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Pros and cons: Our quick verdict on the PS4 Pro

It’s going to be another year yet before Microsoft ships its next-gen console, codenamed “Scorpio.” So for the next 12 months, then, the most powerful gaming console you’ll be able to buy is the PlayStation 4 Pro. Still, that doesn’t mean it’s worth the upgrade — at least not now, and certainly not for everybody. Because one of the PS4 Pro’s biggest draws its ability to handle 4K HDR video, you won’t get much out of it if you don’t already own a matching 4K HDR set. So if you already own a regular PS4 and a 1080p set, you have no immediate reason to upgrade.

Plus, even if you do have the right kind of TV, many games haven’t yet been updated to offer 4K HDR video quality. Also, because the PS4 doesn’t support 4K Blu-rays, your only way of getting 4K video right now is through Netflix or YouTube. It’s probably best to wait not just for those game patches, but for Sony to port over the 4K streaming store already offered on its Bravia TVs.


BFI to digitise 100,000 old TV shows before they disappear

The British Film Institute (BFI) has a plan in motion to save old, at-risk TV programmes stored on obsolete video formats. As part of a new five-year strategy, the organisation has vowed to digitise and preserve “at least 100,000” shows for future generations. These include children’s TV programmes Rubovia, the Basil Brush Show and How, and comedy series Do Not Adjust Your Set and At Last the 1948 Show, which featured Monty Python duo John Cleese and Graham Chapman. Regional dramas such as Second City Firsts and Rainbow City have also been earmarked.

Heather Stewart, the BFI’s creative director told the BBC: “The whole infrastructure in relation to video is just disappearing. There are technicians who want to retire. We can’t let them go until we’ve got this stuff off these one-inch and two-inch formats. There’s a limited pool of people who know how to do it and there’s a limited pool of machines.” Another problem is storage. The BFI has a vault in Hertfordshire which holds many of its recordings from the 1960s, 70s and 80s. Digitising the lot would fit into “a robot the size of a wardrobe,” according to Stewart.

As the Guardian reports, the BFI is yet to lock down a complete list. Roughly 750,000 shows are held on one and two-inch tapes, so a six-month “discovery phase” will need to be conducted first. Some of the titles have already been digitised, so the Institute will be looking for what it considers to be the most at-risk shows. It will also need to work with broadcasters and rights holders to ensure its preservation efforts are approved. Should it be successful, the BFI will be in a position to share them online, either for free or through its premium BFI Player+ service.

Source: The Guardian, BBC, BFI


‘Distant’ is the next game from the ‘Alto’s Adventure’ team

Built By Snowman, creator of Alto’s Adventure, has revealed the first trailer for Distant, a game it’s creating in partnership with Australian indie firm Slingshot & Satchel. The video (below) shows a caped, glowing hero leaping from column-like structures through a massive cave, with a waterfall, glowing pyramid and blue fauna in the background. The company didn’t give a launch date or price, but said it’s coming to Mac, PC, consoles and Apple TV.

In it’s press kit, Snowman says that “Distant takes you on a wondrous voyage through pastel dreamscapes, to prevent a calamity from consuming the world you once knew. Along the way, you’ll confront an inescapable past, and learn how much you’re willing to sacrifice in your search for solace.”

While vague about gameplay, Snowman told Kill Screen that Distant “focuses on the elegance of movement,” and aims to “marry traditionally disparate concepts like ‘zen play’ and tight, satisfying challenge[s].” Thematically, it was guided by “that feeling of searching for home and trying to satiate the desire to belong,” says Slingshot & Satchel’s Megan Campbell, adding that the original title, Hiraeth, roughly translates to homesickness and grief for things past.

Snowman says that while it’s publishing the game and acting as a “creative partner,” it was originally conceived by Slingshot & Satchel. Nevertheless, it bears some similarities to Snowman’s Alto’s Adventure, the ski game with addictive gameplay, clever artwork and a zen-like soundtrack.

Source: Snowman Games


ESA tests ExoMars orbiter’s cameras and instruments

ExoMars might have lost the Schiaparelli lander, but the mission is far from being a failure: its Trace Gas Orbiter probe is working just fine. The probe spent two orbits, from November 20th to the 28th, making calibrations and testing out its instruments and its cameras. Since TGO’s main purpose is to monitor rare gases on the red planet, its Atmospheric Chemistry Suite sniffed out carbon dioxide during the test run, while the Nadir and Occultation for Mars Discovery instrument focused on finding water vapor. The ESA has confirmed that both of them are capable of doing their jobs.

ESA also activated the orbiter’s neutron detector, FREND, at various times within the same time period. FREND can detect the composition of Mars’ surface layers — whether there’s water or ice underground, for instance — depending on the speed of the neutrons upon reaching the orbiter. Finally, the probe used its imaging system to take photos of the red planet during its first close flyby on November 22nd at an altitude of around 146 miles. You can see one of the images above. It’s much closer than the photos TGO’s bound to capture in the future, since its final orbit will be 249 miles above the surface. However, these 11 initial images are only meant to help ESA improve the onboard camera’s software and image quality.

Håkan Svedhem, TGO Project Scientist said:

“We are extremely happy and proud to see that all the instruments are working so well in the Mars environment, and this first impression gives a fantastic preview of what’s to come when we start collecting data for real at the end of next year

Not only is the spacecraft itself clearly performing well, but I am delighted to see the various teams working together so effectively in order to give us this impressive insight.

We have identified areas that can be fine-tuned well in advance of the main science mission, and we look forward to seeing what this amazing science orbiter will do in the future.”

Source: ESA


London Mayor commits to greener bus fleet

As part of ongoing efforts to curb pollution in the capital, London Mayor Sadiq Khan today announced that all new single-decker buses for the centre of town will be zero-emissions vehicles, and that no more pure diesel double-deckers will be added to the network from 2018. At an event today, Khan also showed off the “world’s first” hydrogen fuel cell double-decker, which will be trialled in the capital next year. In total, 20 of these buses — which are hydrogen/electric hybrids — will eventually be added to the fleet.

London has a longer history with hydrogen-powered buses than you might think. The first trials of such vehicles started back in 2003, and they’ve been in regular service on the central London RV1 route since 2010. In recent years, greener, hybrid Routemasters have been introduced — not without some questions around how efficient they really are — as well as upwards of 50 all-electric buses.

In the longer-term, Khan wants all buses to meet London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone standard in 2020. By this time, it’s hoped that 300 zero-emissions buses will be added to the London fleet, on top of the 79 currently in service.

The capital’s black cabs are also on the hook to go greener, and from January 2018, new taxi licences will only be issued for “zero emission capable” taxis. There is also talk of introducing a new surcharge on top of the Congestion Charge for any black cab that doesn’t meet this standard but wants to operate within the Ultra Low Emission Zone, which may also be expanded significantly by that time.

Via: City A.M.

Source: Mayor of London, Wrights Group


YouTube adds 4K support for livestreams

After countless Black Friday 4K TV deals, it seems YouTube is looking to christen a lot of shiny new 4K displays. From today YouTube users will be able to stream standard and 360-degree video content in 4K. This could have huge significance for YouTube’s position in the live stream space. While popular, the video behemoth’s main streaming competitor, Twitch, currently lacks the bandwidth to support 4K streaming.

Twitch servers typically limit streamers to a bandwidth of 3.5 Mbps (and a 4K stream can require more than double that). Being beaten to the UHD punch will come as a major blow to the Amazon-owned company. Google will be hoping that this technical advantage will be enough to steer Twitch users towards viewing and hosting streams on its platform.

If you’re eager to see a pro-shot 4K stream in action, you can watch this year’s edition of The Game Awards in all its UHD glory on Youtube tomorrow at 6PM EST.

Source: YouTube


‘League of Legends’ is about to change and it’s all your fault

League of Legends players should probably give up on the idea of a game editor. Riot Games lead designer Greg Street hates to slam the door on any particular idea, but he’s fairly confident that players will never be allowed to mess around with the game’s core mechanics. Riot simply doesn’t want players to create 1,000 new versions of League of Legends in the hope that one new game mode might stick.

“Philosophically, that’s something we’re really reluctant to do,” Street says.

This doesn’t mean Riot is afraid of change. League of Legends patch 6.24 goes live on December 7th, and it should be game-changing enough to satiate fans hungry for something new. For example, the 2017 season update introduces a practice mode where players can try out tricky maneuvers over and over again, with the option to instantly reset cooldowns, test out new paths through the jungle, play around with infinite gold and lock champions at specific levels.

Players have been clamoring for this feature for a while, but Riot was initially reluctant to introduce a dedicated League of Legends practice space, Street says.

“We had always resisted that, saying League is a team game and we really want, if players only have a couple hours to play, we’d rather they were playing League of Legends and not practicing League of Legends,” he explains.

But players responded with a strong argument for practice mode: Riot kept saying that League of Legends was a sport, and sports have training facilities. If this were soccer, players could hit the pitch and practice dribbling; if it were basketball, they could shoot free throws at a local court until their arms were numb. If Riot ever wanted League of Legends to be taken seriously as a sport, it needed a practice space.

Street and his team eventually agreed with this logic, and on December 7th practice mode will be here to stay.

Riot learned a lot about listening to players in 2016. As the eSports industry has boomed, plenty of League of Legends professionals have become massively popular, and a handful of coaches and players have publicly expressed concern over the way Riot handles updates and splits revenue for major tournaments. For example, Riot rolled out a major patch just before the regional playoffs of this year’s World Championships, drastically altering the way players had to approach the early game. Plenty of pros were upset that months of practice were now partly moot.

Street is the person in charge of changes like this one.

“And we knew that was going to cause some pain for the pros,” Street says. “On the other hand, we knew that people not watching their games would also cause them a lot of pain.” He says that games were simply too boring until 15 or 20 minutes in, meaning fewer viewers were tuning in to the early game. Ideally, Riot would have rolled out the update months ahead of time, Street says.

“But the finals were really good. Even the final Worlds game was really tight, so we feel like it was the right change to make,” he explains. “We’d do it again — we’d make that same decision again. Hopefully in 2017 we can detect any big, systemic changes that need to occur and make them earlier.”

Riot has also learned how to better deal with real-life money issues on the professional scene. Studio co-founder Mark “Tryndamere” Merrill answered one accusation of unfair revenue sharing in August with a Reddit post that suggested the owner of TSM, one of the top North American teams, was withholding millions of dollars from his players. It didn’t paint Riot in the best light, and Merrill edited the post shortly after publication.

.@MarcMerrill responded to @TSMReginald’s remarks about patch timing. That opening line …

—Travis Gafford (@TravisGafford) August 22, 2016

One month later, Riot outlined new opportunities for revenue sharing among eSports teams, aimed at making the game more profitable for professional League of Legends coaches, players and owners. This represents a deeper philosophical shift for Riot. Street says that the eSports and development teams used to keep each other at arm’s length, like the separation of church and state.

“More recently, we’ve realized that’s silly and we’re just hurting ourselves,” Street says. “So now we coordinate much more tightly with those guys in eSports. We realized that the pros could be enormous advocates for the game, and if they’re not advocating for it, if they have concerns, that’s stuff we want to hear and act on.”

Now Riot runs some potential new features by eSports pros. Street’s team is floating around the idea of an updated ban system that would allow players to disable a total of 10 champions at the beginning of a game, rather than the current six. The development team has asked professional players and coaches for their feedback on this particular potential feature.

Even with a renewed focus on professional League of Legends, Street hasn’t forgotten about everyday players. He says Riot’s goal is to build a game that’s fun and balanced for everyone, from casuals to professionals. With 103 million people logging on every month all across the globe, that’s a tall order.

“It is a gigantic challenge,” Street says. “We’re kind of stupid, because we want to create a balanced environment for all of our players. It would be really easy to say, ‘Look, we designed for the pro players, and the rest of the community is just going to have to keep up …’ That isn’t our approach. Instead we’re like, no, we want to create a good environment for all players. And to make it even harder on ourselves, we want to use the same ruleset for all players.”

The 2017 patch includes a handful of major updates, including massive changes to the jungle, assassin buffs, new highlight and sharing functions, and the ability to watch post-game replays. Some of these changes are driven by professional demands, and some of them are an attempt to make the game more engaging for everyday players — all 103 million of them. The ability to share gameplay clips, for example, has been a long time coming, Street says.

“It’s a feature that literally we have been working on — not steadily working on — but was on our list for years,” he says. “It was this long-standing player promise that we just kept punting down the road. And we felt like this was finally a time just to do it and ship it, and try to give something to players that they’ve been asking for for years.”

Patch 6.24 isn’t the end of League of Legends, of course. There are still plenty of changes to implement and new champions to introduce (the current champion total is 134, with no plans to slow down new releases anytime soon).

Riot remains interested in implementing oft-requested features — like native voice chat, Street says.

“For Riot to take on voice and build it into League of Legends, we have to offer something that’s better than Discord, better than Skype, better than Curse, better than whatever players are already using … We definitely agree that if we’re saying this is a team game, if we’re saying coordination is important, then yeah, we do need to eventually provide an in-game voice system. It will happen at some point — I don’t know if it’ll be this year or next year, or down the road.”


NASA’s Antarctica balloons will study cosmic rays and neutrinos

Antarctica is ideal for launching high-altitude science balloons this time of year. You not only get non-stop sunlight (ideal for solar power), but wind patterns that keep those balloons over land. And NASA is determined to take advantage of this. It’s launching a trio of Antarctic balloon missions that promise to shed light on the mysteries of space. The first to take off, the University of Maryland’s BACCUS (Boron and Carbon Cosmic Rays in the Upper Stratosphere), will look at cosmic ray particles to learn about the chemicals and density in the space between stars.

The next two experiments are equally ambitious. The University of Hawaii’s ANITA (Antarctic Impulsive Transient Antenna) will learn more about the reactions inside the cores of stars by studying the neutrinos they release. The University of Arizona’s STO-II (Stratospheric Terahertz Observatory), meanwhile, will learn about the life cycle of the matter between stars.

Regardless of the mission, the flights will largely be the same. The balloons will circumnavigate the South Pole at an altitude 127,000 feet for nearly their entire journey, and should fly for a long time — a typical balloon stays aloft for 20 days, NASA says. If you’re wondering about their progress, you can track their locations yourself. You likely won’t hear about the findings from these studies until much later, but the sheer volume of data should be worth the wait.

Source: NASA (1), (2)


12 gifts for tireless tinkerers

They say the best gifts are the ones you make yourself. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you, the gifter, needs to be doing the assembly. Sometimes the giftee will enjoy building their own present. Over the last several years the maker movement has really taken off. And whether you’re shopping for an accomplished builder or someone just looking to get their toes wet, we’ve got a few suggestions.

If there’s someone in your life that’s super into making everything themselves (and you love them enough to drop $1,000 on a gift for them) consider a 3D printer like the Replicator Mini+ from MakerBot. If a grand is a little extreme for you, consider a simple driver set, like 64-piece one from iFixIt. They’ll be able to open up and (hopefully) put anything back together with it. If the creator in your life is more into coding than building, consider a tool like RPG Maker, or for the wee one in your life Ozobot’s Evo is an excellent place to start teaching programming skills.

For our full list of recommendations in all categories, don’t forget to stop by our main Holiday Gift Guide hub.


Facebook shuts off Prisma’s live video support

If you’re a Prisma fan, you were likely heartbroken when the AI-driven art app lost its Facebook Live streaming feature. Why did it go almost as soon as it arrived? Now we know. The Prisma team tells TechCrunch that Facebook shut off its access to the Live programming kit over claims that this wasn’t the intended use for the framework. The platform is meant for live footage from “other sources,” such as pro cameras or game feeds. It’s an odd reason when Facebook’s public developer guidelines don’t explicitly forbid use with smartphones, but the social network does state that it’s primarily for non-smartphone uses.

We’ve asked Facebook for a comment on its decision and will let you know if there’s something to add. However, the shutoff comes right as Facebook is getting its own creative livestreaming technology off the ground. Its recently acquired app MSQRD has no problem streaming face-swapped video on Facebook Live, and the company recently previewed Prisma-like live art filters. At first blush, it looks like Facebook may be repeating what it did to Snapchat, Telegram and Vine — deny access to rivals so that Facebook’s equivalent services don’t face competition.

Prisma isn’t about to fight to the death to reclaim the feature. “It’s up to Facebook to decide which apps or devices can broadcast to Facebook. It’s their policy and we respect it,” Prisma’s CEO tells us. The company also informs TC that live video (from other services, of course) is still part of its future. It’s right about the policy — Facebook is a private company, not the internet at large, and doesn’t have an obligation to host competitors. However, the decision is a blunt reminder that internet giants (not just Facebook) can and will protect their turf, and that you base key features around their services at your own risk.

Source: TechCrunch

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