Category Archives: Tech

HTC Vive VR headsets fall to all-time lows for Black Friday

HTC's Vive Cosmos is one of the best VR headsets out there, but if we're being real, it's always been a bit too expensive. Now, you can buy that model from Amazon during Black Friday sales for $399 instead of $549, the biggest discount we've seen yet. Amazon also has deals on other HTC headsets and bundles, so it's a good time to jump in if you've been waiting for a sale.

Buy HTC Vive Virtual Reality headsets at Amazon

The Vive Cosmos must be tethered to a PC, but there's no need to install sensors thanks to the inside-out tracking system that works well, according to our Engadget review. It's strongest feature is the bright and sharp screens with very high 2,880 x 1,700 pixel resolution across both eyes, along with decent 90 Hz refresh rates. The biggest downside is the price, as it's far more expensive than Oculus headsets — but the sale brings it on par with rivals. Note that the controllers aren't included.

On top of the standalone headset, you can get a good deal on the HTC Cosmos Elite bundle designed for gamers. Rather than using the inside-out-tracking, the Elite's headset comes preinstalled with an External Tracking Faceplate that can be paired with base stations for higher precision. It includes two base stations and a pair of Vive controllers, along with the Vive Cosmos headset — and now costs $649 instead of $899 for a savings of $250 (28 percent). 

HTC's Vive Pro headset and bundles are also on sale at Amazon at the best prices we've seen. The HTC Vive Pro offers features like 1,440 x 1,600 pixel resolution per eye on the OLED screens, great ergonomics and built-in headphones. They're not for everyone because of the price, as we noted in our review, but you can now pick up the HTC Vive Pro system, including the headset, base stations and controllers 2.0 for $899 instead of $1,199. 

HTC's Vive Pro Eye improves on that with the addition of eye-tracking that uses Tobii's technology. It can follow users' eyeballs in real time, letting developers gather data on where they're looking and when, allowing for new and more immersive experiences. It also allows for foveated rendering, increasing resolution based on where a user is looking. You can now pick up the HTC Vive Pro Eye headset only for $599 instead of $799, and grab the HTC Vive Pro Eye VR system for $1,099, down from the regular $1,399 price. 

Get the latest Black Friday and Cyber Monday offers by visiting our deals homepage and following @EngadgetDeals on Twitter.

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Biden signs law blocking Huawei and ZTE from receiving FCC licenses

US President Joe Biden has signed into law the Secure Equipment Act that blocks companies like Huawei and ZTE from receiving network licenses. The new rules mean the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) can no longer consider any applications for network equipment that may pose a national security threat, Reuters has reported. 

With the measure, the FCC can no longer issue or review licenses to companies on the FCC's "Covered Equipment or Services List." It was passed by a 420-4 House vote and approved unanimously by the US Senate last month. "We have already determined that this gear poses an unacceptable risk to our national security, so closing what I have called the ‘Huawei loophole’ is an appropriate action for us to take," said FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr. 

We have already determined that this gear poses an unacceptable risk to our national security, so closing what I have called the ‘Huawei loophole’ is an appropriate action for us to take.

The FCC formally designated ZTE and Huawei as national security threats last year, finding that the companies had close ties to Chinese Communist Party. However, they were still able to apply for licenses as long as no federal funds were involved. To that end, Carr has been pushing legislators to pass the Secure Equipment Act. 

"Once we have determined that Huawei or other gear poses an unacceptable national security risk, it makes no sense to allow that exact same equipment to be purchased and inserted into our communications networks as long as federal dollars are not involved. The presence of these insecure devices in our networks is the threat, not the source of funding used to purchase them," Carr said back in March. 

Earlier this year, the FCC launched a $1.9 billion "rip and replace" program to help US telecoms replace Huawei and ZTE equipment they may be using. House member Steve Scalise last last week that "Huawei and ZTE "are probably the two most prominent companies that still have a lot of equipment out there where Americans’ data runs across those networks."

Huawei has yet to comment on the legislation, but last summer called the FCC's proposed revision "misguided and unnecessarily punitive." Joe Biden is expected to speak with Chinese leader Xi Jinping in in a "virtual summit" tentatively set for next Monday. 

Apple’s new AirPods Pro with MagSafe charging are already down to $220

When Apple rolled out the new AirPods at its October 18th event, it didn't change the AirPods Pro but did introduce a MagSafe charging case. That's not a bad thing, as they already offered clear sound, good active noise cancellation and always-on Siri access. Now, we're already seeing the new Magsafe model on sale for the first time at Amazon for $220, or $29 off the regular $249 price. 

Buy Apple AirPods Pro at Amazon – $220

The AirPods Pro earned an 87 Engadget score for their improved sound quality, better fitting design, IPX4 water resistance, Siri access and easy switching between Apple devices. They also do a good job blocking out surrounding noise, and the latest feature can boost other people's voices during conversations — useful for folks with mild hearing difficulties. 

As part of its new AirPods and MacBook Pro launch, Apple also gave the AirPods Pro a MagSafe charging case for the same $249 price tag. As before, they have a built-in battery that allows you to go up to 24 hours without needing access to a wall plug. The addition of MagSafe makes charging a bit safer, as the cable will just pull out rather than tripping you or breaking if you accidentally catch it when walking by. 

If that feature doesn't matter much to you, the older AirPods Pro model is also on sale for $197, for a 21 percent discount. They have dropped to lower prices before, so you could also wait for a better deal — like on Black Friday coming up next month.

HBO is no longer available through Amazon Prime Channels

HBO's subscriber numbers will take a hit after it disappears from Amazon Prime Video Channels today. Earlier this month, Amazon told users who signed up for HBO through Channels their $15/month plans would be canceled on September 15th with pro-rated refunds being issued.

In all, HBO is expected to lose around 5 million subscribers as part of this move, which WarnerMedia agreed with Amazon last year. Amazon refused to support HBO Max if it wasn't available through Channels. According to The Hollywood Reporter, HBO may offer its former Amazon subscribers a discount to persuade them to sign up to HBO Max.

That's what this shift is all about for WarnerMedia: cutting out the middleman and having a direct connection to viewers through HBO Max. It's willing to lose some subscribers in the short-term to make that happen, so it can, for instance, personalize the HBO Max home page. WarnerMedia removed HBO as premium add-ons on Apple TV and Roku for similar reasons.

The HBO Max app is available on Amazon Fire TV devices. Those who switched from HBO on Prime Video to HBO Max on Fire TV shouldn't encounter any disruptions when the former disappears from channels, THR notes.

Meanwhile, Amazon is hoping people will subscribe to other premium channels. It's offering discounts on Paramount+, Starz and Showtime plans. You can pay 99 cents per month for two months if you sign up by Friday.

‘Lower Decks’ is an indictment of Abrams and Kurtzman-era Star Trek

The following contains spoilers for season two, episode two of 'Star Trek: Lower Decks.'

I’ve been a Star Trek fan for most of my life, and yet I still chuckled at this Onion video released after the first J.J. Abrams installment came out back in 2009: “Trekkies Bash New Star Trek Film As 'Fun, Watchable.’” Star Trek isn’t to a lot of people’s taste, J.J. Abrams’ among them. He’s said in interviews he never really liked Trek and was trying to make it more like Star Wars. (This was six years before The Force Awakens came out.) The reboot films were a breath of fresh air after four years of no original Trek content, and they did get some new fans into the franchise. Some of those novices would later dip their toe into the water of TV Trek and found that they did actually enjoy it a lot, despite its slower pace.

However, despite the franchise’s strong TV track record with shows like TNG and DS9, the Paramount+ era has been taking its cues from the Abrams films, which isn’t surprising with executive producer Alex Kurtzman at the helm. Alongside Roberto Orci, he’s one of the two screenwriters behind 2009 Star Trek and 2013’s Star Trek Into Darkness, as well as a J.J. Abrams collaborator on Alias and Fringe. Given the box office numbers of the Abramsverse films it makes sense to put him in charge, but it still made a lot of long-time Trekkies groan as we had hoped for a return to the kind of shows we grew up on.

After three seasons of heavy action on Discovery and the jaded grimdark of season one of Picard, the first season of Lower Decks injected some levity back into the franchise, with parody that went up to, but not quite over the line. It couldn’t, since it was intended to be canon. It had to fit alongside TNG, DS9 and Voyager. So it packed in plenty of references to keep the wiki addicts over at the Star Trek-centric Memory Alpha busy, while indulging in old tropes like drunk Klingons, arena battles and the occasional omnipotent being. It also took some direct swipes at the live action Trek shows, like how crew members always seem to die in the most low-tech ways like being impaled by spears or how of course the holodeck is used for sex stuff.

CBS

But those references were always in a more general sense, framed in a “wouldn’t X be ridiculous” way that only long-term fans with deep knowledge of the franchise would fully understand. Until this week’s episode, that is, where crew members of the USS Titan specifically call out the Enterprise D and its galactic cruise ship mentality. Shakespearean plays and string quartets? Peace conferences? How utterly boring compared to the constant run-and-gun that the Titan seems to have been stuck in since last season. They judge the value of their work based on how exciting it is, and think that William Riker must have been bored to tears being stuck on that ship for seven years.

Of course, TNG fans know it was anything but boring for Riker. He’s been locked in a mental institution, trapped in an alternate future and even had god-like powers for an episode. And he likes performing in jazz concerts with his trombone!

Pictured: Jonathan Frakes as Captain William T. Riker of the CBS All Access series STAR TREK: LOWER DECKS.   Photo Cr: Best Possible Screen Grab CBS 2020 CBS Interactive, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
CBS

None of this slander sits right with new crew member Brad Boimler, who transferred over from the USS Cerritos at the end of last season. The Titan’s pursuit of the dangerous Pakleds has the young lieutenant junior grade in a constant state of panic as he mans the flight conn position, a big change from quietly toiling away on the lower decks of his old ship. But he’s recognized that this is where the opportunities for promotion are, and soon finds himself on an undercover mission with his fellow bridge crew. At least, it’s supposed to be undercover — the other Titan members quickly get them embroiled in a shootout and facing certain death.

That’s when Boimler takes the opportunity to tell his crewmates how he really feels. “I’d love to be in a string quartet. I love that when Riker was on the Enterprise he was out there jamming on the trombone and catching love disease and acting in plays and meeting his identical transporter clone Thomas. That stuff might not seem as cool as what you guys do, but it’s Starfleet, all the way.” His confession elicits similar confessions from the other team members, before they manage to find a way out in classic technobabble fashion.

CBS

For years Star Trek has always danced around the question of whether Starfleet was a military force. It employs naval ranks and the ships are outfitted with phasers and photon torpedoes for defense. But its stated purpose was exploration and other activities that help tie the vast Federation together. The Abrams films spent all their time reacting to one crisis after another — the crew didn’t start an actual mission of exploration until the very end of Beyond, and there hasn’t been another film since to follow up on that.

Both DS9 and Discovery engaged in wars with the Klingon Empire. On Enterprise the crew ended up hunting down the Xindi with a cadre of trained soldiers on board for its third season. Even Voyager had to deal with the constant accusations that they were a conquering force as they struggled to get home. Lower Decks is our first look in a while at a Starfleet dedicated to exploration, with the crew of the Cerritos specializing in “second contact,” that is, getting communication and trade set up with the planets that flashier ships like the Enterprise meet in their adventures. 

So Lower Decks has always been a sort of commentary on the greater Star Trek philosophy, but it’s never been as blatant as Brad Boimler saying, “I didn’t join Starfleet to get in phaser fights. I signed up to explore, to be out in space making new discoveries and peaceful diplomatic solutions. That’s boldly going.”

CBS

The Onion video takes old school Trek fans to task for being gatekeepers, for wallowing and fetishizing things that other folks find boring. The new era of Trek has stretched the definition of what Star Trek could be, expanding into new genres and injecting a little action to sate the appetites of modern audiences. But Lower Decks is the first time I’ve seen pushback from within the franchise itself. The show is basically saying, “Sure, Star Trek can be exciting, but there’s a reason it became popular in the first place!” Let’s hope that with future programs like Strange New Worlds, Alex Kurtzman is listening.