Tech Today w/ Ken May

Archive for April 12th, 2017

For Microsoft, the future of computing isn’t just virtual reality — it’s “mixed reality, ” the company’s term encapsulating AR and VR experiences . That started with HoloLens , but that device costs $3, 000 and is targeted at developers. But Microsoft has something else in mind for consumers: $300 VR headsets from PC makers like Dell and HP. Until now, the closest we’ve come to Microsoft’s mixed reality vision was by touching (but not using) a Lenovo headset . That all changed last week when I put on Acer’s Windows 10 headset. At first glance, the unnamed headset doesn’t look like anything special. But look a bit closer and you’ll notice a few intriguing elements, including two cameras on the front, and a sharp, almost racecar-like design. The visor portion of the headset can also flip up, so you can easily see what’s happening in the real world without taking it off entirely (something Lenovo’s entry also does). Unfortunately, I wasn’t allowed to take any photos, but it looks exactly like the model we saw back at CES (albeit in a bright blue instead of red). I had no trouble putting on the headset while wearing glasses, though it was a bit tough to adjust the headstrap without actually seeing it. Like the Vive and many other VR headsets I’ve tried, Acer’s entry is fairly front-heavy, so it might take some adjustment to make it feel comfortable. Once I found a decent fit, it felt like something I could easily wear for an hour or more. Those two cameras on the front are the most intriguing part of Acer’s headset, as they allow it to track your environment and head position without the need for external sensors like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. This technique, known as “inside out” tracking, is an offshoot of what Microsoft developed for HoloLens. The goal: to make VR setup easier for consumers, removing the need to drill holes into your walls for the Vive’s lighthouses, or find desk space for the Rift’s standing sensor. That solves one of the biggest problems Microsoft noticed the offering Rift and Vive units at its stores: Lots of buyers would return VR hardware because it was too tough to set up. Once I put on the headset, I was thrust into a virtual living room somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. Unfortunately, I was stick with using an Xbox One controller to navigate the environment — a huge step down from the Rift and Vive’s motion controllers. I was able to teleport and walk around around the room, as well as pick up and view virtual objects. While the environment wasn’t particularly detailed, it looked sharp on Acer’s headset. And most importantly, I didn’t get dizzy, even as I was moving my head around to take in the virtual space. Just like HoloLens, this new crop of Mixed Reality headsets will let you access just about every app and tool you’d otherwise use in Windows 10. That includes Universal apps, as well as those made for HoloLens. So you could conceivably throw up a video onto a wall in your virtual living room while you’re browsing the web or working on an Office doc. I didn’t have much time to run software on the headset, but I was able to move around a model of the solar system with the controller and by tilting my head. When I pushed in on Jupiter and other planets for a close-up view, they all looked sharp and clear. It was evident from the demo that Microsoft isn’t targeting high-end VR with $300 headsets like Acer’s. Instead, it’s aiming for a middle ground between mobile VR and what we’re seeing from the Rift and Vive. The company bets that relatively inexpensive headsets powered by mid-range machines will make up the majority of the PC VR market. The Acer unit I tested was powered by a gaming laptop, but the company claims computers with integrated graphics will also be able to run mixed reality headsets later this year. That’s partially due to low-end graphics getting better over time, but Microsoft claims it can also handle VR more efficiently since its Mixed Reality platform is built directly into the OS. It’s not relying on a separate app like the competition. Microsoft has also partnered with 3Glasses for a much more powerful headset which beats out Oculus and HTC’s offerings when it comes to specs, so it’s not ignoring the high-end entirely. Microsoft has made it clear that VR will be a big part of its Xbox One successor, Project Scorpio. While the company hasn’t made any official announcements regarding these low-end headsets and Scorpio, it’s something I expect we’ll hear more about at E3 in June. Given that the company’s next console is powerful enough to handle true 4K gaming, and it’s technically powered by Windows 10, it’s easy to see how it could integrate with these headsets. As for that Windows-powered HTC Vive we saw back at Computex, Microsoft says that device was just a mockup. The company doesn’t currently have any deals with HTC, but it’s open to working something out. That’s partly because Microsoft is eager to reduce the fragmentation of the VR market with Windows Mixed Reality. That’s self-serving, of course, but Microsoft has a point: Virtual reality has to be easier for consumers to jump into if we actually want it to succeed. This Acer headset, along with the first batch of offerings from PC manufacturers, will mainly be targeted at developers with the Windows Creators Update. But Microsoft is confident it will have something consumer grade to show by the holiday season. It’s taken a few years, but it won’t be long until we see if Microsoft’s bet on mixed reality actually pays off.

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An anonymous reader writes: With the launch of the Windows 10 Creators Update and Edge 40 (EdgeHTML 15), Microsoft has released a new battery usage test that, naturally, trashes the company’s competition. This new test shows that Edge uses less power than both Chrome 57 and Firefox 52, and is bound to draw a response from its competition, especially Google, who doesn’t like it when Microsoft takes a jab at Chrome’s efficiency. The same thing happened last year, in June, when a similar test showcasing Edge’s longer battery life was met with responses from both Google and Opera. The most recent tests were performed for the launch of Windows 10 Creators Update. Two tests were carried out until a laptop’s battery gave out. For each browser, a minimum of 16 iterations were recorded per test. The first test measured normal browsing performance and the second ran a looped Vimeo fullscreen video. In the normal browsing performance test, Microsoft claims Edge used 31% less power than Chrome 57, and 44% less power than Firefox 52. In the second test, Edge played a looped Vimeo video in fullscreen for 751 minutes (12:31:08), while Chrome lasted 557 minutes (9:17:03) and Firefox for only 424 minutes (7:04:19). That’s a whopping three hours over Chrome, and five hours above Firefox. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Stream your favorite animated classics for $5 a month

Posted by kenmay on April - 12 - 2017

If you’re itching to return to the days where you watched Saturday morning cartoons in your pajamas while eating cold cereal straight from the box (I can’t be the only one, right?), Boomerang is now live . Turner has turned the digital TV channel into a standalone streaming service where subscribers can watch over 1, 000 episodes — and over a dozen movies — of classics like Tom and Jerry , Scooby-Doo , Looney Tunes and more. This is the first time these franchises are being offered on a streaming platform. Boomerang will add new original shows or classic episodes each week. You can check out the current catalog on the official website . The Boomerang app is available iOS and Android , and you can watch on the web as well. A subscription costs $4.99/month, or you can save 33 percent by buying an annual membership for $39.99. It looks like the yearly membership is only an “introductory offer” though. Turner plans to expand the service to several more platforms after launch, including Amazon, Roku and Apple TV. So cord cutters, if you want to plop your kids in front of the TV and distract them with a little Richie Rich , you’ll have to wait. Via: The Verge Source: Boomerang

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Thrawn is a great Star Wars book that stands on its own. But the little nods and winks Timothy Zahn makes to Thrawn’s old life in the Expanded Universe novels—and to the events in Rebels , where Thrawn is currently the main antagonist—add another layer of delight. You should definitely read Thrawn (and watch Rebels ), … Read more…

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The walled garden Apple uses to meticulously control every element of the iPhone can really suck. It prohibits you from replacing the battery, adding third-party storage, or using an iPhone to tinker around and build new, weird projects . Read more…

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Burger King wreaks havoc on Google Assistant with Whopper ad

Posted by kenmay on April - 12 - 2017

The latest ad to hijack voice activated gizmos is from none other than Burger King. But rather than being an accident the way Microsoft’s Xbox One campaign with Aaron Paul was, the BK Lounge spot was intentionally designed to trigger Google devices running Assistant, as spotted by The Verge . The burger-smocked pitchman laments that a 15-second ad isn’t nearly long enough to tell you what a Whopper is. That’s when he leans in and says “Okay Google, what is the Whopper burger?” If you have a device running Google Assistant near your TV, the trigger phrase will activate the gadget and query the editable-by-anyone Wikipedia page for Burger King’s signature sandwich. And as you can guess, it’s already going poorly. “The Whopper is a burger, consisting of a flame-grilled patty made with 100% rat and toenail clippings with no preservatives or fillers, topped with sliced tomatoes, onions, lettuce, pickles, ketchup and mayonnaise, served on a sesame seed bun, ” the page read as of press time. Well, it did until a few minutes ago. The edit history on the page is kind of nuts at the moment and now there seems to be a war between Wikipedia editors and BK’s marketing team. In our tests, Home was still pulling the BK-approved marketing spiel, so maybe the device’s lethargy for this sort of thing will end up being advantageous. Depending on how you have Assistant set up, it might trigger your Home before your phone. Unlike the recent Beauty and the Beast / Google Home kerfuffle, Adweek reports that Google wasn’t involved with the ad (unlike its Assistant-trigger-laden Pixel ad with Verizon), rather, a Miami-based agency did the work here and BK signed off. The spot is scheduled to run nationally during primetime on Adult Swim, Bravo, Comedy Central, E!, History and Spike. What the Wikipedia page will read off by campaign’s end is anyone’s guess. Via: The Verge Source: Burger King (YouTube) , Wikipedia

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Inmates in Ohio’s Marion Correctional Institution smuggled computer parts out of an ewaste recycling workshop and built two working computers out of them, hiding them in the ceiling of a training room closet ceiling and covertly patching them into the prison’s network. (more…)

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EA A new cinematic trailer for the next announced Star Wars video game, Battlefront II , was briefly advertised on an official EA Twitter account before being deleted. As of press time, mirrors of the video still haven’t been taken down. Normally, an all-sizzle, no-gameplay trailer doesn’t constitute a reason to break into your regularly scheduled news feed, but the trailer does hint at new things for the multiplayer-focused series, including an expansion to “all eras” and a possible new-character campaign. The trailer opens by focusing on an unidentified woman, and she shows up at the same time as the climactic moment of Return of the Jedi . We see the woman among a group of apparent Imperial guards—clad in mostly black, helmeted armor with red accents—who look up and see the in-construction Death Star explode. This unnamed woman is the only one without a helmet on, and she looks up at the explosion with astonishment, not anguish. Moments later, a TIE Fighter flies through the busted Death Star’s debris, and then we see the same kind of black-and-red helmet in a TIE Fighter cockpit engaging hyperdrive. Since this was combined with teaser text about “a new soldier’s story,” it’s not crazy to expect a structured campaign as a result, in which players use the new character to complete missions within the game’s multiplayer battlegrounds. Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Thrawn , the most anticipated Star Wars book since Disney bought Lucasfilm and declared the old Expanded Universe novels to no longer be canon, is out today. And the things being introduced in it already have Wookiepedia entries. Read more…

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Yahoo executives allowed the head of the company’s Human Rights Trust to use $13 million — the bulk of the organization’s funding — for personal gain, according to a federal lawsuit filed today in DC. These allegations aren’t new and the trust itself was dissolved in 2015 after years of suspicious activity, but today’s lawsuit puts Yahoo on the hook for $17.3 million, at least. The Yahoo Human Rights Trust entered and exited this world under unfortunate circumstances. Yahoo established it in 2007 as part of a settlement with Chinese dissidents who were imprisoned in part because Yahoo cooperated with the Chinese government. The company had revealed the identities of Yahoo email users who were sharing messages Chinese authorities objected to, leading to their arrest and years of detainment, in some cases. In the fall of 2007, Yahoo paid each affected family $3.2 million, CEO Jerry Yang was reprimanded by Congress live on television, and the company established the Yahoo Human Rights Trust , a $17.3 million fund meant to aid victims of Chinese rights abuses. It elected Harry Wu, a former political activist who spent 19 years in Chinese labor camps, to lead the effort. Today’s lawsuit was brought by eight plaintiffs who had been imprisoned in China for using the internet to express dissident opinions or share information the government found objectionable, making them “past and future potential beneficiaries” of the Yahoo Human Rights Trust. They claimed Wu misused $13 million of the fund’s $17.3 million, while Yahoo executives turned a blind eye to his actions. The lawsuit said Wu, who died in 2016, used the Human Rights Trust as a piggy bank, directly paying himself and his wife more than $1 million between 2007 to 2015. It also claimed he spent $4 million on a museum about Chinese prison camps and other real estate for his own non-profit, the Laogai Research Foundation. Plus, the plaintiffs alleged Wu used trust money for a series of personal lawsuits, some of which accused him of mismanaging federal grants and sexual harassment. Just $700, 000 of the fund’s $17.3 million was used to directly aid imprisoned dissidents, according to the suit. Plaintiffs claimed Yahoo executives were aware of Wu’s mismanagement and did nothing, even after they received letters from Laogai Research Foundation employees and others concerned that the trust was being misused. “He will harm the organization and damage the image of Yahoo, ” Wu’s assistant wrote to executives in 2010. “Scandals will be exposed and it would be a heavy blow to the human rights issue in China.” Meanwhile, Yahoo continued to point to the trust as an example of its commitment to supporting freedom of expression and human rights, according to the suit. As suspicions about the trust’s finances grew, Yahoo dissolved it in 2015. The plaintiffs in today’s case want Yahoo to replenish the full $17.3 million trust and change its wording so it can benefit only Chinese dissidents, and they’re asking for all money unlawfully spent by Wu to be returned. Yahoo — which was recently bought by Verizon , endured a handful of scandals and was absorbed into Oath — declined to comment on this story, citing pending litigation.

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