Review : The Samsung Gear VR. One way ticket to VirtualSpace.

Jan 08

With the advent of the Occulus rift, a set of “virtual reality goggles” within the consumer price range, the breakthrough of Virtual Reality was imminent. Or so we thought. Turns out that VR, to many is nothing more then a gimmic and that scenes from “The lawnmower man” are far from part of our daily lives. The glasses where too expensive, the content available to niche.
The former part of that statement started to change when things like Google Cardboard came out. Basically a cardboard version of a futuristic ‘viewmaster’ with your smartphone as the screen. At an extremely low price people could dip their toes into VR-Space for the first time.
Since then some time has passed and recently Samsung has released their second iteration of “their” version of Google Cardboard : The Gear Vr. Using your high end Samsung Smartphone as a screen you pop this futuristic piece of plastic on your head and off you go.

 

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So how does it work ?
Once ’emerged’ into Virtual-Space the Occulus app store automatically kicks in allowing you to choose a variety of activities. By ‘browsing’ through the VR app store you can install apps, games and demo video’s (some are free, some are not) and give them a try. Navigation is done by moving your head around, selecting and scrolling can be done using a touchpad on the side of the glasses.
So what’s it like ?
Although this truly an ‘early adopters toy’, it is quite surprising how immersive your experience is. The default “room” you are in to select your app and activity is a giant hall in which you can look and move around. Pop in some headphones and you get the distinct feeling that you are really ‘there’. The old saying ‘What they eyes see and the ears hear, the mind believes’ is pretty accurate.

Although this truly an ‘early adopters toy’, it is quite surprising how immersive your experience is.

 

Screenshot 2016-01-03 08.22.46
Any Content ?
There is some content out there like games (You can fight off the zombie apocalypse, even with an added wireless controller should you want to) You can visit the cirque de soleil (and be ON stage instead of in the crowd) or even try out your public speaking skills in a sort of ‘presentation simulator’.

A little bit of minority report.
Samsung also provides you with a “browser” that allows you to surf the internet. You can “search” using Google voice commands and browse around different pages. It becomes really cool when you can set different tabs side by side in a giant video wall. We enjoyed watching a Youtube movie this way, while having the IMDB page of the movie open on a second ‘screen’.

 

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Everything is big !
It is hard to explain what it actually “feels” like using the glasses. First of all : Everything is big ! Since you have no sense of scale every screen looks like its about 4 meters wide and 2 meters tall. “Monitors ? Where we are going we don’t NEED any monitors.” Doc McFly would cry. A perfect example is the Netflix application that lets you sit on a virtual couch in a virtual cabin watching a giant virtual srceen. We actually managed to sit through en entire movie in this application and be surprisingly entertained.

“Monitors ? Where we are going we don’t NEED any monitors.”

netflix-vr
So are we there yet ?
Probably not, this is still early-on technology and the fact whether this is a gadget or a tool can be best evaluated by asking the question : Would you actually use this. The answer is : For browsing and games I would use it occasionally. But I DO see me using this on a plane to watch Netflix (and chill). T
The technology is very immersive and that is also a little bit of the downside. Using this in public makes you look like a total zombie since you are completely spaced out. You don’t hear OR see ANYTHING of your surroundings. Its the antisocial teen with headphones on during a family diner, multiplied by a factor of 10. You are in VR space or in real space .. but you can never peek ‘over’ your screen.
At a 100 euro’s it is surely worth a try to play around with Virtual Reality technology AND get away from your messy room OR noisy kids. The gear VR is only compatible with selected Samsung phones and only works with content from the Occulus app BUT there is quite a bit to try out.

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Five new years resolutions for a (budding) Cross Platform Geek.

Jan 01

With another successful orbit around the sun completed, its time for us carbon based lifeforms to dream up some list of ‘Things we would like to improve on’ in 2016. Since we all lack the telepathic mind controlling abilities to force these improvements upon others on a global scale, it is perhaps more prudent to start with ourselves. So here are 5 things you might want to “improve on” for those of you who have not taken the plunge into the wonderful world of cross platform computing.

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1: Stop being such a fanboy.
Are you “This guy/girl” at every party that religiously promotes brand/platform XYZ and gets into countless arguments on which is the better brand/platform/phone with your friends and relatives ? Have you spent most of Christmas eve explaining to your cousin why Android is far superior to IOS ? How about you stop doing that in 2016 ? Seriously. Somehow you are playing out the exact scenario that marketeers have planned out for you. Somewhere, somehow you have developed this religious devotion to a certain brand or platform that is just (for a lack of a better word) STUPID.

If you have ever gotten into a situation where app/platform/brand X has NOT been more then satisfactory, yet ignored this issue (To yourself and your peers.) because it didn’t line up with your beliefs / previous statements, then you’re a fanboy and you need to stop.  So stop droning on about how your iPhone is superiour to all other phones on the planet and actually take the time to try out some of the alternatives. God forbid .. you might like them.

Have you ever gotten into a situation where app/platform/brand X has NOT been more then satisfactory, yet ignored this issue ?

2: Stray away from your favorite applications.
“I can’t move to platform X because I use application Y”. I’ve heard it a dozen times over. ‘Nope, Can’t switch to Linux because I NEED Outlook.’ Surprise: You don’t NEED an application, you need to perform the process that is TIED to that application. You don’t NEED Outlook, you NEED to be able to communicate via Email. The correct statement would actually be: ‘Nope, Can’t switch to Linux because I am afraid to learn how to work with another Email client.’ So try to get out of that sticky situation by NOT devoting ALL your time and energy using JUST your favorite apps. Whether its an app on your phone or one on your desktop .. there are probably plenty alternatives out there that you can tinker with, just for the fun of it.  God forbid … you might like them.

You don’t NEED Outlook, you NEED to be able to communicate via Email.

3: Give one flavor of Linux  a try this year, for real this time.
Any self-respecting geek HAS taken the time to “Play around” with Linux. For some this means a devotion to the platform where they live out their entire geek-lives in the command line, but for most this means just slapping in a live-boot thumb drive, fiddling around with it for 20 minutes before deeming it “too slow” and going back to whatever OS you used before.

This year, try something different. Devote an old PC (and some of your time) to actually giving it a go as a primary operating system for a week. Write up a blogpost about what you like and what you hate. If a complete desktop experience is too much for you, try out something small like playing with a Raspberry Pi and tinkering with one of many interesting projects you can build. God forbid .. you might like it.

Devote an old PC (and some of your time) to actually giving it a go as a primary operating system for a week.

4: Lean on the communities.
You might be spending a lot of your online time aimlessly scrolling through 9gag, Facebook or Tinder. So why not spice things up a little by going out of your way to find some online geek communities you can learn from ? If any of the cross platform endeavors stated above trigger you to learn more or get some help .. lean on the communities ! There are plenty of forums, sub-Reddits and Google+ groups about the topic you are diving into. They will be able to provide you with excellent feedback and support. Why waste hours on Googling when you can just ask the experts. God forbid .. you might like it there.

There are plenty of forums, sub-Reddits and Google+ groups about the topic you are diving into.

5: Give something in return.
And if, on your adventures into cross platform computing, have learned something new ? Why not give some back ? Post your experiences back to the forums, comment in the discussions and put your new found experience to good use by helping others. If you are feeling truly daring, why not try your hand a podcasting. Recording a simple episode on your phone and submitting it to the Hacker Public Radio podcast is a great way to get started. You will learn that the best way to learn,is to teach. God forbid .. you might like it.

You will learn that the best way to learn,is to teach.

So let 2016 be the year for you where you step out of your comfort zone and try something new. Try a new OS, a different brand of phone or some geeky new project that lets you control your home lights from the internet. We at Knightwise.com wish you good luck in your endeavours.

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Review : The LG 55EG960V 4K Ultra HD Tv.

Oct 17

Lets face it, Reviewing stuff is cool. From time to time we get stuff in the mail that we can tweet or blog our opinions about. This lets us play with some pretty cool stuff, and sometimes we even get to review stuff that you can’t just ship. So when LG asked us to review their 55 inch 4K Oled TV, we thought we were going to need a bigger mailbox. It turns out WE got to go and review IT for a night in a fancy penthouse suite in Brussels. The life of a blogger is hard.

After we had settled into the little penthouse and managed to tear away our eyes from the wonderful view, it was time to check out the tv. The lightly curved 4K 55 inch monster is quite elegant for its size. No overdone “HERE I AM” pimped out casing, no blinking lights.. Just a 55 inch slightly curved monolith … and its “full of stars” !

We had a Dave Bowman moment here : "It's full of stars"

We had a Dave Bowman moment here : “It’s full of stars”

 

Black is Black.
Once you turn it on you see what OLED is all about. For those of you who don’t know. Regular LED tv’s have “lightbars” at the edges of the screen, “lighting up” the pixels as it where. This means that pixels that are set to “black” still “bleed” some of this light through resulting in dark grey tones instead of actual black. Depending on the quality of your LED tv this might vary.

With Oled every pixel generates its own lightsource. So when the pixel is told to go BLACK it just switches off … resulting in true black. This is of course a lot of technobabble, so what is the result ? The end result is that the colors are amazing and that black is really black. During our first demo, a scene from “House of Cards”, where Claire is standing with her back to the edge of the frame wearing a black dress, there was no way to distinguish the black dress with the black edge of the tv. Impressive !

What do you do on a 4K TV ? play 8 bit games !

What do you do on a 4K TV ? play 8 bit games !

So how about this 4K stuff ?

Double the resolution of an HD Tv and you get 4K. That’s a resolution of 4096 by 2160 pixels. Result ? Watch yourself some 4K Netflix and you get to see a whole new level of detail. During the pilot episode of “The Blacklist” we saw small motes of dust floating through the scene. Each individual hair that was somehow out of place on the head of the lead character was visible. 4K will be a makeup artists nightmare !  The level of detail is so uncanny that at some point we noticed a booger (yes a booger) up the left nostril of one of the characters. We seriously shit you not: Much resolution, So 4K wow !

One thing that was familiar on the LG was the Smart OS that runs it. One could not tell by the looks but the “smart” part is actually HP’s WEB OS. Yeah, that’s the OS that never made it to the tablet space and died in a dark corner at Wallmart. But its offspring is alive and kicking. You can control it with the remote, using the buttons OR using it as a pointer. The interface is fine and responds pretty snappy. We liked it.

The only thing we were not that impressed with was the sound. Although the Tv features Harman Kardon speakers, the sound was a little ‘flat’. But I guess when you have the budget to buy one of these beauties, getting a 600 euro sound bar is peanuts.

Our view from the penthouse suite ..  SWEET !

Our view from the penthouse suite .. SWEET !

So in the end ? 

The LG 4k TV is a little bit like driving a Tesla for a day. Its awesome, its fantastic, its the best of the best and .. its also the price of 3 kidneys. At 3999 euro’s for the 55″ model and 5999 for the 65″ model, things might be a little bit outside our price range. We worry a little about the amount of 4k content that is available right now. Sure there is some on Netflix (Costs you a little extra though) but does it satisfy the purchase today ?

Our review of the LG 55EG960V Ultra HD 4K TV (as it is officially called) showed us a peek in whats to come in the near future of TV entertainment. Bight colors, solid blacks, awesome resolutions and hopefully a more affordable price range. And lets not forget new drinking games where you have to take a shot every time you see a booger up the nose of one of the lead characters !

Links : The official LG page and the Appart Hotel where we got to review it.

 

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KW1006 Reviewing the Dell XPS 13

Aug 15

This edition of the knightwise.com podcast brings another product review. This time Knightwise cracks into the Dell XPS 13. This laptop brings with it one distinguishing feature that not many mainstream laptop vendors provide: it’s preloaded with Linux.

Pop in those earbuds or crank up the car speakers. It’s time to dive in with the Dell XPS 13.

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Credits

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KW1005 Knightwise on Podnutz Daily

Jul 18

This week we have a special treat. We have a chance to listen to Knightwise answering some questions instead of being on his usual side of the microphone. This week’s show is an interview that Knightwise gave on a recent episode of Podnutz Daily.

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KW1004 Microsoft Surface Pro 3

Jun 26

This week’s show is an in-depth look at the Surface Pro 3 from Microsoft. We tackle the hardware, the software and the applications that make this device a contender for a daily driver. We also have another great track from Daniel Messer. Let’s get into it!

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KW1003 Acer Green

Jun 12

This week Knightwise travels to the Acer Green show and brings a couple of interviews with from the show floor as well as some “live” music.

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KW1002 Storytime

Jun 03

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This week’s edition of the Knightwise.com podcast brings another installment of Storytime. Sit back and relax to some tunes selected by the Cyberpunk Librarian, Daniel Messer, and two stories from the archives: “Offline” and “When Wanting is More Pleasing than Having”.

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Raspberry Pi Week : Guestblog : Serve Your Message With a Slice of Pi

May 27

This weeks guestblog is brought to us by Daniel Messer, aka the Cyberpunk librarian. Find out more about Daniel, his podcast and his awesome website over at Cyberpunk librarian.Com


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Digital signage is a passion of mine which is odd because, for the most part, I hate advertising. When you think “digital signs” you have to think about advertising because the two go hand and hand, right? You see them all over the place from your local big box store where they use monitors on end-caps to sell you stuff you don’t need to the trendy Apple store where they’ll use an iPad Air 2 as a digital sign.

 

That’s a baseline US$500 device sitting there. It kicked off the tablet revolution and ushered in a so-called “Post PC Era.” And there it is, bolted to a table, telling you why you’d want to buy a PC. That’s irony so thick you could spread it on toast.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

As a public library webmaster, one of my jobs is managing the digital signs in our branches. I don’t create the content so much anymore, but I handle the tech side when needed. These things run off of small, dedicated PCs running Windows 7. Their administrative interface is lousy, the PCs are overkill as they’re rolling glorified PowerPoint presentations, and the big screen monitor and PCs kick out enough heat to keep you warm in the winter.

For the record, I live in Phoenix. We really don’t have a winter here.

When I first got my hands on a Pi, I knew this would be better for getting the library’s messages out on digital signs. They’re tiny, produce little heat, could be velcroed to the back of a monitor, and they run on free software. Diving into different software packages I played withScreenly OSE, Concerto, RiseVision, and others before landing on something I really liked — an idea I got at an airport.

The Phoenix Mesa Gateway Airport, aka AZA, uses Pis for almost all of their digital signs from the ones dropping ads to the ones that tell you when your flight departs and from what gate. Even the monitors beside the gates use Raspberry Pis to display the gate number, flight number, destination, and so on. I talked with a couple of their IT staff to find out what they used and the answer was surprising and refreshing.

They use a web browser. When you look at those signs, you’re simply looking at a website, in a browser, in full screen mode. The website refreshes itself every so often, and there’s a quick blank screen while it does this, but then you’re presented with the latest information.

I went back to my desk and got to work.

An old server bound for surplus found new life in our racks with an Ubuntu Server installation. I knew I’d have to do things slightly different as our library district covers a huge area while the airport covers a single large building. Instead of using the Pis to call a website, I’d have them bring up web content stored locally, but synced from the server.

I installed Chromium on the Pis because I like how easily you can feed it switches through a command line. That’ll be useful later. I also need to make sure that the screens don’t go blank or into power-save mode. Turns out there are a couple of ways to worry about this, but an easy way to handle it is to simply install XScreenSaver and then disable it.

My Pi OS of choice is Raspbian, which uses LXDE as its desktop environment. That’s excellent because to make all the necessary changes I just need to edit a couple of files, maybe three if you’re running the latest version. Opening up LXTerminal and then running

sudo nano /etc/xdg/lxsession/LXDE/autostart

I added the following lines:

@xset s off

@xset -dpms

@xset s noblank

@chromium --kiosk --incognito /home/pi/display/index.html

(Depending on your version of Raspbian, you might need to put the @chromium line in

/etc/xdg/lxsession/LXDE-pi/autostart

The other three can go in the first file.)

The first three lines disable all the screen blanking stuff that Raspbian would normally do, which forces our screen to stay on. The last one launches Chromium, in a full screen kiosk mode which. When you launch Chromium in incognito mode it won’t remember any previous shutdown errors and thus, never throws an error on startup. Then it displays my index.html in a local directory. Since we’ve put these in the autostart file(s), they will automatically happen when the pi user logs into the GUI. (Which you can set to happen immediately after boot up through sudo raspi-config.)

The index.html is simply a slideshow powered by JavaScript. It displays images, sized to fit the monitor’s resolution, and that’s it. It also refreshes itself every ten minutes to pick up new content.

But how to update it?

Since the geographic area covered by the library district is bigger than some east coast states, I wanted things to update quickly, in the background, on a schedule, while reliably pulling down the data and resuming the odd failed transfer. Fortunately, you can do all of that with rsync and cron.

Remember that old server now running Ubuntu? That’s the only place I update the code and content. I can change and add slides, modify the code, save everything, and ten minutes later all the Pi displays are updated. Here’s how that works:

On each Pi, I set up rsync to talk to the server. To do this without a password you need to set up a keypair for the Pi and the server. First thing to do is make sure ssh works between the Pi and server. If so, generate a keypair on the Pi using ssh-keygen. Don’t use a password to generate the keypair and don’t use sudo as the user pi will be doing all the work. Once you have the keypair transfer it to the server using:

ssh-copy-id -i ~/.ssh/id_rsa.pub user@servername

Replace the user@servername with the user on the server where you’re hosting these files. In this case, the syncing directory is under my own username, dan, in a directory called display.

ssh-copy-id will ask for your login password to the server and, if all goes well, that’ll be the last time it asks for it. Once the keypair is set up between the Pi and the server, you should be able to ssh and rsync without a password.

Now we’re ready to sync things up! Set up a cron job using:

crontab -e -u pi

This will launch nano and you can set up a cron job to call rsync as you like. Me, I do it every ten minutes. That means that, on the very outside, any change I make to the master files will take up to twenty minutes to reflect on the monitors in the branches. I could set it to go more often, but there’s nothing so critical as flight information on those screens. So my cron job looks like this:

*/10 * * * * rsync -az --partial dan@piserver:/home/dan/display /home/display/

Looking back, let’s see what we’ve built. We’ve got a Raspberry Pi, connected to a monitor in a remote location. It’s running a slide show through Chromium and all the content is local, so it comes up fast with no lag. That content is synced to a server via rsync running as a cron job and everything updates every ten minutes, both the browser and the content.

So in the end, we’ve used no software geared specifically towards digital signage. The digital sign is powered by open source operating systems, running open source software, on open source hardware. As a librarian into open access, that’s the kind of thing that really makes my day.

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When wanting is more pleasing then having : What drives YOU to buy new gear ?

May 22

“Wanting is more pleasing then having” : It’s not logical, but it is the truth. It’s a line Spock must have quoted in some long gone Star Trek episode somewhere (please don’t ask me, I can’t remember which one). For some reason it has stuck in my mind for the longest time. “It’s not logical but it’s the truth” is the follow up line .. completing the entire statement and lifting it to the realm of existence-pondering quotes out there.

spock crying

I’m reminded of the quote as I’m browsing through a similar quote (of the financial kind) of my current gadget-infatuation (or toy-crush) : The Dell XPS13 laptop. This sleek small 13 inch laptop has been on the market for quite a while and sports very cool specs in a very small form factor. I could go on telling you about how its innards, the software, the reviews and the hours of research I have been doing about it .. but that is a little beside the point. To sum it up : I’m infatuated with it at the moment. Because its a cool new toy and I want it !
There .. I said it : I want it ! I have read reviews, talked to people who own one, looked up insanely detailed technical documentation on how to take it apart should I ever need to. Adds for the laptop have been popping up in Facebook and Youtube is now convinced my only goal in life is to watch MORE review video’s about the XPS13. If the XPS13 was a girl, I would be considered a stalker. But since its only a laptop (and a gorgeous one at that) it’s called research and I’m called a Geek.
I don’t wear sandals and have a neck beard.
Mulling over this quote in my hands I took the time and step back a little, to the days before my gadgetary obsession with the device to ask myself the question : When did the XPS13 become the perfect laptop for me ? Was it after some long quest through the digital wastelands in search for the perfect portable laptop ? Was it after a life changing event that made me realize that in fact did not OWN any portable computer ? Am I to become a Linux Developer working for canonical in the morning (and hence need such a device ?)…. No. I in fact have a laptop (and multiple portable devices) and I don’t wear sandals and have a neck beard. I can’t even write a decent bash script so .. the developer option is out.  Somewhere along the line I must have just decided that I wanted to have it.
The journey is more important then the destination.
What is important to know is that the journey that took me towards the point where I decided I really WANTED it, has never really started at any point where I NEEDED it. I’m not ashamed to point this out. My “urge” to posses the Dell XPS13 started when I read some article about its existence and from that point out I have started to dream up reasons why I need it. Sure, there were issues with the current size of my Macbook pro (in combination with my mobile lifestyle) that gave me some problems : The Macbook Pro is a little bit too big (and too expensive) to carry around everywhere and it would be handy to own something smaller. Also I have been playing around with Linux for a while now and have always wondered what it would be like to buy a machine pre-installed with Linux .. but none of these reasons truly validate the purchase of a new machine.
When it comes to the small form factor I have an older Surface Pro 1 which is perfectly portable (I take it to all my business meetings) and although Linux runs on it (I’ve tried it) the experience isn’t quite flawless. In its defense it does run Ubuntu linux perfectly in a full screen VM having plenty of power left. So if my “reasons”‘ for buying a new machine are that I need a small portable linux running device .. why don’t I settle for the machine I already have ?
I’ve probably been marketed.
The answer is probably marketing. Subconsciously I’ve been influenced by the mega marketing machine that is the internet into believing I NEED the Dell XPS13. And because of that I”ve started to rationalize the purchase by telling myself all the things I can do with it. Falling for the marketing trick is not something we should be ashamed of our shy away from. For one our economy would collapse and we would all end up living in our own cabin in the woods like hermits .. but it IS a good thing to be AWARE of this.
I for one have been taking a close look at those reasons I came up with why I NEEDED this new device.
– I needed something that was smaller then my Macbook Pro.
– I needed something that was powerful and portable so I could take it with me everywhere without being afraid to break our bump it.
– I would LIKE to have a machine that runs Linux flawlessly.
– It would be great to have a little laptop that I could take with me te blog on and record podcast.
– I would be so much more productive if I had this ONE laptop that could kind of do anything..
….
So dp I need it ? 
There are plenty of more reasons where these came from if you query me long enough .. So I decided to take this shortlist and throw it at the hardware I already have. (In this case my I5 Surface pro) . Turns out that (aside from running Linux natively) it CAN do all the things I want to do (and then some) Add in the stylus and the transformable laptop-tablet form factor and it is actually a more versatile device then the XPS.
Then why do I want it ? 
The second thing I did was to take long look at the list and figured out what it really meant. When I read beyond the technical desires there are some creative desires there. What my subconcious is actually trying to tell me is that I want to have more time to be creative. My creative urges see the XPS13 as kind of a promised land to write more, podcast more .. have more time to myself. They also are urging to have a less complicated life. Those are the things I really WANT.
The bottom line is that what I really WANT is more time to unleash my creativity and a less complex and hectic life to do this. Thanks to clever marketing the XPS (and its specs) has been heralded as the enabler of these solutions. The fact is : it’s not true. If I want to be more creative , i CAN … I just need to do it on the hardware I already have. Instead of upgrading my machine I might need to upgrade the way I spend my time. Perhaps I need to upgrade the importance of listening to my creative urges. Perhaps what I really want is an XPS version of my own life at the moment.
Its funny how a cool gadget triggers thoughts about what you really want out of life .. but in the end THAT is what matters. So when you feel the urge coming up to get a cool new toy you don’t really “need”‘ .. figure out WHY you want it. It might uncover some hidden desires or frustration that you want to resolve.. Getting those sorted out might be harder then just buying a cool new toy in a shiny box .. But it will be much more rewarding. So you see :) Wanting is not as pleasing as having .. It’s not logical : It’s the truth.

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