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

Is this the chip for the ROG Phone 2? [Weekend Rewind]

Reports say yes!

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Here are the top stories on GadgetMatch this week.

1. Is this the chip for the ROG Phone 2?

We’re entering the second wave of smartphone flagships for 2019. What better way to do so than news on the chip that will power all these new phones.


Enter the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 plus. It’s not quite the chip we were expecting but it’ll still provide significant performance boosts.

The chip promises a 15 percent improvement on overall graphic performance. That’s perfect for gaming which is why reports of the chip debuting on the ROG Phone 2 is a welcome development. The chip should also provide improvements on AR, VR, and AI features.

We also expect to see the chip on the Samsung Galaxy Note 10, the Google Pixel 4, and the OnePlus 7T.

2. Huawei firing hundreds of workers

The latest chapter in the US vs Huawei saga sees the Chinese company in panic mode.

A report from the Wall Street Journal says the company will fire hundreds of employees from a pool of 850 workers. Most of which will come from their research and development division called Futurewei Technologies.

China-born employees have the option to go back to their home country and still be employed by Huawei. The same is not the case though for their American employees.

The layoffs come from the continued pressure by the US government. This, despite the optimism created by the earlier ban’s lifting.

Huawei is still preparing for the worst. They continue to work on their own OS and are building resistance to potential geopolitical threats in the future.

3. Sony’s A7R IV has a massive 61MP sensor

This wasn’t the announcement we were hoping for, but  it still has plenty going for it.

Sony just launched the latest on the R-series of their full-frame mirrorless cameras – The Sony A7R IV. It has the world’s first 61MP sensor on a full-frame camera. This helps you capture images that don’t lose detail even when you zoom in.

Other improvements include, a 15-stop dynamic range, five-axis optical in-body image stabilization, as well as 10FPS shooting with continuous autofocus. The real-time eye-tracking autofocus also makes its way to video recording for the first time.

The A7R IV also comes with new tech that captures digital audio signal. To take advantage, Sony also introduced a shotgun mic and an XLR mic adapter kit to pair with the camera.

This was a serious flex by Sony. Following the release of the Canon EOS R as well as the Nikon E6 and E7 — both of which are mirrorless cameras — the A7R IV is Sony sending a message that they still hold the crown when it comes to full-frame mirrorless cameras.

4. The Galaxy S8 is a lifesaver

Smartphones saving lives is a headline we didn’t expect to see this week but here we are.

A boat in Cebu in the Philippines that was transporting local and foreign divers to a diving spot capsized. Emergency responders were quick to respond to a call saving the lives of all the passengers and crew members. 

The call was made using a Samsung Galaxy S8 — but not just any S8 — it’s one that has been submerged in seawater for 30 minutes.

“Only my S8 was able to connect… and worked all the way until we made it to land. It stayed alive for much longer than I thought possible and it really made the difference,” said the phone’s owner

In case you were wondering, the Samsung Galaxy S8 sports an IP68 rating. Typically, it can survive five feet underwater for up to 30 minutes. We hope to hear more good news like this!

5. FaceApp goes viral again, raises security concerns

If you’re seeing a lot of your friends’ aged faces on social media, well, you’re not alone.

The FaceApp, for some reason, has gone viral again with celebrities, YouTubers, and NBA stars joining in on the fun posting what they’ll look like if they ever make it past 60 years old.

Using the app is pretty straightforward. Just pick a photo and apply whatever filter you like that’s anywhere from beauty filters to gender swaps, and of course, the old age filter.

While it’s all fun and games on social media, this has actually raised security concerns. A report on Fast Company indicates the Russian company behind the app saves the photos uploaded by transmitting it to their servers. The US government takes it even further saying it poses some security threat and ordered the FBI to investigate the Russian startup.

FaceApp has denied the allegations saying that images are deleted from their servers within 48 hours from the upload date.

It’s worth noting though that this is not that different from Google and Facebook taking more information than we realize. But if you’re still concerned, the best option is to steer clear of these photo editing apps.


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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Automotive

2019 Honda Brio RS: The sporty baby Jazz

A fun ride through and through

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For today’s millennials and young professionals, choosing which car to buy could be a tough choice to make. For some, it has to pass certain requirements like fuel efficiency, ride comfort, space, if it looks good, and more importantly if it fits the budget. This is what first came to my mind when we got to test the 2019 Honda Brio RS. I think it has all the criteria most of us need for our daily commute and I’ll tell you why.

At first glance, it will give you the impression of a baby Jazz as it follows traditional Honda design cues.  It looks far better than its competing compact hatchbacks and is definitely a big design upgrade than the previous generation Brio.  From the front, this car looks aggressive and masculine for its size. The rear, however, still leans on the conservative side. Together with its sporty side skirts, the side profile is sleek with forward-tilting character lines giving it a sense of action and speed.


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Being an RS variant, there are additional design upgrades which include the black roof, blacked-out honeycomb grille, a rear spoiler with mounted third brake light, 15-inch RS design alloy rims, and of course, the bright red RS badges plastered all over. These positively add to the sportiness of the vehicle.

Its Phoenix Orange Pearl body looked glowing hot when the sun hits and we like it

Hopping in, you will immediately notice the orange accents running through the air vents, glove box, and side panels, plus the orange stitching and patterns on the seats. Next, we see the 7-inch touch-enabled infotainment system at the center of the dash which is connected to six speakers. Although that’s the case, we still weren’t impressed with the sound quality as it felt a bit short on bass.

Whether as the driver or passenger, you are seated in a low orientation and feel very close and planted to the ground. The height of the steering wheel and dashboard takes some getting used to if you always drive tall cars. But don’t get the idea that it’s cramped up inside. The seats up front are spacious with plenty of headroom to spare while at the back we have a decent amount of legroom for the average Asian. The trunk was large enough to carry our equipment along with other stuff. It was impressively spacious for a car this size.

We drove to our favorite scenic route of the Sierra Madre mountains, putting the car through its paces. The Brio is powered by a 1.2-liter SOHC i-VTEC engine which I think is sufficient enough for a car this small. It is then mated to a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) with sport mode and the company’s Earth Dreams Technology.

This car gives you a smooth and quiet ride even at high speeds. The cabin is astonishingly quiet with very minimal wind noise and vibrations. Thanks to its CVT implementation, this car is so smooth that I didn’t realize I was already going 90 on a 50kph road.

You cannot ask it to drive like its more spirited cousins, though. It is not the fastest accelerating car and pushing down the gas pedal when overtaking or driving up a steep road takes the CVT some time to adjust and you won’t get that instant punch you were expecting.

The Brio also lacks traction control and other basic features like rear sensors and reverse camera. It doesn’t even have a center console box and an armrest, but these are things we can brush aside. In terms of fuel efficiency, we were able to average 11.1km/liter which is not bad considering we drove it aggressively through the winding and steep roads of Tanay, Rizal. Steering was light and handled tight corners remarkably.  Overall, this car gets the job done. It gets you where you need to go and is reliable, economical, safe, and don’t forget that it’s such a looker.

Will I recommend the Brio RS? In the city, this car would be perfect. Although it’s not the most powerful more so for long drives. I can tell you one thing, though, it sure is fun to drive. I’m actually not a big fan of small hatchbacks but it all boils down to the company’s target market. The Brio is tuned to be sporty and modernly stylish so it might appeal to those looking for something that looks fun and doesn’t break the bank.

With those, I could confidently say that the Brio RS has the edge over its small hatchback competitors in terms of performance and design. You won’t go wrong with this car.

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Features

Galaxy Note 10 photos leak, baby Switch: Weekend Rewind

Lotsa new hardware coming soon!

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Here are the top stories on GadgetMatch this week.

1. Samsung Galaxy Note 10 hype train is chugging 

A good indicator that a noteworthy smartphone is coming — pun 100 percent intended — is if its leaks start coming up on the web. That’s exactly the case with the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.


The “official” leaked images showcases the front and back of the Note 10. There’s a punch-hole camera hovering over the middle top part of the display.

Speaking of the display, it looks absolutely edge-to-edge and while there’s no indication of it in the images, it might be nesting an in-display fingerprint scanner. The only buttons immediately visible are the volume rockers and the power button. This means it might not have the Bixby button which has been a staple on Samsung flagships in recent years.

Image from @ishanagarwal24 on Twitter

Lastly the renders also show that other than black, the Note 5 will also have a variant that has a gradient back reminiscent of the one we first saw on Huawei.

The Note 10 is launching on August 7 in New York and we’ll be there to give you the updates so make sure you’re following us everywhere on social media.

2. US gov’t can’t make up mind on Huawei ban

Here’s another chapter to the Huawei Ban saga.

If you haven’t kept up, US President Donald Trump lifted the ban on Huawei but just as recently as last week, we learned that no policies were put in place to support the lifting. This week, the U.S. finally issued an official statement about the ban’s lifting. It says the U.S. will issue trade licenses to approved companies who do business with Huawei.

However, the licenses will depend on whether the product is deemed a threat to national security. There were no parameters provided on what entails being a “threat to national security” meaning the licenses is still subject to the government’s whim.

Essentially, Huawei isn’t out of the woods yet and their fate relies heavily on the trade negotiations between Trump and Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

3. Sony working on a rollable smartphone

Sony’s mobile phone unit is still alive and they’re looking to roll out something new.

Going beyond foldable smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy Fold and Huawei Mate X, the company is reportedly working on a rollable phone prototype. 

Tech leaker Max J tweeted a gif of a footage from a 2016 video by SlashGear to show what the tech looks like.

The tweet also mentions the following specs: a Qualcomm SM7250 chipset, a 10x zoom camera, and a 3220mAh battery. However, the final retail unit will likely have a Snapdragon 855 chip along with a Qualcomm X50 modem for 5G connectivity

Before you roll your eyes, note that rollable displays already exist. LG — the company Sony is working with — showcased the LG Signature OLED TV R. It’s a 65-inch 4K TV that quietly rolls into a sound bar base when not in use.

It’ll be interesting to see if Sony can translate that tech into a phone’s form factor. The company is planning a late 2019 or early 2020 launch.

 

Macbook Air

4. Apple fixes its MacBook lineup  

If you were confused about Apple’s MacBook lineup for a while, you’re not alone. Not to worry though as they have already applied a fix.

First, they completely axed the 12-inch MacBook — a sexy but underpowered notebook. Next, they refreshed both the MacBook Air and the base level MacBook Pro. 

The new MacBook Air now has True Tone display technology but the rest of the specs remain the same which means it will still be powered by Intel’s dual-core 8th Gen i5.

The MacBook Pro’s refresh brings the Touch Bar to the base model.  It now offers a 1.4GHz quad-core 8th Gen Core i5 chip — with an option to bump up to 3.9Ghz  from Intel’s Coffee Lake lineup.

So no touch bar means it’s a MacBook Air while having a touch bar means it’s a MacBook Pro. Simple, just the way it should be.

5. We’re getting a baby Switch!

Did you hold off from buying a Nintendo Switch? If you did, this new baby Switch might finally convince you to get one.

Enter the Nintendo Switch Lite. As the name suggests, it’s a smaller, less feature-packed version of the Switch. You can still play most of the titles available to the Switch but this one was made specifically for on-the-go gaming.

Unlike the bigger Switch, there’s no option to play on a bigger screen. It also doesn’t support the Joy-con controllers. Other than that, it’s everything the switch is but strictly for handheld gaming.

It’ll retail for $199.99 and will launch on September 20 so you have time to save up.


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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