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Engadget at E3: Making virtual reality accessible for everyone

Virtual reality is changing gaming. If it works for you, that is. The technology adds a wearable component to gaming input, and this brings new (occasionally insurmountable) challenges to gamers with disabilities. Amy Kneepkens, head video creator at AbleGamers, joined us onstage at E3 2017 to give us a view into accessibility issues affecting virtual reality.

While gaming has the wonderful power of escapism, VR unfortunately adds physical barriers: How do we remove those? If it’s not the gesture controllers, it might be how camera controllers are typically transplanted to the headset itself. If you can’t move your head and neck easily, how are you supposed to look around your virtual world? We explore what game makers need to do make VR work for everyone.

Follow all the latest news from E3 2017 here!


Facebook showed terrorists the profiles of people moderating them

Have you ever wondered who takes on the grueling, unforgiving task of combing Facebook’s groups and personal profiles for terrorist activity? Meet Community Operations workers, who are often paid low wages for highly specialized and difficult work. And now, the job has become even less appealing: It turns out that a bug inadvertently exposed the personal Facebook profiles of those moderating these violent graphic images to terrorists.

The moderators were alerted that something was going on when they started receiving friend requests on their personal accounts from the very people and organizations they were investigating. Facebook’s security team later learned that a bug had revealed the moderators’ Facebook profiles within the activity logs of the groups they were looking into and shutting down.

Facebook’s reaction was to put together a “task force of data scientists, community operations and security investigators,” according to internal emails obtained by The Guardian. However, the bug remained in place for two weeks after it was discovered, even as Facebook’s head of global investigations, Craig d’Souza, was reassuring moderators that it was unlikely the terrorists would connect these personal profiles to moderation activities.

One moderator, though, wasn’t willing to take a chance. He fled Ireland, where he’d moved as a child as an asylum seeker from Iraq, unsatisfied with Facebook’s offer of a home alarm system and transportation to and from work. “The punishment from Isis for working in counter-terrorism is beheading,” the unnamed worker told The Guardian. “All they’d need to do is tell someone who is radical here.” He’s since returned to Ireland, but is now suing Facebook for psychological damage.

News of this breach comes on the heels of Facebook’s renewed commitment to counterterrorism. They recently reported on their efforts to thwart terrorism on the social network and their increasing use of AI to identify threats. The report also mentioned that they are hiring 3,000 more Community Operations workers — workers like this unnamed Irish moderator, paid the equivalent of $15/hour to become an expert on analyzing and identifying suspected terrorist activities. It’s not an easy task, to moderate social activity on a network with over 2 billion users, but protecting the privacy of those who do this unforgiving work should be at the top of Facebook’s priority list.

Source: The Guardian


The best kids headphones

By Lauren Dragan & Brent Butterworth

This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a buyer’s guide to the best technology. When readers choose to buy The Wirecutter’s independently chosen editorial picks, it may earn affiliate commissions that support its work. Read the full article here.

If you have a kid in your life who needs a pair of headphones, the Puro BT2200 is the best option to protect growing ears. After putting in around 80 hours of research and testing the top 30 contenders for 59 hours across several days, we’re confident that the Puro BT2200 is the best choice. The Puro headphones not only met our volume-limiting test standards but also were the only pair liked by the toddlers and also the big kids who helped us test.

How we picked and tested

Our big-kid panel gets down to business. Photo: Lauren Dragan

This may come as a shock to you, but kids have very strong opinions. So the first part of our testing was to call some kid panelists together and get their input.

We ran two panels: one consisting of 2- and 3-year-olds (little kids), and another of 4- to 11-year-olds (big kids). For the little kids, I (Lauren) had them try on each set of headphones and asked them what they thought, which they liked most, and why.

For the bigger kids, I laid out all the headphones and let them try each on at their own pace. Then we discussed every model individually, and asked the kids to choose their favorite. We talked about whether they agreed with each other’s pick and why or why not.

I then spent a while subjecting the kids’ favorites to some endurance testing. I stepped on them wearing boots, I tugged cables, I twisted them, I let my toddler chew on them. Luckily, our panel had a good eye: None of their top choices crumpled under the stress.

Now that we knew which headphones were kid-approved, we had to figure out whether the volume levels at which they played were actually safe. I enlisted the help of my Wirecutter colleague Brent Butterworth, who has extensive experience in measuring headphones and speakers for AV magazines. We worked with audio experts and hearing-loss experts to develop what we think might be the world’s first attempt at a formal, published method for testing the maximum volume from headphones. Please see our full guide for an in-depth explanation of our tests, and why protecting your child’s hearing is so very important.

The audiologists we consulted suggested using pink noise, a common test signal with an equal amount of energy per octave that more or less mimics the content of music. We also wanted to add a more real-world evaluation of how loud these headphones could get. To do that, we played two tunes, “Cold Water” by Major Lazer and “Chartreuse” by ZZ Top, through all the headphones and measured the A-weighted Leq. This measurement gauges sound exposure over time within human hearing range; to oversimplify a bit, it’s sort of like the average volume. For all of these measurements, we attached the headphones to a G.R.A.S. 43AG ear-and-cheek simulator.

Our goal was to find the headphones that limited the volume to a specified “safer” range. The general consensus among experts is that a noise level of 85 dBA is considered reasonably safe for an hour of listening, in that it likely won’t cause permanent hearing damage. However, as no music or movie is all loud all the time for an hour straight, we wouldn’t say that moderately exceeding 85 dBA constituted a failure. To accommodate for inconsistencies in measurement and fit, we felt that a cutoff of 88 dBA on pink noise and 90 dBA on music Leq tests gave us enough of a margin for error while still providing a “safer” listening experience.

Our pick

Photo: Michael Hession

Of the 30 headphones we tested, the Puro BT2200 was the only model that all of our kid testers, little and big, agreed on. Our big kids loved the “comfy fit, great sound, soft earpads, and color.” They also really enjoyed having Bluetooth as a feature, agreeing that “it’s nice not having a cord.”

Our little kids liked that the headband and the earpad size fit comfortably on their noggins. Though the younger panelists needed assistance getting started with the Bluetooth connection, once the music was playing, they acclimated quickly.

Speaking of Bluetooth, in our tests the Puro surpassed its superlong claimed battery life of 18 active hours by more than four hours. And if you forget to charge it, the Puro come with a volume-reducing cable, as well. One caveat, however: Depending on the power of your audio source, the BT2200 can potentially play louder via the included cable than over Bluetooth. Plus, the supplied cord must be plugged in the correct direction, or else the volume reduction will not work.

Music fans will be happy to know that this Puro model sounds great. Of all the headphones we tested for this guide, the Puro BT2200 was the best sounding and most friendly to discerning adult ears.

As for the volume limits, in our tests the Puro BT2200 measured within safer levels. According to our findings the BT2200 measured at 85.0 dBA when used wirelessly, and at 85.2 dBA pink noise/90.3 dBA music Leq when used with the supplied cord inserted in the correct direction.

A runner-up for little kids

Photo: Michael Hession

If you’re looking to spend a bit less money or want a corded pair of headphones for your 2- to 4-year-old, the foldable Onanoff BuddyPhones Explore is a fantastic option. Our little ones gravitated immediately to the fun colors and small size, and found these headphones very comfy. According to our testing the BuddyPhones Explore fell within safer volume limits (82.1 dBA pink noise/88.6 dBA music Leq).

Although the BuddyPhones Explore is less expensive than our top pick, it didn’t end up as our winner for a few reasons. First, the sound quality was not as good as that of the Puro; you can really hear where the extra dollars went into the Puro’s sound design.

Second, the Onanoff set is way too small for kids older than 5. Our big kids immediately rejected this pair as too tight for their heads. The BuddyPhone Explore isn’t a design that will grow with your child.

A runner-up for big kids

Photo: Michael Hession

If you’re looking to spend less money or want a corded pair of headphones for your 5- to 11-year-old, we recommend the JLab JBuddies Studio. Too big for our little panelists due to a looser and more flexible headband, the JBuddies Studio was the favorite of our 11-year-old twins, Kyra and Ally. According to our testing, volume levels were within safer limits (80.9 dBA pink noise, 87.5 dBA music Leq).

However, the JLab’s sound quality wasn’t up to par compared with our main pick’s. Coarse and a little blaring, the JBuddies Studio’s sonic profile isn’t something that budding audiophiles will adore. Given a choice between the two, all of our panelists said they would rather have The Puro.

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

Note from The Wirecutter: When readers choose to buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn affiliate commissions that support our work.


Atari is indeed working on a new console, says CEO

When Atari first revealed its Ataribox project at E3 this year, the announcement was met with skepticism as to whether the teaser was even real. The company hadn’t made a home game console in more than 30 years and yet it was choosing 2017 to get back in the game? Welp, apparently so, because Atari CEO Fred Chesnais confirmed to GamesBeat on Friday that the company is doing just that.

Chesais also revealed that the new product, which has been “years in the making”, will include the woodgrain panelling seen in the teaser video though the final design has yet to be determined. He also noted that the hardware will be PC-based. The Atari CEO remained mum on most other details of the project.

Atari has started to regain regain some of its early-80’s mojo since Chesnais bought the company out of bankruptcy in 2013. It’s already making a profit developing mobile games. What’s more, the wild success of the NES Classic edition last winter shows that that the market for nostalgia is a big one. If it can combine the ole timey feels that the 2600 evokes with new titles built on the foundation of its mobile games business, Atari might just give the likes of the RetroN77 a run for their money.

Source: VentureBeat


Ex-Bungie developers crafted the most promising VR adventure yet

It’s hard not to love Quill, the swashbuckling mouse heroine of Moss, an upcoming PlayStation VR game from Polyarc Games. She’s adorable, with huge ears, a fetching adventurer’s bandana and an ever-so-tiny backpack. And she kicks butt — thanks to a grass sword, a badass gauntlet and plenty acrobatic skills. It’s difficult to create new characters that players can instantly love, but Polyarc managed to do just that.

Even without playing the game, you can tell this isn’t their first rodeo. The developers abandoned the hallowed halls of Bungie and Rockstar to make an independent VR game of their own. And after spending a few minutes with Moss at E3, it’s clear they weren’t just wasting time. The game simply looks and feels incredible, and it’s quickly become my most anticipated VR title this year.

Moss harkens back to classic adventure games, like The Legend of Zelda and The Secret of Mana, except instead of staring at a flat screen, you’re looking at the world in a third-person view in VR. Quill controls like a dream with the Dual Shock 4, with fluid animation and a great overall feel during combat and platforming. She also has a personality: She’ll point you in the direction you need to go, give you hints during a puzzle, or simply act mouse-like while idle.

You exist as a character in the game that Quill interacts with, while also controlling her from afar. At one point early on, you look down in a pool of water and see your reflection: you’re an ominous figure wearing a face mask, like something out of a Miyazaki film. You can reach out and grab objects in the world, using the DualShock 4 controller, which is essential for puzzle solving. And, if you want, you can also just reach out and pet Quill from tummy to ear. Did I mention she’s adorable?

Much of the game feels like it belongs right alongside one of Studio Ghibli’s iconic films. It takes place entirely at “mouse level,” so you’re always overshadowed by the gorgeously rendered environment. When you look up while outdoors, you can see the forest canopy towering high above you. Scale plays a big role in Moss; you always feel like a tiny creature in a large and dangerous world. That was particularly true toward the end of my demo, when Quill runs into a giant snake, one of the game’s main villains. Even in VR, I felt like I had to protect my pet mouse from a sudden predator attack.

Even though Moss feels like a flashback to older adventure games, that’s ultimately a good thing. I enjoyed moving Quill around the environments, and the combat is fast and fluid. It reminds me of games like Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, which took up countless hours of my life simply because they felt good to play.

Moss is coming to the PlayStation VR this holiday season.

Follow all the latest news from E3 2017 here!


Bixby’s voice features aren’t finished, but US users can test them

Samsung’s virtual assistant Bixby generated untold levels of hype before the Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus launched, but the version we actually got to use still feels half-baked. While the company still hasn’t locked down when Bixby’s voice search and control features will go live, it just confirmed that brave users in the US can enroll in an “early preview test” to get a taste of what’s coming down the pipeline.

There’s no word on how many people will be able to sign up, but Samsung says it’s only looking for a “limited” number of beta testers. If you happen to make the cut, Samsung will collect information about Bixby’s performance on your device, and may ask you for direct feedback. Samsung originally said that Bixby’s voice features would launch sometime in Spring 2017, which is basically already over — considering the amount of time it’ll take to collect Bixby feedback and performance data from all these tester devices, it seems likely that the wait for a more complete Samsung assistant will be even longer than we expected.

Then again, such a delay may not be a surprise considering Samsung’s lofty Bixby ambitions. In the days leading up the the S8/S8 Plus launch, company spokespeople said the goal was to build a voice interface that could effectively control those phones as effectively as as one could by using the touchscreen. Apple’s Siri and Google’s Assistant have some access to the system-level functions of the smartphones they’re installed on, but Samsung was keen to build a more robust, more capable and ultimately more valuable assistant. For now, though, the functionality on offer is more limited: according to Samsung, “you can send texts, change your settings or make a call by simply holding down the Bixby button and speaking.”

We’ve tried enrolling in the preview program ourselves to get a sense of the progress Samsung has actually made, but in case you make it in ahead of us, let us know how well Bixby is coming together.

Source: Samsung


Fight Zombies in a 1930s adventure serial with ‘Strange Brigade’

There was a time when video games about surviving a zombie horde was novel. They presented an exciting challenge wherein the player was pitted against a seemingly endless stream of mindless enemies. The Resident Evil series, the original Dead Rising and the Left 4 Dead games were hits for a reason — but the idea eventually grew stale. The Last of Us and The Walking Dead overcame that zombie fatigue by offering strong, character-driven stories. Rebellion games’ Strange Brigade takes another approach: throw in a silly announcer inspired by 1930s British newsreels.

Okay, technically the game is more of a parody of serial adventure movies — loosely following the adventures of four heroes as they plunder cursed ruins for treasure and fight off waves of mystical enemies. Think of it as a cross between the sillier part of the Indiana Jones franchise and the absurd mystical elements of the Uncharted games. It’s a funny idea, but maybe not quite funny enough. There’s nothing wrong with Strange Brigade, but it generally doesn’t feel very unique.

My 20-minute demo with the game at E3 played very much like a lighthearted (and significantly less stressful) round of Left 4 Dead. Players explore several confined areas while picking hordes of various undead baddies with guns, grenades and mystical powers. The core gameplay works well and is fun, but that’s not surprising — the game plays exactly as it looks. That makes it predictable, though not at all bad. Strange Brigade leans hard on the tropes of its 1930s setting, littering the game world with traps that players can activate to take out enemies with spinning blades, hidden spears and discrete bursts of fire.

Even so, my E3 experience with the title fell flat — but as I reached the end of my play time, it was clear that it wasn’t because Strange Brigade is poorly designed. It’s because I was playing alone. The answer is in the game’s name: brigade. The title focuses on a team of peculiar, specialized hero who work together. I was fighting a mass of undead mummies all by myself.

The game is set to launch later this year on PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4. If you’re planning to play it alone, maybe skip it — but if you’re looking for a lighthearted, silly shooter to play with friends, it might be worth a look.

Follow all the latest news from E3 2017 here!


‘Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite’ and ‘Mega Man’ at E3 2017

Other than an impressive Monster Hunter World preview, the Capcom booth at E3 2017 is also home to demos for two big releases due later this year. Mega Man Legacy Collection 2 picks up where the first bundle left off, jumping into the 16-bit era with Mega Man 7, 8, 9 & 10. The pack will be released on PS4, Xbox One and PC August 8th for $20, and gamers who need an extra dose of nostalgia can dive into the archives of artwork or just play their favorite tracks.

For a more modern touch, the booth also has Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite on display. This iteration reverses the change 3v3 hero teams introduced with Marvel vs. Capcom 2, going back to a 2-on-2 tag team format. The story mode I played is also available now as a free demo on PS4 and Xbox One, where players can use the new Infinity Stones against Ultron’s minions. The new game has been criticized for its art style and smaller roster of characters — we could use most of the 24 it will launch with, far fewer than the 48 in Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3. Check out out game play above, along with two trailers embedded below.

Follow all the latest news from E3 2017 here!

Source: Capcom (1), (2)


Microsoft Executive Says iPad Pro Was Apple’s Response to Surface

Microsoft executive Ryan Gavin this week suggested Apple released the iPad Pro in response to its Surface devices, per Business Insider.

“When Surface initially launched, everyone was skeptical, including them,” said Gavin, general manager of Surface commercial devices at Microsoft. “And then they followed, and the iPad Pro is a clear example of that.”

Microsoft positions the latest Surface Pro, released on Thursday, as a “best-in-class laptop” with the “versatility of a studio and tablet.”

The new Surface Pro features Intel’s latest Kaby Lake processors and up to 13.5 hours of battery life on a single charge. The tablet-notebook hybrid can be configured with up to a 1TB SSD, up to 16GB RAM, and up to Intel Iris Plus 640 graphics, with a USB 3.0 port, microSD card reader, and Mini DisplayPort.

During a 2012 earnings call, when asked to comment on why the MacBook Air and iPad would not eventually converge, Apple CEO Tim Cook argued that combining the products would result in compromises.

“You can converge a toaster and a refrigerator but those won’t be pleasing to the user,” said Cook, a comment that Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella poked fun at four years later, alluding to the iPad Pro.

“I mean, take even Surface,” said Nadella, speaking to The Australian Financial Review. “Three years ago, the two-in-one as a form factor was questioned. Does anybody need one? And now guess what, even our competition has decided that it’s not a refrigerator and a toaster but it’s actually a two-in-one.”

While the iPad and Mac remain two fundamentally different products, the iPad Pro is Apple’s closest attempt at a two-in-one hybrid device.

Apple released the original iPad Pro with a large 12.9-inch display and Smart Keyboard in November 2015, over three years after Microsoft launched its first Surface tablet with a 10.6-inch display and detachable keyboard.

In contrast, the Surface was arguably Microsoft’s response to the iPad as a whole. Apple’s tablet launched in early 2010, and the Surface arrived in late 2012.

Cook has said the iPad Pro is a notebook or desktop computer replacement for “many, many people,” adding that “they will start using it and conclude they no longer need to use anything else, other than their phones.”

As for Microsoft following Apple? “We don’t really look at Apple,” said Gavin.

Tags: Microsoft, Microsoft Surface, Surface Pro
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Hints of iPhone 8 Showing Up in Web Analytics

Back in February, noted analyst Ming-Chi Kuo laid out his expectations for the display resolution on the so-called “iPhone 8,” a brand-new iPhone scheduled for release later this year that forgoes the traditional Home button and LCD screen in favor of an OLED display that fills essentially the entire front of the device.

Working from his expectations, we believe we are seeing increasing evidence of iPhone 8 devices visiting MacRumors. The numbers are unsurprisingly extremely low, but what we’re seeing matches what we’d expect from Kuo’s resolution claims. It has also become consistent enough that it’s increasingly unlikely these data points are fakes or one-off blips in our analytics.

According to Kuo, the iPhone 8 will feature a 5.8-inch display, but with a strip along the bottom of the display reserved for a “function area.” Details on exactly what the function area will be used for are unclear, but it will likely be some sort of dock-like area that could include fingerprint sensing, Home button functionality, and likely other dynamic icons and buttons for interacting with the device.

While Kuo says the overall 5.8-inch display will have a resolution of 1242 x 2800 pixels, he claims the active “display area” will measure 5.15 inches diagonally with a resolution of 1125 x 2436. That’s likely the screen size that would be presented to Safari and other apps as the usable display space.

Ever since the release of the iPhone 4 in 2010, Apple’s Retina displays have used pixel doubling or tripling to increase the sharpness of text and other elements shown on the screen. For example, the iPhone 7’s display has a native resolution of 750 x 1334, but it presents itself as a device running at half of those numbers in each dimension, or 375 x 667. This logical resolution, known as points, keeps screen content at reasonable sizes but with four pixels making up each point, thus allowing for increased sharpness.

Apple’s “Plus” sized iPhone displays with native resolutions of 1080 x 1920 are a bit more complicated, presenting themselves as devices running at 414 x 736 points but in “3x” mode so that a total of nine pixels would be used to make up a single point on the screen. This multiplication factor yields a rendered display resolution of 1242 x 2208, which is then scaled down to fit the actual 1080 x 1920 display.

Example from Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines showing increasing sharpness of 10 x 10 point image at 1x, 2x, and 3x
Taking a look at Kuo’s claimed resolution of 1125 x 2436 for the active display on the iPhone 8, this would neatly correspond to a 3x Retina display at 375 x 812 points, exactly the same width in points as the iPhone 7 but taller. (A 5.15-inch display area at an 1125 x 2436 ratio would actually be slightly narrower physically than the iPhone 7’s display, so content would appear slightly smaller on the screen at around 174 points per inch rather than the 163 points per inch of the iPhone 7.)

With iPhone 8 models having been in testing for many months now and production likely to start ramping up soon, it’s likely some of these devices are being used to browse the web, and every once in a while one of them may visit MacRumors. Checking into our analytics, we are indeed seeing some activity from devices reporting themselves as having displays of 375 x 812.

Visits to MacRumors from devices reporting themselves as iOS devices running at 375 x 812
Aside from a couple of visits last September, we didn’t see substantial activity from devices reporting themselves with resolutions of 375 x 812 until March, and even then things were very sparse until late May when things began to pick up. Since June 1, we’ve been seeing anywhere between one and four visits from these devices nearly every day. All of them are also reporting themselves as running iOS 11.0, which is both unsurprising and reassuring, given that the iPhone 8 will undoubtedly ship with iOS 11 as its operating system in the fall.

A handful of the visits came from IP addresses controlled by Apple, but even those coming from other IPs are localized to Cupertino or nearby cities of Sunnyvale and San Francisco when such data is available.

The number of visits we’ve seen from these devices is extremely low, totaling roughly three dozen sessions. We do on occasion see strange resolutions being reported by devices in our analytics, but the regularity with which we’re seeing this resolution pop up suggests that this is likely a real device.

The 375 x 812 resolution is also the only one we’re currently seeing appear associated with iOS 11 devices that can’t be explained by an existing product. We similarly saw devices reporting a resolution of 834 x 1132 over a period of months leading up to last week’s launch of the 10.5-inch iPad Pro, which corresponded to the 1668 x 2224 Retina display that was rumored for and ultimately appeared on the device.

Apple is expected to unveil the iPhone 8 and more traditional “iPhone 7s” and “iPhone 7s Plus” models around the usual September timeframe for iPhone updates, although rumors have suggested supplies of the iPhone 8 could be extremely tight for up to several months after the official debut.

Related Roundup: iPhone 8
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