about is mic quality. I tested playback in Ventrilo and in-game and it seemed pretty clear. These sentiments were backed up by others whom I gamed with that noted the quality of the microphone and being able to hear quite well.

In 1.6 the sounds overall were pretty good. Minimal distortion, though the clarity in a 24 man deathmatch server wasn’t as good as the with HD555 or AD700. It provided similar quality in positional audio as the 5HV2 without sacrificing depth of sound. Overall the sound quality in 1.6 was pretty good but not quite amazing.

I tested this out in a few Source scrims and pubs also with similar results. The ability to pick out various sounds in-game was pretty good. With the HD555 and AD700 it seemed I could pick out sound positions to a more concise area, whereas with the Neckband it was more of a general area at certain distances. Nevertheless they were still solid performers.

Team Fortress 2 is one of my new favorite in-game audio tests. I jump into a 32 man 24/7 Dustbowl (shout out to Pestgaming) and test some serious sounds being broadcasted all around. If you haven’t played a 32 man TF2 server I suggest you try it out, it’s a smörgåsbord of audio for one’s ears to consume. Overall the sound was good, but as in other games the sound stage of these cans seemed smaller than the HD555 and the even better-sounding AD700. The Siberia Neckband didn’t highlight real lows and highs as well as the other headphones did. They did offer similar detail in game to the 5HV2 and its “treble’dout soundstage, while giving much more bass.

Movies and Music
I fired up my favorite video to test with, Star Wars with 5.1 AC3 sound at 440kbps. By and large I enjoyed listening through the Neckbands when not annoyed by the whole comfort issue. The audio quality was good but much like in-game it wasn’t a gamer’s life-changing experience by any means like the sound quality was with the Audio Technica AD700. It was just solid good sound. John Williams’ score sounded pretty good even though some of the high pitches weren’t quite perfect. The Siberia Neckband seemed to perform best in the middle range of sound. They do seem to provide more bass than the AD700, but the bass isn’t quite as clear and distinct.

Music wise, much like in movies, the Neckband offers significantly better sound than the 5HV2 which we recommended pretty much only for in-game audio. I had no qualms listening to my MP3 collection while wearing the Siberia Neckband. Good audio at normal volumes. Pushing volumes up provided more distortion than the AD700 but still better sound than the 5HV2. The Neckband doesn’t keep the clarity at high volumes, giving some slight audible distortion. These definitely pull quality double duty with good audio in-game and in multimedia.

Conclusion

I have spent a good amount of time with these so as not to rush any kind of judgment. These may not be a high-end audio solution if you are seeking perfect sound replication, but for most everyday uses they should be more than adequate. I really, really want to like these. They look sharp, I love the 360 connectivity, and they provide pretty good sound. Unfortunately the whole comfort issue really gets to me. I think it is safe to say that we have a pretty hardcore gaming audience here at FPSLabs. I know I have spent multiple hours on end playing with some of you out there. Knowing that, I think it is safe to complain about any kind of lengthy duration that earns you some discomfort thanks to the design of the Neckband and the localized tension around the ears. If I had to rank these in audio quality vs. the other three headsets I tried they would be third, ahead of only the 5HV2s. However, when it comes to comfort they rank dead last vs. the other three.

While I have to take points off for comfort they do get a value boost thanks to the Xbox 360 connectivity. Being able to use these on the top two competitive gaming platforms (PC, 360) is a bonus for anyone who plays on both, and in comparison to half the junk I have listened to on the 360 for audio these are definitely up there in quality.

Overall unless the Xbox 360 connectivity is a must, I couldn’t recommend these over the AD700 from Audio Technica or the HD555 from Sennheiser. While they may only cost $75 USD, I feel the added $25-35 to get a better audio solution is worthwhile. However if you play a lot of Xbox these could be a real value for you instead of buying one high-end PC solution and another headset for your 360; just something to think about. These are good headphones with solid sound and most people, without comparing them to a higher-end solution, would probably give them even higher scores; But between their less-than-spectacular sound replication and the comfort problems, I have to take it down a step or two.

Pros

  • Solid value if you also have an Xbox 360
  • 360 and Inline volume control extensions
  • Stylish and unique looking, eye catching
  • Positional audio in-game is good
  • Quality audio in games, movies, and music. Superior to the 5HV2, slightly better than old Siberias (if different at all).

Cons

  • Comfort level less than thrilling, too tight and too much pressure around the ears
  • Price, other audio solutions are superior at similar prices
  • Neckband? Why reinvent the wheel when the old solution worked great
8.2/10

These could probably reach a 9 were they conventional headphones. I just could not bring myself to wear these for long durations- they annoyed my melon that much. Even though the audio is leaps and bounds better than the 5HV2, the comfort problem leads me to only giving them a slightly better ranking. Hopefully SteelSeries moves back in the conventional headset direction eventually.