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1 week ago

How smartphone-based VR works

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Mobile VR

There are many kinds of virtual reality technology in the world today, and thanks to the current level of excitement surrounding the technology there are more and more companies developing solutions that immerse users in a whole new kind of interactive experience. The two primary challenges VR tech face right now lie in demonstrating useful content to justify the experience, and creating accessible solutions that are either inexpensive enough that anyone can try it or complex enough that users want to make VR a fundamental part of their regular entertainment.

Today we're going to talk about accessibility, specifically the push to make your smartphone the key component in the VR experience. We've seen several companies release accessories that you can slide your phone into, and in doing so gain a fairly inexpensive VR experience that can be appreciated anywhere. To accomplish this level of functionality, a lot of things have to be happening in your phone all at once. Here's how it works.

The display and the lenses

Vanguard V

The first thing you'll notice if you've ever peeking inside Google Cardboard when a VR app is running is the curious way everything looks on the display. There's a pair of images, showing what appears to be the exact same thing, but the images don't always fill the screen. Usually what you'll see is something that looks almost like the image you'd see on an old tube television flattened out on your smartphone, and the rest of the screen is black. Occasionally you'll see a white dividing line separating the two images, but not always.

The images you see here are designed specifically to work with the lenses that came with your VR accessory, and are by far the most common form of VR right now. It's the same basic idea we see in larger units like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. Inside your VR accessory you'll find a pair of Biconvex lenses, which is what takes the images on the display and warps them to fill your field of view. Your eyes perceive these individual images as a single image, which creates the illusion of depth through stereoscopy.

VR Lenses

Most forms of smartphone-based VR rely on these lenses existing in a fixed position. This means anyone can pick up something like Google Cardboard and immediately start using it without adjusting anything, but if you rely on glasses to see you'll need to keep those glasses on your face to enjoy what you are seeing. As anyone with glasses can attest, holding something to your glasses for any length of time is less than comfortable and usually means you have to clean your glasses afterwards.

The alternative, as seen in the Samsung Gear VR, is a knob that adjusts the focal length while the headset is resting on your face. It means you've got to tweak the focal length to get it to where you want it, but it also means most folks who wear glasses can wear the Gear VR without them.

Moving around in a virtual world

We've had video games on our smartphones for quite a while where movement was a critical part of interactive experiences. Some of these apps let you tilt the phone to turn a vehicle, while others rely on standing up and physically panning the phone in one direction or the other to reveal more of an image. Photospheres and Spotlight Stories are two of the more impressive examples that come to mind when thinking about an experience where your phone is a window to this larger world, and you have to move around to see all of it. This same basic concept drives a lot of the VR content, and as a result a lot of the same technology is used.

Windy Day

The accelerometer and gyroscope in your smartphone give your VR app a sense of motion and position, allowing you to tilt your head and even spin around completely to see more of the virtual world being drawn for you. This experience is fixed, meaning you can't just get up and walk around to see more of the world around you. We've seen developers working on mobile versions of this experience through the Epson Moverio headset, but your smartphone will keep you sitting or standing in one place while you pan around and experience the game or video. That doesn't mean the video itself can't move — in fact we've seen many examples where things like roller coasters and space simulation relies heavily on making it feel like you are moving around, when in fact you aren't moving at all.

Not all mobile VR experiences are created equally when it comes to the use of this technology. Samsung's Gear VR, for example, includes an extra accelerometer, gyroscope, and magnetometer to offer a smoother VR experience. More data points in this experience means head tracking can be more precise, which leads to a more polished experience. This is why the larger VR experiences rely on things like fixed-point sensors for your desk and a massive array of external sensors to track movement and position. It's impractical to expect that kind of experience on mobile, but it's nice to know the experience you have with your smartphone improves dramatically with these increased price tags.

Controllers for your VR experience

Pinc vr

Most of the VR experiences you will have through Google Cardboard right now aren't much more than moving your head around with a box held to your face, but there are several great mobile VR experiences that demand a little more. Just like the accessories we've seen with the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, there are accessories that will take your mobile VR experience somewhere unique.

The folks at Pinć VR plan to include a pair of rings that rest on your index fingers with a pair of buttons on the inside. These buttons, and the lights that help guide the rings, allow you to reach into your VR experience and interact. This depth addition feels a lot more natural than the button on the side of Google Cardboard, but also requires you have your VR set strapped to your head with your arms stretched out in front of you.

Meanwhile, Samsung has several apps in the Oculus store now that rely on a controller to use with your Gear VR. This experience puts your inside the game you are playing, without forcing you to hold something to your face. It's a control mechanic most folks are already used to, allowing you to play without looking down at the controller, and ultimately provides the most familiar experience for gameplay.

Virtual Reality

The most interesting thing about mobile VR right now is how relatively young the experience is. So many companies in every part of the ecosystem are working to make this experience special, and the core of the platform lives in your pocket at all times. With every iteration in the smartphone world — including screen resolution, motion sensing, and video rendering — mobile VR tech will continue to improve. Even if you're not ready to make the dive into VR just yet, it's an impressive ecosystem to be paying attention to right now.

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2 weeks ago

Skype for Android update makes it easier to sign back in after you log out

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Microsoft has released an update for its popular Skype messaging app for Android. The update bring the version number up to 5.5 and adds a way for users to quickly sign into the app again.

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2 weeks ago

ZTE Axon Pro specs

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Today ZTE launched its new Axon brand, with an new premium smartphone available from the company's own online store in the U.S. It's an intriguing handset unlike anything we've previously seen from the Chinese manufacturer, boasting high-end specs at a lower price tag than you might expect.

If you're after the full, official ZTE Axon Pro spec sheet, you'll find it down below.

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2 weeks ago

The ZTE Axon Pro is a high-end smartphone that's up for US pre-orders for $449

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After a teaser earlier this summer, ZTE has now officially revealed its newest flagship smartphone, the Axon Pro. The company is wasting no time in taking pre-orders for the smartphone, for the price of $449.98.

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2 weeks ago

Emmy voters will now view nominated shows via Chromecast instead of DVDs

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Google's Chromecast is about to help pick television's next stars. As part of a new deal with Television Academy, Emmy voters will receive Chromecasts on which to view Emmy nominated shows with a dedicated, voter-only mobile app and website.

From Television Academy:

Chromecast provides members with the option to enhance the viewing experience of Emmy-nominated content as the Academy launches its new, members-only, online viewing platform. The thumb-sized, media-streaming Chromecast devices enable members to "cast" videos from the Television Academy mobile apps and viewing website directly to the big screen in their homes.

Television Academy is quick to tout this as a green initiative, helping to do away with wasteful distribution of DVDs to voting members — as has been the norm in the past. Presumably, using a Chromecast to stream content to televisions will also help cut down on piracy as well.

Source: Television Academy

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2 weeks ago

How to move your Dropcam subscription to a Nest Cam

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We've been tinkering with the Nest Cam for a couple of weeks now, and one of the big questions to come from comparing this new camera to the hardware from the company Nest absorbed to produce Nest Cam had to do with the subscription model. Like the new cameras, Dropcam existed as a subscription-based service that included year-long agreements if you wanted a discount. If you were to upgrade your Dropcams to the new Nest Cam, would you need an entirely new subscription to power the features on the new hardware?

It turns out the answer is no, and moving a subscription from Dropcam to Nest Cam is quite simple.

As a Dropcam user, you are no doubt familiar with the new interface Nest has been applying to all of its products. Included in this new system is the ability to remove a device from your account, and your Dropcam is included in this list. Removing a Dropcam does not remove the subscription from your account, it instead waits for a new device to be added to the account for the subscription to attach to. This means you can move from a Dropcam to a Nest Cam by removing the old device and adding the new one. The subscription will automatically attach to the Nest Cam, and you'll be back in business.

According to Nest, this process applies to multiple Dropcam setups as well. All you need to do is remove all of the devices you want to replace, and their counterparts will get the subscription when added to your account. As upgrade paths go, it's fairly quick and painless. If anything, it's another reason to consider upgrading the next chance you get.

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2 weeks ago

Commodore returns, prepares Android smartphone for launch in Europe

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Commodore, the leader in personal computers back in the 1980s,will be releasing an Android smartphone in Europe later this week. The Commodore PET will be the company's first smartphone, it will run a custom variant of Android 5.0 and will come preloaded with two emulators for some retro-style gaming.

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2 weeks ago

Comcast and EA team up to launch Xfinity Games streaming service beta

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Comcast is preparing to launch a new service for its customers called Xfinity Games. It is teaming up with game publisher Electronic Arts on this new venture, which is currently taking sign-ups for its beta test. Xfinity Games will give customers a way to play games on their big screen TV that are streamed via their Comcast-provided set-top box.

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2 weeks ago

This is how Project Fi billing works

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This is how Project Fi billing works

Project Fi is an interesting new carrier choice with some great features, like access to two mobile networks and Wifi calling, but perhaps its greatest draw is the way it bills you for service. It's not unlike many prepaid carriers in that it charges you up front for service that you use in the month, but the way Fi refunds you for unused data, doesn't charge extra for overages, and gives you a clear and concise bill is intriguing.

We've used Project Fi for over a month now, and finally have two full bills to look at and see just how easy the billing process is. This is how it goes down when its time to pay Google for phone service.

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2 weeks ago

Dashlane adds support for Samsung's fingerprint scanners

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Dashlane, a popular password manager, can now be unlocked using your a fingerprint on Samsung phones. With this addition, people who use Dashlane on their Samsung devices that have a fingerprint scanner, like the Galaxy S5 or Galaxy S6, will be able to unlock and access their stored passwords and accounts using their fingerprint.

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2 weeks ago

Samsung Galaxy Note 4 update from Verizon enables fingerprint security for Exchange accounts

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The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 is receiving a massive 2GB update from Verizon, that oddly enough only lists a few new features. Originally this update was made available through Samsung's desktop software, Kies, it now Verizon is pushing it out over-the-air.

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2 weeks ago

Android 5.1 coming to AT&T HTC One M9 on July 15

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People who own the AT&T version of the HTC One M9 should keep an eye out for an update to Android 5.1 Lollipop very soon. The company has revealed the rollout for the update will start sometime on Wednesday, July 15.

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2 weeks ago

Samsung Level U Wireless Headphones review

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The flexibility and lightweight design of the Level U Wireless Headphones make their audio quality that much more enjoyable.

These past few weeks we've been testing the waters with Samsung's Level line-up, jamming with the Level On headphones and bringing Bluetooth to our more dated gadgets with the Level Link wireless adapter. Now we've had a chance to spend some quality time with the new Level U Wireless Headphones during long gaming sessions, occasional phone calls and even utilizing S Voice in between.

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2 weeks ago

Eddystone is Google's new open Bluetooth Low Energy beacon standard

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Google has announced its new open Bluetooth Low Energy beacon standard, Eddystone. With this, developers will have easy access to relative context and precise location, and users will be able to benefit in many ways. With ease of use and security in mind, Google has built in a feature called Ephemeral Identifiers (EIDs), which enable you to securely do things like find your luggage or keys. These EIDs change frequently, and only allow authorized clients to decode them.

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2 weeks ago

Red Bull Alert is an alarm clock that challenges you to skip the snooze button

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Red Bull has launched Red Bull Alert, a new alarm clock app for both Android phones and Android Wear smartwatches that hopes to get you out of bed and moving. Alert features competitive leaderboards to motivate you to get out of bed faster, and a number sports themes with which you can customize the app.

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