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Categories Consumer technology | Video games

This week, a look at Samsung’s Note10 handset, what to look for at FanExpo Canada this weekend, and the big announcements to come out of Gamescom this week. But first, we know how much it’s going to cost Canadians for Disney’s streaming service.

DisneyPlus streaming to Canadians November 12

Disney’s video streaming service will launch in Canada on November 12, the same as the U.S.

Subscriptions to Disney+ will cost $90 annually or $9 when paid monthly. That compares to $10 a month for a basic Netflix plan (to get HD you’ll pay $14 a month) and $10 a month for Crave (you can get HBO for an additional $10 and Starz for an additional $6).

The service will be the exclusive home to content from all of the brands now owned by the Walt Disney Company, including Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, and National Geographic.

You’ll be able to watch the video on computers, Android and iOS devices, on AppleTV, Chromecast, and Roku streaming devices, and on PS4 and Xbox One game consoles.

Samsung Note10 adds magic wand functionality to S Pen

A couple of weeks ago in New York, Samsung revealed the new Note10 handsets.

The Note devices have always been on the larger size, but for the first time Samsung has two form factors. The Note10+ is pretty much the same size as the Note9 – 6.8 inches – but the Note10 is slightly smaller, coming in at 6.3 inches.

Among the new features are the ability to zoom in on an audio source, which is in effect a virtual boom microphone. There’s also an improvement to the fast charging, and with Samsung’s 3.0 charger you can get about 24 hours of use with just 30 minutes plugged in.

Samsung has also improved the DeX functionality that made it easy to use the Note handset with a computer. Gone is the hardware dock. Now all you need is a cable to plug your Note10 or Note10+ into any computer or monitor, including Apple systems. Once connected, you’ll get a screen on your desktop representing the Note system, and you can drag and drop back and forth and work right on the handset as if it were a computer.

But the coolest new thing comes with the S Pen stylus, which now has a gyro and an accelerometer in addition to Bluetooth. What this means is that you can use the S Pen to control your Note10 or Note10+ from a distance, and using gestural controls.

An experience which is not unlike wielding a wand, in truth.

In Canada, the Galaxy Note10 and Galaxy Note10+ will be available for purchase in stores and online beginning August 23, 2019. Pricing starts at $1,259.99 (regular price) for Galaxy Note10 (256 GB); $1,459.99 (regular price) for the Galaxy Note10+ (256 GB); and $1,599.99 (regular price) for the Galaxy Note10+ (512 GB).

Fan Expo Canada brings the fun to Toronto this weekend

If you’re in the metro Toronto area, head down to the convention centre this weekend, August 22 through August 25, for Fan Expo Canada (hours: 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Thursday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday).

There are photo opportunities, autograph sessions, cosplay competitions. Check out comics and books, movies and television shows, and the people that create them all. Including the likes of writer Gail Simone.

You can play tabletop games, role-playing games, and video games. There’s a Rocket League tournament, and Nintendo, PlayStation, and Xbox are all going to be there showing off new titles and giving you a chance to try games that haven’t even been released.

Nintendo’s booth will have stations with Luigi’s Mansion 3 and The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, and you’ll be able to get a glimpse of the new Nintendo Switch Lite system.

And Scott Jones is hosting a panel about his podcast, Heavily Pixelated. The podcast is about how people have used video games to help them through challenging life events, and at Fan Expo Scott will be checking in with guests from the first season and introducing Season 2.

Single day pass for an adult is $25 ($20 for youth) and a Lego Family Pass, good for two adults and up to four kids 12 and under, is as low as $55.

Big video game announcements at Gamescom 2019

Europe’s big video game convention is going on in Cologne, Germany right now. Gamescom runs through this weekend, and the announcements have already been furious.

  • Insomniac Games, developers of Marvel’s Spider-Man game as well as the Ratchet & Clank and Resistance game franchises, has been acquired by Sony Interactive Entertainment’s Worldwide Studios.
  • The charming platformer, Ori and the Blind Forest, is coming to Nintendo Switch this September. This is significant in part because the game was published by Microsoft Studios. Other Microsoft games appearing on the Switch are Cuphead and Minecraft. And the upcoming Gears of War 5 is being released on Steam, a platform owned by Valve.
  • Cyberpunk 2077, planned for release in April 2020, is coming to Google Stadia, which is still expected in November.
  • Halo co-creator Marcus Lehto has a new studio, V1 Interactive, and has announced the first game, Disintegration. Published by Private Division, i’s a sci-fi shooter coming to PS4, Windows, and Xbox One in 2020.

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Categories Consumer technology | Video games

This week, Bill Hader’s impressions are even more amazing with video trickery, the new Kindle Oasis makes it easier to read at night, and NHL 20 improves the puck shooting experience. But first, Whose Land shows what borders used to look like.

Whose Land? website and app redefine borders and maps

There’s nothing permanent about a map. The borders that might seem so intractable are nothing more than lines and they are erased (or ignored) and redrawn more frequently than you might imagine.

Whose Land? is a new initiative that dispenses with the political lines that we’re familiar with in favour of the territories that were in place before colonialism.

The website is supplemented by a smartphone app for Android and iOS.

The information about the traditional territories of the indigenous people is supplemented with videos of people from these communities talking about their history and reciting land acknowledgements.

The resource is an educational tool and a good reference for anyone who is interested in including a land acknowledgement, to make sure that information and pronunciations are accurate.

If you are planning an acknowledgement, it’s wise to consult with the community you’re acknowledging. Whose Land? will help with that, too.

Bill Hader’s impressions are even more realistic thanks to machine learning

A series of manipulated videos posted to YouTube demonstrate just how convincing deepfakes have become.

A deepfake, a blend of the terms deep learning and fake, uses generative adversarial networks, or GANs, to map “skins” onto existing videos.

And a creator who goes by the handle Control Shift Face is creating some very convincing blends.

The most intriguing clips that “Tom,” the name he gave the Guardian in an interview has been posting feature comic and impressionist Bill Hader.

This one, posted earlier this month, features Hader with David Letterman. In the segment, Hader does impressions of Tom Cruise and Seth Rogan, and when he’s doing the voices of other people his face actually turns into those people.

It’s so seamless you could be forgiven for thinking that Hader was actually turning into the people he was imitating.

In this one, Hader morphs into Arnold Schwarzenegger.

And here’s Al Pacino and Schwarzenegger again.

These videos are utterly compelling in how Hader’s face becomes the face of others.

And they demonstrate just how accurate fake videos have become.

While some think this is outright dangerous, it’s possible that deepfakes will transform societal sense of truth. Right now, there’s a tendency to believe that what we see must be true. Maybe it’s not such a bad idea for us to be thinking that everything we see is a fake, and have to work to establish the truth for ourselves.

New Kindle Oasis adds an adjustable light

The latest iteration of Amazon’s ebook reader, the Kindle Oasis (it’s “all new” to distinguish it from the previous model) is its best yet. With a crisp, 7” Paperwhite display it comes pretty close to giving you the resolution of a printed book.

This thing is so light you’ll never have difficulty holding it with one hand for extended periods, and it’s got a battery that will give you hours of reading. It’s waterproof, too, so you don’t have to worry about having it in the bath or at the beach.

Perhaps the best new feature is the adjustable light, which gives you control over not just the brightness but also the colour, so you can go with a warm yellow backlight when reading at night. And with 25 LEDs delivering the illumination, the lighting is smooth and even across the screen.

There’s no headphone jack, just a USB port for charging, but it does have Bluetooth connectivity so you can pair some wireless headphones for audiobooks.

I still have difficulty with the screen refresh when I’m looking at anything more complicated than text, so it’s a bit of a pain browsing your library of covers.

It’s not cheap. The new Kindle Oasis is $330 with an 8 GB drive, $360 with a 32 GB drive, and $430 if you want your 32 GB model to come with free cellular connectivity.

That’s more than double the cost of the Kindle Paperwhite and nearly three times the cost of the base model Kindle.

Whether the adjustable light and waterproofing is worth the extra cost is up to you.

Take to the ice with NHL 20 on September 13

The new NHL season doesn’t officially begin until October 2, but gamers will be starting their leagues in mid-September, thanks to the Burnaby based developers at EA Sports and the release of NHL 20, available for PS4 and Xbox One.

Toronto Maple Leaf star Auston Matthews is the cover athlete of the North American edition of the game, while Jets sniper Patrik Laine will be on the cover of the Finnish edition, and Canucks rookie of the year Elias Pettersson graces the cover on the Swedish edition.

Every year, in continuing efforts to improve the simulation, the developers focus on a few features in the game. For NHL 20, one of the key improvements is in the way players take shots in the game.

The technology innovations in the game’s engine allow for more realistic shooting, especially for those players who have unique shooting styles.

Auston Matthews is known for the toe-drag wrist shot, for example, and this is something the virtual player will be able to do in the game.

The shooting improvements extend to all of the virtual NHLers through what EA Sports calls “contextual shooting”. So the exact way the player takes a shot will depend on their distance from the net, where the puck is in relation to their body, and how their body is positioned in relation to the net.

So all shots are going to be more realistic, and more unique.

It all leads to a hockey simulation that is even more incredible than ever.

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Categories Consumer technology | Video games

This week, a look at the latest Wolfenstein video game, Youngblood, and new AR experiences from Apple will expose you to art. But first, the problem with the 8chan forum and the non-existent link between video games and violence.

Clearing up the record on video games and mass shootings

In the wake of yet another mass shooting in the U.S. over the weekend, you may have heard some politicians laying the blame on video games.

Just so we’re clear, this is bunk.

Let alone the fact that people around the world play video games and only the U.S. has a problem with mass shootings.

Here’s scientist and ER doctor John Jiao.

And lawyer Bryce Blum lays down the actual evidence.

And scholar Ian Bogost, writing in the Atlantic had this to say: “In the two decades since Columbine, video games have taken a lot of the blame for mass shootings. The evidence has never supported this conclusion, and researchers have become only more certain that media don’t cause violence, or even aggression.”

Now, Trump is trying to blame these incidents on mental illness. That’s not true, either.

The problem with 8chan

You may also have heard the media referring to “8chan” when covering the event in El Paso. That’s because the shooter posted a screed and his murderous intent on the message board prior to the rampage.

The forum was home to Gamergate and has a problem with child pornography, hate speech, and white nationalist content.

It was also the online space where the Christchurch mosque shooter spent time and posted a link to his Facebook live video.

It was also the place where the killer at the synagogue in Poway, California posted hateful content.

8chan is where violent extremist views go. And now it’s only available on the dark web after having hosting services withdrawn.

Good riddance. Your right to free speech does not give you a right to a platform where you can espouse it.

De-platforming works. Starve them of oxygen. Make it difficult for vulnerable people to find them and be influenced.

Visit your local Apple Store to experience new augmented reality art adventures

Apple has collaborated with the New Museum and a host of artists to create a trio of augmented reality experiences the company is calling, [AR]T (website).

[AR]T Walk includes work by Nick Cave, Nathalie Djurberg and Hans Berg, Cao Fei, John Giorno, Carsten Höller and Pipilotti Rist. It’s literally a walking exhibit that viewers experience through their iPhones while in Hong Kong, London, Paris, New York, San Francisco, and Tokyo.

There’s also [AR]T Lab (website), which is a new education program available in all Apple Stores as part of the Today at Apple series. Designed by Sarah Rothberg, participants will learn how to create their own AR experiences with the Swift Playgrounds coding platform. These sessions begin on August 10.

And the next time you’re walking past an Apple Store, take a moment to experience an AR installation created by Chicago artist Nick Cave. It’s viewable through the Apple Store app on your iPhone with the [AR]T Viewer.

Twin girls take the fight to the Nazis in Wolfenstein: Youngblood

If you’ve played a Wolfenstein game before, you know that they revolve around a soldier, B.J. Blazkowicz, fighting Nazis. Early games were set during the Second World War, but recent games developed by MachineGames imagine a world in which Nazi Germany and the Axis powers actually won.

After the last game, Blazkowicz helped to liberate the United States, but Europe is still under control of the Nazis.

In Youngblood, players don’t become B.J. Instead, the game features his two daughters, the twins Jessica and Sophia. They are a riot. They are teenagers, overconfident and invincible. Kinda perfect for a Wolfenstein game, because they’ve always been just a bit goofy and Youngblood is no exception. The twins are every bit their father’s daughters; Jess and Soph are constantly commenting how fun it is to be “killing Nazis”.

This game was designed for co-op play. You pick one of the two sisters and your gaming friend plays the other one (you can play solo with the AI helping you out). To make this easier, Bethesda has introduced the Buddy Pass system for people who have the Deluxe Edition of the game.

With the Buddy Pass you can have a friend play with you whether or not they own the game. You can do this with as many people as you want, but only one can play with you at a time.

It’s all set in a Nazi-occupied Paris in 1980, and the environments are mazes you’ll navigate, taking out the occupiers as you go, collecting paraphernalia and currency so you can improve your skills and weapons.

The developers made the most of the era, and the music you’ll hear in the background are remixes of ’80s-era European new wave music, twisted so they have a nice, Kraftwerk feel.

Youngblood is a competent first-person shooter, but it is best played in short bursts, as Jess and Soph, like all teenagers, will get on your nerves after a while.

Wolfenstein: Youngblood was developed by MachineGames and Arkane Studios, is published by Bethesda, and is available now on Nintendo Switch, PS4, Windows, and Xbox One.

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