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March 2009 Hardware Roundup

New Rock Band 'instruments' and an unusual keyboard...

As something of a peripheral junky I realised that it is increasingly hard to pick one's way through the wheat and the chaff of gaming add-ons. So each month I'll be bringing you the cream of gaming hardware on offer. From Wiimote tea cosies to 360 coolers and PS3 stands, I'll be covering them all.

Madcatz Rock Band Wireless Microphone (44.99)

The wired microphone you get with the 'band in a box' edition of Rock Band does the job pretty well. However, there are always moments when you forget you're tethered to your console and inadvertently yank it off the shelf, or near garrotte other band members as you answer the door. March 2009 Hardware Roundup

The wireless mic from Madcatz was therefore a welcome addition to my setup. Not only did it solve the wire issue, it also introduced a handy set of controls on the shaft. The mic sports a D-Pad and the usual coloured 360 buttons to enable you to navigate menus without the need to swap in a standard 360 pad.

The mic itself seemed to perform as well as its wired counterpart and offered good response across my vocal range (which admittedly isn't all that impressive). I also liked the extra heft to the thing - with batteries installed the microphone felt that bit more professional and less plasticy. The icing on the cake was putting it away after our session - I now had a lot more space in my Rock Band drawer without the balled up mic and wire that used to fill out the corner.

Madcatz Rock Band Portable Drum Kit (49.99 GBP)

The drum kits of both Guitar Hero and Rock Band are something of a sore point for most gamers. Not only do they cost quite a bit, but also take up a lot of space in the living room. Consequently, they are harder to explain away when in polite (non-gaming) company. March 2009 Hardware Roundup

Enter the Madcatz portable drum kit. This offers the four drum pads, a central control console and bass pedal all easily storable in a shoe box. This not only makes for more room in the lounge but also adds the option of playing gigs away from your home setup. The kit is easy to sling into a backpack before heading out to jam with friends.

The pads themselves feel up to the quality of the Rock Band official set. It takes a little time to unpack and setup for sessions, but once you have marshalled the wires you can be good to go in five minutes or so. I found it was worth experimenting with both the position and angle of the pads here to ensure I had a good striking action. I also found some thought was needed to ensure they wouldn't move around too much when played.

These few gripes aside, this is a confident first attempt at making Rock Band both more portable and less intrusive in the home. I'd say it largely works, although it's always going to be hard to beat a proper rack-mounted drum setup. It will be interesting to see how they deal with the cymbals in their Rock Band 2 offering.

Madcatz Rock Band Bass (55.99 GBP) March 2009 Hardware Roundup

This Rock Band peripheral is a little different to the mic and drum kit we have been looking at this month. Whereas the other items are both included in the standard Rock Band setup, the Bass guitar is something of an optional extra, for those with enough cash to afford it (or not enough sense to know better). However, my slight snootiness at accessorising the already ridiculously unwieldy fake plastic music kit was soon put to bed.

The low slung finger walking feel of the bass is totally different to that of the lead guitar. Not only does it have two pluck buttons - to enable said finger walking perfection - but the fret is proportion differently. Whilst a direct comparison with my fake plastic lead guitar of choice (Guitar Hero Fender) didn't result in any conclusive differences, in the hand they felt like entirely different instruments - which I guess is the idea.

The build quality of the Bass was as I would hope from Madcatz - who have a pretty good reputation across their longstanding peripheral tradition. The button travel and placement was as I would like, although a little more resistance would have been nice. The strap was realistically difficult to fit (as is true of the real thing - I am assured by my more musical friends), and generally it felt as much like a real instrument as a fake plastic toy ever does.

Logitech G13 Gameboard (55 GBP)

Moving from bespoke plastic instruments to tailored plastic keyboards, the G13 Gameboard is looking to re-write the PC gaming rule book and draw players away from the fabled mouse and keyboard setup. Once you get past the oddness of the device, the first thing that hits you is how good it looks - a screen, wrist rest, keys and mini-joystick all in a compact housing.

I took the G13 out for a spin with my preferred PC game and soon realised that the thumb-friendly joystick is the biggest innovation. The ability to map a variety of actions to the swivel of the thumb simply feels like a much better use of the digit. The general build and design quality is as you would expect from Logitech. The keys are solid and the whole thing feels comfortably ergonomic. The only minor quibble is the slightly rough edged stick - but this is soon forgotten about.

The whole package is enhanced by programmable backlighting on the keyboard, which combines with the macro programming (stored on the device itself) to enable complex yet understandable configurations. Things are rounded off with a 160x43 monochrome LCD screen that provides extra real estate for key stats. This flexibility does require quite a bit of setting up time before you can really make the most of the G13,and at around 55 GBP it's not a cheap addition, but for those who spend a lot of time gaming on their PC, and are willing to put the time in to getting the G13 setup right, it's an attractive proposition.

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