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Thursday, September 6, 2007

Finding Reality in Fantasy :Strange New World- Virtual reality

It's getting nippy here in the Strange New World. Fall is definitely in the air, and that means it's time to channel our inner teenager by heading back indoors for two of our picks of this week - getting ready for some football on a fab new better-quality LCD TV and playing what is probably the hottest video game right now: "Bioshock."

And for our third pick - just to stay at least a bit grown-up - first there was teller-less banking, now we have bank-less banking. Big consumer banks are warming to the idea of offering account information and services on mobile devices. The systems are in early tests, so only a few banks are trying it, but sometime soon you'll be balancing your checkbook, well, anywhere.

Here, then, are our picks for this first week of September 2007:

Finding Reality in Fantasy

We don't know how you spent your Labor Day weekend, but we confess that we spent ours exploring the Ayn Rand-inspired underwater world of "Bioshock", the first-person shoot'em-up from Take 2 Interactive ($49.99).

"Bioshock" is a wonder of modern gaming hardware and design that even game-aloof adults can admire.

You are set afloat off a bizarre island - a la "Lost," but with an early mid-20th century American Gothic vibe - ditched after a fantastically realistic ocean plane crash. Then you fight for your life in a way cool underwater megalopolis. Not only is the game great - every object such as walls, boxes and windows is in play - but the story is compelling and catered just to you.

Players use a combination of bio-engineered capabilities and good, old-fashioned guns and ammo to conquer a blizzard of enemies. And we couldn't give away the story line if we tried: With more than 40 different power and weapon combos, the game can be beaten in many, many different ways. Viewer-decided gaming plot lines have always felt contrived to us, but not here. "Bioshock" pulls off the amazing trick of seeming to offer a different experience for each and every user.

The larger back story on this title is that this game is just one in a flashy new set of titles hitting stores over the next several months: "Assassin's Creed" and "Halo 3" are the major ones to watch. These titles promise to finally take full advantage of the latest in gaming hardware.

Even if the thought of video games gives you digital hives, be sure to at least get a glimpse of these new games. They promise to change our perception of what is a game, what is a movie … and, honestly, what is reality.

If You Are Going to Buy a TV for Thursday Night …

Football is finally back on today, as Peyton Manning and the Colts and Reggie Bush and the Saints kick off the 2007 NFL season. Many - OK, we can say it - guys mark this most auspicious of sporting events with a new TV. The big news this fall is that there seems to be a real winner in the plasma/LCD wars. Liquid crystal displays have become the technology to beat not only for cheaper sets, but in better ones as well.

Sharp has come to market with a beautiful line of ultraflat TVs - the AquosHD D64U line. These sets offer full 1080p resolution, side viewing angles from essentially 180 degrees, an impressive 2,000-to-1 contrast ratio, all the necessary inputs and connectors, and - get this - it is only about 3 inches thick.

That makes the Aquos a flat-panel TV that is pretty much flat.

Better yet, this fabulous set in a 42-inch dimension lists for just $2,099, which you should be able to beat at most stores. Yes, you will see a difference between the Aquos and a better top-of-the-line plasma TV, say a Pioneer Elite, but at these prices, the difference is negligible. If you're looking for a better TV, the D64U is a downright steal.

Dialing for Dollars

Remember when we got excited over picture-mail or T9 text messaging? Yeah, ancient history. Nowadays you really have to do something impressive to raise a nerd's eyebrow. How about full-on banking on your cell phone? And this is not just a balance e-mailed to you in a text message. We're talking the full experience of an ATM, minus the people, cash dispenser and homeless guy asking for change.

Two big banks in the United States are testing the waters of delivering many of their features on mobile phones. CitiBank launched Citi Mobile earlier this year. The downloadable application lets you do most of your banking right from your cell phone. Check balances. Transfer funds. Let your credit card balance pile up by just paying the minimum - the works.

We know what you're thinking: With new cell phone hacks coming along every day, what kind of idiot would take a chance like that? CitiBank says security is excellent. The only hitch is you need a phone capable of running the app, so you are limited to more powerful units that can handle the code, though that list is growing.

Bank of America has also launched a phone banking application that is open to all phones that run the mobile Web.

So we figure the question becomes: Which bank will be the first to give us a mortgage over the phone?

Jonathan Blum and Dan Evans co-host "Strange New World," a weekly syndicated radio show. Blum hosts the blog

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