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    Custom Keyboard Spotlight: Hako Royal Switches

    It's common practice among keyboard enthusiasts to mix and match the parts from different switches to create hybrids with unique properties. In particular, the explosion of Kailh Box switch variants has offered a great opportunity to make new franken-switches. Now, you don't have to buy two sets of switches to make one popular mod. NovelKeys has started selling "Hako Royal" switches.

    As the name implies, Hako Royals are a collaboration between Input Club and Novelkeys. Input Club first introduced the Hako Clear and True tactile switches earlier this year. These switches were designed to have more cushion at the bottom of each press to promote faster typing. However, they were a bit lacking in the tactility department. Meanwhile, NovelKeys rolled out the incredibly tactile Royal switches a few months ago. These switches had a certain charm, but the bump was almost too heavy.

    Some folks started swapping Hako switch internals into Royal housings, resulting in a much more tactile version of the Hako. That's what you can get now with the Hako Royal switches. Hako Royals use the stem, spring, and top housing from the Hako switches. So, they've got the increasingly common square-shaped wall around the Cherry-style cross connector. Because these switches use the Hako top housing, they are compatible with both SMD (on the circuit board) and through-switch LEDs. The bottom housing and (importantly) the contact leaf come from the NovelKeys Royal switches.

    The contact leaf lives inside the "Box" portion of the switch—a closed-off section in the housing (see below). The bump on the stem pushes a small plastic nub that pokes out of the box, and that's what moves the contact leaf. The Royal switches use a stiffer leaf that exerts more force on the stem and thus increases tactility. So, the combination of Hako parts with the Royal leaf gets you a more tactile switch with more spring resistance.

    Episode 456 - Carousel - 7/6/18
    Danica is our special guest this week joining Norm and Kishore to talk about adventures in New York, recommendations for shows and attractions, and the latest in pop culture and technology news. Plus, we devote the last 30 minutes of the podcast to discussing the show In & Of Itself. Spoilers within when the background lights change colors! (Apologies for video viewers--our camera's memory card filled up with 10 minutes left on the podcast, so it's audio-only from that point.)
    00:00:00 / 02:08:32
    Custom Keyboard Spotlight: Building a CA66 Keyboard

    There are plenty of keyboards you can purchase pre-built that get the job done, but the genuinely distinctive boards require a bit of work to assemble. I evaluate numerous factors before embarking on a new keyboard build project. I consider the layout, how it will jive with keysets I have and will have in the future, and what firmware it runs. Sometimes, a keyboard just looks so neat that I throw caution to the wind. That was the case with the CA66, which I just finished building recently. Here's a look at my latest keyboard project.

    The CA66

    It's amusing that in smartphones, designers are doing everything they can to minimize bezels, but it's the opposite with keyboards. Big bezels are very in right now because they let you create a more distinctive shape and do cool things with materials. These boards can look a bit retro, but in a good way. That's the case with the CA66—the Avec Corniche 66. That roughly translates from French as "66 with a ledge."

    The board has a large, rounded top and bottom bezel with a compact 65% layout. That means there's no number pad or function key row. The arrows and far right side column of keys are also slightly offset from the rest of the board, too. The CA66 is loosely based on the IBM PCJr keyboard, which was a terrible keyboard with an interesting layout. The CA66 is a delightfully retro slab of metal—it even replicates the PCJr "IBM" badge in the lower left corner with a stylish CA66 brass logo.

    I saw pictures of the CA66 from a small Chinese group buy last year, and I immediately knew that I wanted it. I had to wait several months for the second round to open for US orders, and then came the interminable multi-month wait for production and shipping.

    Hands-On with PlayStation VR Games at E3 2018!

    We wrap up our coverage of VR games at this year's E3 with recaps of demos from the PlayStation booth. Jeremy and Norm play and share their impressions of the action shooter Blood & Truth, the revamped puzzler The Tetris Effect, and an adorable platformer in Astro Bot: Rescue Mission!

    Hands-On with Lightform Projection Mapping!

    Projection mapping is one of the coolest visual technologies that so far has been out of reach for consumers. Lightform is hoping to change that with its projector-mounted scanner and software. We get our hands on the Lightform device to see how it maps objects and environments in front of it--like a replica movie prop--and go through the software to learn how to create striking augmented visuals on top of the real world.

    Custom Keyboard Spotlight: Novelkeys x Kailh Box Pale Blue Switches

    The classic Cherry MX Blue switch is without a doubt the most famous clicky switch. You can still find it in many new mechanical keyboards today, but there are some more interesting and frankly better clicky switches if you're willing to dive into the custom keyboard community. Of all the clicky switches I've tried, the Novelkeys x Kailh Box Pale Blue is the best. This is a heavy switch with a sharp double-click thanks to Kailh's click bar design.

    As a Box switch, it shares some basic housing features with switches like the Input Club Hakos and Novelkeys Royal. The square stem has a standard Cherry-style cross connector in the middle, so it'll work with most modern keycaps. The stem helps stabilize the plunger as it moves up and down inside the switch.

    The "box" part of a Box switch doesn't refer to the stem but to the closed-off contacts inside. They're housed in a little closed off box with a plastic nub extending to touch the stem. You can see the green nub in the image below. The stem moves the nub, and that in turn pushes on the contacts to activate the switch. This is true of all Box switches, but the Pale Blue also has Kailh's innovative click bar design.

    In Cherry's clicky switches, the "click" comes from a sliding jacket on the stem smacking into the bottom of the housing. The click bar is a small springy piece of metal that runs across the width of the switch housing, and it clicks on press and release instead of just on the press. There is a small bump on the side of the stem that has nothing to do with actuating the switch—it's entirely about making noise. As the stem goes down, it pushes the click bar down until it snaps back and hits the housing. Click. As you release the switch, the stem pushes the click bar out until it snaps back to strike the housing. Click again.

    PROJECTIONS, Episode 52: MIX Augmented Reality Headset Prototype!

    We go hands-on with a prototype of the MIX augmented reality headset, which boasts a 96-degree field of view. Chatting with AntVR's CEO, we learn how the optics in MIX works and what their plans are for the MIX in both AR and VR. Plus, we demo two upcoming PSVR games: Ghost Giant and Trover Saves the Universe!

    Custom Keyboard Spotlight: XDA Keycap Profile

    Most of the keycap profiles we talk about have been around for many years or at least have their roots in decades past. That's not the case for XDA. This profile only came about in the last 18 months, and it offers a cool alternative to DSA for fans of flat profiles. This is an excellent time to talk about the profile because there's a particularly attractive XDA set up for order on Massdrop.

    XDA keycaps are unsculpted, so there's no difference in the shape from one row to the next. Not everyone likes typing on keycaps like this, but it's something of an acquired taste. Like DSA caps, XDA makes it easy to cover even weird custom boards because you don't have to worry about row profiles.

    So, XDA profile is similar to DSA in that respect, but they're otherwise very different designs. XDA caps have a less aggressive taper from top to bottom, making them a bit more boxy with more surface area on the top. The caps are also a little taller than DSA—roughly the same as a middle row on Cherry keycap sets.

    PROJECTIONS, Episode 51: Echo Combat and Ultrahaptics!

    We're back from E3 and give some impressions of the new Echo Combat demo we played there, along with an interview with Ready at Dawn about the mechanics of this upcoming game mode. Plus, we put our hands over the Ultrahaptics panel, which uses tiny transducers to simulate the feel of objects in VR.

    Fallout 76 Power Armor Edition T-51 Helmet!

    At this year's E3, we check out some of the props and collectibles for Fallout 76, including the sold-out T-51 Power Armor helmet that comes with the special collector's edition box. Chronicle Collectibles' Paul Francis walks us through the details of this helmet and the other props he worked on for the game.

    Custom Keyboard Spotlight: Massdrop Laser ALT keyboard

    Buying a fancy custom mechanical keyboard is often a multi-step process that involves selecting hardware and keycaps, then waiting months for everything to show up. Massdrop has an interesting deal right now that includes a custom board and a hot keycap set: the Laser ALT keyboard. There's just shy of a week left for this drop, and it includes everything you need. There's still a wait, but at least everything will arrive at the same time.

    The ALT first showed up on Massdrop a few weeks ago as a rather dull silver keyboard. This second drop is themed to match the GMK Laser keycap set, which Massdrop sold several months ago. A new round of keycaps is being produced specifically for this keyboard, which comes in either purple or pink.

    I've talked about GMK keycaps in the past—they're double-shot ABS with thick walls that make them feel solid, and the legends are sharp. Laser has a "Cyberpunk" theme with purple, blue, and hot pink. You don't have to purchase the keycap add-on with the Laser ALT, but it seems like kind of a shame to skip it. It's just a $70 upgrade to get the caps, but you only get the caps to cover this small-ish 65% board.

    The layout of this board is very similar to the Input Club WhiteFox. So, you don't have a dedicated f-key row or a number pad. This keyboard isn't a kit like many others, so it's ready to use out of the box. There's still plenty of opportunity to customize it, though. The ALT uses Kaihua hot-swap switch sockets, which I've used on a few other keyboards. You can pull out a switch and plug in a different one in just a few seconds. Yes, that means no soldering required.

    The keyboard accepts and Cherry-style switch with a "plate mount" housing. That just means there aren't stabilizing pins on the bottom. If you do have those on a switch, you can clip them off without damaging the switch.

    Mind-Controlled Plumbob Crystal from the Sims 4!

    In partnership with EA, we made a pair of Sims 4 plumbobs that change colors based on your thoughts! Jeremy walks us through the design of these brainwave-reading devices, and how he hacked them to light up a 3D-printed plumbob. We're going to take these to this weekend's EA Play and have some fun! (This video was sponsored by Electronic Arts.)

    PROJECTIONS, Episode 50: Varjo Bionic Display and Echo Combat Hands-On!

    We go hands-on with a prototype of the Varjo virtual reality headset with "Bionic display", a hybrid system that combines a high-end display panel with an ultra-high resolution OLED panel for the center of your field of view. It's unlike anything we've seen before, and we chat with Varjo's CEO about how this technology works. Plus, Jeremy plays in the beta for Echo Combat!

    Show and Tell: Destiny-Inspired Airsoft Mod!

    Bill Doran of Punished Props (and Tested contributor!) stops by the studio to share a personal project modding an airsoft model into a Destiny-inspired prop! Bill talks about how he modeled a 3D-printed shell to fit the prop, which can be used for cosplay photo ops and fan films.

    Custom Keyboard Spotlight: Matias Switches

    Some keyboard warriors swear by Alps switches, which I talked about a few weeks back. These switches are no longer manufactured by Alps Electric, so people are forced to find used switches and salvage them. There's an attractive alternative, though. A Canadian company called Matias manufactures Alps-style switches to this very day. They have many of the same properties as classic Alps along with some modern niceties.

    If you want to build a keyboard with Alps switches right now, you'll have to find used switches that are at least 15-20 years old. Many of the most sought-after Alps were produced in the 1980s, so those switches might be upward of 30 years old by now. With such old components, it's hard to know how heavily they were used. In addition, Alps were only rated for about 10 million lifetime presses, much lower than modern switches. That's where Matias switches come in. These switches have a refined mechanism that's good for 50 million presses, and you can buy them brand new from Matias.

    Matias switches have the same footprint and pin layout as Alps, so they work in any PCB that accepts Alps. The stem is also the traditional Alps rectangle, so Alps keycaps fit on Matias switches without any modification. Unlike the original Alps, Matias switches account for LED lighting on keyboards. The housing is transparent, so underlighting can shine through to the keycaps. The shape of the housing is the same as classic Alps, though, so it's easy to open them up even after they've been mounted in a board. These switches aren't as complicated as the original Alps, but they're close to the newer switches Alps Electric started making in the late 90s.

    Matias makes switches in the three main categories of linear, tactile, and clicky. The clicky and tactile have their peak force near the top of the press, followed by a consistently lighter feel until the switch bottoms out. So, Matias switches "fall through" like Alps. This won't appeal to everyone, but it makes the actuation (right after the peak force) feel very precise. The linear versions behave more like other linear switches, with a peak force a little north of 50 grams.