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3
Aug

5 reasons why the new Samsung Gear VR (2016) is the best mobile headset by far


As well as triumphantly reveal what could be the best large-sized phone we’ve ever seen, Samsung also revealed a new Gear VR headset during its Unpacked events in New York, London and Rio.

It effectively replaces the current consumer model and has a few specific changes that make it an evolutionary step forward for mobile virtual reality. And, of course, it works with the new Samsung Galaxy Note 7.

VR is a big deal for Samsung and this represents a further commitment to the technology. The company also told us that it will continue to invest in the tech and we have little doubt that the Gear VR (2016) will be as popular as its predecessor.

So here are some good reasons why we think that it is the best mobile VR headset out there – even better than the previous generation Sammy.

  • Samsung Galaxy Note 7 vs Note 5 vs Note 4: What’s the difference?
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 7 preview: Take note, this is the big-screen phone to beat
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 7 iris scanner: What is it and how does it work?
  • Best Galaxy Note 7 cases: Protect your new Samsung device

1. New Samsung Gear VR free with Note 7 pre-orders

Some manufacturers are giving away the new Gear VR with pre-orders of Galaxy Note 7 handsets. Samsung did a similar thing with its previous headset and it helped get it into the hands of a wider audience.

Pocket-lint

Carphone Warehouse is one of the retailers participating in the giveaway. It will be including a Gear VR with each Note 7 ordered before 30 August. Pre-orders for the phone will be available from all networks from 16 August. The phone will be released on 2 September.

The headset will eventually go on sale too, we were told, but there is currently no word on pricing or release date.

2. New Samsung Gear VR is lighter

On paper, the new Gear VR’s 8g difference in weight to the former model might not jump out at you but it feels different when strapped to your noggin. It is definitely lighter and therefore more comfortable.

Pocket-lint

In total it is 312g without a phone or front cover. It is obviously heavier depending on which phone you choose to pair it with – the Note 7 is 169g for example – but it definitely has less heft in use and even feels more comfortable than many if not all non-Samsung headsets out there.

The foam around the eyepiece is also softer and more gentle on your cheeks.

3. New Samsung Gear VR has 101-degree field of view

One of the biggest differences between mobile VR headsets and devices like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive is that they normally have a more restricted field of view.

Pocket-lint

The new Samsung Gear VR has an expanded FOV in comparison to the former generation and just about every other mobile headset around. It now offers an FOV of 101-degrees. The previous model could only stretch to 96-degrees. This means you will see more of the content clearly than before.

It’s not quite as good as the Rift, for example, which has an FOV of 110-degrees but it’s getting there.

4. New Samsung Gear VR is blue/black

According to the expert we chatted to at Unpacked, the colour change isn’t just to distinguish the headset from its predecessor, but the darker finish is better for immersion. The white body of the original Gear VR was a little too reflective.

Pocket-lint

That makes sense and when you look at other headsets on the market, they all tend to be black or thereabouts. It might not look as good to the casual observer, but it’s the experience while wearing one that matters most.

5. New Samsung Gear VR is backwards compatible

Contrary to some former reports, the new Samsung Gear VR isn’t just for the Galaxy Note 7. Yes, it does have a USB-C connection specifically for that device, but a Micro USB adapter is bundled with the headset so it can work with other Samsung phones too.

Samsung has confirmed that, as well as the Note 7, it will work with the following handsets:

  • Samsung Galaxy S6
  • Samsung Galaxy S6 edge
  • Samsung Galaxy S6 edge+
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 5
  • Samsung Galaxy S7
  • Samsung Galaxy S7 edge

First Impressions

Even though many predicted 2016 to be the year of VR it has failed to ignite the interest expected. Oculus shipping delays and HTC Vive pricing have both served to ensure full, high-end virtual reality’s uptake is slow.

Samsung however has been storming ahead with the original Gear VR and, in many ways, mobile is driving the tech much more than gaming. The new Samsung Gear VR is not really a revolutionary leap forward for its proposition but it still represents an evolutionary tip-toe.

From what we’ve seen so far, it is the best headset on the market and, depending on the phone you use, an impressive entry into the world of virtual reality.

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3
Aug

‘Chambara,’ the split-screen samurai game born in a dorm


College dorms are a strange microcosm of adult life, offering close-quarters friendship, intellectual stimulation and the kind of freedom that comes with a prepaid meal card. Dorm life fosters in-person interaction, usually in tight spaces and on a limited budget. Basically, it’s ideal for long multiplayer gaming sessions with a room full of good friends, loud music and fast food. It’s no wonder, then, that the idea for Chambara, a samurai-infused local-multiplayer slash-fest, was spawned in the dorms at the University of Southern California.

“As roommates and college students, we lived in very close proximity to other folks our age who had free time,” Chambara project lead Kevin Wong says. “There were always many opportunities for us to pick up a game like Smash Bros to play with folks we didn’t know particularly well and connect with them through the game. We were always fascinated by the community-forming potential of play.”

The wider gaming ecosystem may be dominated by online multiplayer experiences like Overwatch, League of Legends, Dota 2 and Hearthstone, but couch co-op and local competitive play are still alive and well. Games like TowerFall, Gang Beasts, Nidhogg, Starwhal and Samurai Gunn have kept the fire burning for in-person playtime, and Chambara proudly picks up their torch. Only this time, the flames are black and white with just a touch of orange when you look at them from the right angle.

This is the crux of Chambara’s gameplay: It’s set in a largely monochromatic, 3-D world. Splashes of color dot the landscape sparingly; even the characters themselves are either white or black, moving like bulbous shadows through urban sprawls, small towns, cramped buildings and a host of other stylized environments. Since the settings are just as colorless as the human-sized bird avatars, players are able to hide by simply standing against a wall.

However, since this is a 3-D world, angles are incredibly important. A giant, all-white bird with a samurai sword will blend into one white wall completely, but he can’t forget about the black wall jutting out directly to his left. A player entering the area from his right will see his outline as clear as day.

Chambara just landed on the PlayStation 4 on July 26th, but it’s already been recognized as an artistic feat by major organizations including the Independent Games Festival, IndieCade and BAFTA.

That’s wonderful early attention for an independent student project — and it didn’t happen by chance. USC’s game development program is renowned and highly productive, having turned out high-profile projects such as The Misadventures of PB Winterbottom, The Unfinished Swan and Flow, the predecessor to mainstream mega-hit Journey. In January, the school announced it would expand its support for student developers with the USC Games Publishing program. Professors and mentors wouldn’t just teach students how to make a game; they’d help get those games published on major platforms, too.

Chambara is the first title to emerge from the USC Games Publishing program. In addition to PS4, it will hit Xbox One in the near future.

“It would have been impossible for us to bring Chambara to consoles without USC Games’ support, which would have been a shame because this game belongs in the living room,” says lead designer Esteban Fajardo. “USC Games gave us the resources we needed to finish the game but also gave us total control over the development.”

A driving force of that development, the inspiration for Chambara itself, was sparked in the USC dorms. Couch-based multiplayer is central to Chambara’s design; it’s imbued in one of the game’s most unique mechanics.

“We have a button that closes your character’s eyes, thereby protecting you from screencheaters,” Wong says. “Games like Goldeneye present implicit rules where players informally consent not to screencheat. Chambara embraces screencheating by making it a central mechanic to create means of interaction that would only be possible with split-screen.”

Chambara combines stealth and action, challenging players to hide and attack with twitchy trigger fingers, throwing colored shurikens at potential targets to cover them in bright paint and make them easy prey for their samurai swords. Otherwise, the game is a study in black and white.

“Figuring out an art style that allows players to disappear while also making important aspects like the UI or horizon clear was tricky,” Fajardo says. “With the black-and-white style, everything wants to blend, so bringing in a third color to highlight important parts was a delicate balancing act.”

Wong and the rest of the developers with Team OK drew inspiration from the Samurai Jack cartoon and 20th-century Japanese art including Mono-ha and Metabolism architecture. These are heavily concerned with the interaction between industrial structures and organic growth.

Team OK took these design principles, added a cast of samurai bird warriors and turned out a local-only multiplayer game that supports two to four players at a time — with the full support of USC and its new publishing program.

USC Games Publishing’s approach — creatively hands-off but logistically involved — was one of the program’s goals from the beginning, and in Chambara’s case, it seems to have worked. Wong certainly thinks so.

“When we first started Chambara two years ago, we were a small team, but an entire village of colleagues have had a hand in carrying this game to its home release,” he says. “Chambara has seen the involvement of translators, lawyers, usability experts, event planners and filmmakers. Everyone, from the family of developers to our publishing support, to our fans and players that we’ve met at festivals, pushed this game forward to completion.”

3
Aug

Sky and Amazon team up for Roman Empire drama ‘Britannia’


There’s no grand secret as to why Sky is the dominant pay-TV provider in the UK. The movie premieres, exclusive sports programming and biggest shows from major US cable networks are what subscribers shell out the big bucks for. And to make sure it keeps the A-grade content coming, Sky has taken to cavorting with an on-demand enemy for the first time. The broadcaster and Amazon today announced they are co-producing a new drama series called Britannia, written by Jez Butterworth of Spectre/Black Mass/Edge of Tomorrow fame, and starring various people who’s names you won’t know but who’s faces you’ve probably seen in something before.

“The 10-part drama is set in 43AD as the Roman Imperial Army – determined and terrified in equal measure – returns to crush the Celtic heart of Britannia – a mysterious land ruled by wild warrior women and powerful druids who can channel the powerful forces of the underworld,” Sky’s press release reads. Strong female leads, a backdrop of turmoil and war, a dash of magic — sounds like we can expect Game of Thrones with Romans.

Britannia is currently filming and will debut at some point next year on Sky 1 in the UK and Ireland, with Amazon snagging exclusive rights for its Prime Video streaming service in the US. Two originals for the price of one and no regional competition to worry about? A perfect example of a linear TV provider and an on-demand platform coexisting happily together.

Source: Sky, Amazon

3
Aug

Snapchat’s location-based ‘geostickers’ arrive in ten cities


You might have thought that Snapchat’s Geofilters do a pretty good job of jazzing up your snaps when you’re in an area blessed with them. Now, the company’s rolling out new stickers you’ll only be able to attach if you’re in the right spot (like New York’s pizza rat above).

The Geostickers are currently only available in Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco, Washington DC, Honolulu, London, Sydney, São Paulo, Paris and Riyadh, but given Snapchat’s history, we’d expect to see them roll out more widely if/when demand and use grows.

The free feature is an evolution of options Snapchat tested in February, which let users pay (from $5 up) to design and use their own filters within a geofenced area — and marked yet another attempt at monetizing different parts of its service. Despite the first attempt at location-based goodies proving popular, it closed the paid filter store in June. How long will the new stickers last is anyone’s guess, but perhaps the bigger questions is how long before some other app does something similar?

Source: Snapchat

3
Aug

US grants its first clearance for a private flight to the Moon


If you’re running a private American company that wants to send payloads to the Moon, who do you talk to in order to get the all-clear? Moon Express knows — it just got the first-ever clearance from the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation for a flight to the Moon. The move, which included consultation with NASA, the State Department and the White House, lets Moon Express deliver a robotic lander (including scientific experiments and cremated remains) to the lunar surface in 2017. The approval doesn’t require any new laws, although NASA will advise the company during its mission.

It’s an important milestone for private spaceflight in more ways than one. On top of representing the first clearance, it also eliminates some of the vagueness surrounding regulation for private flights beyond Earth. That’s crucial when companies like SpaceX want to land on Mars as soon as 2018, and likely don’t want to waste time finding someone who can rubber stamp their flights. Eventually, this sort of regulatory procedure should become a non-event — it’ll just be a formality whenever a private outfit wants to venture deeper into space.

Source: Reuters, Moon Express

3
Aug

Paper, Dropbox’s answer to Google Docs, now has apps for iOS and Android


It’s been almost a year since Dropbox formally introduced Paper, its vision for a collaborative workplace regardless of whether you’re a project manager, coder, designer or any other kind of employee. It’s been in closed beta since then, and we haven’t heard much of how the tool has progressed, but today that’s changing. Dropbox is announcing that the Paper beta is now open to anyone, and the company is also launching dedicated Paper apps for iOS and Android.

Both the apps and a variety of new features Dropbox added to Paper come at the request of users; the company says it has been listening very carefully to feedback throughout the beta process and has implemented the top requests. For the web version of Paper, that includes enhanced table features, improve photo galleries and new notifications that are rolled into the Dropbox desktop app.

The changes to tables are pretty straightforward. You can now make them the full width of your document or constrain them to a smaller space if you don’t want them to cover the entire screen. You can also resize the width of your columns, and Dropbox made it easier to add and delete cells. I hesitate to truly call these “new” features; they’re more like table stakes for any kind of spreadsheet, even a basic tool like Paper’s tables.

Paper’s improved image galleries are similarly basic. It’s a lot easier to drag and drop images around to rearrange and resize them into a gallery — it’s kind of like the way Tumblr handles posts with multiple images. What’s more notable is that you can now comment on a single image at a time rather than just leaving a comment for the entire group. Again, a pretty simple feature that’s necessary for Paper to truly make a mark as a collaboration tool, but it’s good to see it in place as the open beta is launched.

The last new feature for the web is a bit of a bigger deal, as Paper’s notification system has been revamped. You have always been able to “@” message peope in your organization who are using Dropbox and Paper, and now a new notification center collects all comments made on documents you’ve started. It’ll also keep track of any time someone pings you with an @ mention or replies to comments you’ve left in other documents. These notifications are visible both in Paper itself as well as in the Dropbox desktop app that sits in your toolbar, so even if you’re not in Paper, you can see who’s pinging you.

Beyond the desktop are Paper’s first apps for iOS and Android — Dropbox says that these were the number one most requested feature from beta testers. Rather than try and throw ever Paper feature into the app, though, Dropbox kept things a bit more focused here. The app brings the same notifications from your desktop to the phone, giving you a glanceable view of what people are doing in the documents that you’ve created or are otherwise working on. Naturally, you’ll get push notifications as well. I don’t know that I’d want to have those turned on, but Dropbox says having access to this info on the go was a requested feature from users.

You can also respond to comment threads from a dedicated tab within the app, and there are also some basic document editing features baked in. You won’t be able to embed the many different types of content that Paper supports, but you’ll be able to make quick changes to text from your phone and also drop in images from your camera roll. The app is also smart enough to save any document you’ve marked as a favorite to the app by default, so you can work on them when you don’t have a connection.

All of these changes and the apps roll out today — and with the open beta, Dropbox will truly have a chance to see how many people are interested in its latest collaboration tool. It’s a bit of a change for the company, which has typically focused on first keeping files in sync. Now, Dropbox often says its mission has evolved into “keeping teams in sync,” and it looks at Paper as a way to do that.

However, Dropbox has killed off a few other initiatives that tried to move the company beyond straight file syncing: the Mailbox email app and Carousel photo-syncing app. I asked Dropbox project manager Kavitha Radhakrishnan if users should have any concern about their Paper docs going away in a few years if the company shutters its latest project, and she said user’s shouldn’t be worried because of Paper’s explicit link to that goal of keeping teams in sync.

Dropbox’s new logo for Paper.

“From a strategy perspective, Paper’s right at the center [of Dropbox],” Radhakrishnan said. “We’re looking at Paper as being a core part of the Dropbox experience, and our momentum over the last year should be a pretty strong signal about how seriously we’re taking this.” She also told me that users have created 1 million Paper documents so far. In a vacuum, that number isn’t terribly meaningful, but given the small scale of the closed beta, Dropbox certainly hopes that number will skyrocket going forward.

As to how Dropbox will be successful with Paper when there are lots of options like Microsoft Office and Google Docs that do many of the same things, Radhakrishnan says Paper’s flexibility makes it the kind of tool that makes it well-suited to being used across an organization. “We’ve seen products that do creation, organization and collaboration really well, but Paper fits across all three of those pillars,” she said. “Paper’s uniquely positioned in that it’s not just one tool that does one part of the workflow well. It brings entire teams together.” Whether a one-stop shop for creation, organization and collaboration makes more sense than distinct, focused tools remains to be seen — but with the beta now open to everyone, Dropbox should find out whether Paper has a future very soon.

Source: Dropbox

3
Aug

Facebook opens a giant hardware lab to build its future


Hardware will play a big role in Facebook’s future between Oculus’ VR headsets, internet drones and open source networking gear, and the social network wants to give that technology the best start possible. It just opened Area 404 (yes, a play on “site not found”), a massive 22,000 square foot facility at its Menlo Park headquarters that will handle the brunt of Facebook’s hardware “modeling, prototyping and failure analysis.” Unlike some labs, it’s not segmented into product-specific divisions — instead, there are only electrical engineering and prototyping workshop sections. It’s designed to encourage cross-team collaboration that could lead to discoveries that might not happen in an isolated group.

The prototyping half includes some heavy-duty equipment that you’d be more likely to see in a factory than an internet veteran’s campus. It touts lathes, milling machines, water jets and other devices that can cut or shape everything from metal to stone. There’s also a CT scanner and an electron microscope to detect miniscule flaws.

A lab like this was really just a matter of time, since Facebook only has so much room to develop hardware in its existing facilities without looking for outside help. Still, it’s a telltale sign of how much the company has changed. The days of Facebook focusing strictly on social services are long gone — this is a general tech company where physical products are equally important to its future.

Source: Facebook Code

3
Aug

YouTube’s subscription service keeps your kids’ videos ad-free


It’s nice that a YouTube Red subscription gives you ad-free and offline viewing, but wouldn’t those features be more useful for keeping your kids entertained on your next vacation? YouTube agrees. You can now sign in to Red through the YouTube Kids app, giving junior viewers all the benefits without making them visit grown-up apps or sites. They won’t see promos while watching their favorite show, and they can keep playing when they’re stuck in the back of the car for a few hours. If they’re music fans, they can switch apps while their tunes play in the background. You probably won’t subscribe just for the Kids support, but it’s a strong incentive for families.

Source: YouTube Official Blog

3
Aug

New MIT tech lets you mess with objects in pre-recorded video


Despite everything going on within the frame, videos are still a passive experience to observe. You can’t reach in and mess with the objects you’re watching — until now. An MIT researcher has pioneered new technology that lets you “touch” recorded things, which are simulated to respond like you’d fiddled with them in the real world.

So how do you predict which ways an already-recorded object will move when tweaked? The system, called “Interactive Dynamic Video” (IDV), needs five less than a minute of footage to track movement possibilities. It does so by analyzing how it shifts when intentionally jostled: In the video example below, a researcher slams the table on which a humanoid figure is resting, which lets the system see how it vibrates across different frequencies. Then it extrapolates how the item should behave when viewers reach in with their cursors and jostle the object in video.

Obviously this could have many applications in entertainment and education, but the researchers wanted a more topical example — so they inserted the system into Pokémon Go’s augmented reality. With IDV, the environment automatically reacts to the pocket monsters’ movements, making it seem like the wee beasts are actually bending leaves and grass as they bounce around.

The simulation isn’t perfect, admits MIT PhD student Abe Davis in the first video, but more information will boost the movement accuracy of the IDV-produced models. With sufficient precision, it could be used to evaluate the structural integrity of buildings. But it also has uses in movie special effects, tweaking real-world objects that a computer-generated character interacts with on screen.

Source: MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory

3
Aug

Siri cheat sheet shows how you can talk to your iPhone


Sure, iOS will give you a quick hint as to what you can ask Siri, but there’s a lot more the voice control system will recognize. How do you know whether or not your command will work? You don’t have to guess. Sandro Roth’s recently launched Hey-Siri.io outlines a whopping 489 Siri actions for both iOS and the Mac, all of it neatly divided into categories with practical examples. If you want to know how to talk to your smart home devices or create a grocery list, the answer is likely just a few taps away. This probably won’t cover absolutely every command (certainly not those for third-party apps), but it could save you a lot of guesswork… not to mention embarrassment.

Source: Hey Siri

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