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    Testing Samsung Gear VR for Galaxy S6 Game Demos

    While the consumer Oculus Rift won't be out until next year, developers and early adopters can still playtest virtual reality games with the Samsung Gear VR Innovator Edition headset. We test the new headset made for the Galaxy S6 smartphone--with its high-density 577 PPI display--and demo some of the winners of the recent Mobile VR Jam contest!

    Testing: TinyDuino Modular Electronics Platform

    For the past week and a half, I've been playing around with the TinyDuino set that Tiny Circuits founder Ken Burns sent our way. I first saw this postage stamp-sized development board and its accessories at this year's Maker Faire, where Ken's team was showing off numerous Tiny Shield configurations that make use of an ATmega 328 processor (the same chip in Arduino's own Uno board). TinyDuino was successfully launched on Kickstarter as a bite-sized alternative to the Uno board, designed to be stackable with a plethora of shields that add connectivity, storage, communication, and inputs to the microcontroller. Like Uno, its processing power is relatively puny--ideal for simple wearables--but its size allows for some creative implementation. For example, this 3D-printed Space Invaders arcade cabinet, for which Tiny Circuits will release STL files so you can make your own. (They are all about Open Hardware.)

    A more typical use of TinyDuino pairs the processor board with a USB shield for programming and some kind of LED matrix or display (all powered by a small rechargeable lipo battery). I particularly like the use of a microSD shield and the 96x64 pixel OLED Tinyscreen to run loops of animated GIFs. Snap that same screen and processor on the joystick controller shield and you get a miniature two-stick console that can play clones of classic games like Asteroids or OutRun. Tutorials and sample code are available for all of the shields, the Tiny Circuits forum is filled with useful advice for beginners.

    The TinyDuino starter kits aren't expensive, and the size of the stacked boards is appealing. Plus, all of the hardare is made in the US at Tiny Circuits' Akron, Ohio factory. Find more TinyDuino projects on their Hackster page!

    Hands-On: PlayStation Project Morpheus Games at E3 2015

    Our latest hands-on with Project Morpheus is all about the games. We chat with PlayStation's Richard Marks about the gameplay experiences being developed for Project Morpheus and how virtual reality in the living room can differentiate itself from VR on the desktop. Plus, lots of actual game demos!

    The Best Portable USB Battery Pack for Daily Use

    This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a list of the best technology to buy. Read the full article below at TheWirecutter.com.

    Smartphone batteries don't always last through a busy day, but a pocket-size USB battery pack can give your handset enough of a boost to survive the evening. After 40 hours of research and 65 hours of testing, the one we like the most is Anker's 2nd Gen Astro 6400. It fits in any pocket or purse, and it charges phones and small tablets about as fast as any pocket-friendly pack out there. At 6,400 mAh, it has a larger capacity than most, too.

    The Anker 2nd Gen Astro 6400 can slide into a relaxed-fit pants pocket alongside a smartphone, though a jacket pocket or purse will be a more comfortable fit.

    The Anker 2nd Gen Astro 6400 can slide into a relaxed-fit pants pocket alongside a smartphone, though a jacket pocket or purse will be a more comfortable fit.

    How we decided

    We started by looking for packs that could slide into a relaxed-fit jeans pocket without bulging too much. We also wanted a pack that could fully charge power-hungry phones like the Apple iPhone 6, Motorola Moto X, and Samsung Galaxy S6 at least once, and at full speed. From there, we favored packs with the best cost-to-capacity and size-to-capacity ratios and higher-current power output (up to a point).

    Photo Gallery: Behind the Scenes at BattleBots

    The new season of BattleBots premiered this past weekend, and it looks like viewers really liked it! We saw some great bouts between bots old and new, with some upsets and surprise explosions. If you're watching the show, you should check out our behind-the-scenes interviews with all the builders. We'll have more videos from our visit to the BattleBots set coming in the next month, too. Until then, here are some photos I took from the builder's pit, combat arena, and backstage where teams tested and tuned their robots.

    In Brief: How the Modern Laptop was Made

    Here's some morning reading for ya: Ars Technica UK's Sebastian Anthony chronicles the technological advances that allow computer makers to design and build today's laptops. It's an informative feature that tracks how process technology (as guided by Moore's law) and battery chemistry grew up together, bonded by new manufacturing technologies like CNC machines. Great stuff.

    Norman
    Hands-On: Xbox One Elite Wireless Controller

    What makes up a $150 game controller? We go hands-on with Microsoft's new Xbox One Elite Wireless Controller, a customizable gamepad that will work on the console and desktop. We explain how it competes with custom gamepads like the SCUF system, with programmable buttons, adjustable triggers, and new paddles.

    Google Play App Roundup: Portal, TransPlan, and Chronology

    Grab your phone and prepare to shoot some new apps and games over to it from the Google cloud. It's time for the Google Play App Roundup where we tell you what's new and cool in the Play Store. Just click the links to head to each app's page to check it out for yourself.

    Portal

    Pushbullet has been one of the most consistently useful apps on my devices for a long time, and now the developers have released a new app that addresses one of the shortcomings of Pushbullet. It's called Portal, and it provides a quick and easy way to send big files from your computer to your phone.

    Portal works over your local WiFi to send files of any size to Android. This is not a completely new idea, but Portal improves things quite a bit. For example, Pushbullet allows you to send files, but the process is a little cumbersome and the file size is functionally unlimited. I also recall an app some years back that had very similar functionality called Awesome Drop. The company was acquired by HTC and the app was eventually killed. Portal is like a turbo charged version of that.

    Using Portal is really slick. Just install the app on your phone or tablet and open the Portal website on your computer. The site will generate a unique QR code that connects your phone and computer. Tap the scan button in the app and point it at the screen to pair them -- it recognizes the QR code almost instantly. The browser window will become a drag-and-drop target so you can take any file on your computer and push it to the phone or tablet.

    I've tested this with files up to several gigabytes in size, and they transferred fine. This only works over WiFi, remember. So you won't use your data plan to send the files. Portal is light on settings because it really just does this one thing. You can optionally have images and music routed to different folders to keep your storage a little more tidy. The general Portal download folder can also be specified. If you're on Lollipop, it can also request SD card access to put files there.

    Portal is a handy thing to have around, and like Pushbullet, it's completely free.

    Tested Meets the New BattleBots, Part 3

    In part three of our interviews with the new BattleBots contestants, we check out the final eight robots competing in this series premiere! Some of the designs and strategies are very nontraditional and beautiful. Plus, we step inside the newly built BattleBots arena to learn what hazards the robots will face when they're engaged in combat. The show premieres tonight at 9PM on ABC!

    Tested Meets the New Battlebots, Part 2

    The new BattleBots is premiering this weekend, and we have exclusive access to the builders pit to check out the new combat robots. The new robots are spectacular; teams have new technologies at their disposal and are getting creative with their designs. We interview eight of the teams and learn their strategies for success in the arena!

    10 Awesome Wildlife Photos Taken With A Hidden Camera

    The natural world is replete with fantastic beauty, but many of the creatures in it don’t take too kindly to human beings harshing their mellow. More and more photographers are using hidden cameras, triggered by remote control or proximity sensors, to capture images of wildlife. Today, we’ll share ten amazing images of the wild kingdom taken without a human hand on the camera.

    Hands-On: Microsoft HoloLens Project X-Ray

    Norm gets his first demo of Microsoft's HoloLens augmented reality headset! At this year's E3, we went behind closed doors to playtest Project X-Ray, a "mixed reality" first-person shooter demo using HoloLens. Microsoft wouldn't let us film or take photos inside the room, so we describe and evaluate the experience after the demo.

    Hands-On: StarVR Virtual Reality Headset

    A new challenger appears! Starbreeze Studios surprised us by announcing the StarVR headset at this year's E3, along with a Walking Dead demo. We go hands-on with this virtual reality prototype that boasts a wide field-of-view and positionally tracked accessories. Even though this isn't a consumer-ready product, there's a lot to learn from its design decisions.

    Hands-On: Oculus Rift CV1 + Oculus Touch Controller at E3 2015

    This is it: The Oculus Rift specs are finalized, and we go hands-on with the engineering sample of the consumer virtual reality headset at this year's E3. We also demo the new Half Moon prototypes of the Oculus Touch controller in an amazing multi-player VR demo. Oculus' Nate Mitchell and Palmer Luckey answer our questions about the headset and controllers, and we share our impressions of the hardware and game demos. It's happening!

    In Brief: Nest Revamps Smoke Detector, Announces Nest Cam

    Nest, Tony Fadell's home automation company acquired by Google, announced a refresh to its product lineup. The Nest Protect smoke detector, which was recalled and re-released last year, graduated to a dual-wavelength sensor system that can distinguish between smoke and steam. When set off, users can silence the alarm with an app, a feature which replaces the Wave functionality that could be unintentionally activated. Price stays the same at $100, and it ships next month. A new product that'll be released sooner is the Nest Cam, a redesigned version of the $200 Dropcam that Nest bought recently. The wireless security camera records 1080p video and improves on Dropcam's night-vision capabilities. Cloud-saved security footage will still require a Nest Aware subscription--$10/month keeps your video accessible for 10 days, $30/month keeps video for a month. Both of these new devices, in addition to the Nest thermostat, can be controlled and accessed with a new iOS and Android app.

    Norman 1
    How To Make a Handheld Camera Gimbal Mount

    There's no question that motorized gimbals do a fabulous job of hiding the bumps and bobbles when you're using an action camera. They're pretty much required equipment for multi-rotor flyers who want to capture decent footage from on high. Recent reviews of the DJI Inspire 1 Mount and the Feiyu-Tech G3 Ultra convinced me that I needed a gimbal for my ground-based video shoots as well.

    As I was browsing the selection of handheld gimbals, I ran across the Yuneec Steady Grip. Like the Inspire 1 Mount, the Steady Grip merely provides an alternate method to hold, power, and control a gimbal that would otherwise reside on a multi-rotor. The unique pistol-like form factor of the Steady Grip made me realize that I already had most of the parts that I needed to build my own handheld gimbal mount. So I abandoned the store-bought approach and went D-I-Y.

    The basic parts needed for this project are a complete gimbal assembly, a surplus pistol grip transmitter case and a servo driver.

    Gathering Parts

    My prime motivation for this project was the desire to easily swap one of my gimbals between its aerial mount and the handheld mount. Being able to utilize a gimbal I already owned presented a substantial cost savings. Adding a gimbal to the bill of materials for this project would likely make it more expensive than just buying a handheld gimbal system outright.

    I chose to use the GB200 2-axis gimbal from my Blade 350QX2 quad. The entire gimbal assembly can easily be removed from its mount on the quad by lifting a lock tab and sliding the base off of its rails. I had already upgraded the gimbal with the proper frame to hold a GoPro Hero 3 camera.

    To emulate the style of the Steady Grip, I plundered my stash of old RC systems. Among them are several pistol-grip transmitters that I haven't used in years. I located a well-used Futaba Magnum Sport that looked like it would do the trick. It didn't matter that the electronics of the radio were still in good shape. I really only needed the plastic shell. Finding a new use for one of my squirreled-away "treasures" has certainly done nothing to improve my hoarding tendencies!

    The GB200 gimbal used for this handheld mount is the same one that I use on my Blade 350QX2 multi-rotor. I can move the gimbal back and forth between the two mounts.

    I wanted to be able to control the pitch of the gimbal while it is in the hand mount. On the quad, this function is controlled by a channel of the radio. I used a servo driver (also called a "servo tester") to transfer this capability to the hand mount. I'll explain later just how that works.

    Different gimbals may require a wide variety of input voltages to operate. I wanted to be sure that I provided the correct voltage for the GB200, but I could not find any specs that defined what it should be. I measured the voltage output at the gimbal power pins on the Blade 350 at around 4.3 volts. With that value in hand, I felt comfortable buying a 5 volt voltage regulator for the hand mount.

    Everything You Need to Know about RAW Photography on Android

    Android camera hardware has gotten very good in the last few years, but the quality of the images you get are largely dependent on the processing technology that a device maker has chosen to implement. When most phones have very similar image sensors, this software can make a huge difference. Slowly but surely, the power to produce better images is being granted to the users with support for RAW image capture.

    If your phone can capture in RAW, you don't have to worry about substandard processing algorithms in the phone. You can take matters into your own hands. Here's how to make RAW photo capture work for you on Android.

    What is RAW and which phones support it?

    Most Android phones are only set up to spit out processed images that have been compressed into JPEGs. This is usually fine, but you're relying on the ability of the stock software to do the scene justice. A lot of data is thrown away in the process, and a RAW file gives you access to all of that. A JPEG from a high-resolution camera sensor might be 4-5MB on Android, but a RAW file could easily be upwards of 30MB.

    These files come with file extensions like .dng and .nef (Android uses .dng). They contain virtually all the data from the sensor, so they're not ready to be tweaked with a standard image editing program or posted on your favorite social network. You need to work with each file and make changes to the colors, white balance, exposure, and more. It can be a significant amount of work, but you're not doing this because it's easy.

    On Android, RAW image capture can be done in a few ways. Both LG and HTC have opted to add the ability for users to snap both JPEG and RAW with the stock camera app on the G4 and One M9. You don't need to do anything other than pop into the settings to make this work. When you press the shutter, the phone outputs a DNG to the internal storage (or microSD card in the case of the G4) along with the JPEG. Samsung is supposed to be adding RAW support to its stock camera app in Android 5.1 for the Galaxy S6, which should be out in a month or so.

    Tested In-Depth: Microsoft Surface 3 Review

    We loved using the Surface Pro 3 as a primary laptop, though it was a little too big to use with the stylus as a portable digital notepad. The new Surface 3, though, hits a lot of sweet spots for power and portability. We sit down to discuss its use of Intel's latest Atom processor, the new form factor, and how it stacks up against dedicated laptops and tablets.