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12
Sep
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Oculus co-founders donate $35 million to erect computer science wing at University of Maryland


New York City is a town of names: Rockefeller, Astor, Trump. Legacies of the vast wealth held by dynastic families in early 20th century New York City. America’s college campuses are littered with the same convention; wealthy alumni donate large sums to expand a university, and subsequently name that expansion after themselves. The University of Maryland, for instance, is getting a $35 million computer science wing from two of Oculus VR‘s co-founders. And what’s it named? “The Brendan Iribe Center for Computer Science and Innovation,” apparently, after Oculus VR CEO Brendan Iribe. Oculus chief software architect (and co-founder) Michael Antonov is footing another $4 million.

The new facility is planned to “feature state-of-the-art maker spaces,” says UMD’s Jayanth Banavar. Iribe describes it as, “designed for hackers, makers and engineers, which will help give rise to future breakthroughs, products and startups that will transform the way we live and interact with the world around us.” More bluntly, the space is being built to educate the next generation of virtual reality and other future computing platforms. “This gift positions Maryland to be one of the leading institutions for virtual reality in the world,” Iribe says.

And yes, your guess is at least partially right: Iribe has that kind of money to throw around because the company he most recently co-founded was purchased by Facebook for $2 billion. But his gigs before Oculus were similarly lucrative. First, Iribe co-founded Scaleform with Antonov, which sold to Autodesk for $36 million in 2011. Then, he worked as chief product officer at Gaikai before it was sold to Sony for $380 million. And now he’s CEO of Oculus. Not a bad run!

So, why the University of Maryland? It’s where Iribe and Antonov met, as well as their alma mater. It’s also what Iribe calls “the beginning of a long-term commitment toward transforming education”; not the first we’ve heard from him on the subject. Iribe’s mother is even in on the donating, adding another $3 million on top of Iribe and Antonov’s $35 million to establish two leadership positions for the new computer science wing.

UMD says the center will specifically target research in “virtual reality, augmented reality, artificial intelligence, robotics, computer vision and human interaction.” In so many words, it’s an attempt to build out education in burgeoning engineering fields. And that whole “getting your name on a building” thing doesn’t hurt either.

There’s a video with Iribe and UMD folks right here, if you’re into that kinda thing.

[Image credit: Oculus VR/University of Maryland (Brendan Iribe), Flickr/Matt Chan (University of Maryland)]

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Source: University of Maryland

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12
Sep
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​Facebook wants to know why you don’t like its ads


Advertising comes hand-in-hand with almost any free service on the internet, but those ads are only useful to companies if you actually look at that them. Facebook has been trying to filter out unwanted ads for awhile, but now it’s taking a direct approach: it’s simply asking users what they don’t like. From now on, whenever users select “I don’t want to see this” on an item in their newsfeed, Facebook will ask why: is it offensive? Is it spam? Have you seen this ad before? In all, the social network will give users five options to chose from and use the data to adjust ad distribution accordingly. In tests the feature showed a significant reduction in ads reported as inappropriate. Check out the company’s official announcement at the source link below.

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Via: TechCrunch

Source: Facebook

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10
Sep
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Facebook test lets users schedule when a post will be deleted


It’s certainly nothing new for Facebook to test new features amongst a limited number of users before a widespread rollout, or killing them entirely (it did ask for willing participants, after all). With its latest trial, the social network is trying out an option in its iOS app that allows you to schedule when a post will delete. Taking a cue from its own ephemeral offering Slingshot, the feature will sort the erasing after a period ranging from one hour up to a week. As The Next Web points out, it’s likely that deleted posts will remain on Facebook servers rather than being permanently deleted, but that’s a point we’ll be looking to clarify if the tool gets officially added in the future.

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Source: The Next Web

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8
Sep
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Trading ‘presence’ for untethered virtual reality: Gear VR versus Oculus Rift


Standing up and moving around with a virtual reality headset is risky. What if you walk into a table? Or step on your dog? Or bash your face into the wall? Standing up and moving around while wearing Samsung and Oculus VR’s Gear VR headset isn’t suggested. But when you put it on, seated, and turn your whole body around to look behind your virtual self, and no cords get in the way, that’s a magical experience. “There are going to be different categories of VR,” Oculus VR CEO Brendan Iribe told Engadget in an interview last week at IFA 2014 in Berlin, Germany.

On one side, there’s a tethered experience like Oculus Rift, where, “There’s going to be this bigger, more expensive experience … that has a much bigger sense of ‘presence’ right now all attached to a computer where you have power plugged into the back,” he said. That’s the concept of being transported to another world and actually being there: a sense of “presence.” On the other side, there’s mobile VR: untethered, intended for mainstream accessibility and able to use your existing devices (such, as, say, your cellphone). “It’s untethered, but there’s now limitations and restrictions around the GPU/CPU,” Iribe said.

Virtual reality, right now, is all about trade-offs. This discrepancy between mobile and tethered VR is the biggest trade-off there is: Do you want convenience, or do you want “presence”?

If you answered, “I want both,” we’re right there with you. Sadly, that’s not a reality just yet. Iribe explained:

“There are certainly trade-offs. We don’t know how long it’ll take to get to the magic VR sunglasses that are untethered. It’s a dream. We all believe in that future of a mobile, VR pair of sunglasses, but that’s pretty far away.”

Gear VR is a staging ground for mainstream virtual reality. It uses the Note 4. It’s focused on media consumption. It’s light and pretty. Heck, when it launches this October alongside the Note 4, everything you can do on it will be free experiences. That’s part of the plan of pushing virtual reality into the mainstream. Hook ‘em with casual VR, then show off the big guns with tethered, interactive virtual reality.

Having spent a lot of time with Oculus VR’s second development kit, I was skeptical of the experience being offered with Gear VR. The graphical fidelity is, of course, nowhere near that of a dedicated PC. There’s no depth-tracking, so if you move your head forward, the scene remains static. These are major barriers to delivering on “presence,” the concept of feeling as though you’re physically there while wearing a VR headset. “Presence” is at the core of VR: It’s what distinguishes virtual reality headsets from head-mounted displays.

Oculus VR CTO John Carmack agreed, and said that his team is hard at work on taking those next, necessary steps to make mobile VR more capable:

“We are absolutely tackling position tracking, multi-user experiences, better gaming — all these things — in the coming year. It’s an exciting train we’re hitched onto with Samsung here, because there technology ticks twice a year. And that’s a treadmill that we’ve chosen to get on, and we’re going to do our very best to stay on that and continue innovating at that pace.”

After Gear VR, Carmack expects the competition from other electronics giants will step up tremendously. “This is good enough that it’s going to attract competition from the other significant players,” he said. And that competition is good for us, the VR users, as it means rapid innovation. Video passthrough on Gear VR is a perfect example: If Oculus’ Rift doesn’t ship with some form of video passthrough — what Carmack calls his “Diet Coke button” — that would be tremendously surprising.

Characteristically, Oculus co-founder Palmer Luckey doesn’t see video passthrough as just the ability to interact with reality while wearing a VR headset. He wants more, like augmented reality. “It’s one thing to have a convenience window,” he told us. “It’s another to try and make something where that’s a core feature of the device like AR. That’s a much harder problem to solve.”

Despite the trade-offs, Gear VR offers Oculus a chance to get its name out there on a virtual reality product and to set a foundation for software on the first consumer version of the Rift. The basics — the dashboard and store UI, for instance — will be familiar on the Rift. “Our dashboard, the basic interface, platform and store: Expect it to be similar between the two,” Carmack said.

It also enables VR developers to start making some money. Beyond just helping push VR into the mainstream, Gear VR enables virtual reality developers to start building a financial foundation for future projects. “The critical thing, from the developer standpoint, is we’re actually going to have a market where they can sell and get checks from Oculus with this sooner than on the PC front,” Carmack noted.

In the long-term, mobile virtual reality and tethered virtual reality won’t be separate entities. Carmack foresees a not-so-distant future where the Rift has a dedicated processor that enables both tethered and untethered VR. That’s always been the end goal, really. How soon it’s coming is up for debate.

“I have my vision for where this goes for Oculus,” Carmack said, “Where Oculus starts building systems that might as well include systems-on-a-chip (SOCs), graphics renderers and things inside ours. Not state-of-the-art necessarily, something that will boost the cost all that far up. But then Oculus version three or five or whatever it ends up being is something that can be use unplugged — we’d have our own Android stuff and all that — but you could plug it into the PC and use that.” An interesting vision of the future indeed. Here’s hoping it’s even sooner than we expect.

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8
Sep
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Facebook tackles YouTube with video counter, hits a billion plays per day


Though it’s still far from YouTube, Facebook fired a shot across its competitor’s bow by saying it now serves up a billion native video views per day. In addition, its latest update (rolling out soon) has a YouTube-like view counter for public videos, making it easier to find popular selections or see how your own uploads are doing. Facebook said two-thirds of video views were from mobile devices, a stat no doubt helped significantly by the new auto-playing feature that’s on by default. A recent video ranking change also gives frequent video watchers more options. But as the NY Times pointed out, Facebook’s social nature can also send a video viral quickly. Beyoncé, for instance, garnered 2.4 million Facebook pageviews for a VMA video in four hours, while YouTube only chalked up a few thousand in the same time. Facebook also touted improved metrics for publishers, and is clearly interested in generating more video revenue — it recently purchased a video ad firm called LiveRail.

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Via: TechCrunch

Source: Facebook

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7
Sep
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Feedback Loop: Online security, the Note Edge, fitness trackers and more!


Happy Saturday, and welcome to another edition of Feedback Loop! With all the talk of online data breaches this week, we’re discussing ways to better protect your data stored in the cloud. After you’re done auditing your passwords, let us know what you think of Samsung’s new curved Galaxy Note Edge and find out how much fitness trackers are helping your fellow readers. Make yourself comfy and join us after the break for some in-depth tech talk.

How are you keeping yourself safe online?

In light of the recent iCloud security issue, I’m curious to find out how you protect yourself online. Obviously, strong credentials are the way to go, but are you using password managers? Do you go the extra mile by also enabling two-factor authentication? Come join the discussion and share your tips for staying safe in the cloud.

Who is the Galaxy Note Edge for?

Samsung likes to get a little crazy with mobile devices, and at IFA this week, the Galaxy Note Edge captured everyone’s attention. The curved screen has TgD asking just who is the Note Edge made for? Check out Brad’s hands-on first, and then head to the forums to share your own theories.

Facebook Messenger: Give in, or say goodbye

Decoupling apps is all the rage right now. Foursquare kicked things off with Swarm and Facebook finally spun out Messenger for good. John isn’t thrilled with this move; he doesn’t understand why we need multiple apps for a single service. Is this the final straw for Facebook on your phone?

Are fitness trackers improving your health?

Even though fitness analytics are showing up in phones and smartwatches, the dedicated tracker market is still kicking. They’re coming in the form of bracelets, watches (the non-smart kind) and more. The age-old question still remains though: Do they actually work? A few of our readers have already shared their success stories, so come join the discussion and let us know if all that data-tracking is working for you.

Other discussions you may also like:

That’s all this week. Want to talk about your favorite gadget or have a burning question about technology? Register for an Engadget account today, visit the Engadget forums and start a new discussion!

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6
Sep
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Facebook Messenger’s new trick brings doodles to your photos


Still looking for a reason to use Facebook’s now-unbundled Messenger app? A new feature learns from competition including Snapchat and Facebook’s own Slingshot by adding easy annotation on shared photos. Just click the picture icon like you normally do, then hit the edit button instead of send, and you can doodle with your finger (remember Draw Something? Is anyone still playing that?) or just type in some text before sending. Right now the tweak is Android-only, and should already be live if you’re running the most recent version of the app.

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Source: Facebook Messenger (Google Play)

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5
Sep
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Twitter CFO hints at big changes to how your timeline works


Twitter has already started to look more like Facebook, and it might soon start acting more like it too. You see, company CFO Anthony Noto hinted yesterday that the reverse-chronological firehose of tweets that some users hold so dear may give way to a more curated collection of messages cast into the digital ether. To hear him tell it, the Twitter experience as we know it “isn’t the most relevant” to the people who actually use the service (a notion that some people would definitely disagree with). That tidbit was lodged inside a broader conversation (which the Wall Street Journal captured) about improving Twitter’s search functionality — Noto pointed out the need for “an algorithm that delivers the depth and breadth of the content we have on a specific topic and then eventually as it relates to people.” Those last few words seem crucial — it sounds like he wants the Twitter experience to become one where content is tailored and presented differently depending on how relevant it is to the user. In the end, it might wind up getting Twitter a bunch of new users (which is exactly what all those antsy shareholders want to see), but would it really be worth alienating the service’s hardcore fans?

What do you think about Twitter’s possible shift to a “filtered” feed?

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Via: Gigaom

Source: Wall Street Journal

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3
Sep
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Samsung and Oculus partner to create Gear VR, a virtual reality headset that uses the Note 4 (hands-on)


Facebook’s Oculus VR is creating the Rift. Sony’s PlayStation is creating Project Morpheus. Google is… well, Cardboard exists. And now Samsung’s getting in on the virtual reality action, announcing Gear VR at IFA 2014 today in Berlin, Germany. Gear VR is a virtual reality headset with a removable front cover where Samsung’s newly announced Note 4 slips in, acting as the screen. Paired with adjustable lenses built into the headset and a comfy strap, Gear VR turns Samsung’s next Note into a virtual reality machine. And what’s the first thing you’ll see when you strap on Gear VR? Oculus VR’s handiwork. The company behind the re-birth of virtual reality is partnering with Samsung on Gear VR: Samsung handles the hardware, Oculus offers up its software prowess.

Unlike Sony, Oculus and Google’s VR projects, though, Samsung’s delivering a consumer product this year with Gear VR. But is it too early?

First things first, let’s answer that question: no, it’s not too early. While there are major technological limitations with mobile VR — horsepower, among many other issues — Samsung’s Note 4 is a shockingly capable device for virtual reality experiences. In our time with it, video looked sharp, there was no perceptible lag between turning my head and what I saw on screen, and navigating the UI was a snap. Is it hot? Yes. Are the graphics less impressive on Gear VR than on, say, Sony’s Project Morpheus or Oculus VR’s latest dev kit? Absolutely, no question about it. But is it capable of providing a great virtual reality experience, regardless of those handicaps? I believe it is.

SET UP

I plugged the Note 4 into the Gear VR headset by removing the headset’s front cover and slotting the phone into a microUSB dock. The parallel area has a latch where the top of the phone nestles in, and that’s it: the Note 4 is paired with the Gear VR headset.

If you want to slot the cover back on the Gear VR, you can. Or not! If you want to adjust the straps so it stays snug to your head, that’s another option. And when you’ve finally got it secure on your noggin, an adjustable dial on the top of the headset allows for focusing your view (that means no changing out lenses for near and farsighted folks — just adjust the distance as needed).

Notably, I encountered a few issues while removing and placing the phone: if you accidentally open up an application on the phone while placing it, for instance, that might break the pairing. A few times, Samsung reps had to outright reset the Note 4 and start from scratch because it froze. These are prototype devices and not the final product that’ll ship to consumers later this year, but there’s some roughness to how the phone is physically paired. A slight jingle plays when it connects, which is a nice touch, but I’d also like a more secure docking area. It feels like trying to jam a phone into a microUSB port at an awkward angle, and that’s not a great first experience.

Samsung product manager Joo Namkung told me his team named the first Gear VR the “Innovator Edition” specifically because of these rough edges. Samsung’s PR for the device describes the first Gear VR in a similarly couched way: “Designed for innovative consumers, specifically VR enthusiasts, developers, mobile experts and professionals, and early technology adopters.” While the headset is certainly a play for the mainstream, Samsung is keenly aware that it’s got improvements to make in the next model — if there is a next model, of course.

HARDWARE

Let’s get the unexciting stuff out of the way right now: Gear VR has an accelerometer and a gyrometer for tracking head movement. That means it only tracks where you’re looking and not depth; if you move your head forward or backward in the real world, that movement isn’t reflected in the virtual one. And that stinks.

When you turn your body all the way around and look behind where you’re sitting (in the real world), and there are no wires stopping you from looking wherever you want, that is magical.

This duality is at the heart of Gear VR, but it applies to all mobile VR at the moment. No wires means better immersion, which is crucial for delivering the promise of “presence.” No wires also means no dedicated video feed from an autonomous device (like a PlayStation 4 or a PC, for instance). While Sony tackles depth tracking with its PlayStation 4 camera and Oculus handles it with a camera peripheral of its own, Gear VR is dependent on the hardware in the phone and headset. That is both a benefit and a curse with current technology.

There is no “screen” — Gear VR uses your Note 4 screen, which is of the 5.7-inch Quad HD (2,560 x 1,440) Super AMOLED variety. It looks crisp, and the Cirque du Soleil video I watched was neat. When I turned quickly, I wasn’t able to discern any major irregularities (“screen-tearing” or other nasty hitches). It’s got a 96-degree field of view (just four shy of Oculus Rift’s latest kit) and a 60Hz refresh rate. There’s a square touch pad, a back button, and a volume rocker on the right side of the headset; the touch pad is used for tap-based selecting, while the back button is both for exiting software and enabling pass-through video mode (both of which I’ll get to in the next section).

Gear VR isn’t very large (198 x 116 x 90mm), nor is it very heavy (exact specs aren’t available), and I wasn’t ever uncomfortable wearing it. The padding around the eyes can be replaced easily, which Namkung calls a necessity for long-time users.

Samsung’s been working on the Gear VR for approximately 1.5 years now, and Namkung says some of the development units — the ones we heard about so much back in May — got a little rough around the edges after prolonged use.

Audio is handled by the Note 4, and it’s of the “3D spatial sound” variety. That just means that it sounds like it’s going to both of your ears despite the fact that it’s coming out of the Note 4′s non-stereo speaker setup. This actually works better than expected: audio consistently sounded like it surrounded me, which makes the immersive experience all the better.

SOFTWARE

This is Oculus’ first consumer product and, bizarrely, it’s on a Samsung device. Oculus VR CTO John Carmack personally led the mobile software development team at Oculus, and the software interface is all built in collaboration with Samsung. It’s basic: point a reticle in the middle of the screen at what you want to select and and tap the touch pad to select it. The options are sparse and base level, and the only content management that exists right now is a store of sorts. It looks like the Google Play store to an extent, except it’s floating in space.

There were a few demos to check out, and they were mostly video. The aforementioned Cirque du Soleil performance that puts you directly on stage for the show was a standout, as was an underwater game where a whale floated past. None of this was meant to demonstrate launch content, but to demonstrate the potential of the hardware.

Do I want to sit and watch a film in a VR headset? I’m not sure that I do, but maybe you do! It’s a neat gimmick to turn and look around the stage where Cirque du Soleil performs, and Samsung’s got a bunch of heavy-hitting Hollywood folks on board with VR, but it’s hard to get excited about just yet. Without interactivity, it’s just a 360-degree head-mounted display device, and that’s not what I want from virtual reality. When filmmakers start shooting with VR in mind, then we’ll see.

The most important software on Gear VR is video passthrough. By long-pressing the back button on the headset, the Note 4′s 16-megapixel rear camera shows a feed of the real world (albeit a slightly delayed one). While this can be used for augmented reality applications, it’s also sure to be a standard in all VR headsets going forward. Using a headset and want to sip your tasty beverage? Video passthrough. The dog’s barking and you’re wondering what’s up? Video passthrough. You want to do literally anything without having to remove the whole headset? Video passthrough. Seriously, this is a standard-setting situation. Expect it from the competition.

Okay, one major question remains: since the Note 4 is a phone, what happens if you get a notification when you’re using it with Gear VR? Samsung doesn’t know. Namkung said his team is split on the decision, with some arguing the phone aspect should trump the immersion of VR. In so many words, people won’t want to ignore their phone just because they’re using Gear VR. But getting a ringing phone call in your face all of a sudden sounds pretty intense! It’s certainly an issue Samsung is aware of, though the decision hasn’t been made just yet. Might I suggest making it optional?

WHEN DOES GEAR VR COME OUT? HOW MUCH DOES IT COST? WHAT’S THE DEAL?

The only information on availability is “this year,” and there is no price just yet; it’ll be available for purchase online and through “select carriers.” Considering how low-tech Gear VR is, and the fact that Samsung’s pushing a product into a market that doesn’t really exist just yet, I expect the company will aim as low as possible in terms of pricing.

When you do get one, it comes with a 16GB microSD pre-loaded with a variety of “360-degree videos and 3D movie trailers from major studios” (that’ll go into the Note 4, naturally). Oh, and you’ll need a Note 4 (not a Note 4 Edge — just the Note 4), as Gear VR is built to work with only that device.

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2
Sep
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Facebook said to bring back some face-recognition features in the EU


In the past, European data authorities haven’t been very receptive of Facebook’s facial recognition software. But it looks like that might be changing soon. According to TechCrunch, the social networking titan has (quietly) started to restore some face-recognition services in Europe, though there are a few compromises to consider. What this means is that Facebook users across the pond are once again seeing the “tag suggest” option within pictures they have uploaded, but it can only be used on friends who are in the US and have the tagging feature enabled on their accounts. Perhaps, Facebook’s finally managed to address the concerns Euro officials had with its savvy tech, and that could be why the changes have taken place. With nothing confirmed, however, we reached out to Facebook for comment and will update this story if we hear back.

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Source: TechCrunch

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