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Hands-on with the HoloLens

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At the Microsoft Build conference in San Francisco last week, the company finally allowed developers to get their hands on its new holographic viewing device, the HoloLens. ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK tried it out.

A ball of scrunched-up newspaper lies on a desk alongside colourful, triangular objects. I raise a finger in the air, and make a tapping motion on the ball. It rolls off the desk with a rustling noise. As it hits the ground, it suddenly explodes amid a cloud of smoke.

When the smoke clears, it reveals a gaping hole in the floor. Inside the hole, a cavernous green world appears. As I move around the edges of the hole, the view shifts to reveal layer upon layer of vague subterranean constructions. Red paper planes float about in the “sky” below like birds.

I speak a command: “Reset world”.

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Instantly, the floor is back to its normal state of being, well, a floor. The ball of newspaper is back on the desk. I walk round the ball, examine it from each side, and from above and below. It is completely intact.

I pull the visor off my head, and the ball and desk disappear. I cautiously step on the carpet where the hole had appeared. Completely solid.

The scene that had just played itself out had been made possible by a new device called the Microsoft HoloLens. It is essentially a hologram viewer, but is also somewhat more. It is the first system that makes it possible to view holograms through a viewer that is not dependent on wires, connection to a computer or external cameras.

Unlike virtual reality viewers, like Samsung’s Gear VR, the HoloLens allows virtual images to be overlaid on the real world.  The concept is termed “mixed reality” and, unlike augmented reality, allows the user to interact with the image. It could, for example, be an application like a calendar hovering in mid-air, and allowing the user to click on an appointment to expand the entry.

Applications for the HoloLens are built on a new platform called Windows Holographic, which allows developers to import applications and scripts, integrating images and commands into the user experience. As long as a program has been created as a universal Windows application – a standard application built to function across all Windows devices, like notebooks, tablets and smartphones – it can be imported directly into Windows Holographic.

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The HoloLens was first announced in January, and formally unveiled to developers at Microsoft’s Build 2015 conference in San Francisco last week. During the conference, Microsoft ran a Holographic Academy, a four-hour deep dive course for developers wanting to learn how to build applications and experiences for the HoloLens. A 90-minute version offered a comprehensive introduction to the platform, allowing non-coders – including this writer – to get a detailed idea of what goes into building a holographic application.

At heart, the process is designed to locate a virtual object in the physical world, and to enable control via gaze – visual focus is key to pinpointing where an action will be executed – gesture and voice.

With gesture control, Microsoft has introduced a new gesture, simply comprising holding a finger in the air and simulating a tap on a keyboard – except it takes place in mid-air, executing an action represented by the spot where the gaze is focused. Voice can also be used to execute such commands, as well as to reset the scene, should the user get lost in the process.

The end result is magical. For a developer, the experience of making an object or application come to “reality” in mid-air is like seeing a new world for the first time. For the user, it is mesmerising to be able to stroll in and out of a virtual scene or application.

And this is no mere frivolous entertainment concept. It has massive implications for health and education.

During an opening keynote presentation at Build, the audience was treated to some of the dramatic, yet down-to-earth possibilities: A medical lecturer walking around a high-definition hologram of a heart, explaining its functioning; a paleontologist exploring a dinosaur skull; an architect demonstrating bridge construction.

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That’s even before we get to the more visionary uses, like controlling the Mars Rover as if one is standing alongside it on the surface of the red planet; directing a virtual robot through a hazardous environment.

In one demonstration, a plain room is transformed as a virtual screen is placed on one wall and begins to run a movie; virtual furniture appears; and a live weather forecast from a standard weather app floats in mid-air.

Of course, the objects only exist while viewed through the HoloLens. Voice- and gesture-recognition allows only the viewer to interact wit the scene. In future versions, however, it is likely that multiple users will be able to interact jointly with a specific hologram. During the hands-on session, trainers refused to be drawn on the possibility, saying only that they are not yet talking about such functions.

Commercial release of the HoloLens is not yet scheduled and pricing strategy is still to be formulated.

Microsoft clearly wants to avoid the Google Glass debacle: the search giant had created massive expectations with its eye-level computer, but was blind-sided by and equally massive consumer and social backlash. It eventually pulled the plug on the project, and has gone back to the drawing board.

The HoloLens is a far larger and more overt gadget than Google Glass, but therein lies its greater appeal: it is very obviously a viewing device for specific purposes, and is not attempting to hide itself as a “wearable” like glasses.

The real key, of course, is whether people will find it more useful and more compelling to interact with a 3D hologram rather than a flat image on a screen. The fact that 3D movies have so far failed to convert a mass market that prefers movies flat on a screen, should provide an early caution against getting too excited about holograms.

However, if it can go beyond gimmicks like exploding floors and obvious educational applications, it may well bring new magic to the world of information and entertainment.

* Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee, and subscribe to his YouTube channel at http://bit.ly/GGadgets

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Acer gaming beast escapes

Acer this week unveiled two notebooks that take portable gaming to new extremes.

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Acer  unveiled two new Predator Helios gaming notebooks this week at the next@acer global press conference in New York. They include the powerful Predator Helios 500, featuring up to 8th Gen Intel Core i9+ processors, and the Predator Helios 300 Special Edition that includes upgraded specs from its predecessor and a distinctive white chassis. Both feature VR-Ready performance, advanced thermal technologies, and blazing-fast connectivity.

“We’ve expanded our Predator Helios gaming notebook line in response to popular demand from gamers seeking extreme performance on the go,” said Jerry Kao, President of IT Products Business, Acer. “The Predator Helios 500 and Helios 300 gaming notebooks feature Acer’s proprietary thermal technologies and powerful components that, coupled with our award-winning software, deliver unparalleled gaming experiences.”

“The 8th Gen Intel Core i9+ processor for gaming and creation laptops is the highest performance Intel has ever delivered for this class of devices; purpose built for enthusiasts who demand premium gaming experiences whether at home or on the go,” said Steve Long, Vice President and General Manager, Client Computing Group Sales and Marketing, Intel. “Intel and Acer’s long relationship has produced amazing products over the years, and the new Acer Predator Helios gaming notebooks are powerful examples of what’s possible with this unprecedented level of performance.”

Predator Helios 500 is a gaming beast featuring overclocking, 4K 144 Hz panels

Designed for extreme gamers, the Predator Helios 500 is a gaming beast. It features up to overclockable 8th Gen Intel Core i9+ processors and overclockable GeForce GTX 1070 graphics. Intel Optane memory increases responsiveness and load times, while ultra-fast NVMePCIe SSDs, Killer DoubleShot Pro networking, and up to 64GB of memory keep the action going, making the Helios 500 the ideal gaming notebook for graphic-intensive AAA titles and live streaming.

Top-notch visuals are delivered on bright, vibrant 4K UHD or FHD IPS 17.3-inch displays with 144Hz refresh rates for blur- and tear-free gameplay. NVIDIA G-SYNC technology is supported on both the built-in display and external monitors, allowing for buttery-smooth imagery without tearing or stuttering. For those looking for maximum gaming immersion, dual Thunderbolt 3 ports, and display and HDMI 2.0 ports support up to three external monitors. Two speakers, a subwoofer, and Acer TrueHarmony and Waves MAXXAudio technology deliver incredible sound and hyper-realistic 3D audio using Waves Nx.

The Helios 500 stays cool with two of Acer’s proprietary AeroBlade 3D metal fans, and five heat pipes that distribute cool air to the machine’s key components while simultaneously releasing hot air. Fan speed can be controlled and customized through the PredatorSense app.

A backlit RGB keyboard offers four lighting zones with support for up to 16.8 million colors. Anti-ghosting technology provides the ultimate control for executing complex commands and combos, which can be set up via five dedicated programmable keys.

Acer’s PredatorSense app can be used to control and monitor the notebook’s vitals from one central interface, including overclocking, lighting, hotkeys, temperature, and fan control.

Predator Helios 300 Special Edition brings a sophisticated design twist to gaming notebooks

Acer’s budget-friendly Helios 300 gaming line sees the addition of a Special Edition model featuring an all-white aluminum chassis accented with gold trim, an unusually chic design for gaming notebooks.

The Helios 300 Special Edition (PH315-51) allows for ultra-smooth gameplay via its 15.6-inch FHD IPS display with an upgraded 144Hz refresh rate. The rapid refresh rate shortens frame rendering time and lowers input lag to give gamers an excellent in-game experience. It’s powered by up to an 8th Gen Intel Core i7+ processor, overclockable GeForce GTX 1060 graphics, up to a 512 GB PCIe Gen 3 NVMe solid state drive, and up to a 2 TB hard disk drive.

The Helios 300 Special Edition also comes equipped with up to 16 GB of DDR4 memory, and is upgradable to 32GB. Intel Optane memory speeds up load times of games and applications, access to information and improves overall system responsiveness. In addition, Gigabit Ethernet provides fast wired connections, while Gigabit Wi-Fi is provided by the latest Intel Wireless-AC 9560 that delivers up to 1.73Gbps throughput when using 160 MHz channels (2×2 802.11ac, dual-band 2.4GHz and 5GHz).

The Helios 300 Special Edition also includes two of Acer’s ultrathin (0.1 mm) all-metal AeroBlade 3D fans designed with advanced aerodynamics and superior airflow to keep the system cool. They can be controlled with Acer’s PredatorSense app, which offers three usage modes:

1. Coolboost mode:

For heavy loading games, rendering, streaming, and extended video consumption

2. Normal mode:

For productivity tools like Microsoft Office

3. Silent mode:

For web browsing and online chatting

Price and Availability

Predator Helios 500 will be available in South Africa in June starting at R34 999.00

Helios 300 Special Edition will be available in South Africa in August 2018. Exact Price will be communicated closer to the time.

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LG G7 arrives in SA

LG this week introduced South Africa to its latest premium smartphone, the LG G7 ThinQ, focused on bringing useful and convenient AI features to the smartphone experience.

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Powered by the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 Mobile Platform, the LG G7 ThinQ offers 4GB of RAM and 64GB of internal storage to run demanding tasks and apps with. It is equipped with a 6.1-inch Super Bright Display, but the LG G7 ThinQ remains compact enough to use with one hand.

Sporting a new design aesthetic for the G series, the polished metal rim gives the LG G7 ThinQ a sleeker, more refined look, complemented by Gorilla Glass 5 on both the front and the back for enhanced durability. Rated IP68 for dust and water resistance, the LG G7 ThinQ is also awarded MIL-STD 810 c certification, having been subjected to a range of extreme temperature and environment tests designed by the United States military.

The LG G7 ThinQ has an 8MP camera up front, rendering clear and natural selfies, with two 16MP cameras at the back that deliver higher resolution photos with more detail, as well as a Super Wide Angle configuration.

As with other leading brands, LG has evolved its signature camera by including AI functionality. The AI CAM offers 19 shooting modes for intelligence-optimised shots. Users can also improve their photos by choosing from an additional three effect options should the AI CAM recommendation not suit their taste.

The new Super Bright Camera captures images that are up to four times brighter than typical photos shot in dim light. Through the combination of pixel binning and software processing, the AI algorithm adjusts the camera settings automatically when shooting in low light.

Live Photo Mode records one second before and after the shutter is pressed for snippets of unexpected moments or expressions that would normally be missed. Stickers uses face recognition to generate fun 2D and 3D overlays, such as sunglasses and headbands, that can be viewed directly on the display.

New to the G series is Portrait Mode, which generates professional-looking shots with out-of-focus backgrounds. This effect can be generated using both front and rear standard lenses as well as the rear Super Wide Angle lens.

LG G7 ThinQ offers further AI functionality with the inclusion of Google Lens features. Google Lens is a new way to search using the AI and computer vision. Google Assistant and Google Photos allow users to access more information on objects such as landmarks, plants, animals, and books. It can identify text or visit websites, add business cards to contacts, events to the calendar or look up an item on a restaurant menu.

A button just below the volume keys launches the AI functionality. A single tap of this button launches the Google Assistant, while two quick taps launches Google Lens. Users can also hold down the button to start talking to the Google Assistant without the repetition of the OK Google command.

With Super Far Field Voice Recognition (SFFVR) and the highly-sensitive G7ThinQ microphone, the Google Assistant can recognise voice commands from up to five meters away. SFFVR is able to separate commands from background noise, making the LG G7 ThinQ an alternative to a home AI speaker, even when the TV is on. Commands for the Google Assistant have been increased in the LG G7 ThinQ so users can get more done with their voice alone.

“The LG G7 ThinQ is strongly focused on the fundamentals and its launch marks a new chapter for our company,” said Deon Prinsloo, General Manager for Mobile Communication, LG Electronics S.A Pty Ltd. “Through the combination of personalised and useful AI functionalities with meaningful smartphone features, this is LG’s most convenient and in the moment smartphone yet.”

Key Specifications

  • Mobile Platform: Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 Mobile Platform
  • Display: 6.1-inch QHD+ 19.5:9 FullVision Super Bright Display (3120 x 1440 / 564ppi)
  • Memory:
    • LG G7 ThinQ: 4GB LPDDR4x RAM / 64GB UFS 2.1 ROM / MicroSD (up to 2TB)
  • Camera:
    • Rear Dual: 16MP Super Wide Angle (F1.9 / 107°) / 16MP Standard Angle (F1.6 / 71°)
    • Front: 8MP Wide Angle (F1.9 / 80°)
  • Battery: 3000mAh
  • OS: Android 8.0 Oreo
  • Size: 153.2 x 71.9 x 7.9mm
  • Weight: 162g
  • Connectivity: Wi-Fi 802.11 a, b, g, n, ac / Bluetooth 5.0 BLE / NFC / USB Type-C 2.0 (3.1 compatible)
  • Colours: New Aurora Black
  • Others: Super Bright Display / New Second Screen / AI CAM / Super Bright Camera / Super Far Field Voice Recognition / Boombox Speaker / Google Lens / AI Haptic / Hi-Fi Quad DAC / DTS:X 3D Surround Sound / IP68 Water and Dust Resistance / HDR10 / Google Assistant Key / Face Recognition / Fingerprint Sensor / Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0 Technology / Wireless Charging / MIL-STD 810G Compliant / FM Radio
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