Burda brings its global investment fund to Southeast Asia

German media giant Hubert Burda is diving into Southeast Asia’s startup ecosystem after its investment arm opened an office in Singapore.

Burda, founded in 1898, is anchored in print media. Despite publishing more than 250 titles across the world, it has forayed into digital with some success through acquisitions and new business units. Unlike other print giants, its digital businesses account for more than half of its revenue while it has pursued an investment thesis worldwide, which included equity in Etsy.

Now it is expanding its presence in Southeast Asia, where it had initially dipped its toes via a series of deals. Burda is an LP in VC funds Golden Gate Ventures, Jungle Ventures and Kejora Ventures, while it has made direct investments in Medical Departures, Thailand-based price comparison site Priza and Vietnamese search service Coc Coc.

Burda Principal Investments‘ presence in Asia will be led by Albert Shyy, who has joined the firm from GREE, where he led the Japanese gaming company’s investment arm in Southeast Asia and India. In total, the firm has an initial staff of three based in Singapore.

In an interview with TechCrunch, Shyy explained that he is looking to do three to five deals per year, principally around the Series B stage with a minimum check size of around $5 million. The money itself comes from Burda’s global fund, which is not like most others. For a start, Burda is the sole LP while it is “evergreen” — meaning that the company tops it up annually — although its actual size is not disclosed.

That investment focus means Burda will complement the VC funds it invested in, and provide much needed financial firepower for Series B deals in Southeast Asia. Aside from B Capital, started by Singapore-based former Facebook co-founder Eduard Saverin, sources for late stage capital after Series A are harder to find.

 Burda has made its name in media, but Shyy said its investment thesis goes beyond that.

“Media is one focus for us, but because we can be strategy or financial investors there’s more scope,” he explained. “We’re definitely looking at consumer-facing companies — that’s been the preferred space for Burda — we’ve done deals with marketplaces and e-commerce, in particular in Europe, so that’s a model.”

“We would want to target market leaders or those who can show market leadership in their country,” he added, explaining that capital could be used to invest into new verticals or geographies.

Singapore is Burda Principal Investments’ second office worldwide, and its first outside of Germany. Asia isn’t the only expansion on its radar, however. The firm is in the process of opening an office in London over the next few months, while a New York base is in its plans, too.

Build A Better Bottom Line With These Business Techniques

Business leaders who want their organizations to thrive typically spend a great deal of time thinking about how they can improve their bottom line. If this is the case for you, now is the time to think about which business techniques you can implement to generate exceptional conversion rates. Below you’ll find just three of many strategies you can implement to build a better bottom line:

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  1. Utilize Sales Services.

One great business technique you can use to obtain better conversion rates is the use of sales services. These services ensure that you have a team of professionals carefully analyzing your sales ideology and praxis to ensure that you can connect and convert as many members of the target market as possible. Companies like Saleslink are pleased to offer clients an outsourced sales team that can offer a variety of conversion-boosting products and services. Before you agree to do business with any sales company, make sure that you do background research to determine what their qualifications are and how long they’ve been successfully operating.

  1. Optimize Your Advertising Plan.

In addition to utilizing sales services, make sure that you optimize your advertising plan. This approach is important because it ensures that more and more members of your target audience are constantly being exposed to your brand. There are a variety of strategies you can implement to optimize your marketing process. One is by hiring a team of digital advertising specialists. These individuals can implement diverse marketing techniques to assist you. Some of them might include:

-responsive web design

-search engine optimization

-online reputation management

-content marketing

-social media optimization

-web design and development

When you start your search for the ideal digital advertising company, try to locate a firm whose professionals can also offer dynamic public relations services. These services will help ensure that you maintain the type of innovative, identity-building public image that makes your brand appealing to your target market. The optimized visibility and brand recognition will translate into increased sales!

  1. Focus On Staff Development.

Staff development is a must if you’re serious about optimizing your bottom line. When your staff members are knowledgeable, skilled, and confident, they’re much more effective in selling products to prospects and retaining the business of your existing clientele. Luckily, there are hundreds of simple and complex strategies you can deploy to optimize the employee development process. One is hiring a team of business consultants to develop employee surveys and questionnaires that enable you to identify each staff member’s strengths and weaknesses.

Start Optimizing Your Bottom Line Immediately!

If you want to optimize your company’s bottom line, there are at least three strategies you can implement to make it happen. They include utilizing sales services, optimizing your advertising plan, and focusing on staff development. Start using these techniques now so that you can expedite the conversion optimization process!

Ozlo releases a suite of APIs to power your next conversational AI

Building on its promise to give the entrenched a run for their money, conversational AI startup Ozlo is making its meticulously crafted knowledge layer available for purchase today. Ozlo’s new suite of APIs that includes tools for both expressing knowledge and understanding language will help to democratize the creation of conversational AI assistants.

In the spirit of the expert systems of the 1980’s, knowledge graphs are about leveraging massive fact databases to build intelligent AI tools. The problem is that intelligence isn’t just a matter of knowing facts. Though no truly intelligent AI has emerged from well organized information, Google, Microsoft and others have made use of the knowledge graph to reduce the barriers to getting desired information — think of the search widgets that tell you Barack Obama’s age so you don’t have to click on Wikipedia.

But while the knowledge graph has been usurped by natural language understanding as the most prominent part of the typical conversational AI tech stack, it remains a critical layer. Part of the reason for this is that it has become difficult to compete on knowledge because there aren’t many  tools available and developers who choose to start from scratch waste precious time reinventing the wheel.

Ozlo’s probabilistic approach to the knowledge graph simultaneously attempts to make measured technological gains and push the market for knowledge closer to democratization. The tools being released today for developers power Ozlo’s own bot. Ozlo knows over two billion facts, but it can also handle queries for opinionated information — like whether a given restaurant is good for oysters, à la the image below.

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 With greater clarity than ever, Charles Jolley, Ozlo’s CEO, is pushing the company to provide the enabling infrastructure for conversational AI. Ozlo launched its own consumer assistant back in October, but it doesn’t seem like it will be a major part of the company’s growth strategy. Instead, Jolley hopes that Ozlo can monetize its APIs to open up the playing field for companies to build better experiences for their users.

“The important question is how you tie together the data set with machine intelligence to just create a good user experience,” explained John Lilly, partner at Greylock and investor in Ozlo.

The knowledge graph or Data API is being priced by volume. But additionally, Ozlo is making an Intent API available to help developers identify user intent from queries. A third, Converse API, works to preemptively offer responses that mesh with where a conversation is likely headed.

NASA released a ton of software for free and here’s some you should try

NASA has just published its 2017-2018 software catalog, which lists the many apps, code libraries and tools that pretty much anyone can download and use. Of course, most of it is pretty closely tied to… you know, launching spacecraft and stuff, which most people don’t do. But here are a few items that might prove useful to tinkers and curious lay people alike.

If you’re interested in a piece of software, head to the link provided; it should provide the release or license type (some things are limited to the U.S., for instance), a contact you can hit up for more info and sometimes a dedicated site for the app or service.

 

Flying around looking at things, NASA style

Say you’re building a drone or satellite from scratch. I mean, why not? You may want to start with the Consultative Committee for Space Data Systems File Delivery Protocol, a standard tool for getting large files to and from spacecraft. File integrity is sexy.

Once you’ve got the imagery on the ground, you might want to put it through PixelLearn, which lets you set rules about certain pixels and patterns, letting the program automatically find and categorize things like craters, buildings and so on. If it’s fancy multi-spectral imagery, consider snatching the self-explanatory Lossless Hyper-/Multi-Spectral Data Compression Software, as well, and you may also want JPL’s Stereo Vision Software Suite to help set up stereoscopic cameras. Use Video Image Stabilization and Registration to keep things steady under turbulence.

Of course, you’ll have prepared for that turbulence with Cart3D, also known as Automated Triangle Geometry Processing for Surface Modeling and Cartesian Grid Generation. It helps visualize fluid dynamics problems.

When it’s time for the bird to come back to the Earth, the Autonomous Precision Landing Navigation System might come in handy. It combines camera images with elevation maps using methods “employed by cruise missiles for decades,” although you don’t hear a lot about safe landings by cruise missiles.

If you’re putting together a flock of drones or a constellation of satellites, there’s the Formation Flying System for UAVs and Satellites; it’s a mesh communication architecture that lets multiple vehicles (of multiple types) operate in tandem and maintain a formation.

Exploring the planets, NASA style

But perhaps your inclinations lean more toward simulating and exploring the planet and solar system. No worries, NASA has you there, too.

earth-gram

There are Global Reference Atmospheric Models for Earth, Mars, Venus and Neptune. And Titan, for some reason. These models are not toys, but they might help if you’re planning an off-planet excursion and need to know exact pressures and temperatures somewhere. Venus probably hasn’t changed much in the last decade or two but the Earth one has been updated to 2016, the hottest year on record.

For something a little more practical, you might try the NASA Forecast Model Web, which does a bit more of the work for you, or the Worldview Satellite Imagery Browsing and Downloading Tool, which is a way to navigate the tons of Earth imagery coming from NASA satellites. You’ll get the latest shots as early as 4 hours after they’re taken, which is pretty amazing.

sc1024x768HazPop is a full-on iOS app that lets you browse through a constantly updated worldwide database of natural hazards like fires, storms and earthquakes, and combine that with data on populations to determine the number affected, range of people who could come to aid and so on.

If you’re a conspiracy theorist who thinks they can prove the existence of Planet X, Nemesis, the Black Knight or any other crypto-object in the solar system, make it so with SNAP, “an N-body high-fidelity propagation program that can model the trajectories of the planets, the Sun, and virtually any natural satellite in the solar system.” Probably not super easy to learn, though.

Hiring and evaluation, NASA style

Tell HR they’re about to blast off with aerospace-grade hiring practices. First there’s the Integrated Cognitive Assessment Tool: Combining Person, System, and Mission, which tells you whether someone is capable of performing a certain job in space — or in sales.

Then, in order to be sure you’re not hiring a klutz, submit them to the Fine Motor Skills iPad test. It’ll prove they can operate a touchscreen interface without bringing the company down. (In fact, this might be useful for testing prosthetic hands and robotics.)

Never read a cover letter again. Just unleash the Semantic Text Mining and Annotation for Information Extraction and Trend Analysis Tool on the pile of resumes you’ve got waiting for your attention and have it flag any with certain combinations of “social media” and “guru” it might find.

Just kidding, but here are some anyone can actually use

There’s a neat Unity-based Spacewalk game in which you or students can simulate various EVAs conducted by ISS astronauts. You can play it online, on Mac or on PC.

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NASA has a large collection of 3D models, images and textures that you could use for education or personal purposes. All free of charge, naturally.

Glenn Research Center: The Early Years is an iPad app that takes you on a tour of this amazing R&D facility in a bunch of interactive media from between 1941 and 1979.

You can check up on the latest coronal mass ejections and magnetosphere changes with the Space Weather app for Android.

Lastly there’s “Knife, Version 1.0,” which “calculates the boolean subtraction of arbitrary watertight triangular polyhedral in order to make near-field sonic boom predictions.” Admit that you need this in your life.

Be Heard Politically

Each individual feels strongly about their own personal political views. This makes it quite difficult to get your point of view across without causing an argument. If you can actually find a way to communicate with others in a more productive manner, you just may be able to sway them to your side.

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Set Aside Your Feelings

The most common mistake made when trying to persuade others to join your political side is to use an argument that worked on you. The person you are speaking to is not you. Staying focused on your own personal feelings rather than considering the feelings of those you talk to doesn’t accomplish anything. Talk about the issues that touch their life instead.

Don’t Try to Change the Other Person

Realize that one conversation is not going to change the basic character of another individual. Rather than try to change a person’s values, try to make connections between their values and your own. If you can soften their views, you may be able to reach a middle ground on the issues being discussed.

Empathy

Most people will respond to an emotional appeal. Often the people who have negative views on any given issue simply do not have any personal experience with that particular problem. Connect with them on a common ground such as ethnic background, religion, or family situation. Once a connection has been made, you can jump into your beliefs on a certain issue while explaining how you achieved your point of view.

The Quiet Supporter

Political arguments are not everyone’s cup of tea. There are also many situations where it is inappropriate to discuss political issues. This doesn’t mean that you can’t share your opinions. The trick is to be subtle. Make use of campaign materials. Wearing a button from your local campaign headquarters, posting a sign in your yard, or using political bumper stickers you have made from sites like militariapress.com will get your opinion heard. This can often open up conversations with others.

Use these tips the next time you find yourself in a situation where you would like the other person to see things from your point of view. You just may find that they are more open to listening to your political opinion if you can do it without being rude or argumentative.

The best 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray movies

There’s no denying the importance of 4K Ultra HD and high-dynamic-range ( HDR ) when it comes to the future of home entertainment. Offering incredible visual clarity, sensational colour reproduction and vastly improved contrast, these technologies give people at home the opportunity to experience films the way they were meant to be seen.

If you’ve made the leap and purchased a 4K/HDR-ready television, chances are that you’re hungry for content that will show off just what your bleeding-edge setup is capable of. Add new audio technologies like Dolby Atmos and DTS:X into the mix, and what you have is a home theatre system that rivals your local multiplex.

Though streaming services like Netflix have plenty of original 4K content ready to stream at a moment’s notice, there still isn’t a lot of variety when it comes to actual movies. While it was reported back in April that Netflix will take advantage of your new TV’s HDR support this year , several months have passed and only the Netflix Originals Marco Polo, Marvel’s Daredevil and The Ridiculous Six have been made available in HDR – hey, one out of three ain’t bad!

Many pundits have been quick to praise digital and streaming as the future of home cinema, but it will be a long while before these services can offer the variety that physical media can. Simply put, if you truly want to watch films in the highest quality possible, 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray is still the best format on offer.

That said, not all 4K Ultra HD Blu-rays are created equal – source materials, digital intermediates, upscaling, digital noise reduction and more can all affect the quality of a 4K Blu-ray’s finished product.

With that in mind, we’ve put together a list of the best and most-impressive 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray movies currently available for purchase. Each of the discs on this list, regardless of how good the films contained on them are, can be considered ‘reference quality’ and we’ve thoroughly tested each to ensure they’re really worthy of our recommendation. Best of all, every 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray disc is region free, so anyone with a 4K Blu-ray player can enjoy these films.

Read on to find out which discs have made the cut!

Deadpool

Deadpool

Deadpool

Speaking on the recent 4K Blu-ray release of his film, Deadpool , director Tim Miller told TechRadar that “the Ultra HD is f***ing amazing in the level of detail.” Having thoroughly inspected the disc for ourselves, we absolutely have to agree. Shot at 3K on the Arri Alexa camera and then finished at 4K, Deadpool’s Ultra HD Blu-ray closely resembles the film’s theatrical presentation, only with the added bonus of HDR – which is exclusive to the film’s home release.

Immediately evident from first viewing, Deadpool at 4K offers a much greater level of visual detail than the film’s regular Blu-ray. By far the film’s most eye-popping element, Deadpool’s suit shows more fine detail in its fabric and stitching, and the wider colour gamut offered by HDR makes the costume’s various shades of red not only stand out more, but also blend together more naturally. As with most CGI and green screen-heavy films, the added resolution gives the film a slightly-heightened vibe, one that seems fully intended by its filmmakers. The film’s fully computer-generated character, Colossus, also looks better, with HDR allowing for improved specular lighting on the character’s reflective metal body.

Add to this a punchy and immersive Dolby Atmos soundtrack, and Deadpool becomes one of the format’s first must-own discs.

Technical specs: Codec: HEVC / H.265, Resolution: 2160p (from 4K master), Audio: English Dolby Atmos, English Dolby TrueHD 7.1 (48kHz, 24-bit), Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1, Aspect ratio: 2.39:1, Runtime: 108 minutes

X-Men: Apocalypse

XMen Apocalypse

XMen Apocalypse

X-Men: Apocalypse was originally captured at 6K in the Redcode RAW format, which offers filmmakers an increased level of post-production control, making it perfect for HDR post processing. Finished on a 4K digital intermediate, X-Men: Apocalypse comes to 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray with no loss to visual fidelity whatsoever. A visual effects showcase if ever there was one, the end result, pardon the pun, is x-traordinary.

From its Ancient Egypt opening through to its apocalyptic finale, X-Men: Apocalypse dazzles in Ultra HD. Costumes and makeup benefit greatly from the added resolution afforded by format, opening our eyes to the incredible work that goes into their creation. There’s an immediately noticeable increase in detail, as well as an added depth of texture.

As you would expect from a movie in which characters frequently shoot beams of energy from their hands/eyes/sceptres, lighting effects are a particular highlight here. Increased contrast and a wider colour gamut mean that light blooming appears much more natural, avoiding the usual blocky-glow that plagues images with a lower colour depth. It’s also an extremely colourful movie, with numerous blue and purple characters on its roster. Thanks to HDR, and the added colour gradations that it offers, characters show much more individual detail on screen. Without question, this Ultra HD Blu-ray is the preferred way to experience X-Men: Apocalypse.

Technical specs: Codec: HEVC / H.265, Resolution: 2160p (from 4K master), Audio: English Dolby Atmos, English Dolby TrueHD 7.1 (48kHz, 24-bit), Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1, French DTS 5.1, Aspect ratio: 2.35:1, Runtime: 144 minutes

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Ultimate Edition

Batman v Superman

Batman v Superman

As director Zack Snyder typically shoots on 35mm film stock, his films can be scanned at 4K without any real loss in visual fidelity. With Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Snyder also opted to capture certain sections of the movie with 4K digital cameras, and on 70mm film stock using Panavision 65 cameras. The film was then finished on a 4K digital intermediate, which makes its Ultra HD Blu-ray release pretty close to what most people would’ve seen at their local multiplex (if not what they might have seen at IMAX and 70mm screenings).

Admittedly, the movie itself is quite grim, dark and muted in its presentation, but that doesn’t stop its 4K Blu-ray from being super impressive – the disc’s added resolution and colour depth mean that Batman v Superman looks as good as it possibly can at home. HDR support allows for tremendous contrast and vivid colours (when they do appear). Fire in particular, looks vibrant and lifelike, achieving a level of brightness that makes it look even more incandescent. Everything else on screen has finer definition, allowing you to really appreciate the detailed texture of Batman’s suit, for instance.

If you’re a fan of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, this 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray is a no-brainer – along with its inclusion of the more brutal and violent director’s cut , the disc is also a testament to how 4K and HDR can improve the overall viewing experience.

Technical specs: Codec: HEVC / H.265, Resolution: 2160p (from 4K master), Audio: English Dolby Atmos, English Dolby TrueHD 7.1 (48kHz, 24-bit), Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1, Italian Dolby Digital 5.1, Aspect ratio: 2.40:1, Runtime: 182 minutes

The Amazing Spider-Man 2

The Amazing Spider Man 2

The Amazing Spider Man 2

Much like Batman v Superman, The Amazing Spider-Man was shot on 35mm film and later scanned and transferred to a 4K digital intermediate. Whatever you may think of the film itself, its Ultra HD presentation here is utterly sublime. Vibrant and colourful throughout, TASM2 especially shines during its effects-heavy set pieces.

Watching Spidey swing through New York on sunny days is a real treat – the film’s beautiful blue skies really pop on this transfer, presumably aided by some HDR tinkering. The red and blue of Spider-Man’s costume shimmers in the sunlight in a realistic manner, and the added resolution makes the spandex’s rippling in the wind much more noticeable.

The real standout though, is the villainous character of Electro. With his translucent blue skin, constantly changing shades and pulsing with electricity, Electro’s presence throughout the film is a real show-stopper. The scene in which he reveals his new form in the middle of Times Square, surrounded by the area’s huge electronic billboards, is one of the most dynamic scenes I’ve personally witnessed on a television screen. Thanks to HDR, the scene’s many colourful lights emit a more naturalistic light bloom that never shows signs of bleeding into the background.

Best of all, this Ultra HD presentation of the film manages to achieve all of this without losing its filmic appearance. A truly exceptional disc.

Technical specs: Codec: HEVC / H.265, Resolution: 2160p (from 4K master), Audio: English Dolby Atmos, English Dolby TrueHD 7.1 (48kHz, 24-bit), Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1, French DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Aspect ratio: 2.39:1, Runtime: 142 minutes

Lucy

Arriving on Ultra HD Blu-ray with an absolutely stunning transfer sourced from a 4K digital intermediate, Lucy demonstrates the strengths of the format by showcasing immense fine detail, exceptionally-realistic skin tones and textures, and truly-dynamic colour reproduction throughout.

From the film’s opening scene, which features Lucy the primate in a prehistoric setting, this presentation solidifies its place as one of the format’s best reference-quality discs. The detail in the hominid’s face and fur is utterly astounding, as are the colours and textures in its surrounding habitat.

As was mentioned earlier, skin tones and textures are also incredible on Lucy’s 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray, looking supremely lifelike at all times. Seriously, if you can find pores and imperfections on the face of someone as beautiful as Scarlett Johansson, you know you’ve reached an unparalleled level of clarity.

Likewise, as the film starts to veer into true science-fiction territory, the disc continues to shine, displaying vibrant HDR-enhanced colours and terrific contrast. Even if you only has a passing admiration for Luc Besson’s trippy action film, you owe it to yourself to check out Lucy on 4K Blu-ray.

Technical specs: Codec: HEVC / H.265, Resolution: 2160p (from 4K master), Audio: English Dolby Atmos, English Dolby TrueHD 7.1 (48kHz, 24-bit), Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1, Aspect ratio: 2.39:1, Runtime: 89 minutes

Oblivion

As a science-fiction film with a very sleek and minimalistic art design, Oblivion makes an ideal candidate for the added resolution of 4K. Though the transfer was taken from a 2K digital intermediate (common with visual effects-driven films), Oblivion looks sharp and clean, if not immediately mind-blowing.

With that said, as the film enters its darker scenes, the impressive colour gamut and contrast afforded by the film’s HDR grading give the film a real sense of depth and vibrancy, particularly in the film’s indoor drone shootout sequence. Bloom lighting and sparks from the scene’s many explosions burn white-hot, showcasing the brilliant brightness that 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray is capable of. Likewise, close-up shots of the drones show a wonderful level of detail.

Though the film has a mostly washed-out grey and blue tone, skin tones appear quite naturalistic and at times appear to be the most vibrant thing on screen. Facial textures also excel, showing fine details like pores and individual hairs in Tom Cruise’s five o’clock shadow. Grime, cuts and bruises also look benefit from the format’s added clarity.

Giving the film a visual uptick in every category over the standard Blu-ray edition, for fans, this is by far the best way to experience Oblivion.

Technical specs: Codec: HEVC / H.265, Resolution: 2160p (upscaled from 2K master), Audio: English Dolby Atmos, English Dolby TrueHD 7.1 (48kHz, 24-bit), Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1, Aspect ratio: 2.39:1, Runtime: 125 minutes

Pacific Rim

Just like an enormous Kaiju, a new reference-quality disc has emerged, stomping all over your Blu-ray collection to proclaim itself the new 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray reference disc to beat – say hello to Guillermo del Toro’s film, Pacific Rim.

Though the film was finished on a 2K digital intermediate, much like Star Trek Into Darkness, this does not stop Pacific Rim from looking utterly sensational on Ultra HD Blu-ray. Shot in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, your entire television screen will be used to display the film’s many giant robot vs monster set pieces.

Thanks to some HDR tinkering, the film’s colours and contrast now look even better than they did when the film was in theatres. Witness the rainswept battle that opens the film to see how good its vivid colours look against the inky blacks of a night-time sky. The added resolution afforded by 4K Blu-ray makes the rain look more detailed and realistic. Sparks that fly within the Jaeger cockpit are also more clearly defined and burn hotter than ever before.

Though the entire film is a showstopper, anyone that has seen Pacific Rim will know that its mid-film Hong Kong monster battle is the best-looking section of the film, and believe us when we say that it has never looked better than it does on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray. The city’s neon-soaked skyline radiates with beautiful and realistic bloom lighting, making the best of the film’s high-dynamic-range upgrade.

Even if you already own Pacific Rim on 3D Blu-ray, you owe it to yourself to see how incredible the film can look on 4K Ultra HD. This is absolutely a reference quality disc.

Technical specs: Codec: HEVC / H.265, Resolution: 2160p (upscaled from 2K master), Audio: English Dolby Atmos, Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1, Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1, Aspect ratio: 1.85:1, Runtime: 131 minutes

Independence Day: Resurgence

Sourced from a true 4K digital intermediate, Independence Day: Resurgence roars onto 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray without losing any detail whatsoever – in fact, the film’s presentation is improved by the inclusion of HDR (that said, the ultimate way to watch a film of this magnitude will always be on the biggest cinema screen possible).

A much darker and gloomier picture than its predecessor, Independence Day: Resurgence features many scenes surrounded by inky blacks that would look exceptional on an OLED display. Unfortunately, we didn’t have access to one for testing purposes, so we can only say that the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray’s increased contrast and vivid colours make Independence Day: Resurgence look fantastic on any HDR-compatible TV.

Its various scenes of computer-assisted citywide destruction unfurl on screen with an extreme level of visual clarity and detail, acting as a showcase of what the 4K format is capable of. Many times, the film’s turquoise alien tech takes centre stage, glowing with a naturalistic light bloom that never shows obvious signs of colour gradation (see the film’s opening scene to see how well light fades into darkness).

If you’re a fan of the film, there’s no better way to watch Independence Day: Resurgence than on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray.

Technical specs: Codec: HEVC / H.265, Resolution: 2160p (from 4K master), Audio: English Dolby Atmos, English Dolby TrueHD 7.1 (48kHz, 24-bit), Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1, Aspect ratio: 2.39:1, Runtime: 120 minutes

Chappie

Chappie

Chappie

Director Neill Blomkamp (District 9) is known for his knack for seamlessly blending science fiction elements into everyday scenarios, offering a uniquely down-to-earth view of a world filled with robots and aliens. His latest film, Chappie, is no exception. Set mostly around the slums of Johannesburg, Chappie’s mostly daytime action allows this 4K HDR presentation to really pop.

Shot by Redcode RAW (5K) cameras and finished on a 4K digital intermediate, Chappie’s 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray practically mirrors what was shown in theatres, only with HDR providing improved contrast and more naturalistic colours. The detail in the titular robot character is astonishing, with the steely greys and blues of his frame making the orange highlights of his arm and antenna stand out even more. You can also see details in Chappie’s dirty, scratched body that just weren’t visible on the film’s regular Blu-ray. Best of all, the expressive LED lights on Chappie’s face now show much finer detail, making the character seem even more like a real world object, and not just a marvel of computer-generated wizardry.

Though the film can be quite grimy at times, it’s got a lively, vibrant undercurrent to it, employing a Day-Go style thanks to Chappie’s co-stars, the rap-rave group Die Antwoord. The group brings its signature art style to the film’s costumes and set design, all of which looks fantastic when aided by HDR’s wider colour gamut. Now, bring on District 9 and Elysium in 4K!

Technical specs: Codec: HEVC / H.265, Resolution: 2160p (from 4K master), Audio: English Dolby Atmos, English Dolby TrueHD 7.1 (48kHz, 24-bit), Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1, French DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Aspect ratio: 2.40:1, Runtime: 120 minutes

Star Trek

Star Trek

Star Trek

Though it’s been ‘upconverted’ from a 2K digital intermediate (which is what you likely saw in theatres upon release), J.J. Abrams’ first Star Trek movie looks absolutely wonderful on 4K Blu-ray – the release actually lends some weight to argument that Ultra HD discs don’t need to come from a true 4K source in order to impress.

Director J.J. Abrams’ may be guilty of relying a little heavily on his ‘lens flare’ technique on both of his Star Trek films, but the effect looks better than ever here thanks to HDR’s increased colour gamut and contrast levels. Light blooms looks completely natural, avoiding harsh shade transitions entirely. Elsewhere, the Ultra HD Blu-ray offers amazing detail when it comes to facial textures on the film’s many creatures and alien races – Eric Bana’s Romulan character Nero looks especially good, with the disc’s increased resolution showing just how great the film’s Oscar-winning make-up and facial prosthetics are.

While Star Trek’s Ultra HD Blu-ray disc may be outclassed by its sequel’s truly (inter)stellar 4K release (listed below), this is by far the best way to experience J.J.’s first voyage on the USS Enterprise at home.

Technical specs: Codec: HEVC / H.265, Resolution: 2160p (upscaled from 2K master), Audio: English Dolby Atmos, English Dolby TrueHD 7.1 (48kHz, 24-bit), Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1, Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1, Aspect ratio: 2.40:1, 1.78:1, Runtime: 132 minutes

Star Trek Into Darkness

Star Trek Into Darkness

Star Trek Into Darkness

When it comes to the visual quality, the Ultra HD Blu-ray for Star Trek Into Darkness is absolutely mind-blowing – we’d even go as far as calling it the most impressive 4K release on this list. With over 30 minutes of the film shot in the IMAX format, J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek Into Darkness cuts back and forth between a traditional 2.40:1 letterbox presentation for its non-showy scenes, and the more vision-encompassing 1.78:1 aspect ratio for the film’s spectacle-driven moments (this presentation is exclusive to the film’s Ultra HD release). Though the film looks great throughout (despite being sourced from the film’s 2K digital intermediate), the level of detail displayed in these IMAX scenes is absolutely astonishing.

From its very first scene (pictured above), in which Kirk and Bones are chased through a vibrant red forest by the primitive Nibiru tribe, Star Trek Into Darkness will make an instant believer of any 4K/HDR naysayer. Witness, for instance, the cracked, flaking skin on the faces of the Nibiru tribes people, shown up close and in great detail. Marvel at the naturalistic skin tones, visible pores and wrinkles shown on actors Chris Pine and Karl Urban’s faces, offering a level of immersion that 3D just cannot compete with.

Another scene, in which Spock drops down into a volcano, is also a showstopper – with its swirling specks of fire and ember, and contrast enhanced greatly by HDR, the scene becomes a showcase for the emerging 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray format. Until more IMAX-enhanced films start to be released, consider Star Trek Into Darkness your go-to 4K reference disc.

Technical specs: Codec: HEVC / H.265, Resolution: 2160p (upscaled from 2K master), Audio: English Dolby Atmos, English Dolby TrueHD 7.1 (48kHz, 24-bit), Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1, Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1, Aspect ratio: 2.40:1, 1.78:1, Runtime: 132 minutes

Labyrinth

Starting with an outdoor scene shot in natural light, Jim Henson’s classic family film Labyrinth does not immediately impress on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray. Looking soft and full of grain, you’d be forgiven for thinking that not a lot of work has gone into this transfer.

However, once these initial minutes pass, and as the film moves into studio sets with professional lighting and controlled environments, the real Ultra HD magic begins. It’s at this point that Labyrinth’s brand new 4K scan (sourced from the original 35mm negative) becomes truly mind-blowing.

Taking advantage of the format’s added resolution, Labyrinth shows extraordinary detail in the film’s many puppets. Fur looks sublime, with individual strands of hair becoming clearly visible. Quite frankly, they look so good, it’s almost as if you could reach out and touch them. The film’s fantastic makeup work and matte paintings also hold up magnificently under the increased scrutiny of 4K.

Though Labyrinth’s 4K Blu-ray provides an incredible visual upgrade in all areas, perhaps the most important thing about this release is that it manages to keep the film’s original filmic texture, with no digital noise reduction to speak of. Though we’re watching a digital scan, the presentation always feels film-like.

Labyrinth has never looked better than it does here, and while this presentation can’t top the likes of Star Trek Into Darkness in terms of spectacular visual clarity, for a 30-year-old film populated mostly by puppets, this release is a triumph.

Technical specs: Codec: HEVC / H.265, Resolution: 2160p (from 4K master), Audio: English Dolby Atmos, English Dolby TrueHD 7.1 (48kHz, 24-bit), Czech Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1, German Dolby Digital 5.1, Hungarian Dolby Digital 5.1, Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1, Polish Dolby Digital 5.1, Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1, Russian Dolby Digital 5.1, Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1, Italian Dolby Digital 2.0, Aspect ratio: 2.40:1, Runtime: 101 minutes

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows

Ninja Turtles

Ninja Turtles

Boasting incredible detail and rich, vibrant colours, the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray release of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows is a noticeable step up from its already impressive regular Blu-ray release. Look closely and you’ll notice that each of the turtles has realistic, scaly skin textures that make you understand just how much work has gone into bringing these characters to life – heck, you can even see the enamel on their teeth!

Other digital characters also look fantastic. Notice the individual textures given to Bebop and Rocksteady, giving each creation its own unique look and texture. Splinter also impresses, with the added resolution on display allowing you to see individual hairs and whiskers that weren’t as noticeable in regular HD.

Though most impressive during its daytime scenes (which include the film’s spectacular, effects-heavy finale), TMNT: Out of the Shadows also impresses in the darker subterranean moments set within the turtles’ sewer lair. The colour palette and contrast on display are exceptional, adding a real depth to the image. Fans should consider this 4K Blu-ray release as the definitive way to watch the turtles’ latest big screen adventure.

Technical specs: Codec: HEVC / H.265, Resolution: 2160p (upscaled from 2K master), Audio: English Dolby Atmos, English Dolby TrueHD 7.1 (48kHz, 24-bit), Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1, Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1, Aspect ratio: 2.40:1, Runtime: 112 minutes

The LEGO Movie

The Lego Movie

The Lego Movie

One of the things that immediately strikes you about The LEGO Movie’s Ultra HD presentation is that the film has received a significantly brighter and more vivid colour palette. Not only that, contrast has also increased by leaps and bounds, making the film’s characters look even more like real, stop-motion minifigs – even fingerprints are visible, despite everything on screen being computer generated. Touches like this are what makes 4K and HDR so important to our overall immersion in the film.

Notice the deep blacks in any scene featuring Batman, or the beautiful, naturalistic bloom lighting found in the Old West portion of the film, or how about the gorgeous orange light emitting from film’s spaceship (SPACESHIP!!) finale?

Though this release has been upscaled from a 2K master (the film was captured at 2.8K), The LEGO Movie looks incredible in Ultra HD. Vibrant colours and wonderful contrast levels make this 4K release an essential purchase for fans of the movie.

Technical specs: Codec: HEVC / H.265, Resolution: 2160p (upscaled from 2K master), Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1, Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1, German Dolby Digital 5.1, Dutch Dolby Digital 5.1, Catalan Dolby Digital 5.1, Flemish Dolby Digital 5.1, Aspect ratio: 2.39:1, Runtime: 101 minutes

The Neon Demon

One of the few 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray titles that doesn’t come with HDR enhancements, Nicolas Winding Refn’s horror thriller The Neon Demon looks utterly glorious on the format nonetheless. If you want to get your hands on the film in razor-sharp 2160p, you’ll have to import this English-friendly German release, which includes all the special features found on the regular Blu-ray in the US and UK – don’t you just love how all 4K UHD discs are region free?

With regards to the disc’s lack of HDR, you may be surprised to learn that the famously-visual director is actually quite colour blind. An inability to see midtones has led Refn to favour high contrast and extreme colours throughout his career, as evidenced by the films Drive and Only God Forgives. Because of this, it’s probably safe to assume that he wouldn’t get much out of the high-dynamic-range experience.

Sourced from a 4K master (but shot at 3.4K), The Neon Demon looks incredible on Ultra HD Blu-ray, with its high resolution offering a noticeable uptick in detail over the 1080p version included in this package.

Aside from its 4K resolution, deep blacks and scorchingly vibrant colours are the big selling point here – though we were unable to test the film on an OLED television, the promise of individually-lit pixels beaming and pulsing out of the pitch black darkness of certain scenes has us giddy at the possibilities on hand.

Essentially a feature-length exercise in immense style and cinematography, it would be hard to imagine a film more suited to the 4K Ultra HD format.

Technical specs: Codec: HEVC / H.265, Resolution: 2160p (from 4K master), Audio: English DTS HD-Master Audio 5.1, German DTS HD-Master Audio 5.1 Aspect ratio: 2.35: 1, Runtime: 118 minutes

Deepwater Horizon

Based on the devastating true story of an enormous oil rig disaster that occurred in 2010, often cited as one of the largest man-made disasters in history, it is perhaps in bad taste to describe Deepwater Horizon as a tremendously visceral and visually spectacular film, given the lives that were lost on that fateful day. Regardless, we must still call ’em like we see ’em, and Deepwater Horizon looks incredible on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray.

Director Peter Berg (The Kingdom, Lone Survivor) brings his tough and gritty film to the format with exceptional results. Though the film was finished on a 2K digital intermediate, Deepwater Horizon delivers strong detail and impressive dynamics, with its HDR enhanced presentation offering great depth and colour reproduction.

Witness, for instance, the fantastic textures in the many scenes featuring actors smeared in oil and covered in dust and debris. Likewise, the film’s many explosions burst with astonishing clarity thanks to the format’s higher dynamic range. Fire is so bright that you can almost feel the heat emanating from your screen.

Visuals aside, Deepwater Horizon’s audio presentation also receives top marks, with a Dolby Atmos presentation that will shake your living room once those aforementioned explosions start. The film’s audio dynamics will bounce around your room, placing you right in the action. Helicopters flying overhead are particularly impressive here, making Deepwater Horizon a reference quality disc in both video and audio categories.

Technical specs: Codec: HEVC / H.265, Resolution: 2160p (upscaled from 2K master), Audio: English Dolby Atmos, English Dolby TrueHD 7.1 (48kHz, 24-bit), Aspect ratio: 2.40:1, Runtime: 107 minutes

The Shallows

Providing even more proof that you don’t need a 4K master to get exceptional 4K UHD Blu-ray results, the entertaining shark attack movie The Shallows has emerged on the format with an absolutely sublime audio and video presentation.

Upscaled from a 2K master, The Shallows looks astonishingly crisp, with the film’s digital photography lending immense clarity to the film’s many surfing scenes. Witness, for instance, star Blake Lively’s resting ‘beachface’, which reveals detailed pores, fine lines and even the salty texture of someone who’s spent all day swimming in the ocean and soaking in sun rays. Unsurprisingly, the waves look spectacular, too.

Also complementing The Shallows’ incredible visual presentation is an amazing Dolby Atmos track which faithfully reproduces the film’s clever sound design. It’s a muscular track that really puts you in the action, handling all of the film’s audio dynamics with ease. Scenes where Lively is submerged make your living room feel like it’s underwater, and one particular moment where an underwater GoPro shot breaks through the surface makes your ears pop like the real thing.

Occasionally, the added resolution of the disc makes some of the film’s shark attack scenes look a little fake, but overall The Shallows is one of the best looking and sounding releases that the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray format has produced so far. Highly recommended.

Technical specs: Codec: HEVC / H.265, Resolution: 2160p (upscaled from 2K master), Audio: English Dolby Atmos, English Dolby TrueHD 7.1 (48kHz, 24-bit), Czech Dolby Digital 5.1, French (Canada) Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1, German Dolby Digital 5.1, Hungarian Dolby Digital 5.1, Italian Dolby Digital 5.1, Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1, Polish Dolby Digital 5.1, Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1, Russian Dolby Digital 5.1, Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1, Thai Dolby Digital 5.1, Turkish Dolby Digital 5.1, Aspect ratio: 2.39:1, Runtime: 86 minutes

Mad Max: Fury Road

Mad Max Fury Road

Mad Max Fury Road

Mad Max: Fury Road’s 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray release brings with it some enormous expectations, as the film is one of the more visually dazzling action blockbusters in recent memory. Thankfully, Fury Road absolutely delivers, despite having been upscaled from a 2K digital intermediate. This might seem like a bummer, but that’s how the film was presented in theatres, and it looked pretty freakin’ good there, didn’t it?

With its colours undergoing a re-grading process in HDR, Fury Road looks more sensational than ever in Ultra HD. The film’s many explosions now burn with added intensity, and improved contrast and increased resolution give the film a more painterly appearance, especially in the film’s huge storm sequence.

Some might argue that this makes Mad Max: Fury Road’s CGI stand out more, I believe it only adds to the film’s artistic quality. Elsewhere, you’ll find more realistic skin tones and textures, brilliant lighting, richer landscapes and shinier chrome. Mad Max: Fury Road’s Ultra HD release is definitely worth the upgrade for fans, though we’d love to see what the added resolution of 4K and HDR could do with the film’s new Black and Chrome version.

Technical specs: Codec: HEVC / H.265, Resolution: 2160p (upscaled from 2K master), Audio: English Dolby Atmos, English Dolby TrueHD 7.1 (48kHz, 24-bit), Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1, Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1, German Dolby Digital 5.1, Aspect ratio: 2.40:1, Runtime: 120 minutes

The Revenant

The Revenant

The Revenant

As close to a flawless 4K presentation as the format has so far produced, The Revenant looks utterly fantastic on Ultra HD Blu-ray. Shot digitally at resolutions of up to 6.5K (and finished on a 4K digital intermediate) using only natural light sources, The Revenant offers a very natural-looking presentation, giving the audience a more authentic idea of what it must feel like to be in the freezing wilderness alongside Leo and Co.

Compare the The Revenant’s 4K disc to the regular Blu-ray packaged with it, and you’ll notice that the discs provide quite different presentations of the film. This is because director Alejandro G. Iñárritu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki re-graded the entire film in HDR exclusively for this UHD release. By comparison, the regular 1080p Blu-ray looks much cooler, with more dominant blues and greys taking centre stage. Meanwhile, the 4K disc offers more naturalistic skin tones and a warmer overall palette, making the film’s many icy landscapes appear whiter and more true to life.

Speaking of landscapes, the added resolution and contrast of The Revenant’s 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray makes them appear more grand and breathtaking, offering more fine detail and depth. Improved bloom lighting also lets the sun shine without bleeding into obvious and distracting shade transitions. A reference disc if ever there was one, The Revenant belongs in everyone’s 4K collection.

Technical specs: Codec: HEVC / H.265, Resolution: 2160p (from 4K master), Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1, Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1, French DTS 5.1, Italian DTS 5.1, German DTS 5.1, Aspect ratio: 2.39:1, Runtime: 156 minutes

Warcraft: The Beginning

Warcraft

Warcraft

Though you’d expect HDR to make films more vibrant and colourful, Warcraft’s presentation has taken a more subtle approach to the film’s colouring. Less garish than its regular Blu-ray counterpart, Warcraft’s Ultra HD presentation offers more naturalistic colours, especially when it comes to orc skin tones. That’s not to say that this presentation is muted in any way – Fel magic looks spectacularly vivid and bright, giving the film a suitably other-worldly and fantastical appearance.

As expected, the real show-stoppers here are the orcs, lovingly realised through terrific motion-capture performances and CGI wizardry (as opposed to the other kind of wizardry seen in the film itself). Lead orc Durotan’s facial expressions are more detailed and realistic, thanks to the disc’s bumped-up resolution. Getting to actually see fine lines, wrinkles and textures in these characters’ faces make them much more believable (though the illusion is still broken whenever they’re standing next to the film’s human characters). Other CGI creations, like the Gryphon Lothar rides during the film’s climax, or the kingdom of Azeroth itself, exhibit an exceptionally high level of detail.

While it is another example of an upscaled film sourced from a 2K digital intermediate, Warcraft’s 4K presentation nonetheless offers enhanced clarity, improved contrast and naturalistic tones. This Ultra HD release is definitely the best way to watch Warcraft: The Beginning in 2D.

Sprint takes a 33 percent stake in Tidal

Mobile phone service provider Sprint announced this morning that it has taken a 33 percent stake in Tidal, one of the few music-streaming services to offer high-resolution audio streams. As part of the deal, Sprint says its customers will get exclusive access to certain content. Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure will also join Tidal’s board of directors.Sprint Tidal

“Sprint shares our view of revolutionizing the creative industry to allow artists to connect directly with their fans and reach their fullest, shared potential,” Tidal owner Jay Z (née Shawn Carter) said in a press release. “Marcelo understood our goal right away and together we are excited to bring Sprint’s 45 million customers an unmatched entertainment experience.”

Prior to this investment Tidal had been unique among the major music-streaming services in that it was owned by a coalition of recording artists, including Jay Z, his wife Beyoncé, Jack White, Madonna, and several others. This ownership arrangement has enabled the service to offer exclusive streams and music videos to its subscribers. According to Sprint’s press release, Sprint’s investment means that “Tidal and its artists will make exclusive content that will only be available to current and new Sprint customers.” We’ve reached out to Tidal and Sprint to ask if that means Sprint customers will get content that Tidal subscribers won’t.

Tidal is also one of the few media-streaming services to offer CD-quality music (in FLAC format) as a premium, $20-per-month tier. That’s double what competing streaming services charge, including Spotify, which streams MP3 files, and Apple Music, which uses the AAC format. Tidal has sought to further differentiate its higher-end service by adding support for the MQA (Master Quality Authenticated) codec at no additional cost (the service offers 30,000 MQA tracks from Warner Music Group).

Jay Z dropped $56 million to acquire Tidal in early 2015, but Sprint’s press release is light on details, including how much its 33 percent ownership stake is worth and whether it was made with cash, stock, or a mix of the two. (An unnamed source told Marketwatch the stake is worth $200 million.) Here’s hoping that it was cash and that Tidal’s management dedicates a chunk of it to improving its product and infrastructure, especially its clunky app.

Despite the exclusive content and the availability of higher-resolution music files, Tidal has struggled to differentiate itself from the competition. The company has had a tough time convincing a generation of music fans who’ve grown up with relatively low-resolution MP3 and AAC files being the only recorded music they’ve ever heard that FLAC—and now MQA—are worth paying double for.

Reports: Apple, Foxconn considering a $7 billion manufacturing plant in the U.S.

Apple is reportedly considering moving some of its iPhone production to the United States. Taiwanese iPhone producer Foxconn is considering a $7 billion joint investment in a display production facility, the company’s chairman told reporters.20150922 151214

According to the Nikkei Asian Review, Foxconn Chairman Terry Gou said “Apple is willing to invest in the facility together” because it needs display panels for its products. The plant could create 30,000 to 50,000 jobs.

But Gou said U.S.-made iPhones would likely cost more than those produced at Foxconn’s Zhengzhou, China facility, which churns out more than 100 million iPhones per year.

“In the future they may be paying some $500 more for [U.S.] products, but those do not necessarily work better than a $300 phone,” Gou told reporters.

He asked American officials for concessions on land and electricity, which would offset the higher labor costs.

Apple has come under fire from President Donald Trump over making its products in China, with the president even calling for a boycott of Apple products before he was elected. Trump has played nice since Election Day, promising Apple tax breaks and reduced regulations if Apple builds plants in the U.S. in a phone call with Apple CEO Tim Cook.

“Tim, you know one of the things that will be a real achievement for me is when I get Apple to build a big plant in the United States, or many big plants in the United States,” Trump recounted the phone call to the New York Times.

Apple hasn’t commented on Foxconn’s statements, although this isn’t the first time reports that Apple may move some of its manufacturing to the U.S. have popped up. This report, however, comes from a more direct source with deeper insight into Apple’s manufacturing processes.

This story, “Reports: Apple, Foxconn considering a $7 billion manufacturing plant in the U.S.” was originally published by Macworld.

Google revamps Voice with long overdue makeover, new features

Google told 9to5Google that it is working to add VoIP calling to Google Voice. This article has been updated to reflect this news. google voice

Google Voice hasn’t seen a lot of love or attention since it launched with some fanfare in 2009, but surprisingly Google is letting us know that it still cares about the communication service. In a new sprawling release—the first of its kind in years—Google has revamped all versions of its Voice app and site with a clean, modern look, new features, and, perhaps the best news of all, the promise of regular updates.

The most striking thing about the new version is its design, which actually looks like it was made for the latest phones. The new interface is a major improvement, with clean navigation and organization, and big message windows that makes it feel like a modern messaging service.

In addition to the look of the app, Google has also added a few new features that bring it up to speed. Most notably, messaging has been updated to include support for group messages and photo MMS, as well as quick replies on devices running Android Nougat.

Google says it will provide regular new features and updates going forward, and notes that for users who use Hangouts, “there’s no need to change to the new apps, but you might want to try them out as we continue to bring new improvements.”

And there seems to be one in the works already. In a comment to 9to5Google, Google explains that while the current incarnation of Google Voice doesn’t add any new features for making calls, it is working incorporating VoIP integration to eliminate the need to link your number with the Hangouts app. The site also claims that its sources say WiFi calling will be coming to all devices.

The new version of Google Voice should have rolled out to your phone by now, but if you’re not seeing it yet, you can side load the Google-signed APK from APKMirror.

Google’s messaging strategy has been hard to figure out, and a renewed focus on Google Voice probably won’t bring much clarity to it. After Google initially began integrating Voice and Hangouts, the launch of Allo and Duo muddied those plans a bit, as Google began to shift Hangouts to enterprise clients. With the new update it seems that Google might be trying to position Voice as the standalone voice and messaging service it was meant to be.

This story, “Google revamps Voice with long overdue makeover, new features” was originally published by Greenbot.

Intel researches tech to prepare for a future beyond today’s PCs

Intel realizes there will be a post-Moore’s Law era and is already investing in technologies to drive computing beyond today’s PCs and servers.0853 as 26

The chipmaker is “investing heavily” in quantum and neuromorphic computing, said Brian Krzanich, CEO of Intel, during a question-and-answer session at the company’s investor day on Thursday.

“We are investing in those edge type things that are way out there,” Krzanich said.

To give an idea of how far out these technologies are, Krzanich said his daughter would perhaps be running the company by then.

Researching in these technologies, which are still in their infancy, is something Intel has to do to survive for many more decades. Shrinking silicon chips and cramming more features into them is becoming difficult, and Intel is already having trouble in manufacturing smaller chips.

Smartphones, PCs, and other devices are getting smaller, faster and more power efficient thanks to Moore’s Law, a 1965 observation loosely stating that the number of transistors in a die area would double every two years, causing performance to double while driving down the cost of making chips.

Intel has been using Moore’s Law as a guiding star to make faster and smaller chips and reducing the price of devices. However, it is widely agreed that Moore’s Law is slowly dying, and Intel’s manufacturing struggles are growing.

For decades, Intel’s business has been heavily reliant on its ability to make and deliver chips. But the process is slowing down. Intel used to advance manufacturing processes every two years, and that has now changed to three to four years.

One way to resolve that crisis — which all chipmakers face — is to completely change the current computing model in PCs, smartphones, and servers. The current model — known as the Von Neumann approach — involves data being pushed to a processor, calculated, and sent back to memory. But storage and memory are becoming bottlenecks.

The answer is to adopt new models of computing, which is where quantum computers and neuromorphic chips fit in. Quantum computers have the potential to be powerful computers harnessing the unique quality of a large number of qubits to perform multiple calculations in parallel. Neuromorphic chips are modeled after the human brain, which could help computers make decisions based on patterns and associations.

Intel has made some advances in quantum computing and neuromorphic chips. But Krzanich’s comments lend more credibility to the company’s push to look at a future beyond today’s computing models.

Some short-term answers can resolve the bottlenecks based on Von Neumann model, including Optane, Intel’s new form of super-fast memory and storage. It could unite SSDs and DRAM in systems, cutting one bottleneck. Intel is also embracing silicon photonics, which could resolve throughput issues in data centers. Both technologies have researched for more than a decade and are now practical.

The chipmaker has lived off the PC industry for decades but is now looking to grow in markets like data centers, the internet of things, automotive and high-performance computing. The new focus is bringing a gradual change to the way Intel makes chips. It’s similar to the 1970s, when different types of chips like vector processors and floating point arrays were crammed together for complex calculations.

For example, Intel is slapping together two separate functional blocks for applications like machine learning and autonomous cars. Intel envisions FPGAs combining with CPUs in autonomous cars. Later this year, the company will release a chip called Lake Crest, which combines a Xeon server CPU with deep-learning chip technology it picked up through its Nervana Systems acquisition. Intel is also merging an FPGA inside an Intel Xeon chip to carry out machine learning tasks.

Intel is expecting a lot of data to be generated by sources like autonomous cars, which will need edge processing for tasks like image recognition, analysis, and map updates. Intel is pushing its wide roster of co-processors to the edge, and that is where the quantum and neuromorphic chips may fit.

Quantum computer research is also being done by other companies. D-Wave recently released a 2,000-qubit quantum computer based on quantum annealing, while IBM has a 5-bit quantum computer accessible via the cloud. IBM is also playing with brain-like chips and has benchmarked its TrueNorth chip, which has a million neurons and 256 million synapses.

Academic institutions like the University of Heidelberg in Germany, Stanford University, and the University of Manchester in the U.K. are also working on neuromorphic chips. HPE has shown a computer that emulates the human brain, and it intends to adapt ideas from that for servers.