gadgets

10 things you need to know about the Dolby Atmos home theatre system

The Dolby Atmos system has been creating a 3D aural experience in theatres since June 2012. Now the company that brought us surround sound is bringing its object-based audio experience into the home and on mobile devices.

The weird thing about audio is that it’s incredibly important to film, but when done well you don’t even notice. You’ve probably already heard Dolby’s Atmos technology in movies like Star Trek Into the Darkness or the best film of the Summer, Guardians of Galaxy. But when you do notice what’s going on with the audio, it’s spectacular.

So Atmos is coming to your TV and phone, but what does it mean exactly? We’ve broken down how Atmos will change home theatre and mobile audio and what it means for you and your ears.

What is it?

The Dolby Atmos system places speakers above the audience. But it’s more than just shoving a few speakers in the ceiling. The actual Atmos system lets film makers place sound elements in a 3D space. With 5.1 and 7.1 systems, when you want to create the illusion that someone is behind the audience you just throw that sound to those speakers. It’s a speaker based system. With Atmos, instead of pushing a sound to a particular speaker, it’s pushed to a place in a 3D space. For example, to create the illusion of  a helicopter flying overhead the sound engineering doesn’t pick which speaker the sound of the helicopter will come out of. Instead, the engineer picks a point in a 3D space and the Atmos system automatically adjusts the sound coming of the appropriate speaker.

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The tiny white line at the top of the cube represents a helicopter flying in a 3D space. The dots on the left represent the speakers. The subwoofer and two left overhead speakers are enabled at this point. 

The result is an audio experience that pulls the sound up from the ear-level speakers of 7.1 and 5.1 systems. With Atmos it sounds like water is falling on a canopy above you in a scene with a storm. When something goes whizzing by your ears it “feels” like it’s actually happening in the theatre. You can hear the system in action in Atmos-certified theatres with recent movies like Guardians of the Galaxy, Star Trek Into the Darkness and The Life of Pi.

How does is work in my house?

0817 dolby1 730x456 10 things you need to know about the Dolby Atmos home theatre system

An A/V receiver with an Atmos renderer first takes a room calibration. During that initial setup, the space is mapped out to best create an audio 3D landscape. Whether you use the Atmos-enabled ceiling mounted speakers or Atmos-enabled speakers that point up and bounce the sound off the ceiling, it’s the same result and it recreates the same 3D audio environment found in certified theatres.

How does it work on Mobile?

A hardware encoder in a mobile device takes Atmos-certified content and recreates the object-oriented soundscape with your headphones. Fortunately, you won’t need to buy new headphones, but because it’s simulating the sound coming from speakers above your head, it’s not as impressive as the home theatre system. Still, it sounded pretty cool in the demo.

Do I need to buy stuff?

Yes. For the home you’ll need a new Atmos-enabled receiver with a renderer that takes the meta-data found in audio of supporting movies and pushes it to not only to the ceiling speakers, but also the rest of your home theatre speakers. You’ll also need to purchase at least two new Atmos-enabled speakers.

Screen Shot 2014 08 17 at 11.18.38 PM 220x175 10 things you need to know about the Dolby Atmos home theatre systemIf you’re the kind of person who enjoys drilling holes in your ceiling,  you can buy overhead stand-alone speakers. For the rest of us, you can purchase either new surround-sound speakers that have speakers on top that point at the ceiling. Or, you can buy module speakers that sit atop the speakers you already own. Dolby says you’ll need a minimum of two of these ceiling-facing speakers, but suggests four speakers or modules for optimal sound. If you’re already buying the new receiver, you might as well get all four speakers.

As for Blu-ray and streamers, as long as the device supports Dolby Digital Plus and can pass that information to the receiver, you won’t need to buy a new device. Most new Blu-ray players support the standard. Just make sure to enable bit-stream out. The current Roku, Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV all support Dolby Digital pass through.

What about for mobile?

For mobile, you can either buy a tablet or smartphone with a hardware Atmos renderer inside. There’s nothing on the market right now, but Dolby did say that software companies could license the technology to put in their apps. So you might be able to enjoy Atmos on your current smartphone in the future.

What content is available?

There are over 150 Atmos-enabled movies. In addition to the movies mentioned above, The Hobbit trilogy, Brave, Gravity, Ender’s Game, Frozen, Pacific Rim, and the upcoming Avengers: Age of Ultron are all Atmos-mixed movies. Of course, the studios need to release a home-video version of those movies with Atmos audio enabled in order for the home theatre system to create the same soundscape at home. Fortunately, the same mix used for a theatre can be used at home. So it’s really just a matter of updating the audio mix.

Will there be streaming options?

That’s up to Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and the rest of the companies that stream video to our homes. According to Dolby, a 5.1 audio stream takes up 384kKbps and an stream with Atmos meta-data takes up the same space. So all studios need to do is give the Netflix’s and Hulu’s of the world a new audio stream for their movies. Netflix told TNW it has “no plans at present” and Hulu and Amazon haven’t replied to our queries yet. But if Atmos gains wide adoption, expect them all to support the audio feature in the future.

When can I buy this stuff?

A majority of the gear will be available this fall in time for holiday shopping. This includes speakers, speaker modules and receivers from company’s like Denon, Integra, Marantz, Onkyo, Pioneer, and Yamaha. There’s even an all-in-one home theatre set coming from Onkyo.

As for mobile devices, that’s a tougher call. But I wouldn’t be surprised if Amazon Kindle Fire tablet refresh this fall includes Atmos support. The Kindle Fire line has been powered by Dolby technology for two years and frankly it’s made the tablets (and Fire Phone) sound spectacular.

How much?

The Onkyo all-in-one system will set you back $899 and the prices just climb up from there.

Worth it?

If you’re a movie buff and early adopter with a pile of cash lying around, it’s worth checking out the system. It’ll never sound as nice as the theatre, but it’s pretty damn close. But like all technologies the prices will drop as the market matures.

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Dash’s Smart Driving App Arrives On iPhone

The Dash smart driving assistant that made its debut earlier this year on Android has launched on iPhone answering one of the most frequently heard requests from its users. The Dash app, which is backed by Techstars New York, connects to any ODB-II dongle that you can get for your car (most cars made since 1996 should have one that’s easily accessible) providing feedback about your trips like fuel efficiency and even info about vehicle diagnostics.

The on-board diagnostic (ODB) port on modern cars is something that is typically only used by mechanics, mainly when they’re trying to determine the reason behind warning lights that signal potential engine or other car problems. Dash plugs into that available data trove, connecting to an ODB dongle that has Bluetooth connectivity (which are available on Amazon starting as low as $10).

I’ve been using Dash with my vehicle for a while now, and it adds a lot to the driving experience. It can tell you what’s wrong with your car if a light activates on the dash, for instance, but it can also tell you how much it should cost to fix that problem at a reasonable rate, including a breakdown of parts vs. labor, and it can even let you turn the light off.

Dash also rates your trips, based on fuel efficiency and measures of driving skill, including how aggressively you’re braking. After each trip, the app will provide feedback about how you could’ve improved your score, which means increasing the energy and cost efficiency of your driving, and prolonging the life of your brake pads and engine parts. Other features include locating nearby gas stations and prices, as well as road emergencies and mechanics, all without having to leave the app.

Other startups have tackled this kind of ‘Fitbit for cars’ product, including Automatic, which also pairs its software with a proprietary ODB dongle called the Link. Dash’s app gives users flexibility on the hardware side in terms of what kind of money they’re willing to spend, however, and beyond that, its design is top-notch and already feels at home on iOS despite its Android debut.

Dash is optimized for U.S. use as of right now, and available only on the U.S. iTunes Store, but it’s a great (and free) solution for those looking to keep better track of their driving habits, either in order to optimize their automotive experience or just for curiosity’s sake.

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Pour Your Pellets Into The Sculptify David For Some 3D Printing

Most home 3D printing systems use a few basic tools to build objects. First you have a build plate and an extruder. A motor pulls plastic filament through a heated nozzle and squeezes it out, slowly but surely creating layer after layer until you have a 3D-printed Pokemon knock-off. But specialized filament is comparatively expensive, and the raw resource from which it’s made, plastic pellets, isn’t. That’s where the
Sculptify David
comes in.

Created by Columbus, Ohio, natives Todd Linthicum and Slade Simpson, this 3D printer reduces the cost of 3D printing by allowing users to use cheap pellets instead of expensive custom filament. This means you could feasibly use all sorts of materials, from nylon to plastic to wood-based pellets, to print.

“We have been using 3D printers for some time now, and have realized how powerful the technology is/can be. But both the printers and materials themselves have insanely inflated prices – six figures for some printers, and hundreds of dollars for a couple kilograms of material,” said Simpson. “Our main philosophy at Sculptify is that for 3D printing to become a truly useful and viable technology, material options have to expand, and material costs have to decrease – not every plastic product in your life is made out of PLA, especially at $48/.9kg.”
Multi-Example
The team will launch the project on August 20 but they’re planning on selling early bird units for $2,745, a pretty penny but still within the range of standard 3D printers. They’ve created a pre-sale page where users can sign up to be notified when the product is for sale.

Why pellets? Simpson explains:

Pellets offer many distinct advantages, with more material options, higher material quality, and reduced material cost, being the most primary. Basically every plastic product in the world starts out in pellet form, so they are widely available in hundreds of different grades, materials, and colors. Also,since David eliminates the need for spools of filament, materials no longer need to be optimized for a spool – just poured into our system.

You could feasibly use any color plastic in the machine and even use multiple kinds of plastic. The print bed is heated so you can print ABS and other chemical plastics, as well as starch-based PLA and other composites. Does this make it better than any other 3D printer on the market? Potentially, if it means you can print more materials more easily.

The founders were Mechanical Engineering majors who worked at major automotive companies in the past. They’ve been working on David for most of the year and are ready to start mass producing in Ohio.

“We want to start a business, not make quick money off of a project, and we are dedicated to making that happen. We plan to offer sales of production units after our Kickstarter units have shipped,” said Simpson.

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Why The iPhone 6 Will Be The Device Of The Year

iphone6_topic - NOT FOR FEATURED IMAGEApple is gearing up for a big product announcement on September 9, and all indications are that it will be a new iPhone. The iPhone 6, as it’s being called in the press, will deliver a lot of changes over the iPhone 5s, which got relatively modest updates compared to the iPhone 5. It’s also one of the most important device launches Apple has ever had, given how long it’s been since the company unveiled a new marquee product.

As is generally the case, at this point we have a pretty good idea of what’s coming thanks to the rumor mill, which has been in high gear over the past month or so. Whispers suggest we’ll see a larger screen, with a 4.7-inch model launching first and a 5.5-inch model also being unveiled at the same time, but possibly shipping a bit later or in constrained supply.

The large screen and its value to Apple shouldn’t be underestimated. Samsung delivered a commercial recently that attempted to lambaste Apple for having waited so long to deliver a larger display, but in fact it pointed out only that there is now a strong appetite for a larger face on Apple’s smartphone, not that people were eager to jump ship to another device manufacturer in order to get that feature.

But the screen size isn’t the whole story – Apple is also expected to use a new material that offers a lot more durability to protect its display. This will likely be some kind of sapphire composite, and based on leaked videos of durability tests, it should be much better able to withstand both shattering and scratching. This would give Apple a considerable advantage over the rest of the market, which finally mostly uses Gorilla Glass, the material it pioneered with its original iPhone but which it now looks ready to leap beyond.

Apple’s work on both these things, display size and display durability, speak to some of the most sought-after requests of both existing and would-be iPhone buyers. The company will also likely improve the cameras on its devices, and might finally add NFC into the mix, opening the door for a lot more potential when it comes to mobile payments.

Cupertino will deliver all the things that normally encourage their loyal customers and many new ones to jump on board, including improved processor power and performance, but if they can also deliver on some of the fever dreams of iPhone watchers, we’ll see a launch that exceeds any that came before it. The iPhone is currently exhibiting a late-cycle strength that it rarely has before, and anyone who thinks that “just” putting a bigger screen on its flagship device won’t do much to improve its fortunes hasn’t been paying attention – plus, Apple being Apple, they’ll do a lot more besides.

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Runtastic’s $120 Orbit Fitness Tracker Prizes Function And Features Over Fashion

Runtastic is doing the reverse of what many startups are doing these days: it’s going from being a software platform provider to becoming a hardware maker with the Runtastic Orbit fitness tracker. The Orbit is similar in concept and execution to the various trackers from Fitbit, Jawbone and Nike already available, but with a number of features designed to set it apart from the competition. Runtastic succeeds in terms of utility, but this is ultimately a take on wearables that will probably appeal most to existing Runtastic fans or those who aren’t that concerned with the fashion aspects of wearables.

The Orbit boasts an impressive feature list, including a built-in OLED display, vibration feedback, ambient lighting detection, a full week of battery life and waterproofing for up to 300 feet of submersion. It can track steps, distance, calories burned, total active minutes, sleep and it can provide regular inactivity vibration alerts as well as wake up alarms. In the box you get not one but two straps for the Orbit, which is itself a small Fitbit-style pill-shaped device, and a smaller clip for wearing in a less obvious place.

Orbit is comfortable enough to wear, I found, thanks to the soft rubberized material of the band, and its waterproofing means that you never really have to take it off if you don’t want to. Over long periods, however, I wasn’t thrilled about the Orbit’s comfort levels – especially when worn to bed as a sleep tracker. Essentially the Orbit feels more like a watch than some of the other wearables out there, and that meant I generally preferred to take it off overnight than keep it on, despite the gadget’s impressive sleep tracking abilities.

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Runtastic’s companion hardware for the Orbit, Runtastic Me, is well-designed and clearly benefits from their years of experience building health tracking software for mobile devices. The Me app syncs with the Orbit via Bluetooth Smart (so no pairing required) and it lists your steps, active minutes, calories burned, distance and sleep. You can tap on each of these for any given day to drill down and see more about each category displayed in a nicely designed graph, as well as manage your device from the Me app’s settings page.

The Orbit also works with Runtastic’s existing fitness tracking apps, so I was able to use it with Runtastic Pro to track my runs, and as a second screen device that provides feedback throughout your activity. It changes modes when used with the fitness tracking software, and is detected automatically, starting things off with a countdown until your run begins, and then providing you with updates along the way including time elapsed, distance travelled and more. While the feature is currently only available for Runtastic and Runtastic Pro, the company says it will roll out support for Orbit across its suite of software in the future.

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While the Orbit is about as feature-laden as you can get in an activity tracker that’s similar in styling to the Fitbit Flex or Jawbone UP24, in the end it also sports a design that is decidedly uninspiring. The big silver button is handy in terms of using the device easily while you’re running or participating in other activities, but it does little for the overall aesthetics of the device. In the end it seems like design was an afterthought to function and features, which is why this is a great tool for those who want a wearable that offer the most in terms of utility, but not necessarily for those also concerned about fashion.

The Runtastic Orbit is available from the Runtastic Online Store for $119.99, and ships by August 11. In the end it isn’t drastically different from the existing crop of similar devices, but with its easily readable display, feature set and hardware control, it’s a good option for active users looking for something to complement their exercise routine, especially if you’re already a fan of Runtastic’s software and services.

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A leaked document reportedly suggests Amazon is preparing to launch a mobile credit card reader

Amazon is preparing its own mobile credit card reader that could go on sale next month at Staples, 9to5Mac reports, citing internal Staples documents that it has obtained. The “Amazon Card Reader” is said to cost $9.99 and will probably connect to smartphones to carry out payments. The Staples documents show that the company has asked its stores to wait until August 12 to put up new signage related to the card reader.

9to5 Amazon Reader 730x257 A leaked document reportedly suggests Amazon is preparing to launch a mobile credit card reader

News of this card reader comes a few days after Amazon quietly released a new Android and Fire Phone app, Amazon Wallet, that lets you store and organize your gift, reward and loyalty cards — but doesn’t support mobile payments or credit and debit cards.

A card reader would see Amazon come up against Square, which has software and hardware products that make it easier for merchants to accept credit and debit card payments through their mobile devices (Square Register), and which has a mobile credit card reader too.

We have reached out to Amazon and will update with any response provided.

Amazon apparently set to launch Square-competitor in August as it develops biometric payment solutions [9to5Mac]

Thumbnail image via EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images

Bose files copyright infringement suit against Beats concerning noise canceling technology

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Latest iOS 8 Beta Update Includes Tips, An App That Shows Features You Might Miss

iOS tips

Announced last month at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference, iOS 8 slightly refines the look debuted last year while adding a bunch of new features like the ability to interact with notifications, smoothly transition between working on your phone and laptop, and new ways to message people.

Since its announcement, Apple has steadily rolled out these new features and apps in periodic beta releases. As 9to5Mac and other Apple blogs picked up this morning, the latest release includes a new Tips app pointing out features and shortcuts that aren’t immediately apparent, as well as the steps necessary to turn them on or off in settings.

iOS 8 tip

In addition to the app, the company has also launched a web page dedicated to showing off tricks for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. Both the app and site currently show the same tips, like how to respond to an iMessage directly from a notification in iOS 8 or how to use Siri without pushing any buttons.

Both methods of accessing tips also let users leave feedback. The iOS app in the current beta lets you “Like” a tip, while the web page has buttons for “Helpful” or “Not helpful” under each trick.

While there are only six tricks shown at the moment, Apple says that it’ll be adding one per week. At that rate, it should have all of the major new features in iOS 8 covered — assuming the Tips app makes it to the final consumer release this fall.

IMAGE BY Apple (IMAGE HAS BEEN MODIFIED)

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A Microsoft Surface Revenue Bet

After the introduction of the Surface Pro 3, I tweeted that I thought it would do pretty well in the market. I should have clarified that I meant that in the context of prior Surface sales, but I can’t edit tweets after the fact, so here we are.

Valleywag’s Sam Biddle didn’t agree, and so we made a friendly wager on the matter.

Microsoft reports its earnings tomorrow, and will provide a fresh Surface revenue number as part of that release. I’ve confirmed with the company that the specific Surface figure will be broken out, as per usual.

It seems, however, that I somewhat borked myself in the bet. As it turns out, the $500 million figure was rounded. Surface revenue in the last quarter was actually $494 million (this is why you should never 8-K when you can 10-Q). So I skewed the threshold north by depending on a rounded statistic.

Even more, I presumed that all pre-ordered Surface Pro 3s would see their revenue tallied in the fiscal period. Not so. Only revenue from Surface Pro 3s running Intel Core i5 chips will be counted, as systems running i3 and i7 chips shipped after the end of the quarter, and thus their top line will land in Microsoft’s fiscal first quarter (the current calendar quarter). So a large chunk of revenue that I thought existed the quarter we bet on doesn’t. Oops.

So if I could take out a re-bet, I’d lower my Surface revenue forecasts by 25 to 30 percent. Though, when I’m wrong, I like to do it at full speed.

Please accept this post as an oblation for being quite probably overly optimistic.

Original post: A Microsoft Surface Revenue Bet

The Super-M Is A Pocket-Sized Speaker Begging For A Beach Trip

With an abundance of music constantly in the palm of our hand, so too comes an abundance of portable Bluetooth speakers. The NudeAudio Super-M is the latest to join the herd, and the most recent product out of the portable speaker company.

Originally, Nude sold a basic Bluetooth speaker in three sizes: small, medium, and large. The M, the medium-sized version, was the best seller by far and so the team decided to put as much audio power in that form factor as possible.

They’re calling it the Super-M, and it recently went live on Kickstarter and has already more than doubled its $75,000 goal.

They ended up putting four full-range neodymium drivers a device measuring 5.7″ x 3″ x 1.1″. They placed two drivers on each side of the speaker, with each pair getting its own passive radiator. Paired with Bluetooth 4.0 and an eight-hour lithium ion battery, NudeAudio argues that the Super -M beats out the JamBox in performance.

Even better, the Super-M is water- and sand-resistant, meaning you can throw it in your back pocket, take it to the beach, or play around with it on a boat without worrying about a thing.

The Super-M is available for pre-order now for $99. Check it out here.

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Xbox One August update to add new activity feed, mobile purchases, low battery notification, 3D Blu-ray, more

Microsoft today detailed what gamers can expect in the next Xbox One update, which is expected to arrive in August. There are eight additions and changes the company has highlighted: activity feed updates, expanded Friends area on Home, mobile purchases, low battery notification, disable notifications during video, 3D Blu-ray, OneGuide in more countries, and last seen time in Friends list.

First up, the activity feed interface is being changed to a single column scrolling list “that is longer and includes more content.” Gamers will gain the ability to post text to their feed, to “like” and comment on feed items, to share game clips and anything else publicly (to your activity feed) or privately (as an attachment to a message). You’ll also get notifications when anyone likes, comments on, or shares your items.

Furthermore, each user will get a personal feed on their profile, so you can see what specific friends have been up to. SmartGlass will get access to this new feature too: it will you see what your friends have shared to their activity feed and “like” specific posts (additional activity feed features will come in future SmartGlass updates). In short, this is the Facebook News Feed for your Xbox One.

Speaking of what your friends are up to, the friends list will now show how long it’s been since a friend has been online (for example, “Last seen 20m ago: Forza Motorsport 5.”). Furthermore, the Home area is getting an expanded section for friends that shows their current activity, the top trending games they’re playing, and a leaderboard based on everyone’s Gamerscore. This particular feature is being tested under an “extended preview,” so you might not get it as soon as everyone else – Microsoft still plans to “refine it until it’s ready for the entire Xbox One market.”

Next up, mobile purchases are a go. Using Xbox SmartGlass or directly on Xbox.com, you will be able to buy games and add-on content from your mobile device. The best part: if your console is set to automatically take updates, it will begin downloading your purchase even if you’re not home.

The Xbox One is also getting a notification when your controller battery is getting low, the ability to disable notifications during video playback, and 3D Blu-ray support. Finally, the OneGuide is coming to Brazil, Mexico, Austria, and Ireland.

If you have early access to the Xbox One system update, you can expect to get this update “in the next week.” Microsoft says these features are mainly coming from the Xbox Feedback site it launched last month, and there is thus still a lot more to come.

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