Nintendo

Nintendo's Newest Switch Accessories Are DIY Cardboard Toys (theverge.com) 74

sqorbit writes: Nintendo has announced a new experience for its popular Switch game console, called Nintendo Labo. Nintendo Labo lets you interact with the Switch and its Joy-Con controllers by building things with cardboard. Launching on April 20th, Labo will allow you to build things such as a piano and a fishing pole out of cardboard pieces that, once attached to the Switch, provide the user new ways to interact with the device. Nintendo of America's President, Reggie Fils-Aime, states that "Labo is unlike anything we've done before." Nintendo has a history of non-traditional ideas in gaming, sometimes working and sometimes not. Cardboard cuts may attract non-traditional gamers back to the Nintendo platform. While Microsoft and Sony appear to be focused on 4K, graphics and computing power, Nintendo appears focused on producing "fun" gaming experiences, regardless of how cheesy or technologically outdated they me be. Would you buy a Nintendo Labo kit for $69.99 or $79.99? "The 'Variety Kit' features five different games and Toy-Con -- including the RC car, fishing, and piano -- for $69.99," The Verge notes. "The 'Robot Kit,' meanwhile, will be sold separately for $79.99."
Businesses

Buying Headphones in 2018 is Going To Be a Fragmented Mess (theverge.com) 265

Vlad Savov, writing for The Verge: At CES this year, I saw the future of headphones, and it was messy. Where we once had the solid reliability of a 3.5mm analog connector working with any jack shaped to receive it, there's now a divergence of digital alternatives -- Lightning or USB-C, depending on your choice of jack-less phone -- and a bunch of wireless codecs and standards to keep track of. Oh, and Sony's working hard on promoting a new 4.4mm Pentaconn connector as the next wired standard for dedicated audio lovers. It's all with the intent of making things better, but before we get to the better place, we're going to spend an uncomfortable few months (or longer) in a fragmented market where you'll have to do diligent research to make sure your next pair of headphones works with all the devices you already own.
Portables (Apple)

10 Years of the MacBook Air (theverge.com) 152

Ten years ago today, Steve Jobs introduced the MacBook Air. "Apple's Macworld 2008 was a special one, taking place just days after the annual Consumer Electronics Show had ended and Bill Gates bid farewell to Microsoft," The Verge recalls. "Jobs introduced the MacBook Air by removing it from a tiny paper office envelope, and the crowd was audibly shocked at just how small and thin it was..." From the report: At the time, rivals had thin and light laptops on the market, but they were all around an inch thick, weighed 3 pounds, and had 8- or 11-inch displays. Most didn't even have full-size keyboards, but Apple managed to create a MacBook Air with a wedge shape so that the thickest part was still thinner than the thinnest part of the Sony TZ Series -- one of the thinnest laptops back in 2008. It was a remarkable feat of engineering, and it signaled a new era for laptops. Apple ditched the CD drive and a range of ports on the thin MacBook Air, and the company introduced a multi-touch trackpad and SSD storage. There was a single USB 2.0 port, alongside a micro-DVI port and a headphone jack. It was minimal, but the price was not. Apple's base MacBook Air cost $1,799 at the time, an expensive laptop even by today's standards.
AI

French Songwriter Kiesza Composes First Mainstream Music Album Co-Written With AI (bbc.com) 51

dryriver shares a report from the BBC, highlighting "a new album that features everything from cowboy sci-fi to Europop." What's special about the album -- Hello World by Canadian singer Kiesza -- is that it's the first full-length mainstream music album co-written with the help of artificial intelligence. You can judge the quality for yourself: First, view the single "Hellow Shadow" with Canadian singer Kiesza. Next, the BBC story, which seems to think that the album is actually rather good: "Benoit Carre has written songs for some of France's biggest stars: from Johnny Halliday -- the French Elvis, who died last year -- to chanteuse Francoise Hardy. But this month, the 47-year-old is releasing an album with a collaborator he could never have dreamt of working with. It's not a singer, or rapper. It's not even really a musician. It's called Flow Machines, and it is, arguably, the world's most advanced artificially-intelligent music program. For musicians, there's been one good thing about these projects so far: the music they've produced has been easy to dismiss, generic and uninspiring -- hardly likely to challenge Bob Dylan in the songwriting department. But Carre's album, Hello World, is different for the simple reason that it's good. Released under the name SKYGGE (Danish for shadow), it features everything from sci-fi cowboy ballads to Europop, and unlike most AI music, if you heard it on the radio, you wouldn't think something had gone horribly wrong. Flow Machines, developed at Sony's Computer Science Laboratories in Paris, does indeed write original melodies, Carre adds. It also suggests the chords and sounds to play them with. But Carre says a human is always needed to stitch the songs together, give them structure and emotion. Without people, its songs would be a bit rubbish. "There were many people involved in this," he says, listing the likes of Belgian house producer Stromae and Canadian pop star Kiesza. "They gave their soul, their enthusiasm. I think that's the most important point of the album, in a way -- that it's a very human one.'"
Power

Power Outage Brings CES To a Standstill For Nearly 2 Hours (cnet.com) 58

A major power outage brought a major portion of the Consumer Electronics Show in the Las Vegas Center to a standstill for nearly 2 hours today. The lights went out at around 11:13 a.m. PT, just as the second day of CES 2018 was ramping up, and didn't turn back on until around 12:34 p.m. PT. CNET reports: It came a day after more than an inch of rain fell in Las Vegas, which caused flash flooding in the desert city. (Wednesday's weather is clear and warm, and it's unclear if the power outage was at all related.) The first reports of the blackout came from the convention center's Central Hall, which houses the giant booths for show mainstays including Sony, Samsung, LG and Intel -- though Samsung's booth still had limited electricity thanks to its own private backup power. By noon, security guards were refusing entry to parts of the Convention Center. The website of Nevada Energy, the power provider, listed the cause of the problem as "customer-owned electrical equipment."
Television

The World's First 88-inch 8K OLED Display (engadget.com) 136

From a report: Come CES, LG will be letting attendees get up close with its new 88-inch 8K OLED display, which is both the largest and the highest-resolution OLED panel to date. But as far as specs go, that's all we have for now. Previously, the largest OLED screen size was 77 inches, and it "only" came in 4K. While this combination is currently offered to consumers by the likes of LG Electronics, Sony and Panasonic, they all source their large OLED panels from LG Display.
Cellphones

HTC, Motorola Say They Don't Slow Old Phones Like Apple Does (theverge.com) 133

After Apple confirmed last week that it reduces the performance of older iPhones to improve battery life, it has left many wondering whether or not other smartphone manufacturers do the same. HTC and Motorola are the two most recent OEMs to say they don't throttle their phones' processor speeds as their batteries age. The Verge reports: In emails to The Verge, both companies said they do not employ similar practices with their smartphones. An HTC spokesperson said that designing phones to slow down their processor as their battery ages "is not something we do." A Motorola spokesperson said, "We do not throttle CPU performance based on older batteries." The Verge also reached out to Google, Samsung, LG, and Sony for comment on whether their phone processors are throttled in response to aging batteries. A Sony spokesperson said a response would be delayed by the holidays, and a Samsung spokesperson said the company was looking into it. The responses begin to clarify whether or not throttling processor speeds is typical behavior in smartphones -- as of last week, we knew that Apple was doing it, but not whether it was common practice among competitors. HTC and Motorola's responses start to suggest that it's not.
Power

FCC Approves First Wireless 'Power-At-A-Distance' Charging System (engadget.com) 138

The FCC has approved the first wireless charger that works from up to three feet away. Engadget reports: San Jose-based startup, Energous, announced on Tuesday that it has received the first such FCC certification for power-at-a-distance wireless charging with its WattUp Mid Field transmitter. The transmitter converts electricity into radio frequencies, then beams the energy to nearby devices outfitted with a corresponding receiver. This differs from the resonant induction method that the Pi wireless charging system relies upon and offers a greater range than the Belkin and Mophie chargers that require physical contact with the device. The WattUp can charge multiple devices simultaneously and should work on any number of devices, from phones and tablets to keyboards and earbuds, so long as they're outfitted with the right receiver. What's more, the WattUp ecosystem is manufacturer-agnostic -- like WiFi -- meaning that you'll still be able to, for example, charge your Samsung phone even if the transmitter is made by Sony or Apple.
Movies

What Disney's Acquisition of Fox Means For the Future of Film and TV (qz.com) 139

Disney announced on Thursday it had reached a $52 billion deal to buy most of the assets of 21st Century Fox. It is "the biggest and most consequential media merger in an era of big and consequential media consolidation deals," reports Quartz. "The deal will have a lasting effect on film, television, and the internet." From the report: If the merger is approved, Disney will own: All of Fox's film studios (20th Century Fox, Fox Searchlight, and Fox 2000); Fox's television studio; FX Networks; National Geographic; Fox's stake in European broadcaster Sky; Fox's stake in North American streamer Hulu. Staying with the hollowed out 21st Century Fox is the Fox broadcast network, Fox News, Fox Sports, and Fox Business. With Fox's film and TV studios and its cable networks, Disney will acquire the rights to literally hundreds of popular television series and movies. (Some of which include Avatar, X-Men, Deadpool, Modern Family and The Simpsons.)

Imagine all of the properties mentioned above, plus all of Disney's existing franchises (Star Wars, Marvel, Pixar, etc.) combined into one internet streaming service. You won't have to imagine for long, because that's pretty much exactly why Disney CEO Bob Iger was so keen on buying all of Fox's biggest assets. Disney plans to release a streaming entertainment service in 2019. It would have been quite formidable on its own, even without Fox's help, but now it will likely be the first true rival to Netflix in the streaming space. Before today, Disney, Fox, and Comcast (NBCUniversal) all shared equal 30% stakes in Hulu (Time Warner owns 10%). But when Disney takes over Fox's share of the streaming service, it will own 60%, becoming a controlling majority owner, relegating Comcast to minority owner in the process.

20th Century Fox, we hardly knew ye. Okay, that may be a bit premature, but it's clear that Fox's film business won't be the same if the merger is approved. The deal marks the first time in modern history that one major film studio has purchased another, eliminating one of the "big six," and essentially giving Disney control of two-thirds of Hollywood. (The other four major movie studios are Universal, Warner Bros., Paramount, and Sony.)

Nintendo

Nintendo Switch Sales Hit 10 Million Units, Could Outdo the Wii (fastcompany.com) 80

Nintendo's big bet on a hybrid portable and home game system is paying off, with 10 million Nintendo Switch units sold in nine months. From a report: Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime told Variety that the Switch could even top first-year sales of the Wii, the company's best-selling console yet -- if momentum holds up through the holidays. Strong sales will be important for Nintendo as it tries to convince game publishers to invest in the platform, whose less powerful hardware can't always handle the same games as Microsoft's Xbox and Sony's PlayStation consoles.
Music

YouTube to Launch New Music Subscription Service in March (bloomberg.com) 59

An anonymous reader shares a report: YouTube plans to introduce a paid music service in March, according to people familiar with the matter, a third attempt by parent company Alphabet Inc. to catch up with rivals Spotify and Apple. The new service could help appease record-industry executives who have pushed for more revenue from YouTube. Warner Music Group, one of the world's three major record labels, has already signed on, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing private talks. YouTube is also in talks with the two others, Sony Music Entertainment and Universal Music Group, and Merlin, a consortium of independent labels, the people said.
Hardware

The Secret to Tech's Next Big Breakthroughs? Stacking Chips (wsj.com) 116

Christopher Mims, writing for the Wall Street Journal: A funny thing is happening to the most basic building blocks of nearly all our devices. Microchips, which are usually thin and flat, are being stacked like pancakes (Editor's note: the link could be paywalled). Chip designers -- now playing with depth, not just length and width -- are discovering a variety of unexpected dividends in performance, power consumption and capabilities. Without this technology, the Apple Watch wouldn't be possible. Nor would the most advanced solid-state memory from Samsung, artificial-intelligence systems from Nvidia and Google, or Sony's crazy-fast next-gen camera. Think of this 3-D stacking as urban planning. Without it, you have sprawl -- microchips spread across circuit boards, getting farther and farther apart as more components are needed. But once you start stacking chips, you get a silicon cityscape, with everything in closer proximity.

The advantage is simple physics: When electrons have to travel long distances through copper wires, it takes more power, produces heat and reduces bandwidth. Stacked chips are more efficient, run cooler and communicate across much shorter interconnections at lightning speed, says Greg Yeric, director of future silicon technology for ARM Research, part of microchip design firm ARM.

News

Not Every Article Needs a Picture (theoutline.com) 134

An anonymous reader shares an article: Pictures and text often pair nicely together. You have an article about a thing, and the picture illustrates that thing, which in many cases helps you understand the thing better. But on the web, this logic no longer holds, because at some point it was decided that all texts demand a picture. It may be of a tangentially related celeb. It may be a stock photo of a person making a face. It may be a Sony logo, which is just the word SONY. I have been thinking about this for a long time and I think it is stupid. I understand that images -- clicks is industry gospel, but it seems like many publishers have forgotten their sense of pride. If a picture is worth a thousand words, it's hard for me to imagine there'll be much value in the text of an article illustrated by a generic stock image. As with so many problems, social media seems to deserve much of the blame for this. Until the mid-to-late '00s, a publication's homepage played a dominant role in driving people to individual articles. Homepages mostly mimicked the front pages of newspapers, where major stories -- things that warranted investment in original art -- had images. Other stories just got a headline. Over time, the endless space of the internet lowered the standard for which articles needed art, but still, not everything got an image. [...] Even the unflinching belief that people won't read articles if there aren't pictures doesn't hold up to logic. Sure, interesting pictures can attract readers, but most of these images are not interesting. And even if it were slightly better for business, is that really a compromise worth making?
Security

The Computer Scientist Who Prefers Voting With Paper (theatlantic.com) 219

Geoffrey.landis writes: The Atlantic profiles a computer scientist: Barbara Simons, who has been on the forefront of the pushback against electronic voting as a technology susceptible to fraud and hacking. When she first started writing articles about the dangers of electronic voting with no paper trail, the idea that software could be manipulated to rig elections was considered a fringe preoccupation; but Russia's efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election have reversed Simons's fortunes. According to the Department of Homeland Security, those efforts included attempts to meddle with the electoral process in 21 states; while a series of highly publicized hacks -- at Sony, Equifax, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management -- has driven home the reality that very few computerized systems are truly secure. Simons is a former President of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM); and the group she helps run, Verified Voting, has been active in educating the public about the dangers of unverified voting since 2003.
Businesses

iPhone X Costs Apple $370 in Materials: IHS Markit (ihsmarkit.com) 120

Engineers at marketing research firm IHS Markit cracked open the base version iPhone X, which Apple is selling at $999, this week. After preliminary physical dissection, the firm estimated that the iPhone X carries a bill of materials of $370. From their findings: With a starting price of $999, the iPhone X is $50 more than the previous most expensive iPhone, the 8 Plus 256 GB. As another point of comparison, Samsung's Galaxy S8 with 64 GB of NAND memory has a BOM of $302 and retails at around $720. "Typically, Apple utilizes a staggered pricing strategy between various models to give consumers a tradeoff between larger and smaller displays and standard and high-density storage," said Wayne Lam, principal analyst for mobile devices and networks at IHS Markit. "With the iPhone X, however, Apple appears to have set an aspirational starting price that suggests its flagship is intended for an even more premium class of smartphones." The teardown of the iPhone X revealed that its IR camera is supplied by Sony/Foxconn while the silicon is provided by ST Microelectronics. The flood illuminator is an IR emitter from Texas Instruments that's assembled on top of an application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) and single-photon avalanche diode (SPAD) detector from ST Microelectronics. Finisar and Philips manufacture the dot projector. IHS Markit puts the rollup BOM cost for the TrueDepth sensor cluster at $16.70.
Security

Should Private Companies Be Allowed To Hit Back At Hackers? (vice.com) 141

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: The former director of the NSA and the U.S. military's cybersecurity branch doesn't believe private companies should be allowed to hit back at hackers. "If it starts a war, you can't have companies starting a war. That's an inherently governmental responsibility, and plus the chances of a company getting it wrong are fairly high," Alexander said during a meeting with a small group of reporters on Monday. During a keynote he gave at a cybersecurity conference in Manhattan, Alexander hit back at defenders of the extremely common, although rarely discussed or acknowledged, practice of revenge hacking, or hack back. During his talk, Alexander said that no company, especially those attacked by nation state hackers, should ever be allowed to try to retaliate on its own.

Using the example of Sony, which was famously hacked by North Korea in late 2014, Alexander said that if Sony had gone after the hackers, it might have prompted them to throw artillery into South Korea once they saw someone attacking them back. "We can give Sony six guys from my old place there," he said, presumably referring to the NSA, "and they'd beat up North Korea like red-headed stepchild -- no pun intended." But that's not a good idea because it could escalate a conflict, and "that's an inherently governmental responsibility. So if Sony can't defend it, the government has to." Instead, Keith argued that the U.S. government should be able to not only hit back at hackers -- as it already does -- but should also have more powers and responsibilities when it comes to stopping hackers before they even get in. Private companies should share more data with the U.S. government to prevent breaches, ha said.

Intel

Arch-rivals Intel and AMD Team Up on PC Chips To Battle Nvidia (pcworld.com) 169

Intel and AMD, arch-rivals for decades, are teaming up to thwart a common competitor, Nvidia. On Monday, the two companies said they are co-designing an Intel Core microprocessor with a custom AMD Radeon graphics core inside the processor package. The chip is intended for laptops that are thin and lightweight but powerful enough to run high-end videogames, the companies said. From a report: Executives from both AMD and Intel told PCWorld that the combined AMD-Intel chip will be an "evolution" of Intel's 8th-generation, H-series Core chips, with the ability to power-manage the entire module to preserve battery life. It's scheduled to ship as early as the first quarter of 2018. Though both companies helped engineer the new chip, this is Intel's project -- Intel first approached AMD, both companies confirmed. AMD, for its part, is treating the Radeon core as a single, semi-custom design, in the same vein as the chips it supplies to consoles like the Microsoft Xbox One X and Sony Playstation 4. Some specifics, though, remain undisclosed: Intel refers to it as a single product, though it seems possible that it could eventually be offered at a range of clock speeds. [...] Shaking hands on this partnership represents a rare moment of harmony in an often bitter rivalry that began when AMD reverse-engineered the Intel 8080 microchip in 1975.
Media

Is the Optical Cable Dying? (cnet.com) 299

Geoffrey Morrison from CNET explains how the optical cable is "dying a very slow death": The official term for optical audio cable is "Toslink," short for Toshiba Link. Developed in the early '80s to connect their CD players to their receivers, it was a red laser optical version of the Sony/Phillips "Digital Interconnect Format" aka S/PDIF standard. You've seen standard S/PDIF connections a bunch too; they're often called "coax digital." Optical had certain benefits over copper cables, but they were also more fragile, and for a long time, more expensive. Though glass cables were available, for even more money, most optical cables were made from cheap plastic. This limited their range to in-room use, primarily. Through the '90s and 2000's, the optical cable was near-ubiquitous: The easiest way to get Dolby Digital and DTS from your cable/satellite box, TiVo, or DVD player to your receiver. Even in the early days of HDMI, right next to it would be the lowly optical cable, ready in case someone's receiver didn't accept HDMI. But now more and more gear are dropping optical. It's gone completely on the latest Roku and Apple TV 4K, for example. It's also disappeared from many smaller TVs, though it lingers on in larger ones, a potentially redundant backup to HDMI with ARC. The reason for this? Soundbars...
Android

Roku Wants To Start Streaming To Third-Party Devices (variety.com) 25

According to Variety, Roku is looking to start streaming videos on devices made or controlled by competitors like Apple and Google. The company's first foray into streaming on third-party hardware will likely involve mobile devices. From the report: The move could further accelerate Roku's efforts to transition from a hardware-revenue-based to a services-based business model -- a transition that has been in progress for years. Now, it plans to also stream some content on devices that don't run its operating system, with mobile being a likely first step. Key to Roku's expansion into mobile video is going to be the company's existing mobile app, which has already been downloaded tens of millions of times on iOS and Android. The app's current primary function is remote control, as it allows owners of Roku streaming devices and Roku-powered TVs to control these devices directly from their phones. In fact, the app can't currently be operated if there is not a Roku device available on the same Wifi network. This could change soon, as Roku is looking to integrate video playback directly into its mobile app. A first step is likely going to be the integration of the Roku Channel, an ad-supported channel that the company launched last month. The Roku Channel currently offers free, ad-supported access to several hundred movies from major studios like Lionsgate, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Sony Pictures and Warner Bros. as well as smaller publishers like American Classics, Fandor, FilmRise, Nosey, OVGuide, Popcornflix, Vidmark, and YuYu. However, Roku has been asking publishers to also grant the company the rights to stream their titles on mobile devices, according to a source familiar with these stipulations.
Robotics

Sony Reportedly Announcing New Robot Dog Next Month (wsj.com) 45

Zorro shares a report from The Wall Street Journal (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source): Sony Corp. is planning next spring to roll out a dog-shaped pet robot similar to its discontinued Aibo with updated components that could allow it to control home appliances, people familiar with the matter said. Sony is preparing for a media event in November to show off the product, the people said. It is unclear whether the new product will use the Aibo name and how much it will cost. Sony Chief Executive Kazuo Hirai said last year at a strategy briefing that the company was developing "a robot capable of forming an emotional bond with customers, and able to grow to inspire love and affection." He told The Wall Street Journal at the time that the company might make an Aibo-like dog robot. The Nikkei newspaper reported earlier this month that Sony was targeting spring 2018 for the release of a home robot.

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