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Show and Tell: Ricoh Theta 360 Degree Camera

For this week's show and tell, Norm shares a new gadget he's been testing: Ricoh's Theta 360 degree camera. Using two fisheye lenses on each side of this camera stick, you can take photos or videos that are automatically stitched into interactive panoramas. The camera's image quality may not be great, but the effect is very novel and has potential for VR imagery.

Google Play App Roundup: Falcon Pro 3, The Witcher Battle Arena, and Flockers

I don't know if you could say there are too many apps out there, but there are certainly enough that it can be hard to find the ones worth your time. This is the problem that Google Play App Roundup is seeking to solve. Every week we tell you about the best new and newly updated apps in the Play Store. Just click the app name to head right to the Play Store and check things out for yourself.

This week a Twitter classic returns, the battle is on, and the sheep want out.

Falcon Pro 3

The much anticipated Falcon Pro 3 Twitter client came out a recently, but I decided to give this one a few weeks to bake. The developer, for whatever reason, decided to release the app barely a month after he announced he was working on it. It was missing some very basic features, and in the process the dev lost much of the goodwill he had gained from the original Falcon Pro. That app is famous for being the first to fall victim to Twitter's API limits, but now it's back as a new app. Is it worth checking out yet?

Falcon Pro 3 will look familiar to anyone who clung to the original Falcon Pro even after it was pulled from the Play Store. The UI is dark gray with a very clean overall look. The redesign includes support for material design UI touches and animations, but it doesn't look out of place on older versions of Android either. The status bar is dark blue, and the nav bar is set to translucent.

The app is split up into scrollable columns, with the main timeline being on the left. Scrolling is buttery smooth and I quite like the subtle separation between the tweets. Some apps seem to run together too much and it can be hard to tell at a glance which tweet an in-line image is associated with. You also get a column for mentions be default, but you can add more with lists, searches, favorites, and so on.

On the left is a slide-out nav bar, but it's not actually a nav bar. It just looks like one. This is actually a list of interactions on Twitter like replies, favorites and retweets. Falcon Pro 3 uses a smart refresh setting to update more or less live in the background. It was similar with the old FP app, and it seems to work well. You have the option to set a standard refresh interval, though.

The app itself is reliable and has all the features you'd expect from a Twitter client now. At launch it didn't have any settings or support for DMs, which was really odd. There are still no options for themes, which doesn't bother me too much. Falcon Pro 3 looks fine as is. One thing I am missing is a widget. That's not a deal breaker for everyone, but it irks me. When a widget is added, I could see Falcon Pro 3 becoming my go-to client.

You can give the app a try for free with sample lists, but you can't add an account until you buy the full version via an in-app purchase ($3.99). Each additional account you add costs $1.99, but that transfers to all your devices. This might seem weird, but each of those accounts takes up a Twitter API token. With a limited supply, the extra IAP keeps people from using more than they absolutely need. I'm fine with this, personally.

Hands-On: ImmersionRC's Vortex Racing Quadcopter

We've shown you how to build your own racing quadcopter, but here's a ready-to-fly kit that can get you flying sooner. We chat with ImmersionRC about their upcoming Vortex 250mm quad, which was designed with FPV flying in mind. It comes bundled with all the essential components pre-installed and integrated--all you need is a transmitter and video goggles. (This video was shot with a Sony PXW-X70 camera, which we're testing. Thanks to B&H for providing us with gear for CES!)

CES 2015: Hubsan's Ora X4 Pro Quadcopter

At CES 2015, we check out the Ora X4 Pro, a ready-to-fly quadcopter with optional gimbaled camera. Ora is made by Hubsan, who we're familiar with as the makers of our favorite entry-level nano quads. The Ora tries to stand out from other RTF quads with a large transmitter (with built-in FPV display) and a parachuting mechanism. (This video was shot with a Sony PXW-X70 camera, which we're testing. Thanks to B&H for providing us with gear for CES!)

Why I’m Excited About Windows Holographic

My absolute favorite part of covering technology for Tested are those rare glimpses of the future. I’m talking about the first hints of a new technology that has a chance to change the world. That's why we started experimenting with 3D printers and tablets shortly after we launched Tested in 2010. That's why we were among the first people to get excited about the latest wave of virtual reality and the rise of cheap multi-rotors. It's why we're investigating potentially revolutionary last-mile travel solutions, like the Boosted Board and Rocket Skates. To me, technology is most interesting when it's brand new, before designers have chamfered the rough edges and the revolutionary leaps have made way for incremental improvements. I love it when I look at a tech demo and can still see the path that led to the creation of a new product or even a new category.

Each of the example technologies that I mentioned above was the result of multiple advancements being assembled by visionaries at the right time. The decreased cost of LCD screens, flash memory, and high capacity, low-volume batteries made modern smartphones possible. The popularity of smartphones caused the price of the components found within them--solid state accelerometers and gyroscopes, LCD displays, and processors--to drop until technologies like VR suddenly became possible at much lower prices than we ever imagined. Likewise, the rise of low-cost, high-power microcontrollers (Arduino boards and their ilk), combined with inexpensive motors and radios and cheap manufacturing in China caused revolutions in multirotor aircraft and 3D printing.

These categories are all transforming from hyper-expensive products designed to serve tiny niche markets into mainstream consumer electronics. The people responsible for these innovations have one thing in common. They were able to see the pieces necessary and assemble them into workable products before anyone else saw the same potential. This is what Palmer Luckey did for VR with the early Oculus prototypes and what the originators of the Reprap project did for consumer 3D printing.

This brings us to Microsoft's Windows Holographic, which Microsoft demoed at a Windows 10 event yesterday. Despite its wildly misleading name (from what I can tell Holographic doesn't use holograms at all), Microsoft's demo showed augmented reality, seemingly working in the real world, with fewer caveats than anything we've seen before.

If you aren't familiar with AR, it's similar to virtual reality in that it displays information from a computer over your full field of vision. However, where VR is an isolated experience, you put the goggles on and they block your view of the outside world, AR overlays that information on the environment your in. Put another way, VR replaces the world around you, AR enhances it.

Behind-the-Scenes at the Explorers Club Headquarters

From Science Friday: "Tour the unique artifacts, including a yeti scalp and 4-tusked elephant, collected by Explorers Club members during research expeditions over the last century. Executive Director Will Roseman reveals the remarkable science and stories of the collection at the Club Headquarters in New York City."

The Camera Gear I Use to Shoot Tested's Videos

This is part of a three-part behind-the-scenes series on Lighting, Shooting, and Editing for Tested.

The first camera I ever worked with professionally was the Panasonic HVX-170. It was handed to me, while working as a videographer on a tour bus with a band. I was given the camera, and the user manual, and had to start shooting almost immediately. The camera was easy to learn, in part because during the early 2000's this ENG (electronic news gathering), 3CCD style camcorder became very popular with young filmmakers and students. The cameras were relatively inexpensive, and produced good quality 720p HD footage. More importantly, they also gave the operator all the manual knobs, dials, and buttons they needed, right behind a versatile stock 2-3 ring zoom lens.

During this period, accessibility of high quality cameras, and editing software coming down in price, meant it was much easier for almost anyone to get there hands on these tools to practice and learn. Many of professionals in video production learned on these kinds of cameras. I was one of these guys. I owned the Canon XHA1 -- a camera I purchased with a portion of my college student loans -- and I spent countless hours cutting my teeth on this thing. When I was given the Panasonic HVX-170, my familiarity of the camera translated over--ENG style cameras were good for that. They were all different in their own way, each had their own nuances, but the form factor and menu control became somewhat universal for that prosumer market. Once you've learned one of these cameras, you felt like you knew, technically, how to operate all of them.

When I got the job at Whiskey Media (the former home of Tested), our studio was equipped with four of those same Panasonics. Every video you've seen from those days were all shot with these cameras. They gave us good 720p quality video and had SDI outputs to push a video feed for Tricaster live mixing. They recorded to reusable SSD flash media, and produced videos in the DVCProHD codec which was super friendly with Final Cut Pro 7. And, they were lightweight, making all day convention shooting a little more tolerable.

This is, however, a digital camera that is now about seven years old. The codec is starting to show its age when compared to more recent cameras, and as people clammer for higher resolution video, native 720p might seem a little dated (and before you ask, no, I have no intention of introducing a 4k workflow into our studio. 1080p seems like a good resolution to work with on the web).

As our video content pushed us out on the road a bit more, to unpredictable locations, with no chance of bringing much supplies or lights (or have the man power to lug that gear), I started looking into other cameras. A camera where I can change lenses to match the style. A camera that would allow me to dial in a higher ASA without introducing too much noise. Something that can handle both low light and have a big enough dynamic range that I don't lose information in light and dark spots, and something with a codec that ins't highly compressed--something that I can take into post and dial in correction setting with out pulling forward all those compression artifacts. It also needed to be ergonomically friendly--something I can hold all day long, with audio recording built in, and enough shoe mounts to hold my wireless kits.

I have my eyes on a camera in particular, but the timing's not right on that big ticket purchase. Some day, I hope.

Last year I searched for something that was more in our price range and what I found was the relatively inexpensive Black Magic Pocket Cinema Camera. DSLR-like in its form factor, this is not something that I was initially comfortable with. I've used shoulder cams up until now, and putting a brick of a camera on some rods, hooked to all sorts of external devices, kind of intimidated me. However, the features (lean, but effective) on this camera kind of excited me, and it was something I felt I needed to try out, as the climate of prosumer cameras continue to change. Here's how I built out our current Blackmagic rig.