BenQ GW2406Z review

In recent years AOC has been the go-to brand if you wanted a cheap IPS PC monitor. But other manufacturers have been quick to release their own models, and BenQ’s new GW2406Z should prove tempting at just £120.

BenQ GW2406Z review: Price

You can buy the GW2406Z for £116 from Amazon. This is a good price for a 24in IPS monitor, especially one which looks this good.

You can see the other monitors we recommend in our Best monitors roundup.

BenQ GW2406Z review: Features and design

The GW2406Z isn’t aimed at gamers specifically – IPS screens don’t have the fast response rates of TN panels. But for casual gamers it will be fine.

Instead, this is a ‘general use’ screen that’s going after those that want a good-looking monitor and the kind of ultra-thin bezels we’re starting to see on laptops and high-end TVs. Note that the display itself doesn’t go right to the edge of the panel, but stops a few millimetres before it, so the total bezel width is around 10mm, but has the appearance of 5mm.

BenQ GW2406Z review

BenQ GW2406Z review

This thinning down appears to have only one drawback: the power supply is external rather than built in. But it’s a minor inconvenience if you can hide it out of sight somewhere under your desk.

At this price you wouldn’t expect a fully adjustable stand, and you don’t get one. The screen tilts up and down, but that’s it.

It does have three inputs: DisplayPort 1.2, HDMI 1.4 and VGA D-Sub. There’s a headphone output which routes audio from the HDMI or DisplayPort inputs, but there are no built-in speakers. VGA and HDMI cables are bundled in the box.

BenQ GW2406Z review

BenQ GW2406Z review

The 24in panel has the expected 1920×1080 full-HD resolution, but BenQ lists it as an AH-IPS panel. This stands for Advanced High-performance IPS, but essentially it is the same as other IPS screens.

You won’t find a whole lot of image controls in the on-screen menu, such as gamma or colour temperature presets, but the essentials are there.

Using the OSD is a pain because, as with so many monitors, the button labels are almost invisible. And the five buttons in the bottom edge all feel the same to your fingers, so it’s all too easy to press the power button instead of the menu button.

BenQ GW2406Z review

BenQ GW2406Z review

BenQ GW2406Z review: Performance

Considering the price, image quality is decent. Attaching our Spyder5Elite colorimeter, we measured a maximum brightness of 240.6cm/m2 and contrast of 750:1 (lower than the claimed 250cd/m2 and 1000:1), but at least contrast remained the same no matter the brightness level.

At the recommended brightness of 120cm/m2, the black level of 0.25cd/m2 isn’t amazingly inky but – again, for the price – it’s perfectly workable.

The average Delta E of 1.92 is towards the higher end of what we like to see, but in general colours and greyscale are accurate.

Using the Spyder to calibrate the screen we saw a final gamma of 2.26, which is fairly close to the ideal of 2.2. But the out of the box settings are not far off that, so you won’t necessarily need a calibrator.

The 2406Z covers 98 percent of the sRGB gamut, 77 percent of Adobe RGB and 74 percent of NTSC. This, along with the reasonably accurate out-of-box colours, means it’s a good budget choice for editing photos and colour-correcting video, although not if this needs to be done to professional standards. It’s just better than the average TN-based monitor.

Contrast, although not the highest, is good enough and thanks to the IPS panel, viewing angles are very good both horizontally and vertically.

What this means is that, unlike cheap TN monitors, you won’t be tilting the screen back and forward to try to figure out which emails are read and unread – the subtly different shades are easily discernible on the BenQ. It also means minimal colour shift and brightness dropoff if you’re not viewing the display square on.

But if you like to play a lot of fast-paced games, you might be better off with the similarly priced AOC G2460VQ6 which has a 75Hz TN panel.

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The Zacro 3D is a VR Headset with high quality lens to reduce glare and prevent visual fatigue. With the knobs and buttons you can adjust the focal distance and the ergonomic headband ensures balanced pressure distribution. The Zacro 3D VR Headset is compatible with any 4 to 6-inch smartphone including iPhone and Samsung Galaxy S7. Get it within the next 3 hours and save 40% at £10.19.

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The Mpow Smart Fitness tracker can track your daily activities and monitor the quality of your sleep. It counts steps, calories burned as well as distances. It has a built-in screen and connects to the smartphone via Bluetooth to display caller ID and messages. It can also display messages from Facebook, Titter, Whatsapp, and more. The Mpow Smart Fitness Bracelet can also track sleep and wake you up with silent alarms. Get it today for just £21.69 with free delivery in the UK.

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Game of Thrones Season 7 news – release date, trailer and how to watch

Game of Thrones Season 7 news – release date, trailer and how to watch

The news we’ve all been waiting for is here: we will tell you when Game of Thrones is next on – and how to watch it. Read the latest news on the GoT Season 7 teasers and UK launch date.

Catch every episode of Game of Thrones on almost any device. Plus, when is Game of Thrones on next?


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The release date for Game of Thrones Season 7 has been confirmed! Here’s what you need to know if you want to watch GoT, plus watch the Season 7 announcement trailer. See: Best media streamers 2015.

Season 7 of GoT will be the penultimate series, although rumour has it that HBO is in talks with author George RR Martin about a potential spin-off series. 

When is the Game of Thrones Season 7 release date?

While Season 6 aired on 25 April 2016 in the UK, Season 7 is coming a little later in 2017. We’ll see the first episode of season 7 broadcast on Monday 17 July 2017. In the US it will air on Sunday 16 July 2017.

Although there’s little to go on at the moment (unless you want some really filthy spoilers, which you won’t read on this site because we all love GoT far too much to ruin the experience) you can view the official teaser trailer at the top of this page.

How to watch Game of Thrones Season 7 online

When it does eventually arrive, Game of Thrones will be shown exclusively on Sky Atlantic in the UK, so if you’re a Sky customer with the right package then simply tune in via your Sky Box. If you want to watch online with an internet connection then you can do so with Sky Go or other methods.

Sky Go

Sky Go is available through web browsers and a wide range of devices including games consoles, smartphones and tablets. You simply download the app if necessary and log in with your Sky ID and password. Note that on consoles you may need an extra subscription such as Xbox Live Gold.

We imagine Game of Thrones Season 7 will be available on demand at 10pm each week following the broadcast of each new episode, following the schedule of Season 6.

Now TV

If you’re not a Sky customer then don’t worry as there is still an easy way to watch Game of Thrones Season 7 online. Sky Atlantic (and various other channels) is available through Sky Now TV as part of the Entertainment package which costs £6.99 per month.

You don’t have to sign up for a year or anything so you can cancel the subscription after Game of Thrones finishes if you want. If you’re a new customer you can do a 14-day free trial which will cover a couple of episodes.

Like Sky Go, Now TV is available on a wide range of devices including Chromecast, Roku, YouView, Xbox One, PS4, PC, Mac, Android and iOS. Sky also has the Now TV Box which you can buy for just £14.99.

See also: How to reduce ping.

HBO Now

Since Game of Thrones is an HBO TV show you can also use the broadcaster’s streaming service, HBO Now, to watch Game of Thrones Series 7 when it arrives. However, it’s only available across the pond so you’ll need to use a VPN in order to gain access.

Read: What is Sky Q and how much is it?

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Nest thermostat review 3rd-gen UK

Smart thermostats let you control your heating from your phone, and usually have intelligent features to heat your home more efficiently and save money. We’ve reviewed Hive Active Heating as well as plenty of other so read the Best smart thermostats to buy right now.  Here we take a look at the 3rd-gen Nest Thermostat plus the Protect smoke and carbon monoxide alarm, and we’ve reviewed the Nest Cam separately.

Update 10 March 2017: Nest has added two-factor authentication to its app to better protect your kit – thermostat, smoke alarm and cameras – from hackers. To enable it go to the Nest app, tap the menu icon at the top left, then go to Account security. You’ll see an option there to activate ‘2-step verification’. The next time you sign in (you may have to sign out manually) you’ll enter your password as usual, but then you’ll get a text with the verification code. Tap this in and you’ll get into the app.

Nest 3rd-gen review: Price

Nest review 3rd generation UK

Nest review 3rd generation UK

In November 2015, Nest announced that the 3rd-generation thermostat which costs £199 from Amazon, or £249 with installation. It’s actually the second version, not the third, available to buy in the UK, as the first was never sold in the UK. Here’s a summary of the features which changed:

  • Hot water control: you can give a hot water boost and adjust the schedule from the thermostat or your phone. It works with Auto-away and turns off the tank heater after two days.
  • Bigger, higher-resolution display: the display is now 53mm across, up from 44mm, and has a resolution of 480×480 instead of 320×320. A new Farsight mode lets you set the display to show the target temperate or a clock so you can see it from across the room.
  • OpenTherm support: Works with compatible boilers to enable two-way communication instead of simple one-way on/off commands from the thermostat. With OpenTherm, the Nest helps the boiler work out the exact amount of gas to burn to reach or maintain the temperature. This should save energy and prolong the life of your heating system.
  • Thinner profile: The new unit sits more flush against the wall. There’s also a new stand, sold separately at the same price as the old one: £29.

With the 3rd-gen model you can now choose between four colours. In addition to the stainless steel model, there’s copper, white and black. They cost the same as the stainless steel model – £199 – and these new colours aren’t surrounds so you can’t add them to an existing thermostat or swap between devices. 

Nest thermostat review - new colours

Nest thermostat review - new colours

In most other respects the 2nd generation model, reviewed below, is identical to the 3rd-gen and its capabilities are the same. Put simply, it replaces your existing thermostat and allows you to control your heating in the old-fashioned way by walking up to the thermostat and turning the dial. You can also change the temperature the modern way by using the app on your smartphone or Nest’s website, from anywhere in the world with an internet connection.

Unlike more expensive systems such as Honeywell Evohome, the Nest is really designed for smaller homes or those where only one or two thermostats are needed. It supports multiple zones, but only if your heating is already plumbed into separate zones. With Evohome (and also Heat Genius), you install one or more smart radiator valves which gives you control over heat at each radiator, and there’s also support for under-floor heating.

With Nest, the thermostat controls only the boiler, so it heats the whole house and can’t control individual radiators. With the 3rd-gen Nest, you can also control a hot water tank, but if you have a combi boiler, then this feature is redundant.

Nest Learning Thermostat review: display

The Nest stands out because of its circular colour LCD display, which makes it a gadget you’ll want to show off rather than hide away as with the Hive. Because there’s a display, you don’t need to launch a smartphone app to change the temperature, yet the kit is no more expensive than others which omit a screen.

Nest Learning thermostat review

Nest Learning thermostat review

The stand was developed especially for the UK, but it’s not included in the box – it’ll cost you an extra £29 and they’re different for the 2nd- and 3rd-gen thermostats. However, while the stand might be useful in some cases, most people should be able to use their existing in-wall thermostat wiring to power the Nest’s screen. The kit even includes a big plastic plate to cover up the old wallpaper, paint or holes you find when your installer removes your old thermostat. That’s because the display is much smaller than you expect, measuring just 83mm wide. (The new 3rd generation is just 1mm wider.)

Nest Learning thermostat review

Nest Learning thermostat review

The display itself is has a 44mm diameter and a resolution of 320×320 pixels (the same as the latest Android Wear smartwatches). Viewing angles are good left to right, but not when viewed from below. That means if your old thermostat was mounted quite high up on the wall, contrast is not all it could be.

There’s a rotating dial surrounding the display which oozes quality. It doesn’t click: the sound you hear is actually coming from the speaker inside the device. The whole unit can be pushed to select options (and enter the menu), but all the settings can also be made from the free app, which is available for iOS and Android. There’s no official Windows Phone app but Nest has approved the third-party Cozy app. You can also check and adjust settings from the Nest website, where you can also look at energy reports.

A hidden sensor below the display detects movement and automatically turns the screen on when you walk past or raise your hand to use the dial. Another sensor detects if the sun is shining on the display and ensures it doesn’t play havoc with the internal thermometer, which would otherwise signal that it’s time to turn the boiler off.

Nest Learning Thermostat review: Heat Link

The other gadget in the box is the Heat Link. This attaches to your boiler, and has built-in Wi-Fi to connect the system to the internet via your wireless router. Virtually every other smart thermostat has a third component which connects to an Ethernet port on your router, so this is a much neater solution if your Wi-Fi coverage is good enough.

Nest Learning thermostat review

Nest Learning thermostat review

The Heat Link has a button which can be used to put the Nest into manual mode, just in case you need it. Holding it for ten seconds resets everything.

Nest highly recommends you have the system professionally installed because of the high voltages involved. However, if you’re comfortable changing a light switch, you’ll have no problems installing Nest.

The Heat Link is compatible with the vast majority of heating systems, including combi-boilers, those with hot water tanks, underfloor systems, air source and ground source heat pumps and others. You can check Nest’s website to see if your system is compatible.

Nest Learning Thermostat review: How it works

At its most basic level, you can use the Nest just like a dumb, old thermostat. You can walk up to it, turn up the heat and sit down again. If it’s too hot, you can turn it down a bit.

Of course, it’s a lot smarter than this, and you’ll probably find you won’t need to touch the dial (or app) much once the system has learned your schedule. This is where the learning part comes in. For the first week or two after installation, you’re encouraged to turn the dial down when you leave the house, and turn it up when you come back in.

Alongside this ‘training’, the movement sensor detects whether anyone is still in the house. If not, it will turn down the heat automatically, and show Auto AWAY on the display. Pets won’t set off the sensor, so you won’t end up wasting gas by heating the house up for your cats.

As we’ve said, you can control the temperature from anywhere using the app. As long as you have an internet connection, you can change settings and turn down the heat remotely.

Nest Learning thermostat review

Nest Learning thermostat review

The thermostat is also a programmer, so you can use the display or app to set a schedule, just as you would a traditional programmer. However, instead of ‘on’ and ‘off’ you set the temperature you want your home to be when you’re in, and a low temperature for all other times – this is known as a ‘setback’ temperature.

Thanks to the learning process, the Nest will automatically create a schedule for you, and you can see in the app whether changes in temperature were due to someone operating the dial or an automatic change based on schedule.

We’ve been testing Nest for over two years now, and it’s safe to say the auto-schedule has produced some very odd timings. Rather than speculate about reasons why, we’ve instead decided to simply set our own schedule and then override it from the app if it turns out that we’ll be home earlier or later than expected.

Auto-Away works well, but there’s also Home/Away Assist. This uses your phone’s location in conjunction with sensors on the thermostat (and Nest Protect, if you have one or more) to more accurately determine whether anyone is home or not. This might sound like geo-fencing – a feature offered by several of Nest’s thermostat rivals – but Nest is keen to point out that geo-fencing isn’t all that accurate. And that’s especially true if the system uses the location of only one phone. The Nest way of doing things combines geo-location (by using the GPS information from your phone) along with the indoor sensors to figure out if everyone’s out, or someone is still home. It should mean that the heating will be turned off more quickly when you forget, since the current Auto Away mode typically errs on the side of caution and waits a long while before deciding no-one is, in fact, home. The feature also means you can set your Nest Cam to automatically turn on when the last person leaves, and off when someone returns. And if you do have a Nest Protect, the monthly sound check will be carried out when no-one is home to avoid disturbing you.

Going hand-in-hand with Home/Away Assist is Family Accounts. It lets you create up to 10 accounts so everyone in the household can have their own login, and the system can use everyone’s phone location (Android and iOS are supported) to make the Auto Away mode more accurate and responsive.

If you have Nest Protect alarms, these can improve Auto-Away’s efficiency – and they work with Home/Away Assist – but you can’t enable the feature if you have a cat or dog as these will make the system think someone’s at home.

You can enable or disable some of the Nest ‘senses’ from the app or website. One is True Radiant, which learns how long it takes your home to heat up and cool down, and then fires up the boiler at the right time to hit your scheduled temperature. There’s no adjustment for economy or comfort like you get with Tado though, so you may find it fires up the boiler far too early in the morning for your liking, but the solution is simple: just move your set temperature to a later time.

It’s possible to check on the status of Nest’s learning feature by going to the settings in the app or on the website, where each feature will either say ‘Ready’ or ‘Learning’.

A fun piece of gamification is the Leaf which appears on the display when you set the dial to an “energy-saving temperature”, encouraging you to keep the heat below around 19 degrees. You’ll then see how many Leafs you’ve earned in the monthly report and how you’re doing compared to other Nest users.

Nest Learning Thermostat review: Zones

Some rival smart thermostats allow you to control the temperature in different ‘zones’ around the house. Nest can do this too, with up to 20 zones. You’ll need to buy a thermostat for each zone, but the drawback (apart from cost) is that your plumbing also has to be set up so the boiler can heat different zones independently.

Older homes with a conventional gas boiler typically heat the entire house, and unless the pipework is physically changed to include two or more valves for different zones (upstairs and downstairs, for example) then adding extra thermostats is pointless.

Without multiple valves, all the boiler can do is send hot water to all radiators or underfloorheating at once. What we really want to see is Nest launch its own smart TRVs (thermostatic radiator valves) which can be used instead of heating valves to shut off individual radiators.

HeatGenius, for example, and Honeywell offer smart TRVs (thermostatic radiator valves) which allows you to control the temperature in the most important rooms.

With a single Nest thermostat, you’re reliant on any existing ‘dumb’ TRVs to shut off radiators when the set temperature is reached. For most normal-sized homes this works well enough, and means you’re still saving money compared to the £50 or so you’d spend on each smart TRV. If your home is brand new and over 150 square metres, it will have a two-zone heating system installed, so you can install two Nest thermostats and control each zone’s temperature.

Update: You can buy and use third-party smart TRVs such as the Devolo Home Control or Elgato Evo Thermo to control individual radiators. Even though they won’t communicate with the Nest thermostat, you can still set diferent temperatures in different rooms this way. The snag is that if you want to increase the temperature when the heating is off, you’ll have to make this change in the smart TRV app as well as the Nest app. And that’s why it would be best for Nest to launch smart TRVs which can talk to the thermostat.

One other feature is that you’re allowed up to two ‘homes’ per account. You can therefore control Nest equipment: thermostats, cameras and smoke alarms at two different locations from the app or website without having to log into different accounts. And, as mentioned, the latest app update for iOS and Android brings multiple user accounts for the same Nest system, so everyone living in the house can log in with their own email and password.

Nest Learning Thermostat review: Nest Protect

As well as controlling heating, the Nest system also integrates with the Nest Protect smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. These are available as mains- or battery powered versions, each costing a hefty £89.

However, these are much smarter than traditional alarms as they have vocal warnings instead of meaningless beeps. For example, if you have multiple Protects installed, you might hear a warning “Be aware. There’s smoke in the living room”, giving you an early heads-up of a potential problem.

Nest Learning thermostat review

Nest Learning thermostat review

If there’s a lot of smoke or carbon monoxide, an alarm will sound, along with “Emergency! There’s smoke in the living room,” helping you to decide on the best exit route in the event of a fire.

The integration also means you’ll get a notification on your smartphone or tablet to warn you of low battery power, or that an alarm has gone off – useful if you’re away from home.

Another benefit of installing one or more Nest Protect is that it detects motion so the thermostat has a better idea of whether anyone is at home or not. In turn this helps to ensure Auto-Away is more effective.

There are two versions of the Protect, with the newer second-generation being slightly slimmer. It still costs £89 from Amazon and comes in mains- or battery-powered versions, but has a new in-app button for silencing the alarm remotely which the first-gen version doesn’t support.

Nest Learning Thermostat review: Software updates

Since launching the Nest in the UK, there have been quite a few software updates.The latest is version 5.6. Updates are installed automatically, so you don’t have to do anything. Eco temperatures were added in 5.6, along with added support for PTAC systems. You can see the revision history on Nest’s website.

Version 5.5 added Farsight improvements.

Going further back, version 4.3 added three new features: Enhanced Auto-Schedule, Quick View and System Test.

Nest refined the algorithm for determining an automatic schedule, and claims this could bring up to 6 percent extra savings. This is the third version of the algorithm which has a better understanding of how long your home takes to heat, and slightly reduces the time until the system switches to Auto Away. Enhanced Auto-Schedule “learns all the time and reacts quicker to changes in routine”, such as school holidays and the Christmas break. We’ll update this review when we’ve been able to see how the algorithm works in practice.

The second feature – Quick View – is much more noticeable since it’s a new interface for the settings on the thermostat itself. The main temperature screen remains unchanged, but when you click it, you’ll get a view like this:

Nest Learning thermostat review

Nest Learning thermostat review

This gives you a lot more information at a glance and means you don’t having to go into submenus to see information such as yesterday’s energy use or the next item on the heating schedule since the text in the centre changes as you rotate the dial. It’s also much quicker to turn off the heating now, and easier to see if there’s a problem as an exclamation mark appears in the centre of the settings icon if there’s a problem.

Finally, System Test has been added to solve two issues. First, the installer can test the system and ensure it’s working fine before leaving. It also lets you test the efficiency of your heating system to make sure it’s working properly before winter sets in, and hopefully get a heads-up of any potential issues. It works by timing how long it takes to reach a set temperature, and warns if it’s too long based on how long it has taken previously.

There are a couple of other minor updates  whcih add more time zones and weather information for Eastern Europe and Asia. More relevant for UK users is that error messages will now appear in the iOS and Android app instead of only on the thermostat’s display. 

Nest Learning Thermostat review: Bottom line

Nest is the only smart thermostat system which also incorporates a connected smoke detector and a camera. Does that make it the best choice for you? It’s certainly easy to use and the circular display is a great talking point.

The smoke alarms are on the expensive side, especially if you need two or three to adequately cover your whole house. However, the Nest kit itself – without installation – is good value and should pay for itself within a couple of years if you’re frugal with your schedule and temperatures.

Saving money, though, is only one benefit of smart thermostats: the ability to monitor and control your heating remotely is very useful. There are cheaper smart thermostats, but not with the wow-factor of the Nest.

One last thing to bear in mind is that you could buy a system that allows you to control multiple zones cheaply. Hive, for example, can control up to three zones. More sophisticated systems can be bought piecemeal. You could start with a basic thermostat, and add controllers for other zones later – potentially when funds allow, and this would be cheaper than buying multiple Nest controllers. Honeywell Evohome is particularly suited to this approach. But for those happy to have just one thermostat and rely on TRVs to control each radiator, the Nest is a fine choice, especially as the latest generation can also control your hot water.

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Eben Upton: Why it's a long road to the Raspberry Pi 4

Technical limitations are the greatest challenge to developing future devices like the Raspberry Pi 4, according to Pi creator Eben Upton.

But while the foundation will not move away from hardware, the Raspberry Pi creator told us that physical limitations will make it difficult to continue the same pace of development on the next generation of devices.

“We’re kind of at the end of the road for 40 nanometer,” he said. “There’s not much more you can do in that process, because ultimately you’re limited by thermals. In the end, you can add as much silicon area as you want, because if you can’t afford to toggle the transistors in the silicon because the thing will cook, then you can’t get any faster.”

According to Upton, the projected lifecycle of the Raspberry Pi 3 is around three years, meaning that there is likely to be at least two more years until the foundation releases a new iteration of its single-board computer. “It’s a long road to get to Pi 4,” Upton said, “but we’ll get there eventually.”

In the meantime, the Raspberry Pi Foundation will spend more time focusing on its charitable endeavours and community projects, which include supporting out-of-school computing education via its 5,000 Code Clubs and launching a teacher training magazine called Hello World. It will also focus on its Pixel operating system that was launched late last year.

The foundation celebrated the mini computer’s fifth birthday last week, having sold a staggering 12 million of the devices. “It’s good to have got to that number and to have got to that number so quickly, and the curve has been steepening up this past year,” Upton said.

Five years on from the Pi’s debut, Upton’s enthusiasm for the foundation’s products has continued unabated, stoked particularly by the Raspberry Pi Zero, which was updated for the fifth anniversary to include Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. “I want to do more Zero,” he enthused. “I’d love to do more tinkering.”

Picture: Eben Upton, credit: Adam Shepherd/IT Pro

This article originally appeared at itpro.co.uk

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Here's how much Google's giant digital whiteboard costs

Remember Jamboard, the giant high-tech whiteboard Google announced in October 2016?

OK, you probably don’t remember, but if you do we now know just how much Jamboard costs: $4,999 (about £4,115, AU$6,660). 

Don’t leave just yet, because while this is a steep price to pay for any device, it is significantly less expensive than a similar product from Microsoft, called the Surface Hub. Microsoft’s offering, available in 55- and 84-inch sizes, retails for $8,999 (about £7,405, AU$12,000) and $21,999 (about £18,100, AU$29,305), respectively.

Just what do you get for all that cash? Try 55 inches of collaborative work/presentation space that responds to touch, can recognize handwriting and shapes, and supports Google Cast, Drive, Hangouts and search.

Jamboard features 4K resolution (just like Surface Hub’s 84-inch variant), and can support up to 16 compatible devices to connect and post drawings, sticky notes, reminders and web links.  There’s also an HD camera and microphone so remote co-workers can join in meetings, too.

Google Jamboard is due to release sometime in May, according to The Verge. If you haven’t purchased a Surface Hub yet and can hold out for a few more months, Jamboard could well be worth the wait. That stand, by the way, is extra.

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OSVR Gets A Chaperone-Like System, Home Screen, And Commerce Platform

Sensics has been behind much of the Open Source VR (OSVR) project from the beginning, and at GDC, the company delivered much-needed capabilities to the platform with the Sensics Home Suite. There are numerous facets to Sensics Home Suite, including a platform for generating revenue, but for many users, the most important additions are a proximity alert system (like Vive’s Chaperone or Rift’s Guardian) and a dedicated home screen.

MORE: OSVR HDK 1.4 Review

Protector

As soon as we got room scale VR, the first problem developers had to solve was notifying users when they were close to physical objects and surfaces so they wouldn’t smash things or themselves while playing in the virtual environment. The HTC Vive got one first–the Chaperone system–and Oculus eventually followed suit, announcing its Guardian system this past September.

Until a few days ago, OSVR had no such capability, but Sensics Home Suite includes a proximity alert system called Protector. It’s both a way to configure your play space and a means of keeping you safe.

Sensics describes it thusly:

An initial set up allows the user to define the safe play area. The system then continuously monitors the user’s head and arm positions (using any available OSVR-supported sensors) and presents a warning grid when the edge of the play area is approached.

We also spoke with Sensics CEO Yuval Boger about Sensics Home Suite. Regarding Protector, he noted that it can work with the wide variety of devices supported by OSVR. “Because OSVR has abstracted all the position tracking devices, now it’s easy to say, well alright, here you go, that’s the play area, now just warn me,” he said.

“Protector is essentially an OSVR app that subscribes to the position information,” he added. When you reach the end of the defined play area, “It throws up the warning grid. That gets composited, combined with whatever game you’re running, and that’s it.”

In the spirit of being device-agnostic, Protector is bound only by hardware. “In technical terms, [Protector] is just a polygon of coordinates.” Thus, it can be room scale, or warehouse scale, or world scale, depending on the hardware capabilities; there are essentially no play space limitations with Protector.

Further, although the proximity alert systems for the Vive and Rift give you a glowing grid as a warning, Protector has other options. “The Protector app could decide that the warning is a grid, or it could say as you get closer to an object, ‘I’m going to turn on and fade in your video camera from your HMD,’” which would suddenly give you a view into the real world and let you safely avoid obstacles and barriers, he said.

Home Screen, Notifications, And Other Goodies

Another key component of any VR offering is some kind of home screen. You need somewhere to start, launch applications, and so on. Simply called “Home,” the OSVR version in Sensics Home Suite presents you with your Library and a Store. From there you can, obviously, launch applications or go find more of them.

Part of Home is the Sensics Tray, which lets you visit stores, manage devices and plug ins, and adjust settings and your profile.

There’s also an in-VR notification system now, and as you would expect from an open platform like OSVR, it’s flexible. It’s designed so that you can integrate a variety of notifications–Sensics listed incoming phone calls, text messages, social media, and news feeds as prime examples–but there’s no reason you couldn’t connect other services, too.

There’s also now an in-VR app menu that lets you tweak settings such as volume without having to exit the application you’re running.

Branding And Benjamins

In addition to the above features, which will make all users happy, the flexible OSVR platform has businesses in mind, too. To that end, it’s built branding and customization options into Home and provided an advertising interface, as well. It’s essentially a commerce layer on top of the OSVR platform, granting the ability to insert ads and a store interface, and leverage analytics and big data.

“We give the ads, the analytics, the store, and the ability to customize. Now, we’re not an ad platform, but what we have is an API that connects ad platforms. [Before], if I’m an ad platform and I want to advertise in VR, I have to go to a whole bunch of publishers and try to convince them to include my plug in,” said Boger.

“With this,” he added, “it becomes almost an OS service.” Whatever engine your VR application is using–Unreal, Unity, Lumberyard–an advertiser can use otherwise dead space to show ads. For example, if it’s going to take 10 seconds for a level to load, why not throw in an advertisement while you’re sitting there twiddling your thumbs? It shouldn’t further slow down a loading screen, because, according to Sensics, “Ad insertion is done independently of the graphics engine that is used to create the experience.” It also allows targeted ads by geographic location, and the platform can even (if the hardware is being used) leverage eye tracking to create a heat map of where you look so advertisers can craft more effective ads.

Companies can also brand the home screen.

In an XR market where we’re more accustomed to the sizzle than the steak, the above comes across as perhaps…distasteful.

Thought of another way, though, by offering a commerce platform, ads can subsidize the cost of the hardware. Currently, high-end VR is prohibitively expensive for most people. But suppose, Boger noted, $400 for a decent HMD is too much for you; perhaps $250 would be more palatable, and you can get there if you allow your HMD some ad insertion.  

Boger compared this arrangement to other hardware: “You can buy a Kindle for a hundred bucks [with no ads], or for seventy bucks with advertising. So you can say, ‘Yeah, I’m willing to see advertising on the home screen when I turn my Kindle on, and that’s worth thirty bucks to me.’”

Does that sound like the bloatware consumers have railed against on PCs and smartphones for many years? It should, because executed poorly, that’s the danger of inserting ads and building in commerce and branding capabilities into VR. On the other hand, it does give all sorts of companies ways to monetize their products and services, and if done properly, it can drive down the cost of VR hardware so more users can get into it. That would ultimately be good for an industry that’s working to gain a larger customer base–which is difficult given that the premier VR products are literal black boxes that no one can see into except for a single HMD wearer.

Even so, if the advertising parts of Sensics Home Suite turn you off, you can be glad that OSVR now has a proximity alert system and a home for all of your content.

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