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This week, customizing a wireless controller for your Xbox One, finding Bluetooth in your smart television, and a sneak peek at what innovations are coming to TVs this year.

Using Bluetooth with your “smart” TV

Last week, Shane Foxman wondered why smart televisions aren’t using Bluetooth. I promised to dig into the question, and this week, I have answers for him.

In fact, some smart TVs, including LG and Samsung, do have Bluetooth functionality.

Some Samsung Smart TVs have Bluetooth connectivity disabled on some models, for some odd reason. But clever device hackers have found ways to access the secret on-screen menu to enable the Bluetooth connectivity.

You can also get Bluetooth adapters that plug into your TV’s USB port.

And Apple’s new AppleTV has Bluetooth built-in, so you can connect keyboards and game controllers with ease.

The reason Bluetooth hasn’t become ubiquitous in TVs is cost. Bluetooth controllers cost more than infrared. But the cost of Bluetooth controllers has dropped significantly, which is why we’re seeing more of them in our devices.

What to expect from new TVs hitting the market

In May, Samsung representatives were in Vancouver to show top sales reps what’s coming from the company’s line of televisions this year, and they invited media to come out for a preview.

This year is a big push for 4K video, or “ultra high-definition” (UHD), explained company representatives. What that refers to is 4,000 pixels of horizontal resolution, which is about four times the resolution of existing high-definition video.

But while the best Samsung TVs (the company uses the acronym “SUHD” for its top line) display 4K video, what the company has been focused on is something that reps suggested hasn’t really changed since it was introduced in the 1950s: colour.

Samsung is introducing the DCI-P3 colour gamut to its TVs, which is what movie theatres use. If your TV uses that expanded colour space, watching films at home will look more like they were intended.

Showing more colour requires more light, but increasing the brightness of a TV overall will end up with night images looking like they were taken in the day.

Enter HDR. High dynamic range technology means that TVs can show darker blacks, brighter brights, and more contrast between the two.

Samsung has also improved its smart TV experience, and have redesigned remote controls and on-screen interfaces.

And enabled Bluetooth means you can connect your headsets and keyboard and other input devices, such as game controllers.

Available models include

  • KS8500 curved-screen series: 49-inch is $3,000, 55-inch is $3,400, 65-inch is $4,700
  • KS9000 flat-screen series: 55-inch is $4,000, 65-inch is $5,200, 75-inch is $10.000
  • KS9500 curved-screen series: 55-inch is $4,200, 65-inch is $5,500, 78-inch is $13,000

LG, meanwhile, is finally bringing its flat OLED screens to Canada.

OLED, for “organic light-emitting diode,” is a technology that doesn’t require a light source. The pixels in the display actually turn on and off, which is how OLED screens are able to display perfect blacks. It’s also how OLED screens are able to be as thin as they are.

LG’s OLED TVs are all equipped with UHD (4K) and HDR functionality.

The flat OLEDs from LG come in three models:

  • B6 is the base model: 55-inch is $4,000, 65-inch is $7,000
  • E6 adds 3-D functionality: 55-inch is $5,000, 65-inch is $8,000
  • G6 has 3-D and premium speakers: 65-inch is $11,000

These are premium prices, for a premium experience.

Create your own Xbox Wireless Controller at the Xbox Design Lab

If you’ve ever wanted a new controller for your console, you’ve been limited to what the hardware and periperhal manufacturers have been making. There are always basic controllers, produced for the masses, as well as franchise-branded versions that are often limited-time promotions.

But now you can personalize your wireless controller for your Xbox One with the Xbox Design Lab.

Really all you’re doing is choosing colour configurations, but Microsoft says there are more than 8 million combinations possible.

There are seven steps to designing your own controller, and they involve selecting the colours of different panels on the controller.

There are 15 colours to choose from for the controller body, back, and the bumpers, triggers, and D-pad.

The thumbsticks can be one of eight colours.

And the controller you’re customizing is the redesigned Xbox Wireless Controller that will be shipping with the new Xbox One S this August. It has a built-in headset jack (so no add-on required for you to use any gaming headset with your Xbox One) and you can remap the button confgurations.

The mass-produced version of the new controller will cost Cdn$80. For an extra $20 you can design your own; a 16-characgter engraving is an additional $15.

Current Xbox One wireless controllers range between $65 and $80. The fully configurable Xbox Elite wireless controller is $180.

I was given an opportunity to try out the Xbox Design Lab. My first inclination was to create one with the blue and yellow colours of Fallout’s Pip Boy.

I almost created one that was ghost white, with no colour and just a bit of grey.

But the opportunity to mix and match so many different vibrant colours was too much to pass up. The one I settled on, after spending far too much time playing around with combinations, was a mix of Photon Blue, Oxide Red, and Electric Green.

Orders made now will begin shipping in early September, when the Xbox One S and new Xbox Wireless Controller are released.

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This week, how you can turn those Live Photos into animated GIFs, research into what TV shows people binge on versus those they savour, and the Moto Z modular smartphone. But first, some of the announcements from Apple’s big software conference last week.

The big news from Apple’s Worldwide Developer’s Conference

Last week while I was in L.A. covering E3, Apple was hosting software devopers in San Francisco at the annual WWDC. Whlle Apple has sometimes announced new devices at WWDC, really the conference is about software.

Here are some of the things announced:

  • iOS 10 will bring 3-D Touch-enabled notifications and Digital Touch to your iPhone. The latter lets you annotate photos and videos by sketching on them.
  • You will be able to uninstall from your iOS device the “Stocks” app that you never use. Or any of the others that Apple has, until now, forced you to keep on your device.
  • OS X is being renamed macOS, and the next version, coming this fall, will be called Sierra. One thing Sierra will bring to Macbooks and iMacs is that if you have an Apple Watch, it can unlock your computer when you get close.
  • Siri is getting better on your iPhone and iPad, and is coming to your desktop, too.
  • Apple’s Messages app is getting big improvements across the board (including embedded link previews and video) and is being opened up so developers can come up with other ways to make it better.
  • Apple Pay is going to work in your browser, which is sure to give PayPal a run for their money. (This feature may be slower in coming to Canada.)
  • Apple Music is being redesigned across the board.
  • Apple’s Photos app is being updated. Which might make it usable again.
  • In an effort to give everyone a chance to learn how to code, Apple is going to release Swift Playgrounds for free this fall. The app, which is being developed for iPads running iOS 10, will help people learn to code with the Swift programming language.

How to turn Apple’s Live Photos into animated GIFs

One of the coolest things that came to Apple’s iPhone 6S and 6S+ was Live Photos, which turns your pictures into moving snapshots that really capture the moment.

Well, now you can easily turn your Live Photos into animated GIFs so they can be seen on other platforms, not just iOS devices.

Google has created an iOS app called Motion Stills that can even stabilize those Live Photos that may have been created while you were in motion.

It’s a free app, and it means that you can share the experience of a Live Photo to anyone, anywhere, on any device.

When you watch TV series, do you binge or savour?

Netflix disrupted television in a couple of different ways. One was by making its programming available over the Internet, instead of over traditional broadcast airwaves.

Another was by releasing an entire season of a show at the same time, instead of dribbling episodes out week after week.

It’s something that may be one of the secrets to the company’s success, actually.

Which is one reason Netflix has done research to identify exactly what kinds of shows people binge watch.

What they discovered, in analyzing the viewing habits of viewers in 190 countries, is that shows that evoke strong emotional responses and have high-concept stories are those that tend to be watched in quick succession, while those that are more cerebral, complex, and dense are watched over time.

So while people binge watch shows like The Fall and Orange is the New Black, programs like House of Cards and BoJack Horseman are savoured,

Motorola gets in on the modular smartphone game

The new Moto Z smartphone from Motorola is completely customizable to your needs.

Want to listen to music? Get the JBL speaker mod.

Need to show a report to clients? That’s where the projector mod comes in.

These are only the first two modular attachments announced for the Moto Z.

They connect to the handset with magnets which grip onto the aircraft-grade aluminum and stainless steel chassis.

It’s also equipped with the other features expected of all high-end smartphones, including front- and rear-facing cameras, a microSD card slot, a fingerprint reader.

Lenovo is also encouraging others to share their ideas for other Moto Mods. The best ideas will be supported by the company’s Lenovo Capital and Incubator Group, which has set aside US$1 million in equity funding “for the individual or company that creates the best Moto Mods prototype by March 31, 2017.”

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This week, I’m in Los Angeles covering the geekstravaganza that is the Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3 for short.

The annual trade show comes to an end tomorrow. Here are some of the highlights of the week. My full rundown of the pre-event press conferences is at the Straight.

Get ready for new Xbox models and platform agnostic play

Microsoft wants you to be able to play your Xbox games on more than just your console.

It’s part of an initiative they call Play Anywhere, and what it means is that, starting with all games being developed by Microsoft, you will purchase the game for one platform, and get versions for all Xbox platforms. Buy it for Xbox One, for example, and get the Windows 10 version, too.

Even better, the game will cross save your progress and achievements, so you can stop playing on your Xbox and pick up the game where you left off on a Windows 10 computer.

There are also new Xboxes coming, starting with the Xbox One S, which arrives in August and will be available in three configurations (Canadian pricing listed):

  • 500 GB hard drive for $399
  • 1 TB hard drive for $449
  • 2 TB hard drive for $499 (limited edition launch edition)

The higher powered machine, code-named Scorpio, will be released late in 2017.

PS VR is the easiest way to get into virtual reality

Virtual reality (VR) is an emerging field, and the experiences are very limited, yet, as developers figure out what they can do with the technology and audiences figure out what they want from it all. The HTC Vive and Oculus Rift are expensive and require high-end computers to operate so they aren’t an option for most people.

If you own a PS4, PlayStation’s virtual reality headset is the cheapest way to find out what VR is all about. The games are basic, but they show great promise. And promising 50 different experiences before the end of the year, PS VR will be in high demand this fall.

I tried a couple of the PS VR titles, and the potential of this technology is apparent. Farpoint had me walking on an alien planet and shooting weird, spider-like creatures that were attacking me. And Robinson had me on a different alien world populated by dinosaurs. I did’t get to try the Batman VR experience, but reports were that it was quite something.

Nintendo’s Legend of Zelda display is ethereal

Nintendo was really only talking about one thing this week: The Legend of Zelda. The new game, Breath of the Wild, is coming sometime next year to the Wii U as well as the new Nintendo console, codenamed NX.

At E3, the game was playable on Wii U consoles, and Nintendo had 140 of them set up in the Los Angeles Convention Centre. They created a space that was like a theme park version of Hyrule, the world in which the game takes place. It was filled with living plants, a massive backdrop painting, and big statues of Link and some of the other characters in the game.

The game itself is its own thing. While each of the Zelda games features the same characters and elements, the stories are distinct. The art style in this one is soft and natural, with an almost cell-shaded look. In it, Link awakes after a 100-year sleep and has no memory of anything.

Breath of the Wild is an open world game, and it’s a huge space to inhabit. I played it for about 30 minutes, and didn’t want to step away.

Best games I played at E3

I didn’t get to try everything, and some games that I’m excited about – Dishonored 2 and God of War are among them – weren’t available to play. But of the things I did get hands-on with, here were my favourites.

  • Dead Rising 4
  • Deux Ex Go
  • Farpoint (PS VR)
  • For Honor
  • Gears of War 4
  • Harvest: Zero Dawn
  • The Legend of Zelda
  • ReCore
  • TItanfall 2

I’m playing Deus Ex: Mankind Divided tomorrow; I expect it belongs on this list.

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This week, the long-awaited Mirror’s Edge Catalyst is released, a new Skylanders game is announced, using Apple Pay in Canada, and finding out how fast your Internet connection is. But first, using technology to recover your stolen bike.

Technology to safeguard your bike

We’re lucky here in the Lower Mainland because we can ride our bikes all year round. But more people are on bikes in the summertime, which is why the local police departments start publicizing bike security programs.

Here in North Vancouver, where I live, the local RCMP detachment is asking people to register bikes with them. The Get Your Bike Back initiative has you emailing pertinent details directly to the division so they can return your bike to you in the event it is stolen, and found.

A number of other police forces in the Lower Mainland, including the Vancouver Police Department, West Vancouver Police Department, and the RCMP detachments in Richmond and Surrey, are endorsing Project 529, an online community of cyclists where you can register your bike.

The Kamloops RCMP are also encouraging citizens to use Project 529.

It’s free to register your bike with Project 529, and police officers can use the information to track down stolen bikes.

The difference with Project 529 is that if your bike gets stolen, the entire community of users gets notified and can be on the lookout, too.

You can purchase a shield that you can put on your bikes to identify them as being registered with Project 529.

Or you can visit one of the B.C. bike shops that are part of the Project 529 community.

Find out how fast your Internet connection is

Ever wanted to know how fast your connection is?

Fast.com is new tool that can tell you how good your download speed is. It works with computers, mobile devices, and even smart TVs equipped with web browsers.

The tool was developed by Netflix. The better your download speed, the better the quality of your Netflix stream. It’s one way that the company is looking to respond to customers who may complain about the image quality.

Check your speed. You’ll probably discover that the problem is with your Internet provider, not Netflix.

And this is true for any of the streaming video services, including Crave and Shomi.

If you’re looking for more detailed information about your connection, including upload speed and things like latency, there are other services out there, including Speed Test.

Apple Pay in Canada now works with your debit card

A couple of months ago, some of the major Canadian banks rolled out with Apple Pay, the service from the Califonia-based company that enables you to make payments with your smartphone.

Now they’re all on board. As of last week, you can sign up your Interac debit card for the following institutions to work with Apple Pay:

  • Bank of Montreal
  • CIBC
  • Royal Bank
  • Scotiabank
  • TD Canada Trust

Apple Pay also works with a number of credit cards (here’s the full list).

Last week, I went out to fill up my barbecue’s propane tank, and forgot my wallet at home. Didn’t matter. I was able to use my iPhone 6S+ to pay.

The next day, I used my Apple Watch.

I’m already used to not having to haul my wallet out. The faster we can get Translink’s Compass Card working with smartphones the better.

You can use Apple Pay at any merchant that has tap enabled on their terminal, so just look for the four curved lines that point to the right. You will need an iPhone 6 or later and Apple Watch paired with an iPhone 5 or later.

Video game update: Mirror’s Edge Catalyst releases, new Skylanders game announced

Next week I’ll be reporting in from E3 in Los Angeles about all things video games. But there’s some interesting video game news this week, too.

Yesterday, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst was released. Developed in Sweden by DICE and published by Electronic Arts, I’ve been waiting for a new game in this franchise since playing the first game in 2008.

The new game is a reboot of the story, but from what I’ve seen, it retains what made that first game so magical: running and jumping from rooftop to rooftop. What Catalyst does better than the first game is get rid of the weaponized combat. (Read more about Catalyst at the Straight).

The other big news was from Activision, and was an announcement of a new Skylanders toys-to-life game. With Skylanders: Imaginators, coming this October, players will be able to invent and create their own heroes to play with. (Read more about Imaginators at the Straight).

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