Facebook suspends Pages from Russia-linked viral video company

Facebook suspends Pages from Russia-linked viral video company


Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Facebook’s crackdown on Russia-linked accounts has usually taken down outlets with a relatively small presence, but its latest move is more substantial. The social network has suspended three Pages from Maffick Media, a viral video outlet that has racked up 30 million views in the space of a few months, over a lack of disclosure. Maffick is majority-owned by Ruptly, a subsidiary of the Russia-backed outlet RT, but didn’t mention this on any of its Pages, including politically slanted ones like Soapbox and Backthen. Facebook doesn’t officially require disclosure for Pages’ parent companies like it does for political ads, but a spokesperson told CNN that it would ask for disclosure as part of an effort to give people “more information about the Pages they follow.”

“People connecting with Pages shouldn’t be misled about who’s behind them,” the spokesperson said.

Maffick COO J. Ray Sparks has insisted that his company is editorially independent of RT, and that it was “standard business practice” to leave the parent firm’s name out of a Page. CEO Anissa Naouai did host a show called In the Now on RT (since on Facebook and part of the suspension), but Sparks pointed to examples of less-than-flattering portrayals of Russia on that program. Moreover, presenter Rania Khalek has accused Facebook of a double standard, demanding disclosure for government connections that allegedly don’t apply to outlets like the BBC, Al Jazeera or NPR. She went so far as to claim this was a US government attempt to silence views critical of its policies.

However, it’s not quite so clear-cut. In addition to hosting a show on RT, Naouai has been a long-time friend of RT editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan, who allegedly helped run Vladimir Putin’s 2012 election campaign and has denied RT’s links to the Russian government despite evidence to the contrary. And while Khalek tried to claim that Maffick’s connection to RT is no different than CNN’s connections to its ad sponsors, that’s not true. CNN’s advertisers aren’t owners, but Ruptly (and therefore RT) does have a controlling stake in Maffick.

There’s also concerns over the editorial direction of Maffick. While Khalek has claimed there’s a “McCarthyist” campaign against Maffick’s “leftist” views, the outlet has generally adopted Russia’s stances on issues like Venezuela’s leadership while sidestepping criticism of the Putin regime — that fits with Russia’s strategy of stoking social tensions in the US. Combine that with Maffick’s staff payments (it asks workers to create companies so it can pay salaries with international transfers) and there are concerns Russia is running an influence campaign while using creative business methods to hide its role.

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Amazon’s first ‘Lord of the Rings’ teaser is a minimal Middle-earth map

Amazon’s first ‘Lord of the Rings’ teaser is a minimal Middle-earth map


Amazon

As things stand, we know very little about Amazon’s Lord of the Rings Prime Video series. We do know it will last several seasons and it will include some familiar characters from J.R.R. Tolkien’s books, though Amazon was clear it’s not remaking Peter Jackson’s movies. The release timeline, as well as the aspects of Middle-earth history the show will cover, also remain a mystery. However, we have a little more movement on the project, as the first official teasers for the show have started to trickle out.

Amazon posted a trio of tweets about the upcoming project, the first of which is an apt quote from Tolkien: “I wisely started with a map.” Amazon also released an “interactive” map of Middle-earth, but so far all you can do is zoom in and out and scoot around the landscape.

The map doesn’t include any named locations as yet, but there’s every chance that Amazon will update it to tease out more details of the show. For now, it remains as mysterious as the series’ synopsis. This is the part of the post where we’d normally tell you when you can start streaming a show, but all we can offer for now is a hearty shrug.

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A pristine ‘Super Mario Bros.’ cartridge sold for over $100,000

A pristine ‘Super Mario Bros.’ cartridge sold for over $100,000


Wata Games

Despite classic video games now being readily available online and on throwback mini consoles, rare physical copies are still fetching big bucks. The latest record-breaking collector’s item is a sealed copy of Super Mario Bros. that just sold for $100,150, according to Kotaku, which experts claim is the highest-price ever paid for a single game.

What makes it so valuable? A foil sticker on the top of the black box that indicates it’s among the very first run of 17 NES games produced in America. These were released in test markets across New York and Los Angeles between October, 1985 and March, 1986, back when the NES came bundled with Duck Hunt and Gyromite. Other titles in the esteemed lineup include Hogan’s Alley, Wild Gunman, and Baseball.

Due to its popularity, Super Mario Bros. would be reprinted in 11 different box variations from 1985 to 1994, according to gaming collectibles authenticator Wata Games. And as production began ramping up in 1986, Nintendo ditched the sticker seals and began shrink wrapping its games.

This copy of Super Mario Bros. is now jointly owned by three buyers: Jim Halperin, the founder and co-chairman of the collectibles auction company Heritage Auctions, game collector Rich Lecce, and video game store owner Zac Gieg. It marks a big leap over the previous record holder — another sealed copy of Super Mario Bros. that sold on eBay in 2017 for over $30,000.

“Not only are all…NES sticker sealed [games] extremely rare, but by their nature of not being sealed in shrink wrap they usually exhibit significant wear after more than 30 years,” said Kenneth Thrower, co-founder and chief grader of Wata Games. “This game may be the condition census of all sticker sealed NES games known to exist.”

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Amazon’s new video originals include ‘The Power’ and a FIFA scandal

Amazon’s new video originals include ‘The Power’ and a FIFA scandal


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In a bid to counter Netflix’s aggressive overseas expansion, Amazon has ordered a raft of international content for its Prime Video subscription service. Of the 20 shows on its 2019 slate, 17 are new originals, according to Variety. They include a British adaptation of author Naomi Alderman’s feminist sci-fi novel The Power to be co-produced and directed by Reed Morano — who helmed Hulu’s Emmy-winning The Handmaid’s Tale and recently inked an overall deal with Amazon.

Meanwhile Chile’s Pablo Larraín, the Oscar-winning director of Jackie and A Fantastic Woman, will produce a Mexican true crime series based on the events behind the 2015 “FIFA Gate” corruption scandal. And Prime Video is also getting some lighter fare courtesy of a Japanese version of reality show The Bachelorette.

Like Netflix before it, Amazon is eyeing India’s mobile-centric viewers, with six out of the 20 new and returning shows hailing from the region. Among them is supernatural thriller series The Last Hour, which counts Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker Asif Kapadia (Amy, Senna) as an exec-producer. Another five shows come from Mexico, including an untitled sci-fi comedy-horror mash-up from the producers of Narcos.

Amazon is also making sure the creators of its Golden Globe and Emmy-winning show The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel stay put. As part of a new overall deal, Amy Sherman-Palladino and Daniel Palladino will develop shows exclusively for Prime Video, reports Deadline.

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Apple’s streaming video service might finally arrive in April

Apple’s streaming video service might finally arrive in April


Thomas Trutschel via Getty Images

Apple’s video service might finally be ready to launch. A report from CNBC says that the company’s first video subscription service will launch in April and will feature a combination of original programming as well as “add-on” options for popular existing services like Showtime, Starz and some Viacom channels.

Most of the talk around Apple’s streaming video plans has focused on the original content the company has been planning; it feels like barely a week goes by without some new development deal being announced. But we haven’t heard much about how Apple may integrate other services in with its own. Today’s report seems to indicate users will be able to bundle some premium channels along with what Apple offers, with all the content living in one app.

Amazon Prime Video and Hulu are both services with a similar offering, letting subscribers customize their package by adding additional premium channels to the video catalog each offers. Both Amazon and Hulu offer HBO as an add-on for $14.99 per month, the same price as the network’s HBO Now service. But while Apple has been trying to get HBO on board as an add-on for its new service, CNBC reports that discussions over the revenue-sharing model Apple is pushing may keep that deal from getting done; Apple apparently wants a 30 percent cut of revenue for subscribers who come in through its apps, an amount that HBO may not agree to.

Apple currently takes 30 percent of in-app subscriptions during the first year and reduces its cut to 15 percent for subsequent years. The company has also historically taken a 30 percent cut from app sales and one-time in-app purchases for as long as the App Store has been around. To get around this, many developers don’t let people subscribe for their services in apps. Netflix removed the option to sign up for its service through its iOS app in December, and Amazon has never sold books through its Kindle app to avoid giving up a portion of sales revenue to Apple.

Regardless of how all this revenue-sharing works out, it sounds like Apple’s video service will be integrated into the existing TV app on Apple TV and iOS devices. That app pulls together video from a number of existing streaming services alongside a user’s iTunes movies and TV shows. Keeping that app as a central location for everything people want to watch seems smart, although it’s worth noting that Netflix will continue to exist outside that ecosystem. Apple’s TV app currently can’t see any content from Netflix, and it sounds like Netflix won’t integrate with Apple’s new service as well.

From a timing perspective, it seems entirely possible that Apple finally gives the world a look at its video service at its upcoming event, rumored to be happening at the end of March. Yesterday, Buzzfeed News reported the company was holding this event to introduce a subscription news product, but it also seems like the timing would work to introduce its video subscription service as well. Apple has also used March events to introduce iPad updates for the past several years now, so there could be new hardware on deck, as well.

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UK bans gambling ads from sites and games that target kids

UK bans gambling ads from sites and games that target kids


s0ulsurfing – Jason Swain via Getty Images

The UK will prohibit child-friendly websites and video games from running gambling ads, a move that poses potential ramifications for app developers, soccer stars and social media influencers alike. Starting April 1st, gambling companies will be banned from targeting ads at under-18s on social media and across the web. Bookmakers will also be forced to restrict their ads from sections of sites that are youth-oriented — for instance, web pages dedicated to younger supporters on a soccer club’s website.

Video games are also being drawn into the Advertising Standard Authority’s safety net, designed to stop irresponsible gambling. According to the watchdog, real-money gambling ads will be banned from gambling-like games that are popular with children. Elsewhere, gambling companies will have to ensure that ads appearing in video games don’t contain imagery that targets kids. Earlier this year, the regulator banned three ads from a leading UK bookmaker for featuring animated images of a rainbow, a pot of gold and a leprechaun, because they were likely to appeal to children, reports The Guardian.

What’s more, gambling companies will be required to stop using celebrities that look under 25 from appearing in their adverts. This change, in particular, could cut off a major revenue source for younger soccer stars in an industry that’s essentially funded by bookmakers. Many Premier League teams have gambling companies as a kit sponsor and their ads flood every commercial break.

On top of the age limit, the rules also dictate that social media influencers that draw younger viewers won’t be able to appear in gambling ads either. It’s a step that inadvertently raises questions about the feasibility of the new standards. For example, what happens if a YouTuber who does baked-in advertising suddenly grows a huge youth audience? Will they have to remove or re-edit the videos they uploaded in the past? Ultimately, this suggests that policing internet adverts could require a lot more grunt work than banning TV or billboard ads.

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Even the YouTube CEO’s kids thought that Rewind video was ‘cringey’

Even the YouTube CEO’s kids thought that Rewind video was ‘cringey’


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YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki has published some thoughts about the year ahead for the platform. But as well as looking forward, she took a little time to reflect on recent events, including the Rewind 2018 debacle. The widely derided recap of YouTube’s year is the site’s most-disliked video with almost 16 million thumbs down ratings, and even Wojcicki’s own kids thought it stunk.

“[One] record we definitely didn’t set out to break was the most disliked video on the Internet,” she wrote in her latest letter to creators, “Even at home, my kids told me our 2018 Rewind was ‘cringey.’ We hear you that it didn’t accurately show the year’s key moments, nor did it reflect the YouTube you know. We’ll do better to tell our story in 2019.”

Wojcicki said she has three priorities for this year: “supporting creator and artist success; improving communication and engagement; and living up to our responsibility.” To that end, one of YouTube’s goals for this year is improving monetization for both advertisers and creators. Meanwhile, Wojcicki revealed that YouTube Studio will be available to all creators this year, and noted YouTube Music and YouTube Premium are both now available in 29 countries.

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‘Battlefield V’ didn’t sell as well as EA hoped it would

‘Battlefield V’ didn’t sell as well as EA hoped it would


DICE/EA

Video game sales were particularly cutthroat last holiday, and it appears EA’s Battlefield V was one of the casualties. The publisher lowered the outlook for its revenue this quarter after revealing that its sales in the last quarter of 2018 “did not perform to our expectations.” While it didn’t explicitly blame BFV for the shortfall, that was undoubtedly the company’s flagship game — it otherwise relied on sports titles and the mobile-only Command & Conquer Rivals. The firm wasn’t shy about acknowledging “intense competition” as a factor.

It’s not too hard to see why BFV would have struggled. EA delayed the release to November 20th, and left the the much-hyped battle royale mode out of the game until the spring. It missed out on a lot of potential sales as a consequence. And of course, it faced stiff opposition from the likes of Red Dead Redemption 2 and Call of Duty: Black Ops 4. If you had a tight budget during the holidays, you might have passed on BFV simply because you found other games more alluring. Fortnite‘s enduring popularity didn’t help, either. Why buy another multiplayer shooter if Fortnite is consuming much of your free time?

EA does have things to look forward to at the start of 2019 between the imminent launch of Anthem and the early success of Respawn’s Apex Legends, which racked up 2.5 million unique players (600,000 concurrent players) within a day. It also teased a “premium” Titanfall experience later in the year with a “twist” on what you’re used to. With that said, the lower outlook suggests EA wants to temper enthusiasm until it knows there’s something to cheer about.

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That’s probably not Samsung’s foldable phone

That’s probably not Samsung’s foldable phone

Showcasing an array of Samsung innovations that haven’t happened yet, a video reportedly posted then pulled by Samsung Vietnam showed a foldable phone in use. Around the 23-second mark, a woman unfurls a folding Galaxy phone minus the unwieldy casing we saw on Samsung’s Infinity Flex display revealed at SDC 2018.

Both the Galaxy S10 series and… whatever Samsung titles its debut foldable phone are meant to appear at Samsung’s Unpacked event scheduled for February 20th. So an accidental leak a few weeks before might not shock. But I’m not sure this is it.

To start with, this Samsung promotional reel seems to spread itself across several (seemingly fictional) innovations — Interactive giant displays! Ultrasonic phone peripherals! Tattooing robot arms! — none of which exist or are likely to appear any year soon. The folding phone only gets a brief showing of a few seconds, which seems out of place if it’s the only device that’s actually going to happen any time soon.

Also, why does the front-facing screen stay on once the internal, ever-so-foldable, display lights up? That doesn’t make sense, strengthening the case that this is no more than some glossy conceptual eye-candy.

Samsung first showed off its foldable phone concept way back in 2013 — I wrote this. Titled the Youm, it was also given the razzle-dazzle of a concept video, despite the fact that the device has taken over six years to approach consumers’ hands.

Whatever the device is, however, matches the teaser phone we saw from Samsung last year, which paired an internal 7.3-inch foldable display with a more typical 4.6-inch screen on the front. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’m just a giant sceptic. For now, we’ll have to wait three more weeks to see if I’m wrong.

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Panasonic S1 and S1R hands-on: Feature-packed full-frame cameras

Panasonic S1 and S1R hands-on: Feature-packed full-frame cameras

Panasonic has officially barged into the full-frame mirrorless fight by launching two new cameras. The S1 is a 24.2-megapixel camera mainly targeting video shooters, while the 47.3-megapixel S1R is for portrait, landscape and other types of high-resolution photography. They looked promising when we saw them at Photokina last year, but there was still a lot we didn’t know. Now we not only have the full picture, but I’ve had a chance to handle the cameras for the better part of a day.

The new models beat their rivals from Sony, Nikon and Canon in several ways, especially when it comes to stabilization and 4K video. As it stands now, they look like very competent models that will make your full-frame mirrorless buying decision that much harder — if it wasn’t hard enough already.

Gallery: Panasonic S1 and S1R full-frame mirrorless cameras | 14 Photos

Panasonic built the cameras with a lot of input from its stable of pro photographers and video shooters. “It’s designed to stay out of the way and let you do your work,” Panasonic told Engadget. “We want to minimize moving your hand on the camera body, keep your eye to the viewfinder and help you stay involved in what you’re doing.”

That starts with the grip and materials. The grip is one of the largest out there, even bigger than the one on Canon’s EOS R. It’s very easy to handle, and there’s no way I’m going to accidentally drop this, even with a huge lens attached. Panasonic also paid close attention to button placement and even how each button feels, so you don’t hit the wrong one. I’m pretty familiar with Panasonic’s GH5 layout and felt right at home with the new models.

Videographers will be happy to see microphone and headphone ports, and there’s also a USB Type C port for data and charging. Battery life is rated at 360 shots, but Panasonic said that real-world performance should be better. Still, as with other full-frame mirrorless models, you’ll need to carry around more batteries than you would with a DSLR, which negates some of the weight advantages.

Panasonic S1 and S1R full-frame mirrorless cameras

Panasonic did one better than its rivals by building the S1 and S1R with two memory card slots. Weirdly, one is SD UHS type II and one is XQD, so you’ll need to carry two types of cards, but at least you can have a backup. That will be a bit awkward, though, because XQD is a lot faster than UHS II, with max speeds at 440 MB/s compared to 300 MB/s. That differential will get even larger when Panasonic adds support for 1,400 MB/s CFexpress cards in a future firmware update.

The S1 has better low-light capability, especially when shooting video. The normal ISO range is 100 to 51,200, or 50 to 102,400 in expanded mode. The S1R maxes out at 25,600 in regular mode or 51,200 expanded. Panasonic said it listened to concert and other event photographers and was obviously confident about the low-light capabilities of the new cameras.

If you need more resolution for landscape and other static images, there’s a high-resolution mode that takes multiple, slightly offset photos of the same scene. It delivers 96-megapixel images for the S1, while the S1R can shoot incredibly detailed images at 187 megapixels, equivalent to 16,736 x 11,168 pixels. The best part is that it works even handheld, thanks to the image stabilization system, and can eliminate blurring for things like trees blowing in the wind.

During my testing, I tried multiple indoor shooting scenarios in bars and other dim-light situations, and the cameras, especially the S1, performed very well at ISOs all the way up to 12,800 and even beyond. I was only able to evaluate JPEG image quality as RAW files aren’t yet supported by image-editing apps. However, colors appeared accurate and the images have very little noise even at high ISO settings. With 47.3-megapixels of resolution, the S1R obviously produces very sharp images and very large file sizes at the highest settings.

Gallery: Panasonic S1 and S1R image gallery | 13 Photos

Rather than building an all-new mount, like Nikon and Canon did, Panasonic joined forces with Leica and used its L-Mount system. It’s bigger than Sony’s full-frame FE mount, which will help engineers build fast, compact lenses.

The larger mount also leaves more room for the in-body stabilizer (IS). Panasonic managed to get 5.5 stops of shake correction or six with a compatible lens. That means you can shoot with much lower shutter speeds, like at 1/8th of a second instead of 1/60th, for instance. That’s equal to what the GH5 can do, but not quite as good as the G9’s system. Still, it was apparently quite a feat, considering that the sensor is four times larger. Panasonic said the IS system on the S1/S1R is quadruple the size of the one on the GH5, which is one reason the new cameras are bigger and heavier.

I haven’t got the smoothest handling skills, but the stabilizer managed to give me in-focus shots at shutter speeds all the way down to about 1/8th of a second. As for video, I found shots to be usable even when I was walking down the street. With a bit of practice, I think it could even be used instead of a true stabilizer in a pinch.

Panasonic also introduced a new stabilization feature that makes you wonder why nobody did it before. It overlays the IS status on a scope on the viewfinder or display, showing how much if you’re moving off center. The idea is to help you improve your handheld technique to get smoother video or less blurry photos.

A small dot moves in the middle of two concentric circles, showing how much you’re jerking the camera around. If you can keep it inside the circles, it means the stabilizer can move far enough to smooth out your movements. If you move outside of them, then it has hit the edge of its travel, and you’re going to see a jolt if you’re shooting video, or a blurry photo. Having a visual clue as to what the stabilizer is doing makes it far less of a “black box” and more of a tool you can control.

Panasonic S1 and S1R image stabilization scope

The OLED viewfinder is incredible. It’s the highest-resolution model out there, with 5.7 million dots and a 120Hz refresh rate. As I found while using it, this tech pretty much destroys any remaining arguments for using an optical viewfinder. The extra resolution is brighter and clearer than anything an optical display can do and shows the exact results you’ll be recording. To me, the colors seemed accurate, and the optics on the EVF are excellent — in short, everything I’ve been hoping that an EVF could be.

The rear triaxial screen can be tilted right and left, but not all the way around so selfie shooters and vloggers can see themselves. That’s a pretty odd decision, considering that the GH5/GH5s has a sweet, fully articulating screen. My guess is that Panasonic wants to keep that tech for its pro-level Micro Four Thirds cameras to preserve the market for them.

At first, I was disappointed that Panasonic stuck with its contrast-detect “depth from defocus” (DFD) AF system. In my experience, it’s not as fast as the phase-detect systems on Sony’s A7 series and Canon’s Dual Pixel mirrorless cameras. It’s also proven to be not as good for video, as contrast detect systems tend to “hunt” unpleasantly before locking on to focus.

However, it’s the same DFD system used on the GH5/GH5s, and after a recent update, the performance on those cameras was much improved, with far less, if any, focus hunting. Panasonic is using an AI system and said that it will allow the autofocus system to improve over time.


Image taken with Panasonic S1R
Steve Dent/Engadget

Focus is rapid (though not as rapid as Sony’s A7 III), with a lock-on time of just 0.08 seconds, and you can shoot up to 9 fps with continuous autofocus. The buffer can handle up to 40 RAW shots, or 90 if you use the faster XQD slots.

Panasonic set up a few shooting scenarios, including several bar scenarios, static food and some studio scenes complete with lights. While it locked on to focus most of the time, it occasionally lost track of faces, eyes and bodies, though once it had locked on to a subject, it tended to stay with it persistently.

As for video, the autofocus seemed slower than on Panasonic’s GH5 Micro Four Thirds cameras, though hunting was minimal to non-existent. Video face-tracking was again not quite as quick and accurate as on the GH5. Overall, the system was not bad, but lagging behind Sony’s powerful eye AF system. However, these cameras aren’t final production models and don’t have final firmware, so we’ll reserve judgment for a full review.

Video is where the S1 and S1R are most different from each other. The specifications of both cameras are a bit complicated, so bear with me here. Suffice to say, you’ll get very powerful video capabilities, especially with the S1.

Both cameras can shoot 4K at up to 60 fps, and 1080p at 180 fps. That’s almost to the level of the Sony A7 III and GH5, both of which can also shoot HD at 240 fps. The S1 can handle 30 fps 4K with no cropping and a full pixel readout. However, you’ll have to settle for an APS-C crop when shooting 4K at 60 fps on that model.

On the S1R, you can shoot all the way up to 4K 60p with no cropping. However, both video modes introduce line skipping, so 4K video is not quite as sharp as the S1. To get a full pixel readout, you’ll need to use APS-C cropping for all 4K modes.

The S1R is limited to 8-bit video, both internally and externally, and always will be. However, the S1 can handle V-log and 10-bit video, thanks to the sensor’s superior noise and color handling. You can shoot 4:2:0 10-bit video internally and 4:2:2 10-bit via the HDMI port.

Panasonic has promised it’ll eventually shoot 4:2:2 10-bit video internally via a firmware update like the GH5 can. That update will reportedly not be free, but there’s no word yet how much it’ll cost. Unfortunately, the cameras won’t get ProRes RAW recording, a feature that offers much higher video quality and recently came to Nikon’s Z-Mount cameras.

Panasonic S1 and S1R full-frame mirrorless cameras

In my brief time with both cameras, I’m optimistic about their video capabilities. The video looks crisp with rich colors, especially on the S1 model, and is capable of very shallow depths of field thanks to the larger sensor. If Panasonic can bring the capabilities up to the level of the GH5 and GH5s, this camera could be the full-frame mirrorless camera to beat for video.

Alongside the cameras, Panasonic has introduced three lenses, and much like Canon’s models, they’re very expensive. The 50mm f/1.4 is $2,299, though Panasonic called it a “reference” model and claims it’s the highest quality full-frame 50mm lens you can get, period. The other models are the $1,699 70-200mm f/4 pro, and the $1,299 24-105mm f/4 pro. Suffice to say, this glass is costly — the 50mm f/1.4 is the same price as Canon’s 50mm f/1.2 model, which is in another class, optically speaking.

With the S1 and S1R, Panasonic has gotten off to a better start than Canon and Nikon. They’re loaded with features like in-body stabilization, dual card slots and 10-bit video, which are missing on rival models. Panasonic jammed as much tech as it could into them, and based on my limited first impression, they seem to perform just as well as they look.

However, at $2,499 ($3,399 with the 24-105mm f/4 lens), the S1 is a bit more expensive than the Nikon Z6, Canon EOS R and Sony A7 III. Given the impressive capabilities and huge sensor, though, it will be a no-brainer for many professional videographers. The lack of a fully articulating display is a bummer for vloggers, but otherwise, it’s the most capable full-frame mirrorless camera for video.

The S1R is a bit more of a question mark. At $3,699 ($4,599 with the 24-105mm f/4 lens), it’s a tough sell against the cheaper $3,199 Sony A7R III and $3,299 Nikon D850, its closest rivals. It has more resolution, no low-pass filter and a superior stabilization system, but the autofocus doesn’t work as well so far.

Perhaps pricing is the main flaw with these new cameras. It’s not that much higher than Sony, Canon and Nikon’s devices, but when you add in the lenses, you’re looking at a lot of cheddar. The full-frame mirrorless market is suddenly very saturated, and there are only so many folks with $3,000 or more to spend on a camera system. Both cameras go on pre-order today, with availability by early April.

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Mastering Jenga taught this robot real-world physics

Mastering Jenga taught this robot real-world physics


MIT

Artificial intelligence is already better than humans at video games, quiz shows and an ancient Chinese board game. Next up, the bots are coming for Jenga. In a newly-published paper, scientists from MIT describe how they taught a robot real-world physics and a practical sense of touch by unleashing it on the tricky tower-building game. Why Jenga? Because unlike purely cognitive games that rely on visual cues, such as chess or Go, Jenga “requires mastery of physical skills such as probing, pushing, pulling, placing and aligning pieces,” claims MIT’s Prof Alberto Rodriguez.

The robot (equipped with force sensors and cameras) immediately began prodding and poking the Jenga blocks using its two-pronged arm. It’s a task that looks easy on the surface but, as the game gets progressively harder, can cause a sweat-inducing panic in players.

Around 300 pushes down the line, the bot developed a physics model of the world. “The robot builds clusters and then learns models for each of these clusters, instead of learning a model that captures absolutely everything that could happen,” said the paper’s lead author, Nima Fazeli.

This practical approach differs from the norm, whereby scientists train a neural network by feeding it troves of data. And, as we’ve seen recently, researchers are even ditching real-world interactions and turning to virtual simulations to train larger droids.

For now, the robot is only playing by itself. Its creators claim its newfound dexterity marks a significant step forward for robotic manipulation of real-world objects. The breakthrough could result in industrial machines that are less clumsy. In the future, the same arm could move beyond miniature blocks to building cars and furniture in factories and warehouses.

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GoPro Plus now offers unlimited uncompressed video storage

GoPro Plus now offers unlimited uncompressed video storage

When GoPro launched Plus — it’s subscription service for cloud storage — it was a modest offering. For $5 a month, you could store a bunch of your photos and videos online, access a library of music to use in your edits, and a get a 20 percent discount on accessories. Early last year, the company added a new benefit — a no questions asked camera replacement scheme and bumped photo storage to unlimited. Today, the company extends that unlimited feature to video, and importantly at native resolution (i.e. 4K videos won’t be compressed at all).

Unlimited video and photo storage, without any downgrading of quality, should be a crowd pleaser for many GoPro users. Google has offered unlimited storage on Photos and video for some time, but only if you let its algorithm compress your images (for anything above 16MP or FHD), otherwise you have to pay up to keep things in their original quality. Photos is part of Google’s broader “One” offering, which makes pricing that specific part of the service hard (it starts at $20 per year for an extra 100GB, which includes Gmail storage among other things).

While Plus’ $5 a month might see you pass Google’s $20 per year pretty quickly (and remember, that’s not unlimited), GoPro is also boosting the discount on accessories from 20, to 50 percent (not on everything, but at least 85 percent of the catalog). This means if you spent $60 on new mounts, you’d likely have made a saving equivalent to the year’s Plus subscription.

GoPro Plus

The unlimited storage also only applied to photos and videos taken with your GoPro. You won’t be able to use it with the camera roll on your phone, for example. That said, if you make an edit in Quik and mix GoPro footage with video from your phone, that will qualify as part of the unlimited offering.

Beyond general storage, product replacements and discounted gear, Plus is something of a Trojan horse for GoPro. As a hardware company, it’s been successful (if not without hiccups). But, as the saying goes “hardware is hard.” GoPro’s mobile and editing apps are free, so Plus is the company’s chance to grow into the service business. Ever had an auto-generated video from Google Photos? Company founder and CEO, Nick Woodman, told Engadget “You can imagine where we can go with the value adds when our customers are uploading their content to the clouds,” indicating that Plus is likely to grow into a fully-featured service for automated editing of clips and more.

Subscription services offer hardware companies a vital second stream to expand without making costly (or risky) bets on new gear. The last figures GoPro shared, Plus had 185,000 paying subscribers, a figure the company is no doubt eager to grow. The new GoPro Plus rolls out globally today, but the camera replacement scheme remains a US-only perk at this time.

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Sky adds offline viewing to Now TV app for iPhone and iPad

Sky adds offline viewing to Now TV app for iPhone and iPad


Now TV

Now TV, the UK video streaming service owned by Sky that lets users purchase premium channels, has added offline downloading to its iOS app. The update brings it up to speed with its parent’s Sky Go service, giving customers the option to download films and shows to watch on the go. However, the feature doesn’t currently appear to be on the Now TV app for Android. We’ve reached out to Sky for more information and will update this article with its response.

The company previously announced that offline downloads would be available before the end of 2018, but that never materialized. There’s also no mention of the launch on its official social media channels. Sky previously told T3 that the feature would allow customers to watch content from the premium Sky Cinema, Hayu and Entertainment passes, with a download icon signalling the available content on the Now TV app. Users will then reportedly have 30 days to watch their saved shows or movies.

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T-Mobile’s Metro is launching a ‘snackable’ video service in February

T-Mobile’s Metro is launching a ‘snackable’ video service in February


Joe Scarnici/Getty Images for Pandora Media Inc.

T-Mobile didn’t launch a TV service in 2018, but it will have a little something up its sleeve in the near future. In the wake of a rumor from Cheddar, video provider Xumo has confirmed that it’s partnering with the carrier’s prepaid Metro brand on a “snackable content app” that would launch on two smartphones in February. The original rumor had named Xumo, but claimed that the product was closer to a TV service and that it would be pre-installed on multiple Samsung phones.

Xumo’s mobile channels currently include a handful of major outlets like Bloomberg, CBSN, Fox Sports, and NBC News as well as a legion of independents and niche stations, including Cheddar, Time and Funny or Die. From the description, however, it sounds like Metro’s app might not have the same lineup and may focus more on video on demand.

Whatever’s involved, this won’t really be a direct competitor to Verizon’s (Engadget’s parent company) defunct Go90 service or AT&T’s WatchTV. It’s more likely to represent a complement to existing Metro bonuses like Amazon Prime and Google One memberships — a little something extra to attract on-the-fence customers. Even so, it is a reminder that T-Mobile is still interested in video and has more ambitious plans in the works.

Verizon owns Engadget’s parent company, Oath (formerly AOL). Rest assured, Verizon has no control over our coverage. Engadget remains editorially independent.

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The online conference that might change video games for good

The online conference that might change video games for good

Language is a tool, and just like any tool, it has equal capacity to inflict both good and bad on the world. Language is a beautiful, human thing; the connective tissue that transfers culture, knowledge and critical information across borders and generations. It’s also a means of segregation and detachment, erecting invisible walls among neighbors and strangers alike, impeding coexistence on a global scale.

It’s that second function — the divisive one — that inspired developer Rami Ismail and voice actor Sarah Elmaleh to produce a conference for game creators that removes language as a barrier to entry. Gamedev.world is billed as the first truly global online games conference, with plans to host 48 hours of expert panels and live Q&A sessions on Twitch, YouTube and Mixer, translated in real-time into English, Japanese, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, Arabic and Simplified Chinese. (French and Hindi are under consideration, too.) It’s all scheduled to take place later this year.

“If games can be played by anyone, and made by anyone, we want to make sure everyone feels like they truly belong here,” Ismail told Engadget. “Speaking to someone in a language they understand seems like a good start.”

Gamedev.world speakers will hail from across the globe and they’ll give talks in their native tongues, while the conference itself will be accessible for anyone with an internet connection and a viewing device, potentially opening up the industry to underserved communities. The actual process of game development is largely homogeneous no matter where the programming actually takes place, but as Ismail explained it, context matters.

For example, he said English-speaking developers inherently understand the language of games. Game code uses words like “if,” “then,” “while” and “for” — common for anyone who knows English.

“If you don’t, these are abstract ideas and you don’t know what you’re typing besides what it does,” Ismail said. “If you use the Latin alphabet, you can modify that with a ton of work, but if you use, say, Cyrillic or Arabic, that’s often not an option because our existing technology wasn’t built on it.”

It doesn’t all come down to language, though. Developers outside of the major game-making hubs — the United States, Europe, Japan, Canada — often face obstacles that mainstream developers never have to consider.


Engare
Mahdi Bahrami

“If you’re an Iranian game developer, you can’t use American payment processing services because of the sanctions — so despite your incredible game, you can’t sell it using PayPal or on any of the larger stores,” Ismail said. “If you’re African or South American, importing a dev kit is cost-prohibitive because the major companies often don’t have headquarters there. In some places, the power might cut out for weeks at an end. In other places, getting access to the games press is practically impossible due to language difficulties, or access to the games events is impossible due to visas or language.”

It’s not impossible to create games in these regions, but it can be hard. Independent Iranian developer Mahdi Bahrami infused his 2017 geometric puzzle game, Engare, with Persian text and Islamic art, and it’s won a handful of awards. South African studio Nyamakop launched Semblance on the Switch last year — it was the first South African game (and essentially the first African game, period) to ever hit a Nintendo console.

“The entry curve into being an indie game developer in South Africa is like a cliff face,” Nyamakop co-founder Ben Myres told Engadget at E3 2018. He said there were no resources, events or even contacts for developers in the region he called home, so Myres and his partner were forced to travel for months at a time. They added the cost of flights, food and lodging to their meager indie budget, not to mention all the lost development hours they undoubtedly racked up.


Semblance
Nyamakop

“You can make a game everywhere, but that’s about it,” Ismail said. “We want to change that last point: No matter where you are, your economical situation, your legal status, or what language you speak, we want there to be a games conference you can go to, learn from, and contribute to.”

The goal of Gamedev.world is to help diversify, not divide, the video game industry. It’s not a new mission for Ismail, who is one half of indie studio Vlambeer, and a creator of Ridiculous Fishing, Super Crate Box and Nuclear Throne. The idea for a language-agnostic, global games conference actually took off in 2015 with the first “gamedev.world” showcase at the Games For Change festival in New York City. Ismail and Sarah Elmaleh, best known as the voice of Katie in Gone Home, organized that initial showing, too.

It goes even farther back than that, for Ismail. He said he grew up between two cultures, Dutch and Egyptian, and he remembered falling in love with video games as a kid, regularly playing as an English-speaking man shooting aliens, monsters or distinctly Arab-looking enemies.

“Why was the Arabic in all the games set in the Arab world wrong?”

“It honestly didn’t bother me too much back then — I was a kid that got to play games — but when I started making games it started to bother me,” Ismail said. “Where were these other games? Wouldn’t it make sense that there’d be games that were the other way around? And why was the Arabic in all the games set in the Arab world wrong?”

These questions pestered Ismail more and more as he found success as an indie developer. He quickly realized the enormous influence that games could have over a culture, since they could connect with anyone, anywhere, through the magic of play. Playful activities, like kicking a ball back and forth with someone, didn’t require words, Ismail said. The video game complex could have been an inclusive field where people from different backgrounds communicated through the basics of play, but as it turned out, industry standards excluded a lot of developers and perpetuated stereotypes in the process.

“The best way to fix that seems to be to fix whatever structural and accidental boundaries might be in the way of more diverse creators,” Ismail said. “If game development is possible everywhere, what is stopping some territories and cultures from adding their voice to a language-less medium?”

“[It’s] a production effort the size of a large multinational broadcast, not a small team of game developers.”

Gamedev.world is an attempt to even out the playing field for aspiring developers anywhere on Earth. It’s a complicated undertaking rife with unforeseen issues and unconscious biases, so Ismail and Elmaleh have tapped a handful of collaborators to serve as an advisory board for the show. These include Brazilian developer and Pro Indie Dev founder Gabriel Dal Santo, The Molasses Flood founder Gwen Fey from the US, and Tunisian Global Game Jam board member Houssem Ben Amor.

“The scale of Gamedev.world is far larger than the Gamedev.world team could have predicted,” Ismail said. “Creating dependable, multi-language closed captioning, live, is a production effort the size of a large multinational broadcast, not a small team of game developers.”

Ismail and Elmaleh are moving ahead with Gamedev.world anyway. It’ll be hard — but so is game development, especially for folks outside of the major industry hubs.

“As I traveled the entire globe for the past decade, I’ve met game developers in the most incredible circumstances, in impossible contexts,” Ismail said. “Knowing how much effort game development takes in a country as cozy, organized, consistent, and safe as the Netherlands has given me so much respect for developers in places that might not have those privileges – these developers love games with a passion, or they’d find something easier and more welcoming to do.”

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