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Categories Consumer technology | Video games

This week, Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling is serializing a new novel online, Side Door brings concerts into your home, I’m playing The Last of Us Part II, Epistory uses typing as a video-game mechanic, and Minecraft Dungeons is a new way to play. But first, LG’s new OLED televisions will take your breath away.

LG’s new OLED televisions are the best you can get right now

For the past couple of years, LG’s line of organic light-emitting diode (OLED) televisions have been at the top of the list for home screens.

The 2020 models are even better, and if you can afford one, the LG CX line is the best screen you can get right now.

I’ve had one in my house for the past couple of weeks, and while I’ve watched things on LG’s earlier OLED televisions, I am impressed with the picture quality on the 55CX.

OLED screens are notable for the perfect blacks and rich colours that they can generate, and the high dynamic range (HDR) feature brings uncanny detail and texture to video.

But the CX improves on all that with technology to improve the responsiveness of the screen. Notably, it has variable refresh rate (VRR) functionality that allows the television to automatically adjust the rate at which it updates the picture on the screen.

This is excellent news for video game players because it means the CX will change from 30 Hz to 60 Hz without any image jitter.

In addition to that, the “a9 Gen 3 AI Processor 4K” in LG’s 2020 OLEDs takes regular images and upscales them so they display at closer to 4K quality.

The approach to using motion smoothing to prevent blurring – which is despised by filmmakers – is also addressed with the CX in the form of “Filmmaker Mode”, which disables all the post-processing effects that might be done by the television system.

The LG 2020 OLEDs are compatible with Apple’s HomeKit, it’s got Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant built in, and you can install streaming apps including Amazon Prime, Apple TV+, Disney+, Netflix, and YouTube (but not Crave).

The three sizes of LG’s CX series are:

  • 55: as low as $2,600
  • 65: as low as $3,800
  • 77: $7,000

Also in the 2020 series of LG OLEDs are the GX Gallery Series (starting at $3,300) and the Signature OLED ZX 8K (around $30,000).

LG Canada also sent me one of the new LG Soundbars (SN9YG) to use with the CX, and while the dialogue was a bit muddy in some cases, the 5.1.2 soundbar easily filled the house with sound and the subwoofer made sure we felt the bass. You can pair two wireless speakers to turn this into a 7.1.2 system.

Harry Potter author Rowling publishing new novel for free online

J.K. Rowling knows that the various isolation protocols in place around the world have been particularly difficult for kids. So she’s giving them – and us – a novel to help keep us busy.

The Ickabog has nothing to do with Harry Potter, although Rowling admits to having written early drafts while she was writing those books.

So what is it about? According to Rowling, “The Ickabog is a story about truth and the abuse of power.  To forestall one obvious question: the idea came to me well over a decade ago, so it isn’t intended to be read as a response to anything that’s happening in the world right now. The themes are timeless and could apply to any era or any country.”

She’s publishing between one and three chapters daily to the website; so far five chapters of the new novel have been published.

And while The Ickabog is being serialized for free online, it will be published in print later this year. Rowling is donating her royalties to “groups who’ve been particularly impacted by the pandemic”.

And she’s asking children to create illustrations based on the story. Publishers in each territory where the book will be published are staging competitions to select artwork to be used in the final print edition.

Parents of Canadian children can submit illustrations to Scholastic.

Winners will receive a signed copy of the book and a $650 USD donation of books “to the school or library of the winner’s choice”.

Music concerts at home with Side Door

There have been a lot of free performances being offered by artists in the past months, but Canadian business Side Door expects that music fans who are used to paying for concert events are willing to spend a few bucks for an online event.

Founded by Vancouver musician Dan Mangan and Nova Scotia promoter Laura Simpson, Side Door got its start matching touring musicians with non-traditional venues and hosts. Like your backyard or living room.

With in-person gatherings being restricted, Side Door is offering artists the chance to stage live-stream concerts for audiences around the world.

Tickets for the performances range from $5 to around $15 (the artists set their own prices).

Upcoming shows include

I’m playing The Last of Us Part II and you’re not

That’s all I can say about that right now.

But if you want to see more of the game, earlier today director Neil Druckmann from Naughty Dog previewed the experience on Playstation’s latest State of Play. You can watch it here.

Epistory makes learning to type fun and engaging

One of the things I’ve got my kids doing while they’re doing their schooling at home is keyboarding (it was called typing in my childhood).

Once they’d learned all about the home row and the basics had begun to automate in them, I needed something to get them practicing. Retyping pages from books just didn’t seem to work, but thankfully I’ve found something better.

Epistory is lovely little adventure game where players need to type words in order to damage the insect creatures that attack them.

The story is relevant: players help a writer overcome writer’s block by collecting sentence fragments and story elements.

Epistory is adaptive, too, so if you are a skilled typist the game will make it more difficult than it would be for beginners. And the game has been localized for different languages and keyboard layouts.

You do need to have the basics of typing learned, or Epistory will be frustrating. But once you’ve got the hang of it, there’s lots to reveal here.

Minecraft Dungeons a new way to play in the world of blocks

Minecraft is already the best-selling video game of all time (with over 200 million copies sold), and there are millions of kids playing it these days while they are in isolation mode.

Minecraft Dungeons puts gamers into the world in the context of an action adventure, a completely new way to play. In Dungeons, you can play with up to three friends – couch co-op or online – roaming around a Minecraft world, fighting enemies (called “mobs” in Minecraft), collecting treasure, and exploring dungeons.

It’s a game created in the spirit of dungeon crawling adventures of old, and it’s designed so that kids who may be new to this kind of game can easily pick it up and play. Diablo fans may find Minecraft Dungeons a bit limited, but if you can set your expectations accordingly, it’s a delightful game to play.

And because this is Minecraft, although it’s owned by Microsoft, Dungeons is available on the Nintendo Switch and PS4, too. Cross-platform play isn’t available yet, but it is planned.

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Categories Corus Radio Network | Consumer technology

This week on The Shift with Drex I talked with guest host Eric Chapman about the new features in Google Lens, how Microsoft Word’s spell check can help geneticists with their research, Epic Games Store giving away Grand Theft Auto V as part of the Mega Sale, Respawn’s new development studio in Vancouver to work on Apex Legends, the limited edition PS4 Pro bundle for The Last of Us Part II, and the new free-to-play multiplayer game, Crucible, from Amazon Game Studios.

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Categories Consumer technology | Video games

This week, using Microsoft Word for genetics, how to get Grand Theft Auto V for free, Respawn opens a studio in Vancouver, the Last of Us Part II PS4 Pro, and new free-to-play shooter, Crucible. But first, using Google Lens to digitize your notes.

Google Lens will transcribe your handwritten notes for you

Google’s image recognition technology, Google Lens, has just levelled up.

It can translate text in real time, identify flora, provide information on landmarks.

And now the software, which is a standalone app on Android devices and built into the Google app on iOS can take the notes that you’ve written on paper and turn them into digital text.

If you’ve got a laptop running a Chrome browser that is signed in with the same Google account, you can paste that text directly onto your computer.

And if you’re on an Android device, you can select text in another language and Google Lens will read it out to you in that language. Pretty handy if you’re levelling up yourself while in isolation.

Researchers make use of Microsoft Word to help with genetic research, including coronavirus

Randall Munroe, the creator of often makes comics about science and technology. So when he had one suggesting that geneticists were using text editors and Word to do their work, I figured he knew something.

While I was unable to confirm that geneticists really do use Word, it makes sense. All genetic material is encoded using four letters: A, C, G, and T (for adenine, cytosine, guanine, and thymine). You can use other text formatting to call out specific sequences, and the spell check feature helps to identify outliers.

Epic Games giving away a new game every week

Epic Games, which in addition to developing the video game Fortnite and the Unreal Engine software that game developers use to make games, also has a digital platform for the distribution and play of computer games.

And the Epic Games Store is having a Mega Sale. Every Thursday until June 11, a new game will be made available for free to own. This week’s game is Grand Theft Auto V from Rockstar, and you’ve got until 8 a.m. PT / 11 a.m. ET tomorrow morning to pick it up. A new game will be available after that.

The sale also includes good deals on games including:

New Vancouver video game studio revealed by EA’s Respawn

Respawn Entertainment is a going concern. The studio behind the free-to-play multiplayer shooter Apex Legends, which has just kicked off season five, is also responsible for the latest Star Wars Game, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order.

And with the success of these newest titles, Respawn has expanded to Vancouver.

The new studio is part of Electronic Arts’ campus in Burnaby – Respawn is owned by EA – although everyone’s working from home right now.

There are about 60 developers currently working on Apex Legends, and a spokesperson told me they are looking to grow to around 80 in the coming months.

Not bad for a company that just turned 10.

Limited edition PS4 Pro console styled after The Last of Us protagonist’s tattoo

The Last of Us Part II is a mere month away from release, and this week Sony announced a limited edition PS4 Pro console to go with the game.

The bundle includes a PS4 Pro console with a matte finish and engraved with a fern graphic that is the design of Ellie’s tattoo.

Ellie is the main protagonist of this sequel, and one of the main characters of the first game released in 2013.

The bundle costs $500 and also comes with a copy of the game on disc and a DualShock 4 controller that is also engraved with the fern. It’s available to pre-order now.

The controller can also be purchased separately for $75.

The fern design carries over to a new PS Gold wireless headset ($120) and a 2 TB external hard drive from Seagate ($115).

The Last of Us Part II releases on June 19.

Amazon’s free to play shooter Crucible out now

There’s a new game in the multiplayer shooter genre for Windows gamers.

Crucible comes from Seattle’s Relentless, a division of Amazon Game Studios, and it gives players ten different “hunters” to embody while teaming up to take on opponents in three different modes.

Alpha Hunters is a last player standing where you start in eight teams of two. Harvester Command has two teams of eight trying to control zones. And Heart of the Hives is a four-on-four race to collect the hearts of creatures that you’ve taken out.

The game takes place on the planet Crucible, which is populated by weird flora and fauna. The characters are varied and include humans, other species, and even a robot. Each of them has unique personalities and abilities.

While the game is free to download and play, you can spend real money on Crucible to alter your experience. Three founders packs are available to purchase for between $17 and $57 that unlock skins and rewards.

Crucible is going to follow the seasonal model adopted by other free-to-play games. It’s in pre-season until July 13, providing players with plenty of time to level up before things get serious.

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