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    Tested: Axial Yeti SCORE RC Off-Road Truck

    I've covered several different types of RC trucks in this column before. Two of the more recent genres were short course trucks and rock crawlers. While both were fun, they are very different types of vehicles. The subject of this review doesn't really fall into a specific category. If you had to give it a label, I suppose that "scale Baja racer" would suffice. Whatever you want to call it, this vehicle is in many respects a hybrid of rock crawlers and short course trucks. Let's check it out.

    The Yeti SCORE has many features that make it like a hybrid of rock crawlers and short course trucks.

    The Yeti SCORE

    Axial Racing developed the Yeti SCORE ($450) in the image of Trophy Truck racers that compete in grueling cross-country events such as the Baja 1000. SCORE International (Sanctioning Committee Off Road Events) is the organization that manages the Baja 1000 and similar races in Southern California and Mexico. Of all the different vehicles that compete in SCORE events, trophy trucks are considered the biggest and baddest. These trucks are designed to navigate all types of terrain at top speed. Gobs of horsepower and tons of suspension travel are key attributes.

    Most modern day off-road RC trucks share very little design-wise with trophy trucks. For that reason, you would expect a trophy-truck-themed RC vehicle to have only cosmetic similarities with its inspiration. That is not the case here. Axial designed the Yeti SCORE with many of the same features found on full-scale trophy trucks.

    At first glance, the Yeti SCORE has a strong resemblance to the Wraith rock crawler. Both trucks feature a centrally-mounted motor with a shaft-driven 4-wheel-drive system. Also evident is the 4-link rear suspension that provides an enormous amount of travel for the solid rear axle. The radio receiver is housed in a waterproof compartment and a Tactic TSX45 metal-gear servo handles the steering.

    What Makes an Award-Winning Visual Effect?

    This story originally appeared on the Cinefex blog on 2/2/2016 and is republished here with permission. Learn more about Cinefex magazine here.

    The Oscars are just around the corner. The 14th Annual VES Awards will be presented later today. Among the memorable movies nominated for extraordinary achievements in visual effects this year are Ex Machina, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, The Revenant, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

    But just how do you choose between a sexy robot, monumental vehicular carnage, extra-terrestrial super-science, trials and trauma in the North American wilderness, and an entire galaxy filled with beeping droids and exploding spaceships? In an age where seamlessly-integrated, photoreal effects are taken completely for granted, what constitutes a "good" visual effect?

    Actor John Krasinski (left) and Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs announced the nominees for the 88th Annual Academy Awards in the Academy's Samuel Goldwyn Theater.

    In search of some answers, we asked an international panel of visual effects professionals this simple question:

    "How do you go about judging award-winning visual effects?"

    It's a question that could take us into some rocky territory. Luckily for us, Randall Smith, visual effects supervisor at Pixomondo, has sketched out a road map to help us on our way:

    "I judge visual effects based on three criteria. First I'm looking for accuracy and photorealism — visuals so realistic that the viewer accepts what they are seeing, and their disbelief is momentarily suspended. Secondly, I'm looking for pure, artistic expression. The best effects stand out when the artists aren't held back by the limitations of a cost-effective solution, and instead aim towards new discoveries within their art. Last — and most importantly — the measure of a great effect will always be its success in storytelling. It's amazing that a Muppet, with a team of artist's hands shoved up its backside, can create a compelling story with a huge range of emotion. In comparison, some of most expensive effects shots often fall flat, losing the narrative and thereby losing the viewer."

    Parallel to Smith's three basic criteria, Marque Pierre Sondergaard, texture artist at Atomic Fiction, suggests studying visual effects through two different lenses, which he describes as the "yin and yang of visual effects":

    Designing a 3D-Printed Model Airplane Kit

    We're joined by Jacky Wan this week as he shares his latest design: model airplane kit that's completely 3D-printed! Jacky chats with Sean about how he designed the kit pieces to snap together with strong joints, and how orienting the print pieces at specific angles streamline the look of the model.

    Destroying a Soda Can with a Ping Pong Ball!

    We're introducing a new series this week demonstrating Simple Feats of Science! Kishore and Norm are joined by Zeke Kossover from San Francisco's Exploratorium science museum to show how you can destroy a soda can with a ping pong ball moving at almost the speed of sound! (Thanks to the Exploratorium for sharing with us these experiments.)

    Testing Tactic’s License-Free FPV Video Transmitter

    Most video transmission equipment used for First Person View (FPV) flying requires a FCC amateur radio license (aka "ham license") to operate legally. There is definitely good reason for that requirement and getting the license is not an overly complicated process. Even so, many people balk at the licensing obligation and either avoid FPV flying or do so illegally.

    An alternative to getting a ham license (at least for US citizens) is to use non-licensed equipment--that is, devices that meet the FCC requirements for use without a license. Most of the common RF-transmitting devices in your home fall under that umbrella. That's why you don't need a ham license to operate your wireless router, cordless phone or remote garage door opener.

    There are currently a handful of FPV video transmitters (VTX) that qualify for unlicensed use. By virtue of their certification, these transmitters have relatively low power output. Less power equals less range. But how much power is enough? I decided to test one of these systems to see if license-free FPV flight is practical.

    Tactic FPV-T1

    Tactic recently released a line of FPV gear that includes a camera, a 7" monitor with dual built-in 5.8GHz video receivers, and three 5.8GHz video transmitters. The VTX units are available in 25mW, 200mW, and 600mW models. It is the 25mW FPV-T1 ($45) that is license-free. The FPV-T1 is actually larger and heavier than the more powerful models. This, however, is a reflection of the plastic case that encloses the FPV-T1. The other units have a heatshrink casing. Even so, the FPV-T1 weighs less than 20 grams with the antenna.

    The Tactic FPV-T1 is a 25mW FPV video transmitter that does not require an amateur radio license to operate legally.

    There are 22 channel options within the 5.8GHz band for this VTX. The desired channel is selected by positioning a bank of five dip switches on the back of the unit. A chart in the manual illustrates the proper switch positions for each channel, so keep it handy.

    One of the biggest factors that can determine the reception quality and range of a given set up is the antenna selection. The FPV-T1, like the Tactic FPV-RM1 receiver/monitor, includes a linear polarized whip antenna. While they work acceptably well, they are pretty much the bottom rung of the 5.8GHz FPV antenna ladder.

    Tested: Form 2 SLA Desktop 3D Printer

    A few months ago, we previewed the new Formlabs Form 2 SLA resin 3D printer, which on paper looked to be an improvement on the Form 1+ printer in every way. Since then, Formlabs supplied us with a review unit to evaluate those improvements in long-term testing. The upshot is that the Form 2 lives up to its promises--it's an amazing 3D printer. But you should read our extended review before you go out and buy one.

    Photo credit: Formlabs

    Compared to original Formlabs Form 1 printer, the Form 2 has a bigger print volume, a more powerful laser, a new resin cartridge system and new peel mechanism, among many other updates. When we reviewed the Form 1+, I was mostly pleased with its prints, but there were a number of things that I felt needed addressed, including the tendency for several critical components to fail in my early test units. Formlabs has done so with the Form 2--we've not had a single mechanical failure. Our review was with a pre-production printer with original firmware and beta software. [NOTE: I'm not going into detail about how the SLA printing process works, as on a base level, it has not changed from the Form 1+. Take a look at that review for an in-depth explanation.]

    The Print Quality

    Impressive Detail!

    We were very pleased with the Form 2 prints, most were done at 50-100 microns. The resolved detail was very impressive even at 100 micron, especially when compared to prints off of industrial 3D printing machines not meant for home-use. For most prints I can't see needing to go much below 50 microns as the quality was great. Prints that completed had very few flaws, too. Occasionally, very small details in our prints broke off during printing (ie: GIR's antenna tip, Nautilus tip). On many of the Form 1+ prints the side that printed nearest the platform tended to have some 'mushy' details, and I did not notice this on the Form 2. Noticed on some prints, we address this in the video.

    What it Takes to Keep a B-29 Superfortress Flying

    Last month, we looked at the dedication and financial resources that are required to keep a WWII-era P-51 Mustang in flyable condition. It is definitely not for the meek or frugal. As civilian-owned warbirds go, the P-51 probably represents the middle of the road in terms of overhead. Many aspiring warbird owners seek former trainer and liaison aircraft because they are generally much easier and less costly to maintain and operate than fighters. At the opposite end of the scale are large, multi-engine transports and bombers. While there are a few of these pricier treasures in private hangars, they often demand resources that only a diverse and well-funded organization can provide.

    When it comes to WWII airplanes, few are bigger and none are more complex than the Boeing B-29 Superfortress. I recently had an opportunity to get an up-close look at FIFI, the only airworthy B-29 in the world. The airplane was at the Vintage Flying Museum in Fort Worth, Texas undergoing off-season maintenance. Just by seeing the huge airplane in the hangar with its massive engines uncowled, it was immediately obvious that it takes a tremendous operation to keep her flying. I later spoke with Kim Pardon and Brad Pilgrim from the Commemorative Air Force (CAF), the nonprofit organization that has owned and operated FIFI for more than 40 years. They were able to provide an insider's perspective of what's involved to keep FIFI in the air year after year.

    Rininger – Keeping FIFI airworthy is a huge financial commitment. All things considered, each hour of flight costs about $10,000. (Photo courtesy Tyson Rininger/Commemorative Air Force)

    Learning About FIFI

    The CAF has numerous WWII-era aircraft operating from various airports around the country…including other 4-engined bombers. Yet, FIFI is the only airplane in your fleet that has a full-time crew. What is it about this airplane that demands the extra resources?

    Brad Pilgrim - FIFI is probably the most maintenance intensive airplane in the CAF's fleet. In order to keep up with the required maintenance and the flying schedule, we have to keep a couple of full-time mechanics on staff.

    Kim Pardon - FIFI is also the only CAF aircraft that generates the kind of revenue it takes to sustain this level of maintenance. Most other CAF aircraft rely primarily on volunteer maintenance. The organization has a lot of dedicated and talented volunteers. Because we (the B-29 crew) travel almost 24 weeks a year we rely heavily on our paid maintenance staff to travel with us and help us fulfill all of our tour obligations.

    Meet Gordon Tarpley, C-3PO Suit Builder

    Meet Gordon Tarpley, a prop builder and cosplayer who specializes in C-3PO. He's one of the few C-3PO cosplayer and performers, and has been working on his suit and performance for years. We chat with Gordon about his build process, how he's improving his suit, and what it takes to perform as this iconic Star Wars character.

    Tested: Xiro Xplorer Aerial Photography Multi-Rotor

    As we start to make some headway into 2016, the popularity of multi-rotors shows no sign of easing up. In fact, numerous new multi-rotors are currently hitting the market full of eager buyers. I'll be bringing you reports on as many of these units as I can get my hands on. I'll start off with the Xiro Xplorer, an aerial photography (AP) quad. The Xplorer's 350mm size puts it in the same class as popular AP units such as the DJI Phantom 3 and Blade Chroma.

    The Xplorer's plastic outer shell features flat, dark grey sides with sharp angular lines, giving it an appearance somewhat like a stealth fighter. It's a fresh look for the now-familiar quad-rotor profile. This ship is available in two ready-to-fly versions. The "Xplorer G" model ($700) includes a 3-axis gimbal that is designed to hold a GoPro Hero 3 or Hero 4 camera. The "Xplorer V" model ($800) has a 3-axis gimbal with a built-in camera. This camera is capable of 1080P/30FPS video and 14.4MP still photos. Hobbico (US importers of the Xplorer) provided a V model for this review.

    Explaining the Xplorer

    The Xplorer V is a very complete AP system. Other than a smart phone or tablet used to run an interface application, all of the required components are in the box. It even includes an 8GB-Class10 microSD memory card for the camera.

    My first impression of the Xplorer was very positive. The fit and finish of the parts is excellent. Nothing has a cheap feel or appearance to it. Even the packaging is well-executed.

    The Xplorer V's camera is attached to a convenient clip-on 3-axis gimbal. It provides very good image quality with resolution up to 1080P for video and 14.4MP stills.

    With so many contenders in the AP quad market, it's getting increasingly tough to stand out from the herd. The Xplorer, however, does have some unique features. One thing that I found useful is the quick-release nature of the gimbal. The gimbal simply clips to the bottom of the quad and all of the necessary electrical connections are automatically made. The process of attaching or removing the gimbal is literally a 5-second task.

    Designing a 3D-Printed Ducati Motorcycle

    3D printing expert Jacky Wan returns to our studio to share his amazing Ducati superbike print--a model consisting of over 40 3D-printed pieces using his Ultimaker. Jacky explains the process of converting a visual effects model into this print, how the pieces fit together, and how he painted and finished it. You can even download the model to print for yourself! (The rider was designed by Mike Balzer of slo 3D creators)

    Building a Star Wars Shadowtrooper Helmet Kit!

    We've had the Shadowtrooper armor kit from Anovos completed since last year, but one addition kit that we wanted to build was the helmet. Over the course of a day, Frank and Norm tackle the helmet build, showing you how to clean up the vacuum-formed parts and put them together. With only four plastic pieces, this is a great place to start on your own Stormtrooper kit!

    TRANSCRIPT: We Got This Podcast--Star Wars vs. Star Trek

    An Internet search for "Star Wars vs. Star Trek" yields 8.1 MILLION results. That's because for the last 40 years, the two franchises have dominated pop culture, developing passionate fan bases in the process. But which one is "better"?

    It is this question that Mark Gagliardi and Hal Lublin, hosts of the We Got This podcast, set out to answer definitively. To help them, they called in two friends and experts -- Adam Savage and John Hodgman. After an hour of debate, a conclusion was reached.

    Courtesy of Michael B. Johnson

    To listen to the FULL podcast (which includes some pretty funny non-sequiturs, including a conversation about the potential dating life of the actor who played Chewbacca's son Lumpy in the Star Wars Holiday Special), go here or to iTunes. And check out some of Mark and Hal's other We Got This subjects, which range from sweet vs. sour pickles to the best James Bond film.

    In the meantime, enjoy, and feel free to chime in with your opinion in the comments.

    Chatting with Legendary Speaker Designer Andrew Jones

    At this year's CES, we had the pleasure of interviewing Andrew Jones, audio engineer and legendary speaker designer who has worked at KEF and Pioneer. Now the Vice President of Engineering at ELAC America, Jones is redefining the home speaker market with the ELAC Uni-Fi UB5 series. We were completely enamored with these bookshelf speakers, which are priced at just $500 for a pair. Patrick Norton chatted with Mr. Jones about the challenges of designing speakers, which we've transcribed below.

    Tested: This is kind of a serious geek out treat for me. We're here with Vice President of Engineering at ELAC, Andrew Jones. I've enjoyed your work for a long time. It turns out you're kind of big into maker culture. I asked you when you started designing speakers and you said forever. How young when you started building speakers?

    Andrew Jones: I guess it was around twelve, thirteen I got interested in hi-fi and I have a identical twin brother. We'd both got interested in hi-fi together. His interest veered towards electronics and mine to the speakers, but I like to say we started off at birth, because with being identical twins, it's not only that, we're mirror twins. He's left handed and I'm right handed, so we were born in stereo.

    That's crazy. He's building amplifiers, you're building speakers. What was the challenge when you first started?

    The challenge was understanding, first of all. It's fine to go and buy something but it's knowing how it works, so when you're young you start taking things apart, realize you don't know how to put them back together again, so you're going to have to learn that process. All through school I studied maths, physics, and chemistry. I went to university to do physics with acoustics, because I knew that's what I was going to need for speakers, and then I did a few years' research in both speaker techniques but also anti-noise. You know all the modern day noise-cancelling headphones? I was working on big speakers on ships to cancel the noise from the engines, that kind of thing, but my real interest was hi-fi so I joined KEF.

    KEF was, at the time in England, the speaker university, and my mentor, Laurie Fincham, was the technical director there. I learned everything there, and we got to know everybody in the industry that was important and knew things, so you could just ask questions of anybody. If I was stuck on something, I could ask Peter Walker from Quad. He'd just give me a call, "Andrew, I was thinking about what you said the other day," and lay out a beautifully simple explanation. It was a wonderful training that set me up for everything I've done since then.

    Designing 3D-Printed Mechwarrior Mechs

    We're joined in the office by 3D modeler and designer Jacky Wan, who shares with us his 3D printed Mechwarrior online mechs. These figures were created on his Ultimaker by extracting in-game models and then modifying and adapting them for printing. Jacky chats with us about what it takes to turn game files into printable objects!

    Meet the Mcor Arke Full-Color Paper 3D Printer

    Traditional desktop 3D printers use melted plastic as their build material, but Mcor's printers layer sheets of paper on top of each other to create their models. We check out the new Mcor Arke, a printer that cuts from a large spool of paper, glues those sheets together, and then prints color on them to turn digital files into large paper models!

    Interview: Valve's Chet Faliszek on Steam VR and HTC Vive Pre

    We return to the HTC booth to meet up with Valve's Chet Faliszek, who has been working with developers on virtual reality games and content. We chat with Chet about the latest updates to the HTC Vive Pre, the Steam VR platform, and what developers have learned from their experimentation with roomscale VR!

    Interview: Palmer Luckey on Oculus Rift's Launch Price and Hardware

    We couldn't leave CES without checking in with the Oculus team and checking out the final hardware and packaging for the Oculus Rift. Oculus founder Palmer Luckey chats with us about the Rift's $600 price, how much custom hardware goes into building the headset, Oculus Touch changes, and Oculus Home software.

    What Makes a Good Digitizer Stylus for Artists?

    New tablets and notebooks are being equipped with advanced digitizer styluses for artists to write and draw, but it's not simple to perfectly simulate a pencil or pen on a screen. At CES, we ask Wacom what they think are the important features of digitizers that artists should test when shopping for devices like the Apple Pencil and Microsoft's Surface.

    Competition to Make Real-Life Star Trek Tricorders

    The technology imagined by science fiction has driven lots of innovation and interesting research. The Tricorder XPRIZE is a competition to create a device that replicates the functionality of Star Trek's medical Tricorder--one piece of hardware that can diagnose and monitor health conditions.

    Hands-On with HTC Vive Pre Developer Kit VR Headset

    We go hands-on with the new HTC Vive Pre developer kit to test its new camera-enabled Chaperone guidance system! Afterward, we chat with HTC and SteamVR developers to learn how this advancement will affect the final Vive virtual reality headset. Plus, our frank impressions of the system.