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15
Dec

IRL: Trading in the Sonos Play:3 for Korus’ V600 and V400 wireless speakers


Welcome to IRL, an ongoing feature where we talk about the gadgets, apps and toys we’re using in real life and take a second look at products that already got the formal review treatment.

IRL: Trading in the Sonos Play:3 for Korus' V600 and V400 wireless speakers

Sonos might be the biggest name in wireless speaker systems, but that doesn’t mean it’s always the best, as our own Kris Naudus has learned the hard way. With that in mind, she’s been using the Korus V600 and V400, two quasi-portable (read: 11-pound) speakers that use dongles to stream from computers and iOS devices. A bit of a clunky setup, sure, but could it still be easier to use?

My living room has been home to a Sonos Play:3 for almost a year now, and while I was impressed with the ease of the initial setup, in actual usage it’s been hit or miss. When it works, it works beautifully, but at other times my boyfriend and I have been constantly hamstrung by its limitations, whether in how it handled podcasts, or the fact that you need a paid subscription to play Spotify. We ended up not using it that often.

So when I got to check out the Korus V600 and V400, I was a bit skeptical. The V600 is touted as being portable, and it has a handle and can use batteries, but at 11 pounds it’s not something I would really carry around. The V400 doesn’t even take batteries (though it does have a handle). And then there’s the biggest turn-off: it’s intended for iOS devices, which is a problem for an Android-heavy household like mine.

However, it does come with a USB dongle for your desktop or laptop, so I decided to give it a try anyway. After unpacking both speakers and attaching the transmitter to my work machine, I started playing music immediately. Unless it’s an iOS device using the 30-pin connector, there’s no software to download. The SKAA transmitter connects automatically to the speakers, and if you want to use additional dongles (each speaker comes with USB, 30-pin and Lightning connectors), switching between them just takes a touch of a button on each individual speaker. The two units are capable of playing music off different audio sources, but used together they sound great, and I enjoyed a seamless experience as I walked between the two rooms where I had placed the speakers.

The Korus speakers play everything. The transmitter simply sends the audio output of your chosen device to the connected speaker, no special software needed. iTunes? Sure. Windows Media Player? Of course. Netflix? Sure. YouTube? Yep! Spotify? Yes, and you don’t even need Premium. It even picks up sounds like your chat notifications — I jumped out of my seat the first time I got a Facebook notification in stereo. And it all sounds great. It’s not going to improve music and video of already dubious audio quality (like some music streaming services), but it won’t suffer on these speakers either. The sound is loud and clear, and not particularly bass-heavy.

My dual setup with the V600 and V400 didn’t last long, though, as my boyfriend absconded with the V400 into the kitchen so he could listen to podcasts while he does dishes. He uses it with his fourth-gen iPod touch, and despite the use of an app (which really just controls volume), he’s basically in love with it for how easy it is to use. It just works. If it worked with Android devices, I would seriously consider selling off my Sonos to make the switch.

– Kris Naudus

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15
Dec

Steam Machines beta testers start receiving hardware, teasing the less fortunate


Unless you’re part of a select group of beta testers (or happen to be handy with Linux), you’re probably reading this in a home without access to a Steam Machine. Wondering what you’re missing out on? A handful of Valve’s 300 beta testers are happy to rub their good fortune in your face and clue you in. The aptly named “SteamMachineBetaTester” Tumblr and Reddit user Colbehr have kindly documented their Steam Machine unboxings, revealing the same form factor we saw last month packed into a well padded wooden crate. Well, there is one change: Valve has drilled out a hole in each of the test units ventilation grates, marking the test device with a representative blemish on one of the vent’s 300 perforations.

The complete kit comes with the beta hardware itself, a prototype Steam controller, HDMI, USB and power power cables, a USB Steam OS recovery thumbstick and a removable WiFi antenna module. True to Valve’s promise, the beta rig is serviceable too, with disassembly instructions helpfully spelled out in the device’s instruction manual. It’s hard not to be a little jealous, but at least you’ve got options: check out the tester’s galleries at the source links below or, you know, build your own.

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Source: Reddit, Colbehr, Tumblr

15
Dec

Time Machines: NASA goes virtual at CES


Welcome to Time Machines, where we offer up a selection of mechanical oddities, milestone gadgets and unique inventions to test out your tech-history skills. In the week’s leading up to the biggest gadget show on Earth, we’ll be offering a special look at relics from CES’ past.

Time Machines: NASA's virtual CES visit

Our willingness to trade biomass for bits has flourished lately, and nascent virtual reality devices like the Oculus Rift owe at least some of the credit to NASA reasearch and its desire to delve into digital representations of reality. Head past the break for more of the story.

NASA’s Virtual Visual Environment Display (VIVED)

During the ’80s and ’90s, the public was gripped by VR fever. Computer scientist, writer and former Atari researcher Jaron Lanier popularized the term “virtual reality” (VR) to describe the immersion of one’s body and mind in an artificial, three-dimensional space, and a variety of products hit the consumer market aimed at connecting people with this new digital environment. But the federally supported R&D sector was where significant investments were made in practical applications for the technology. NASA’s Ames Research Center played host to a VR research project launched by Michael McGreevy in 1985 and within a year it was ready to show off a working prototype of its Virtual Visual Environment Display (VIVED) helmet at CES.

Key developments in simulated environments can be traced back to 1957, when cinematographer Morton Heilig invented the “Sensorama” booth and “Telesphere Mask,” where video, sound, vibration and wind were used to replicate a real-world experience. In 1968, Ivan Sutherland went one step further when he built a head-mounted device using mini CRT displays to produce an immersive graphical simulation. It adjusted the user’s view inside a 3D environment according to their head movements in the real world.

Morton Heilig’s patented Telesphere Mask.

In the 1980s, virtual reality experienced a renaissance, as both private and government institutions made a push to advance research in the field. Films like 1983′s Brainstorm brought VR into the public eye and game developers were beginning to catch on to its potential in the arcade.

NASA’s launch of its VIVED prototype at CES in 1986 was aptly timed, arriving amidst a surge of public interest. Built for about $2,000, the video helmet employed a wide-angle, stereoscopic display system (using VR pioneer Eric Howlett’s Leep optics), and incorporated voice control and gesture tracking with its glove-like peripheral. The closed-front visor included two 2.7-inch medium-resolution, monochromatic LCD screens, which provided a 120-degree effective field of view for each eye. A helmet-mounted sensor tracked head motion in real time and could provide full motion parallax and perspective based on the user’s movement. To complete the illusion, NASA incorporated surround sound, which provided spatially dictated audio cues to enhance the feeling of a realistic 3D environment. Speech-recognition was also part of the package, allowing the user to issue commands to the system using a standard conversational tone.

One of NASA’s primary applications for VIVED was in space telerobotics, giving astronauts the ability to control extender arms, cameras and even humanoid robots in order to accomplish dangerous tasks and exploration from a safe location. Pairing a display with tactile interactive devices, such as flex- and motion-sensing gloves, gave the operator enhanced control over devices by providing human-like sensory input as if experiencing the environment firsthand. VIVED also had applications in computer science, like a Minority Report-style interactive workspace, referred to as the Virtual Interface Environment Workstation (VIEW), where the user enlisted speech and gestures to interact with devices, objects and data, and could view, reposition and delete files.

Virtual reality’s initial foray into the retail market was relatively short-lived compared to its longevity in the R&D sector. During the ’80s, Lanier’s VPL Research became a leading supplier of VR tech with products ranging from its DataGlove input device to the EyePhone head-mounted display. In 1989, Mattel joined the party with its Power Glove controller for the Nintendo Entertainment System and full-sized immersive rigs started popping up at malls, running the low-res Dactyl Nightmare video game, which looked like something out of a Dire Straits video. Stephen Ellis, who headed NASA’s Advanced Displays and Spatial Perception Laboratory at Ames, proffered that “the technology of the ’80s was not mature enough,” with insufficient graphics, glitchy interfaces and poorly developed tactile feedback. As people realized that the tech didn’t live up to the hype, interest and funding in the products dwindled and the market-leading VPL Research filed for Chapter 11 protection in the early ’90s.

Sensic’s piSight ultra-panoramic head-mounted display.

Although public interest in VR cooled off, space was still the perfect deployment arena, and NASA’s virtual reality research continued. Its 1997 Robonaut project focused on creating a humanoid robot to perform tasks in place of human astronauts, either autonomously or controlled by a virtual interface. By 2011, the project reached its second stage of development and NASA deployed Robonaut 2 for duty on the International Space Station. The technology used to interact with Robonaut has drastically improved since VIVED was developed, with interface devices like Sensics’ piSight display providing up to 6 million pixels per eye (with tiled optics) along with a panoramic field of view up to 166 degrees. Even the consumer market has picked up again, with devices like the $300 Oculus Rift VR display, which offers a 512,000 pixel-per-eye resolution and 90-degree field of view.

[Image credit: NASA; USPTO #2,955,152 (Telesphere Mask); Sensics (head-mounted display)]

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15
Dec

Inhabitat’s Week in Green: ‘Saltygloo,’ 3D-printed lingerie and a Christmas tree made from 365 wooden sleighs


Each week our friends at Inhabitat recap the week’s most interesting green developments and clean tech news for us — it’s the Week in Green.

The 3D-printing craze was in full effect this week. No longer content making plastic figurines or smartphone covers, 3D makers are now taking a more delicious route. If you’re pressed for time in the kitchen, the Foodini 3D printer can do some of the prep work for you. Meanwhile, Emerging Objects has found a way to turn abundant sea salt into a building material. It recently revealed “Saltygloo,” a pavilion made from 336 3D-printed sea salt panels. And if cooking and building with 3D printers isn’t exciting enough for you, there’s always the 3D-printed lingerie that took center stage at Victoria Secret’s annual televised fashion show (it was encrusted in millions of Swarovski crystals, of course). And don’t worry if you’re still 3D printing with traditional plastic filaments: The newest printer from 3D Systems is not only the world’s first and only continuous-tone, full-color 3D printer, it also features integrated material recycling to cut down on wasted materials and filament expenses.

Coal-fired power plants have plunged China into a cloud of almost permanent smog. If enough people used it, a new bike concept recently unveiled by Bangkok-based Lightfog Creative & Design Company could actually purify polluted air as residents pedal around the city. In New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently announced plans to add 10,000 charging stations for electric cars. The curbside vehicle chargers will allow EV drivers to recharge their batteries in as little as 30 minutes. Speaking of impressive speeds, Leonardo DiCaprio just teamed up with Venturi Automobiles to launch the world’s first electric vehicle racing series. And if you’d rather get your adrenaline rush from flying down a mountain instead of around a racetrack, check out this parachute-powered replacement for the slowpoke chair lift.

Waiting, whether it’s to be carried up a mountain or for a new house to be built, is never fun. That’s why an Australian company recently unveiled the InstantSlide, an amazing prefab home can be assembled on-site in less than a minute by simply pushing a button. In Indonesia, SOM’s soaring 99-story Pertamina skyscraper may not be able to assemble itself, but it does feature a “wind funnel” that can convert high-speed winds into energy. The Abu Dhabi Art Fair was recently the site of another eco-friendly architectural triumph: an airy artists’ pavilion made entirely from paper cylinders. And in Paris, we learned that shipping containers would be used to transform the historic Halle Freyssinet building into a huge business incubator for at least 1,000 startup companies.

Have you decked your halls for the holidays yet? In Budapest, an ambitious design studio built an 11-meter-tall Christmas tree out of 365 wooden sleighs! After the holidays, the sleighs will be donated to kids living in the SOS Children’s Village homes in Hungary. Much of the world experiences colder temperatures this time of year, which provides the perfect opportunity to get creative with ice. In Romania, shoppers can now experience the world’s first supermarket made of ice, and Pinpin Studio recently unveiled a Frankenstein-esque lair built entirely from snow and ice at Sweden’s ICEHOTEL. Christmas is coming up quick, but don’t fret if you still haven’t crossed every name off your list — our Green Holiday Gift Guide is packed with last-minute ideas for present procrastinators and green gadget gifts. Finally, if you happen to be in London for New Year’s Eve, you won’t want to miss the edible-fireworks display that will shower spectators with fruit-flavored confetti.

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15
Dec

Go Mobile or Go Home: Further Evidence That Mobile Is Taking Over Business


mobile phones technology businessNot so long ago, customers found what they wanted by word of mouth, TV commercials, looking in the phone book or through print advertising. Now, whether they are sitting on the couch, at their desks at work or at a red light, people can find out who sells what they want with a quick Internet search on their phones or tablets. And people are increasingly placing orders from their mobile devices, saving themselves a trip to the store or to their desktop computer. Strategy Analytics research found that smartphone use exceeded one billion users in 2012, and is expected to double that by 2015. Businesses without mobile marketing and mobile sales capabilities will miss out on this huge customer contact opportunity.

Always On

The advent of mobile technology has enabled more people to stay connected to friends, family, school and work. The more people are connected with and to technology, the more opportunity for businesses to get to know customers. Businesses with websites that don’t have mobile capabilities aren’t as available for customer interaction as those with mobile capabilities and marketing.

Cloud-Based Apps

Mobile technology is more than just sales opportunities. It also means more effective and efficient business operations. Business computing tools are changing from proprietary software to cloud-based applications. Advances in business computing technology are making cloud-based apps for almost every major business process cheaper and easier and enabling entrepreneurs and small businesses to grow and compete in different ways.

QR codes on products and print and communication materials like business cards are helping businesses in the mobile world by pointing customers to customized information and sales offerings. Something as simple as business card printing now enables businesses to provide a wealth of information and marketing to customers with mobile Internet capabilities.

In-Store to Online and Back to In-Store

Mobile technology is optimizing payment options. The online shopping experience is transforming into more universal retail offerings. Businesses are expanding on opportunities presented by customer with mobile devices and constant Internet connectivity with marketing and payment options that blend the online and in-store experiences. Major online payment processors such as Paypal are starting to enable in-store mobile payments.

Shift to BYOD

BYOD (bring your own device) is being widely adopted as business owners realize the advantages of a BYOD policy, including increased flexibility and productivity of employees working with one personally preferred device versus separate corporate equipment. Although BYOD introduces security and liability issues, good security coordination including policies, encryption, regular backup and remote wiping capabilities make BYOD an attractive and viable option.

Sales

The opportunity for increased sales is the biggest reason for businesses to go mobile in 2014. Branding Brand Mobile Commerce Index showed huge increases in shopping via smartphones for Thanksgiving and Black Friday sales in 2013. Mobile sales increased by 128 percent over last year, and close to a quarter of all ecommerce traffic was from smartphones. Sales opportunities like that are a convincing reason to invest in mobile for 2014.

15
Dec

Tim Cook Expresses Thoughts on Equality in Auburn University Award Speech


Apple CEO Tim Cook received a lifetime achievement award from his alma mater Auburn University at a New York event on Tuesday, with a video of the speech surfacing on the college’s YouTube channel today (via AllThingsD).

Throughout his remarks, Cook highlighted his overall support for the progression of human equality in the United States and throughout the world. The CEO cited a section from the United Nations preamble emphasizing equality, and talked about finding a company in Apple that “deeply believed in advancing humanity through its products and through the equality of all of its employees.“

Now, much has changed since my early days at Apple, but these values, which are the very heart of our company, remain the same. These values guide us to make our products accessible for everyone…people with disabilities often find themselves in a struggle to have their human dignity acknowledged; they’re frequently left in the shadows of technological advancements that are a source of empowerment and attainment for others. But Apple’s engineers pushed back against this unacceptable reality; they go to extraordinary lengths to make our products accessible to people with various disabilities from blindness and deafness, to various muscular disorders.

Cook also discussed his and Apple’s support for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which the CEO also championed in an op-ed written for The Wall Street Journal last month:

These values have also recently guided us to support legislation that demands equality and non-discrimination for all employees, regardless of how they love. This legislation, known as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. I have long believed in this, and Apple has implemented protections for employees, even when the laws did not. Now is the time to write these principles of basic human dignity into the book of law.

Cook originally graduated from Auburn University in 1982 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Industrial Engineering. He then joined Apple in 1998, and was named CEO of the company on August 24, 2011 after late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs resigned from the position.

    



15
Dec

New 12-Core Mac Pro Once Again Shows Up in Benchmarks


mac_pro_2013_internalsBack in June, just days after Apple teased the new Mac Pro at its Worldwide Developers Conference, a Geekbench result appeared for a version of the machine using Intel’s 12-core Xeon E5-2697 v2 Ivy Bridge-E processor running at 2.7 GHz. Entries for 8-core and 6-core models followed in September and November respectively, but with those benchmarks coming under Geekbench 3 and the original 12-core model having been tested under Geekbench 2, the results were not directly comparable.

Still, John Poole of Primate Labs, the company behind Geekbench, outlined the likely processor performance options under Geekbench 3 for the new Mac Pro based on the tested Mac Pro machines where available and filling in the gaps with data from Windows machines running the same processors destined for the Mac Pro.

Now, with the Mac Pro launch likely very near, new sets of benchmarks from the 12-core Mac Pro running Geekbench 3 have surfaced, offering a better look at the performance of the high-end custom configuration. MacRumors and Poole both believe the results to be legitimate.

Three sets of Geekbench results have been posted, two run in 32-bit mode and a third in 64-bit mode. Averages for the two 32-bit runs (1, 2) yield scores of 2909 for single-core testing and 29721 for multi-core testing, fairly close to Poole’s predictions based on results from Windows machines running the same chip.

As predicted, the single-core score for the high-end Mac Pro is actually lower than seen with the other new Mac Pro models due to the lower maximum clock speed of the 12-core chip, but multi-core testing obviously shows a significant boost in performance compared to the Mac Pro model carrying the 8-core processor. The new 12-core Mac Pro unsurprisingly also compares favorably to the 12-core Mid 2012 Mac Pro and high-end models of the current iMac and Retina MacBook Pro.

late_2013_max_gb3Comparison of high-end models using 32-bit multi-core Geekbench 3 scores
The third Geekbench result for this machine uses the 64-bit version of the testing suite, which yields scores roughly 10-11% higher than their 32-bit counterparts for both single-core and multi-core testing.

mac_pro_12_2013_gb3
As with previous Mac Pro benchmarks believed to be legitimate, this latest 12-core Mac Pro is running a custom build of OS X Mavericks, the same 13A4023 build seen on the 6-core model last month.

Apple has announced that it will be launching the new Mac Pro sometime this month, but has yet to offer a more specific launch date or publicly outline full pricing details beyond the $2999/$3999 stock configurations. According to a price quote provided to one business customer, maxing out the new Mac Pro with the 12-core CPU, 64 GB of RAM, 1 TB of internal flash storage, and high-end dual AMD FirePro D700 graphics chips could bring pricing to roughly $10,000.

    



15
Dec

Netflix for Android update brings support for individual profiles and queues, better search


Netflix rolled out support for multiple individual streaming profiles within a single account a few months ago, but until now its Android app has been among the platforms that still didn’t recognize them. The new version 3.1.0 update rolling out tonight changes that, finally letting people filter out queues and suggestions from others using the same account like family members, significant others or annoying roommates. In our use it doesn’t pop up the profile switcher by default, but it’s accessible after selecting the current profile under the slide-out menu from the left (shown after the break). According to the changelog this new version also brings an enhanced search, with support for people and related titles. The latest version of the app should be available on Google Play now, but you’ll still have to hit YouTube for the latest House of Cards trailer.

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Source: Netflix (Google Play)

15
Dec

China’s Jade Rabbit rover lands on the Moon


China's Jade Rabbit rover on descent to the Moon

China has just entered a very exclusive club — it’s now the third country to have soft-landed vehicles on the Moon. Its Chang’e 3 lander and accompanying Jade Rabbit rover successfully reached our celestial neighbor’s Bay of Rainbows on Saturday. Jade Rabbit will now spend months studying the lunar surface, while its host will watch Earth and other objects in space. The mission should provide fresh scientific data to both China and other space agencies, but it’s most useful in the short term as a revival of exploration efforts. There hasn’t been a soft landing on the Moon since 1976 — China is kicking off a new phase of lunar science that will hopefully lead to a long-term human presence.

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Source: Space.com, People’s Daily

15
Dec

Alt-week 12.14.13: who cares if intelligent life is out there, when everything’s just a hologram


Alt-week takes a look at the best science and alternative tech stories from the last seven days.

There are big questions, and then there are big questions. Pastrami or ham? That’s a big question. Solid universe or hologram? That’s a big question. New research has made some headway toward one of those. Spoiler alert, it’s not the one about sandwich-meat. This is alt-week.

This feature is no stranger to stories that seek to answer the question of whether we’re alone in this universe or not. This week, however, has been unusually ripe with them. Firstly, there was the report that suggests that the same asteroid believed to have called time on the dinosaurs’ reign, might also have sent life to Mars. The theory is, that the impact of Chicxulub (said asteroid) might have been strong enough to send life-sheltering chunks of Earth as far as Europa (one of Jupiter’s moons, getting its own water-based headlines this week), making Mars well within the unwilling hitchhiker’s reach. But what would it do when it got there without any water?

Well, if new reports are to be believed, theoretically this might not have been too much of an issue, either. As for life beyond our solar system, there’s fresh talk suggesting that complex life could have been possible much earlier in the Universe’s history than initially thought, even as early as within the first billion years. The research suggests Population III stars (a hypothetical star that had no surface metals), could have produced supernovae capable of seeding the juvenile cosmos. The last news on celestial matters is a bit more relevant to the present. The famous goldilocks zone, that determines the likelihood of a planet bearing water (and thus life), is now believed to be bigger than, again, first thought. Unsurprisingly, this means there’s suddenly a whole lot more astronomic real estate that suddenly needs a second look.

Intelligent life “out there” might still be something we’re yet to confirm, but what if we’re fundamentally looking for the wrong thing? New support for an old idea might suggest that, indeed, we’ve got bigger fish to fry. String theory has been around for some time now, and loosely put, suggests that gravity comes from a universe made of “strings” that span 10 dimensions. The theory chimes with the notion that the universe, as we know it, is effectively a hologram. It also — more importantly — allows quantum physics to sit better with Einstein’s theory of relativity. Two newly published papers have provided mathematical results that support the concept. Led by Yoshifumi Hyakutake, a team at Japan’s Ibaraki University studied the internal energy of a black hole in relation to its event horizon and its entropy, and found that simulations based on string theory provided evidence to support the idea that the universe could well be a projection. If true, this means the real action is taking place on a flatter universe, where gravity no longer applies. A big idea indeed.

Seen any other far-out articles that you’d like considered for Alt-week? Working on a project or research that’s too cool to keep to yourself? Drop us a line at alt [at] engadget [dot] com.

[Image credits: BBC, Mars Hand Lens Imager,CBS]

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