Features

Driving virtual reality and beyond

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In between breaks covering Paris Games Week this week I take quick power naps.

2015 has been an exciting but exhausting year. So much has happened already, but as the year winds down, there is still a lot of check out, and plenty to write about. Just like in real life, it appears there’s never really any rest in the world of console gaming, and industry leader Sony hopes to keep it that way.

Amidst a sea of oversized blue balloons imprinted with square, circle, x and triangle symbols, I make my way through the throng of gaming fanatics hoping to get some play time with yet to be released titles from next season. There is an electric energy inside the Paris Expo, particularly in and around the Playstation booth. It’s been 20 years since the original Playstation was released, and the festivities today are as much a celebration of that, as much as they are of the games themselves.

Sony PlayStation celebrates 20 years this year.

BIG 20. Sony PlayStation celebrates 20 years at Paris Games Week 2015.

A mile-long queue has formed in front of the PlayStation VR demos. Slots have been pre-booked days in advance, anyone wanting to give it a shot today is out of luck. Word on the street is that a commercial launch for Sony’s virtual reality headset is slated for the first half of 2016, but there are already several demos you can try today, and with each show the experience gets better.

There’s a preview reel you can look up on YouTube (see clip above) that runs through several upcoming titles that are expected to ship when PlayStation VR does. If there were any doubts about the how virtual reality will change the dynamics of game play, all that should be quashed today.

RIGS mechanized combat league

RIGS mechanized combat league is coming to Playstation VR

One of those new games Rigs: Mechanized Combat League is playable at Paris Games Week (PGW). One of the few multiplayer VR games around, think of Rigs like an extra dirty, extra defensive game of basketball played on machines. The demo for PGW is set in futuristic Dubai, with players on machines with feet that resemble blade runners. While this team sport is akin to basketball, in the game there is no ball, instead actual players must plunge themselves into oversized rings to score. Getting there involves a sometimes perilous journey that includes a fast paced chase through a maze of structures, there’s lots of running, leaping, and head switching.

If there’s anyone who knows more about these games and everything else in the PlayStation pipeline its Shuhei Yoshida, President of Worldwide Studios at Sony Computer Entertainment.   

Shuhei Yoshida

BEST JOB EVER. Shuhei Yoshida is Sony’s Head of Worldwide Gaming Studios.

Appropriate for a man whose main function is to oversee the creation of games, Yoshida is a kid at heart, a superhero character (yep look up Super Time Force Ultra) who spends as much time on his PS Vita as he does on Twitter fielding questions from fans.

At an intimate chat session this week in Paris, a jet lagged Yoshida was glowing from the warm reception for his company’s latest announcements, and bullish about the prospect of PlayStation VR and virtual reality in general. “Because there are so many creative people working on this technology, there will be many great results will come out, and it will be sooner than later,” he said.

For its part Sony is working behind the scenes to push the technology forward, “From a platform standpoint we have the responsibility to show examples of what virtual reality can do. Virtual reality games have to feel natural, you really have to design the game from the ground up.”

For this to happen Yoshida believes, game design has to change. It’s not about repurposing existing titles and slapping on VR support, but about rethinking what works for VR and how VR can enhance the experience.

But virtual reality is not just about gaming.

While gaming has been the logical first application of this new technology, it will soon change the way we consume other types of content. Earlier this month, as part of promotional efforts for the film “The Walk” about high wire artist Philippe Petit who crossed a tight rope between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in 1974, the PlayStation VR gave fans a feel of how that death defying walk actually felt like.

I’ve experienced vertigo while playing a virtual reality game before, and seeing how VR technology and film making can work in tandem to create entirely new, emotional experiences is mind blowing. Yoshida says these two will merge soon, and at the center of it is the PlayStation – not just a gaming console anymore.

But perhaps we’re getting ahead of ourselves. While VR promises to redefine the gaming landscape. The present, and to a certain degree the future are still all about new titles coming to the world’s most popular gaming console. Earlier this year at the annual Electronics Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles, the gaming word’s biggest stage, I thought I had reached my quota for PS4 announcements, but there are a lot more titles coming.

There’s a game called Super Rude Bear Resurrection from independent Game Developer Alex Rose who tells me, he’s been working on his first PlayStation game with a small team of 3, for just over 8 months now. That game was ready to play at PGW. It’s not hugely popular like those from the usual game houses, but it’s a testament to the breadth of Sony’s developer ecosystem. One that Yoshida tells me his company is going to great lengths to grow and nurture.

Among the marquee titles that I had the chance to preview this week, two upcoming games excite me the most.

Wild for PlayStation 4

WILD. Explore a harsh world where man and beast can become one.

One is called Wild, set in a vast world, beautiful but filled with dangers. It’s an open world game that’s about exploration and survival. Conquering forces of nature and asserting dominance over other animals that live amongst you.   

Unchartered 4 is a much anticipated third-person shooter, and possibly the last in this series. Developer Naughty Dog is calling it the culmination of the franchise, and is upping the anti with a multiplayer mode that ramps up the cinematic experience in glorious 60 frames per second, fights that are faster but longer, and with the added dimension of side-kicks and supernatural power-ups.

But the game that Yoshida is most excited about is called Dreams. Initially I had trouble wrapping my head around what kind of game Dreams is. Its developers aren’t 100% sure either, “We don’t know what it will become,” they say those who participate in the beta will make that clear. Perhaps the confusion is because the game can be about many things, expression and performance, creation and play.

Dreams for PlayStation 4

DREAMS is not just a game, its a platform for creating content.

But more importantly it a platform, a platform for game developers, animators and story tellers. If the game kicks off users will be able to design dream sequences, create mini walk throughs, or develop their own animated short films.

Yoshida has a sparkle in his eye as he talks about his new baby, “Dreams is an amazing project. It’s a serious creation platform for people who like to create. This is your chance to create something amazing.”

The technology behind Dreams is likewise pretty amazing, the game uses a completely new rendering engine, not polygons which is traditionally used to create 3D computers graphics. In and of itself it is a testament to the power behind the PS4, also the reason why this year’s crop of games are more realistic than ever before.

“Next year’s games look amazing,” said Yoshida, “2-3 years after will be even more.”


 “PlayStation: Driving virtual reality and beyond” was first published in The Philippine Star on November 2, 2015. The Philippine Star Technology Section is printed every Monday, and is also available as a digital download from digitaledition.philstar.com

[irp posts=”3647″ name=”Sony PlayStation VR gets global release”]

Features

Mate 20 series offers a solid lineup: Weekend Rewind

There’s a Mate 20 for everyone!

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Here are this week’s top stories on GadgetMatch.

1. Huawei offers plenty of things with their Mate 20 Series

Huawei could very well fill up this week’s entire rewind with the whole Mate 20 series. In total, they released four new smartphones along with two wearables during their event in London. Here’s all of them.

Mate 20 and Mate 20 Pro

These were the devices most of us expected to see. The Mate 20 Pro is probably the most feature-packed phone of 2018. They brought in everything that was good with the P20 Pro and added a few wait-hold-up-did-it-really-do-that features like reverse wireless charging.

Watch the Mate 20 Pro Hands-on…

And our Mate 20 Unboxing while you’re here.

Porsche Design Mate 20 RS

If you have an excessive amount of money to spend (please give us some), you can opt for the more luxurious Mate 20 RS. It has all the bells and whistles of the Mate 20 Pro but with the leatherback Porsche Design. It’ll come in two colors: Black in select markets and in a limited edition Red in China.

Mate 20 X

This was announced as Huawei’s one more big thing. Big, it truly is. Coming with a massive 7.2-inch display, the Mate 20 X is being marketed as a gaming smartphone. It even pairs with a gamepad for that ultimate gaming experience.

Huawei Watch GT and Band Pro 3

These two wearables mostly flew under the radar but they are still worth taking note of. The Huawei Watch GT, while waterproof and equipped with fitness features, is the more lifestyle model thanks to its design. The Huawei Band Pro 3 is the more straightforward health tracker and something you probably shouldn’t wear at formal gatherings.

2. Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 getting hype ahead of launch

In case you haven’t been keeping up, there’s already a handful of smartphones released in October and there’s a handful more coming. One of them is Xiaomi’s Mi Mix 3 which is slated for an October 25 launch and is rumored to have a whopping 10GB of RAM and 5G connectivity.

Xiaomi also released a teaser showcasing the device’s sliding camera feature.

3. Palm breaking trend of bigger phones

Tired of phones getting bigger and bigger? Palm came back this week and offered a different approach with the Palm phone. It’s not exactly a standalone smartphone and is really meant to be more of a Robin to the Batman which is your daily driver. At this point, we’re not sure how useful it’ll be but if you’re curious, it’s priced at US$ 349.

4. OnePlus 6T moves launch date

Speaking of more phones coming, the OnePlus 6T, which was reported to come with a smaller notch, an in-display fingerprint scanner along with the usual performance we’ve come to expect from the company, was forced to move its launch to October 29 with OnePlus CEO and founder Pete Lau saying they want “to make sure it gets the time and attention it deserves.”

Why wouldn’t it get the attention during its initial launch date? Well, it’s because of this next news item.

5. Apple wants to end October with a bang

Whether intentional or not, looks like Apple isn’t done announcing things and they want to be the one to cap off October with their own launch event. After announcing the iPhone XS, XS Max, and XR, the company is expected to unveil a new iPad Pro with Face ID, and possibly a low-cost MacBook or MacBook Air as reported by Bloomberg.


Weekend Rewind is our roundup of top news and features you might have missed for the week. We know the world of technology can be overwhelming and not everyone has the time to get up to speed with everything — and that includes us. So sit back, relax, and enjoy the rewind.

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Smartphones

Huawei Mate 20 and Mate 20 Pro Unboxing

What’s inside the box?

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You already know how impressed we were during the hands-on, so now it’s time to see what comes in the package of Huawei’s newest flagships. This is our Huawei Mate 20 and Mate 20 Pro unboxing.

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Hands-On

Cherry Mobile Flare S7 Plus hands-on: A step-up

The company’s greatest contender

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Cherry Mobile recently launched their new Flare S7 series, which is essentially their main smartphone lineup for the year. The greatest offering among the bunch is the Flare S7 Plus, a device with all the specifications and features you’d expect from a 2018 phone.

Since it’s from Cherry Mobile, you’d expect the phone to be cheap, right? Price-wise, it is, but that doesn’t mean it’s just another affordable phone.

Here’s what I got to say about the Flare S7 Plus.

Cherry Mobile has officially joined the notch wagon with a borderless 6.18-inch display. It’s a Full HD+ panel with a 19:9 aspect ratio, and it’s Cherry Mobile’s best display yet.

It’s vibrant and produces vivid colors, but the user interface kind of ruins the beauty of the display. It’s best to download your preferred third-party launcher and customize to your heart’s content.

Unlike with other midrange phones, the Flare S7 Plus’ notch is pretty wide and there’s a reason for it. The phone is equipped with more advanced facial recognition hardware including an IR camera. This ensures higher accuracy, faster unlocking, and even better face detection in low-light.

If you’re not a fan of face unlock, you can always resort to the fingerprint sensor placed on the back of the phone. Based on my usage, the fingerprint reader is faster most of the time than the face unlock. Good thing you have the best of both worlds.

Now that we’re on the back of the phone, let’s talk about another special feature of the Flare S7 Plus. Finally, Cherry Mobile embraces a more elegant design using a glass back and metal frame. I was told that they used Gorilla Glass 3 on both sides, so it won’t scratch easily in your pocket or on the table.

Since we we have a glass back, it’s possible to put in wireless charging and the company did just that. Simply place the phone on any Qi standard wireless charger, and let the magic happen.

It’s not exactly magic per se, but it’s amazing to have your phone charge by placing it on a table. This phone costs less than half of most flagships that don’t even support wireless charging.

Of course, you can always charge this phone’s 3050mAh battery through the reversible USB-C port, which also doubles as the audio port because, sadly, the Flare S7 Plus doesn’t have a 3.5 headphone jack. Cherry Mobile bundles a 3.5mm to USB-C adapter inside the box, so you can still use your legacy headphones as you please.

Powering the Flare S7 Plus is a MediaTek Helio P60 processor. We have already tried the capabilities of this chipset with the OPPO F9, and it definitely delivers great performance. If you’re into benchmarking, you’ll be glad to know the Helio P60 scores higher than its competitors.

The phone also comes with 4GB of memory and 64GB of expandable storage which is pretty standard nowadays. It boots Android 8.1 Oreo out of the box, but there’s no word when Android 9 Pie is coming.

The gaming performance of the Flare S7 Plus is above average, which is what you can expect from the Helio P60. The Mali-G72 MP3 GPU works well with intensive games, but you must reduce the graphics quality a bit to get consistently high frame rates.

As for the cameras, the Flare S7 Plus has capable shooters that are probably the fruit of Cherry Mobile’s investment in improving their R&D when it comes to picture quality. The phone has dual rear shooters using a main 16-megapixel RGB sensor and a secondary 5-megapixel depth sensor. In the front, there’s another 16-megapixel selfie camera that’s paired with the IR sensor when needed. Check out the samples below:

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An additional feature of the front sensors is FlareMoji. Using the IR sensor and facial recognition, you can animate cutesy characters. Check this out:

It’s essentially like Apple’s Animoji, but the tracking is nowhere near as smooth as with the iPhone. Anyhow, it’s still enjoyable to use.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

For just PhP 11,999 (US$ 225), the Flare S7 Plus offers a lot. You get a great premium phone with midrange power, beautiful display, and a plethora of extra features like wireless charging and an IR face scanner. The software UI is quite a letdown, but you can always download a launcher from the Play Store.

If you’re wondering what the Flare S7 Plus is in other markets, it’s also called the BLU VIVO XI+ and they share similar specifications and design.

SEE ALSO: Cherry Mobile announces Flare S7 series with three new smartphones

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