Tag Archives: Gadget Reviews

Google explains the Pixel 2’s super-stable video recording

The system starts off by collecting motion info from both OIS and the phone’s gyroscope, making sure it’s in “perfect” sync with the image. But it’s what happens next that matters most: Google uses a “lookahead” filtering algorithm that pushes image frames into a deferred queue and uses machine learning to predict where you’re likely to move the phone next. This corrects for a wider range of movement than OIS alone, and can counteract common video quirks like wobbling, rolling shutter (the distortion effect where parts of the frame appear to lag behind) or focus hunting. The algorithmic method even introduces virtual motion to mask wild variations in sharpness when you move the phone quickly.

This isn’t to say that Google’s approach is flawless. As others have noted, the Pixel 2 can crop the frame in unexpected ways and blur low light footage more than it should. On the balance, though, this shows just how much AI-related technology can help with video. It can erase typical errors that EIS or OIS might not catch by themselves, and produces footage so smooth it can look like it was captured with the help of a gimbal.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2017/11/12/google-explains-the-pixel-2s-super-stable-video-recording/

After Math: Well that’s helpful

138 MeV: That’s how much energy a pair of quarks would theoretically give off if smashed together hard enough. That’s eight times the amount of energy you get when smashing hydrogen atoms. And, since it should only take 130 MeV to successfully smoosh them, researchers believe they may have discovered the world’s next clean energy source. Assuming, of course, that doing so doesn’t first rip open a breach in the space-time continuum.

10 feet per second: That’s how fast NASA’s Active Response Gravity Offload System (ARGOS) can accelerate a 300 pound load, including astronauts training for off-world expeditions.

100 miles: That’s how far Daimler’s new all-electric school bus can travel before needing a recharge. Eat your heart out Miss Frizzle.

1 million: That’s how many times Ford’s automotive assembly workers have to lift their hands above their heads every year. To combat the recurring stress and shoulder injuries that often come along with such activities, the car company has begun testing out non-powered assistive exosuits to shift the load from man to machine.

100,000: That’s how many Puerto Ricans could have their internet connections restored once Google fills the skies above the island nation with its Project Loon Wi-Fi balloons.

1 hour: That’s how long Las Vegas’ new autonomous shuttle bus managed to be on the road before getting into its first fender bender. Hopefully they’ll work out the bug by the time CES rolls around in January.

50: That’s how many characters Twitter users can now leverage for their cleverest of account names, never mind the fact that you can’t read the entire thing from the timeline.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2017/11/12/after-math-well-thats-helpful/

Hasbro offers to buy Mattel as tech pressures the toy world

Hasbro is likely taking advantage of Mattel’s relative weakness. While Hasbro has been riding high on sales of Disney-themed toys (including Star Wars) as well as licenses for movies and TV, Mattel is in the midst of turning around years of failed toy lines that weighed it down. Also, the two are complementary: where Hasbro ditched its manufacturing facilities a while ago, it would get some back with a Mattel deal. There are concerns that a Hasbro/Mattel pact could violate US antitrust law by creating a dominant toy maker, but it’s not certain that a union would face scrutiny as tough as for, say, a telecom.

If a deal did go ahead, it would reflect the tech industry’s increasingly firm grip on kids’ free time. Although Hasbro clearly has the upper hand, both it and Mattel have to compete with consoles and tablets — how do you get parents to buy Barbie playhouses when video games beckon? It could have long-term consequences for connected toys, too. Hasbro would have a larger stable of tech-driven toys, and could fold Mattel’s know-how into its own projects.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2017/11/11/hasbro-offers-to-buy-mattel-as-tech-pressures-the-toy-world/

I spent a day working in Windows 10 Mixed Reality

Before I go any further, I should tell you not to try this at your workplace. Keeping yourself in virtual reality for that long at a time, especially without frequent breaks, can be taxing on your eyes and possibly even your mental health.

I started my day with our usual editorial meeting and then plugged in an Acer Mixed Reality Headset to my office-issued Dell XPS 15. Setup was a breeze, but then I had a decision to make. I needed to keep my mouse and keyboard if I wanted to maintain my normal workflow. We had the motion controllers in the lab, but I might hit my colleagues next to me and behind me. Since I like my colleagues, I opted for an Xbox One controller to move around the Cliff House. After all, I had to stay at my desk, facing forward.

I picked a spot in the virtual house with two walls (one in front of me, one behind me) and a beautiful lake view with a tree and some floating islands. It’s the closest I’ve ever come to a corner office. On both walls, I started to open a few windows, and there was my first hiccup: You can use only a few apps from the Microsoft Store.

To get around not having HipChat, I logged in through the Edge browser. But my bookmarks and tools are in Chrome, so I had to open up a virtual version of my desktop and place it on a wall. I also use TweetDeck, Firefox, Sublime Text, Photoshop and a number of other apps that don’t work natively in Windows Mixed Reality. Since I use three monitors at once, I placed them on both walls and turned as necessary to see them.

If this sounds tiring, that’s because it is. Eventually, I made one big monitor my main view and switched it between my three desktops with a dedicated button as necessary. Of course, that meant I missed out on some emails and messages. While Outlook’s notifications are built into Windows, HipChat’s aren’t, so they didn’t pop up in the Cliff House.

When I was writing in a Google Doc, the system was usable. The text wasn’t all that crisp, and I could see the pixels, and the Acer headset’s 1440 x 1440 lenses have blurry peripheral vision. But it was only when I needed to use multiple programs at once that the experience got hectic. At first, I would flail wildly with the Xbox controller, researching, then typing, and back again. Whether I did that or clicked back and forth between monitors, it was kind of a mess. You can have only one virtual desktop running at a time, too. The rest go to sleep unless you click on them and actively use them.

Of course, before getting to do any work, I was constantly adjusting my distance from the document, as it was too big or too small. Eventually, I hit my Goldilocks position and tried to stay there as much as possible.

And there were other hiccups. When viewed through the headset, my desktop just didn’t respond to some clicks, or needed to be clicked multiple times. I couldn’t tell you why, but sending a new email in Outlook required multiple tries, as did creating a new Google Doc.

At one point, I needed another browser window. I tossed Edge on a wall over my right shoulder and had to walk over to it when I needed to reference it. When I came back, I lost my Goldilocks spot and had to find it again. And every time I tried to place a cursor somewhere, the VR keyboard would pop up, even though I was using a real keyboard, and I swatted it closed like I was squashing a fly.

Once, when I was researching a product on Amazon, I hit a key combination and the entire website fell off the wall. I couldn’t pin the site back, so I deleted it and created a new version to pin it back against the wall where it belonged.

All of this, of course, slowed me down. I wasn’t as productive as I would have been with proper monitors, and, perhaps, proper socialization.

Besides all of the technical issues, there were social problems. We have an open office, and I sit among all of my colleagues. While I could hear their voices with the headset on, I couldn’t see them, and I felt isolated from the rest of the team, trapped in a dream-house-turned-prison. I was lonely. I didn’t dare put headphones on, lest I lose my grip on reality entirely.

It’s also strange to go that long without seeing your hands, especially when using a keyboard and mouse. I’m a pretty solid touch typist, but without the peripheral vision of my own appendages, I started to disassociate the touching with the typing.

At one point early in the morning, I grabbed my water bottle, only to find that the headset jutting off of my face blocked the bottle from reaching my mouth. Luckily, I could flip up the visor without taking the whole headset off.

Remember when I said you need breaks? By 12:30 p.m., my eyes were dry and tired, and I was never happier to go get a salad in my life. Since it was a break, I took half an hour without the headset. I felt better, and besides, I couldn’t see my salad in VR.

Otherwise, I was in the headset unless I had to leave my desk. I learned to savor any time when someone needed me on the other side of the office, though that was infrequent. Bathroom breaks were a chance to rest my eyes. When I looked in the mirror while washing my hands, I noticed a big red mark at my hairline, where the top of the headset was resting. I was quite uncomfortable.

By 3 p.m., I was wondering, “Should I have consulted with an ophthalmologist first? Why didn’t I elect for our company’s vision insurance benefit?” As the day went on, the image and pixelation looked worse.

Speaking of the time, it’s tough to hit a deadline in VR. The Cliff House is like a casino — it has no clocks — so it’s hard to tell how much time you’ve spent there. My options were to hit the Windows key, which brought up a version of the Start menu; open an empty desktop to see the task bar; or, in my descent into madness, frantically type, “What time is it?” into Google.

Unable to see the outside world, I opened myself up to all sorts of practical jokes. Many colleagues took photos of me working with the headset on. Senior writer Caitlin McGarry posted one on Twitter (have you ever been on Twitter in VR? It’s awful), which was then retweeted not by other colleagues, but Tom’s Guide itself.

Of course, there were a few positives. Once the oddity of me sitting there in the Acer headset became more normal to my co-workers, there were fewer points during the day when they bothered me unnecessarily (though I would’ve welcomed the interruptions, considering the loneliness thing). I could also goof off a bit if I wanted. Edge browser windows in the Cliff House that aren’t on your desktop don’t show up to anyone but you, so no one would know if I was wasting time (which I totally wasn’t, Boss, I swear!).

At the end of the day, with a bit of headband sweat and tired, dreary eyes, I managed to write out one last article: this one. Now, I’m going to take this headset off, shut down my computer and spend some time outside with real people. Maybe tomorrow I won’t see pixels anymore.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2017/11/11/i-spent-a-day-working-in-windows-10-mixed-reality/

Disney CEO says their streaming service will be cheaper than Netflix

“I can say that our plan on the Disney side is to price this substantially below where Netflix is. That is in part reflective of the fact that it will have substantially less volume,” Robert A. Iger, Chairman and CEO of The Walt Disney Company said. “It’ll have a lot of high quality because of the brands and the franchises that will be on it that we’ve talked about. But it’ll simply launch with less volume, and the price will reflect that.”

The company’s goal after launching the service will be to attract subscribers. Iger mentioned the potential in offers to folks with a Disney credit card, members of its various clubs and frequent visitors to its theme parks. As the service’s content library grows — say, with an upcoming live-action Star Wars show — the company could “have the pricing over time reflect the added volume,” Iger said.

Per their prior agreement, Netflix users will still have access to Disney films through the end of 2019, including movies opening in theaters throughout 2018. Disney’s ESPN streaming service will launch early next year and aims to feature 10,000 games annually.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2017/11/10/disney-ceo-says-their-streaming-service-will-be-cheaper-than-net/

AI’s latest application: wasting email scammers’ time

To keep things believable, each bot has a persona of sorts, ranging from an old man asking “The Illuminati” if they have a bingo night, to someone who replies in ALL CAPS and countless variations in between. For now, the benevolent bots speak with New Zealand colloquialisms, but with each successive use they’ll adapt to different lexicons.

Fighting scammers using tech isn’t anything new, but using machine learning to do it is pretty unique. For example, over the summer on YouTube user crafted a bit of code to flood the phone lines of ne’er-do-wells 28 times per-second with a pre-recorded message detailing exactly what was happening. That’s a bit of table-turning we can all probably get behind.

The video below strikes familiar if you’ve ever seen A Scanner Darkly; the morphing faces are basically a slow-moving version of the film’s scrambler suits. If you’re curious what the bots are capable of before you start forwarding your emails, hit the source link below for a quick demo conversation.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2017/11/10/ai-email-scammer-countermeasure/