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Samsung joins Microsoft’s VR parade with its new high-end headset for Windows 10

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Microsoft is getting ready to launch the next major update to Windows 10, the Fall Creators Update, on October 17. Part of this update includes full support for Windows Mixed Reality, the company’s name for the continuum between augmented reality and full virtual reality. After lining up support and headsets from partners like Acer, Dell HP and Lenovo, Microsoft also today announced that Samsung is bringing a virtual reality headset for room-scale VR to its platform.

Microsoft made this announcement at a small press event in San Francisco today.

The Samsung HMD Odyssey will feature full support for Microsoft’s Mixed Reality Platform and feature two AMOLED displays, inside-out tracking, a built-in microphone (for Cortana support) and the usual Windows motions controllers. The displays will offer a 110-degree field of view, which is on par with the Oculus Rift. What does set the Odyssey apart, though, is its per-eye resolution of 1440×1600 for the two 3.5″ displays with a 90Hz refresh rate, which is significantly higher than that of rival headsets.

One other interesting feature here is that Samsung has partnered with the Austrian headphone and microphone manufacturer AKG to offer built-in headphones.

“When we began designing and engineering the Samsung HMD Odyssey with Microsoft, there was only one goal in mind, create a high performing headset that’s easy to set up and can transport people to the incredible world of virtual reality,” writes Samsung Electronics America VP and General Manager Alanna Cotton today. “Samsung is committed to working across platforms to build cutting-edge technology, and we’re excited to partner with Microsoft to shape the future of virtual reality.”

Given its specs, this is clearly a premium headset — and quite likely the nicest one in the current mixed reality lineup. It’ll sell at a premium price, too, though. The full set with headset and motion controllers will cost $499 and will ship November 6, with pre-orders starting today. That’s the same price as an Oculus Rift.

It’s also worth noting that Samsung is going its own way here. Most of the other mixed reality headsets are going with Microsoft’s reference specs and LCD screens, which don’t refresh quite as fast as the AMOLED displays that Samsung is using here. The built-in headphones are also unique to Samsung’s headset.

Here is the current set of headsets you can expect to see in stores this fall:

  • Acer Windows Mixed Reality Headset
  • Dell Visor
  • HP Windows Mixed Reality Headset
  • Lenovo Explorer
  • Samsung HMD Odyssey

Pre-orders for this first slate of mixed reality headsets starts today.

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Optoma’s NuForce BE Free8 wireless headphones are a smart AirPods alternative

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Optoma has released new fully wireless headphones under its ‘NuForce’ audio sub brand, the BE Free8 earbuds. These are like Apple’s AirPods, requiring no wire to connect them, and they connect via Bluetooth to any device. The charging pod they ship with even has a similar design to the AirPod case, and carries three backup charges for powering up on the go.

The NuForce Free8 carries up to four hours of use in the batteries built into the buds, and they come with a range of silicon tips to fit different ear canal shapes. They fit snugly in my own ear, and I was able to use them comfortably both when walking, and when running and working out, without any fear of them falling out.

While they don’t feel like super premium devices (the plastic used doesn’t feel nearly as premium as that used in competing products, including the Bragi line and Apple’s own AirPods) they have withstood a lot of high intensity use, including wear in light rain and a lot of sweat testing. Their durability seems proven, and I’ve had a few weeks with them to identify any problem spots.

The other area where wireless earbuds tend to fall down is in connectivity – Bluetooth headsets are one thing, but totally wireless buds have two connectivity challenges to deal with. The NuForce Free8 performed well here, too, with very few dropouts during normal use. The one caveat here is that I did very occasionally have audio interruptions when my phone was in my right pocket front pants pocket, since they maintain their Bluetooth connection with your smartphone from the left earbud. These dropouts were very few and far between, however, and even the small number that did occur were easily remedied just by switching the pocket where I keep my phone.

Sound quality is also good. You’ll hear a bit of low-level background hum during the most quiet parts, but it’s hard to pick up, and the audio quality when music and podcasts are playing sound great, with good bass levels and excellent sound reproduction that sounds balanced overall. Sound isolation is also effective, providing a good seal in my experience for passively blocking out the surrounding street noise.

When compared to most totally wireless buds out there, the Free8 is definitely towards the top of the group. It’s still an area where there’s room for improvement vs. wired buds, but these will definitely meet the needs of most users when it comes to sound reproduction, for both podcasts and music or video watching.

The case they ship with, in addition to holding backup charges for the headphones, also has indicator lights on the front for telling you when the buds are charging and when they’re charged up, which is a nice touch when compared to the AirPods case from Apple. It also includes a micro USB port for charging, which is not great for longevity – only accessories have micro USB now, with just above every Android smartphone maker having moved to USB C other latest devices.

The NuForce BE Free8’s biggest strength might be their $149 asking price, however, which is under that of many of its competitors. The earbuds also feature hardware button controls, which is another nice plus. If you’re looking for a pair of totally wireless earbuds that aren’t tied to Apple’s platform, this is a good, if somewhat unexpected, place to look.

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The Netgear ReadyNAS 524X is a data hoarder’s delight

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As a member of the Data Generation, I’ve found that my photos, videos, and documents quickly expand to fill their containers. A standard USB drive is quickly replaced by another, larger one while home network file servers fall by the wayside as they get full, old, and dangerously lossy. In short, it’s time for the big guns.

That’s why I was pleased to try out the Netgear ReadyNAS 524X, part of Netgear’s new network attached storage series aimed at small businesses and home users. The diskless version costs about $800 and can hold up to 40TB.

This NAS is essentially a small computer. It can run apps including tools for BitTorrent downloads and remote backups and it uses XRAID to ensure hot-swapability on each drive. This feature, enabled by RAID6, allows for the catastrophic failure of up to two of the drives but causes a deep hit in storage capacity. This also means you can literally pull a disk out of this thing randomly and have the entire setup still run. If you want to know your real-world sizing with RAID6 enabled this calculator can help. I tested the performance by pulling two disks and everything worked perfectly although the reindexing process lasted over 24 hours each time the device was hit.

Setting up the drive is quite simple. To add a drive you simply pull out a carriage and snap the drive into place without tools. When you boot up for the first time you can begin a formatting process that brings all the drives online simultaneously. Then, when you need to swap one out, you can shut down the system manually and replace the drive offline. All you have to do is connect an Ethernet cable – this doesn’t support Wi-Fi, and fire it up.

Once the NAS is up and running the system appears as a Windows and MacOS share. The drive can also support DLNA and UPnP and you can even SSH into the box where you’ll find a standard Debian installation. This also means you can run cron jobs and even side load apps, a feature quite useful if you want to manage files with a little more granularity. Further, the NAS supports ReadyCloud, Netgear’s own remote access protocol that lets you see files remotely. Further, you can connect the drive to Amazon S3, Google Drive, and Dropbox and sync folders back and forth. This makes it perfect for backing up live projects and maintaining a record of your remote files.

Home users will be happy with the Plex support – Plex will scan any folder on the drive and serve it up piping hot to your TV – along with BitTorrent and NZB clients which are useful, obviously, for downloading public domain video from public servers.

Finally if you stuff a load of music on here you’ll also be able to access iTunes shares by clicking a button in the admin system. In short, this thing does it all.

If you dig deeper in the ReadyNAS app store you’ll find a number of useful tools including a solution for recording surveillance video as well as systems for managing syncing across servers. The app store, in fact, is the coolest part of this NAS, turning it from a simple storage server into something immensely useful.

For example, you can install Drupal, an HTML5 based SSH terminal, and a Docker management tool right from the main admin screen. Many of the tools are fairly functional and aimed mostly at programmers who want to simulate remote storage conditions in their non-production code.

Because this NAS runs a Intel D1508 Dual Core 2.2GHz processor with 4GB of memory I haven’t yet been able to max this thing out although Netgear recommends a maximum of 80 users. I personally tried many of the streaming apps and found them to be far more efficient than anything I’ve used before, including a Plex server running on a 2014 iMac. Because this is essentially a Debian server it’s quite capable and quite compact.

In terms of performance this kit is obviously as good as your LAN network but I did a bit of testing using my home network and saw nothing untoward. If you’re looking for solid benchmarks StorageReview posted a nice rundown but I’ll show you what I found.