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Peak Design’s Everyday Backpack Zip and Everyday Backpack V2 are top-notch photo and travel bags

20:11 | 28 November

Peak Design has evolved from a crowdfunded upstart into a trusted accessory brand for photographers everywhere, and this week it introduced updates to its ‘Everyday’ line of backpacks and bags. These new and improved designs offer stuff that impresses anyone who was previously a fan of Peak’s work, and should also win the company brand new fans, based on my testing of the all-new Everyday Backpack Zip 20L and the updated Everyday Backpack V2 30L.

Everyday Backpack Zip 20L

The Everyday Backpack Zip is a brand new product for Peak, taking a lot of inspiration from the Everyday backpack but opting for a full zip closure in place of the MagLatch that it created and introduced on the Everyday line. Opting to go with a zipper instead of the MagLatch means that the Zip backpack doesn’t have the same capacity expandability to allow you to stuff more… stuff… in the top compartment, but it also offers its own benefits depending on your needs.

First, there’s price: The Backpack Zip 20L I reviewed will cost you $219.95, which is $40 less than the equivalent Everyday Backpack with the magnetic closure. It’s not a huge gap, but if you’re looking to save a few dollars it’s a good value for what you get. The Zip also comes in a smaller 15L capacity, the smallest size for any of the Everyday Backpacks, and that’s a nice compact bag for anyone with a smaller frame or looking to carry less gear.

The zipper enclosure is also interesting in its own right, allowing you to fully open the back of the bag if you want. By default, there are rigid dividers in the backpack to effectively give it shelves, but should you want to remove these, this makes this the most easily packable Peak backpack in this daypack size range. It’s therefore a great choice for those looking for a backpack to use for purposes other than as a camera bag.

The Everyday Zip also still packs a ton of connection points for you to hook gear to, as well as improved zippers vs. Peak’s original packs. There’s a dedicated laptop sleeve with a tablet pocket that can fit 15″ laptops on the 20L and 13″ laptops on the 15L. The 20L also features the all-new adjustable laptop pocket design that Peak introduced on this generation, which includes an adjustable shelf that lets it more easily hold smaller laptops without them falling all the way to the bottom. It’s also on the standard Backpack V2, and it’s an awesome and easy-to-use quality of life improvement.

Like the Everyday Backpack, the Zip also features a pass-through luggage strap for putting it on a roller while you’re making your way through an airport, and interlocking zipper pulls that can help prevent anyone from quickly tugging open the bag to try to manage a quick pass-by theft. The durable, ripstop fabric exterior is also great for lifetime sustainability.

In terms of capacity, this is a smaller bag but it can still fit a lot of gear – I was able to pack my Sony 70-200 f/2.8 GM, Sony 100-400 f/2.8 GM and my Sony A7R IV with the 24-70 f/2.8 GM attached for instance, though fitting all that in with the requisite accessories is probably too tight a fit and merits moving up to the bigger sizes of the V2.

 

Everyday Backpack V2 30L

The improved Everyday Backpack V2 brings back the MagLatch, with a new design that Peak says is “more ergonomic and sleek.” It definitely stands out less than before, and does seem to be more intuitive to use, which is good news. The sides are again accessible via two zippered compartments (all the zippers are improved and designed for more durability) and the interior is divided by three included velcro, flexible dividers.

The overall look of the Everyday Backpack V2 has been tweaked – and for the better. It was already one of the better looking photo backpacks you could buy, but Peak has made it more rounded this generation, and improved the look of all the seams for a look that just generally projects more quality and attention to detail.

Peak sent the 30L version for me to review, and the capacity difference between it and the 20L Zip allows for packing in way more stuff, including all the various accessories like extra batteries and chargers, mics and more you’re likely to want with you on a dedicated photo or video shoot. I could easily pack the same lens+body combo mentioned above, plus a Mavic Mini and a second Sony A7III body in the 30L.

That height-adjustable laptop sleeve is again present, and makes an even bigger difference on the 30L, since the pocket is deeper to begin with. On my existing V1 Everyday, chasing down the company-issue 13″ MacBook Pro in that cavernous pocket was always a bit like diving deep to pull a rabbit out of a hat, but here it’s really easy and far less likely to give your fingers rug burn.

The shoulder straps on the Everyday V2 are also improved, and they do feel more comfortable based on initial testing. They also now have embedded magnets that connect to the back of the bag when you’re not wearing it, which is actually wonderful for when you’re stowing the bag in an airplane overhead compartment, or putting it through the scanner at the airport security checkpoint. It’s a small detail, but then again Peak’s whole rep is built on it including small details, like the various stowable straps, that remain out of the way until needed and then really deliver awesome convenience.

Bottom Line

Just like the originals, Peak has delivered what are likely the most thoughtful, carefully designed photography backpacks available on the market with their V2 range. The fact that Peak as a company is now also focused on ensuring they can build and deliver their products in a way that has a neutral impact on the climate is just an added benefit of its ability to engineer and deliver high-quality, functional gear.

Peak’s stuff is not for everyone – you can definitely get totally fine photo gear for less money. But it’s a category-leading choice for anyone with the means and a great value if you’re looking for a long-term, modular solution that you can go everywhere with.

 


0

Android’s Ambient Mode will soon come to ‘select devices’

21:00 | 26 November

You’ve probably heard murmurs about Google’s forthcoming Ambient Mode for Android . The company first announced this feature, which essentially turns an Android device into a smart display while it’s charging, in September. Now, in a Twitter post, Google confirmed that it will launch soon, starting with a number of select devices that run Android 8.0 or later.

At the time, Google said Ambient Mode was coming to the Lenovo Smart Tab M8 HD and Smart Tab tablets, as well as the Nokia 7.2 and 6.2 phones. According to the Verge, it’ll also come to Sony, Nokia, Transsion and Xiaomi phones, though Google’s own Pixels aren’t on the company’s list yet.

“The ultimate goal for proactive Assistant is to help you get things done faster, anticipate your needs and accomplish your tasks as quickly and as easily as possible,” said Google Assistant product manager Arvind Chandrababu in the announcement. “It’s fundamentally about moving from an app-based way of doing things to an intent-based way of doing things. Right now, users can do most things with their smartphones, but it requires quite a bit of mental bandwidth to figure out, hey, I need to accomplish this task, so let me backtrack and figure out all the steps that I need to do in order to get there.”

Those are pretty lofty goals. In practice, what this means, for now, is that you will be able to set an alarm with just a few taps from the ambient screen, see your upcoming appointments, turn off your connected lights and see a slideshow of your images in the background. I don’t think that any of those tasks really consumed a lot of mental bandwidth in the first place, but Google says it has more proactive experiences planned for the future.

 

 


0

VTEX, an e-commerce platform used by Walmart, raises $140M led by SoftBank’s LatAm fund

19:56 | 22 November

E-commerce now accounts for 14% of all retail sales, and its growth has led to a rise in the fortunes of startups that build tools to enable businesses to sell online. In the latest development, a company called VTEX — which originally got its start in Latin America helping companies like Walmart expand their business to new markets with an end-to-end e-commerce service covering things like order and inventory management; front-end customer experience and customer service — has raised $140 million in funding, money that it will be using to continue taking its business deeper into more international markets.

The investment is being led by SoftBank, specifically via its Latin American fund, with participation also from Gávea Investimentos and Constellation Asset Management. Previous investors include Riverwood and Naspers, and Riverwood continues to be a backer, too, the company said.

Mariano Gomide, the CEO who co-founded VTEX with Geraldo Thomaz, said the valuation is not being disclosed, but he confirmed that the founders and founding team continue to hold more than 50% of the company. In addition to Walmart, VTEX customers include Levi’s, Sony, L’Oréal and Motorola . Annually, it processes some $2.4 billion in gross merchandise value across some 2,500 stores, growing 43% per year in the last five years.

VTEX is in that category of tech businesses that has been around for some time — it was founded in 1999 — but has largely been able to operate and grow off its own balance sheet. Before now, it had raised less than $13 million, according to PitchBook data.

This is one of the big rounds to come out of the relatively new SoftBank Innovation Fund, an effort dedicated to investing in tech companies focused on Latin America. The fund was announced earlier this year at $2 billion and has since expanded to $5 billion. Other Latin American companies that SoftBank has backed include online delivery business Rappi, lending platform Creditas, and proptech startup QuintoAndar.

The common theme among many SoftBank investments is a focus on e-commerce in its many forms (whether that’s transactions for loans or to get a pizza delivered) and VTEX is positioned as a platform player that enables a lot of that to happen in the wider marketplace, providing not just the tools to build a front end, but to manage the inventory, ordering and customer relations at the back end.

“VTEX has three attributes that we believe will fuel the company’s success: a strong team culture, a best-in-class product and entrepreneurs with profitability mindset,” said Paulo Passoni, managing investment partner at SoftBank’s Latin America fund, in a statement. “Brands and retailers want reliability and the ability to test their own innovations. VTEX offers both, filling a gap in the market. With VTEX, companies get access to a proven, cloud-native platform with the flexibility to test add-ons in the same data layer.”

Although VTEX has been expanding into markets like the US (where it acquired UniteU earlier this year), the company still makes some 80% of its revenues annually in Latin America, Gomide said in an interview.

There, it has been a key partner to retailers and brands interested in expanding into the region, providing integrations to localise storefronts, a platform to help brands manage customer and marketplace relations, and analytics, competing against the likes of SAP, Oracle, Adobe, and Salesforce (but not, he said in answer to my question, Commercetools, which builds Shopify -style API tools for mid- and large-sized enterprises and itself raised $145 million last month).

E-commerce, as we’ve pointed out before, is a business of economies of scale. Case in point, while VTEX processes some $2.5 billion in transactions annually, it makes a relative small return on that: $69 million, to be exact. This, plus the benefit of analytics on a wider set of big data (another economy of scale play), are two of the big reasons why VTEX is now doubling down on growth in newer markets like Europe and North America. The company now has 122 integrations with localised payment methods.

“At the end of the day, e-commerce software is a combination of knowledge. If you don’t have access to thousands of global cases you can’t imbue the software with knowledge,” Gomide said. “Companies that have been focused on one specific region and now realising that trade is a global thing. China has proven that, so a lot of companies are now coming to us because their existing providers of e-commerce tools can’t ‘do international.'” There are very few companies that can serve that global approach and that is why we are betting on being a global commerce platform, not just one focused on Latin America.”

 


0

‘Death Stranding’ brings back appointment gaming

00:42 | 12 November

Game launches these days are frequently the very worst time to play them. Plagued by bugs, server issues, balance problems, and a lack of content, many “games as a service” titles are best consumed after a month or two. Not so with Hideo Kojima’s long-awaited Death Stranding, which if you’re going to play at all… you should probably play now.

This type of game comes out once every year or two: A title where the gradual discovery of mechanics and ideas by the players is part of the adventure. Being part of that vanguard of players who go in unsure of what to expect, learning by doing, and sharing that information with others has a special feeling, not of exclusivity exactly, but of a collective experience.

Sure, playing the new Call of Duty on day one can be thrilling, but it’s not exactly a journey of discovery. Furthermore, games like those tend to get better after the first few months as content is added, gameplay is tweaked, and so on.

But just as some TV and movies are best seen with friends on the day they’re released, some games beg to be played before they become over-amply documented, their mysteries vivisected and wikified.

The most frequent entries on this list are From Software’s Dark Souls type games, the esoteric workings of which are sometimes never fully revealed even years later. Bloodborne is still yielding up its secrets even now, for instance.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was another one, in which it wasn’t exactly that people were finding hidden things or speculating on lore, but rather finding how open-ended the world really was and demonstrating that in ingenious ways. When someone figured out you can trick an enemy into being struck by lightning by slipping them a metal weapon in a thunderstorm, it was like a million gamers worldwide squinted, said “wait, what?” and ran to their Switch to try it.

Death Stranding is likewise “appointment gaming,” because… well, it’s so weird. But it definitely belongs in the company of those games that are best experienced while steaming hot, like the frequent showers you’ll see Norman Reedus take in it. I’m glad I let a friend of mine convince me to jump in right away.

Don’t worry, I won’t be spoiling anything you don’t learn in the first couple hours. But there is a mechanic where items like ladders or climbing ropes you lay down to help navigate the terrain get shared with other people for their own use. Just as there is glory in being the first to call down lightning in Zelda, there’s a glory (slightly more obscure admittedly) in being the first to go a certain way and let others follow in your footsteps.

Lay down a bridge to reach a shelter more easily while carrying lots of cargo, and you may find that a day or two later, thousands of people have used it, given it “likes,” and maybe even upgraded or expanded it with their own resources.

The thing about this is that in a year or two, the locations of these bridges will have been optimized and documented for all to know, as if they were part of the game’s landscape to begin with. Where’s the fun in that? It’s a pleasure knowing that the environment around you is being improvised by players all over the world.

Similarly, there are “aha” moments already occurring. You’re told directly that your character’s bodily fluids seem anathema to the ghostly “BTs” that are your most serious enemies. You’re also given the option, once you’ve drank sufficient quantities from your canteen, to have a wee. Someone made that connection and decided to wee on the horrible ghostly BTs — and it repels them!

And a million gamers squint, say “wait, what?” and run to their PS4 to try it.

That collective experience that we shared when we sat in the same room to watch the Game of Thrones finale or, before that, Lost’s ultimately regrettable but thrilling perambulations, is present here in Death Stranding, as it has been for other games before it.

Is Death Stranding a game for everyone? Hell no. But nor was Dark Souls. Death Stranding is a game that is frequently original and odd and surprising, while also occasionally being heavy-handed, tedious, and obtuse. We need more of that in the increasingly cynical and predictable world of AAA gaming.

By its nature Death Stranding is something that, if you don’t give it a hard pass (and I definitely get that), you should be playing today — not next year or even next month. Get it, then be patient, be weird, have fun, and send likes.

 


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Gnarbox 2.0 backup SSD is a photographer’s best friend in the field and at home

18:06 | 9 October

Working photographers, and enthusiasts who just love taking plenty of pictures, know that even the biggest SD cards can sometimes fill up, especially when you’re working with large file sizes, shooting both JPG and RAW, and shooting 4K video. The solution? A good mobile backup drive. There are a number of options out there that fit the bill, but the newly released Gnarbox 2.0 might be the best of them all, because it works like a miniature independent photo computer in addition to packing speedy SSD storage onboard.

This is the second generation of Gnarbox’s backup solution, and while I used the original, HDD-based version to great effect for a long time, the 2.0 version adds a ton of useful features, including super-fast SSD storage ranging from 256GB to 1TB in capacity, a new OLED display that makes it even easier to use in the field, and a removable battery that means you can pack spares to stay powered up and ready.

Simple, no fuss backup

It’s not the fanciest feature that the Gnarbox 2.0 offers, but it might be the one you use most: Quick and painless backup of SD cards. There’s an SD port on the device itself that can transfer at speeds up of to 75MB/s, and it has USB-C ports that can transfer direct from cameras or from card readers at up to 350MB/s depending on their transfer capabilities. When you plug in an SD card or camera, you get an option on the screen to totally back up the contents of the attached drive with one click, which makes it incredibly easy to dump and delete and clear up space to keep shooting.

Gnarbox 2.0 6

During a 9-day trip that included two events and a vacation to shoot, I made frequent use of this feature. Shooting with the new Sony A7R IV in both RAW and JPG, even my 128GB SD + 64GB SD backup cards filled up pretty quickly, but I would just slide one of the cards into the Gnarbox’s slot and hit the backup button before changing venues and it’d be fully backed up within a few minutes.

In my experience, this process has been rock-solid reliable, and gives me effectively 10x the space for a shoot vs. just relying on my cards alone (I don’t typically have a similar sized backup SD card on the road, let alone 10). By default, the Gnarbox 2.0 stores all your media in backup folders organized by capture date, too, which makes them super easy to sort through once you get back to base.

A mobile review and rating machine

Once all that great capture content is on your Gnarbox 2.0, you can also very easily connect to the drive using Gnarbox’s mobile apps to either review what you’ve got, or go through and rate your photos quickly to make the process of working through them once you’re installed at your workstation easier.

There are two apps from Gnarbox available right now, including Gnarbox Safekeep and Gnarbox Selects. Safekeep gives you access to all your device’s settings and can also act as a file browser for shuttling photos between apps. But Selects is probably what you’re going to be using most – it not only offers fast RAW previews (compatible with every major camera’s RAW formats) but also lets you quickly add ratings, keyboard tags and more to make sure your collection is primed for edit when you get back to your desktop.

With Selects, you can review either files on the Gnarbox SSD itself, or on attached memory cards or storage media (so yes, you can use this with something like a Samsung T5 if you’re already using that as a backup solution). All this info will then show up in applications like Adobe Lightroom to expedite your workflow.

This can shave hours off the process of organizing your photos, since it means you can do the rating and reviewing up front without having to wait for everything to import and then trying to recall what you were going for with the shoot in the field after the fact.

Easy sharing from the field

Speaking of saving time, the Gnarbox 2.0 also helps you move more quickly from capture to sharing, which is incredibly useful if you’re working on a live event or doing photojournalism of something happening in the moment. The device supports Lightroom mobile out of the box, meaning you can navigate to it as a source for a new collection and move files over directly when connected to your phone or tablet. This makes it awesome for adding quick edits to RAW files, exporting finished JPGs and sharing directly to social apps and websites.

With Apple’s new iOS 13 filesystem changes, the Gnarbox 2.0 can also be addressed as a mass storage device, so you should be pretty wide open in terms of options for working with various editing software. This is also great for mobile video workflows, since Gnarbox 2.0 works just as well for storing video capture as well as photos.

Home workstation companion

Gnarbox 2.0 3The Gnarbox 2.0 is great on the go, but it’s also perfect for plugging in as a home work drive once you’re back from the shoot. I’m reviewing the 1TB version, so the amount of available on board storage is a big advantage here, since it can essentially provide all the space you need to give you all of your working files in one place.

As mentioned, it supports high-speed USB-C transfer, which makes working with the files directly from the drive on your main workstation much more pleasant. That also means you don’t necessarily have to move things over local to get to work, which saves you a step and spares your computer’s disk space.

Gnarbox 2.0 switches to USB Mass Storage mode pretty easily, using the onboard OLED menu system. You do need to make this switch manually however, because by default the USB-C port that it uses to make the computer connection is used for charging the Gnarbox’s battery. Once you’re in that mode, however, it’s as easy as connecting Gnarbox 2.0 to your computer and then navigating to it as you would any other connected mass storage device.

Photos on the drive are organized by capture date, as mentioned (you can customize how it creates its folder structure if you want) and you can also select it as an import target in any photo editing software, like Lightroom or Capture One.

Bottom line

Gnarbox 2.0 5Gnarbox has taken their time to create a thoughtful and thorough successor to their original product with the Gnarbox 2.0. It’s a unique blend of field photo server and mini computer, made more versatile with clever touches like the removable battery packs and dust/splash resistance. Ultimately, there really isn’t anything in the market that can compete with the Gnarbox 2.0 on everything it provides, though devices like WD’s My Passport Wireless Pro and the LaCie Rugged Boss SSD can offer some key parts at lower prices depending on your needs.

At $899 for the 1TB version I reviewed, ($499 and $599 for the 256 and 512GB versions, respectively), the Gnarbox 2.0 clearly isn’t for everyone. It’s a professional tool for a professional workflow, and it’s priced as such. That said, the value it provides for busy photographers who need a companion storage solution with utmost flexibility for working both at home and on the road is definitely going to make it worth the cost of admission for some.

 


0

Sony’s next console is…the PlayStation 5, arriving holidays 2020

16:59 | 8 October

Part of me wishes Sony had gone for something a little flashier. The PlayStation Unicorn or PlayStation Trebuchet or something. But there’s something to be said for consistency. Simplicity. The next version of Sony’s perennial favorite gaming console will be, drumroll…the PlayStation 5.

The company notes that nothing is particularly revelatory in this morning’s reveal. That information, it seems, is still coming. And there’s still plenty of time and lots of gaming-centric shows in which the company can spill more about the system. “These updates may not be a huge surprise,” SIE President and CEO Jim Ryan writes, “but we wanted to confirm them for our PlayStation fans, as we start to reveal additional details about our vision for the next generation.”

There’s a smattering of additional details. Ryan highlights the upcoming system’s controllers, for one thing. There’s new haptic feedback on board, in place of the more traditional rumble technology that’s been around for some time. That should give a better approximation of the simulated experiences during game play.

Also new is “adaptive triggers,” which are being added to the L2 and R2 buttons. Ryan again,

Developers can program the resistance of the triggers so that you feel the tactile sensation of drawing a bow and arrow or accelerating an off-road vehicle through rocky terrain. In combination with the haptics, this can produce a powerful experience that better simulates various actions. Game creators have started to receive early versions of the new controller, and we can’t wait to see where their imagination goes with these new features at their disposal.

The PlayStation 5 will be available in time for the 2020 holiday season. More information soon, one assumes. 

 


0

Sony’s new A9 II mirrorless full-frame camera has the speed sports photographers need

19:53 | 3 October

Sony announced a successor to its popular A9 mirrorless interchangeable lens full-frame camera today. The A9 II carries over some of the specs and stats of its predecessor, like the 24.2 megapixel stacked imaging sensor, but adds an upgraded BIONZ X image processor, which powers the much more powerful autofocus capabilities in the new camera.

Sony debuted a number of improved AF features on its A6400 APS-C camera earlier this year, and its brought those and more to the A7R IV it launched at the beginning of September, and on this new iteration of the A9. There’s real-time eye autofocus for both people and animals, with right and left eye selection for animals, along with real-time eye AF during movie shooting, and the company’s real-time object tracking, which basically sticks your focus point to whatever you want to point it at remarkably well, based on my experience with it in other modern Sony cameras.

Other new features to the camera include a body with upgraded dust and moisture resistance, which Sony also brought to the A7R IV, as well as a beefier design with a deeper grip that should be a welcome change in terms of ergonomics, especially for photographers with bigger hands. And while it uses the same battery, it also is rated for slightly more shots.

[gallery ids="1891690,1891689,1891687,1891688,1891685,1891684,1891683"]

Sony also brought its new digital audio interface to the hotshoe on the camera, again something it first introduced in the A7R IV. That will let you use their new shotgun mic and XLR adapter to pipe audio from external sources into the camera when recording video.

This camera is really intended to meet the needs of photographers who need high-speed capture capabilities, and Sony has bumped things up there, too. You get blackout-free, silent continuous shooting at up to 20fps, with a buffer size capable of capturing 361 JPGs or 239 of Sony’s ‘compressed’ RAW files in one continuous go – it can also calculate AF and auto exposure at up to 60 times per second, so each of these should be in focus and properly exposed even in changing lighting conditions.

The new A9 II goes on sale in November, and will be priced at $4,500 for the body only.


0

How Bongo, the ‘Netflix of Bangladesh’, won the local video streaming market with just $10M

22:48 | 2 October

Thousands of miles away from the U.S., where technology giants, cable networks, and studios are locked in an intense multi-billion dollar battle to court users to their video streaming services, a startup in Bangladesh has already won the local video streaming market.

And it did all of this in six years with just $10 million. And it’s also profitable.

Ahad Mohammad started Bongo in 2013. The on-demand video service began life as a channel on YouTube in 2014 before expanding as a standalone app to users a year later.

Of the 96 million people in Bangladesh who are online today, 75 million of them are subscribed to either Bongo’s YouTube channel or to its app, Mohammed said.

Bongo’s domination in Bangladesh is second to none in the nation. iFlix, which raised $50 million a few months ago to expand its presence in several Asian markets, and India’s Zee5 are among the players that Bongo competes with, though their market share remains tiny in comparison.

TechCrunch caught up with Mohammed to get an insight into the early days of building Bongo and what holds next for the “Netflix of Bangladesh” as it increasingly expands to international markets.


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How Kobalt is betting on music’s middle class and DIY stars

19:18 | 20 September

Streaming services have made music ubiquitous, driving more exploration by consumers who don’t have to pay for each song or album individually. Musicians are correspondingly able to find their own niche of fans scattered around the world.

(This is the third installment of our EC-1 series on Kobalt Music Group and changes in the music industry. Read Part I and Part II.)

As Spotify gained rapid adoption in his native Sweden in 2006, class="crunchbase-link" href="https://crunchbase.com/organization/kobalt-music-group" target="_blank" data-type="organization" data-entity="kobalt-music-group">Kobalt’s founder & CEO Willard Ahdritz predicted music streaming and the rise of social media would increasingly undercut the gatekeeping power of the major label groups and realign the market to center more on a vast landscape of niche musicians than a handful of traditional superstars.

Both of these predictions have proven directionally true. The question is to what extent and how are industry players actually realigning as a result?

What musicians need in addition to the administrative collection of their royalties (explained in Part II) is a menu of creative services they can tap for support. Kobalt’s AWAL and Kobalt Music Publishing divisions provide such services to recording artists and songwriters, respectively, and do so on purely a services basis (getting paid a commission but not taking ownership of copyrights like traditional labels and publishers do).

Niche middle class vs. Global superstars

GettyImages 124360271

Image via Getty Images / rolfo eclaire

The whole music industry is growing substantially due to streaming music’s mainstream penetration in wealthier countries and increased penetration in emerging markets.

As the overall pie is growing, the non-superstar segment of the market is indeed growing faster than the superstar segment, taking over a larger portion of industry royalties.

According to data from BuzzAngle, the top 500 songs in the US in 2018 accounted for 10% of on-demand audio streams — a dramatic decline in market share compared to 2017 when the top 500 songs accounted for 14% of streams. Stepping back, the top 50,000 songs made up 73.2% of all US streams in 2017 but that declined to 70.5% in 2018.

 


0

Ricoh’s Theta Z1 is the first truly premium consumer 360 camera

23:05 | 19 September

Ricoh has a well-earned good reputation when it comes to building smart, technically excellent photographic equipment – including the almost legendary Ricoh GR series of pocketable APS-C cameras, which are a favorite among street photographers everywhere. Earlier this year, the company released the Ricoh Theta Z1, which builds on its success with its pioneering Theta line of 360-degree cameras and delivers a step-up in terms of image quality and build that will feel at home in the hands of enthusiast and pro photographers.

The Theta Z1 is what happens when you push the limits of what’s possible in a portable form factor 360 camera, both in terms of build materials and what’s going on on the inside. Like its more affordable, older sibling the Theta V, it shoots both stills and video in 360 degrees – but unlike the V, it does so using two 1-inch sensors – unprecedented for a 360 camera in this category. Sony’s celebrated RX100 series was pushing boundaries with its own 1-inch sensor in a traditional compact camera, and the Ricoh is similarly expanding the boundaries of 360 photography by including not just one, but two such sensors in its Z1. That translates to unmatched image quality for 360 photographers – provided you’re willing to pay a premium price to get it.

Design and build

The Ricoh Theta Z1 feels a lot like previous iterations of the Theta line – it’s essentially a handle with two big lenses on top, which is a pretty optimal design overall for a device you’re mostly going to be using to hold up and take 360 photos and video. It’s a bit bulkier than previous generations, and heavier, too, but it’s still a very portable device despite the increased size.

Ricoh Theta Z1 7

With the bulkier build, you also get a magnesium outer case, which is textured and which feels fantastic when held. If you’ve ever held a pro DSLR or mirrorless camera, then the feel will be familiar, and that says a lot about Ricoh’s target audience with this $1,000 device. The magnesium alloy shell isn’t only for making it feel like it’s worth what it costs, however; you also get big durability benefits, which is important on a device that you’re probably going to want to use in remote locales and off the beaten path.

The build quality also feels incredibly solid, and the button layout is simple and easy to understand. There’s a single shutter button on the front of the camera, just above an OLED display that provided basic info about remaining space for images or video, battery life and connection status. A single LED indicates both mode and capture status information, and four buttons on the side control power on/off, Wifi and Bluetooth connections, photo and video mode switching and enabling basic functions like a shutter countdown timer.

[gallery ids="1884065,1884067,1884066"]

Using the hardware buttons to control the Theta Z1 independent of your smartphone, where you can remotely control all aspects of the camera when connected via WiFi and using the app, is intuitive and easy, and probably the way you’ll use the Z1 more often than not when you’re actually out and about. There’s little to worry about when it comes to framing, for instance, because it captures a full 360 image, and since you can handle all of that after the fact with Ricoh’s editing tools prior to sharing.

On the bottom, there’s a USB-C port for charging and wired data transfer, and a 1/4″ standard tripod mount for attaching the Z1 to tripods or other accessories. This is useful, because if you use a small handle you’ll get a better overall image, since the Z1’s software automatically edits out the camera, and, to some extent, the thing that’s supporting it. There’s also a small lug for attaching a wrist strap, but what you won’t find is a flap or door for a micro SD card – the Theta Z1 relies entirely on built-in storage, and offers just under 20GB of usable storage.

Ricoh Theta Z1 9

Still images

Ricoh’s Theta Z1 has two 1-inch sensors on board, as mentioned, and those combine to provide an image resolution of 670×3360. The camera caputres two 180-degree fields of view from each lens, and automatically stitches them together in software to produce the final image. The result is the sharpest, most color-accurate still photos I’ve ever seen from a 360-degree camera, short of the kind of content shot by professionals on equipment costing at least 10x more.

The resulting images do incredibly well when viewed through VR headsets, for instance, or when you use Theta’s own 360 viewer for web in full-screen mode on high-resolution displays. They also make it possible to export flat images that still look sharp, which you can crop and edit in the Theta+ app. You can create some truly amazing images with interesting perspective that would be hard to get using a traditional camera.

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Indoors in low light situations, the Ricoh Theta Z1 still performs pretty well, especially compared to its competitors, thanks to those big 1-inch sensors. Especially in well-lit indoor environments, like in the restaurant example below, details are sharp and crisp across the frame and colors come out great.

In settings where a lot of the frame is dark or unevenly lit, as in the example at the Robot Restaurant in Tokyo below, the results aren’t nearly as good when operating in full automatic mode. You can see that there is some blur in the parts of the scene with motion, and there’s more grain apparent in parts of the frame, too. Overall though, the audience is pretty well captured and the colors still look accurate and good despite the many different tones from different sources.

The Ricoh Theta Z1 still does its best work in bright outdoor settings, however – which is true for any camera, but especially for cameras with sensors smaller than full-frame or APS-C. It’s still definitely capable enough to capture images you can work with, and that provide a great way to revisit great events or memories in a more immersive way than standard 2D images can accomplish.

You can adjust settings including aperture to optimize your photo capture, including choosing between f/2.1, f/3.5 and f/5.6, with higher apertures offering higher resolution images. The built-in lens has been designed to reduce ghosting, purple fringe artifacts and flare, and it does an outstanding job at this. RAW capture allows you to edit DNG files using Lightroom, and it works amazingly well with Lightroom mobile for advanced tweaks right on the same device.

Video

The Ricoh Theta Z1 does video, too – though the specs for the video it produces are essentially unchanged from the Theta V on paper. It can capture 4K video at 30 fps/56 mbps or 2K video at 30fps/16mbps, and live stream in both 4K and 2K. There’s a four-channel built in microphone for immersive audio recording, and it can record as much as 40 minutes of 4K or 130 minutes of 2K footage, though each individual recording session is capped at 5 minutes and 25 minutes for 4K and 2K respectively.

Ricoh has tougher competition when it comes to video in the 360 camera game – Insta 360’s One X has been a clear winner in this category, and has led to this camera even finding some fans when compared to action cameras like the GoPro Hero 7 and the DJI Osmo Action, thanks in large part to its fantastic built-in image stabilization.

The Ricoh Theta Z1 just frankly doesn’t impress in this regard. The sensors do allow for potentially better image quality overall, but the image stabilization is definitely lacking, as you can see below, and overall quality just isn’t there when measured against the Insta360 One X. For a fixed installation for real-time live-streaming, the Ricoh probably makes more sense, but video isn’t the device’s strength, and it’s a little disappointing given its still shooting prowess.

Features and sharing

The range of editing options available either via Theta+ or using the DNG files in both mobile and desktop phot editing software for the Theta Z1 is outstanding. You can really create and compose images in a wide variety of ways, including applying stickers and text that stick to the frame as a viewer navigates around the image. Sharing from the Theta app directly works with a number of platforms, including YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and theta360.com, where you can get embeddable 360 images like those found in this post above.

Ricoh has done a great job making sure you can not only capture the best possible 360 images with this camera, but also share them with others. It’s also leading the pack when it comes to the range of options you have for getting creative with slicing up those 7K spherical images in a variety of ways for traditional flat image output, which is not surprising given the company’s heritage.

Bottom line

Simply put, the Ricoh Theta Z1 is the best 360 camera for still photos that you can buy for under $1000 – even if just squeaks under that line. It’s the best still photo 360 camera you can pick up for considerably more than that, too, given its sensor arrangement and other technical aspects of the device including its selectable aperture settings and RAW output.

The $999.95 asking price is definitely on the high end for this category – the Theta V retails for less than half that, as does the Insta360 One X. But I mentioned the Sony RX100 above, and the pricing is similar: You can get a compact camera for much less money, including very good ones, but the latest RX100 always commands a premium price, which people are willing to pay for the very best in-class device.

If want you want is the best still photography 360 camera on the market, than the Ricoh Theta Z1 is easily it, and if that’s the specific thing you’re looking for, than Ricoh has packed a lot of cutting edge tech into a small package with the Z1.

 


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