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25Feb/180

Nearly half of 2017’s cryptocurrencies have already failed

The number of casualties might be higher in practice. Another 113 ICOs have either stopped talking on social networks (a good sign interest has died) or have so few adopters that success is very unlikely. And the survivors aren't necessarily doing much better. Only a "handful" raised over $10 million, which left an uphill battle for the rest.

It doesn't take much divination to understand why many of these virtual coins fell flat. Excluding the scams, a large chunk of them were targeted at niches like dentistry, freight trucking or real estate -- they were never going to attract broad audiences. Others, meanwhile, were me-too efforts that had no real advantage over pouring money into an established format, where prices were more likely to climb.

ICOs are still popular options in 2018, but it doesn't look like the new wave will fare much better. We've already seen Kodak and other companies start cryptocurrencies for little more than a momentary stock boost. Pair that with falling prices and many ICOs face daunting prospects.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2018/02/24/nearly-half-of-2017s-cryptocurrencies-have-already-failed/

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25Feb/180

Chrome’s pull-to-refresh starts making its way to Chromebooks

As we mentioned, though, the feature has only made its way as far as the developer channel. If you do have access to it for Chrome OS and Windows, you'll still have to activate the gesture via the hidden flag chrome://flags/#pull-to-refresh. Based on previous reports, Google's Chrome team has been working on bringing the gesture to Chromebooks since at least mid-2017. Hopefully, it won't take them too long to release the feature to the public.

Pull-to-Refresh Flag Working in Chrome OS Dev Channel from r/chromeos

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2018/02/24/chrome-pull-to-refresh-chromebooks-windows-2-in-1/

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25Feb/180

Sony Music chairman leaves to form Apple partnership

We've asked Apple if it can comment.

As Variety noted, this would represent a reunion of sorts for Morris and Iovine. They technically worked together (if not closely) at Universal Music Group, where Morris was chairman and Iovine ran the Interscope label. That probably wasn't an influencing factor, but the two execs will certainly be familiar with each other.

There is a chance this could involve exclusive music -- Apple is fond of exclusives, after all. Whatever it entails, Morris' involvement could represent a major victory. Morris is one of the music industry's biggest business legends, having led all three major music publishers (Sony, Universal and Warner) at various points in his life. He's been particularly important to Sony. It was floundering when he joined in 2011, but it has since had both stability and major hits from the likes of Adele and Daft Punk. Whatever 12 Tone does with Apple, it'll know its way around the corporate world.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2018/02/24/sony-music-chairman-leaves-to-form-apple-partnership/

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25Feb/180

Apple will store China’s iCloud keys on local servers

According to Apple, this was the best balance. The company fought to keep iCloud data in the US, but was "ultimately unsuccessful," it said in a statement. This at least ensures that they have a good user experience, and might actually be more secure than steering users to alternatives.

Apple said it still has control over the encryption keys and isn't giving China special access. However, that doesn't allay concerns that China will now have greater power to spy on iPhone-toting residents. Police in the country can both issue and execute warrants without the oversight of a court, and iCloud accounts aren't as secure as iPhones and iPads -- it is possible to access the information contained in an iCloud account if Apple gets a legal order.

And that, in turn, has human rights advocates worried. China is notorious for demanding to surveil as much domestic internet traffic as possible in order to target dissidents, and having local access through a state-owned company could make that considerably easier. Apple might be making the best decision it can short of exiting the Chinese market entirely, but that could still lead to problems for activists and others who want to maintain as much privacy as possible.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2018/02/25/apple-will-store-icloud-keys-in-china/

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25Feb/180

Intel makes huge 5G promises for the 2020 Olympics

Specifically, the company promises 8K 360-degree video streams, which would be a huge upgrade over the lackluster VR video at this year's Winter Olympics. We can also expect to see even more drones equipped with cameras (4K, hopefully?), and 5G-enabled sensors and services for visitors of the games. The company claims it'll also power 5G integration in vehicles, which currently gets speeds of 1Gbps while watching 4K video and moving at 30 kilometers per hour.

The timing couldn't be better for Intel, if it really wants to turn heads with 5G. The 2020 Olympics will be an ideal time to showcase what the faster network technology can do. And by then, there's a good chance plenty of consumers will have access to 5G devices, which will let them enjoy the Intel-powered coverage from anywhere.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2018/02/25/intel-5g-2020-olympics/

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24Feb/180

‘Black Panther’ is amazing. Why are its CG models so terrible?

It's not just a matter of visual effects companies getting lazy. As movies have started to rely even more on complex VFX, the firms creating them are overworked, underpaid and, at times, literally fighting for survival, according to one person who has worked on several recent blockbusters (and who asked to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of their work). That's led to a decline in overall quality, even while some studios continue to push new boundaries, like WETA, with its work in the recent Planet of the Apes trilogy.

Big-budget films used to require between 500 and 1,000 VFX shots, but that number is now regularly between 1,000 and 2,000, according to VFX Movies' comprehensive chart. For example, The Fellowship of the Ring had just 480 visual effects shots in 2001, while the recent Hobbit films each featured around 2,000. (That's also a clear example of how more effects don't necessarily lead to better-looking movies.) Some of the biggest blockbusters today, like Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Age of Ultron, required an astounding 3,000 VFX shots. To get all of this work done, Hollywood studios regularly enlist a large number of firms for a single film. Around a dozen worked on Black Panther, while Thor: Ragnarok had more than 20 companies churning out visual effects.

"It takes enormous teams to put this [VFX work] together. It takes individuals with specific skills sets to do it," the insider said. "Movie studios need so much work, and they're only willing to pay so much. The VFX are accounting for a pretty serious chunk of these $100 to $200 million budgets, but even that isn't enough to cover the sheer amount of shots."

Many VFX firms today are in a race to the bottom. They're trying to undercut rivals that might steal potential jobs and taking on an excessive amount of work, often without making a profit. Most of these firms also have to pitch their talents to Hollywood, which occasionally involves doing $20,000 to $80,000 worth of work up front for free. Sometimes they end up working on huge films at cost, in hopes that it'll lead to more lucrative (and less demanding) commercial work.

As you can imagine, this has made life rough for VFX workers. "In an attempt to slash costs the vfx facilities have eliminated benefits such as sick days, health insurance, and retirement accounts," writes Daniel Lay, the formerly anonymous activist blogger VFX Soldier, who's worked at studios like Digital Domain and DreamWorks Animation. "Many are forced to work under illegal conditions with unpaid overtime and 1099 tax statuses where we are responsible for paying the employer's portion of social security. The projects have become more volatile as the vfx facilities try to please the demands of the director put in place by the studio."

The sorry state of this industry is best encapsulated in the story of Rhythm and Hues, the company behind the astounding effects in Ang Lee's The Life of Pi. Rhythm and Hues ended up declaring bankruptcy just two weeks before winning an Academy Award for their work in 2013. Their acceptance speech is now infamous. As the firm's visual effects supervisor, Bill Westenhofer, tried to address the issues facing his industry from the podium, he was drowned out by the theme from Jaws and his microphone was cut off. It seemed that Hollywood's interest in VFX studios lasted less than 60 seconds. (The short documentary "Life After Pi" offers an inside look into what went wrong for Rhythm and Hues.)

"Nowadays, almost every shot in a blockbuster film has some CG element," one Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) worker told us. (They also asked to remain anonymous.) "Direction can change almost on a daily basis, where artists are redoing their work multiple times just to hit the ever-changing vision." Hollywood studios are also seeking cheaper labor, which forces VFX companies to open satellite offices in places like Canada, where the US dollar is worth more, and locations that offer significant tax breaks.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2018/02/24/black-panther-vfx-models/

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24Feb/180

Can legislation fix gaming’s loot box problem?

Hawaii state Rep. Chris Lee, a gamer himself (he favors the Battlefield series and Rockstar Games' oeuvre), believes there's plenty to do. The Democrat introduced four bills last month: Two (one introduced to state House and one to the Senate) would restrict loot boxes in Hawaii to those older than 21, while another pair would force companies to disclose the odds of winning potential game items. It's not the strongest rebuke of the games industry he and his co-authors could have made, Lee told Engadget, but it's a step in the right direction — and it will spur conversation.

The gaming industry has been challenged by legislators before. In the 1980s and '90s, lawmakers panicked that the violence, drugs and sexuality in gaming was affecting youth. To avoid government regulation, the industry formed the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), which warded off legislative oversight. But this time around, the issue isn't moral corruption -- it's whether these particular reward mechanisms are merely gambling in disguise, and if so, should they be in games kids can play? Bills are very public statements, and those proposed by Lee and other state lawmakers have cast doubt on the future of loot boxes as they exist now.

The ESRB has staunchly maintained that loot boxes aren't gambling:

"While there's an element of chance in these mechanics, the player is always guaranteed to receive in-game content (even if the player unfortunately receives something they don't want). We think of it as a similar principle to collectible card games: Sometimes you'll open a pack and get a brand new holographic card you've had your eye on for a while. But other times you'll end up with a pack of cards you already have," the ESRB told Kotaku late last year. We reached out to the ESRB for comment on the recently-proposed bills and didn't receive a response at the time of writing.

Legislation isn't the only tool lawmakers can use to effect change: Last week, US Sen. Maggie Hassan, a Democrat from New Hampshire, wrote a public letter to the ESRB urging it to take the loot-box issue more seriously, especially because children can easily access games with these mechanisms. Otherwise, as Hawaii's Lee noted, connecting with different groups to raise awareness could provoke a response by, in this case, the gaming industry. His office has started talking with concerned lawmakers, community leaders, medical institutes, schools and other interested parties across the country.

Still, nothing captures America's attention like potential new laws.

Bills proposed by other state lawmakers earlier this year have focused on whether loot-box mechanisms are gambling. Washington state Sen. Kevin Ranker, a Democrat, introduced one last month asking the state's gambling commission to decide whether loot boxes qualify as games of chance. Separately, two Indiana state senators introduced a bill commissioning a study to determine the same, though it was effectively buried when it didn't get a committee hearing.

Given that players often buy loot boxes with real money and receive randomized assortments of in-game items, there's a case for considering this mechanism as gambling. If states decided they were, loot boxes would likely fall within the jurisdiction of statewide gambling commissions and be regulated just like any other pay-to-play game of chance.

The gaming industry has good reason to stamp out any loot box-gambling connection: Once states decide to regulate them as such, game studios will have to comply with each law and statute. They would have to switch off features for players in some regions and ensure compliance lest they run afoul of state authorities. This may be a big issue for titans of the industry like Activision-Blizzard, which has centralized loot boxes in many of its AAA games (Call of Duty: WWII, Destiny 2, Overwatch, Hearthstone) to drive up revenue. Smaller studios that can't afford legal counsel but include loot boxes could suffer more if they violate state laws, according to Marc Whipple, an intellectual-property lawyer who frequently advises video-game companies.

"There's an old saying, 'You may not be interested in politics, but politics are interested in you.' The same thing applies here: You may not be interested in gambling regulation, but gambling regulators are interested in you," Whipple said in an interview with Engadget.

"Because gambling is seen as a privilege, not a right, if the gambling regulators believe that you are in their jurisdiction, if they have jurisdiction over you, they can do a lot of things to you that a lot of people probably don't understand are possible ... up to and including declaring your product an unlawful gambling device and issuing a warrant for your arrest," Whipple said.

He should know -- he worked as legal counsel for Incredible Technologies, the company behind Golden Tee Golf, a popular cabinet game that let players participate in online tournaments for cash prizes. To operate in myriad bars nationwide, the game had to obey each state's gambling laws. In some cases, cabinets would have features removed to comply with particular statutes.

Game studios notoriously hide their loot boxes' odds of winning specific items. (We can guess at Overwatch's loot-drop percentages because Chinese law forced them to be revealed last year, though Blizzard managed to hide them a month later through a loophole).

Without pointing any fingers at anybody in the games industry, Whipple said, if you made a video slot machine and put it in a casino with the same kind of pay table used in most loot-box systems, "you would go to prison." In other words, the odds in Vegas are better -- because state law requires them to be.

It's easy to get sucked into the 'is it gambling?' debate. But instead, Hawaii's Lee aimed his bills at safeguarding kids and ensuring that everyone knows what they're really paying for by requiring transparency in odds. It's where he sees the argument going -- not continuing to debate whether loot boxes are gambling, but asking departments of health and consumer-protection agencies about the consequences and impacts of loot boxes. Because game studios don't release data about loot-box sales and use, we only have anecdotes about when individuals suffer from these mechanisms -- and they are often tragic.

"There's no question that for a portion of the population, there is vulnerability. And for an even larger portion of the population, there is risk of exploitation by algorithms specifically designed with no transparency and, increasingly, to take advantage of players based upon their actions that they're not even aware of. When you think of it like that, it's a very dangerous moment," said Lee.

It's dangerous because it's an industry that knows what it's doing. Lee explains: "It has employed psychologists and mental-health experts to use these mechanisms specifically to exploit human psychology as much as possible. ... If the industry continues to deny or pretend that there's a problem here, it will find itself ultimately in court in the same way that tobacco companies and oil companies denied the information that they knew all along."

Considering the dysfunction in Washington, it's doubtful that legislation on the issue will come from Congress in the near future. To date, the only member who has publicly acted over concern for loot boxes is New Hampshire's Hassan.

"Sen. Hassan has already sent a letter to ESRB raising concerns about the harm loot boxes could have on young gamers and called on nominees to the Federal Trade Commission to commit to looking into the issue of loot boxes, which all four nominees agreed to do," Eric Mee, Hassan's deputy press secretary, told Engadget. "The senator is cautiously encouraged by the ESRB's initial statement, but if the ESRB's response is inadequate, she will work with her colleagues and consumers to consider additional steps."

Mee told Engadget it's too early to speculate whether there will be a congressional push for hearings or legislation. State legislatures are addressing loot boxes ahead of Congress because there are simply more lawmakers across the country than in Washington. They also have more room to tackle issues that hit closer to home, like questionable mechanisms in video games. Given that state lawmakers operate on different timelines for their legislative seasons, Lee believes other states may introduce their own bills later this year. His office has been talking with lawmakers from 30 other states who may be interested in doing so. Some are starting to collect data through their departments of health and other organizations but "because nobody but the industry has the data at this time, it might take a little bit to get there," he said.

The one bright spot? Lee believes loot boxes are one of the rare issues that could inspire bipartisan support because it concerns a broad swath of constituents, from mental-health and education communities to parents and soccer moms. The issue might even expand beyond gaming: Without intervention, what's to stop other industries from adopting their own chance-based content boxes?

Lee elaborates: "Imagine that model without any sort of oversight or regulation move into every aspect not only of gaming but of online services in general. Rather than a subscription to Spotify or buying a song through Apple, you can buy loot boxes full of albums. But you really aren't going to know what you might get."

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2018/02/24/loot-boxes-gambling-legislation/

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24Feb/180

We’re live from MWC 2018 in Barcelona!

Spring season is right around the corner, and that means it's time for Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, the world's biggest phone show. This year, you can expect to be introduced to Samsung's next flagship smartphone, the Galaxy S9, as well as a slew of other handsets from big-name companies like BlackBerry and Nokia. Yes, you know you love BlackBerry and Nokia. Of course, we'll likely also come across a bunch of other tech products, such as wearables and others things that could be revealed at the show -- Facebook has a press conference, for instance. We're on the ground for the next week, which means you need to keep your eyes peeled to the site so you won't miss a thing from MWC 2018.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2018/02/24/live-from-mwc-2018/

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24Feb/180

Ask Engadget: Is a 4K monitor the best choice for my desk?

I'm considering buying a budget (sub-$500) 4K monitor for desk work. I am not concerned about color quality, refresh rate or any flashy gaming features. I just want a 4K monitor between 32 and 40 inches to avoid a multiple monitor computer setup. I'm aware that I won't find top-tier brands in that price range, but do you otherwise have any advice? Are there brands I should absolutely avoid? I know in this price range a lot of brands are essentially the same with a different label. And what about manufacturers' warranties?


Devindra Hardawar
Senior Editor

You're in luck, dear reader. 4K monitors are a lot cheaper now, compared to just a year or two ago. You can find plenty of great 27-inch options in your price range, like the LG 27UD68P-B and Dell P2715Q.

Things get a bit trickier when you bump up to 32 inches, though. On Newegg.com, there are a few larger 4K models from Acer and LG on sale for under $500, but you'll have to act quickly to lock in those prices. Personally, I'd trust an LG panel more than Acer's. I'd also suggest you avoid no-name brands, which typically don't have great build quality or support.

But, you might also want to ask yourself if you actually need a 4K monitor. They're great if you want that extra resolution for photo or video editing, but they don't exactly replicate a multi-monitor setup. And while Windows 10 does a much better job of supporting higher resolutions than before, its 4K handling is still a bit wonky. You'll likely have to scale up the contents of your screen to make text and apps legible. Depending on the size of your screen, native 4K rendering can sometimes make everything too small to read.

Another option: Consider an ultra-wide monitor. These models offer a 21:9 aspect ratio, compared to the 16:9 on normal widescreen monitors. They make it seem like you have two monitors side-by-side, except you don't have to worry about annoying bezels separating them. I've found ultra-wide monitors to be far more useful for desktop computing than 4K models. Being able to have multiple full-sized windows on my screen at once, or use extra-wide windows for audio and video editing, feels like a genuine upgrade over traditional monitors. They also make gaming more immersive, since they offer a wider field of view.

The only downside to ultra-wide monitors is price. Typically, you'd have to spend around $650 to get a 34-inch screen with a 3,440 by 1,440 resolution. There are cheaper and smaller models out there, typically with a lower 2,560 by 1,080 resolution, but I wouldn't recommend those since they have less workable screen space. If you really want a single screen to give you the benefits of a multi-monitor setup, an ultra-wide monitor is the way to go.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2018/02/24/best-4k-monitor-under-500/

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24Feb/180

Alcatel crams flagship features into its affordable smartphones

At 6-inches diagonal, the 3V's screen is the biggest the phones in the company's new lineup, and it runs at a higher resolution (2160x1080) to boot. Alcatel also opted to run with a dual camera on the phone's back -- a 12-megapixel sensor does most of the heavy lifting and yielded photos of similar quality to the Alcatel 5, but a secondary 2-megapixel depth camera adds a nice dash of bokeh to tight shots. And for those who can't deal with the 5's odd look, the Alcatel 3V features a more conventional design with a glossy, curved back. Some will find this aesthetic pretty generic but it's still a comforting alternative to the 5's angular body. And while its performance is quite as fluid to use as the Alcatel 5, the 3V's quad-core MediaTek chip never felt sluggish. It's a passable performer and handled a few pre-loaded games without issue.

And the list goes on. Seriously. If you like most of what the 3V offers but would rather save a smidge and get a wide-angle camera, well, there's the €180 Alcatel 3X. Don't even need to shoot wide-angle photos? No worries: how about the €150 Alcatel 3? We could keep this game up until we hit the Alcatel 1X, a perfectly adequate smartphone with an 18:9 5.5-inch display and some surprisingly nice finishes. Normally, I'd say this is mid-range overkill, but hey -- there really is something for everyone here (unless you want something truly premium, that is).

The worst part of craving a newly-announced phone is having to wait for release, but Alcatel should be getting these things out the door very quickly. In fact, while the 3 series and 1 series phones will all be launched in the coming weeks and months, you can go out and lay claim to an Alcatel 5 right now. The one caveat: Alcatel hasn't discussed plans to release any of these devices in the United States, so domestic phone fans on a budget will have to look elsewhere for now.

Catch up on the latest news from MWC 2018 right here.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2018/02/24/alcatel-5-3v-hands-on/

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