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AR is where the investment is, with Qualcomm & Niantic going all-in

It's no secret that, in the world of ultra-portable computing, the Qualcomm Snapdragon platform is the preferred choice. It's partially because the processors are the best in the market (even driving Intel to abandon their product line), and partially because they are incredibly easy to integrate. The chipset offers more than just a processor, as it includes radio technologies as well. This makes designing a device easier, as there is no need to try and integrate various components.

At Qualcomm's Snapdragon Summit, the company announced a new generation of its mixed reality system, the Snapdragon XR2 Platform. With this new model, Qualcomm has brought 5G to the augmented reality and mixed reality world. AR/MR has had one of its biggest limitations, and the introduction of 5G on a Snapdragon processor designed for the technology could finally alleviate that limitation. While the company's spec hardware may not be anything visually spectacular, it's designed to show hardware designers what can be created, not to be a consumer-facing device.

However, as part of the announcement for the platform, Qualcomm announced an important partner: Niantic. The company that has made augmented reality a household technology that is approachable for everyone is officially developing their AR headset powered by the new Snapdragon XR2 Platform. This will mark a transition point for the concept of standalone AR hardware, made popular by Microsoft's HoloLens and highly marketed by Magic Leap. Unlike Microsoft and Magic Leap, however, Niantic hardware will almost certainly come with the added benefit of an absolutely killer app (Pokemon GO, Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, Ingress Prime). Also, unlike Magic Leap, Niantic will be able to position their hardware as a must-have for consumers, enthusiasts, and professionals.

To sweeten the pot, Niantic also announced that its Niantic Real World Platform will be made available to developers, both on their hardware and other platforms, to help bring new shared experiences to the world. As the company that made these shared experiences possible and popular, it is a great idea to make that platform available to other developers because it will make it easier for developers to bring more experiences to their hardware.

Monster IlluminEssence LED Strip Mood Light Kit (PLuGHiTz Live Unboxed)

It's Black Friday, and that means some new products are available. This year, Monster has made available a new SKU in its IlluminEssence product line - a single LED strip. We've reviewed all of the other products, and expected that this new SKU would work the same way. But, after thousands of views in a few hours and dozens of comments, it was clear that we were wrong. So, we braved the crowds and headed to Walmart to purchase the last unit in our local store so we could try it out.

Unfortunately, this new SKU was definitely produced separately from the standard SKUs. The packaging is slightly different, and the manual is completely different. But, does that mean that the product is different? We find out!

[Black Friday] Use the Monster IlluminEssence LED Strip (PLUGHITZ Live How To)

It's Black Friday, and that means some new products are available. This year, Monster has made available a new SKU in its IlluminEssence product line - a single LED strip. We've reviewed all of the other products, and expected that this new SKU would work the same way. But, after thousands of views in a few hours and dozens of comments, it was clear that we were wrong. So, we braved the crowds and headed to Walmart to purchase the last unit in our local store so we could try it out.

Unfortunately, this new SKU was definitely produced separately from the standard SKUs. The packaging is slightly different, and the manual is completely different. In this case, the product seems to be defective. We were able to power it on (by plugging it in), but could not get the included remote to work with it, even after following the pairing instructions. We also weren't able to use one of our working remotes with the new strip. There is definitely a problem and you are NOT CRAZY!

November 24, 2019 - Episode 543 (F5 Live: Refreshing Technology)

This week, Huawei is leaving networks, Half-Life is coming to VR, and Apple is temporarily skipping theaters.

Sphero RVR Coding Robot - Episode 210 (Piltch Point)

This week, Avram Piltch shows off the newest STEAM toy from Sphero, the RVR (pronounced Rover). This new vehicle separates itself from the already crowded programmable vehicle kits in a variety of ways. First, and most obvious, is that the vehicle is designed for all terrains. That means that it isn't limited to being used inside, but can be used outside, and even in the grass.

This isn't the only aspect of the RVR that makes it versatile. As is, the RVR can be controlled through the Sphero app. You can also use the app to program it, using the block-based programming system. This can be a great learning system for kids and adults to get familiar with the included aspects of the RVR. However, this vehicle is almost infinitely expandable because you can add external control boards to the top.

Whether you want to explore the capabilities of the Raspberry Pi, Arduino, or Micro:bit controllers, you can use any of them with the RVR. By adding one of these boards, you can introduce a whole host of sensors, controllers, and external resources. This expansion can allow the RVR to go from a STEAM toy to a sophisticated robot. platform. You can use it as a roving security camera, an environmental scanner, and so much more.

In addition to the additional sensors, you also get expanded connectivity options. Let the RVR stream live video to YouTube, or report sensor readings to Microsoft Azure. You can also combine external resources, like weather data, with local readings, to make decisions. All of these features can be used either as a learning experience for new hardware developers or as a pre-built robotics platform for more complex projects.

The Sphero RVR is available now. As of the time of this video, it is on sale on Amazon for $199 (regularly $249).

Setup a Monster IlluminEssence LED Strip (PLUGHITZ Live How To)

The idea of consumer LED strips is a fairly new one, and that sometimes causes some confusion. The good news is that we're here for you to show you exactly how they work. Making sure the strip has power is not entirely straight forward. The important thing to know is that the Monster logo and the LEDs represent the front of the devices, and must be plugged in with both facing the same direction. From there, it's as easy as plugging in the power cord, either to USB or a power outlet (depending on the model you have).

Another common question is whether or not you can cut the strip to length. The good news is that you certainly can. Simply find one of the cut lines (indicated by a clack line through 4 copper connectors) and cut. It is important to remember that once they are cut, they cannot be put back together. The new length is now the maximum length for the strip going forward. Before cutting the length, consider alternatives, such as tucking the end behind something or doubling back the length.

If you want to learn more about the product line, you can check out our reviews.

IlluminEssence Large Space LED Mood Light Kit

IlluminEssence Small Space LED Mood Lighting Kit

IlluminEssence 2-LED Bulb Mood Light Kit

IlluminEssence 16.4-ft LED Strip Mood Light Kit

Pair a Monster IlluminEssence Strip and Remote (PLUGHITZ Live How To)

Since we published our Unboxed video for the Monster IlluminEssence line of products, we have been asked almost daily how to pair a remote to an LED strip. There are a lot of reasons why someone might want to do that. First, you might be trying to customize your home with remotes for the living room, bedroom, etc. That was exactly why our team was so familiar with the process - we customized our offices with the review products.

However, we hear fairly often that the remotes and lights are not always paired out of the box. However, once they are paired, they work as expected. Because of this, we decided to show people the process of pairing. The good news is that it is incredibly easy. Simply remove power from the bulb or LED strip, return power, and within 5 seconds press and hold the Speed Up button. You will know it worked when the bulb or strip blinks 3 times. If you want to undo the pairing, simply press and hold the Speed Down button within 5 seconds of powering the bulb. You'll know it worked because the light will flash rapidly 5 times.

If you want to learn more about the product line, you can check out our reviews.

IlluminEssence Large Space LED Mood Light Kit

IlluminEssence Small Space LED Mood Lighting Kit

IlluminEssence 2-LED Bulb Mood Light Kit

IlluminEssence 16.4-ft LED Strip Mood Light Kit

The US Government will not pay for new Chinese network hardware

There has been a lot of questions over the validity of Chinese hardware existing in the West, led by the United States. The worry comes from the close relationship between some of the big tech companies and the Communist government that controls China. This concern has covered everything from $200 phones and laptops to million-dollar cellular network hardware. While the future of the relationship between US and Chinese companies is still in question for consumer goods, the Federal Communications Commission has decided on network hardware.

The FCC has voted unanimously to ban Huawei and ZTE hardware from being purchased under the commission's Universal Service Fund (USF). This fund is used to subsidize installations to provide service to low income and hard to serve areas, which would likely never turn a profit on their own. The ban currently prevents companies using this fund from purchasing hardware from the two named companies, but also provides a mechanism for evaluating other manufacturers for future bans. It could also require the removal of existing hardware from these manufacturers in the future.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said of the decision,

(Huawei and ZTE) have close ties to China's Communist government and military apparatus. Both companies are subject to Chinese laws broadly obligating them to cooperate with any request from the country's intelligence services and to keep those requests secret. Both companies have engaged in conduct like intellectual property theft, bribery, and corruption.

While the move is entirely about the security of voice and data transmitted across networks built using government subsidies, at least one Commissioner is concerned that the topic could get pulled into the greater story of global trade with China. Jessica Rosenworcel said,

When the United States government pursues action against Huawei or ZTE, its objective should be security. But in Washington right now, I fear these issues can easily get swept up into broader trade matters. Despite our actions today, we have to grapple with the fact that at any moment the administration could trade away our security objectives for some momentary advantage in bilateral trade negotiations. I hope that does not occur, but let's be honest, it has happened before, when this administration reversed course on banning ZTE from doing business in the United States. If it happens again, it will have serious consequences for our credibility.

The credibility of the FCC, especially in security matters, is an important one right now. With the greater security threat from China growing, and the topic of data security and privacy at the forefront of everyone's mind, standing strong on security is essential. Hopefully, Commissioner Rosenworcel's fears won't be realized.

November 10, 2019 - Episode 542 (F5 Live: Refreshing Technology)

This week, Google gives away Cardboard, China takes away some gaming, and Netflix retires older device support.

Don't Get Overcharged on a New Computer - Episode 209 (Piltch Point)

This week, Avram Piltch discusses the important things to look out for when purchasing a new computer. There are two ways to buy a new PC: pre-configured or self-configured. For the most part, pre-configured models are far less expensive than their custom configuration counterparts. For example, if you head to a manufacturer's website and look at their laptops, several of them offer the ability to customize the parts. If you go with the base model, you might have only 128GB of storage. However, you can upgrade that to 1TB for almost $600. However, if you were to purchase that same SSD yourself, it might only cost $100, meaning that you would be paying a $500 markup to have the drive pre-installed, and you don't get to keep the original 128GB drive.

A simple way to avoid the upcharge is by purchasing a pre-configured computer. Of course, this does mean that you might have to sacrifice something off of your ideal setup. Maybe you can't get the 1TB drive, but you can get a 512GB drive instead. Maybe you can't get 32GB of RAM, but you can get 16GB. For some, the compromise is okay, but for others, it would not be possible.

Another way to avoid the immense upcharge is by performing the upgrade yourself. In some cases, this is as easy as removing 2 screws. In other cases, it would require prying the body apart and repairing it with glue. For those models, it's generally not worth trying. But, there are tools to determine the upgradability of your model. You can use the Kingston Memory Configurator or the Corsair Memory Finder, both of which will tell you what can and can't be done with your computer.

No matter which way you decide to go, it is always important to know all of your options ahead of time.

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