You can now sync Chromecast with Google Home speakers


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Starting today, Google is allowing Chromecast owners to add the streaming device to speaker groups along with Home speakers. The addition of the dongle to the Home ecosystem will allow you to queue up a song, playlist, podcast or audiobook and have it play in sync across all of the speakers and Chromecast-connected devices in your home.

XDA Developers spotted the functionality in Google’s Preview program that gives an early look at upcoming features. Google confirmed to Engadget that the capability is starting to roll out to users today. The feature makes good on Google’s promise to integrate Chromecast into speaker groups, which can be set up through the Google Home app. Now devices that connect with Chromecast, including televisions, can be added to a grouping. When a TV with Chromecast is synced to a speaker group, the display will show song information on screen, atop a rotating selection of background images.

Per XDA Developers, all generations of Chromecast devices should be compatible with the feature. Smart displays including Google’s own Home Hub and the LG Xboom WK9 will be able to be added to speaker groups in the coming weeks, according to VentureBeat. Earlier this year, Google made it possible to pair bluetooth speakers with the Home app to add voice control across your sound system.

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Alexa can now make Skype calls


Skype

Starting this week, you’ll be able to make Skype calls on your Alexa devices. Basically the entire line of Echo devices will have the ability to make voice calls via Microsoft’s VoIP platform. The Echo Show and its tablet-style screen will also be able to make and receive video calls.

In addition to calling your Skype contacts via Alexa, users will also be able to call mobile numbers and landlines using SkypeOut. The feature allows you to call existing contacts or a new number on Skype. You’ll get 100 minutes of free calls per month for two months when you link your Skype account with Alexa.

In order to set up Skype for Alexa, open the Amazon Alexa app on your Android or iOS device. Go to Settings > Communication > Skype. You’ll be prompted to login with your Microsoft account. Once you’ve successfully entered your username and password, you’ll be able to make and accept calls from Skype through Alexa.

The integration of Skype and Alexa, which was promised earlier this year, is just the latest example of Amazon and Microsoft teaming up. The companies announced a partnership last year to make Alexa and Microsoft’s voice assistant Cortona work together and earlier this year, Xbox One and Windows 10 got Alexa apps.

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Pandora's on-demand music now streams on Alexa devices


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Amazon Alexa’s repertoire of on-demand music services appears to be growing by the day. Hot on the heels of Tidal’s support, Pandora has enabled Premium streaming on Alexa-equipped devices like Amazon’s Echo speakers. You no longer have to be content with Pandora’s radio feature — you can access your playlists and play albums like you would anywhere else. You can set the service as your default music option as well. It’s not quite complete when Personalized Soundtracks support is “coming soon,” but you otherwise won’t be hurting for choice.

Amazon now supports multiple large streaming music services beyond its own, including Deezer and Spotify. While this won’t help much if you’re deeply invested in Apple or Google services, it’s evident that Alexa is becoming the go-to assistant for people who want options for their voice-controlled music.

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The best speakers and DJ gear to give as gifts

There are people who like music — and then there are folks who can’t get enough of it. For the latter, the standard speakers and gear just won’t do. Luckily, our holiday gift guide has the equipment the music-obsessed person in your life needs. The Sonos One shows that smart speakers aren’t just for voice assistants — they can be for audiophiles as well. If you know a music lover who is always on the go, the UE Boom 3 and Megaboom 3 Bluetooth speakers offer top-notch sound that can travel. For people more interested in making music than listening to it, the Traktor DJ app for iPad is a professional-grade DJ app that doesn’t require the pricey equipment, or you can set them up to sample just about anything with the PO-33 K.O! from Teenage Engineering. Find all that and lots more in our full guide!

All products recommended by Engadget were selected by our editorial team, independent of our parent company, Oath. If you buy something through one of our links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Check out the full list of selections in our 2018 Holiday Gift Guide here!

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'FIFA' eSports league eMLS expands to 22 teams


eMLS

eMLS, the FIFA eSports league of Major League Soccer, is getting ready to expand. Following a successful inaugural season earlier this year, the league run in parternship with EA Sports will head into 2019 with three new squads. Atlanta United, D.C. United and FC Cincinnati will all have eSports clubs appearing in the next season. They will compete for the eMLS cup and will join in the new eMLS League Series events.

The expansion means 22 of the 24 MLS teams that will take to the real-life pitch in 2019 will also be represented in the eSports league. FC Cincinnati will make its debut both the real MLS and the virtual competition next year. The only clubs without an eSports equivalent representing them are Los Angeles FC and Real Salt Lake. Each team selects a single gamer in a draft that will represent them in competition.

The primary challenge for the selected gamers is the eMLS Cup, which was played earlier this year at PAX East and broadcast on Twitch. The winner of the competition represents the MLS at the FIFA eWorld Cup, a 32-person tournament made up of winners from other FIFA events and top players from online competitions.

For the 2019 season, eMLS will add a new competition called League Series. There will be two League Series events taking place during the 2019 season: Series One hosted by the LA Galaxy in January and Series Two hosted by FC Dallas in February. All players from the 22 eMLS teams will participate with a chance to win distinct prizes at each event. The League Series will also determine seeding for the 2019 eMLS Cup.

EA Sports and eMLS have yet to announce when the eMLS Cup will take place. The 2019 FIFA eWorld Cup is set to take place in July or August 2019.

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Samsung's LED movie screens deliver more cinematic punch

To the surprise of many, Samsung last year unveiled a cinema LED screen that’s ten times brighter than a projector. But it’s been hard to actually see one, as they’re installed in just a few cinemas around the world. Recently, Samsung demonstrated the screen (now called the Onyx Cinema LED) with the European film lab Éclair in Paris, and I had a chance to get a look at it. With its incredible brights and extreme blacks, the LED movie screen was impressive, but it’ll take some work to convince filmmakers, theater owners and movie-goers to adopt it.

Samsung will market three versions, depending on the size of the theater: The 5-meter (19 foot) version I saw will run at DCI 2K (2,048 x 1080), while the 10-meter (34 foot) and 14-meter (50 foot) models will run at DCI 4K (4,096 x 2,160). Those are standard cinema projection sizes, but the screens will support wide or flat DCI and other resolutions with letter-boxing.

They are also compatible with various flavors of HDR, which enhances the image thanks to a peak brightness of 300 nits, including Dolby Vision and Éclair (the latter is what I saw in Paris). “The Samsung Onyx screen is one of the most powerful pieces of equipment that allows us to display HDR content,” Éclair General Manager Pascal Mogavero told Engadget.

The screens support 3D technology and should handle it better than projectors because of the higher brightness levels, which can hit 500 nits on the 4K screens. Because of that, the picture will look less muddy and you’ll see fewer motion artifacts and blur than with regular projectors.

The Onyx screens aren’t gigantic versions of Samsung’s QLED TVs, though. Rather, they’re based on its outdoor display tech that uses individual SMD (surface mount device) LEDs. Each pixel is self-emitting with no backlight, so you can get true blacks simply by turning off individual LEDs. That’s much like how OLED TVs work, and those are beloved by reviewers for their deep blacks.

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Samsung essentially puts the sets together by assembling 256 x 360 pixel cabinets, each about 4 feet across. The smallest model uses 24 cabinets while the largest 14-meter version has 178 of them. The specs trounce any TV, with 16 bits of color (trillions) per pixel and contrast ratios that match the million-to-one levels of an OLED set.

Consistency is another key quality. “We have a linear image that’s as bright in the center as it is in the edges,” said Samsung’s Paul Maloney. “Unlike a projection-based system with a lens, if you have a xenon bulb source in the center, the lens curves so the corners of the screen get darker. The same happens with color. The Samsung LED doesn’t need to be optically corrected.”

On top of that, the Onyx LED emits rather than filters colors, unlike a projector. That means deeper colors can actually be brighter, not darker, generating the high luminance levels needed for true HDR.

The sound, meanwhile, is provided by Samsung’s Harman JBL and installed in a special configuration to accommodate the displays. Harman had to essentially redesign everything as speakers can’t be placed behind the movie screen like they are now. The Sculpted Surround Sound audio systems are also designed to deliver uniform sound to the more sloped seating arrangements required for the screens.

So how is the image? It’s clearly brighter than any projector, and the brightness and contrast are significantly enhanced by the HDR. Samsung and Éclair switched one scene between regular SDR and HDR, and the difference was pretty eye-popping. But films not encoded with Dolby or Éclair HDR certainly won’t look bad — it’s only obvious when you compare them side-by-side.

Colors are punchy and looked accurate. Éclair showed off one scene with the famous Michael Bay-style treatment, with orange-hued skin tones standing out against teal-blue backgrounds. Film directors and colorists will be able to optimize color timing for the screens knowing that subtle shadows will still be visible because of the extra brightness.

Samsung Onyx LED cinema display

I hunted for flaws during the projection, and my nitpicks are few. With the relatively low 2K resolution of the 5-meter screen, it was easy to see blocky pixels on text and angled straight lines. That will probably apply to the 4K displays, too, especially up close, since they use the same cabinets. On the whole, though, the effect is not that bad and is no worse than 2K digital projections I’ve seen. Celluloid film projectors, of course, don’t have “pixels,” however.

I walked back and forth across the screen, and viewing off-angle makes little-to-no difference in color or brightness perception, thanks again to the individual LEDs. I did notice a bit of blooming in a space scene where an extreme-bright area produced a halo-like artifact against a dark area, but I doubt few moviegoers would notice — you’re not going to be walking around while watching a movie, after all.

My opinion is one thing, but I was curious to know what cinema goers and the filmmakers themselves thought. Many folks still haven’t gotten over the transition from celluloid to digital projection, which Quentin Tarantino called “TV in public.” Samsung’s Onyx system takes that even further, as it’s essentially a large, albeit technically superior, TV.

“Some people don’t like it because they feel it will change the filmmaker’s initial intent,” said Mogavero. “If you want to show your movie on a projector, you can still do it. But if you want to completely redesign your movie and think about a completely different way to tell the stories, then you can do that, too. It’s widening, not restricting or corrupting the possibilities.” Several filmmakers, he said, naming no names, preferred the Onyx image after seeing it next to a double-laser projection.

Onyx might be technically superior in many ways, but Samsung and its partners still need to convince movie theaters to install them. The system is more expensive than any projector; though Kayata noted that the price isn’t that far from the fanciest dual-laser projectors. Samsung’s argument is that without a projection closet, cinemas can add more seats, and the new tech could draw ticket buyers who might otherwise stay at home. Samsung plans to have 30 locations installed by the end of the year.

Its best argument for the tech, though, might be aimed at viewers who feel the cinema experience is actually inferior to what they can have at home. “The average consumer just loves to enjoy what they’re seeing,” said Maloney. “We have the likes of Netflix and Amazon doing 4K HDR movies, so these are all things that consumers are used to. All we’re trying to do is present that for them in theaters.”

Steve should have known that civil engineering was not for him when he spent most of his time at university monkeying with his 8086 clone PC. Although he graduated, a lifelong obsession of wanting the Solitaire win animation to go faster had begun. Always seeking a gadget fix, he dabbles in photography, video, 3D animation and is a licensed private pilot. He followed l’amour de sa vie from Vancouver, BC, to France and now lives in Paris.

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Twitter goes incredibly meta for its UK Christmas ad


Twitter

Twitter has a new Christmas ad highlighting how an infamous case of mistaken identity generates tens of thousands of conversations on its platform every year. It stars user @JohnLewis — no, not the UK department store, but a lecturer at Virginia Tech who shares the same name.

The ensuing confusion has seen Lewis besieged with tweets meant for the retailer and the amusing clip shows him patiently replying to the requests, ranging from queries about stock and references to John Lewis‘ Xmas adverts (which, whether you like them or not, have become ingrained in British popular culture).

Twitter even references the UK retailer’s previous Christmas adverts with a telescope, a miniature moon ornament, Monty the penguin and Buster the boxer. The platform has branded the campaign #NotARetailstore in a nod to the comment on Lewis’ bio.

“I think it’s hilarious that people mistake me for the UK store and I do my best to direct them to the right place,” Lewis told The Guardian. “I see a massive spike in tweets at this time of year and I always watch the John Lewis advert, especially as it becomes a big part of my conversation.”

According to The Guardian, Lewis has had his Twitter handle since 2007 and he claims that John Lewis — which goes by @jlandpartners — has never offered to buy his presence. (Twitter’s rules explicitly prohibit the trading of accounts and “username squatting”). As a result, he gets around 50,000 tweets per year originally intended for the department store. By paying Lewis to appear in the ad, Twitter (which highlights its most popular stories in its Moments feed) is clearly trying to create some viral magic of its own.

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If you like Smash, you’ll love 'Super Smash Bros. Ultimate'

It was inevitable that a new Nintendo console would spawn another installment in the storied Super Smash Bros. series. And now we’re just weeks away from the return of the fun and frantic fighter that’s been responsible for countless smiles, frayed friendships and broken controllers. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate has far more characters and stages than any of the preceding releases, but the general gameplay formula has merely been tweaked and tuned. That’s exactly what we all want, of course, and as a side-effect it gave Nintendo the time to focus on single-player aspects much more than it’s done before.

Last week I headed to Nintendo’s UK base to hear a bit more about the game and experience the single-player firsthand. Where Smash Bros. has been undeniably one-dimensional in the past, Nintendo wants this one to be a bit more accessible. Basically, the idea is that when you’re not taking names online or among friends, there’s other stuff to do. Maybe you’re just not that competitive to begin with. And it doesn’t matter if you never indulge in a multiplayer brawl. However you want to play the game will be rewarded with new characters, stages, etc.

There’s what you’d call a classic arcade mode, where you take on a handful of computer-controlled opponents in successive one-on-one bouts until you reach a huge, unplayable boss type. At the beginning of your run you select a difficulty from 1-10 and it’ll dynamically adjust between matches based on your performance, so it should never be too hard. The boss could be a robot dragon or some other cartoonish monster, and there are rare ones for particularly hard, clean runs. You negotiate their attack phases like your standard platformer bosses until you wipe out their health bar. If you die, no big deal. You can just continue from the moment you died.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

A zoomed-out view of the World of Light map

The meat of this new focus on single-player fun is a sort of campaign called “World of Light.” I believe there’s some far-fetched story attached to this — I wasn’t party to any opening cutscenes — but the basics are: You walk around a Super Mario World-style map jumping from one battle to the next, collecting what are called Spirits. So… Spirits are characters from video game lore that are represented by Smash Bros. fighters with certain special characteristics. The Spirit of a Guardian from the latest Zelda game, for example, could be represented by a Mario with a permanent metal power-up.

It’s hard to explain because you kind of have to just go with it. In one Spirit battle, you might have to fight ten weak Peaches because that’s vaguely relevant to some character from Advance Wars, or one large Donkey Kong who is particularly susceptible to projectile attacks because Pokémon. Whenever you win a battle, you collect that Spirit and add it to your library. You can then assign that Spirit and it’ll either passively or actively buff your fighter. It may also have its own slots you can fill with secondary Spirits that have their own advantages. The Spirits gain levels the more you use them, and a separate currency earned through successful battles can be spend on a skill tree that provides yet more character buffs.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

Guts Man’s Spirit, represented by a giant Mega Man

Each battle is almost like running into Pokémon Trainer, but you get to see what you’re up against beforehand. The Spirit battle might feature say, Fox, and he does more damage than usual, but he’s also slow and is really fond of his up + special attack. He also has a weakness to weapons, like swords and mallets. You start World of Light as Kirby, and slowly unlock more characters as you traverse the world, but let’s say I use Kirby for this fight. I’ll look through my Spirits and find one that reduces damage taken (to account for Fox’s damage increase), and also has a slot so I can equip a secondary spirit that puts me into the fight with a laser sword already in hand (taking advantage of Fox’s weakness). I can keep my distance with the sword, do more damage with it and I don’t really need to worry about anything else, because Fox is more sluggish than usual as it is and his up + special attack has a long start-up time, so I can dodge or counter it easily.

That’s basically how every one of these fights goes. You look at the strengths and weakness of the opponent, equip Spirits to counter or exploit them, rinse and repeat. You can press a single button and let the game auto-equip the most appropriate Spirits for you, and you’ll be warned if what you’ve manually selected isn’t right for the battle. It’s an idiot-proof system, which is great if you can’t be bothered with the Spirit admin. But then what’s the point if the strategic element can be ignored with one button press?

In addition to World of Light, there’s another mode called Spirits Board, which is much the same but has more of a pick-up-and-play vibe. You just look through a selection of cards with different Spirits and difficulties listed on the front, pick one and jump straight into the Spirit battle. You can then use the Spirit in the World of Light mode.

I’ve gotta say I don’t really get the whole Spirit thing. It’s mostly bait for completionists. The World of Light map is huge, so there are probably hundreds of these little battles across the world. And Spirits are like any other finite collectible. Also, every battle is just a short Smash Bros. bout with a custom rule set. Sure there’s the RPG element of picking your power-ups beforehand but in the end, you’re just playing Smash Bros. against the computer. There’s nothing new here.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

All the stages

I don’t have much to say on any other modes or features, because Nintendo is very specific about what you can and can’t do at these types of media briefings. I was allowed to play the classic arcade-type mode, World of Light and Spirits Board for roughly 15 minutes each. I wasn’t allowed to see any of the menus — the Nintendo people literally take the Switch out of its dock and press buttons for you — but I did get some quality time with bread-and-butter multiplayer.

Another journalist and I played a few one-on-one matches, messing around with the new characters and items, checking out the new stages. We were shown the Stage Morph feature, where you can pick two different battlegrounds and they switch halfway through the match. I talked to the Nintendo guys about how much I hated the random tripping mechanic in Super Smash Bros. Brawl for the Wii, and how the pace of this new game is close to that of Melee on the GameCube. They explained how edge guarding is harder and the cooldown on air dodges is longer, among other mechanics. I wrote some notes while the other journalist got some direct capture footage.

Just a nice, relaxing 8-player match

It was around this point that we had exhausted the structured program and formalities of the briefing, and there was a sort of half-spoken: “Shall we actually play some Smash now boys?” We drew four chairs up, real close to the TV, turned items off, picked some proper stages, and had a few games. No longer were we talking about the RPG elements of Spirits. Instead, I was screaming “bullshit!” as an obviously overpowered move sent the screen into slow-mo just before my character was dive-kicked to death. We negotiated alliances, and huffed as they were nigh immediately broken with a cowardly turnip throw. We edged forward on our chairs, gripped the controllers ever tighter and growled in rage as we were clearly bullied for having one more stock than anyone else. Finally, we were playing Smash.

I ended up staying for nearly an hour past my scheduled briefing slot — one more game, I kept telling myself. If I’d been restricted to World of Light or one of the other single-player modes, that wouldn’t have been the case. My first impression is, if you’re a Smash Bros. fan, you’re almost certainly going to love this game. But if the cartoonish brawling has never really been your thing, the new single-player options like World of Light won’t change that. In the end, you’re still playing Smash. You’re just manually equipping cheats and playing against the computer.

All images courtesy of Nintendo.

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Amazon Prime members can watch 'Aquaman' a week early


Amazon/DC

Aquaman has only appeared briefly in Batman v. Superman and as a member of the Justice League, and was one of the few good things in two pretty awful movies. As such, the character’s first solo movie has more promise than other DC Extended Universe films. Amazon has announced that Prime members will get to see the movie on December 15th, nearly a full week ahead of the movie’s December 21st public debut.

Members can buy up to 10 tickets here and see the film at 1,000 theaters around the country, including the AMC, Regal, National Amusement Theaters and ArcLight Cinema chains. Amazon has offered a similar deal before, letting movie fans watch an advance screening of Jumanji 12 days before it came out in theaters.

Much like Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman, Aquaman might do well on the strenth of its charismatic lead actor Jason Momoa. Warner Bros., the studio behind the movie, was reportedly less than thrilled with 2017’s Justice League, but quite happy with Momoa. Aquaman will supposedly focus on the character’s Atlantis-based origin story. It also stars Amber Heard, Willem Dafoe, Dolph Lundgren and Nicole Kidman in supporting roles.

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'Rainbow Six: Siege' ends year 3 with a new Morocco map


Ubisoft

Ubisoft is winding down the third year of Rainbow Six: Siege with another big update that might take players out of their comfort zones. The developer’s upcoming Operation Wind Bastion will add a free new Morocco map, Fortress, and two Moroccan characters that throw a curve into familiar gameplay. Nomad has proximity-based air-blast grenades that can knock down a stubborn defender. Kaïd, meanwhile, can electrify metal defenses like barbed wire and reinforcing walls. If there’s a must-hold room, Kaïd can make it very hard to breach.

Both characters have direct counters, Ubisoft said — you will, however, have to adapt your gameplay style to fend them off.

Wind Bastion will be available on the Windows-only Siege test server on November 19th. When it’s ready for public consumption, you’ll need a Year 3 Pass to get first crack — everyone else will get their turn a week later. While it’s not the most dramatic update, it’s a significant ending for a milestone year.

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