Genuinely functional (and fun) untethered VR that won't brea

Maverick

Ars Technica Newsletter Template
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Firefly Aerospace performing horizontal engine tests

New month, but same old too-often-overlooked reality: whenever we take a breath and get away from the urgent news cycle, it's always astounding how much cool science and tech happens everyday.

Just last week, the world's first available malaria vaccine (boasting nearly 40% effectiveness) cautiously began rolling out to the world, and that barely made a blip on the radar for those not closely watching global health. The same could be said for any other number of exciting possible breakthroughs: small satellite companies testing upper stage rocket engines in Texas cow pastures, companies beginning to offer quantum key distribution as a service (QKADaaS?), and Tesla demonstrating a new neural network computer that seems to be competitive with industry leader Nvidia (and may mean the company is making impressive progress towards autonomous vehicles).

So to start the new month, this week's Orbital Transmission will leave the big news ahead (Google I/O starts in mere days; maybe the Galaxy Fold is still happening?) for a future edition. Instead, we're simply sharing the stuff that recently made us stop, smirk, and remember there's a ton of clever science and tech taking place all the time. After all, who doesn't love a good Commodore port of Super Mario Bros.?

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Orbital Transmission 05.01.2019
The Oculus Quest

Not one, two hyped VR headsets arrive: Valve Index, Oculus Quest

We're forever hesitant to say VR has reached a tipping point and entered the mainstream of gaming, but this week's headset news should be promising for anyone who likes the experience. The Valve Index—from the creators of beloved video game series like Half-Life and Portal and the mega-popular Steam game store—is the best headset of this new VR Generation, but the pricepoint may not be ready for the mainstream. On the other end, the Oculus Quest–from the famed VR company now (possibly unfortunately) one with Facebook—may have graphical limits, but it's priced more competitively with consoles and delivers the best untethered VR experience to date! Again, we're not saying the time for VR has finally come, but things are really looking up at this point.

A whale with a spy camera

Beluga Black Ops: Norwegian fishermen discover Russian spy whale

OK, maybe this isn't amazing tech in the traditional sense—but this week, Norwegian fishermen discovered a friendly beluga whale in the Barents Sea off the northeast coast of Norway on April 25. Belugas are native to the Barents, so the whale's presence wasn't the surprise—the surprise was that it was fitted with a camera harness with Russian markings. (Yes, this may have been a marine animal militarized for spy info reconnaissance.) The harness was reportedly marked with the label "Equipment St. Petersburg" and had an attachment point for a GoPro camera.

Game of Thrones' dragon in modeling software

TV's VFX doesn't get better than Game of Thrones

OK, maybe the latest episode could've been a bit brighter (and the military tactics/story itself a bit stronger), but those effects! From dragon battles against the moonlight to entire armies engulfed in flames, TV simply hasn't had this level of ambition and granular detail execution before. You can kinda tell Game of Thrones is a new bar for TV VFX just by looking, but we asked VFX pros (who concurred). Across the show's seven seasons thus far, Game of Thrones has won the Emmy for "Outstanding Visual Effects—Series" six times (somehow, it lost in S1 to Boardwalk Empire). Star Trek, across all series since the 1960s, only has eight versions of this award. That series brought the idea of beaming down to the mainstream and kinda-sorta predicted the iPad.

Appreciate marvels: hands-free coding and bringing Doom to iOS

A little command line magic never ceases to amaze. First, the Spelunky-like Dig Dog is a pretty fun option new to the Nintendo Switch this week, but its most interesting thing could be the game's origin story. Longtime developer and Austin resident Rusty Moyher was diagnosed with Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) roughly five years ago—while in the middle of a time-crunched game-design project, no less—and found that his only true physical relief came when he took full, 100-percent breaks from typing and using a mouse. So he made Dig Dog with DragonFly NaturallySpeaking, software allowing him to code entirely via voice. On the more traditional coding front, this week mobile developer Tom Kidd took those open source apps on iD Software's GitHub page and spent three years(ish) porting things like Doom II, Final Doom, Quake, Quake II, Quake III: Arena, and Return to Castle Wolfenstein to iOS. As always, bless the coders forever.

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