Virtual Reality Continues to Make Progress

Despite not making the splash that many had expected in 2016, virtual reality (VR) isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. The technology is increasing in popularity, and as prices drop while software keeps improving, that’s a trend that will likely continue. If there were two criticisms that could be leveled at VR, it was that the cost of entry was incredibly expensive and that there were a lack of key titles to justify the expense. But it’s clear that these are problems that will be solved soon enough after getting a closer look at some of the games on the horizon at the Electronic Entertainment Expo, along with developments for some of the more affordable headsets.

combat troop in gear with VR headsets

A group of U.S. Army soldiers and Navy sailors assigned to 4th Joint Communication Support Element (Airborne)/ 4 Joint Communication Support, are operating the Dismounted Soldier Training System at Mission Command Training Branch Building, Fort Stewart, April, 2013. This training is helping sailors and soldiers operate using a virtual environment as if they were on a real life mission on a foreign battlefield. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Austin Berner/Released)

VR continued to be a high priority at this year’s E3 conference. All of the major video game companies (with the exception of Nintendo) are working on some major titles that should serve to showcase the power and capabilities of VR. Sony has already shown that it’s possible to make AAA VR games with Resident Evil 7, and the upcoming Ace Combat 7 looks like it will be the flight simulator that VR has been waiting for. As more must-play titles are released for VR devices, they will help to drive even more gamers, and casual players, to the headsets.

And these headsets are not only becoming more affordable, but also more powerful. One of the most accessible pathways to VR is through mobile-based headsets, often available for less than $200. The Google Daydream and Samsung VR have been particularly popular in this regard, and their manufacturers are looking to make them even more impressive. In addition to supporting its own Samsung Gear VR, the company’s latest smartphone, the Galaxy S8, will be updated to support Google’s Daydream VR in the summer of 2017. On top of this, Samsung is preparing to drastically increase the resolution of the Gear VR to provide an even more immersive VR experience on mobile devices.

As the applications and hardware for VR keep improving, the ability to support the technology is becoming more of a necessity for devices. Improved immersion in technology has also been a driving force in the world of games. The Samsung Gear VR has more than 700 supported apps, and we’re seeing the online gaming industry working to get in on the action, too.

Online casinos have been pushing for a more realistic experience for years through the introduction of live dealer games. These hyper-realistic takes on classic casino games allow players to directly interact with a real-time feed of an actual dealer. This makes the entire process much more immersive and dynamic, and it isn’t just for desktop users. The service has proved so popular that it was adapted for smartphones through mobile apps that use multiple viewpoints and high-definition video streams to enhance the experience. As live dealer options turn into the preferred playing method for many gamers, it won’t be long before these apps are optimized for use with mobile VR, too.

Instead of setting the world on fire, the adoption of VR has been more of a slow burn. Slowly but surely the hardware and software keeps getting better, and with this continued growth, it’s only going to keep getting more popular, especially when it comes to mobile. If you haven’t gotten the fever to try out VR for yourself yet, it’s about to be a whole lot easier.

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Magnet-driven Connecting Fittings

Invis Mx2 is an interesting product (magnet-driven connecting fittings) that allow you to screw items together using magnetic forces. To use it you just use a typical drill with a connector that uses magnetic forces to turn a screw inside what you are trying to connect.

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A TV That Doesn’t Spy on You?

Most (all?) “smart”/spy TVs spy on you many different ways. Some even record what you say and save that information and send it over the internet. So often these days companies say we don’t do x or y only to later say that oh well we do… And even if they say you can opt out of being spied on if the device has the capability of spying on you relying on them to actually honor request not to be spied upon seems unwise.

It seems much safer to just have monitors that display the content you requested be displayed and don’t have spying capabilities built in.

What large screen TV monitors today are free from spying capabilities imagined by George Orwell in his book, 1984?

Karma Hotspot – $50/m Unlimited Data @5 Mps in the USA

This seems like a very nice option for people with bandwidth needs that don’t fit in the tiny caps most cell phone providers put on plans. For $50/month you get unlimited data @5 Mps in the USA. You can get small increases to the speed by buying data in bite sized chunks (1Gb for $14 or $99 for 10GB, which doesn’t expire).

photo of the small karma hotspot device in someone's hand

The bite sized chunks mainly make sense if you don’t have high data needs for the hotspot – but want it occasionally (and perhaps as backup for your primary connection). The $50/month offer is limited to 3 devices connecting at a time, compared to 8 for the other option.

The device itself costs $149. The device has up to 8 hours of battery life and over 220 hours of standby time.

Currently the devices use Sprint’s Nationwide 4G LTE network, with fallback to 3G CDMA. It seems like a nice option for travelers to me.

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Portable Mini-Projector: P700 Pico DLP Projector from Aaxa

image of the P700 Pico DLP mini-projector

The P700 Pico DLP Projector from Aaxa provides high quality projection from a tiny box.

The mini-projector is just 6.9″ wide by 3.9″ deep by 1.6″ tall while weighing under 2 pounds and it provides 650 Lumens with 70+ Minute Li-Ion Battery Life, 15000 Hour LED, 1280×800 (WXGA) HD Resolution, 2000:1 Contrast Ratio, HDMI, mini-VGA, Composite A/V, USB, microSD, 2x 1W Speakers, DLP Technology and a 1 Year Warranty.

The main market is likely to provide a very portable way to give quick presentations.

I wonder if it will be of interest to digital nomads. They could use this to project video onto a wall instead of watching it on their laptop. I might consider something like this when I go back on the road. If anyone has used a device like this that way, please share your thoughts below.

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HomeWorx HDTV Digital Converter (Receiver) with Media Player

I have an ancient HDTV. It is a projection “65 inch TV which is perfectly fine with me (other than it needing to have the bulbs replaced). But it doesn’t have a receiver in the TV (it is only HDTV ready – no receiver inside the box.

Not having a receiver is actually a benefit in my opinion you are not stuck with the “smart TV” spying trackware, listening to you in the room via the smart TV speaker etc.. My unit is so old it was done separately because the receiver technology wasn’t settled yet.

After I returned from 4 years overseas the receiver was missing. So I picked up a new HomeWorx HDTV Digital Converter Box with Media Player and Recording PVR Function (HW180STB) for $30.

The recording PVR option confused me because I couldn’t find the capacity anywhere. After reading a bit I learned that you just use usb sticks to store data. This lets you recored programs over the air using your HDTV antenna and this receiver.

Many people get this when they drop cable TV. I am a bit confused since many of those people have smart TVs (meaning the TV has an HDTV receiver and you can hook up your HDTV antenna to it directly). Some people say this receiver is much better so that you can get stations that isn’t received by the expensive smart TV. You also get the HDTV recording without paying a monthly fee.

It was super simple to setup. I screwed my antenna into this box and this box into my TV (both coaxial cables – the HomeWorx HW180STB also lets you use standard video cables). By far the hardest part was finding AAA batteries. I eventually found them in a small flashlight and then it was just a matter of pushing the down arrow twice and enter: then it recorded all the signals it received).

It captured 47 stations (though maybe 20 of those are pretty fake – either nothing at all or shopping channels and other stuff I have no interest in). It gets all the major stations well (except PBS seems a bit flaky)l and all I have is the antenna sitting in my basement pointing out 1 window (I din’t try adjusting it at all).

Before I left I also had only over the air TV. Then I had the antenna setup in my attic and used the cable TV coaxial cable to hook to my TV. Now I am getting my internet via the cable company so I am not sure what would happen if I try to hook up my antenna to the coaxial cabling that is now carrying my internet feed. Maybe it would work? The antenna was unhooked when I returned (I am not sure it that was done in my absence or I did it for some reason before I left).

I haven’t tried doing anything fancy yet (not even recording) but it is nice to have access to over the air TV (mainly just for sports), I hadn’t bothered getting it hooked up for 2 months. All I used was Netflix and got a HDTV cable to view the playback on the 65″ screen.

My TV is a Toshiba built in 2005 and doesn’t have integrated lamp units you just slide out and replace, sadly. This is what you must deal with to replace the lamp. What were they thinking? I guess this can partially be excused by being a very early HDTV product. But still, not providing a decent replacement option for the lamps is pretty lame. I am trying to hire someone to do it for me, so far unsuccessfully, but I have someone that thinks they can do it.

closeup of lamps and circuit boards

Lamps inside 65″ projection Toshiba HDTV 65h84

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Multiple Screens for Your Laptop

The Slidenjoy laptop screens seem like a cool idea for mobile laptop users.

The main thing I miss on my laptop versus my desktop is screen real estate (I had 3 large screen for my desktop but just one 15″ MacbookPro screen.

The device attaches to your laptop and with 1 or 2 extra screens that can be displayed in various useful formats (extra screen while you work and also sharing screen views while presenting or working with others.

One USB connection is all it requires. Single Slidenjoy screens start at just €199 and duel additional screens start at €299.

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Boosting Wifi Signal Strength While You Travel or While at Home

One of the frustrating things while traveling is getting a weak wifi signal in your hotel room. A good tool in that case is they BearExtender Turbo High Speed 802.11ac USB Wi-Fi Adapter for Mac OS X [BearExtender dropped support for Macs, link removed] (Windows version). Even though the mac version description says it is not compatible with Yosemite, the comments indicate an update was made January 2015 to make it work with Yosemite.

photo of Bear wifi signal extender

The BearExtender also works to provide better wifi signals around your house. Some models are designed to connect with your router (Netgear range extender, for example) and are not as suited to travel use as the others are). BearExtender can be used for travel or home.

Alternative wifi extenders: Alfa AWUS036NH 2000mW 2W 802.11g/n High Gain USB Wireless G / N Long-Range WiFi Network Adapter with 5dBi Screw-On Swivel Rubber Antenna and 7dBi Panel Antenna and Suction cup / clip window mount, D-Link Wireless N 300 Mbps Compact Wi-Fi Range Extender (DAP-1320), NETGEAR N300 Wi-Fi Range Extender, Essentials Edition (EX2700) and TP-LINK TL-WPA4220KIT ADVANCED 300Mbps Universal WiFi Range Extender, Repeater, AV500 Powerline Edition, WiFi Clone Button, 2 LAN Ports.

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Apple Watch

The Apple Watch is likely the most popular gadget of the year. People are still figuring out what benefits excite them about the watch. It seems to me the potential is huge but this initial effort is not quite amazing.

[Apple broke the link, so it is no longer available 🙁 jeez even companies with spending hundreds of millions on marketing don’t have people in charge that understand that web links must live.]

I embedded Apple’s promotional video for the watch which is obviously a sales piece but they do a very good job of showing what the watch offers.

There are many good reviews of the watch: The Apple Watch (Daring Fireball)Apple Watch Review: The Smartwatch Finally Makes Sense (WSJ)A Week on the Wrist: The Apple Watch Review (Recode)Apple Watch Review (Verge

My opinion is it is very expensive for what you get. But I can see the potential for some very wonderful things down the road. The health kit options I think will be a killer feature (maybe not right away but within a couple years).

Another feature that will be quite valuable are paying with a swipe from the watch (which seems to be less than perfect so far), but it will be very nice. Apple Pay is a very smart system given the relative ease at which consumers credit card details continue be stolen using conventional means (Apple Pay doesn’t turn over you credit card number so hackers can’t get it from poor IT systems at retailers).

The quick interactions with friends I think will be a big feature, again it may take several interactions to get this to be wonderful. The “tap” notifications seems to physically be done very well. Figuring out the right settings to properly filter what should generate that touch seems to take a bit of work (and not surprisingly apps are defaulting to too much bothering the user).

Being able to just speak to leave yourself notes is a nice feature, though my guess is one that isn’t used as much as people would think it would be.

Personally I see more potential for the watch that I see actually delivered thus far. I am more positive about the long term success of the watch today than I was when it was first announced.

I stopped wearing a watch years ago. And I don’t have any plans to start again anytime soon. But if I do, the Apple Watch is a likely candidate. It sure isn’t cheap but hopefully I can just use a bit of profit from Apple stock when the time comes to pay for one.

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Answer Your Doorbell with Your Smartphone Wherever You Are (and see video of who is at the door)

The Ring Wi-Fi Enabled Video Doorbell provides some useful features.

You can see and speak to visitors using your smartphone or tablet, whether you’re upstairs or across town.

Not everyone rings the doorbell, so the doorbell includes motion sensors to alert you of activity at your home. The sensor can detect movement up to 30 feet away. HD video recording stores all recorded footage to the cloud (it connect to your network via wifi).

I have thought about such a product since long before I ever heard of wifi (or “the cloud”). Back then I envisioned being able to see who it was and decide if I wanted to answer the door or not.

I also like the security feature of having a record of who comes to your door. If someone tries to “case” your house and check to see if you are there by ringing the doorbell, you will have a record of it (and see it in real time, wherever you are).

The doorbell can tie into existing electricity or operate using a battery.

You could rig something that does this yourself for less (it costs $199 now) but this product lets you get something up and running easily. That is actually what I figured I would do when I returned to my own house (I am busy living the nomad life for now).

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