Category: Entertainment

May The Pork Be With You: Angry Birds goes Star Wars?

If you believe, like the classic Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup commercials told us, that “two great tastes go great together”, you’re going to love what Rovio has in store for you.

Especially if two of your favourite things happen to be Star Wars and Angry Birds.

Maybe Rovio’s recent sequel to their record-breaking game “Angry Bird Space” got their designers in the mood, or maybe, just like legions of other gamers they too are Star Wars fans. Whatever the reason, it looks like the next instalment of the birds vs. pigs game will feature the sights and sounds of the most influential science fiction movie of all time.

At least that’s what we’re (ahem) forced to conclude after checking out the company’s new Tumblr blog and the accompanying animated GIF:

angry birds star wars teaser

So readers, does this little tease have you shivering in anticipation, or are you playing it Han Solo cool?

[Source: Rovio via TechCrunch]

Apple's new ads are basically Genius

Only in a world where one company has established a reputation not only for ground-breaking gadgets, but also the ads that promote them, can we legitimately write a tech post about Apple’s new ads.

These aren’t just the latest ads promoting the new iPad or iCloud or the new MacBook Pro. Those ads have a very Apple-esque feel and are precisely what we’ve come to expect from Apple’s agency ever since they put the wonderful Mac vs. PC campaign to bed a few years ago.

The ads I’m referring to are the brand-new “Genius” ads just launched in the U.S. and man do they ever live up to Apple’s once heavily promoted motto “Think Different.”

As the name suggests, these ads centre around the Apple Genius – the guy or gal at the back of every Apple store, clad in a blue t-shirt and sporting a distinctive silver doodad on a lanyard around their neck. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll know that these “geniuses” are the people you go to when you have an Apple-related question, no matter how big or small.

Perhaps in an attempt to talk to those of us who have indeed been living under rocks, Apple’s new campaign tries to impart a personality to the otherwise nameless geniuses that staff their stores. But does it work?

It’s hard to say. The campaign has kicked off with three new spots. The ads are funny, but not in the laugh-out-loud way that Mac vs. PC tended to be. The actor cast as the Genius is likeable – you can almost see the briefing to the casting director: “Find us Matthew Broderick.” Watching all three spots you can clearly catch glimpses of the famous actor from his roles in 1980s era classics Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, War Games and LadyHawke.

And yet, you kind of get the feeling that the ads are trying too hard. Ken Segall, in his Observatory blog describes the campaign as “[…]something Best Buy would do. Maybe even Dell. Between the writing, casting, directing and production, this campaign has a very “local” feel to it. It doesn’t have the feel of quality that has defined previous Apple advertising.”

Readers, what do you think? Has Apple kept up its reputation for top-notch advertising, or is this latest campaign a mistake the company should quietly (but quickly) walk away from?

Update, August 7: Apparently Apple has pulled the Genius TV ads. Though their agency,  TBWA/Media/Arts Lab claims the plan was always to give the ads a short run, clearly the overwhelming negative perception surrounding the spots was a big influence on their decision.

Watch as quadrocopters play the theme from James Bond

I’m a sucker for remote controlled helicopters. They’re a blast whether you use them indoors to terrorize your colleagues or outdoors to terrorize your neighbours. But as cool as remote helis are, they don’t hold a candle to remote quadrocopters, or quad-rotors as they’re sometimes called.

Especially when said quadrocopters are remotely controlled by a computer to execute a complex yet beautiful set of manoeuvres. Did I mention there’s also music involved?

Check out this amazing video that demonstrates the potential of these tiny machines. The performance was created by Vijay Kumar and his team at the General Robotics, Automation, Sensing and Perception (GRASP) Lab at the University of Pennsylvania and presented as part of Kumar’s TED2012 talk. This group of engineers studies how swarms of robots such as these quadricopters can work together – sensing each other in real time and reacting appropriately.

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I’m not the first person to make the connection between this performance and the zany musical exploits of perennial YouTube favourites OK Go, and for good reason: each takes music performance to a whole new level.

If you’re curious, do a few searches for quad-copter or quad-rotors on YouTube – you’ll be amazed at what you’ll find. These four-rotor machines are supremely maneuverable and can hover in one spot with a greater precision than a single-rotor craft.

When we attended CES 2012 earlier this year, we had a chance to see the latest version of the Parrot AR.Drone, a quadrocopter with some unique features and a price tag that is within reach of most hobbyists: Approx. $300 USD. While not quite as powerful or precise as the models being flown by the team from GRASP, the AR.Drone is still a fantastic piece of robotic tech.

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Let’s just hope we never anger the computers controlling these flying machines, or we might be the next to be terrorized!

YouTube launches movie rentals in Canada

Known simply as YouTube Movies, the service which launched in the U.S. earlier this year, is now ready for a Canadian audience.

Similar to other online rental options such as iTunes, YouTube Movies lets viewers choose from an ever-increasing catalog of titles ranging from new releases such as Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I and Battle Los Angeles to older favourites like Superman II and Roxanne.

Pricing for the rentals, which will be viewable for 24 to 48 hours (depending on the title), will start at $3.99 for older releases while the most current titles will cost $4.99. The rental period begins the first time you hit play.

YouTube, which will be competing with established powerhouse Netflix, has no plans at the moment to offer a subscription price plan for unlimited viewing.

Another challenge for YouTube Movies is a lack of integration with popular home entertainment devices like Sony’s PS3, Microsoft’s Xbox 360 and Nintendo’s Wii, all of which have embedded Netflix options to let users watch movies on their big screen TVs.

At launch, the only way to get YouTube Movies on your TV is to connect your computer to it, preferably with an HDMI cable. Auxiliary devices like D-Link’s Boxee Box and others that offer full web access might provide another alternative.

But viewers may be fine sticking with their PCs or small screen devices like iPads: for the moment, all YouTube Movie titles are in standard definition – roughly the same quality as a regular DVD.

The Canadian version of YouTube Movies will offer many more Canadian productions than its U.S. counterpart: Google has established partnerships with several distribution companies such as Alliance Films in order to differentiate themselves in the market while also making it less likely that CRTC will want to regulate them over a lack of Can Con as some journalists have suggested might happen to the nascent online video space.

To rent movies from YouTube, simply sign-up for a Google account (if you are already a Gmail user or are registered with one of their other products you can use that account) and provide the company with payment information in the form of a credit card.

Facebook launching music service, but not in Canada

image credit: Forbes.com

According to a report by Parmy Olson on Forbes.com, Facebook has signed a deal with streaming music provider, Spotify, in a move that could see music added to the giant social network in as little as two weeks.

Unfortunately for Canadians and Americans, Spotify has yet to sign the necessary agreements with North American record labels to bring its very popular product to Facebookers in Canada and the U.S.

Olson makes the connection between Facebook and Spotify clear for those who aren’t familiar with the two organizations: Not only is Mark Zuckerberg a big fan of Spotify, Facebook’s first president and early Napster employee, Sean Parker, sits on Spotify’s board, while the two companies also share investors.

But the coming-together of these entities is not limited to dollars and directors. While Spotify started out in 2006 as a way to listen to music online, it has grown considerably since then, most recently in 2010 when it added a social networking feature powered by – you guessed it – Facebook.

Once integrated into Facebook officially, according to Olson, a Spotify icon of some description will appear to the left of users’ Newsfeed.

The intent is move Facebook’s media strategy forward (they already have a movie agreement with Warner Bros.) while giving Spotify access to a massive new source of potential subscribers. Spotify’s free service is ad-supported, but they also have a paid service which is ad-free and offers a higher bitrate for the music streams.

The real question however is: Will this new socially-powered angle prove tantalizing enough to Facebook users to make a real difference for either company? After all, this is hardly an original concept. Microsoft tried to make music social with their nearly-defunct Zune product – even going so far as to let users of their Zune media players “find” other Zune-ers who were located within range of the device’s Wi-Fi connection. Apple has kicked this can too with their poorly received Ping product which is now a feature built-in to every copy of iTunes and several of their devices including the iPhone. Yet even with Apple’s significant market share, Ping is hardly a success story.

But if social music on Facebook is going to be a success, it will happen in Canada. Why? Turns out our very own country has the world’s most extreme users of Facebook. I can’t say I’m surprised. Sync readers seem to have an insatiable appetite for all things Facebook-related. So that’s all the more reason why Spotify has to hurry up and sort out whatever remaining legal hurdles it faces with record labels and add Canada to its list of supported countries. Heck, given how rabid Canadians are when it comes to Facebook, it might make sense to get the Canadian deals ironed out first, before the U.S. – we could be the perfect test-bed for new features.

Alright readers – your turn: Are you excited by the idea of being able to share your musical tastes with your FB friends via an integrated platform like Spotify?

[Source: Forbes.com]

Google Maps + Arcade Fire = groundbreaking web video

chrome_landing_arcade_fireOne of the many things that I love about the Internet, is the way it provides a nearly unlimited canvas for creativity, and then, once an artist has put the finishing touches on their work, the word can spread like wildfire and touch millions of people’s lives in a matter of hours.

I’ve just finished watching – and participating in – an experience that only the net could give us and I’m stunned by its beauty and originality.

It’s called “The Wilderness Downtown” and it combines the technology of Google’s Chrome browser, with the visual data of Google Maps & Street View all set to a track by Canadian band Arcade Fire – arguably one of the most influential groups in today’s music landscape.

If this description doesn’t sound nearly as exciting as my lead-in would suggest, you’re right. That’s because describing The Wilderness Downtown is sort of like describing the colour blue or the feeling of being cold. You could try, but ultimately all three of these items need to be experienced to be understood.

In a nutshell, The Wilderness Downtown uses your computer monitor as a multi-window display for a music video of Arcade Fire’s “We Used to Wait“. By opening and closing Google Chrome windows in different shapes, sizes and locations on your screen, each with a different visual element, your whole desktop becomes the video. But that’s just the beginning.

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Screenshot from The Wilderness Downtown - click to enlarge

Using location information that you provide before the experience begins (the website asks for the street address of where you grew up), a significant portion of the video you see is pulled from Google’s Maps & Street View to show you sights that are unique to you as a viewer. Depending on how old you are and how many memories you have associated with your childhood neighbourhood, the effect is both eerie and profound.

There is also a portion of the experience that you are invited to take part in, but I’m not going to tell you what it is – but take my word for it – it’s worth doing. Don’t ignore it.

The Wilderness Downtown isn’t just an intense experience for the viewer – it’s also a workout for your computer. The site suggests – and I firmly agree – that you shut down all other programs or processes that might be eating up CPU cycles or your broadband connection. The best experience would be to run Chrome (it won’t work in any other browser) maximized on your desktop. Doing so ensures that you avoid any visual distractions and will hopefully prevent stuttering video or audio. Netbook users, you may be out of luck.

Check it out and tell us what you think.