Catch up on all the virtual reality news from Sundance

Right now is an exciting time for VR, and this year’s Sundance Film Festival is full proof of that. Over the past few days, we’ve experienced new virtual reality horizons and got to know some of the visionaries who have jump-started the technology. VR, arguably in its second life, has opened up a novel medium for storytelling and a way to create deeply immersive experiences for most any audience — be it with films, video games or, why not, a full-body flight simulator. Here’s the best part: This is only the beginning.

VR at Sundance 2015

Boeing and SpaceX schedule crucial safety tests ahead of ISS trips

SpaceX and Boeing spoke together in public for the first time with NASA and unveiled their plans to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) in 2017. NASA selected the companies last September to build manned spacecraft for its Commercial Crew Program, and both have tight schedules to make. A crucial phase will be the so-called pad abort tests, which “provide astronauts a means of escaping a potentially catastrophic situation,” according to NASA. Boeing will run its pad abort tests in February 2017, with an uncrewed flight test in April and a full mission with a test pilot and NASA astronaut slated for July, 2017. Meanwhile, SpaceX’s pad abort test and in-flight abort test are scheduled for later this year, with a manned trip planned for 2017.

SpaceX’s pad abort test will take place on a truss in Cape Canaveral, Florida, rather than an actual Falcon 9 rocket. If it works, the Dragon Capsule’s thrusters will fire and carry a test dummy to safety, simulating what could happen in a launch malfunction. The following year, Dragon will be mounted to a modified Falcon 9 rocket for the in-flight tests to demonstrate its ability to abort at altitude. Boeing has yet to detail exactly how it will conduct its own tests on the CST-100 capsule.

The missions will be the first to launch humans into space from US craft since the space shuttle was decommissioned in 2011. SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket/Dragon crew capsule, and Boeing’s CST-100 capsule (strapped to a Delta V rocket) will also be the first private US vehicles to fly manned missions. They’ll allow NASA to increase its crew complement on the ISS from six to seven, enabling personnel to double their research hours to 80 per week. For a more detailed dive, check the entire press conference in the video below.

Engadget giveaway: win a Samsung Galaxy Note 4 courtesy of Parallels!

Parallels has been helping people toggle OSes for years with its virtualization software, and even lets mobile users access their PC-based files with apps for Android and iOS. This year, the company launched Parallels Access 2.5 to help unify the experience more completely, with Computer-to-Computer Remote Access and a Universal File Manager feature. For those with Samsung’s Galaxy Note 4 and Galaxy Note Edge, there’s now S Pen integration and a bonus six-month subscription, and there’s support for the recent OS X Yosemite and Windows 10 Technical Preview releases. As always, one of you lucky folks will get to indulge in this week’s goodies: a one-year subscription to Parallels Access 2.5 and a brand new Galaxy Note 4. All you need to do is head down to the Rafflecopter widget below for up to three chances at winning this handset and software combo. If you just want to try the new app now, you can download a free two-week demo.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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  • Winners will be chosen randomly. One (1) winner will receive one (1) Samsung Galaxy Note 4 (International model / HSPA+, 32GB, unlocked) and a one-year subscription to Parallels Access 2.5.
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  • Entries can be submitted until January 28th at 11:59PM ET. Good luck!

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Announcing ‘Three Bens in VR’, a podcast about virtual reality

Do you like podcasts? Do you like virtual reality? I’m hoping you occupy that particular sweet spot on the venn diagram. I’m Ben Gilbert, and this is “Episode Zero” of “Three Bens in VR,” the pilot episode of a podcast about all things virtual reality — hosted by three guys named Ben! You’ve probably read some of the many, many pieces I’ve written on virtual reality right here on Engadget, and you’ve probably read the many works of my esteemed colleagues Ben Kuchera (of Polygon) and Ben Lang (of RoadtoVR). Regardless of our shared first name, what unites us on this show is a shared passion for the emerging medium of virtual reality.

So! Do us all a solid and give it a listen — be warned that there’s a brief section of wonky audio around three minutes in! Then let us know how you feel about the show in the comments, or via Twitter (all our handles are linked below), or however else you’d like! We want to hear it!

Hosts: Engadget senior editor Ben Gilbert, Polygon senior editor Ben Kuchera and RoadtoVR executive editor Ben Lang

Music: Steve Combs – +32 (FMA)

Producer: Jon Turi

Direct download: Episode Zero

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Snapchat delivers news (and ads) with Discover

It’s been a long time in the making, but Snapchat’s new Discover feature is ready to go… and so is the app’s transformation from a pure messaging service into a full-blown media destination. Once the app update is in place, a quick tap on a circle icon that lives in the top right corner of the screen takes you away from your inbox and plops in front of a curated selection of stories from media partners like CNN, Yahoo, Vice, ESPN and even Snapchat’s own fledgling editorial team.

Like those snaps you’re scribbled all over and sent, these stories too will disappear into the void, just not as quickly. They’re delivered as part of what Snapchat calls “editions” — bundles of stories crafted by deep-pocketed content partners — that disappear after 24 hours. Naturally, Snapchat’s ideal for pushing videos around, but this is all longer fare that you can skipping through by thumbing the tracking bar at the top of the screen. You’ll also see a handful of actual articles peppering those editions too, laden with plenty of photos to keep the sort of Snapchat-encouraged micro-scale attention spans from getting too frazzled.

If none of that sounds particularly Snapchatty to you, well, you’re not alone on that train of thought. What began as a short-lived way to share life’s ridiculous moments with your cadre of young friends has ballooned into a messaging juggernaut helmed by a 22 year old who felt no (or very few) qualms about batting down multi-billion dollar acquisition offers from Facebook. In doing so, Snapchat also found itself in the unenviable position of, you know, trying to make money despite an insane amount of hype and very little to show for its past efforts. That makes Discover the startup’s most pronounced attempt at a money grab yet — reports published prior to the feature’s launch claimed that Snapchat would take a (sadly undefined) chunk of ad revenue before passing the rest along its media partners. It’s worth noting though that ads are conspicuously absent from the mix so far, save for the occasional sponsorship splash screen making an appearance.

Now the question is whether people, regular people, actually ever feel need to explore the newer side of Snapchat. Discover strays juuuuust far enough from the app’s core formula to consign itself to a near-future of a weird looks, but the broad swath of publishers flocking to the app means there’s a little something for everyone.

Netflix’s ‘A.K.A. Jessica Jones’ gets David Tennant for a villain

Once you’ve won the hearts of a planet as the dashing lead in a science fantasy show, you’re faced with the lingering specter of typecasting. One actor who has managed to avoid such perils is David Tennant, who has thrown himself into any – and every – role imaginable to avoid being known as just The 10th Doctor. Now, however, the Scotsman is returning to the genre that made his name, after taking a role as the villain in Marvel and Netflix’s forthcoming A.K.A. Jessica Jones. There’s some more detail after the break, but be warned: there might be some spoilers.

Tennant has taken on the role of Kilgrave, the TV version of notorious bad guy The Purple Man. In the source material, Dr. Killgrave (two l’s) kidnaps and tortures the superhero Jewel for several months. Only after a bungled assassination attempt on Daredevil do The Avengers and X-Men rescue her. Unfortunately, Jewel is so traumatized by the event that she renounces the superhero life and goes back to being Jessica Jones. Given Marvel’s penchant for cross-overs and cameos – we’ve already seen Samuel L. Jackson pop up on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, for instance – it’s probably worth keeping your eyes peeled to the background scenes in Netflix’s Daredevil.

Moment’s camera case gives your iPhone a two-stage shutter key

If there’s one thing (and there is) I miss about carrying around my Lumia 1020, it’s that phone’s dedicated, two-stage camera button. Designed to mimic “real” camera shutter releases, it’s a feature I’ve missed dearly on my current daily driver, Apple’s iPhone 6. Seattle-based Moment seems to think I’m not alone in wanting a more camera-like experience when snapping pics with my phone. Starting today, the small company is taking to Kickstarter to launch the Moment Case — a camera case it hopes will bring DSLR-like control to iPhone shutterbugs.

Moment Case (hands-on)

To achieve that goal, Moment’s case adds a raised camera grip and, perhaps most notably, a two-stage shutter release key. There’s no mechanical connection between the case and the iPhone; instead, the Moment Case uses Bluetooth Low Energy to bridge the gap. As with a DSLR shutter release, you can lock focus and exposure with a half-press before pressing fully down to take a shot. “We believe this is the future of photography; it’s in your pocket,” Moment’s Marc Barros told me in the company’s Seattle offices. “We’re attempting to bring the features of a DSLR to your phone.”

The grip builds on the success of Moment’s lenses, a pair of detachable, high-quality optics the company launched via Kickstarter last year. While those lenses are compatible with a variety of iOS and Android smartphones and tablets through mounting plates, the Moment Case is custom-made for the iPhone 6.

Prices start at $49 for either an all-black or black-and-white model, like the prototype I checked out. Higher-priced packages include the company’s lenses — $125 for one of Moment’s two currently available optics (a wide-angle or a tele); $199 for both. The $299 top-tier offering includes a laser-engraved walnut grip.

I had the opportunity to handle one of Moment’s prototype cases and came away fairly impressed by the form factor and the substantial travel of the signature two-stage key. In fact, a half-press on the Moment Case prototype takes more effort than some full presses on other devices — there should be no mistaking when you’ve got it halfway down. Responsiveness seemed solid for the most part, and the Bluetooth Low Energy connection only suffered a few momentary hiccups during my brief time with the case (likely due to the case’s prototype status). The grip gives your right hand more real estate to grab when shooting, though it’s not as pronounced as, say, the Lumia 1020′s accessory grip. I happened to be wearing the skinniest jeans I own (though they’re fairly normal, I figure), and the Moment Case slipped in my front pocket surprisingly easily.

With focus control moved away from the screen, Barros used the associated Moment App to lock focus with the shutter release, and then used his finger to meter a different part of the scene to lock exposure. You can also slide your finger on the screen to adjust exposure levels. “What we’re finding is you’re taking better, cleaner pictures,” he said.

Moment Case Press Photos

The Moment Case is powered by a standard watch battery housed inside the grip — Barros said battery life should be around six months, but I obviously didn’t have time to test that claim. The case is compatible with Moment’s add-on lenses and it felt pretty well-balanced with one attached. Barros added that the plan is for the case to recognize which lens is mounted and offer specific options in the app depending on what’s connected. If you’re especially serious about your phone-based photography, the case also supports camera straps via an aluminum bar at the base. Whether you opt for the strap or not, Barros said the idea is for the Moment Case to be your default iPhone enclosure.

“It’s an in-your-pocket, everyday case,” he said. “It just happens to take great pictures.”

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FTC to connected device makers: Focus on security and privacy

The Federal Trade Commission just laid out its initial recommendations for the burgeoning Internet of Things industry — and they’re pretty much what you’d expect. In an extensive report (PDF) released this morning, the agency emphasized that connected device makers will need to think hard about security, as well as how they manage consumers’ private information. That shouldn’t be news to any company that’s been developing web-enabled products over the past few decades, but it’ll be particularly important when even the most mundane devices in our lives are filled with sensors and connected. “The only way for the Internet of Things to reach its full potential for innovation is with the trust of American consumers,” FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez said in a statement. “We believe that by adopting the best practices we’ve laid out, businesses will be better able to provide consumers the protections they want and allow the benefits of the Internet of Things to be fully realized.”

The FTC’s suggestions include considering security when new products are being design (instead of as an afterthought), developing in-depth strategies for when security risks are found, and supporting devices throughout their lifetime (including patching them when necessary). Given that most consumers likely won’t even notice when one of their smart devices are compromised (it probably won’t be as obvious as a typical PC virus or malware infection), there’s more of an impetus of the companies creating connected devices to keep an eye on things. The agency also recommends that companies consider data minimization, the process of keeping consumer data for only a limited period, as well offer people the ability to control exactly how they’re data is used. This all may seem obvious, but it’s crucial for the FTC to make it clear. After all, you probably don’t want your future connected toilet to get compromised and publish the dirty details of your daily routine on Facebook.

120 Sports streams its live news and analysis on Apple TV

With the backing of Sports Illustrated, MLB, NHL, the PGA tour and more, 120 Sports started streaming free live sports news and analysis on the web and mobile devices last June. Now, the digital network is making the leap to set-top boxes, starting with Apple TV. The channel delivers 8 hours of live coverage every day, with the “120 Morning Run” from 8-10 AM ET during the week. Football fans can take a long lunch for “120 Football Fix” from 12-2 PM ET, and if you miss a live broadcast, there’s a library of videos for on-demand viewing, too.

Owners of Cupertino’s streaming gadget can expect a Catch-Up stream of curated videos based on the current hot topics, and a Timeline mode that puts what’s live up top, followed by previously-aired material. Hopefully other devices will be privy to the internet channel soon, but for now, only Apple TV is getting the goods. If you’ve cut the cord, or just really don’t like Mike Mike, 120 Sports offers a solid alternative for a quality sporting news fix. And best of all: it’s free.

Smart, touch-free thermometer gets temperatures for almost anything

There’s no shortage of smart thermometers out there, but they tend to have one or more catches: many only work in certain conditions, aren’t very pocketable or require some kind of contact. JoyWing’s upcoming Wishbone may just tackle all of those problems in one fell swoop. The tiny, Y-shaped gadget plugs into your smartphone’s audio jack and uses an infrared sensor to gauge temperatures without contact, regardless of whether you’re pointing it at your baby’s forehead, a hot drink or the great outdoors. It should be both accurate and fast (just two seconds to get a reading, the company claims), and the matching Android and iOS apps will let you track conditions over time.

It won’t cost much to get a Wishbone if you’re interested, although it’s unsurprisingly more expensive than basic, single-purpose thermometers. JoyWing is crowdfunding the project, and it’ll take a pledge of between $26 to $35 to set a device aside for yourself. You shouldn’t have to wait long if you do plunk down some cash. The company plans to produce and deliver the first Wishbones in April, so you could be using it just in time to detect bouts of spring fever.