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4
Nov

Google Home review: Taking back the living room


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Google Home is a great start with enormous potential.

Don’t look for a “definitive” review of Google Home just yet — because it’s just getting started. But it’s already very, very good.

Google’s position in the home remains a little precarious, if you think about it. Or at least it’s still very much in catch-up mode.

It’s been some five years since Android @Home failed to launch. (You’re forgiven if you don’t remember that one.) The original Google TV was underpowered and finally grasped onto the third rail that was (and still is) cable television. The Nexus Q was an early, expensive and rightfully aborted (never mind the damned sphere was beautiful) attempt at what sort of morphed into the brilliantly simple Chromecast.

No, breaking into the home isn’t easy. Except Amazon over the past two years proved it’s possible with the Echo — its first connected speaker and the shell for the real brains of the operation, Alexa. The hardware’s the easy part. Bluetooth speakers aren’t exactly new. The connectivity — actually being able to do something — that’s where things really get important. And while Alexa started slow — the potential was obvious when I first reviewed the Echo in early 2015 — it’s grown by leaps and bounds since then.

All this is to say that Google’s been behind, and it’s been behind for a long time. But Google’s changed a lot in the past couple years. It’s got a new hardware division. And in the new Google Home (along with the new Google Assistant), it’s got the makings of a fun little home hub that might well put Alexa back in the box.

Let’s take a look.

About this review

We’re writing this after a day with Google Home. Short? Yeah. But this isn’t a hard product to wrap your head around. It’s a retail unit we purchased from Google for $129. I’ve got it in my kitchen, alongside my Amazon Echo, in the windowsill, facing east. (There’s not a lot to say here. It’s a connected speaker. Over and out.)

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The hardware

As you’d expect from this sort of product, there’s not a lot going on in the Google Home box. Speaker. Power cord. That’s it. The cord fits smartly (and vertically) into the base of the speaker, and you plug in the surprisingly large wall wart. The hidden lights flash through the sliced-off top, and Google Home comes to life.

Setup is simple enough. Fire up the renamed Google Home app (formerly the Chromecast app) and it’ll spot the Google Home speaker and prompt you to set it up. From there you’ll give it access to your Wi-Fi and your Google account, and you’re on your way.

Being a little short and squat myself, I suppose I’ve got a predisposition for products of the same stature. Whereas the Amazon Echo is tall and skinny — I still see it as a black obelisk — Google Home is far more stout. It’s a tad under 6 inches tall, and flares out to nearly 4 inches at the waist. Unlike the Echo, I’m not at all afraid I’m going to knock it over, particularly in my busy kitchen.

As a speaker, Google Home is surprisingly good.

The matte white body is understated. I’m a little worried about clunking it up in the kitchen — food and sauce can fly — but at the same time it doesn’t show oil from fingers like you get on the Echo. That’s a win. We’ll also eventually be able to swap out the fabric pants worn by Google Home for something a little more snazzy. But for now, it’s a gray base. There’s an awkwardly placed on/off mic button on the back — for those times you don’t want Google Home listening for you.

And Google Home is listening for you. The far-field microphones are legit. I can speak in a soft voice from 10 feet away, careful to not wake sleeping children, wife or dog, and it hears me. And as a really cute trick, Google’s smart enough to only answer on Google Home if you happen to have a phone nearby that also was triggered by the “OK, Google” hotword. Nice.

As a speaker, Google Home is surprisingly good. There’s something to be said for fat bottoms here, but the amount of bass that comes out of the 2-inch drivers is truly impressive. That goes for music as well as spoken word.

The former isn’t to be overlooked here. I don’t use the Amazon Echo as a Bluetooth speaker all that much because Bluetooth is still pretty awful even after all this time. It’s awful to connect. It’s awful to disconnect. It’s awful when you forget you’re connected and start piping every sound from your phone into another room and spend a few seconds wondering what the hell is going on.

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Google Home, however, is a proper “Cast” target. That is, if you’re familiar with Chromecast and Chromecast Audio, it’ll appear as a device to which you can send media — and only media, not your full phone output. Google Home does the actual streaming — your phone just told it where to go. (This Cast protocol, to me, is still one of Google’s finer achievements over the past couple years.)

Voice is extremely important, too, of course. Google Home talks to you. It answers your questions. It gives you information. It’s maybe a little more clunky than I’d like. Saying “OK, Google …” before every command is sort of a phonetic mess, and not as easy to say as just “Alexa …” (But on the other hand that probably makes it better trigger phrase.)

Being tied into Google an my Google Account, there’s a lot more Google Home can answer.

For a good place to start, try “OK, Google. Tell me about my day.” You get time and weather information, then a quick rundown of your schedule. I’ve got a meeting at 8 a.m. Cool. I didn’t expect a reminder of my sole reminder —  “By the way, don’t forget to take a pill.” Nice touch. It’ll then launch into the news, exactly like Amazon does with its Flash Briefing feature.

Being tied into Google an my Google Account, there’s a lot more Google Home can answer. (There’s a handy list here.) That’s not to say there’s not room for improvement. I can have my schedule read back to me, but I can’t yet add anything to it through Google Home. (Doing so by voice works just fine on my phone, of course.)

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It’s annoyances like that that show how young Google Home still is. (And reminds me of the early days of Amazon Echo.) A connected speaker is only as good as it is connected.

You’re limited (at launch) to only four music sources, at least directly. (Those are Google Play Music, YouTube Music, Spotify and Pandora.) That certainly covers a lot of folks’ needs, but four sources is still only four sources. But, again, Google Home is a perfect Cast target, so there’s that.

Google Home will serve as a connected home hub as well. But at launch it’s only available for Philips Hue, Nest and Samsung’s SmartThings. That list will grow as Google opens up its new “Actions” portal for extending the Google Assistant. Look for that in December. But in the initial weeks, things are limited. This much is clear, though (and I’ve said so previously) — Google has a proper smart phone foundation on its hands here.

(By the way — Google Home not only turns Philips Hue lights on and off, it can control the colors, too. Alexa can’t.)

What you’ll really want to do is spend some time in the Google Home settings. They’re a little buried — go to the Home app, then Devices in the pull-out menu, and then hit overflow menu and choose settings. But then you’ll be able to customize a mess of things. The aforementioned “Home Control” options for lighting and Nest. You can choose which news sources read to you, and in what order. (That list is pretty darn extensive.) You can choose what you want fed back to you as part of that “Tell me about my day” thing.

This also is where the Chromecast feature is tucked in — you can tell Google Home to play music or video on specific targets. (I’m having varying degrees of success with that, though. And in any event I think maybe that’s going to be a niche case and starting visual streams from a phone or tablet will ultimately be easier.)

And finally, if you want to use Google Home to call an Uber, you can link your account in here as well.

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The bottom line (so far)

Google Home is a thing. And as such it is a thing that needs to be reviewed. But this is far from a complete review, because Google Home is far from a complete product. It’s a look at Google Home right now. Like the Amazon Echo and Alexa, Google Home and Google Assistant are going to evolve. A lot.

The Cast protocol, to me, is still one of Google’s finer achievements over the past couple years.

In other words, Google Home on day one is about what you’d expect from Google Home on day one. You’ve got a really good speaker, and a capable but limited assistant. And you’ve got an easily relocated Cast target that can be grouped together (a la Sonos) for whole-house coverage of music.

As others have mentioned — and as we’ve been talking about since Google first showed us that compelling product video at Google I/O back in May — Google Home currently only serves one master. That is, you can only have one Google account tied to it. So while I can get the overview of my day easily enough, my wife can’t get hers. That’s a big damper. (Google’s aware of this limitation, of course, and went so far as to say “Linked account(s)” in the settings. They’re on it.)

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Then there’s the matter of price. Google Home comes in a full $50 cheaper than Amazon Echo. But like Echo, that’s also still a bit more than I think I want to spend on loading my house up with these things. At least not yet. It’s not that $129 is a bad price for Google Home, especially on day one. But buying a couple at $99 would be a good bit easier to get away with.

For a Google/Android fan, Google Home is a no-brainer. It’s got all the makings of Alexa, in the proper ecosystem, with the full force of Google behind it. (It also looks a good bit better, I think.) If you’re not a Google user, then you’re not going to get as much out of it, insofar as the Assistant stuff is concerned. But that doesn’t mean it’s a paperweight. Not hardly.

See at Google

4
Nov

Google Pixel review: An Android for normals


“The best Android smartphone.”

It’s a well-worn phrase favored by pundits and pitchmen, and one that I’m hardly immune to trying out every now and then. But in the Android world, the “best” has almost always been divided between two very different camps. For purists who wanted unadulterated software and the fastest updates, there was the Nexus line; for mainstream consumers, companies like Samsung won plaudits by packing in feature after feature (and selling phones through carriers).

So what if you combined the best of both approaches into a single product that straddled the divide? You’d have an all-new Google phone – and in some ways, a new “best Android phone.” That phone is called the Pixel – and this is the MrMobile review.

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4
Nov

What are you looking for in a ‘smart’ thermostat?


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How “smart” do we want — or need — a thermostat to be?

The internet of Living Rooms is a thing. We point to the very popular, very pricey and potentially cool smart thermostat market to see how it’s beginning.

Environmental control is a natural place for smart and connected devices to be. Ever since the middle of the 20th century, we’ve heard about how the homes of the future will be automated and controllable from one central location. Fast forward to today, and nobody is surprised when they hear about a home that has smart lighting or smart heating and cooling.

We’re going to talk a little bit about that smart heating and cooling today. Specifically, what we want a smart thermostat to do for us.

There is a fair-sized market filled with smart thermostats out there. You have the Nest, which most everyone reading Android Central on the regular will know about, but other companies — both newer names like Ecobee as well as familiar names like Honeywell — have products with their own set of compelling features. But when you get down to the basics, most of them are doing the same things.

When you get down to the basics, most smart thermostats are doing the same things

A big draw of any smart thermostat is the potential to save money. We all like to save money, and shaving a couple dollars from your heating and cooling costs every week adds up. Options, like knowing when nobody is home and adjusting the temperature or learning how to adjust the fan on your particular HVAC system to maximize the energy used, are a great way to do just that. It’s also environmentally friendly, which is a good thing.

Scheduling and learning when things need to be cooler or warmer is another great perk of having a smart thermostat. Once your thermostat learns that you get home at six every evening and that you like to keep your house at a certain temperature, the smart “stuff” can happen so that you’re comfortable when you walk in the door. No more walking in and turning the heat back up by hand and waiting for the house to warm up.

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We can’t ignore the connected aspect of a smart thermostat. You have a tiny computer that knows how and when to turn on the switches that control your heat and air conditioning, so it’s logical that it can connect to things like your smartphone. We love being able to control things without being there to touch them, and no matter how smart a thermostat may be, there are times when you go outside your normal schedule. Being able to change the temperature inside your house while you’re on the way home is great. Having your thermostat, which knows that you’re not home, being able to control your lights is even better.

Google Home will know more about you than you do. A lot of the things it knows could be used to further automate our heating and cooling systems.

The popularity (and potential) of in-home smart assistants make things even closer to those visions of the future folks had years ago. The Amazon Echo can control several models of smart thermostat, and the same integration is expected with Google Home. Alexa and Google Assistant will adjust the things you tell them to adjust, and both know the weather forecast. These are important bits of information for the brains that control what temperature your house is. Hopefully, one day we can just tell our house to make sure it always “feels like 70 degrees” inside and never talk to it about the weather again.

Google Home and Assistant are especially intriguing. Most people reading this have used Google Now, Now on Tap or even the new Assistant. They’re filled with our personal information and in return they can truly keep track of our lives. If you read the privacy agreement you saw when you first tried any of these services you know that they keep detailed data about your calendar, phone book, location data and more. In return, they can tell us which gate to use when we’re at the airport or let us know that the weather when we get off the plane will be rainy so we should take an umbrella. With the right data, we don’t even need a thermostat to adjust and everything can just happen to keep us comfortable.

The real question about smart thermostats is what you want from one.

There are a lot of reasons to want a smart thermostat, and there are a lot of people writing on the Internet about them. The real question, both for those of us writing about them and for the people manufacturing and designing them, is what do you want from one.

For me, I want to never have to walk over to the wall and make micro adjustments. Some days are colder or warmer than others, and with a typical “not-smart” setup that means you will need to adjust. I like the energy saving ideas. I love the way a smart thermostat can sense when I’m not there and bump things to save me money while being greener. But mostly, I don’t want to get up at 3am because the wife is cold and bump the heat up a few degrees.

What features are most important to you? Or what features do you want to see in the next round of connected, smart thermostats? Or maybe you don’t want your heating and cooling to be smart at all and want complete control over the dial. Take a moment in the comments and share.

This article was last updated in November 2016 with new details about Google Home and Google Assistant.

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4
Nov

How to set up the fingerprint sensor on Honor 8


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Fingerprint sensors are a great addition to any phone; they allow you to secure your phone while still easily accessing it with just resting your finger on it. Getting a fingerprint sensor set up on the Honor 8 isn’t hard, and only take a few minutes to complete. You can set up the fingerprint sensor when you are setting up the phone for the first time by following the prompts on the assistant, but if you skipped that there is another way to do it.

Even if you have already set up the fingerprint sensor, you can follow these simple steps to add another or remove a fingerprint on your phone.

From the notification shade, tap the Settings icon.
Tap Fingerprint ID.

Tap Fingerprint management.

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Enter your pin if prompted.
Tap New fingerprint under the Fingerprint List.

Press your finger against the sensor and follow on screen prompts.

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You can add up to five different fingerprints to unlock your phone. Once you’ve enrolled a fingerprint you can click new fingerprint again to add another. After you’ve added the ones you want to use, you can then use them to unlock your phone without entering a password or pin each time.

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4
Nov

Call of Duty Infinite Warfare review: Infinitely better than ever before


In the 21st century, life now has three inevitabilities: death, taxes and an annual instalment of Call of Duty.

But Infinite Warfare, 2016’s effort, comes with an added layer of controversy: the all-conquering first-person shooter’s mighty fan-base took mass offence at its setting – in a future in which war rages across the solar system – perceiving its gameplay to be sullied by the presence of sequences in which you take the controls of a space-fighter.

So, is Infinite Warfare really unworthy of the Call of Duty imprint? Or does it have the chops to silence the nay-sayers?

Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare review: Longer production, better results

Superficially, developer Infinity Ward and publisher Activision appeared to throw CoD fans a bone by adopting the mantra: “Never mind the quality, feel the width,” since various versions of the game can be purchased as a package including Modern Warfare Remastered (an upscaled, better-looking version of one of the best-loved CoD iterations). Plus all versions come with Zombies in Spaceland, a reimagining of the zombie-wave-survival mode that usually comes with CoD games made by developers other than Infinity Ward.

But the message that should have put out more assiduously is that Infinite Warfare is the first Call of Duty game to enjoy the luxury of a three-year development cycle; previously Activision alternated between two developers who had two years each. That extra year makes a clear difference: Infinite Warfare, for once, has a pretty substantial single-player campaign, and is also incredibly slick and polished. It looks fantastic, and its performance-captured characters are way more lifelike and believable than they have ever been in a CoD game.

Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare review: Serious campaign

Infinite Warfare casts you as Nick Reyes, a Lieutenant in the UNSA (a multi-national, post-UN body that acts as a sort-of Earth’s army), stationed on the spaceship Retribution. The UNSA has a rival entity acting as a thorn in its side, called the Settlement Defense Front, or SDF, which is headquartered on Mars and employs propaganda tactics along the lines of the average fascist dictator or so-called Isis.

Activision / Infinity Ward

Infinite Warfare begins with a UNSA military parade in future-Geneva, which the SDF attacks, triggering all-out war. Only two UNSA ships survive, one of which is the Retribution and, since the captain is killed in the SDF attack, Reyes assumes command. That’s where you come in to take over.

Reyes isn’t the sort of captain to sit around twiddling his thumbs and issuing orders. He’s almost suicidally hands-on, and immediately embarks on a helter-skelter series of missions aimed at destroying the SDF.

He has a lively crew of sidekicks, notably fellow-pilot and general sidekick Nora Salter, marine Sergeant Usef Omar and a sentient robot designated E3N, and known as Ethan. The characters are every bit as memorable as the likes of Soap MacTavish and Captain Price from the Modern Warfare games, and the interplay between them is nicely observed, although bizarrely, what little humour there is in the game is provided by Ethan.

Activision / Infinity Ward

The Retribution could even be classed as a character – it operates as a hub and, through the course of Infinite Warfare, you get it to know it almost as well as the Normandy in the Mass Effect games – indeed, it’s possible to detect echoes of Mass Effect in Infinite Warfare, which is surprising (or perhaps not given the space setting).

Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare review: A future classic?

Not that Infinite Warfare’s gameplay resembles anything other than that of past Call of Duty games. The new elements which the future/space setting brings will probably divide opinion, but we grew to enjoy the space-combat.

Reyes’ Jackal – that’s the ship you can take command of – has a sublimely well-designed control system that assigns movement to the left stick and orientation to the right one; the Jackal’s loadout of two guns and a small payload of missiles (which can be restocked mid-combat by a drone), all controlled by the same lock-on targeting system, also works well. At first, we tended to fixate on target-locks and suffered a few mid-air collisions, but we swiftly learned to eradicate those.

Activision / Infinity Ward

The zero-gravity shooting sequences, which are quite scarce, proved to be less successful, though: it’s tricky finding cover when you’re floating. But it turns out that zero-gravity shooting can be fun, as long as you have a sniper-rifle, as demonstrated by a sequence in an asteroid-field in one of the optional missions.

Yes, that’s another first for a Call of Duty game: optional missions that emerge when you acquire a particular item of intel. They are pretty decent, providing a chance to visit exotic parts of the solar system, and generally reinforce the feeling that Infinite Warfare’s single-player campaign is infinitely more satisfying than those of any recent Call of Duty games.

Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare review: Weapons from another world

There are plenty of those signature Hollywood-style moments that Call of Duty is known for, some great new enemies, such as the C12 mechs – these can only be damaged using rockets (which are in short supply), but can be temporarily crippled and dispatched with a knife if you have the bottle to climb onto them.

Activision / Infinity Ward

Two key elements that play a huge part in the campaign also bleed over into the multiplayer: the weaponry and the gadgets. Infinity Ward has gone to town with its future-guns, which are split between firing bullets and energy blasts (the latter effective against bots).

We particularly enjoyed a gun called the EBR-800, which can be switched between sniper and assault rifle modes, although it does chew up ammo in the latter configuration. There are some great sights to explore, with varying levels of zoom, and enemy-marking. Anti-gravity grenades are fine to behold in action, and the Seeker bots, which latch onto individual enemies, often come in handy – as do the drones which shoot at whoever you’re targeting.

Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare review: Multiplayer

Multiplayer-wise, apart from the weapons and the huge double-jumps that the Boost kits bring, the main new innovation is the concept of Rigs, which are exoskeleton-style outfits that bring specific abilities and play-styles. For example, one is tailored towards agility, whereas another turns you into a tank.

Activision / Infinity Ward

There’s only one new multiplayer mode, entitled Defender, in which both teams fight over a drone – which renders whoever holds it more or less immobile, so chucking it to team-members is a must – and the team which holds it for longest wins. All the old favourites – Team Deathmatch, Free-For-All, Domination, Search and Destroy, Hardpoint, Kill Confirmed and Frontline – are included, as you would expect.

Call of Duty’s multiplayer fraternity is notoriously tricky to please, so it will remain to be seen whether it will take to Infinite Warfare, but the indications are good. The new maps are superb, and while the underlying gameplay remains the same, the new weapons and abilities render it an even more frenetic and fast-paced experience than ever.

Those unfamiliar with Call of Duty’s multiplayer element will, however, die even more frequently than they would have done in previous iterations of the franchise. Which, conversely, should please the faithful.

Activision / Infinity Ward

Zombies in Spaceland, meanwhile, takes a thoroughly whimsical route: it’s set in a space-themed amusement park in the 1980s, with David Hasselhoff playing a DJ. Despite possessing that familiar, taxing Zombies gameplay, it will have you chuckling with regularity. The ability to resurrect yourself by playing crap 80s arcade games is a cute touch.

And do we really need to say much about Modern Warfare Remastered? It’s a stone-cold classic which, in this modern-technology reincarnation, looks considerably easier on the eye than ever before.

Verdict

They may not admit it, but those who worked themselves into a lather about Call of Duty’s expansion into space will surely feel a bit foolish if and when they actually play Infinite Warfare. It is a proper CoD game, unquestionably – even if the Jackal-flying and zero-gravity shooting doesn’t float your boat.

When purchased with Modern Warfare Remastered, Infinite Warfare also offers fantastic value for money. As much as we would like to position ourselves as harbingers of doom and proclaim that, as a franchise, Call of Duty has had its day, Infinite Warfare is far too good a game for that. That extra year of development time has really paid off.

4
Nov

Overwatch League is Blizzard’s eSports incubator


Blizzard has its own official eSports league for Overwatch, aptly dubbed Overwatch League. It works a lot like traditional sports. Major cities in North and South America, Europe, China, Korea and the South Pacific will have a team. Those teams are comprised of the best players coming out of a sort of open competition called a “combine.” From there, they’ll be drafted and sign contracts with a guaranteed salary and benefits. The team spots will be secured, according to developer/publisher Blizzard, as a way to foster local fans and talent “for years to come.” And at season’s end, the best teams will play against each other live, in front of a global audience. Sound familiar?

Team owners will play an active role too, and like stick-and-ball sports, are expected to actively monitor and develop their team’s skills. The big thing here versus other eSports leagues is that it seems Blizzard wants to ensure players know how everything works on the business end, and how to go from amateur to pro.

“Our hope is to establish the Overwatch League as a professional career path open to any and all of the world’s most competitive players,” the video below says.

“We’re building a league that’s accessible to players and fans, sustainable and exciting for everyone involved,” Blizzard CEO Mike Morhaime said in a press release.

This looks like a natural progression from the World Cup that started last month (and concluding at Blizzcon today), but with a more local focus. The first season starts in early 2017, with Blizzard promising more info on teams and the league itself before competition starts.

4
Nov

Sombra is officially Overwatch’s new hacker hero


If you didn’t see Sombra coming, maybe you haven’t been paying much attention to Overwatch lately. Onstage during the Blizzcon keynote, Blizzard president and CEO Mike Morhaime described her as a stealthy offensive infiltrator who can hack an enemy’s abilities. Blizzard has dropped a few other details as well. She has an EMP attack that can shut down numerous enemies at once, for instance. Additionally, she can camouflage herself, making her harder to see. If you’re lucky enough to be at Blizzcon this weekend she’ll be playable on the show floor. Everyone else? You’re going to have to wait.


Source: Blizzcon, Overwatch (1) (YouTube), (2)

4
Nov

Google DeepMind and Blizzard partner for ‘StarCraft II’ AI research


Google’s Deepmind AI has already learned how to best humans at Go, but now Deepmind’s resources will be pointed at an entirely different game: Starcraft II. Blizzard just announced at Blizzcon that it is partnering with Google to open up Starcraft II as a research platform for those building AI programmers. “Blizzard will release an API early next year that will allow researchers and hobbyists around the world to build and train their own AI agents to play Starcraft II,” said Oriol Vinyals, a research scientist at Google DeepMind.

Rather than Google building an unstoppable Starcraft II machine on its own, Blizzard wants to give anyone the change to build their own AI bot using the upcoming API. Essentially, this framework serves as a testing ground for building and training new AIs — it could lead to better AI in Starcraft II itself, or we could see better AI player coaches, or maybe just an unbeatable AI bot. “There’s still a long way to go, but maybe we’ll even see an agent take on the BlizzCon champion in a show match,” Vinyals said.

But this could have effects that go far beyond just Starcraft II. “On a broader scope, these advancements we make in Starcraft might help us when we apply them to the real world challenges we face in science, energy, and other human endeavors,” Vinyals said. Indeed, in a blog post announcing the partnership, Google Deepmind notes that the complexity of Starcraft II makes it “useful bridge to the messiness of the real-world.”

Of course, what Google and Blizzard find from this partnership remains to be seen, but games have already proven to be great AI trainers, so we expect that we’ll see some big AI improvements from this partnership — it just might take a while. “We’re still a long way from being able to challenge a professional human player at the game of StarCraft II,” the Deepmind team says in its blog.

Aaron Souppouris contributed to this report.

Source: Google Deepmind

4
Nov

CES 2017: What is it and what to expect


The end of 2016 is almost upon us and that means CES is right around the corner.

The Consumer Electronics Show is one of the biggest tech events of the year, similar to Mobile World Congress, and we expect CES 2017 to showcase a lorry load of new gadgets, TVs, cars and initiatives that’ll take our breath away. It will also outline what to expect from the year ahead.

Here’s everything you need to know about CES 2017.

What is CES 2017?

CES – the Consumer Electronics Show – is a tech conference held in January in Las Vegas, Nevada, where companies hold keynotes and presentations, as well as staff show floor booths, with the purpose of announcing and demoing new tech. It’s been an annual event since 2004. CES 2016 was a record-breaking year, with a total attendance of 177,393. The exhibition space spanned 2.47 million net square feet.

When is CES 2017?

This year’s show will be held from 3 January to 8 January 2017, although most of the breaking news will occur within the first day or so. The official press days for CES 2017 are 3 and 4 January, which is when you can expect the major press conferences and big announcements.

Which companies will be at CES 2017?

Well, on 3 January, aka Media Day of CES 2017, the following companies are scheduled to give keynotes: Qualcomm, LG, Bosch, Panasonic, TCL, Hisense, Casio, Samsung, Hyundai, Intel, ZTE Corporation, and Sony.

What will be announced at CES 2017?

Virtual reality

Microsoft

Microsoft recently announced budget VR headsets were coming with support for the Windows 10 Creator Update. We therefore might see Windows 10 VR headsets from HP, Dell, Lenovo, Asus, and Acer – alongside laptops, monitors, and desktops. HTC might even unveil a standalone, wire-free version of the HTC Vive, which is codenamed Oasis, at CES 2017. 

Televisions

LG

Last year, we saw Ultra HD 4L displays from Sony, LG, Philips, Samsung, Panasonic, Hisense, and TCL, so we expect to see these same companies refresh their ranges for 2017.

Automobiles

1. We founded a company. #FaradayFuture2. We created a concept. #FFZERO13. We joined a race. #FormulaE4. We unveil the future. #CES2017 pic.twitter.com/TVk3gZ2Dey

— Faraday Future (@FaradayFuture) October 19, 2016

Similar to televisions, cars are usually a big hit at CES, with last year’s show bringing us concepts from BMW, Volkswagen, Chevrolet, and more. Faraday Future is already teasing a few concepts it might unveil at CES 2017.

Drones

Pocket-lint

Drones made a big splash at the last show – especially the fixed-wing, autopilot Parrot Disco. We therefore expect to see more drones this year.

Smartphones

Pocket-lint

We saw the reveal of the Huawei Mate 8 at CES 2016, but the Chinese firm has already previewed the Huawei Mate 9. It’ll be interesting to see what other companies plan to use CES 2017 to announce new phones, if any.

Wearables

Samsung and Fitbit could use CES 2017 to update their wrist wearables. We’ll know more in the coming weeks.

Want to know more?

Follow our CES 2017 hub for all the latest.

4
Nov

Japan has some exclusive PSVR titles, but you’re not missing much


Sony’s lineup of games and demos is often slightly different depending on the region. It’s something you may have noticed with PlayStation’s VR debut in both Europe and the US, — and that’s even more true for Japan. The virtual reality headset launched in Sony’s homeland with several titles on the PlayStation Store that are not available elsewhere. While standalone (much less stand-out) games are few, there’s still handful of experiences that are only playable with a Japanese PlayStation account. Fortunately for you, I’ve got one, and have played through some of this Japan-only content. From awkward teacher role-play with a Japanese schoolgirl, to anime J-Pop idol concerts, digitized musicians, Godzilla and virtual karaoke rooms (!), these regional exclusives very much cater to the locals. Here’s how they fared over a week-long playthrough. (Factoring in some time for Rez Infinite, of course.)

Summer Lesson

Price: 2,980 yen (about $29)

Summer Lesson is the most polished — and the weirdest — PlayStation VR game you can’t buy outside Japan. You play as a tutor hired to help Japanese high school student Hikari improve her grades. So far, so anime plotline. In reality, it’s not much of a game — more like one of the dullest PSVR experiences I’ve seen yet. The gameplay consists of choosing a lesson (logic, memory, etc.) and conversation starter (family, school, sports) with Hikari, listen through greetings and some small talk, rubberstamp a lesson report card (one of the rare in-game interactions) and wait for scenes to fade in and out. (It’s fortunate, perhaps, that you don’t have to actually sit through the multi-hour lessons.)

In the middle of study, the game lets you improve (or lower) the odds of a successful lesson by changing the learning environment. However, irrespective of what you choose to do during her lesson (vocally cheer her on, introducing a rapid-fire quiz, lowering the air-con, or even turning the lights off), it has no bearing on what you see in the next scene.

Marginally more interesting scenes are randomly drip-fed in throughout this daily grind. But even these hidden scenes aren’t exactly thrilling when written: You share headphones while listening to music, she drops her pencil, she searches for her favorite comic book or brushes some virtual fluff from your virtual shoulder. Then, after six lessons, you meet her one last time to hear the results of her midterm. This depends on how smart your lesson plans were, although it’s hard to see the reasoning behind what makes a lesson successful or not.

“Swing!” 😅 #psvr

A photo posted by Mat (@thtmtsmth) on Oct 27, 2016 at 5:06am PDT

After the eventual test result, you can repeat the whole thing again, this time armed with leveled-up lesson plans… even if the timeline is reset each time. She doesn’t remember you. She never will. She’ll tell you again and again that it’s weird to have a home tutor in her room, and that she loves softball. She always eats breakfast, loves manga comics. Oh, and she still really, really loves softball.

If there’s one redeeming feature here, it’s that you feel like Hikari is in the room; that you should obey social conventions (get too close and she will complain). When she gets a bit too close, you feel uncomfortable. But she’s not there. She’s inside the game. I have never felt that with typical video games. This is a sensation produced by VR.

The creep factor persists: Meet your weekly in-game targets and you’ll be rewarded with new costumes for your student. But for now, that’s about it . The game heavily hints at future content: At the Tokyo Game Show last year, Bandai Namco showed an English-language demo with a new caucasian student. As Summer Lesson stands, it’s an expensive mini-game that made me feel uneasy. Nonetheless, it speaks to the ability of virtual reality to convey human presence.

Joysound Karaoke

Price: 540 yen for 24 hours (about $5)

“The ultimate solo karaoke experience.” That’s the pitch, even if not everyone enjoys singing to their television, alone. Inside a VR headset. The experience adds cheesy, 360-degree video to your songs of choice. The lyrics run across the bottom of your virtual view, like any TV-based karaoke unit. (In fact, the company Joysound powers millions of karaoke bars across Japan.)

The videos are just as cloying and weird as the two-dimensional ones that we karaoke addicts are used to. There’s a cherry blossom picnic with the girls, a cat cafe (yesssss), picnic at the beach, an intimate music lesson setting and… a room full of handsome butlers. Those are your options, folks. At least for now. The karaoke app has already started to add a number of artist collaborations to flesh out the experience.

Japanese Visual-kei band “Golden Bombers” are one of the first artists to collaborate, offering two special edition 360-videos with two tracks. This includes possibly the most reality-blurring experience: singing said band’s song while the band itself cheers you on inside a 360-projected karaoke room. The second “experience” puts you on stage during a live concert, replete with cheering crowd. That’s pretty cool.

But back to the stock cat cafe/ picnic experiences: They aren’t limited to Japanese-language songs, so I was able to bust out half a rendition of “Under Pressure” before collapsing out of sheer shame. More concert-based content would totally work with VR and karaoke. Hopefully Joysound and Sony are on it.

360 Date

Price: 1,000 yen (about $10)

Combining the creepy schoolgirl component with the melodrama of a karaoke video, 360 Date is a short drama that tells the story of your walk home with a childhood friend who might be in love with you. (Spoiler: She is.) It’s a harmless, 360-degree mini-drama. The app suggests there will be further installments with different girls and different situations, but for now 360 Date consists of several scenes of your friend talking to you, with fade-out cuts between locations.

Your character manages a few one-word replies through the episode but it’s a borderline monologue. I didn’t have to touch the controller. I just watched. I didn’t want (or need to) play it twice. Because of the relatively low standard of acting (the poor girl is acting alongside a pole and a 360-degree camera), and the fact you can’t move around, the computer generated schoolgirl in Summer Lesson offered a greater VR sensation, more of a presence, than this human one. What’s happening to me?

Shin Godzilla

Price: Free

Sony collaborated with Godzilla studio Toho to make this very short VR teaser for the new feature film. You wake up to find Tokyo in flames, with Godzilla still terrorizing its residents. There’s no interaction — you just see the full computer-generated Godzilla shrug off the military attacks. (Fun fact: This Godzilla was built from the same model used in the latest movie.) It then somehow notices you, a lone human lying on the ground, and ambles over to you. Rocket launches, gunfire and crushed cars ensue. The demo finished even sooner than I thought it would — but at least it’s free?

Idolmaster: Cinderella Girls Viewing Revolution,

Price: 2,480 yen (about $24; glowsticks sold separately)

“Rhythm action game!”, I thought. “Cute anime characters that I dance along with, and look like an idiot!” I thought. Sure, that last part is true, but neither rhythm nor action are necessary — and again, it’s not really a game. Idolmaster virtually places you in the crowd while a fictional 3D anime J-Pop group sing/synth their way through a song. There’s more songs through DLC — I didn’t bite — and DLC accessories go as low as virtual glow sticks and wristbands for your audience member. Both are a con priced at three dollars each.

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