Category Archives: Tech

Xbox One dominates PlayStation 4 in Black Friday console war

xbox-one-controller-sign

Can’t we all just get along?

Some have issued a call for peace but the next-generation console war is inevitable. PlayStation 4 fans and Xbox One fans have their own war going, and market research firms and other industry watchers will constantly pit the two consoles against each other as they fight for sales. While the PS4 undoubtedly took an early lead since it launched a week ahead of Microsoft’s new console, it looks like the Xbox One gained some ground and dominated Black Friday sales at two of the biggest retailers in the country.

According to data released Saturday by retail performance tracker InfoScout, Microsoft started out the holiday shopping season with a bang. InfoScout issued its combined console sales estimates for Walmart and Target and found that not only did Xbox One unit sales top the PlayStation 4, Xbox 360 sales did as well.

According to the firm’s data, which is based on the analysis of roughly 83,000 shopping receipts, the Xbox One was the best-selling console at Walmart and Target, accounting for 31 percent of home console sales despite its high price. Incredibly deep discounts on the Xbox 360 pushed it into the No. 2 spot with a 30 percent share of all sales. Together, the consoles combined to give Microsoft a whopping 61 percent of home console sales on Black Friday.

InfoScout reports that the PlayStation 4 and previous-generation PlayStation 3 each took 15 percent of home console sales at Target and Walmart. Nintendo’s struggling Wii U accounted for 6 percent of home video game console sales and the Wii represented just 1 percent of sales at the two retail chains.

The firm’s polling found that consumers cited “too much hype” and high game prices among the top reasons for passing on the PlayStation 4, while the lack of any must-have games was a big complaint among those who did not purchase the Xbox One.

Big screen hunting: Ultra HDTV, OLED, 4K and other buzzwords for buyers

Panasonic TC-P55VT60

More perilous than snark hunting is the annual search for the best big screen deal. The good news? You can ignore Black Friday and Cyber Monday (those sets are usually cheap clearance models). The bad news? There’s scores of sets out there vying for your dollars and telling the difference between them in a box store can be nearly impossible.

So I’ve broken out some standout models to pay attention to, plus some advice on what not to buy.

What to ignore:
Stop worrying about Ultra HD, 4K, and OLED. In the first place, you can’t afford these sets. In the second place, the higher resolution Ultra HD or 4K format is a better-than-HD standard for which there is virtually no available programming or movies at the moment.

Conversely, OLED or organic light-emitting diode HD TVs do offer a stunning picture, but at a stunning price. There are only two models available so far from Samsung and LG, both 55-inch sets costing over $9,000 (don’t forget about sales tax). OLED technology is relatively new to the big screen, so I’d recommend waiting to see how they perform over time, and more OLED models will follow next year, with lower prices.

Plasma is dead, long live plasma:

For movie and sports fans, plasma HD TVs offer the best picture (besides OLED). Unfortunately, one of the biggest proponents of plasma–Panasonic–is getting out of the business of making the sets at the end of the year. That means you should be able to find some excellent deals on these sets, which deliver deeper blacks, better contrast, and nearly blur-free motion. An excellent value here is the $1,600 Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT60, a 60-inch set with a built-in camera for video calling and smart TV services such as Netflix.

Go big at home:

If a Brobdingnagian picture is what you want — and you can fit a larger set into your abode — there are some values to be had in the 70-inch LED LCD category. A standout here is the Sharp Series 6 LC-70LE650U, available for $2,000 or less. The set doesn’t have all the cutting-edge features of more expensive models (it does not support 3-D programs, for example) but it delivers a better-than-average picture, faithful colors, and smart TV services.

Get a quality deal:

Most of us are on a budget and have limited space for a big set, which puts Vizio’s M501d-A2R M-Series Razor smack in our sweet spot. This 50-inch LED LCD can be had for $800 or less and offers a bright picture with solid color and better detail in shadowy scenes thanks to a local-dimming LED feature. It also has all the requisite smart TV features for online streaming media and a backlit remote control.

Banned on Google: The 1,400 words you can’t use

Google Settlement

Why, Google, you’re a prude!

On the latest version of Android, the predictive text won’t recognize the words “sex,” “intercourse” or “screwing,” among others.

Poking around the source code, Wired magazine discovered an “obsessive” and “baffling” list of 1,400 words — many naughty, some just weird — that Google wants to protect its users from seeing.

The list includes “coitus” and a few more variations on knocking boots, plus some medical and anatomy terms and slightly racy words such as “panty.”

“Taken as a whole,” Wired concludes, “Google’s list suggests not only a surprising discomfort with sexuality, but also reproductive health and undergarments.”

There’s even a whiff of self-loathing. Two nonsexy words that offend Google Keyboard are “geek” and “Chromebook”— the latter being the name for the firm’s own line of laptops.

Users can still type any dirty word onto an Android screen themselves, but must do so the traditional way — every letter, from start to finish. That means overriding the keyboard when it tries to volunteer something cleaner. “Condom,” for example, will become “condition” if you let it. The solution, says Wired, is to go into the app’s settings menu and disable the word-blocking filter. Then you can have all the “coitus” you like.

Great gadget gifts for drivers

Garmin HUD

To paraphrase a famous platitude, the journey’s the thing, not the destination — especially if you like to drive. If you’ve got someone on your holiday gift list who loves to get behind the wheel, there are plenty of gadgets to make the ride a bit smoother.

Here are three of the year’s best gadgets for the road:

Get Your Car Connected
Someday soon, all cars will have connections to the Internet. But you don’t have to buy a new $30,000 vehicle to get handy connected features. The $170 Car Connection from Audiovox is the size of a Fig Newton and simply plugs into the OBD-II (on-board diagnostic system) port that’s under the dashboard of any car built since 1996.

Once attached, the device connects to the Internet via its own cellular data connection. So you can track the location of the car from a Web browser, receive text alerts should the vehicle move without your authorization, and even mark its parked location. Parents will appreciate the fact that the Car Connection can also e-mail them alerts should the car stray outside of a pre-set area (known as geofencing) or travel faster than 75 mph.

The Car Connection requires a monthly $9.95 subscription, plus a one-time $19.95 activation fee. There are less expensive smart phone-based options, but they can’t track a vehicle and they stop working once the phone is out of the car.

Keep Your Head Up
Even helpful gadgets, such as navigation systems, can be a distraction in the car. Every time you want to check on the next turn, you have to look down at the dash — or up at a portable nav system that creates a blind spot above the dash. The solution: Use a head-up display.

The Garmin HUD is the first head-up navigation device you can install in any car. It projects a translucent image in the lower part of the windshield and uses blue turn arrows and large text to  display such information as your current speed, estimated time of arrival, and distance to the next turn. It works at night and in broad daylight so that all you have to do is shift your gaze slightly to check on the directions. It also uses spoken instructions conveyed through a connected smart phone. It works with Android, iPhone or Windows Phone handsets running either the Navigon or StreetPilot navigation app ($30 and up).

Souped Up Radar
The days of Smokey standing on the side of the Interstate picking off speeders with a radar gun may one day become a quaint anachronism. Increasingly, municipalities are using fixed speed cameras and red light cameras and simply mailing out tickets to unsuspecting motorists. No police intervention required.

Fortunately, radar detectors are keeping up with the technological changes. Escort’s $550 Passport Max is one example. It has built-in GPS so that it can compare your location to a database of fixed camera locations and warn you before you get into trouble. In fact, many towns make the location of red light cameras public in order to warn drivers of dangerous intersections and encourage people to slow down. Of course, the Max also warns you about standard Ka radar guns and looks for laser hits.

To weed out false alarms from security systems and emitters like garage door openers, the Passport Max learns your route and eliminates excessive pings from these innocuous devices. To get the most out of the device, a one-year $19.95 subscription for camera location updates is recommended.

New USB plug to be smaller, reversible (at last)

The familiar USB port is set for an upgrade, the USB Promoters Group announced.

USB users unite: If you can’t tell which way is up, you’re not alone.

While the USB port has taken over technology, connecting everything from printers and keyboards to smartphones and tablets, it’s not perfect. The ubiquitous cables come in a variety of shapes and sizes that don’t always work with each other, and too often users find themselves struggling to plug in in an upside-down cable.

That could all be addressed by the Type-C connector, announced Tuesday by the USB 3.0 Promoter Group, a trade association that controls the USB specification. The new spec will feature an entirely new design, a smaller size, and most important, users will no longer need to be concerned with plug orientation — no more fumbling behind that PC, in other words.

The new cables are due out some time after the spec is finalized in the middle of 2014, but what they will look like still remains to be determined.

“Unfortunately, we are not yet ready to share illustrations of the proposed new connector,” Saunders told CNET.

To be clear, the next-generation cables won’t mate with any existing USB plugs. But in theory, they’ll all work with each other: Buy a new tablet and the cable it comes with will work just as well with your smartphone as it does with your printer.

The new USB Type-C connector, built initially on existing USB 3.1 and USB 2.0 technologies, is being developed to help enable thinner and sleeker product designs, enhance usability and provide a growth path for performance enhancements for future versions of USB, the group said.

“This new industry standards-based thin connector, delivering data, power and video, is the only connector one will need across all devices,” Alex Peleg, vice president of Intel’s Platform Engineering Group, said.

Doctor knows breast: Microsoft working on a ‘smart bra’ to help stop emotional binge eating

prototype-bra-microsoft

 

Put the Ben and Jerry’s down. Microsoft researchers have been developing a mood-sensing ‘smart bra’ that could prevent overeating when stressed.

Those who head straight to KFC when stressed, anxious, upset or worried will know the feelings of brief satisfaction followed by wallowing guilt. But this vicious cycle could be intervened before it even happens thanks to a ‘smart bra’ from Microsoft that offers “just-in-time-support for emotional eating”.

The ‘smart bra’ is fitted with sensors that monitor real-time bio-signals such as heart rate and respiration, which are key emotional signs Microsoft has identified prior to an emotional binge, and will intervene.

It then streams the data via Bluetooth to a mobile phone, alerting the wearer that the chance of stress-related eating is about to occur.

The study revealed those who were made aware of their eating habit are more likely to think twice about opening the fridge.

High stress can trigger emotional overeating in both women and men, although a Microsoft executive told Discovery News that it was mainly women who succumbed.

In a paper outlining the results of a pilot project involving four women who wore the prototype garments, researchers said information on stress levels delivered in a timely fashion “served as a health intervention to encourage the person to be more active or consume less food”.

One participant of the study noted: “I was eating without being aware of it, but by having to log both my eating habits and my emotions, I became aware of triggers for emotional eating, and also more aware of the health (or lack thereof) in my diet.”

While another stated: “I became more conscious when I was about to eat or drink and self-reflected on why I was consuming something.”

Why Microsoft chose a bra for their high-tech system is because  “the bra form-factor allowed us to collect EKG (electrocardiagram) near the heart,” the researchers stated. However the prototype was limited because its batteries only lasted for four hours at a time, they said.

“We conclude that building a wearable, physiological system (to combat overeating) is feasible.

However, we will continue to explore how to build a robust, real-world system that stands up to every day challenges with regards to battery life, comfortability, and being suitable for both men and women,” the researchers said.

In other news relating to the convergence of technology and undergarments, a Japanese toy manufacturer is reporting strong sales after releasing a series of underwear for mobile phones.

The snug rubber items fit over the base of a mobile phone, protecting the on switch from accidental pressings. They make a phone look less naked – and yet somehow more sexual – at the same time.