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17
Jun

Volkswagen Beetle Dune (2016) first drive: Rugged and ready


The Volkswagen Beetle is one of the world’s most iconic cars. It might be available in various models these days, but there is no mistaking that bug shape, whether it’s a 1940s model or one of the more recent variations.

The latest model to join the Beetle line up is the new Beetle Dune. First revealed as a concept at the Detroit Motor Show in 2014, the newest member of the bug club is now available to buy.

The Dune combines the curvy stylings of the new Beetle with off-road ruggedness, for a meaner, more masculine and sportier look.

Pocket-lint

Volkswagen Beetle Dune: Design

The Beetle Dune is a crossover, designed as a combination of an off-road and on-road car. It comes in coupé and cabriolet models, both of which feature wide tyres to replicate the look of the legendary dune buggies of the 1960s and 70s. Sadly, there’s no engine hanging out the rear for you to gawp at though.

This car might be easily recognisable as a Beetle, but it is also distinguishable from other bugs on the road. The 10mm increased ground clearance with off-road suspension, coupled with a 6mm wider track width at the rear, 7mm wider track width at the front, 18-inch Canyon alloy wheels, black wheel arches and sill extensions add substance to its sporty aims.

Add to that the distinctive bumpers with diffusers at the front and rear and of course the signature retro “Dune” branding on each side with black off-road accents and you’ll be hard-pushed not to recognise this particular bug.

On the rear there is a spoiler, along with new LED tail lights. On the front, the new Beetle Dune carries over the signature round headlights; two matt black inserts house the indicators, sitting either side of the honeycombed central air intake, while an additional air intake sits just below the Dune’s bonnet.

The new Beetle Dune is the bad boy bug. It has a much more rugged look, but it also brings with it some lovely touches. The anodised aluminium side window trim strips help to bring a touch of elegance, while the silver frame outlining the central air intake help break up the front.

There are seven colours available, comprising the new Sandstorm Yellow Metallic and White Silver, which add to the existing Dark Bronze Metallic, Pure White, Platinum Grey Metallic and Deep Black Pearl Effect. The Sandstorm Yellow Metallic has been introduced specifically for the Dune and it’s also possible to order the alloys in the same colour.

The coupé model can be ordered in a two-tone colour scheme but that’s as far as the customisation options go, so despite being a fashionable little car like the Fiat 500, there are less opportunities to make it your own, which is something of a shame.

Pocket-lint

Volkswagen Beetle Dune: Interior and infotainment

Inside the new Beetle Dune doesn’t disappoint either. The interior is considered, offering a premium look with its own quirks. The yellow stitching on the steering wheel, gear stick, hand brake, seats and floor mats really pops. This is coupled with yellow trim on the dashboard dials and the sports dials that sit above the infotainment system, and together they look fab.

Our test cars all had leather seats, each of which has a panelled finish and a sporty look. They are lovely and comfortable and there is plenty of space in the rear as well as the front. There is the optional extra of sport seats with Vienna leather in Titanium Black, but we prefer the grey with yellow stitching as they are a little more fun, which suits this car.

An enamelled finish is present across the width of the Dune, incorporating all the controls and extending to the glove compartment, door shoulders and into the rear of the car. In most of the seven colour options, this finish is black, offering a lovely glossy look. The Sandstone Yellow Metallic model trades the black for the same yellow throughout the interior too though so be sure you really like that colour before you opt for it.

Above the infotainment system are those sports dials. These comprise an oil gauge, stop clock and turbo gauge, bringing that boy racer feeling to the interior and making the Beetle feel a little more masculine: there’s no flower holder in this bug. The three dials look great but they were a little distracting when driving and difficult to read – perhaps more enjoyable for the passenger than the driver. The steering wheel is lovely and tactile, and we love the additional Dune branding this adopts too.

There are three infotainment systems available for the Beetle Dune, including the standard 5-inch touchscreen Composition Colour system, or the optional 6.3-inch touchscreen Composition Media or Discover Media systems. All three systems operate the latest generation of the Modular Infotainment Matrix (MIB), while the 6.3-inch systems also come with App Connect, meaning MirrorLink, Android Auto and CarPlay is supported.  

The Composition Media system offers Bluetooth, DAB digital radio, a dash-mounted single CD player, USB, SMS messaging and a 400W sound system powered by Fender. The Discover Media system features the same, along with access to a variety of online services such as Car Net Guide and Inform.

The navigation system is good, offering the turn-by-turn instructions on the dashboard that are quicker than some rivals, like the new Fiat 500. The test models we drove featured the 6.3-inch touchscreen, which was very responsive and easy to use. We aren’t super keen on the air vents either side, but the design and functionality of the system itself is good.

Pocket-lint

Volkswagen Beetle Dune: On and off the road

The new Beetle Dune comes with three petrol and two diesel options, although not all models will appear in all regions. Stop/Start and regenerative braking both come as standard, as does a six-speed manual gearbox, with a seven-speed dual clutch gearbox for those looking to go automatic.

The petrol option includes a 105PS 1.2-litre engine, but those looking for a little more grunt, perhaps uncharacteristically, might want to 2.0-litre diesel, offering 150PS. Both these options are available in the UK. The diesel offers better fuel efficiency and greater speed, but of course starts to push the price up.

We drove a couple of different models of the Beetle Dune, the main one of which was the 2.0-litre cabriolet TDI, which we suspect will be the more popular choice for this model over the smaller petrol. We were impressed with the responsiveness of the automatic gearbox, giving an nice smooth drive and skipping through the seven-speeds with ease. We didn’t get the chance to drive the smaller petrol option.

The extra suspension height makes a difference to the looks, making things a little more meaty, but the car also handles a range of terrain well, including the bumps we threw it at. In comparison to smaller cars, the new Beetle Dune feels sturdier and more capable when it comes to tackling speed bumps and pot holes, delivering a smooth experience, rather than bone jarring. We also took it down a series of dirt tracks and it coped perfectly well here too, swallowing the roughness the surface. It’s front wheel drive rather than four wheel though, so you won’t want to be ragging it along the beach.

All models come complete with cruise control, rain sensors, automatic dimming rear view mirrors, ParkPilot and Hill Hold Assist, making driving a breeze, although it doesn’t come cheap with the petrol engine starting at £21,300 and the diesel version from £23,805. Our test model also featured blind spot indicators on the wing mirrors, flashing orange when another vehicle was close by. The motorbike our driving partner nearly hit would have appreciated how well these worked at least.

First Impressions

The Volkswagen Beetle Dune offers a lovely driving experience, coupled with a great design. It is recognisable, stylish and fashionable but it is more masculine and rugged than other Beetles and we like that about it. That might appeal to a different set of drivers who didn’t quite fancy the dashboard-vase that became the focal point of the Beetle’s relaunch a few years back.

Both the interior and exterior of the new Beetle Dune offer great distinguishable features and although there are a few elements we aren’t quite sure about, such as the extra dials and the air vents around the infotainment system, there is tonnes going for the Dune.

The Beetle Dune is the bad boy bug, but in a good way.

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17
Jun

Hasselblad event could reveal the Moto Mod camera we’ve been waiting for


Hasselblad, the professional grade camera company, has just sent out invites to an event it’s holding on 22 June. From the limited tease in the photo it looks like this could be the launch event for a Moto Mod camera for the Lenovo Moto Z.

The photo on the invite appears to show a close up on a camera device. The flat looking black sensors and the focus on the metallic buttons suggest this could be a camera mod. The premium brushed metal finish suggests this will be a premium Hasselblad priced product.

The Moto Z was launched recently with a selection of Modo Mods, but the previously rumoured Hasselblad Mod never appeared.

The Moto Z Mods attach to the smartphone using magnets and 16 contact points so the Mods can easily be swapped out but still connect instantly for power and data transfer while leaving the ports free.

The leaked Hasselblad Mod, shared by serial leakster Evan Blass, did not look as premium as this tease. However it did feature a dedicated shutter button, full sized flash and what appeared to be a large lens system capable of optical zoom – just like a handheld digital camera.

The Hasselblad event is due to take place on 22 June at 14:00 CET. Check back then to have full coverage of the event.

READ: Moto Mods: Everything you need to know about the Moto Z’s snap-on accessories

17
Jun

Vodafone Smart Platinum 7 preview: OnePlus 3 has a competitor already


When it comes to carrier-branded smartphones, the expectation is rarely high. In most cases, it seems just an effort from the network operators to peddle out cheap, unimpressive devices with their branding on them. Customer experience and device quality, or value for money, comes second. But now there’s the Vodafone Smart Platinum 7 which, on paper, and on first impressions looks to be great value.

Vodafone Smart Platinum 7: Design

There’s a lot to like about the Vodafone Smart Platinum 7’s design. It’s essentially a metal frame sandwiched between two sheets of Corning Gorilla Glass. The glass finish on the back is particularly attractive with its Obsidian-like black colouring and its subtle carbon fibre pattern underneath. It looks like a premium phone. What’s more, the glass has some attractive, subtle curves on the edges.

The metal frame has an understated dark grey finish with angled, polished chamfers running all around the front and back of the device, further adding to the high-end aesthetic. To make space for some front-firing stereo speakers, the top and bottom portions of the frame are slightly thicker, and have colour-matched plastic inserts with dozens of small machined holes to let the sound out.

Solidity is the key word here. With the way the metal frame has been built, the phone feels very durable and strong. But there is a downside to this design: glass is slippery. As is often the case with glass-surfaced phones, it slips very easily from some surfaces, and grip constantly needs adjusting to make sure it stays securely in-hand during use. With a phone as large as this, it’s not the most ergonomic experience.

As for ports and hardware buttons, the phone seems well-equipped. On the left edge is the single card tray with slots for both a nano SIM and microSD. A textured hardware button sits above that near the top corner which, when double pressed, launches the camera and can be used as a shutter button to take pictures. The 3.5mm audio jack sits in the top edge, while the bottom edge plays home to a Micro-USB port. On the right are two very well designed buttons: a long volume rocker and a power button, both of which are large, textured and have an angular design.

Pocket-lint

Vodafone Smart Platinum 7: Display

Like the OnePlus 3, the Platinum 7 is a ~£300 phone, which means some compromises had to be made to come in on budget. The screen wasn’t one of those compromises. It boasts a resolution of 2560 x 1440 pixels, commonly known as Quad HD, and is AMOLED based which means that – as well as being super sharp – its colours are vibrant.

Part of the reason Voda’s decision to use a Quad HD display is that the network operator has launched its own VR headset to be sold alongside the phone. With lenses magnifying every pixel on screen, and being that close to your face, a higher resolution panel was necessary. 

As part of its settings, the phone lets you change the way colours appear onscreen. So, if you want to, you can make it cooler or warmer in temperature, or set colours to be more or less vivid. As it is, out of the box, it seems a very good screen. 

Pocket-lint

Vodafone Smart Platinum 7: Camera

While the 16-megapixel camera might not be the most pixel-dense sensor out there, it has enough hardware and software features to keep anyone happy. The PDAF (phase detection autofocus) means it focus on objects really quickly, and the added HDR means colours and light will be balanced no matter how harsh the lighting condition are. And with its zero shutter-lag, pics are captured virtually as soon as the physical camera button is pressed, and saved in a fraction of a second.  

Like many cameras these days, the rear camera protrudes from the back, although credit goes to the designers for making the metal ring surrounding the camera feel so solid. The front camera has 8-megapixels and even has its own LED flash, so your selfies will be sharp and brightly-lit regardless of where you are.

Perhaps more impressive is the plethora of options in the camera’s app. Like a lot of smartphone cameras you can take panoramic photos, slow-mo videos with effects like night mode, HDR and even shoot video in resolutions up to 4K. There is also, surprisingly, a manual camera mode which lets you manually adjust all the important photo capture settings like ISO, shutter speed, white balance and focus. 

Pocket-lint

Vodafone Smart Platinum 7: Hardware

As mentioned previously, fitting into the budget category means compromises need to be made. Rather than fit the Platinum 7 with the best processor, huge amounts of RAM and storage, Vodafone went with a top-of-the-line screen. That means compromises were made with the internal components, but that’s not necessarily as bad as it sounds.

Inside, you’ll find the Snapdragon 652 processor with eight cores, sat alongside 3GB of RAM and 32GB of built-in storage (which can be expanded by microSD card). From first impressions alone, it still seems like an overall fast and fluid phone, thanks to the clean and light software. The mid-range processor from Qualcomm is easily robust enough to power any of your day-to-day tasks and only seems to show signs of stuttering when there’s a lot going on, all at once.

Because it has one of the more modern processors from Qualcomm, that means Vodafone was able to equip the device with Quick Charge 3.0 technology too. The 3000mAh battery can charge from 0 to 50 per cent in just 30 minutes, and once fully charged should comfortably make it through a full day (if not two).

As well as all of that, there’s a round fingerprint sensor on the back, which sits completely flush with the glass panel and recognises prints relatively quickly. It’s not quite as fast as those from the likes of Huawei or Oppo, but it detects and unlocks the phone quickly enough that it doesn’t feel slow.

Pocket-lint

Vodafone Smart Platinum 7: Software

With many carrier-locked and branded phones, you often find a tonne of apps pre-installed that you can’t delete, and a user interface tweaked so much that it no longer resembles pure Android. With the Smart Platinum 7, that isn’t the case. For the most part, it’s a very clean, stock Android experience.

Of course, there are a couple of Vodafone-inspired tweaks here and there but nothing pervasive or intrusive. Upon first booting up the phone, there’s a brief Vodafone boot-up screen. Then, when setting the phone up, the last screen offers you the chance to download some of Vodafone’s apps from the Play Store. You can un-tick those, if you decide you don’t want them.

Apart from those, there are six Vodafone apps on the device, one of which is the standard SMS/MMS messaging app. Then there’s the Phone+ app which lets you take advantage of Voda’s calling technology by making calls from the web on your desktop. Similarly, Message+ does the same for messaging. There’s a Tips app for getting you accustomed to different features, an Accessories app linking to deals on phone accessories, and the Start app which takes you to a window to download Voda’s other apps.

Of those, four can’t be deleted. As you’d expect, the key messaging app can’t be deleted, neither can Phone+, Message+ or the Start app. However, you can remove the Tips and Accessories app.

In all, given the necessity of those apps to use Vodafone’s services, it’s not a terrible amount of bloatware. Voda could easily have loaded the phone up with every single one of its apps, but it didn’t.

First Impressions

The £300 phone market is getting incredibly competitive this year, and this is yet another phone eager to show that it’s worth the money. With phones like the OnePlus 3, Oppo F1 Plus and even last year’s OnePlus 2 on the market at around the same price (or cheaper), the Platinum 7 is up against some great devices. And that’s with the comparably specced Alcatel Idol 4S still to land.

While it seems as good as some of the other similarly-priced phones available, the only struggle for the Platinum 7 is that it can only be purchased on Vodafone, and it’s locked to the network. You can buy it for either £28 per month on contract or £300 pay-as-you-go.

17
Jun

Volkswagen plans to launch 30 electric cars in 10 years


With an $18.2 billion emissions scandal weighing heavy on its bank balance, Volkswagen is hoping electric cars will offer a brighter future. At a recent press conference, company CEO Matthias Müller unveiled “Together – Strategy 2025,” a new initiative designed to put 30 new electric vehicles on the road within 10 years. The idea, Müller says, is “to learn from mistakes made, rectify shortcomings and establish a corporate culture that is open, value-driven and rooted in integrity.”

To achieve its aim, Volkswagen will rejig its core businesses, placing a particular focus on “e-mobility.” That will include building its own electric batteries — something that Tesla intends to do — in the hope that it will sell between two and three million EVs in 2025. Self-driving also forms a big part of those plans, in that it will develop its own “competitive self-driving system (SDS)” and offer it to other companies before the end of the decade.

Volkswagen predicts investment in Strategy 2025 will run into the “double-digit” billions (euros), so to finance that, it needs to either save money or increase revenue. Improving the efficiency of its R&D processes is one thing it’s singled out, as is driving down the cost of its sales and admin departments. It’s not clear whether the company will be able to do so without seriously impacting the numerous car brands it operates, but it insists that by being “focused, efficient, innovative, customer-driven and sustainable,” it can put its diesel shame behind it and achieve “profitable growth.”

Via: The Verge

Source: Volkswagen

17
Jun

IndieCade is the best it’s ever been at E3 2016


IndieCade’s E3 installment always features a lineup of nifty games from independent developers, but this year it went above and beyond. Multiple games on display used physical objects or installation pieces as part of their gameplay, making the entire IndieCade booth a hub of joyful activity.

One game, Magic Dance Mirror from developer Kinetic Magic, used a Kinect motion sensor to track people’s movement and transfer it to a giant screen filled with neon starbursts that reacted to players’ dancing. The game did a great job of tracking my (admittedly terrible) dance moves and even allowed me to draw shapes like hearts and circles in twinkling lights. Magic Dance Mirror was built for clubs or large parties, not necessarily an everyday living room.

My favorite game of IndieCade’s E3 space was Beautiful Corner from Individual. It was indeed both beautiful and in a corner — the entire game played out in a small, fantastical bedroom complete with fox-and-rabbit wallpaper, cute creatures under the bed, a key in a wall and a trunk filled with magic water. It’s a coming-of-age story that plays out through letters, trinkets and postcards from the player’s imaginary friend. It’s moving and sweet, while commenting on the realities of growing up (or not). Lead designer and artist Martzi Campos created the game as her Master’s thesis in the University of Southern California’s Interactive Media and Design track. I’d give her that degree, for what it’s worth.

Check out these two games and a few more interactive exhibits, including a cuddly octopus and a full-body meditative VR experience, in our video direct from the E3 show floor.

Follow all the news from E3 2016 here!

17
Jun

First US CRISPR gene editing trial in humans seeks approval


The federal committee that monitors DNA experiments on humans will make its first judgment on a CRISPR case next week. The Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee is looking at a proposal from the University of Pennsylvania, which wants to use the gene editing technique. The plan is to harvest T-cells from cancer patients and re-program them to better fend-off cancer cells. Rather than pumping people full of debilitating drugs and hope that cancers die off, the idea is that our own immune systems can do a better job. But in order to make it work, the cells need to have certain built-in safety features shut off, hence the need for oversight.

This isn’t the first time that gene editing has been used to treat a human patient, nor the first time that it’s been used against cancer cells. Late last year, we told you about doctors in Britain that used a different gene editing procedure — TALEN — to create modified T-cells. These cells were then implanted in a one-year-old child with a terminal case of acute lymphoblastic leukemia. By contrast, UPenn will be using CRISPR-Cas9, a different process which has been tested using human DNA in China, to do the same job.

The committee will only rubber-stamp the experiment if it’s certain that researchers are giving their work the proper level of respect. As Dr. Carrie Wolinetz, a director at the National Institutes of Health, explains, officials will be looking to ensure the procedure “reflects well-established scientific and ethical principles.” One key concern is that the process will shut down a component of our body’s own immune response, much like an immunosuppressant drug. Should the team make a mistake, however, the consequences could pose a new set of risks for those undergoing treatment. But, since we’re at the bleeding edge of medicine, it’s hard to tell how far-reaching the consequences are.

Via: STAT

Source: NIH, MIT Technology Review

17
Jun

‘Portal 2’ and ‘Left 4 Dead’ are now playable on Xbox One


The list of Xbox 360 games backwards compatible with the Xbox One has now reached 200 titles with the addition of fan favorites Portal 2 and Left 4 Dead. Additionally, support was also added for Flashback, Brain Challenge and Babel Rising. Microsoft announced the backwards compatibility feature during last year’s E3, and rolled it out over the holiday season.
It was a particularly surprising and useful addition for gamers who still have large libraries of 360 games sitting around. While most of the big games are now supported on the Xbox One, it’s heartening to see new titles continually getting added. Support for multi-disc games was added last month, starting with Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Since Microsoft has confirmed its followup console, the 4K ready Project Scorpio, will be compatible with all Xbox One titles, it’s very likely that backwards compatible 360 games will carry over as well.

Via: Polygon

Source: Major Nelson (Twitter)

17
Jun

Windows 10 preview makes it easier to do a fresh install


Windows 10 Insiders are greedy but brave souls who want the latest software toys and are willing to take some risks to get them. The latest preview build (14367) gives them a “get out of jail free” card, however, with a new tool called “Refresh Windows.” According to Microsoft, the tool will “install a clean copy of the most recent version of Windows, and remove apps that came pre-installed or that you installed on your PC.” The caveats are that it’s only available to Windows 10 Insider Preview users (of course) and that it will replace the latest version with an older, but more stable Insider Preview build.

The tool gives novice users a slightly easier way to do a clean install than the “Media Creation Tool,” but unlike that app, doesn’t let you download your own ISO. Given the fact that most Insiders will prefer the Media Creation Tool, Refresh Windows seems more at mainstream users in an upcoming Windows 10 release. Should you wish to use it, you’d better back up any content, apps and other personal data, despite the fact that you have the option to keep your personal files.

The preview build also includes new languages for handwriting recognition and a keyboard shortcut to access the Feedback Hub. You get numerous fixes and improvements for PCs, like better notifications from your phone to your PC with Cortana and reduced battery drain when using Edge. Windows Mobile customers also get a slew of fixes.

Source: Microsoft

17
Jun

E3 was secretly terrible for the future of virtual reality


After years of being teased with prototypes, developer kits and tech demos, it’s finally happening: Virtual reality is on the cusp of going mainstream. Need evidence? Just look at the events of E3 2016. Over the past week, the first-ever VR headset for a home console got a release date, and we caught a glimpse of virtual reality games from popular franchises like Star Wars, Final Fantasy and Batman. Better still, pretty much every major player in the industry (save for Nintendo) promised to support VR in 2017. On the surface, things are looking amazing. Dig a little deeper, though, and the situation just might be terrible.

Don’t misunderstand me: The VR announcements at E3 are a good indicator that consumer virtual reality is about to go mainstream. In a broad sense, that’s fantastic — but the details are a little worrying. Take Sony, for instance. At E3, we learned that the PlayStation VR headset would be available in October, and that early adopters would have as many as 50 games to choose from by the end of the year. Unfortunately, we also learned that some of those games might make you sick.

Even players who’ve spent countless hours in virtual reality (like our own Jess Conditt) found themselves on the verge of puking while playing Resident Evil 7: Biohazard — and it wasn’t because of the horror game’s gory visuals either. No, it’s that the game is pushing the limits of PlayStation’s hardware, barely managing to run at the minimum 60 frames per second required for PSVR. The problem? Every other VR headset on the market recommends that games run at a minimum of 90 fps.

Paris Games Week 2015  At Porte de Versailles In Paris

This wasn’t the game’s fault so much as the headset’s. By having such a low bar for entry, Sony is allowing PlayStation VR developers to create games that flirt with simulator sickness. Resident Evil 7 will probably improve its framerate before hitting the consumer market, but giving it the option not to be better sets a dangerous precedent: If the first console VR games to hit the market make players sick, that could severely damage public perception of virtual reality gaming in general.

Oculus VR’s Palmer Luckey warned about this exact scenario two years ago. “When [VR] arrives, it has to be good,” he told me in 2014. “I think really bad VR is the only thing that can kill off VR.” Maybe that’s why Microsoft is holding off on offering VR to Xbox users until the arrival of its forthcoming Project Scorpio — an upgraded version of its console designed specifically for virtual reality and 4K content. Sony’s own PlayStation Neo will probably help with low framerates too, but Sony has also promised that all future games will run on today’s PS4 hardware. That means it’s possible that consumers will be exposed to nausea-inducing framerates. That’s bad for everyone.

Palmer Luckey may be right about simulator sickness, but Oculus VR isn’t off the hook when it comes to poisoning the well. The company spent much of E3 under fire for supposedly buying out multi-platform virtual reality games in order to make them exclusive to the Oculus Rift. Games like Superhot and Killing Floor: Incursion won’t be available to HTC Vive owners for a limited period of time after release, while others, like Ripcoil and Wilson’s heart, are first-party Oculus titles that will never be available to Vive owners. Nobody blinks when Sony announces an exclusive PlayStation game, but for the Vive and Rift’s platform, this is completely unprecedented. Until now, there was no such thing as a hardware-exclusive PC game.

To be fair, the accusations against Oculus are only partially true: Oculus is buying timed exclusivity in exchange for helping to fund a game’s development. It’s not actually taking games away from Vive owners; it’s just delaying their delivery. Even so, that’s never been done on PC before. Yes, game releases sometimes only sell on Valve’s Steam platform, or EA’s Origin, but players have never been barred from playing them because their PC wasn’t outfitted with a specific brand of component. If a PC was capable of running a game, it was allowed to play a game. That’s not the case with software sold through the Oculus store; if you own any other PC VR headset besides a Rift, you’re out of luck. Even if that same VR title is available on Steam, without hardware restrictions.

This directly contradicts statements made by Oculus’ own founder: “The software we create through Oculus Studios are exclusive to the Oculus platform, not the Rift.” That sounds diplomatic and fair, but the fact of the matter is that everything on the Oculus store lists the either the Rift or GearVR as its “platform.” If you don’t have Oculus hardware, you’re not going to be able to play anything. The only way to play an Oculus game on the Vive is to use a hack that bypasses the hardware check — except that tool, named Revive, was shut down by Oculus for stripping games of their DRM. It was the right business move for Oculus VR, which has a responsibility to protect its assets, but the move clearly drew a line in the sand: play these games on Oculus hardware, or don’t play them at all.

From a business perspective, Oculus has every right to lock the software sold in its store to its own hardware — but the practice is still disappointing. It’s expected that console VR market will fall in line with the console wars that define their marketplace, but that’s not something that’s ever existed in the PC market. By locking all software on the Oculus store to a specific brand of VR headsets, Oculus is declaring a platform war in a space that has been at relative peace for decades. That’s not just bad for the burgeoning VR market; it’s bad for PC gaming in general.

In the broader sense, however, things are still looking bright for the future of consumer VR. A major player in the consumer gaming space is releasing a mainstream headset, and another is building a console just to serve the market. Oculus’ immersive Touch controllers are getting prepped for launch, and there are a ton of great looking games on the horizon — but a fractured PC market and a headset that makes people puke could stifle the growth VR needs to make it big.

Maybe Nintendo is right to sit out of VR’s first consumer generation. Sometimes, the only winning move is not to play.

Follow all the news from E3 2016 here!

17
Jun

The best binoculars for birds, nature, and the outdoors


By Daniel S. Cooper

This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a buyer’s guide to the best technology. Read the full article here.

To find the best binoculars, we had a professional ornithologist spend over 100 hours field-testing 17 pairs against his own $2,500 Leica Ultravids. After using our test pairs in the mountains and hills of Southern California, then on a research trip to the rainforests of southern Mexico, he found that the Athlon Optics Midas ED 8×42 pair was the best of the group, offering performance comparable to his Leicas for a fraction of the price and the widest field of view out of all the binoculars tested. This means you’ll see more, and it will look better.

Who these are for

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

No matter what you plan to gaze at, your binoculars need to do two things well: They need to make distant objects closer, and they need to make them clearer. Photo: Dan Koeppel

Anyone looking to make faraway objects appear a bit closer should consider a good pair of binoculars. But you might wonder why this story is so oriented toward bird watching. The answer is simple: Binoculars that are great for birders are great for anyone looking to make things appear closer—whether you’re hunting, watching sports, or otherwise. That’s because birding asks everything you need to ask of binoculars. So even if you never plan to seek a scissor-tailed flycatcher or a harpy eagle, birding binoculars will do what you ask.

How we tested

The author testing binoculars in Mexico. Photo: Dan Cooper

We took our initial 17 models to a few favorite local Southern California beaches, mountains, and deserts to get a feel for their handling characteristics, durability, and images’ quality. But we couldn’t get an accurate handle on what actually looked better in such a familiar setting. With familiar objects, you know what you’re going to see even before you lift the binoculars.

To really test the quality and effectiveness of the equipment, you need to start with the unfamiliar, such as, say, a set of birds that you don’t see too often. Seeing unfamiliar birds requires the assimilation of a large number of unfamiliar marks all at once, preferably under physically demanding—or at least very different—circumstances.

With that in mind, we selected my top five binoculars from the initial tests and took them with us to unfamiliar territory in southern Mexico for 10 days of advanced testing. Working in the field is the ultimate test for any pair of binoculars. The optics need to do some very heavy lifting while your brain sorts through several near-identical species.

Our pick

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The Athlon Optics Midas ED binoculars are an incredible bargain, with spectacular optics, light weight, and durable construction. Photo: Dan Koeppel

The Athlon Optics Midas ED 8×42—along with nearly all of the other binoculars we tested—are the beneficiaries of a revolution in optical quality caused by the falling costs of precision manufacturing and optical treatments. For under $300 you can get a pair of binoculars that matches products that cost hundreds, or even thousands, more.

The Athlon pair has an admirable brightness, bringing in color under harsh conditions. For example, several other models tested would not allow our tester to differentiate throat coloration of warblers in treetops early in the morning. With the Athlons, it was almost as if the glaring, whitish background of sky wasn’t there—the colors popped to life.

The Athlon Midas ED pair’s optics aren’t its only strong suit: These are exceptionally durable binoculars that easily withstood the humid, dusty, and hostile environment of the Mexican rain forest and harsh sun of the Californian desert. And their focus dial adjusts reliably and smoothly across a wide range of depths, making it easy to focus on what you’re trying to see, no matter where it is.

Almost as good

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Celestron’s TrailSeeker binoculars are rugged and have an expansive field of view. Photo: Dan Koeppel

Our runner-up, the Celestron TrailSeeker 8×42s, have rugged, armored construction and were among the lightest binoculars we tested (23 ounces). Optically, the TrailSeekers offered exceptional light-gathering abilities. Our tester recalled watching a northern harrier soaring against the sky and the colors of the streaks below were as sharp as can be. Another bonus is this pair’s ability to focus close—as near as 6.5 feet, with a field of view of 426 feet at 1,000 yards. The outer edges of that expansive field of view did have some distortion, though.

One caveat: The Celestrons we received had an odd catch in the focus dial; a second pair we checked out in store didn’t have that flaw. Be sure to check the pair you end up with to make sure everything moves smoothly.

Splendid views at a great price

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The Carson VP is about as inexpensive as a really good pair of binoculars can be. Photo: Dan Koeppel

We can’t really recommend any binoculars that cost under $100; those tend to have very poor optics and aren’t durable enough to survive hard knocks without coming out of alignment. But for just a bit more, the very functional Carson VP pair offers excellent optics, a minimum focus distance of 6.6 feet, and rugged waterproof and fogproof construction.

Very bright with a great case

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The Alpen Wings ED are as good as binoculars get, and they come with a very rugged, versatile carrying-case system. Photo: Dan Koeppel

Another model that performed very well, Alpen Wings ED, came in over our $350 price limit. This is as good a pair of binoculars as we’ve ever tried and is further proof that the overall market for binoculars has been turned upside down in terms of quality and price. The Alpens are brighter, a bit sleeker, and were a little easier to carry than the Athlons. When looking through both models side by side, you might notice a slightly superior image quality with the Alpens over the Athlons, but viewed apart, both are excellent.

Though all of the binoculars we tested come with cases, the Alpen Wings ED went above and beyond with its case system. Video: Dan Koeppel

The real reason the Alpens are worth you paying more for is their excellent storage system: They offer an adjustable, wide-band neoprene strap, and a hard, form-fitting holster that attaches to your belt or can hang around your neck via your binocular strap. If that’s not enough, the holster fits inside an included hard-shell nylon zippered case.

This guide may have been updated by The Wirecutter. To see the current recommendation, please go here.

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