Tom’s Soapbox: Happy Birthday, VR! Now Grow Up

This week marks the two-year anniversary of consumer VR. It’s a little hard to believe that Oculus first released the Rift VR headset that long ago.

I remember the hype leading up to the launch. For months, Oculus teased that the Rift was just over the horizon, but never quite revealed exactly when it would appear. And then during the CES 2016 trade show, Oculus suddenly announced the price, revealed the release date, and opened pre-orders. And the announcement caused a flurry of, um, virtual excitement.

The news also deflated some people’s expectations: They weren’t prepared for the sticker shock of a $599 price tag. When HTC announced the $799 price of the HTC Vive a month later, the general reaction was similar. VR headsets were too much money, and no one would ever buy one at those prices, shoppers decried. 

Isn’t it funny how some things never change?

Two years ago, people were up in arms over the price of the new VR headsets. This year, people are losing their minds over the just-announced price of HTC’s fancy new Vive Pro. Though a vocal minority is still crying foul about the price of VR, the reality is that things have changed quite a bit for consumer VR in two years. Not just regarding price, but regarding pretty much everything.

Today’s consumer-grade VR is on an entirely new landscape compared to two years ago. Allow me to give you a brief rundown of what I mean.

The Faces Of VR Have Changed

If it weren’t for a young Palmer Luckey tinkering in his garage to create the first Oculus Rift prototype, the consumer VR market might not have materialized. However, these days, the father of modern VR isn’t really in the picture.

Last year, Luckey left the company he founded following a controversy involving his political views. He’s still in the VR industry, with a new company that’s developing military-grade VR components. But he no longer has any affiliation with the Facebook-owned VR company.

Luckey isn’t the only face of Oculus no longer in the viewfinder. Though he’s still part of the company, Brendan Iribe stepped down from the position of CEO after he was personally held liable for damages in the Zenimax vs. Oculus infringement lawsuit. It’s unclear whether Iribe stepped out of his own accord, or if Facebook management had anything to do with it. Either way, the people who brought Oculus into the limelight are no longer steering the Oculus ship. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing remains to be seen. 

Oculus isn’t the only VR company that lost a public face. Last year, Chet Faliszek, Valve’s most vocal VR evangelist, left the company to pursue new things. Faliszek did a lot to build awareness for the Steam VR platform, and to attract developers to it. If it weren’t for him, Valve’s position in the VR market would likely be much less prominent.

Since Faliszek left, Valve has been much less forthcoming with information about the platform and what’s coming down the pipeline, though it did release details about Steam VR Tracking 2.0 last year. So much for Steam.

New Hardware Innovations

Speaking of things coming down the pipeline: HTC continues to bring out new upgrades for the Vive platform on a regular basis. Throughout the first year of the Vive’s existence, the company quietly revised the device, improving upon minor details. For example, the first headsets had a fabric hinge for the overhead head strap, whereas the newest headsets have a plastic hinge that adds a little bit of rigidity to the mechanism. The new device also features a thin cable, instead of the three-wire cable that shipped with the early Vive units.

Last year, HTC released the Deluxe Audio Head Strap, which vastly improves the comfort of the HMD. In my opinion, HTC should have made the new strap a standard, though. Fortunately, it wised up for the Vive Pro design, which tells me the days of fabric VR head straps are numbered, if not behind us. Rigid straps are in, and for good reason.

HTC also released the Vive Trackers, which sounded great on paper. But when the devices hit the market, they fell short of the mark. HTC said that hundreds of developers lined up to get a hold of a set of Vive Trackers, but to date, only a handful of titles actually benefit from HTC’s universal tracking devices. I have to say: I’m disappointed with the lack of peripheral support for the Vive Trackers. I expected a half-dozen or so rifle peripherals (and the like) by now. HTC doesn’t seem to be giving up on the Vive Trackers, though, so maybe we’ll see promising hardware soon.

Costs Are Going Down

When consumer-grade virtual reality hit the market, the biggest hurdle preventing most people from purchasing a headset was the cost of entry. The price of the head-mounted displays was high, but you also needed a high-end graphics card to push it, which exacerbated the costs. 

These days, the price is still high, but the cost is shifting toward the graphics card and away from the HMD part of the equation. The current state of the graphics card market, which is under pressure because of such heavy demand from cryptocurrency miners, is keeping the overall cost of high-end VR so high. But VR headsets themselves are much cheaper than they were two years ago.

In the last year, Oculus slashed the price of the Rift with Touch controllers in half, and HTC reduced the Vive’s price from $799 to $499 in the same period. The new competition from Microsoft’s Windows Mixed Reality hardware partners is helping to drive the price of VR down even further. These new devices include inside-out tracking sensors and offer higher-resolution displays than the Rift and Vive, yet most of them cost less than the Rift headset. And just as I wrote this, Sony permanently knocked $100 off the price of the PSVR.

Motion Controllers Aren’t Optional Anymore

When Oculus began shipping the first Rift VR headsets to eager customers and officially kicked off the era of consumer-grade VR, the company targeted seated VR experiences. Why? Because it believed that traditional gamers would be the first people to adopt virtual reality hardware, and it didn’t want to stray too far into unfamiliar territory.

The original Rift bundle included an Xbox One gamepad, and the games that shipped in the first six months were designed to work with traditional input methods. However, Oculus’ assumption that gamepads would help transition people into VR turned out to be a poor bet.

VR games with gamepad inputs lack a certain level of immersion, which wouldn’t have been a problem, save for the fact that HTC introduced the Vive, with its room-scale tracking and wand controllers, a week after Oculus released the Rift. The higher level of immersion that the Vive offered quickly won the approval of critics.

Oculus eventually conceded that the fully immersive room-scale experience with motion controllers makes for superior VR. These days, 94% of Rift owners also have a pair of Touch controllers, and Oculus supports three-sensor tracking setups to enable room-scale tracking.

Getting Less Cumbersome

Two years ago, when VR was a brand new and exciting thing, it was easy to dismiss the cumbersome setup of VR systems as just “one of those things” that early adopters must deal with. But two years into this market, newcomers aren’t quite as receptive to complicated setup processes that require running cables across your room.

Microsoft is now trying to capitalize on that market with its simple-to-set-up Windows Mixed Reality platform. But things are about to get a whole lot simpler. “Standalone VR” is going to be a form-factor game-changer.

Several companies are bringing standalone headsets to the market this year, including Oculus with the budget-friendly $200 Oculus Go headset, Lenovo with its $400 Mirage Solo Daydream headset, and HTC with the likely $600-plus Vive Focus headset. These devices will make it much easier for most people to adopt VR, by eliminating the extra burden of owning a host computer to power the device.

The first generation of standalone VR headsets won’t compare to today’s tethered VR systems. But I think, ultimately, both worlds will converge into a single path. (Oculus’ Santa Cruz prototype is a good example of that already happening.)

Qualcomm: Taking VR By Storm?

It will be some time before standalone headsets compete on a level with PC-connected headsets. But that day will come–and Qualcomm will probably have something to do with that.

Two years ago, Qualcomm already had its foot in the VR market. The company’s Snapdragon SoC has long been the foundation of Samsung’s Galaxy smartphone line, which put it at the forefront of premium mobile VR even before Oculus brought the Rift to market. These days, it’s not just a foot that Qualcomm has in the VR industry. The company all but shoved its whole body through that door. Last year, the company set up a headset reference-design platform, of which all three standalone HMDs mentioned above are products.

Qualcomm is also working with Tobii to help bring eye-tracking technology to standalone VR headsets, which will be another huge milestone for VR. Eye-tracking technology will open the doors to “foveated rendering” technology, which would reduce the workload that GPUs must grind through to power the VR experience. Foveated rendering uses eye-tracking systems to pinpoint where your pupil is focusing and directs the GPU to render that zone at a higher fidelity than the area in your peripheral vision.

Two years ago, it seemed like eye-tracking was a distant concept, but today, we’re really close to it being a standard part of the industry. Tobii isn’t just working to bring its eye-tracking technology to mobile VR. The company has already demonstrated its technology working in an HTC Vive, and I would be shocked if HTC’s next HMD doesn’t have Tobii eye-tracking sensors built into it.

Tobii isn’t the only company making eye-tracking tech, but it seems to be the only one still working with third parties. Fove makes eye-tracking tech, but it keeps its technology in-house, and the company hasn’t had much to say regarding hardware development for more than a year. SMI was arguably further along in the eye-tracking game, but Apple snatched it up last year. So we likely won’t see SMI’s eye-tracking systems materialize until Apple has an HMD to show off.

Apple doesn’t seem interested in virtual reality, but it snapped up Vrvanna last year and acquired the technology that went into the Totem mixed-reality headset. I tried the Totem about a year and a half ago, and to this day, it’s the most impressive, immersive tech demo that I’ve yet seen. I really hope Apple brings something along those lines to the consumer market in the next year or two.

So, What’s Next?

The first two years of consumer VR were exciting, with many innovations emerging from the shadows. However, the industry is nowhere near done innovating yet. It’s just getting its feet wet, and there’s much yet to come.

Later this year, Pimax’s Pimax 8K headset will bring an ultrawide VR headset to the market, and many people are praising the upcoming HMD as a next-generation VR device. However, sheer screen resolution isn’t everything. If the headset is uncomfortable, it won’t do well in the market. I have high hopes for the Pimax 8K, especially after trying the Pimax prototype last fall, but I don’t think it’s going to meet the criteria that would put it in on equal footing with competitors.

Nearer-term–namely, next week–HTC will begin shipping the Vive Pro HMD, which many consider a “generation 1.5” HMD. The new device includes a high-resolution display, which improves the visuals, but I’m honestly more excited about the improved comfort of the Vive Pro. HTC put a lot of work into refining the headset to maximize comfort for all-day use, and if it’s an indication of where the industry is going, I’m excited to see the true second-generation headsets come around in the next year or two. Today’s VR HMDs are fine to wear for an hour or so, but if this medium is really going to take off, we need devices that are comfortable for hours of continuous use.

At this point, I don’t think it’s a matter of if. It simply comes down to when. The industry has shown that consumer VR has a place in the market, but it’ll be a slow progression that stretches out over the next few years. The first two years of VR were exciting, but I can’t wait to see what’s coming around the corner. The next two years should be just as exciting as the previous two.

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Facebook Appears To Store Unpublished Video Data

Last week, some Android users discovered that Facebook was storing their call and text history without them realizing. Facebook defended itself by claiming that the app requires permission before it obtains that data. However, it wasn’t clear if that’s always been the case or whether asking for permission was more of a recent policy change since Google implemented stricter permission policies in the latest version of Android.

Other users now seem to have discovered, after downloading their Facebook account data, that videos they’ve never posted were also stored on the company’s servers. It seems that the issue is that Facebook stores every version of what you try to post on the platform, even before you hit the Post button, and this goes for more than just text.

Facebook Stores Data You’ve Never Posted

Before the Facebook Live era, users could record videos with their webcams and then post the final versions on each other’s walls. You could preview every video before posting it, and if you didn’t like the recording, you could “discard” it and then do another “take.”

However, what you may have not realized is that Facebook wasn’t actually deleting those videos. Instead, it was storing all of the unpublished versions of your videos, too.

According to users reporting to New York Magazine, some of the videos are from 2008, which means Facebook had the infrastructure to store all of this extra and seemingly irrelevant video data a decade ago.

Facebook has often been accused of capturing users’ conversations through a phone’s microphone, but no one has been able to prove those accusations so far. However, one of the biggest criticisms of this theory has been that Facebook wouldn’t be able to store so much data on users, even though voice data is much more compact than video data that you thought you deleted.

Facebook’s data policy says that the company can “collect the content and other information you provide when you use our Services, including when you sign up for an account, create or share, and message or communicate with others.”

Any one of those words could potentially be interpreted differently than you or we may interpret them. For instance, “communicate with others” may not necessary refer to chatting with other people via the Messenger or by sharing thoughts on Facebook website.

One of the main reasons why Facebook is getting into scandal after scandal lately is precisely because the company is acting like you’re willingly agreeing to all of its actions against your data, but the truth is most people probably don’t quite understand what Facebook’s terms even mean, from a legal standpoint, if they even get to read them in their entirety.

This Isn’t The First Time Facebook Has Stored Unpublished Information

Facebook storing data besides what you explicitly publish on the platform isn’t all that new. Back in 2013, a paper written by two Facebook employees who were interested in studying “self-censorship” on the platform revealed that Facebook was storing every word you typed on the website, before you actually published anything.

Many Facebook users may think that if they don’t post their entire private lives on Facebook, then Facebook can’t get too much data on them and companies such as Cambridge Analytica can’t later exploit it for their own gain. However, as we’ve seen before and with these new reports, Facebook tracks not just what you explicitly publish on the platform, but any type of interaction you may have with its website, its Like and Share buttons on third-party websites, and its mobile apps.

Since the Cambridge Analytica scandal we’ve already seen Tesla and other companies delete their Facebook accounts because they no longer trust the company’s conduct or its apologies.

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FSP Windale 4 CPU Cooler Review: One Cool Bargain

The FSP Group is primarily known for power stuff: power supplies and uninterruptible power-delivery systems. But the company has recently served up some intriguing CPU-cooling solutions, in the form of four- and six-heatpipe models. The six-heatpipe Windale 6 is the larger version of the quad-heatpipe Windale 4, the latter of which we will be focusing on here. We did some performance testing against similarly sized tower-cooler rivals.

The boxed contents of the FSP Windale 4 include mounting hardware for most modern CPU sockets, although AMD TR4 Threadripper is not currently supported. AMD and Intel socket mounts use a shared backplate for both manufacturers’ CPUs; our test system utilizes the Intel Socket 2011-v3’s integrated motherboard mount option for our Core i7-5930k. FSP includes a small packet of thermal paste, along with mounting hardware, although we will be using our standard thermal compound, Arctic MX-4, as we do for all of our comparison tests.

Specifications

A single 25 x 120mm fan, which can be mounted on either side of the cooling tower, spins up to 1600 RPM to move air over the FSP Windale 4’s aluminum cooling fins. The unpainted aluminum fins wrap around four offset copper heatpipes, each 6mm in diameter. The shimmering silver aluminum of the cooling fins contrasts nicely with the gleaming copper heatpipes for a classic, almost steampunk look, of tower coolers of yesteryear.

At the cooler’s base, the four heatpipes group uniformly together beneath the wedge-shaped aluminum mounting block and provide direct contact with the CPU’s mounting surface.

The copper heatpipes and aluminum base block are finished with a fine, longitudinal grain milling. It isn’t mirror-smooth, but it provides consistent contact with effective thermal-paste application. The included mounting hardware uses this mounting block to secure the cooler in place with spring-loaded pressure once the mounting screws are secured at the corners of the installation mounting plates.

The cooling fan itself doesn’t secure to the cooling tower via snap-on mounts like most traditional coolers, as FSP has opted to use rubber tabs instead. One end of the mounting tab has a rounded button that slips into a notch cut into the cooling fins, while the longer fingers thread through the fan support holes and lock the fan into place. Excess rubber can be trimmed away unless you happen to enjoy the look of catfish-like whiskers protruding from your CPU cooler.

The four slots seen pictured in the top fin around the FSP logo are actually cut into each fin in the cooling tower. FSP states that this provides better airflow and directs heated air out of the tower assembly.

The installation instructions have you install the base mounting hardware to the motherboard, then secure the tower itself atop the CPU before adding the cooling fan. The directions also specify to install the rubber mounting tabs on the fan prior to securing the rounded buttons into the cooling fin slots. However, we found it far easier to install the rubber tabs to the cooling tower first, rather than to the fan. This meant slipping the fan over one side of the tabs, securing them, and then threading the other side tabs through and securing them. This method becomes far more obvious once the cooler is mounted to the motherboard, as it would require great dexterity to insert the rubber mount buttons to the cooling fins while working around memory DIMMs and other components in the vicinity.

MORE: Best CPU Cooling

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Microsoft Expands Search, ‘Cortana Show Me’ With Preview Build 17634

Microsoft released a new build to Fast ring members of the Windows Insider Program. Preview Build 17634 boasts the usual bug fixes, performance improvements, and new issues as other pre-release software, but it also expands Windows’ search and Cortana Show Me tools.

The first new feature of Preview Build 17634 is the addition of search tools to Windows 10’s native Calendar app. This expansion will allow you to “find past or future events by searching for the name, location, people included or words in the event body,” Microsoft said in its blog post. Events featuring those terms will be highlighted in the Calendar, while unrelated entries will be greyed out. The feature is currently limited to Microsoft’s Outlook, Hotmail, Live, and Office 365 services–anyone who uses Gmail, Yahoo, or Exchange Server calendars is going to miss out.

Preview Build 17634’s other headlining feature is the addition of voice controls to Cortana Show Me, which debuted with one of last week’s preview builds. Cortana Show Me isn’t a standalone app: It’s a series of guides built in to the existing Cortana utility that are supposed to make it easier for people to navigate common tasks like changing a desktop background, uninstalling an app, or changing Wi-Fi settings. Now the tool will support voice queries that allow you to say “Show me how to change my background,” for example, and have Cortana display a link to the guide.

In its blog post, Microsoft offered this list of queries to try with Cortana Show Me in Preview Build 17634:

  • Update Windows – Try, “Update my Windows device”
  • Check if an app is installed – Try, “How to see what apps are installed”
  • Uninstall an app – Try “How to uninstall apps”
  • Change your desktop background – Try, “Show me how to change my background”
  • Use Airplane Mode – Try, “How do I turn on airplane mode”
  • Change your display brightness – Try, “Show me how to change my screen brightness”
  • Add nearby printers or scanners – Try, “How to add a printer”
  • Turn off Windows Defender Security Center – Try, “Show me how to turn off Windows Defender Security Center”
  • Change Wi-Fi settings – Try, “Show me how to change Wi-Fi network”
  • Change your power settings – Try, “How to change when my computer goes to sleep”
  • Discover Bluetooth devices – Try, “Show me how to discover devices”
  • Check your version of Windows – Try, “How do I find my current version of Windows”

Of course, this build also boasts a series of bug fixes. Most don’t appear to be critical–they fix problems in Microsoft Edge more than anything–but one should be welcome news for anyone who uses BitLocker. Microsoft said it “fixed an issue resulting in certain devices with BitLocker enabled unexpectedly booting into BitLocker recovery in recent flights.” Hopefully this fix will make life easier for affected BitLocker users.

Microsoft noted that Preview Build 17634 also includes a few known issues, including…

  • If you open Settings and clicking on any links to the Microsoft Store or links in tips, Settings will crash. This includes the links to get themes and fonts from the Microsoft Store, as well as the link to Windows Defender.
  • On resuming from sleep, the desktop may be momentarily visible before the Lock screen displays as expected.
  • When Movies & TV user denies access to its videos library (through the “Let Movies & TV access your videos library?” popup window or through Windows privacy settings), Movies & TV crashes when the user navigates to the “Personal” tab.

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iPhone update adds privacy ‘transparency’

Apple has updated its iOS, MacOS and tvOS operating systems to give people more information about how their personal data is collected and used.

After updating, customers will see new information screens when they use Apple-made apps that collect personal data, such as App Store.

The change comes ahead of new EU data protection rules, which take effect on 23 May.

Apple also plans to let people download the data it has stored about them.

The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) toughens the requirements on how organisations handle the public’s data, and imposes harsher penalties for breaches.

Apple has previously promoted its services and smartphones as being privacy-focused.

The latest software update does not change how much data is collected, but new privacy information screens will appear when people use certain Apple-made apps for the first time.

Tapping the notice will display detailed information about what data is being collected and how it is used.

However, customers will not be able to switch off some types of data collection. For example, they will not be able to download free apps from the App Store without first setting up an Apple ID account.

Apple also plans to release new tools in May that will let customers:

  • download a copy of all the data Apple stores about them, including photos, videos and iCloud back-ups
  • temporarily deactivate their Apple ID, which will stop Apple processing the data
  • permanently delete their Apple ID, which will erase all the data Apple stores within 30 days.

The privacy-focused Open Rights Group welcomed the changes.

“Making privacy settings more transparent and giving people more control is better. This is happening because companies are checking what they are doing before new data protection rules kick in,” said Jim Killock.

“The new rules have forced everyone to make changes, including some of the big US-based companies. That’s a victory for privacy and it shows that we can win improvements if governments listen to people’s well-founded concerns about privacy.”

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Intel Hades Canyon NUC

Intel’s ‘Next Unit of Computing’ hardware platform has always showcased some of the chipmakers most interesting silicon concepts. This year, the Hades Canyon NUC represents a partnership between Intel and AMD we would have never expected – or even fathomed.

It’s easily the smallest VR-capable PC that marries together an Intel quad-core processor with integrated, ‘discrete-class’ AMD Radeon RX Vega graphics into a single chip. With all that power under its belt, this gaming PC easily smashes through Full HD gaming with most modern titles and performs like a productivity champ.

Despite all the caveats of that comes with a barebones computer such as this, the Intel Hades Canyon NUC earns top marks for packing so much performance into a small package. It’s one of the best and our favorite mini PC of the year so far.

Spec Sheet

Here is the Intel Hades Canyon NUC configuration sent to TechRadar for review:

CPU: 3.1GHz Intel Core i7-8809G (quad-core, 8MB Cache, up to 4.2GHz)
Graphics: Radeon RX Vega M GH graphics (4GB HBM2 VRAM), Intel UHD Graphics 630
RAM: Kingston HyperX 16GB DDR4 (3,200MHz)
Storage: 118GB Intel Optane SSD 800P Series (NVMe), 512GB Intel SSD 545s Series (M.2 SATA)
Ports (front): 1 x USB-C 3.1 Gen 2, 1 x USB-A 3.1 Gen 2, 1 x USB-A 3.1 Gen 1, SD card reader, HDMI 2.0a
Ports (rear): 2 x Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C), 4 x USB 3.0, HDMI 2.0a, 2 x mini DisplayPort, 2 x Ethernet, optical audio out
Connectivity: Intel Wireless-AC 8265, Bluetooth 4.2
Weight: 2 pounds (0.91kg)
Size: 8.7 x 5.6 x 1.54 inches (22.1 x 14.2 x 3.9cm; W x D x H)

Price and availability

Our particular Intel Hades Canyon NUC8i7HVK review unit costs $999 (about £710, AU$1,302), which is about half-to-a-third off the price of an equally competent gaming laptop. Not too shabby for a PC equipped with a quad-core Intel Core i7 and nearly Nvidia GTX 1060 equivalent graphics.

That said, this barebones unit doesn’t come with storage, memory or an operating system, so you’ll have to get those pieces on your own.

There’s also an entry-level Intel Hades Canyon NUC8i7HNK priced at $799 (about £570, AU$1,040). This more affordable NUC comes still comes with a quad-core i7 CPU, but it maxes out at a slower frequency. Meanwhile, the onboard Radeon RX Vega M GL GPU has four fewer compute units and won’t run as fast either.

Compared to other barebone PCs, the high-end Intel Hades Canyon NUC compares well against the $949 (£619, AU$1,739) Zotac Zbox Magnus EN1060K and $999 (£819, AU$1,579) Gigabyte Brix GB-BNi7HG6-1060. Both of these mini PCs feature older Kaby Lake processors but a Nvidia GTX 1060 with two more GB of video RAM and higher CUDA  

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Design

At first blush, the Hades Canyon NUC looks more like a set top box than a desktop PC, and that’s honestly a good thing. The device is interesting enough to look like more than just a plain box in your home entertainment setup while also not being too distracting if you decide to use it as your work computer.

If you remember the Skull Canyon NUC Intel released two years prior, the Hades Canyon should look very familiar. Both units share the same overall shape, plus an identical hexagonal motif for the ventilation holes and top panel. Of course, with the integration of ‘discrete-class’ graphics and sufficient cooling to back it up, Intel’s flagship NUC is almost twice as large as its predecessor.

Intel’s design has also seen some improvements. The old interchangeable plastic panels have been replaced by a much slicker light-up skull fashioned after the silicon that resides within. The lighting on this part of the case and all the little hard drive and power indicators are fully customizable – or you could just turn them all off for a stealthy unit.

Despite this PC’s small size, it packs an impressive amount of ports. Along the backside alone you’ll find four USB 3.0 ports, two ThunderBolt 3 ports, two mini DisplayPorts, HDMI 2.0 and even two Gigabit Ethernet ports. That’s more connectivity than you’ll even find on some full-size desktops.

Cracking open the Hades Canyon NUC is a breeze, as it just requires undoing six torx screws and a single Philips head. With the top cover removed, you can access the computer’s memory slots as well as the M.2 NVMe and SATA drives.

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Benchmarks

Here’s how the Intel Hades Canyon NUC performed in our suite of benchmark tests:

3DMark: Sky Diver: 24,315; Fire Strike: 8,525; Time Spy: 3,102
Cinebench CPU: 851 points; Graphics: 151 fps
GeekBench: 5,152 (single-core); 17,191 (multi-core)
PCMark 8 (Home Test): 4,276 points
Total War: Warhammer II (1080p, Ultra): 28 fps; (1080p, Low): 60 fps
ME: Shadow of War (1080p, Ultra): 37 fps; (1080p, Low): 89 fps

Performance

The ‘discrete-class’ Radeon RX Vega graphics are every bit as impressive as Intel and AMD promised. We can play all our favorite games, including Far Cry 5 and Warhammer: Vermintide 2, at a steady 60 frames per second (fps) with high-quality graphical settings and a 1080p resolution.

Even more impressive is that the little PC holds it own through Overwatch and Hitman at 1440p with HDR active on a Samsung CHG70 QLED gaming monitor. The only title to give us some measurable difficulty is Assassin’s Creed Origins, but it still runs at a completely playable 40fps with high quality settings and a 1080p resolution.

Outside of gaming, the Intel Hades Canyon NUC runs like a champ through all our regular web browsing and word processing, as well as our image and video editing needs. For those multi-monitor fans, the Intel Hades Canyon NUC can also drive up to six screens.

Compared to comparable notebook hardware in the 15-inch Microsoft Surface Book 2, the Intel NUC almost wins the complete race in both processor and graphically intensive tests. A full-on gaming laptop like the Dell Inspiron 15 7000 Gaming manages to close the gap a little better, but for the most part the Hades Canyon stays on top.

Meanwhile, a gaming PC with actual desktop parts, like the Asus ROG G20CI, proves to be tougher competition.  While the NUC manages to score better in the processor tests, the integrated graphics just can’t keep up with a Nvidia GTX 1080 – then again, neither could the AMD Radeon RX Vega 64.

Final verdict

The Intel Hades Canyon NUC is the company’s most impressive mini PC yet, capable of playing most modern games with ease and offering plenty of performance for everyday computing. And, that’s all without the help of an external GPU, unlike the previous Skull Canyon NUC. 

This is true high-end desktop computing on a single, standalone chip. Beyond this one device, it represents a turning point for thin-and-light laptops like HP Spectre x360 15 and Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 to be just as powerful as full-on gaming laptops

Although the Hades Canyon NUC might be expensive and require additional parts, you won’t find another mini PC as powerful as this. The expansive array of ports and support for high-end internal components is equally as amazing. Thanks to its small size, it’s also the perfect home theater PC.

All in all, Intel has produced an incredibly tiny and VR-capable gaming PC worthy of your attention and consideration.

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Roto VR Production Delayed Over Safety Concerns, On Track For Q2 Delivery

Roto VR today released a production update which sheds light on the company’s most recent production delays. The company said in December that it would begin shipping consumer-grade hardware in February, but safety concerns forced it to put a hold on product shipments.

Roto VR began accepting pre-orders for its motorized Roto VR chair in May 2016. At the time, the company believed that it would begin shipping product in just a few months, but here we are almost two years later and the company still isn’t shipping Roto VR chairs to customers.

Roto VR has made several attempts to produce the Roto VR motorized chair in the last two years. In October 2016, the company announced that production was about to start and that shipments would begin in January 2017. January slipped by, as did most of 2017, without an update from Roto VR, but in September, the company resurfaced and announced that it was conducting a pilot production run with a retooled chair design. In December, Roto VR announced that full production was about to begin, and developer units were going out the door already. Consumer fulfillment was to begin in February, pending regulatory approval.

Following the December announcement, Roto VR went quiet about its progress. Today the company revealed what happened. Roto VR said that it started the production line in December, again in February, and once again in March. However, shipments are on hold because of safety concerns. Roto VR didn’t mention anything about not passing FCC and CE certifications, but its internal quality control department refused to sign off on the device.

Roto VR said that the quality control department found bugs that made operating the chair hazardous. The way the company described the problem, we’d be more included to classify the concerns design flaws rather than bugs. Roto VR’s quality control team determined that the chair needs two additional safety features before the units can go out to customers.

Roto VR’s motorized chair is controlled by a wireless head tracker, that straps to your HMD. Roto VR’s original design didn’t include a feature that would disable tracking movement when you take your headset off. Originally, Roto VR intended to instruct users to turn the tracker off before removing their headset. The company determined that powering off the device first is not intuitive enough. The revision includes a provision that would disable tracking as soon as you lift the HMD from your face. Roto VR also installed a system that automatically disables the chair’s motors at the same time.

Updated Features

Roto VR’s setbacks aren’t all bad news, though. The extra lead time enabled the company to rework some of the chair’s features. When Roto VR opened pre-orders for the motorized chair, the company also revealed a handful of accessories such as the Double Rumble feature, which added haptic feedback to the chair with two bass shaker speakers. The company isn’t abandoning the Double Rumble system, but it updated the hardware to improve the experience. The new system does away with the speaker-based rumble system in exchange for a rumble-motor system, which uses off-set weights to add depth the rumbling feel. Roto VR also said that the rumble feature is no longer an optional upgrade. The company determined that the rumble feature adds to the immersion so much that it’s now a standard feature for all Roto VR units.

Roto VR also revealed developer tools that enable fine-tuned control of the rumble system to take full advantage of its potential. Developers don’t need to intervene to take advantage of the basic rumble system, though. Without additional instruction from the game, the Roto VR Double Rumble system is activated by the game’s audio.

Support For More HMDs

When Roto VR announced the motorized Roto VR chair, the consumer VR industry was just kicking off. The Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive were on the market; the PlayStation VR was coming, but not yet available; and the mobile VR market consisted of Google Cardboard and Samsung Gear VR. Today, several more VR options are available, and even more are about to arrive. Fortunately, Roto VR is on top of the latest developments in the VR HMD market, and it’s prepared to take on the new market landscape.

Roto VR went back to the drawing board and redesigned the cable magazine to support almost every VR headset on the market. The Roto VR cable magazine is one of the key components that enable the Roto VR chair to function. The magazine sits at the foot of the chair and provides data line and power hookups that don’t rotate when the chair spins. Roto VR’s original design featured swappable cable magazines for each type of headset. Roto VR abandoned the swappable units for a universal design that support all devices.

The new universal cable magazine supports the HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, and Windows Mixed Reality HMDs. Roto VR also built support for mobile HMDs, such as the Google Daydream platform, and HTC’s upcoming standalone Vive Focus headset. The universal cable magazine also includes a power line for plugging in peripherals such as racing wheels.

Developer Tools

Roto VR also announced the Roto Arcade Portal Platform, which gives arcade operators access to short-form content with playtimes of roughly five minutes. The Roto Arcade Portal also would provide developers a platform to distribute content with a per-use licensing structure.

Roto VR said that the Roto VR chair is compatible with all PC VR games out of the box, but developers can use the company’s SDK to enable advanced features, such as the rumble system and the foot-pedals that simulate walking. The SDK would also enable developers to direct the player’s attention in cutscenes by turning them in time to see a certain sequence.

Tools For Home Users

Roto also created software for home users that creates scripted turn sequences to coincide with video files. You can control the direction of the chair with an Xbox controller and record the movements for playback later. The software will even let you create the sequence from a desktop PC and copy it over to a mobile HMD for playback through the Android Roto Movie Player.

Shipping Soon

Despite the most recent setback, Roto VR said it is ready to produce the Roto VR Chair in mass scale. The company has a manufacturing facility at the ready, and it has the components for production in stock. Roto VR is also ready to ship units rapidly with logistics and distribution partners around the world. The company said that pre-orders should be fulfilled between May and June. The company is also offering a limited time $100 discount on new orders.

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