Pixels & Bits: Gaming on the Go

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posted 7/12/2012 by Dan Keener
other articles by Dan Keener
Platforms: Multiple
Welcome to Pixels & Bits, where the staff at GamingNexus will take a weekly look at the impact of audio and video products (as well as related gear) that enhances the gaming experience.  In this serialized article, we will discuss audio and video products, accessories and opinions on how these work within the confines of the gaming experience.  In this week’s article, we will take the first of a two-part look at “Gaming on the Go – Vacation Edition”, which highlights the process of packing pieces of your gaming rig for vacation.  This week in Part 1, we will cover identifying and packing everything you might need to ensure you can game on vacation as soon as you arrive at your destination.

As I am sitting here making plans for my annual Guy’s Weekend trip with my old college buddies, it dawned on me that millions of people will be hitting the road this summer for vacation and many of you will at least be thinking of taking some of your gaming rig with you.  With my own packing list in hand of what I will need when I get to our vacation spot to get the Xbox 360 (including a full Rock Band ensemble) set up, it seemed like a good time go over what you may need to pack for your trip.

With the excitement mounting for a chance to get away from it all and go on vacation, you may be inclined to just start whipping gaming gear into a box right away assuming that everything you need at home will also be the case on the road.  Although packing up your rig might appear like a no brainer, there is actually a process you should go through to make sure that when you arrive, you have everything you need get your gaming on the go system set up.  The first thing that you should do is take a step back and do a little research about the vacation destination to make sure that you are packing the right parts from your gaming rig.  This will help firm up the items to pack and hopefully ensure that what makes it on the road with you is everything you need.  Here is a list of topics that you should research about the property before you even think about packing:


TVs - The one thing you need to game with is a TV, and short of packing your own set and taking it with you, you are stuck with whatever is available to you on-site at your vacation destination.  Although most major hotels and high-end rental properties have some sort of Hi-Def/Flat Panel TV in the main area, the rest of the TVs scattered throughout the property are usually smaller flat-panels or tube TVs to keep costs down.

Audio Systems – It seems like no matter where you stay nowadays, there is an iSomething audio player on a nightstand or next to TVs throughout the locations.  You may also come across upgraded audio such as speaker bars or component systems in condos, cabins or Beach Houses.  Much like the TVs, try to find out what may be at your disposal to enhance your audio while on your vacation.  Even though I probably shouldn’t, I have moved things around on vacation before to suit my needs while hooking up my gaming system.  Sometimes it might make sense to bring your own compact audio system with you, or at the least a nice set of headphones.  No one wants to listen to a game listening to a mono speaker from one side of a tube TV.

What console gaming is onsite? – While most hotels can be taken out of the equation here, many resorts and high-end rentals (like beach houses or luxury cabins) usually have some sort of gaming system available.  Resorts are prone to having community game rooms (usually stocked with a Wii), but some nicer ones will have Xbox 360 or PS3 consoles available for guests.  Beach houses and luxury cabins tend to stick with last generation systems (original Xbox or PS2) due to the amount of usage they endure and lack of onsite-employees to handle and issues.  Despite the cost of the property, it is also cheaper to buy and stock with games than the current systems.  If your destination happens to have a current gen console (either private or community system you are cool sharing), then your packing may have gotten a lot easier.  If they don’t, or it’s not the console you wanted to take, keep doing your research to figure out what you will need.

Room/area gaming system may be set up at – As I mentioned above, other than the main area, many vacation properties tend to use older tube TVs in secondary spots throughout the unit.  So figuring out whether you plan to hook your gaming system up to the TV in the main room, a bedroom or recreation room will likely determine what type of a/v connectors you will need to pack in order to get connected.  Another thing to consider is the size of the screen usually decreases the farther away you are from the main area, so you could end up with anything from a 50” set all the way down to a 13” classic tube TV to work with.

Internet access – One thing I have learned whether it is a hotel, cabin, house or national Vacation Rental time-share, all internet connections are NOT created equal.  With more games, add-ons, DLC and gamer profiles held in the cloud or requiring internet access to play, you have to be sure that the internet access available will actually get you online.  There are many pitfalls to be wary of with the internet connection regardless of what the vacation property claims is available.  I have run into expensive internet access fees, weak Wi-Fi signals in hotel rooms, satellite based internet (with decent download, but crap upload speeds) in cabins, wireless routers that are located in areas of beach houses that have poor signals AND are not near an ideal location to hook up a console.  I am sure there are many other issues that can and have come up, but this small sample just shows that you need to be prepared for just about anything if you absolutely have to connect to the internet to play.  A couple of ways to help eliminate unexpected surprises are to make a quick phone call to the front desk of any resort or hotel or an e-mail to the rental Management Company or owner (if renting from private person.)  They should be able to get you your answer if the online description leaves any unanswered questions.
 


After you do your research, you should be able to start packing and have a reasonable idea of what you will and won’t need.  So let’s take a look at the obvious (and not so obvious) pieces and parts from your gaming rig (again, Xbox 360 example) that should end up being packed.  Here are the “no brainer” items to pack once you have completed your research:

Console – The biggest and most obvious piece is the console of your choice.  Make sure there are not any disks in the drive, grab both parts of the power cable (brick and plug) and get them safely packed away.

A/V Connectors – This one can get tricky, but hopefully during your research you have figured out what type of video and audio cables you will need.  The basic cable should be an HDMI, but there are actually several choices that you can, and maybe should take just to be on the safe side.  I would also consider bringing at a minimum you standard definition TV adapter and component cables along with stereo audio cables.  They should all be a minimum of 6’ in length.  Do not assume that the TV you want to hook up to will be usable, as we will take a look in Part 2 of this article about issues you face when hooking up once you arrive.  Knowing that, you may want to consider having lesser quality cables on standby for those “just in case” situations.

Accessories – During the research phase, gaming accessories to pack should have started to come into focus.  Things you will need include a wireless adapter (if an older 360), count of how many controllers, batteries and/or battery packs (and whichever charger you need) and a lengthy Ethernet cable.  Also, do not forget a multiple-outlet power-strip.  You could have several things to plug in, and usually not enough plugs in the general vicinity to get them all powered up.  One thing to consider if you decide to go the Rock Band route (like I do), in addition to the guitars, drums and microphones, you may also need to throw in extra drumsticks, Rock Band USB adapter, Drum kit pedal and extra ‘AA’ batteries.  Finally, if you have internet and plan to go online, bring the appropriate amount of headsets.  You may also consider bringing along other game specific accessories such as a fight stick, DJ kit, Kinect or Move depending on the console.

Games – One thing I have found out is a nice blend of games works well if there is a group of players that doesn’t usually play games.  If it will be just yourself, think about how often you plan to play and bring the amount of games you think you will have time for.  This could be a single title like Skyrim or an entire carrying case full of 10-20 game disks.  Only you know your gaming habits and how you like to mix up what you play.  The bottom line is, don’t forget the games, otherwise you will have a whole lot of crap packed and only your downloaded titles to play on it.

Memory Unit – Depending on your console, storage method of choice and internet access options, you may need to bring your memory unit to get to your profile, saved game or DLC.  Don’t leave home (or leave for home) without it!!!
 

Most of the above is common sense and something you didn’t need me to tell you.  However, if you want to make sure that you are all set for anything you come across, take a look at these not so obvious items you may want to pack and have on hand for when you arrive:

Video Cables – You can assume that any TV that is a flat panel will have a HDMI connector on it to hook up, but there are plenty of vacation spots around the country that only have limited Hi-Def sets or mainly tubes to work with.  As a result, it would be prudent to pack your standard definition TV adapter, an analog video cable, a coax cable and an RF Modulator.  If you have all of these items, you will not be denied hooking up to something onsite.  Without any one of them, you may have to make a lengthy and costly run to a store just to get some gaming

Audio Cables – Any connection made via HDMI will also take care of your audio, but there are many instances where you may have to dig a bit deeper to get some enhanced sound while playing on vacation.  As a result, you may want to consider bringing along a stereo audio cable, fiber optic cable, mini-to-mini stereo cable (to use for line in on smaller audio devices like boom boxes and iPod docks) or a stereo to stereo mini cable.  If you bring all of these cables, you are pretty much guaranteed of connecting to any audio device that has an input on it and getting the best sound possible out of your temporary system.
 


Now that you have an idea of what you need and possibly should pack for your trip, take a quick look at our quick reference guide to make sure you don’t forget anything.  IF we did, let us know in the comments below:

Item Pack Priority
Console Must Have
Power Cable Must Have
HDMI Cable Must Have
Fiber Optic Cable Must Have
Multi-outlet Power Strip Must Have
Controller(s) Must Have
Memory/Storage Unit Maybe
Headset(s) Maybe
Battery Packs Must Have
Battery Charger Must Have
'AA' Batteries Maybe
Wireless Network Adapter Maybe
Game Specific Accessories (Rock Band, Fight Stick, etc) Maybe
Ethernet (Cat-5) Cable Be Prepared
Standard Definition AV adapter Be Prepared
Composite video cable Be Prepared
Analog Stereo Audio cable Be Prepared
RF Modulator Be Prepared
Coax Cable Be Prepared
Stereo to mini Audio cable Be Prepared
Mini to mini audio cable Be Prepared
Flat Panel TV If you have the room
 Portable Audio Device If you have the room


While the advice given is great for driving vacations, there is one important caveat to this in regards to flying.  In this instance, it probably makes sense to skip the consoles and stick entirely with hand-held systems for obvious reasons including cost, potential damage and or theft of expensive gaming gear.

In Part 2 of the “Gaming on the Go - Vacation Edition” coming next week, we will take a look at what you may encounter while trying to scope out and set up your traveling gaming rig once you get to your destination.


About the Author:
Dan Keener has been on staff at GamingNexus since 2006 and specializes in Audio & Video gear as well as gaming accessories and has over 15 years of Home Theater consulting and sales experience.  If you have a question or comment for Dan or about the article, please leave it below.


 
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