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    SteamVR (HTC Vive) Prototype Hands-On + Impressions

    We test the most talked about virtual reality demo at this year's Game Developers Conference: Valve's SteamVR prototype. Made in collaboration with HTC, the Vive VR headset will be released later this year and features an incredible positional tracking system. We chat with Valve's engineers about the technology in the headset and share our demo impressions. This is the real deal.

    In Brief: More Details on Sony's New Morpheus Prototype

    At Sony's GDC press conference, the company announced and showed off a second public prototype of its Project Morpheus virtual reality headset, which will ship to consumers in the first half of next year. The PlayStation 4 accessory now uses a 5.7-inch 1080p OLED display with an RGB subpixel arrangement, running at 120Hz. That's a big upgrade from the 60Hz LCD panel we saw in last year's prototype, and 120Hz should allow for low persistence. While 120FPS is the target framerate for the device, developers will be angle to render at 60Hz and output to the HMD at 120Hz. The PS4 uses HDMI 1.4, which can drive 1080p at 120Hz, but not 1440p at that refresh rate. Field of view is listed at 100 degrees, and positional head tracking is assisted by nine IR LEDs. Sony says that latency is under 18ms, which they claim is good enough for the sensation of presence. We'll be trying the new prototype and the four demos built for it at the GDC show floor tomorrow.

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    The Best Budget Gaming Laptop (So Far)

    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

    There’s no such thing as a perfect budget gaming laptop, and every one we’ve tested so far has at least one serious flaw. But after 40 hours of research and testing, we determined that the $1,000 Asus ROG GL551JM is the budget gaming laptop we’d recommend for most people because it has the best gaming performance and best build quality among the competition, and for the lowest cost.

    The GL551 has uncommonly good build quality compared to nearly everything else in this category. Plus, it keeps the most important parts of a gaming laptop at a reasonable temperature—which cannot be said for the competition—and has a comfortable keyboard.

    Who’s this for?

    Expensive gaming laptops aren’t for everyone. Desktop computers offer better gaming performance per dollar, and ultrabooks are slimmer, lighter, and have much better battery life. Budget gaming laptops are a good fit for students and others who want to play games but have a tight budget and need a portable PC.

    How did we pick what to test?

    First, we determined the best possible combination of components that fit in our budget. Our ideal budget gaming laptop costs under $1,200 and has an Nvidia GeForce GTX 860M graphics card or better, an Intel Core i7 4700HQ CPU or higher, 8 to 16 GB of RAM, and at least 500GB of storage. We looked at every gaming laptop currently available, tested three finalists ourselves, and concluded that the Asus ROG GL551-JM DH71 is the best for those on a budget.

    In Brief: Valve to Show VR Hardware at GDC 2015

    Well this is shaping up to be an interesting month in virtual reality, but maybe not in the way we were expecting. At next week's Game Developers Conference, we had anticipated showings from Oculus and possibly Sony, given last year's Project Morpheus debut and speculation of a Oculus VR controller. But Oculus acolytes will be disappointed to hear that we may not see any new input at all this month, as Oculus founder Palmer Luckey implied in a Reddit post. It's more likely that the massive booths Oculus has planned for the GDC show floor will be to demo the Crescent Bay prototype. But Valve Software, which has been working on its own secretive VR hardware, today announced that it would be showing that system off next week, alongside new Steam Machine living room devices and a refined (final?) Steam Controller. We haven't seen the Steam Controller since last year's GDC, and my hope is that it's been redesigned with VR in mind. (h/t PC Gamer)

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    CES 2015: Hands-On with the Avegant Glyph Prototype

    Head-mounted displays have received a lot of attention for their potential use as virtual reality devices, but most are still LCD or OLED panels strapped to your head. We saw Avegant's "virtual retinal display" prototype last year--a HMD that uses DLP mirrors to project images directly into your eyes. Checking in with Avegant at CES, we look at their latest prototype chat with them about their final product plans. (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: Hands-On with Razer's OSVR Hacker Dev Kit

    We put on Razer's OSVR prototype, a headset that's part of an open-source initiative to promote virtual reality for PC gaming. Think of it as Android for VR, where not one company controls all the hardware and software. Will and Norm discuss what they learned about OSVR from chatting with Razer's representatives, and share their impressions on the hacker dev kit demo. (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!)

    8 Takeaways on Oculus VR at CES 2015

    As with my visit to Oculus Connect last September, hands-on time with the Crescent Bay prototype of the Oculus rift and a chat with Oculus VR's VP of Product offered some new insights into the state of virtual reality tech and the challenges for the upcoming consumer version release. No, we didn't find out when CV1 would be available, nor could Nate Mitchell spill the beans on the exact technical specifications of even this prototype. But our conversation--and the way he answered some of my questions--allows us to infer some details about curious topics like screen resolution, optics, and virtual reality input. Here are eight things that I took away from this chat, with the full video interview below.

    Downplaying Screen Resolution

    Everyone is curious about what the screen resolution of the consumer release will be, with VR enthusiasts hoping for a display as high-res and dense as possible. Development Kit 2 uses a 1080p AMOLED display, but the pentile subpixel configuration and screen door effect (SDE) is still noticeable. These effects are reduced in Crescent Bay, and the prevailing thought is that the prototype must use a 1440p or better screen, given Gear VR's use of the Samsung Note 4. I'm not 100% sure that's the case, now. We knew that due to the constraints of mobile graphics bandwidth, Gear VR renders its games and software at lower than native resolution (eg. 720p) and then scales up to 1440p. Nate said that on the PC side, the Oculus Rift--and Crescent Bay--does the opposite: it will use supersampling and render software at a higher than native res and then downscale it to fit the screen. It's like what Apple does with the iOS for its iPhone 6 Plus.

    So here's a thought: maybe Crescent Bay actually uses a 1080p display, and the single GTX 980 card renders some demos at a higher than 1080p resolution and downsamples to fit into that screen. Supersampling would reduce aliasing, and more demanding software could still just be rendered at 1080p to guarantee 90Hz output. This theory would explain why Oculus reps (including Nate) have mentioned the 1080p resolution when discussing PC system performance in other interviews, and why some press have reported that Crescent Bay runs at a lower res than Gear VR. I also noticed that the mirrored game window on the 27-inch panel connected to the PC was not filling the full monitor--it looked about 1080p to me. Of course, this doesn't mean than CV1 won't use a 1440p display, but Oculus is seems to want to downplay talk of screen resolution as they recognize its tradeoffs with performance. Don't expect CV1 to run a 4K screen.

    CES 2015: Oculus VR's Crescent Bay Demo + Interview

    We go hands-on with Oculus VR's Crescent Bay prototype at CES 2015! Both Will and Norm scrutinize the demo and relay thoughts on the experience of presence, and we chat in-depth about technical details with Oculus' VP of Product, Nate Mitchell. Lots of new hints about what's to come for the consumer release of the Oculus Rift! (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: Hands-On with Tobii Eye Tracking

    At CES 2015, we test out Tobii's new eye tracking system, which is being released as a PC gaming peripheral by SteelSeries. This IR sensor sits below your monitor to track what you're looking at with centimeter accuracy, and can be implemented in games built with Unity or Unreal. (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!)

    Testing: Dell P2715Q 4K Monitor

    The first generation of 4K monitors available for desktop use weren't great because they were TN displays that ran at 30Hz. Recently, Dell released a 4K monitor using an IPS panel, running at 60Hz. We review that display to see how it runs in Windows 8.1, test its image quality, and see if gaming is practical at 3840x2160.

    12 Days of Tested Christmas: Portal 2 Atlas + P-Body

    For the eleventh day of Tested Christmas, Norm shares a recent find: highly detailed articulated figures of Portal 2's Atlas and P-Body characters. These sixth scale figures were made by a collaboration between Valve and 3A, a maker of incredible collectibles. Time to set these figures and their Portal guns up for display in the office!

    Building a Custom Arcade Cabinet, Part 7

    It's about time! Sorry for the lack of updates on the arcade cabinet project, but after a big delay with technical hurdles and busy schedules, Norm and Wes are back with some progress to report. Wiring and testing of the numerous control buttons continues, plus we turn our attention to the CRT monitor and setting it up to run properly on Windows.

    Tested Mailbag: What's in the Second Box?

    First off--we figured out where the power switch is located! After opening the box for Triforce's Gears of War 3 Hammerburst prop replica, we turn our attention to the second package--another massive box. Teamwork is required to liberate its contents: another 1:1 scale replica!

    Tested Plays #IDARB!

    Can game design be crowdsourced? That's the idea behind #IDARB, an upcoming platformer created by friends of ours, Mike Mika and Kevin Wilson. They stop by our office to show off their game, and we're delighted to learn that we're actually playable characters inside it! Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

    Tested Mailbag: Gears of War 3 Hammerburst Replica!

    Cap off your week with another edition of the Tested mailbag! This week's package is probably the biggest to ever arrive at our office, to the dismay of our FedEx delivery guy. It's an incredible 1:1 scale replica made by Triforce, a company we met at this year's NYCC. Thanks to Triforce for sending this massive package!

    Tested: The Show — A Story in 256 Pixels

    As the resolution and pixel density of digital screens are skyrocketing, we take a step back to appreciate the artistry of telling a story with the limitations of 8-bit graphics. Jeremy Williams celebrates the history and potential of pixel art in this presentation from our live show! (We apologize for some of the rough audio in this taping of our live show. The audio mixer at the venue unfortunately distorted audio from some of the microphones.)

    NYCC: Triforce's Video Game Replica Props

    We've met and worked with independent replica prop makers who specialize in video game props, but here's a company working directly with game developers to bring digital characters, armor, and weapons to reality. At New York Comic Con, we stopped by Triforce's booth to check out their newest scale statues and full-size replicas, as well as learn about their production process.

    In Brief: Hacking Star Wars: Yoda Stories

    You don't have to be a video game programmer to appreciate this post by Zach Barth. Like many of us, Barth tinkered with computer game data files and modifications back in the late 90s. Remember how easy it was to dive into .pak files and swap out textures in games like Quake? Open up config files and change variables with Notepad? Well it's not so easy when a game's data file can only be read with a hex editor. That's the case with the LucasArts adventure game Star Wars: Yoda Stories, which stored all its assets in a 4MB file. Barth explains how he parsed through the data--a vast matrix of ASCII--to extract and color correct 2000 game character sprites and maps. I could only follow along a bit of his problem-solving, but what a fun experiment in data archeology!

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    Show and Tell: Astro A38 Bluetooth Headset

    For this week's Show and Tell, Will shares a new bluetooth headset that he's been testing: Astro Gaming's A38. While the company is known for its gaming headphones, these wireless headsets are made to be worn outside the home, with good active noise-cancellation. Here's what Will thinks about them after some use.