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DJI’s new interchangeable lens drone camera takes aim at film makers

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DJI just introduced a new camera designed to work with drones, and in particular its Inspire 2 flyer. The camera is a “world first” in that its a super 35 digital film camera tailored for aerial cinematography – in other words, if you’re a filmmaker, documentarian or professional cinematographer, you are probably going to want one of these.

The Zenmuse X7 camera has a large, Super 35 format digital sensor, and supports interchangeable lenses for a range of potential focal lengths. It shoots up to 6K in CinemaDNG RAW format, or can capture in 5.2k Apple ProRes at frame rates of up to 30 FPS. It can also capture 3.9K Cinema DNG RAW or 2.7K ProRes at 59.94 FPS, which should meet the needs of most post-production work from Hollywood on down (or up I guess, depending on your perspective).

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The new DJI camera uses DJI’s DL-Mount system, and works with prime lenses with fixed focal lengths of 16mm, 24mm, 35mm and 50mm, each with a max aperture of F/2.8, and all with carbon fibre bodies to optimize light weighting. The 16mm lens has a built in ND filter that can provide up to 4 extra stops of light control. All together, the array weighs only 631 grams with the 16mm lens attached.

High quality cinema video doesn’t come cheap, of course – but at $2,699 US for the camera, it’s not a bank breaker for production professionals either. The 16mm, 24mm and 35mm lenses weight in at $1,299 each, and the 50mm will cost $1,199. There’s also a combo including the camera body (with its integrated gimbal) and all the lenses for $4,299, with retail availability beginning in November for all of the above.

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Amazon’s original Echo gets a much-needed upgrade

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With a good software-driven product, the hardware is almost inconsequential. After the unboxing and the setup, it just sort of fades into the scenery. That was always the case with Amazon’s original Echo, but even as Alexa continues to do all of the hard work, the grandaddy of smart speakers was in dire need of an update.

It’s been nearly two full years since the first Echo was made available to Amazon Prime subscribers. In that time, the company added six new members to the Echo family (seven if you count the Tap, which Amazon kind of, sort of does) — and in the case of the Echo Dot, did one full product refresh. Google entered the space in a big way with Home, and both Apple and Microsoft have their own takes arriving by year’s end.

While it’s true that Amazon’s products have rarely been about the hardware itself, the original Echo was long overdue for a rethink, as devices like the Dot started blowing past it on the company’s Top Seller charts. Announced at an event at Amazon’s Seattle headquarters last month, the all-new Echo finds Amazon looking to remain competitive in the field it pioneered.

The new Echo is more compact than the original. It’s also better looking, with five swappable shells designed to help it better blend in with its surroundings. The sound has been improved this time out, finally embracing the “speaker” part of the smart speaker category. Perhaps most importantly, however, it’s cheap. At $100, the new Echo is a full $80 cheaper than its predecessor — and $30 less than its closest competitor, Google Home.

It’s Amazon doing what Amazon does best: undercutting the competition.

Undercover Echo

Rumors started circulating about a new Echo a few months back. The line was long overdue for an update, the competition was intensifying and Amazon appeared to be working its way through the last of its Echo back stock. At the time, leaks positioned the product as a HomePod competitor, a high-end device with a new design and premium audio positioned to compete against Apple’s $349 Siri speaker.

Of course, ultra-premium has never really been Amazon’s speed. The Echo’s populist approach has always been a big part of its appeal — a fact the Dot’s $50 price tag really drove home. Alexa users are primarily interested in finding an affordable way to make the smart assistant a part of their home, so the new Echo splits the difference on pricing, while delivering some additional hardware perks that help it stand apart from the best-selling Dot.

It also splits the difference on sizing. The company has shaved about four inches off the original Echo, bringing it down to just a hair under six inches, with a footprint roughly the size of a pint glass (albeit without the tapered sides). It’s not nearly as compact as the Dot, but you’ve got to have a little height to thing if you want to get anything out of those on-board speakers.

The top of the Echo has the same button layout as the second-gen Dot, including volume up and down and Action, which does a variety of different things, including waking the Echo, turning off times and enabling WiFi setup mode. And, perhaps, most importantly, there’s the Microphone Off button, which allows a little extra privacy. Tapping that will turn the LED ring around the perimeter a bright, unmistakable red.

When listening for a command, the ring lights up blue, as always — though, the Echo is always listening, of course, lying in wait for its wake word. Conversations are sent to Amazon’s servers in encrypted form, “including a fraction of a second of audio before the wake word,” according to a statement the company offered up to us earlier this year. But a safe rule of thumb is, if you don’t want what you’re saying sent to the cloud, turn the microphone off.

On the bottom is a small hole you push a finger through to remove the case, of which there are a half-dozen available at the moment, including three fabric colors (black, gray and off-white), two faux wood colors and a shiny silver cover. The swappable cases were a smart move for Amazon — the novelty of owning an Echo-style device has worn off slightly in recent years and many users likely want a product that mostly blends into the background.

The unit Amazon sent along came with the heather gray fabric case, which, as one coworker quickly pointed out, looks as though it’s drawn some pretty direct inspiration from Google’s Home/Pixel design language. Whatever the case, the options here are definitely better for most homes than the RadioShack-style black plastic design of the original Echo.

Sound system

In the past year, sound quality has become a much bigger priority for smart speakers. There’s the HomePod, of course, and the Google Home Max — both of which are being positioned as speakers first, with a smart assistant built in. There’s also been a recent deluge of third-party manufacturers like Sonos, Sony and Harman building their own premium systems, featuring Alexa and Google Assistant.

The new Echo is not that. The sound is definitely improved over the earlier model, but for the time being, the company seems to content to let those third parties do heavy lifting when it comes to building audio-first systems. That, after all, would mean a marked increase in sticker price, making the standard Echo prohibitively expensive for many users.

The addition of the 2.5-inch woofer and 0.6-inch tweeter (same as on the new Echo Plus) means the Echo’s not bad for a $99 speaker. It gets reasonably loud — I had it on a max volume for a bit in the office, and it was distracting but not deafening (sorry coworkers). It’s about the quality you’d expect from a cheap, portable Bluetooth speaker.

It’s good for listening to music or podcasts while washing the dishes or cleaning the apartment, but I wouldn’t want it to be my main home speaker. I’d take something like the similarly priced JBL Charge 3 for that purpose, any day of the week. The good news on that front is that, in addition to multi-room audio through other Echos, the device can be paired to another Bluetooth speaker during setup and features an auxiliary out jack on the back.

Amazon’s standard seven microphone array is back, as, of course, is its far-field tech, which allows different Echos to work in tandem, defaulting to the unit closest to the person speaking. Amazon’s got the microphone down. It was able to recognize my hushed tones from around 20 feet away. Though playing music loudly does impact its ability to hear well, cutting that range by about half in my testing.

Mad skills

Amazon has had a steady march of new skills since releasing the first Echo back in 2014. Earlier this year, the company announced that it had topped the 25,000 mark. Of course, it’s a pretty broad spectrum, as far as usefulness is concerned. Some are pretty game changing for the line. Calling is a big one, letting the device ring other Echos or smartphones. Ditto for voice recognition — Amazon was a bit late to the game on that, but the ability to distinguish speaking voices is a big deal for Echo homes with multiple residents.

Alexa is about to get a big connected home overhaul, as well, bringing new controls to the app and the addition of Routines, which lets users customize multiple features into scenes like “morning” and “evening.” Neither were actually available at the time of testing, but both will be rolling out soon, as the company looks to become an increasingly important presence in the smart home category. In fact, that’s essentially the Echo Plus’ raison d’etre, which is basically the new Echo, only with easier smart home on-boarded (and an additional $50 price tag).

Increased competition from Google, et al. has been a great driver for the line. The new Echo is pretty much exactly what it should be: it’s smaller, better looking and has improved audio, all while staying under $100. The space is only going to continue to heat up over the next several years, and Google is certainly giving Amazon a run for its money with an extremely capable system and far better mobile distribution.

But the line is still synonymous with smart speakers, and Alexa gets more and more capable with each day. It’s not as affordable as the Echo Dot/Home Mini or as flashy as the HomePod/Home Max, but the new $99 Echo is going to sell like hotcakes this holiday season.

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Nintendo nabs two-thirds of monthly game hardware sales thanks to Switch

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Nintendo has managed to lead the industry in video game hardware sales – by a wide margin – for September, which is a very promising sign going into the holiday shopping season. The Nintendo Switch helped this immensely, leading the industry as the top-selling console for the third straight month, and the fifth month overall since its introduction seven months ago.

Switch’s U.S. sales have now topped 2 million units, which is great considering that the Wii U sold all of 6.23 million units across North America during its entire time on the market. Nintendo Switch’s success was also bolstered by continuing 3DS device family sales, as well as Super NES Classic Edition sales, both of which helped it not only lead, but essentially dominate the video game hardware market.

Nintendo Switch is moving into some high-profile software releases for Switch that should help it gain even more consumer traction, including Super Mario Odyssey, which lands on October 27 and which has been widely praised by early players and critics, and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, which, despite being a port of a game that’s now nearly six years old, will still no doubt be a popular download.

Nintendo also just released a software update for the Nintendo Switch that allows data transfer between consoles, including saves, and I can confirm that this works as advertised from personal experience. It’s also added the ability to save and share video clips from certain games, which could help raise the hype factor around high-profile releases. Also, and again from personal experience, this console has basically had just a ton of great releases thus far, which makes me very excited about its future.
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Romeo Power unveils its first consumer power packs

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Romeo Power has just announced what looks to be the mobile charging device of my dreams.

Its wand-shaped “Saber,” using the company’s proprietary power management technology, is a compact little charger that seems ideal for keeping my three-year-old, busted-up MacBook running when I’m on the go.

My computer shuts down within five minutes if it’s separated from an outlet, which means I can’t reap the only benefit of my blogging existence… working from anywhere (Malibu beaches, I’m looking at you).

At least, that was the case until I saw my Romeo (power pack that is).

The company was founded by engineers and designers from SpaceX, Tesla, Samsung, Apple and Amazon, and the personal power pack they designed uses the same technology the company has raised $30 million to roll out for electric vehicles and stationary battery packs.

“Saber is like having a wall socket in your pocket,” touts Dion Isselhardt, the company’s chief design officer and the former senior director of design at Samsung’s Strategy and Innovation Center.

The charger offers 86 watt-hours of power, charges fully in two hours and can recharge most laptops two times. It can charge a tablet two-to-four-times and a phone more than 10 times, the company said.

In outlet-empty, coffee shop-rich cities like Los Angeles, where would-be scribblers would ideally like to spend hours tap-tap-tapping away on the next big screenplay, these chargers could be a blessing (for restaurants and coffee shops… not so much).

The only other battery packs I’ve seen come close are ChargeTech’s, which retail for $249 and are a little bulkier in design. Other battery packs offer a lot of the same charging capabilities, but size and the AC adapter (for Macs) set the ChargeTech and Romeo Power batteries apart (in my book).

The power pack features a Variable AC, USB-C and two USB ports for charging any device that’s less than 90 watts — anything from a drone to DSLR camera to a 15-inch 85-watt MacBook Pro.

The thing can also charge four devices at once with no other accessories required. It clocks in at a fairly hefty 2.2 pounds, but given the power it’s packing, that’s not a large price to pay for the convenience it offers.

As a bonus, the charger is FAA- and TSA-approved, dust proof and water-resistant (I’m looking closer at you, Malibu beaches).

There’s also the battery pack’s power management technology, which recognizes different devices and auto-adjusts output for rapid charging.

The device will come in blue, red, or black and retails for $299 with a pre-order price of $199.

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