Sci-Fi

'Blade Runner 2049' Isn't the Movie Denis Villeneuve Wanted to Make (vice.com) 264

Readers share a Motherboard article: There are seemingly two inescapable realities for big-budget filmmakers in 2017: you have to use existing intellectual property and you must provide spectacle that can lure massive domestic and foreign audiences to the the theater. It seemed that Denis Villeneuve chose wisely when he selected the IP that he would ride into the mainstream. [...] There is much to admire, but as a whole, Blade Runner 2049 works best as a case for why filmmakers like Villeneuve should be given big budgets to try out new concepts rather than retread what's come before them. Just like Arrival was at its best when we saw the elegance of how the space ship and the aliens within it actually functioned, this version of Blade Runner shines when we get to watch how Villeneuve's dystopia operates. Moments of technical brilliance small and large are at the soul of this film. Whether you're watching the creation of robot memories, the execution of an air strike from an effortless, detached distance, or even something as simple as a stroll through a hall of records, the mechanics of this world are jaw-dropping. Ryan Gosling (K) wisely opts for a muted, brooding performance, allowing the world to steal the show while still illustrating the burden of living in it. Even with all of this technical brilliance on display (the costumes, sound, and special effects are brilliant), the baggage of the original film's mythology weighs down Blade Runner 2049. The most burdensome baggage for Villeneuve to carry, sadly, is the Blade Runner story itself.
Television

Latest TVs Are Ready for Their Close-Ups (wsj.com) 219

An anonymous share a WSJ article: The latest televisions have more pixels than ever. But can your eyes detect the difference? The answer is yes -- if you sit close enough. Old TVs had 349,920 pixels. High-definition flat screens bumped up the total to 2 million. Ultrahigh-definition sets inflated it to 8 million. And manufacturers are now experimenting with 8K TVs that have an astounding 33 million pixels. More pixels render hair, fur and skin with greater detail, but the benefit depends on viewing the screen from an ideal distance so the sharpness of the images is clear, but the tiny points of illumination aren't individually distinguishable. According to standards set by the International Telecommunication Union, that ideal distance is 3 times the height of an HDTV screen, 1.5 times the height of a UHDTV screen and .75 times the height of an 8K screen (Editor's note: the link could be paywalled; here's a PDF copy of the newspaper). Given those measurements, viewers should sit 6 feet away from a 50-inch HDTV with a 24.5-inch tall screen. But they should sit just 3 feet from a UHDTV of the same size, closer than most Americans prefer.
It's funny.  Laugh.

Parody 'Subgenius' Religion Wants to Crowdfund An Alien-Contacting Beacon (gofundme.com) 78

In 1979 the followers of J. R. "Bob" Dobbs founded a satirical religion called the Church of the Subgenius. (Slackware Linux reportedly drew its name from the "pursuit of Slack", a comfort-seeking tenet of the 38-year-old parody religion.) Combining UFOs and conspiracy theories with some social critiques (and a few H.P. Lovecraft characters), the strange group is now re-emerging online with an official Facebook page -- and a slick new video channel.

In "Adventures in the Forbidden Sciences," former church CEO K'taden Legume announces that in January of 2016, "the Subgenius Foundation received an overdue bill for a storage locker in the Pacific Northwest registered under the name J. R. Dobbs. Behind the steel door was a freight elevator leading deep underground to what was long considered to be a myth: The church's long-abandoned forbidden science laboratories. Hidden in a forgotten cavern, packed floor-to-ceiling with thousands of crates dating back to the mid-19th century." Eighteen months of experimentation lead to clues about a flying saucer arriving on "the Black Day" -- and one last chance at eternal salvation and everlasting Slack: the construction of an alien-contacting beacon. Legume calls it "our best last hope for getting off of this planet. We have the tech. We have the moxie to do this, but to finish the beacon -- we need your help."

"The Beacon will be constructed by a team of 'Forbidden Scientists' led by former church CEO Dr. K'taden Legume," writes new Slashdot reader Ktaden Legume, touting a new $25,000 campaign to crowdfund the beacon's construction.

So far it's raised $294.
Google

Bluetooth Won't Replace the Headphone Jack -- Walled Gardens Will (theverge.com) 380

Last year, when it was rumoured that the then upcoming iPhone models -- 7 and 7 Plus -- won't have the 3.5mm audio jack, The Verge's Nilay Patel wrote that if Apple does do it, it would be a user-hostile and stupid move. When those iPhone models were official announced, they indeed didn't have the audio jack. Earlier this week, Android-maker Google announced the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL smartphones that also don't feature the decades-old audio jack either, a move that would likely push rest of the smartphone makers to adopt a similar change. The rationale behind killing the traditional headphones jack, both Apple and Google say, is to move to an improved technology: Bluetooth. But there is another motive at play here, it appears. Patel, writes for The Verge: As the headphone jack disappears, the obvious replacement isn't another wire with a proprietary connector like Apple's Lightning or the many incompatible and strange flavors of USB-C audio. It's Bluetooth. And Bluetooth continues to suck, for a variety of reasons. Newer phones like the iPhone 8, Galaxy S8, and the Pixel 2 have Bluetooth 5, which promises to be better, but 1. There are literally no Bluetooth 5 headphones out yet, and 2. we have definitely heard that promise before. So we'll see. To improve Bluetooth, platform vendors like Apple and Google are riffing on top of it, and that means they're building custom solutions. And building custom solutions means they're taking the opportunity to prioritize their own products, because that is a fair and rational thing for platform vendors to do. Unfortunately, what is fair and rational for platform vendors isn't always great for markets, competition, or consumers. And at the end of this road, we will have taken a simple, universal thing that enabled a vibrant market with tons of options for every consumer, and turned it into yet another limited market defined by ecosystem lock-in. The playbook is simple: last year, Apple dropped the headphone jack and replaced it with its W1 system, which is basically a custom controller chip and software management layer for Bluetooth. The exemplary set of W1 headphones is, of course, AirPods, but Apple also owns Beats, and there are a few sets of W1 Beats headphones available as well. You can still use regular Bluetooth headphones with an iPhone, and you can use AirPods as regular Bluetooth headphones, but the combination iPhone / W1 experience is obviously superior to anything else on the market. [...] Google's version of this is the Pixel Buds, a set of over-ear neckbuds that serve as basic Bluetooth headphones but gain additional capabilities when used with certain phones. Seamless fast pairing? You need Android N or higher, which most Android phones don't have.
Movies

Nearly 4 Million People In US Still Subscribe To Netflix DVDs By Mail (recode.net) 186

The biggest Netflix-related news today is that the company is raising its streaming videos prices, from $9.99 a month to $10.99. But there is another interesting nugget of information to consider: Netflix still has 3.7 million DVD subscribers in the U.S. who get their discs delivered through the mail for the same $7.99 a month it had previously cost. Recode reports: That's down 17 percent from a year ago, and is much smaller than Netflix's nearly 52 million domestic streaming subscribers, but it's still sizable. Netflix first separated out its DVD and streaming subscription services in July 2011, charging $7.99 each ($15.98 for both). Streaming was originally an added bonus for DVD subscribers at no extra cost. Are you one of the 3.7 million Netflix users who still get DVDs sent in the mail? If so, what's keeping you from embracing the digital age and streaming movies via the internet?
Businesses

Netflix is Raising Its Prices, Again (mashable.com) 277

Jason Abbruzzese, writing for Mashable: Get ready to pay just a bit more for your Netflix subscription. The streaming video service will be raising prices on its middle and top tier plans in the U.S. starting in November. Subscribers who currently pay for the standard $9.99 service will be charged $10.99. The price of the premium tier will rise from $11.99 to $13.99. Good news for people on the basic $7.99 plan -- that price is staying put, for now. The U.S.-only price hikes will begin to go into effect in November, varying depending on individuals' billing cycles. Starting on Oct. 19, subscribers will be notified and given at least 30 days notice about the increase.
Google

Google Pixel Buds Are Wireless Earbuds That Translate Conversations In Real Time (arstechnica.com) 163

At its hardware event today, Google debuted new wireless earbuds, dubbed "Pixel Buds." These are Google's first wireless earbuds that give users access to Google Translate so they can have conversations with people who speak a different language. Ars Technica reports: Unlike Apple's AirPods, the Pixel Buds have a wire connecting the two earpieces. However, that wire doesn't connect to a smartphone or other device. Pixel Buds will pair via Bluetooth to the new Pixel smartphones -- and presumably any other devices that accept Bluetooth wireless earbuds. All of the Pixel Buds' controls are built in to the right earpiece, which is a common hardware solution on wireless earbuds. You can access Google Assistant by tapping or pressing on the right earbud, and the Assistant will be able to read notifications and messages to you through the Buds.

But the most intriguing feature of the Pixel Buds is the integrated Google Translate feature. Demoed on stage at Google's event today, this feature lets two Pixel Bud wearers chat in their native languages by translating conversations in real time. In the demo, a native English speaker and a native Swedish speaker had a conversation with each other, both using their native languages. Google Translate translated the languages for each user. There was barely any lag time in between the speaker saying a phrase and the Buds' hearing those words and translating them into the appropriate language. The Pixel Buds will use Google Translate to comprehend conversations in 40 different languages.
Some other features include a 5-hour battery life, and a charging case that can hold up to 24 hours of battery life. They're available for preorder today for $159.
Google

Google Debuts Its $400 Google Home Max Speaker To Rival Apple's HomePod (techcrunch.com) 60

In addition to the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL, Google debuted a $400 speaker, called Home Max, that looks to compete directly with Apple's recently announced HomePod. The Home Max is a larger Google Home that features stereo speakers and more premium looks and materials. It's expected to go on sale in December in the U.S. TechCrunch reports: It can tune its audio to its own space, analyzing the sound coming from the speaker using its built in microphones to determine the best equalizer settings. This is called Smart Sound, and it evolves over time and based on where you move the speaker, using built-in machine learning. It has Cast functionality, as well as input via stereo 3.5 mm jack. Home Max can output sound that's up to 20 times more powerful than the standard version of Home, Google says, and it has two 4.5 inch woofers on board with two 0.7 inch custom-built tuners. It can sit in either vertical or horizontal orientation, and it comes in both 'chalk' and 'charcoal.' Of course, this bigger speaker also includes a noise isolating array that makes it work even in open rooms with background noise, and it's Assistant-enabled, so you can use it to control your music playback via voice, or manage your smart home devices, set yourself reminders, alarms, and timers and much more. Google also launched a budget-friendly Google Home Mini that features the Google Assistant but in a smaller form factor. 9to5Google reports: Google touts the Home Mini as having a powerful speaker with "crisp" 360 degree sound. The Mini can also be connected to any Chromecast wireless speaker, but there is no 3.5mm jack like Amazon's Echo Dot. In the center, there are four white lights that note when the Home Mini is listening or responding. Besides saying the "Ok, Google" hotword, users can tap on the Home Mini to issue a command. Google also retained the Home's original button for disabling the microphone with a toggle next to the charging port. The Google Home Mini will be go on sale later this month for $49, with pre-orders starting today.
Sci-Fi

According To Star Trek: Discovery, Starfleet Still Runs Microsoft Windows (theverge.com) 237

AmiMoJo shares a report from The Verge: The third episode of Star Trek: Discovery aired this week, and at one point in the episode, Sonequa Martin-Green's Michael Burnham is tasked with reconciling two suites of code. In the show, Burnham claims the code is confusing because it deals with quantum astrophysics, biochemistry, and gene expression. And while the episode later reveals that it's related to the USS Discovery's experimental new mycelial network transportation system, Twitter user Rob Graham noted the code itself is a little more pedestrian in nature. More specifically, it seems to be decompiled code for the infamous Stuxnet virus, developed by the United States to attack Iranian computers running Windows.
Advertising

T-Mobile Won't Stop Claiming Its Network Is Faster Than Verizon's (theverge.com) 106

T-Mobile says it will continue to claim it has the country's fastest LTE network even after the National Advertising Division, a telecom industry watchdog group, "recommended" that it stop doing so in print, TV, and web advertisements. In a statement given to Ars Technica, "NAD previously recognized third-party crowdsourced data as a way to look at network performance, so we looked at the latest results, and verified what we already knew. T-Mobile is still the fastest LTE network and we'll continue to let consumers know that." The Verge reports: The dispute arose earlier this year as part of a T-Mobile ad campaign that insinuated that Verizon's network was older and slower, and that its service did not feature unlimited plans. Verizon then filed a complaint with the NAD, which is a self-regulatory body of the telecom industry designed to settle disputes, avoid litigation, and protect against unwanted government regulation. Verizon said at the time that because T-Mobile was relying on crowdsourced data from third-party speed test providers Ookla and OpenSignal, the data was skewed in favor of T-Mobile. The data was pulled from a one-month period after Verizon first reintroduced its unlimited plans. Verizon's logic wasn't super bulletproof: the company claimed that because it had never before offered unlimited plans, T-Mobile customers -- who were familiar with the concept of throttling after a certain data threshold -- were more likely to be sampled in the crowdsourced data set provided to the NAD. Still, T-Mobile discontinued the disputed commercial, and the NAD felt the need to offer guidelines last week, advising the company not to claim its network was faster or newer. In addition, the NAD also told T-Mobile to modify its claim that it covered 99.7 percent of Verizon customers to make clear that the coverage is by population and not geographic area.
Microsoft

Microsoft Shutters Groove Music, Will Move Users To Spotify (techcrunch.com) 51

Microsoft announced today that it will soon shutter both its Groove Music Pass streaming service and the ability to purchase songs and albums in the Windows Store. The biggest surprise isn't that the service never took off, it's that Microsoft has partnered with Spotify to move all its Groove Music Pass customers over to Spotify. TechCrunch reports: Starting December 31, the Groove Music app will lose its features for streaming, purchasing and downloading music. Microsoft promises that moving to Spotify will be pretty seamless and that virtually all the songs and playlists that Groove users created over the years will transfer to the new service. Windows Insiders will be able to test this out with the next update, which is scheduled to roll out next week. Users will have until at least January 31, 2018 to make the move, though. For the most part, Spotify offers a superset of Groove's music catalog, so except for a few edge cases, there's no reason to believe that moving to Spotify would be a great loss for Groove Music Pass customers. And because Spotify is available on Windows Phone, too, even the few users still left on Microsoft's failed mobile platform won't miss out. As for Groove Music itself, Microsoft says the actual app won't go away anytime soon. It'll still be available for playing back and managing music that's stored locally.
Mozilla

Donate Your Noise To Xiph/Mozilla's Deep-Learning Noise Suppression Project (xiph.org) 119

Mozilla-backed researchers are working on a real-time noise suppression algorithm using a neural network -- and they want your noise! Long-time Slashdot reader jmv writes: The Mozilla Research RRNoise project combines classic signal processing with deep learning, but it's small and fast. No expensive GPUs required -- it runs easily on a Raspberry Pi. The result is easier to tune and sounds better than traditional noise suppression systems (been there!). And you can help!
From the site: Click on this link to let us record one minute of noise from where you are... We're interested in noise from any environment where you might communicate using voice. That can be your office, your car, on the street, or anywhere you might use your phone or computer.
They claim it already sounds better than traditional noise suppression systems, and even though the code isn't optmized yet, "it already runs about 60x faster than real-time on an x86 CPU."
DRM

Hollywood's International War on Kodi Plugins And Video-Streaming Boxes (eff.org) 57

An anonymous reader quotes the EFF: In the past few years, the sale of pre-configured Kodi boxes, and the availability of a range of plugins providing access to streaming media, has seen the software's popularity balloon -- and made it the latest target of Hollywood's copyright enforcement juggernaut. We've seen this in the appearance of streaming media boxes as an enforcement priority in the U.S. Trade Representative's Special 301 Report, in proposals for new legislation targeting the sale of "illicit" media boxes, and in lawsuits that have been brought on both sides of the Atlantic to address the "problem" that media boxes running Kodi, like any Web browser, can be used to access media streams that were not authorized by the copyright holder...

The difficulty facing the titans of TV is that since neither those who sell Kodi boxes, nor those who write or host add-ons for the software, are engaging in any unauthorized copying by doing so, cases targeting these parties have to rely on other legal theories. So far several legal theories have been used; one in Europe against sellers of Kodi boxes, one in Canada against the owner of the popular Kodi add-on repository TVAddons, and two in the United States against TVAddons and a plugin developer... These lawsuits by big TV incumbents seem to have a few goals: to expand the scope of secondary copyright infringement yet again, to force major Kodi add-on distributors off of the Internet, and to smear and discourage open source, freely configurable media players by focusing on the few bad actors in that ecosystem.

The EFF details the specific lawsuits in each region, and concludes that their courts "should reject these expansions of copyright liability, and TV networks should not target neutral platforms and technologies for abusive lawsuits."
Power

Solar Powered Smartwatch Successfully Crowdfunded on Kickstarter (theverge.com) 69

An anonymous reader quotes the Verge: Battery life on smartwatches is, in a word, bad. And while most of today's watches can more or less make it through a day without dying, they're still a far cry from the months or even years that traditional watches can run for. What if you never had to charge your smartwatch? That's the promise of Lunar, a new Kickstarter project that claims to be the world's first solar-powered smartwatch... The company says that the watch can charge off both indoor and outdoor light, and can run off as little as one hour of exposure a day. (The company also includes a traditional inductive charger as a backup.)

As for the watch itself, it's a pretty standard hybrid smartwatch, solar power aside. It'll be able to do basic activity and sleep tracking, offer some limited notification support through a colored LED, and automatically set time zones through a connected smartphone app. Also, given the need for low power consumption for the solar charging to feasibly work, there's no screen on the Lunar. Instead, there's just a ring of LED lights located where hour markers would be.

The campaign reached its funding goal wIthin two days of launching -- and one week later had double that amount, raising a total of $101,987 from 564 backers.

It's not clear if Slashdot readers love or hate smartwatches. Does it make a difference if the watch is solar powered?
Television

Comcast's New 'Xfinity Instant TV' Streaming Service Charges $18 For What Antennas Offer For Free (exstreamist.com) 91

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Exstreamist: Comcast announced this week that they plan on rolling out their streaming service, "Xfinity Instant TV" as an option for broadband-only customers. At our very first glance, it seemed like a pretty good deal, a live-streaming service for $18 a month, not bad right? But once we actually looked into the offering, we noticed something funny. Almost the entirety of what they're planning on charging $18 a month for could be viewed free with an antenna. According to the Wall Street Journal, the antenna as an option is apparently a long lost TV option for many consumers. Variety is reporting, "Xfinity Instant TV" intro packages, the ones that are $18, will only include a handful of broadcast channels, and a few "freebies" like the Home Shopping Network, and CSPAN So we're not exactly talking about getting access to ESPN, CNN, FX, or other more desirable channels for cord cutters, those will cost you at least $45 more a month, so basically the cost of your current cable television package. The report notes that the service is only available to Comcast internet subscribers and does include access to on-demand services.
Piracy

Star Trek: Discovery Nearly Cracks Pirate Bay's Top 10 In Less Than 24 Hours (ew.com) 390

Yesterday was the season premiere of the first new Star Trek TV series in 12 years. While the first episode aired on the CBS broadcast network Sunday night, the second episode -- and all the rest to come -- was made available exclusively on the CBS All Access streaming service for $6 a month. Naturally, this upset Trekkies and led many of them to find alternative methods to watch the show. EW reports that Star Trek: Discovery "is on the verge of cracking Pirate Bay's Top 10 most illegally downloaded shows in less than 24 hours." From the report: The Discovery pilot is currently at No. 11 on the list (apparently at No. 15 just a few hours ago), the pilot is up there with the likes of HBO's Game of Thrones, Adult Swim's Rick and Morty and, for some reason, TNT's The Last Ship. The show's second episode is at No. 17, which is a tad surprising as that was the one that wasn't free. Ever since the distribution plan was first announced fans have resisted with some vehemence the idea of paying for "yet another streaming service just to watch a single show" (there's more than one show on All Access, CBS is quick to point out, and then a debate over the relative merits of NCIS and MacGyver repeats ensues).
Movies

Amazon Slashes Prices on 4K Content in Response To Apple TV 4K's Launch (theverge.com) 25

An anonymous reader shares a report: One of the many announcements at Apple's keynote a couple weeks ago was that 4K movies would be added to iTunes at the same price as HD content. Previously purchased HD movies would also be upgraded to 4K for free, though for streaming only. In response, Amazon Video has drastically slashed the prices of its own 4K content to match iTunes. As Pocket Lint notes, Amazon Video's 4K selection is not only limited in comparison to Apple's, but was incredibly expensive with purchases running over $30. (This price was comparable to services like Vudu and Google, but Apple's worked out deals to offer 4K HDR movies at $19.99.) Over the weekend, it appears prices for 4K titles on Amazon Video are now starting at around $5, with newer releases in the range of $7 to $19.
Sci-Fi

'Star Trek: Discovery' Premieres Tonight (ew.com) 456

An anonymous reader quotes EW.com: Tonight CBS will premiere the first new Star Trek TV series in 12 years at 8:30 p.m. on the company's regular broadcast network. Immediately afterward, the second episode of Star Trek: Discovery will stream exclusively on CBS All Access -- the company's $6 per month streaming service... CBS saw an opportunity to leverage the built-in popularity of Star Trek to help fuel its fledgling All Access streaming service. The service currently has about 1 million subscribers and the company's goal is to grow it to 4 million by 2020...

But once fans watch Discovery, they'll notice the show's production values aren't like a typical broadcast show, but more reminiscent of a premium cable or streaming show. CBS was able to justify spending a bit more money on Discovery since it's going onto the paid tier. Sometimes, you really do get what you pay for.

The Los Angeles Times reports each episode costs $8 million -- though Netflix is paying $6 million for each episode's international broadcast rights. The show's main title sequence has been released, and the Verge reports that the show is set before the original 1966 series (but after Star Trek: Enterprise) along with some other possible spoilers.

Space.com asked one of the show's actors who his favorite Star Trek captain was. "I mean, Kirk," answered James Frain, who plays the Vulcan Sarek in Discovery. "That's like, 'Who's your favorite James Bond?', and if you don't say 'Sean Connery,' really? Come on."
Star Wars Prequels

Saudi Arabian Textbook Shows Yoda Joining The UN (bbc.com) 87

Long-time Slashdot reader Mikkeles quotes the BBC: Saudi Arabia's education minister has apologised for the production of a school textbook in which the Star Wars character Yoda is seen superimposed on a photograph of the late King Faisal... The image, which shows the diminutive Jedi Master sitting beside King Faisal as he signs the UN Charter in 1945, was created by the Saudi artist Shaweesh. He told the BBC it was not yet clear how it had ended up in the textbook... The 2013 artwork, entitled United Nations (Yoda), is part of a series in which symbols of American pop culture -- ranging from Captain America to Darth Vader -- are superimposed onto archive photos of historical events... Shaweesh said he included Yoda because, like King Faisal, he was "wise, strong and calm".
"Someone should have checked the image before printing," he added.
Television

NVIDIA Drops the Basic Shield TV's Price To $180 (engadget.com) 66

An anonymous reader shares a report: NVIDIA's Shield TV promised to be an Android set-top box for gamers, and in that sense, it delivered. The company first released it in 2015, but its updated version cut down on price by bundling the $50 remote in to make the base-tier $200 version more cost-efficient. Now they're dropping that price down to $180, which is an even better deal. NVIDIA is keeping the $200 tier by bundling in its normally $60 controller alongside the included remote.

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