AMD Radeon RX 480: US$200 VR-Ready GPU

[ Engadget ] Devindra Hardawar:

As for VR, the RX 480 delivered a solid experience without much slowdown. It didn’t matter if I was dogfighting in Eve: Valkyrie, exploring alien worlds in Farlands or platforming in Lucky’s Tale. I kept a particular eye out for stuttering or anything that could lead to motion sickness but couldn’t detect any major issues. AMD wasn’t lying: This is a VR-ready card.

The Radeon RX 480 comes in two VRAM configurations: 4GB ($200) and 8GB ($239). Hardawar reviewed the 8GB version and recommends investing the extra $39 for a smoother VR experience. Note: The 8GB version uses faster RAM.

HTC’s VR minimum hardware recommendations are as follows:

  • GPU: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970 or AMD Radeon R9 290
  • CPU: Intel i5-4590 or AMD FX 8350
  • RAM: 4GB
  • Video Output: HDMI 1.4 or DisplayPort 1.2

Oculus Rift:

  • GPU: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970 or AMD Radeon R9 290
  • CPU: Intel i5-4590
  • RAM: 8GB
  • Video Output: HDMI 1.3

Here’s a YouTube video by DigitalFoundry comparing the GeForce GTX 970 vs. the Radeon RX 480:

As you can see the Radeon RX 480 outperforms the GeForce GTX 970, which is impressive considering the street price of the GTX 970 with 4GB is about $300.

Rio 2016 Summer Olympics: NBC to Present 85 Hours of VR Content on Samsung Devices

[ Variety ] Todd Spangler:

NBC is leaning into virtual reality — the hot tech flavor of the moment — with plans to pump out some 85 hours of VR programming for the Rio 2016 Summer Olympic Games.

The VR content, the first time Olympics coverage will be presented in virtual-reality experiences, will be available exclusively on Samsung devices. And sorry, tech-forward cord-cutters: NBC will make the Olympics in VR available only to pay-TV subscribers of participating cable and satellite operators.

I’m a VR newb. I took my oldest and hopped on over to a local Best Buy to play around with the latest gadgets: noise-cancellation wireless over-ear headphones, smartphones, laptops, AIOs, 4K TVs, refrigerators, washing machines & dryers, etc. We agreed Beats sucks and Bose rocks, and that 4K content looks weird. The Avengers was on and Captain America looked downright silly, because his costume was so obviously a costume. Too much detail can be a bad thing when it comes to watching movies. We also agreed our Sony Trinitron HD CRT TV made watching movies enjoyable because the experience was like watching movies.

Another thing we agreed on was the Samsung Galaxy-based Gear VR system: it was really cool. Gear VR is not expensive: just US$100. If you already have the latest Samsung Galaxy smartphone — like the Note 5, S6 and S7 — Gear VR is a no-brainer if you want to play around with VR without spending a lot of money. At one point in the demo, I was flying through space. I looked down, and for a split second thought I would fall. Yeah, told you I was a VR newb.

I like that NBC and Samsung want to pull in folks who are interested in VR with the 2016 Olympics, but it also limits the availability of VR to only the latest Samsung Galaxy smartphone users with cable and satellite. (Although I think cord-cutters with services like Sling TV might be able to get credentialed at some cable and satellite websites.) I’m going to guess there will be a lot of bootlegged porting of NBC’s Olympic VR content to other VR systems.

Apple Patents Technology To Disable iPhone Cameras At Concerts

[ Stereogum ] Collin Robinson:

So that might be OK… assuming the technology is only used at concerts and doesn’t extend to, like, disabling phone cameras during instances of police brutality and/or sociopolitical/religious unrest.

Apple works with a lot of music companies and I’m certain some of those companies have complained loudly that concert goers have been bootlegging or live streaming concerts. I don’t know how rampant this is, but I’m sure music companies want to stop it and want Apple’s help. I wouldn’t mind a geo-fenced camera disable feature on my iPhone when it comes to concerts. I haven’t gone to a concert in many years, but I’ve seen concert videos with hundreds of phone screens. What a terrible way to experience a concert.

Google Chrome VR Shell

[ Road To VR ] Ben Lang:

Chrome Dev (one extra step back in development from Beta) now contains a ‘VR Shell’ setting which Google’s Chromium Evangelist François Beaufort says “enable[s] a browser shell for VR” which “allows users to browse the web while using Cardboard or Daydream-ready viewers.” Both options are available in the browser’s Flags page, accessed by entering chrome://flags in the URL bar.

Very early stages for browsing the web in VR. For VR internet browsing to catch on the web will need to morph, from the current 2D concept of pages to something like a 3D concept of spaces. AR — augmented reality where relevant information is placed over images and videos — will probably become an important way we browse the internet in VR.

Apple Discontinues The Thunderbolt Display

[ Apple ] The 27-inch Thunderbolt Display sports a pixel format of 2560×1440 for US$999. That’s expensive. If you’re a color professional looking for a 27-inch IPS monitor there are better (color bit depth, color gamut, color accuracy, etc.) more affordable options, like the $800 Dell UP2716D UltraSharp 27-inch monitor.

[ iMore ] Rene Ritchie:

Apple is discontinuing the Thunderbolt Display, the standard resolution, external IPS monitor the company has been selling since 2011. An Apple spokesperson provided us with the following statement:

“We’re discontinuing the Apple Thunderbolt Display,” Apple told iMore. “It will be available through Apple.com, Apple’s retail stores and Apple Authorized Resellers while supplies last. There are a number of great third-party options available for Mac users.”

The 5K iMac makes it clear Apple is moving away from 2560×1440 and toward 5120×2880 at 27 inches. Will Apple come out with a standalone 27-inch 5K monitor? My bet is on yes. The reason is the Mac Pro, and to a lesser extent the MacBook Pro. The Mac Pro doesn’t come with a monitor, and a good monitor makes a big difference in our computing experience, especially when it comes to processing videos and photographs.

I believe Apple is serious about user experience so I think Apple will come out with an excellent 27-inch 5K 5120×2880 monitor to pair with a Mac Pro or a MacBook Pro. The macOS user experience depends on it.

Tesla’s Model 3 is a Tipping Point

Tesla Model 3

Before Tesla, electric cars had some deficiencies:

  • There were slow.
  • They weren’t pretty.
  • Their range was severely limited.
  • They took a long time to recharge.

After Tesla’s Roadster, Model S and Model X, electric cars were no longer slow. In fact the Model S P90D, the performance model with dual electric motors, can get to 60 mph in just 2.8 seconds with a “Ludicrous Speed Upgrade”. Only supercars like these are faster (0-60 mph times in seconds):

  • 2010 Pagani Zonda R: 2.6
  • 2014 Ferrari LaFerrari: 2.6
  • 2013 Nissang GT-R NISMO: 2.7
  • 2014 McLaren P1: 2.7
  • 2012 Koenigsegg Agera R: 2.7
  • 2006 Bugatti Veyron EB 16.4: 2.7
  • 2016 Lamborghini Aventador LP750-4 SV: 2.7

There are no ‘normal’ cars that can beat the Model S P90D from 0 to 60 mph. I think we can clearly cross off that electric cars are slow.

There were slow.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, yes, but I think most would agree the Roadster, the Model S, and the Model X are prettier than the average car. Most other EVs are still on the ugly side of the spectrum.

There weren’t pretty.

Many electric cars still have limited ranges. Here are some examples, in miles (Source: Plugin Cars):

  • BMW i3: 81
  • Chevrolet Spark EV: 82
  • Fiat 500e: 84
  • Ford Focus Electric: 76
  • Kia Soul EV: 93
  • Mitsubishi i-MiEV: 62
  • Nissan LEAF: 107
  • Smart ForTwo Electric Drive: 68
  • Volkswagen E-Golf: 83

With ranges like these this list of electric cars can only be used sparingly and most likely for local commuting. On colder days the range will decrease quite a bit. But on the list are three three electric cars that have enough range to go from San Jose to San Francisco to Berkeley and back to San Jose, with some battery left over:

  • Chevrolet Bolt: 200
  • Tesla Model S: 265
  • Tesla Model X: 250

Yes, the range can be better — you’ll want a regular gas-powered car to go on long trips without having to stop every 200 miles to refuel — but I think a lot of us can live our daily lives with a 200-mile range car. I think it’s safe to delete the severely limited range deficiency:

Their range was severely limited.

Electric cars took a long time to recharge their batteries. Let’s go back to the list. I’ll put two recharge time: one at 110/120V and the other at 220/240V, both in hours. Most homes in the U.S. have 110/120V, but you can install special 220/240V outlets to charge your electric car.

  • BMW i3 (22 kWh): 18, 3
  • Chevrolet Bolt (60): ??, 9
  • Chevrolet Spark EV (19): 20, 7
  • Fiat 500e (24): 24, 4
  • Ford Focus Electric (23): 20, 3.5
  • Kia Soul EV (27): 24, 5
  • Mitsubishi i-MiEV (16): 22, 6
  • Nissan LEAF (24-30): 21-26, 4-6
  • Smart ForTwo Electric Drive (17.6): 12, 8
  • Volkswagen E-Golf (28): 20, 3.7

Don’t even think about charging your EV with a 110/120V outlet. Install a 220/240V outlet and you’ll save thousands of hours of charge time.

Tesla’s EVs come with a variety of battery capacities. With the 85-kwh battery — a battery much larger than all of the aforementioned EVs — a 220/240V outlet will charge it in about 10 hours. Tesla’s Supercharger can charge it in just one hour. It takes some planning to get to a Supercharger station right when you want to eat lunch or dinner, but 3+ hours of charging time down to just one is a lot of improvement. But if you’re not on a road trip the charging happens while you’re sleeping and by the time you’re ready to head off to work the next morning your EV will be fully charged, assuming you installed a 220/240V outlet. Of course, charging time still takes too long if you compare it to about the 5 minutes it takes to refuel a car with gasoline. Recharge time gets crossed off with a note*: Supercharger or when you’re charging at 220/240V while you sleep.

They took a long time to recharge.*

Fast, pretty, with a long range, and a short charge time. Only Tesla’s Model S and the Model X have all these features. The Chevrolet Bolt has a long range, but fast and pretty it is not. The upcoming Model 3 though is all of that: Tesla announced 0-60 mph times at less than 6 seconds for the base Model 3 model. Not ludicrous fast, but pretty fast for a base model. I’m certain if there was a P90D version of the Model 3 that it would be one of if not the fastest $35,000 car you can buy. The Model 3 is also one more: The Model 3 is affordable at US$35,000. Yes there are affordable EVs on the list, but none that has it all.

They were too expensive.

I believe Tesla’s Model 3 is/will be a tipping point.

Lytro Cinema

[ TechCrunch ] Lucas Matney:

Today, the company introduced Lytro Cinema, which is the company’s effort to woo those in the television and film industries with cool camera technology that makes their jobs easier.

The Lytro Cinema camera gathers a truly staggering amount of information on the world around it. The 755 RAW megapixel 40K resolution, 300 FPS camera takes in as much as 400 gigabytes per second of data.

Lytro is a company in the business of capturing light fields. What’s a light field? According to Wikipedia:

The light field is a vector function that describes the amount of light flowing in every direction through every point in space. The direction of each ray is given by the 5D plenoptic function, and the magnitude of each ray is given by the radiance.

What that means to me is a light field is light plus the direction the light is going. Capturing a light field means capturing depth information in addition to all the information a normal image sensor captures. Another way for me to understand capturing light fields is that with the Lytro Cinema 3D VR spaces are being captured.

Lytro is pivoting from consumer electronics to professional with the Lytro Cinema, which gives filmmakers flexibility not available before and allows for changing shutter speeds, the dynamic range, focus position, depth of field, etc. after footage has been captured. Amazing.