Author: James Croft

Join James Croft and Raj Deut as we rubberneck Amazon launching in Australia, Uber spilling out all our data like so much goop from a Nickelodeon game show, Apple delays their HomePod because of reasons that I will speculate on, and EA have created a perfect god machine of evil and death which will descend from the heavens and consume us all into its open craggy maw. Can renowned Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon crack the code of Battlefront 2’s monetisation strategy before time runs out?

Amazon Australia opens tomorrow 

Uber pays off hackers to conceal data breach of 57 million users

Apple’s HomePod smart speaker delayed until 2018

EA removes all in-game purchases from Star Wars Battlefront II on the eve of its launch

Salvador Rodriguez at Reuters:

I.am+, the tech startup founded by pop star and entrepreneur will.i.am, has raised $117 million in venture funding, the company told Reuters on Monday as it announced its entry into the corporate computing market with a voice assistant for customer service.

Check the video for ‘Omega’, their new enterprise voice assistant.

This is worth $117 million?

Source: Will.i.am’s startup raises $117 million, enters enterprise market

Earlier this year, I started thinking about upgrading my TV.

The TV in question? A trusty Panasonic G10 plasma that has served me well for many, many years. Games, movies, TV. It did it all, with nary a complaint.

Smash cut to 2017; we’d moved into a new apartment, with a much larger living room. Suddenly, a 50 inch TV didn’t fill the space quite like it did before.

When gaming, I found myself having to perch precariously on a beanbag between couch and TV, just so I could read the menus. “This is no way to live.” I thought to myself while playing Zelda. Plus, you know, 4K? That’s a thing now!

Time for a new TV.

I’d never really even considered a new TV in the previous five years. Every time I wandered past the aisle in a JB HiFi, they were adopting a new unnecessary gimmick. Hyper-bright, garish LED panels. Blacks that were… dark grey. Weird 3D glasses. Curved screens.

In 2017, there are still some of those things out there. But you know what the new hotness is? You know what TV makers adopted this year as the thing to push their new tellies? (Hint: if you answered 4K, then you are a year too late. They are all 4K now.)

OLED.

Why should you care? Well, here’s a photo I took back in 2008.

This was in an airport Sony Style, back in 2008. That TV is a Sony XEL-1, the first OLED televison ever sold.

It was beautiful. Thin as a rake, with all the TV guts pushed into the base to show off that gorgeous screen. It was very expensive –  US$2499.

It was also 11 inches from corner to corner. Yep, eleven. Tiny. An iPad Pro is basically the same size now.

A full nine years on, you know what incredible technology advancements hath wrought upon us?

The iPhone. Facebook. Uber. AI. Wireless earbuds. Dumb computer watches. And, of course, mother fucking giant OLED televisions.

I love the future.

So what TVs are out there?

Let’s keep the LED vs. OLED bit brief. Samsung were the only large TV maker this year not to jump into OLED on their flagship TVs, instead opting for QLED. Let’s cut the marketing spin; QLED is a fancy name for edge-lit, quantum dot LED TVs. They’re nice! They’re totally fine.

Sony, LG, Panasonic, Hisense are also all still doing LED TVs as well. They’re cheaper than OLED. In many cases, they’re brighter. They’re bigger too.

But man, why settle for hamburger, when steak is right there?

“Hey dummy, what’s so great about OLED?”

Well, in a nutshell, the picture quality. It’s insane. When OLED TVs show you black, it’s not “black”. It’s literally, the pixel on the screen doing the black is not powered on. It’s off. So when black is displayed, it’s infinitely black.

It’s like, how much more black can it be? And the answer is… none. It can be none more black.

Coming from a plasma, that’s what I want. Ideally, in a dimly-lit Game of Thrones scene, I would like to be unsure of where the bezel ends and the TV begins.

Of course, your goals may vary, but that’s what I want out of a new TV.

So, if you’re considering OLED, there are three manufacturers in town. That number has tripled from last year! Why is this important? Because competition. Last year, LG had this market all to themselves. Prices fell, a little… eventually.

This year, the year of our lord 2017, OLED TV prices are falling, plummeting, screaming, through the floor. OzBargainers–bless those filthy jackals–are swarming around OLED TV prices like they’re the carcass of a dead antelope.

What was a four grand TV earlier today is probably three and a half by the time you read this sentence. So now’s a good time.

You should also know there are only two (financially responsible) sizes; 55-inch, and 65-inch. If you need smaller, or bigger, you’re out of luck for now.

OK, let’s break them down.

LG OLED

Frankly, LG is the king of the OLED hill. The other manufacturers I’m going to mention may have OLED TVs on the market, but guess what — their panels are both coming from LG.

LG sells 4 different models. The C7, the E7, the G7, and the W7. First things first; all of them have the exact same panel. The exact same picture quality. The exact same format support (HDR10, Dolby Vision, Hybrid Log-Gamma, Advanced HDR, etc etc). So all differences are cosmetic. They all run WebOS. They have a weird Magic Remote. It’s… not great.

I’ll start with the W7: it’s the one you’ve seen that’s so skinny, it can only be mounted on a wall. With magnets. The guts of the TV is in the accompanying soundbar. Futuristic. Lovely. It’s ten grand for the 65-inch. Forget it.

The E7 and G7: they have an attached soundbar, and slightly nicer design, for a lot more money. Me? I’ve already got a Sonos Playbar. Save yourself the cash, buy an external soundbar. Who’s looking at the back of the TV or the microscopic bezels anyway?

The C7: the same exact panel as the others. No attached sound bar. Has a plastic two-tone thing going on around the back. Black bezels instead of glass. Much cheaper. Like, fairly affordable. This is the one to get.

Also, I’ll make one other point. The LG TVs have no logo on the bezel. NONE. This is huge. I’m serious; I’ve seen some shocking Samsung TV where the logo is lit up and blaring in your face like it needs to be loved. Piss off.

For LG to have the design sensibilities to say, “Hey guys, let’s leave it off.” says volumes about how this TV hardware was designed with care.

Sony OLED

I dunno why it took Sony 9 years to circle back around to OLED TVs, but here we are – the Sony Bravia OLED A1. This TV is fantastic looking, even turned off.

It’s almost a work of art, with the unique A-frame design instead of a boring stand or legs. You might love this as an objet d’art.

However, if it’s on the wall, you won’t know any different.

Because of OLED, the A1 is able to use its own panel as an acoustic surface. Wild new tech. On its own, this may well be the best sounding TV.

However, if you are using a soundbar or surround sound, it’s totally redundant and you spent a bunch of cash on a feature you won’t use.

It runs on Android TV. If you’ve got an Android phone this may be an important point. It has all the format support you could ever want.

It’s more expensive, but not LG W Series expensive.

It has a tasteful small Sony logo on the bottom left of the bezel. It’s still there, but tucked away.

Panasonic OLED

Ah, Panasonic, my old mate. Panny. Panno (is that a thing?) is packing two models. The EZ1000 and the EZ950. The EZ1000 has an attached soundbar, and is more expensive. The EZ950 is only slightly more expensive than it’s LG C7 competition, and no soundbar.

But here’s where I pause on Panasonic; it doesn’t support Dolby Vision. I might be quite specific in my needs, but I am going to hook this TV up to a new Apple TV 4K (spoiler for a future article), and it does support Dolby Vision. There’s also quite a bit of stuff in the Netflix catalog that is mastered in Dolby Vision.

So man, apart from the picture (which is also spectacular) I don’t see quite enough to justify it from the LG, which has all dat support.

Also: bezel logo watch – it’s right there, dead-centre. Small, but ugh.

So what now?

Well, if you looked at the photo at the top of this article, you know I eventually ended up with the LG OLED C7 (in sixty-five inch, of course). To me, it had the right combo of amazing picture quality, solid design, all the format support, and affordable price.

However, please go into some bricks and mortar stores and take a look at them for yourselves. Adjust the settings. Fondle the remotes. Make the sales attendant put on Deadpool on Ultra Blu-ray. Make some kids cry.

I couldn’t notice a striking enough difference in the picture quality between these three, but maybe you can!

I have heard from some folks that they think Panasonic’s colour accuracy is superior. I have heard from others that the Sony has better image processing for busy scenes. I didn’t get hours with these TVs, to figure all that stuff out for myself. I just read a lot, and watched a lot of YouTube video reviews. I found the AVForums YouTube channel particularly helpful in this regard.

In the end, I’m happy with my choice (so far).

Part 2: Where’s it going?

So you’ve splashed a stack of pineapples, and got a brand-spankin’ new TV. It’d be a shame to leave it on a mere stand, surrounded by a rats nest of cables, wouldn’t it…?

 

Zac Bowden at Windows Central, summarising a number of candid tweets from Joe Belfiore over the weekend about the future of Windows Mobile:

In case the lack of new phones or software updates didn’t already clue you in, Microsoft has shut down any efforts to keep Windows Mobile 10 alive. On Twitter, Microsoft’s corporate vice president for Windows Joe Belfiore stated that the company is no longer actively developing new features or hardware for the platform, and that he has even switched over to an Android phone for his personal mobile needs.

I mean, we all knew that Windows Mobile was on the way out, but I thought this admission from Belfiore was particularly interesting.

So now we know that Microsoft couldn’t buy their way OR code their way into creating a vibrant app ecosystem on mobile. Companies with apps really needed a compelling reason to invest themselves, or eventually it all just falls apart.

Makes me wonder if the same thing is eventually going to happen with the Windows Store…

Source: Microsoft’s Joe Belfiore says Windows 10 Mobile features and hardware are no longer a focus | Windows Central

Pixel Buds from Google

Dieter Bohn at The Verge:

Google is making wireless headphones that are specifically designed to be the first and best option for people who buy Google phones — just like AirPods are designed for iPhones.

A couple quick thoughts from me:

  • Obviously these are corded wireless earbuds, but are not truly wireless like AirPods.
  • One of the things I really like about AirPods is being able to wear just one. This kind of corded design makes it really difficult to do that without hurting your ear.
  • Aesthetically, these remind me a lot of the i.am+ Buttons, but less blingy. Not a bad thing. If you don’t like the stem on the AirPods, perhaps you prefer this.
  • The touch controls are only on the right earbud. That’s kind of weird.
  • They don’t turn off automatically when they’re not in your ear. AirPods do.
  • These are the first earbuds I’ve seen that use a corded loop to secure it inside your ear. I hope that works!
  • The carrying case looks nowhere near as small as AirPods. I doubt they are pocketable in jeans. Wrapping the cord inside the case looks fiddly.
  • I think it’s a good idea that Google is doing simplified pairing to your device. That’s table stakes now.
  • Their headline feature ‘real time translation experience’ is mighty impressive. You can see a demo of it here in The Verge’s event supercut. Very cool, futuristic application of Google’s AI chops. How often would I use it? Not often, but it would be really cool if you need it.
  • These are priced at AU$249 vs. AirPods at AU$229.

If I was an Android user and needed a new pair of earbuds, I’d be taking a long hard look at these. However, as a current iPhone user, I’m still very happy with AirPods. They’re not perfect either, but they get a lot right.

Source: Up close with Pixel Buds, Google’s answer to AirPods – The Verge

Last night Sonos held an event in New York, and because I am a tragic who enjoys my multi-room speaker action I thought I’d summarise it for you.

  • First things first: Sonos announced the long-rumoured Sonos One. It looks a lot like a Play:1 speaker equipped with far-field microphones on top. These allow voice assistants (like Amazon’s Alexa or Google’s Assistant) to work. Comes in white or black, priced at AU$299. Preorder is now open. It delivers October 24th.
  • Because Alexa support is not officially available in Australia yet, Sonos are pitching the Sonos One as coming with ‘future-ready voice control’ for us Aussie battlers. So those fancy new features aren’t going to be ready for you right out of the box.
  • Should you get one anyway? Hard to say. There’s probably a way to trick it into thinking you’re in the US, but I couldn’t say for sure until it ships.
  • If you’ve already got an Echo, Dot (or other Alexa device) you can now sign up for the public beta to enable Alexa support for your existing speakers. An firmware update is coming soon to switch it on. It’ll do anything Alexa does now. Neat.
  • Don’t get too stoked though, because right now Alexa playback support is only limited to Amazon Music, Tunein, Pandora, iHeartRadio, SiriusXM. So you could tell Alexa to play Triple J via TuneIn, but not your Spotify 90s playlist (yet). Support for more streaming services is coming ‘soon after launch’.
  • Google Assistant support is coming in 2018. Sonos want to be able to enable multiple assistants, so expect them to integrate with others in the future too. I’m looking at you Cortana user, you beautiful weird rare unicorn.
  • Sonos is offically committing to support Airplay 2, which means they will be able to be controlled by any Siri-capable device. It also means that non-Sonos approved sources –say, a podcast player or music player– should be able to be played on their speakers too. They haven’t yet confirmed this is for all existing Sonos speakers, but because AirPlay 2 is software-based, it should be able to be added. Again, this is coming later in 2018.
  • A redesigned Sonos app is now available in the Australian iOS App Store and Google Play. It has a tab bar at the bottom! Thank god.
  • It prompted an update of my speakers immediately.
  • My long-shot hope remained unfulfilled – Sonos did not talk about updating the Playbar/Playbase with Dolby Atmos support. Dang.

That’s all the major news! Personally, I’m still waiting on which voice assistant ecosystem to commit to. After all this news, I’m still not sure.

Consider this: if Alexa support officially comes to Australia soon, then that will make the Play One a great option. For existing Sonos owners, a couple of cheap Amazon Dots would do the same job.

Or, if you’re Google inclined (or are considering the recently-announced Google Home Mini or Google Home Max) then you can buy a Play One instead of a Google Home, and all you are waiting for is for Sonos to enable their support for Google Assistant.

Or, if Airplay 2 support is coming, then the door is open for a combination of Sonos speakers and a HomePod (or, y’know, any Siri-enabled Apple device).

Whichever flavour you choose, most Aussie Sonos owners are still going to need to wait for a piece of this puzzle to fall into place before fully committing to the voice-assisted future.

Michael McWhertor at Polygon:

Universal and Frontier Developments (Elite DangerousPlanet Coaster) revealed Jurassic World Evolution, a dinosaur theme park simulation for PlayStation 4, Windows PC and Xbox One, at Gamescom today. Jurassic World Evolution is expected to arrive sometime during summer 2018.

A brilliant idea for a game. Even better, it’s being developed by the talented developers behind Planet Coaster — which is the Cities: Skylines of theme park builders.

Source: Jurassic World park sim coming from Planet Coaster developer – Polygon

Join James CroftRaj Deut and Anthony Agius as we talk the Game of Thrones Foxtel meltdown, Turnbull’s mathematics challenge, Google’s new-old products (now with 100% less drop-shipping), and more.

Ant has a Sizzle meetup coming up! Sunday 23rd July at the Boatbuilder’s Yard in South Wharf, Melbourne, from 1:30pm. Come for the Sizzle, but stay for the Raj.

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