Windows 10 may offer deeper support for AI helpers like Alexa


Cherlynn Low/Engadget

While you can use voice assistants like Alexa on Windows 10, they still play second fiddle to Cortana. You can’t just talk to your computer — you have to either click a button or use a keyboard shortcut. Thankfully, Microsoft might be a little more egalitarian in the future. Albacore, WalkingCat and others have discovered that Windows 10 test releases may offer deeper support for third-party voice assistants. You could activate apps with a hotword (including when your PC is locked), and possibly “replace” Cortana on a system level. In one test, Microsoft also separated the search text box and the “talk to Cortana” feature on the taskbar.

There’s no guarantee that you’ll issue Alexa voice commands to your PC from across the room, at least not any time soon. We also wouldn’t assume that Google would leap on this given its historical animosity to Microsoft.

A change like this would make sense, however. Microsoft has been warming up to Alexa and Amazon as a whole as it shifts Cortana from direct competition with other voice assistants to a behind-the-scenes technology. This could represent the next logical step, giving you the option of ditching Cortana for all intents and purposes. The company just needs another incentive for you to use Windows 10, even if that means shoving its AI aside in favor of a more popular option.

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Valve updates 'Dota' card game with open tournaments and chat options


Valve Software

Valve has delivered the first large upgrade to Artifact since it premiered in late November, and it’s clear there’s lots of headroom for the Dota card game to grow. The 1.1 update adds short Open Tournaments that anyone can join. You don’t have to chat up players or advertise them on social networks — you just have to hop in and wait for Valve to pair you with an opponent. There’s also a Free-for-All tourney mode that asks you to play as many people you can within three hours, awarding the win to whoever wins the most games in that time span.

The games themselves should be more social, as well. You can deliver voice lines from every creep and hero through a chat wheel, and you can request Steam Chats either during or immediately after a card battle. You can mute the chat wheel if someone is constantly spamming the same line.

Other additions? There’s a new colorblind mode that makes cards more distinguishable. A Bot Gauntlet mode pits you against AI players with increasingly tougher decks. If you want to roll the dice, there’s a random mode that will give you a fresh Call to Arms deck every time you queue up for a match. And if you’re eager to crow about your achievements, there are Call to Arms leaderboards that give you a chance to improve your standing every two weeks.

This won’t necessarily pull you away from the likes of Hearthstone or Gwent. It does show that Valve is determined to flesh out Artifact‘s gameplay at a quick pace, though. And there’s some signs players are receptive to it in its early state. Valve noted that there have been 8.2 million matches since the November 28th debut, and the typical player has hopped in for nine hours. The challenge now is to keep gamers interested after their initial curiosity runs out.

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VSCO will discontinue its desktop photo editing presets on March 1st


VSCO

VSCO is pretty well-known for its photo and video editing app, but the company has sold desktop presets as well. However, VSCO has now announced that it will shift its focus entirely towards mobile in the coming year and will, therefore, be discontinuing its desktop presets. VSCO Film will be fully discontinued starting March 1st, 2019 and users will no longer be able to download purchased preset packs, view their license keys or seek technical support from VSCO at that time.

The company is encouraging users to download any purchased presets before February 28th, 2019. You can find more information about how to prepare for the discontinuation here.

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The Epic Games Store is the best thing that could happen to Steam

By the time The Game Awards cameras switched off on December 6th, after three hours of sternum-pounding concerts, raucous celebration and heartfelt speeches, the video game landscape had changed in a massive way. In the show’s first hour, the studio behind Fortnite and the Unreal Engine launched its new digital marketplace, The Epic Games Store, and its simple gray-and-white logo became a consistent theme throughout the night. It seemed that every time a trailer for a new game faded to black, the Epic Games Store emblem was there.

This is a fundamental shift for the PC gaming ecosystem, which, for more than a decade, has been dominated by Steam, Valve’s digital distribution hub. “Dominated” doesn’t even cover it — for years, Steam has been the only digital games store for many players, and its power over the PC market remains unparalleled.

Dauntless launch trailer

But on December 6th, the Epic Games store encroached on Steam’s crown. Epic announced the marketplace just days before, complete with the promise to give developers 88 percent of all profits generated by their game sales. Compared with Steam’s long-standing policy of offering developers 70 percent, the Epic Games store immediately looked like a true threat to PC gaming’s powerhouse. Its surprise launch during the Game Awards, alongside all of those shiny Epic Games store logos, played out like a well-executed flank.

“I feel we’ll look back on this in years to come as the start of a new era of PC gaming, and I’m proud to be a little part of it,” Team Meat cofounder Tommy Refenes said. His latest game, Super Meat Boy Forever, is scheduled to hit the Epic Games store in April, and it’ll be exclusive to that platform for a year. That means Steam will miss out on 365 days of potential profit for this new high-profile game.

Super Meat Boy Forever isn’t the only big-name indie game heading Epic’s way before Steam. Hello Neighbor: Hide and Seek, Ashen and (of course) Fortnite are all live exclusively on the Epic Game store. Journey, a legendary indie game, is coming to Epic’s store after six years as a PlayStation exclusive. Hades, a surprise new title from Bastion and Transistor studio Supergiant Games, launched in early access during the Game Awards without a Steam logo in sight.

Hades reveal trailer

Supergiant chose Epic over Steam for its first-ever early-access experiment partly because the new store offers something new: a direct connection between online influencers and game developers. Epic’s Support-A-Creator program allows developers to share revenue with Twitch streamers who send customers their way, starting at 5 percent of attributed sales.

“I want to see streamers and content creators get their dues, considering how impactful they’ve become in my own discovery around games,” Supergiant Games writer and designer Greg Kasavin said.

All of this sounds pretty awful for Steam. On the surface, it’s easy to picture Steam as an outdated, dying business hemorrhaging developers, while Epic is the hot, new company behind a billion-dollar blockbuster game. However, that’s not exactly what’s happening.

“The perception is I’m shitting in their cereal.”

“I still have a great working relationship with Steam,” Refenes said. “The perception is I’m shitting in their cereal, when in fact I told them in person that I was pushing back the release a year long before the world knew. The meeting ended with us talking about local hamburger joints and getting out of the house while having kids.”

Steam has more than 125 million active users, and it’s estimated to have added 7,672 games to its library in 2017. As a private company, Valve doesn’t report how much cash it has stored beneath its headquarters in Bellevue, Washington, but a 2011 estimate placed its net worth somewhere between $2 billion and $4 billion. Gabe Newell, Valve’s founder and CEO, is personally worth $3.9 billion, according to Forbes. Even without Steam, Valve is the wildly successful studio behind standard-setting franchises including Half-Life, Portal, Dota 2 and Team Fortress 2. During the Game Awards, a few titles were revealed and available only on Steam.

The Outer Worlds reveal trailer

“If you were running a store without competition and you were making billions of dollars a year, how much time and energy would you dedicate to making it better?” Refenes asked. “How much money would you spend to improve the experience for everyone that uses it, if the end result is you would make the same or possibly less money? My answer is, ‘The minimum amount of time, effort, and money required.'”

“It’s hard not to be the best service out there when you’re the only service out there.”

Somewhere during the past decade, Steam became complacent. As an essential monopoly, that meant the PC gaming market stagnated according to Steam’s whims. It’s why developers ended up expecting a 70/30 revenue split from every digital distributor, including the App Store and Google Play, for years. It’s why independent developers have banked entire careers on a Steam launch, even as the platform’s continued growth has made this strategy increasingly unpredictable and unsustainable. It’s why Steam has faced a growing wall of criticism over its moderation policies and community features, especially in the past year.

Before it could properly innovate, Steam needed competition. And now, with the launch of the Epic Games store, it has exactly that.

“I love Steam and I owe a good portion of my success to them and their store,” Refenes said. “That doesn’t mean I think Steam is perfect and has nothing to improve upon. It’s hard not to be the best service out there when you’re the only service out there. Yes, Humble, GOG, Itch.io, UPlay, Origin and other stores exist, but were they ever a threat to Steam? No. Did Steam ever view them as a threat? Hell no.”

The Pathless reveal trailer

It’s already working — in an announcement suspiciously timed to go live three days before Epic revealed its store, Steam rolled out a new revenue-sharing program, though it only benefits the top tier of game creators. If a game makes more than $10 million, developers get to take home 75 percent of future revenue. Bring in over $50 million, and developers get 80 percent of subsequent earnings.

Steam’s updated revenue split can’t compare with Epic’s, which offers 88 percent to all developers, but it’s a start.

“I’m under the impression that Valve is as committed as ever to maintaining its strong position, and moreover, that Valve is exactly the sort of studio that desires having strong competition in the market,” Kasavin said. His studio’s new project, Hades, is in early access exclusively on the Epic Games store. “Competition is what makes us all do better. Also, I’ve been very excited to see Valve returning to its roots lately by committing more of its resources to developing original games, such as Artifact.”

After an exodus of the writers who helped put Valve on the map as a creative powerhouse, the company has recently been hiring fresh blood, including all 12 developers out of Firewatch studio, Campo Santo. Artifact is a card-collecting game spun out of Dota 2, and it’s Valve’s first new title in two years (if you count 2016’s The Lab, a free collection of VR minigames built for the launch of the HTC Vive).

Fortnite in 2018

Meanwhile, Epic Games has Fortnite. The online battle royale game has exploded in mainstream popularity, generating $2 billion in 2018 alone, and helping transform Epic into an $8 billion company.

Epic Games is actually older than Valve by five years, and its engine, Unreal, is a cornerstone of modern video game development. It’s the software that powers hundreds of games and franchises, including Mortal Kombat, Mass Effect, Tom Clancy, Batman: Arkham, Borderlands, Rocket League and BioShock.

“You can’t walk into a Gamestop and throw a rock without hitting a game made in the Unreal Engine, so it’s pretty safe to assume they are going to be around for a long time,” Refenes said. “Just with the Unreal Engine alone, Epic is as important to the gaming industry as Valve is. So right there you have a solid foundation to build a store on.”

“What happens when the Epic Games Store gets its footing?”

This month’s Valve-Epic rivalry isn’t a matter of life or death for either company. The Epic Games store can’t cannibalize Steam with a few exclusives, and Steam can’t stop Epic from snagging new games by offering a better revenue share. Both companies are bigger than their launchers: Steam is the sole proprietor of a handful of illustrious franchises, plus it’s dabbling in hardware development and VR, while Epic has the Unreal Engine and Fortnite. This is a battle between two multi-billion-dollar companies. However it shakes out, they’ll both likely be fine.

But, with billions behind it, the Epic Games store represents the first real competition for Steam in more than a decade, and that means PC gaming is about to change in a major way.

“Competition is good, but the PC market has no competition. There is only Steam,” Refenes said. “But what happens when the Epic Games store gets its footing and grows into a PC marketplace powerhouse? What would that force Steam to do? It would force them to improve. Then that would, in turn, force Epic to improve, and then you have two large companies fighting to retain customers and developers. That’s going to motivate innovation. That is a healthy marketplace, and that is good for everyone.”

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NVIDIA's $1,100 AI brain for robots goes on sale


NVIDIA

NVIDIA’s plan to power autonomous robots has kicked off in earnest. The company has released a Jetson AGX Xavier Module that gives robots and other intelligent machines the processing oomph they need for their AI ‘brains.’ You’re not about to buy one yourself — it costs $1,099 each in batches of 1,000 units. However, it could be important for delivery robots and other automatons that need a lot of specialized performance with relatively little power use.

The Jetson Xavier system-on-chip at the heart of the module relies on no less than six processors to get its work done. There’s a relatively conventional eight-core ARM chip, but you’ll also find a Volta-based GPU, two NVDLA deep learning chips and dedicated image, video and vision components. This is while it uses “as little as” 10W of power. All told, it can juggle many AI-oriented tasks at once (30 trillion computing operations per second, to be exact) in a relatively compact space.

NVIDIA already as a number of customers lined up, including Chinese shopping giant JD.com (delivery bots), Yamaha (drones) and Nanopore (DNA sequencing). Although it’s far from certain that this module will make NVIDIA a staple of the robotics scene, it at least signals that the company is serious about sticking around.

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Samsung's lightweight Notebook 9 Pen is aimed at creators


Samsung

Last year at CES 2018, Samsung unveiled the Note 9 Pen, a lightweight 13.3-inch convertible aimed at artists and anyone else who needed decent power with as little weight as possible. The model is back again in a big way, with an all-new design and features that should fix what we didn’t like about it before. Most notably, it comes in both 13-inch and 15-inch versions, has more ports and packs a much bigger battery with fast-charging that lets it run for up to 15 hours.

Gallery: Samsung Notebook 9 Pen | 9 Photos

The 9 Pen is still powered by an 8th-generation Intel Core i7 processor, but you can get the 15-inch version with 2GB NVIDIA GeForce MX150 discrete graphics. (The smaller model is limited to integrated Intel graphics.) Both have LPDDR3 RAM, GIGA WiFi, face and fingerprint recognition, two Thunderbolt 3 ports, USB-C, headphone/microphone and UFS/MicroSD ports. It’s also got a “ThunderAmp” smart amp and “studio-quality sound from speakers tuned by AKG,” Samsung said.

The 2019 Note 9 Pen also looks less cheap than the last model, thanks to a new design and all-metal/aluminum frame. Both models are still incredibly light, at 2.47 pounds for the 13-inch version, and 3.44 pounds for the larger model. The display, with 1080p resolution as before, has got slimmed-down bezels, at least on the sides.

Finally, both models have a built-in S Pen with a choice of three different tips and half the latency of the last mode. Combined with the lightweight convertible design, drawing app support and discrete graphics, that should make it a decent laptop for artists and graphics pros on the go. Samsung hasn’t announced pricing, but the last Notebook 9 Pen started at $1,400, if that helps. It’ll arrive in the US sometime in 2019.

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AI reveals hidden objects in the dark


Barbastathis et. al.

You might not see most objects in near-total darkness, but AI can. MIT scientists have developed a technique that uses a deep neural network to spot objects in extremely low light. The team trained the network to look for transparent patterns in dark images by feeding it 10,000 purposefully dark, grainy and out-of-focus pictures as well as the patterns those pictures are supposed to represent. The strategy not only gave the neural network an idea of what to expect, but highlighted hidden transparent objects by producing ripples in what little light was present.

The researchers countered the blurring by giving it a physics lesson — it knew how a defocused camera could produce blurring effects.

The result was an AI-based system that could find and reproduce hidden objects in lighting conditions would make even a dark room seem bright. That could help for nighttime photography, but the MIT research group is most interested in using the technology for medicine. It’s normally hard to capture minute details in biological material without flooding them with light and radiation, risking damage to those tissues. This could avoid the problem by imaging tissues at much lower (and thus safer) light levels. It could help for astronomy, too, by detecting very faint objects without illumination.

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'Alexa, Improvise' is a comedy show that uses AI fails for laughs

It was 7:55 p.m. on a Saturday night, and I had just arrived at a small improv workshop and stage space in San Francisco’s Mission district. Mere moments after I sat down, someone placed a stool in front of the stage, draped a red cloth over it and placed what would turn out to be an integral part of the evening’s performance: an Amazon Echo. It wasn’t there to tell jokes — it’s notably not a very good comedian. Instead, it was both prop and participant in a unique improv show called “Alexa, Improvise.”

From mechanical comics to riffing robots, the integration of artificial intelligence and comedy have been attempted before, with varying degrees of success. The New York Times reported earlier this year about Piotr Mirowski, a senior research scientist who built a AI system called A.L.Ex (short for Artificial Intelligence Experiment) to help him do improv skits. He fed the system lines from various movies and programmed a neural network so that it would analyze what it heard and spit out a response. At first, the program didn’t work so well, but after further collaboration with fellow researcher Kory Mathewson, A.L.Ex was able to at least stay on topic. Despite that, much of the comedy seems accidental, especially when it says things that are inappropriate or odd.

That sentiment is very much at the core of “Alexa, Improvise,” which is the brainchild of a team of improvisers called The Fun Room. Shortly after 8 p.m. that Saturday night, Alex Smith, the owner of said Echo, arrived on stage and said those exact words: “Alexa, improvise.” The Echo beeped, flashed a blue ring light, but failed to respond. “She doesn’t know how to do that,” he laughed. “We’ll be doing that part.”

Alexa, Improvise

“This is a show about technology and how it doesn’t always work as you want it to,” Smith told the crowd. “But even when it doesn’t, we’ll roll with the punches.”

“We knew we wanted something with universal appeal that was accessible to a non-improv audience,” said Nemo Baker, one of the team members, to Engadget. “We wanted to create something that a regular person who has no idea what improv is can come in and fully enjoy themselves.”

Since the team is based in San Francisco and many of its members work for tech companies, they thought that one particularly unifying topic would be tech. That idea came together while they were hanging out at a teammate’s house, where there happened to be an Echo. They started asking Alexa random questions and were amused by the answers. The proverbial light bulb went off. “It came so naturally,” Baker said. “We were immediately energized by the idea.”

After several practice rehearsals, the team performed a pilot show of “Alexa, Improvise” to a sold-out audience earlier this year at StageWerx Theatre in San Francisco. Since then, they’ve performed the show every few weeks at either StageWerx or the Endgames Training Center. Next year, they’ll debut the show at Pianofight, a venue closer to Union Square.

Alexa, Improvise

As a student of improv myself, I’ll admit that I didn’t know what to expect from an Alexa-based show. I had initially thought the team would simply be using the Echo for word suggestions that would then serve as a jumping-off point for the performance. But, it turns out, I had underestimated Alexa’s comic potential.

“We introduce with short-form games — think ‘Whose Line Is It Anyway?’ — to warm up the audience,” Baker said. “We have a variety of games that we play, most of which have some ways for us to randomly incorporate Alexa as needed.”

At the show I attended, the team started off with a game called “Well, Actually,” where the performers pretend to be experts on a yet-to-be-determined topic and then take turns yelling “Well, Actually” whenever they find an opportunity to correct someone. Baker introduced the game and asked for a topic suggestion from the audience. Someone yelled “Types of cars!” The first performer to step forward gave an over-the-top diatribe on how cars were the first automobiles ever made and then proclaimed that sedans were the most popular type.

Baker interrupted with a “Well, Actually”, and then turned to the Echo. “Alexa, what are the most popular types of cars?” The Echo came to life, paused as if it was thinking and responded with “I’m a fan of electric cars,” which obviously didn’t answer the question at all. Baker ran with that, however, and loudly proclaimed, “Me too! Electric cars are the most popular types of cars!” eliciting laughter from the audience.

“When Alexa gets things right, it’s fantastic,” said Smith. “But when she gets it wrong, she gets it so very, very wrong.”

The next game was called Four Corners, wherein four improvisers formed a square, and the scene changed as different performers rotated in and out of the foreground. To start, Smith asked for an occupation suggestion from the audience. Someone yelled “nurse.” Smith then said “Switch left,” and the group rotated counter-clockwise. This time, Smith asked Alexa, “What’s your favorite color?” The Echo responded with “Definitely green,” which is then the prompt for a new scene. He said “switch left” again, and those two players were given a location suggestion for “baseball diamond.”

For the final switch, Smith asked Alexa to tell him “something interesting.” It responded with: “Army ants are blind and need a pheromone trail to follow each other around. Sometimes they get lost and march around in a circle until they die.” So those two people then pretended to be army ants, who lost their way and wanted to find friends. The result was an absurdist mish-mash of characters and scenes that were, in part, inspired by random Alexa facts.

While these shorter games are fun, the longer-form story format is where Alexa shines, explained Baker. “We begin by requesting a noun from the audience. We then ask ‘Alexa, read me the book [audience suggested noun.” Turns out, it doesn’t matter what word you say, she will always start reading an excerpt from Audible!”

Alexa, Improvise

The audience-suggested word for the show I attended was “Apple.” The performers sat around the Echo as if they were school kids during storytime, and Smith said “Alexa, read me the book ‘ Apple.'” The Echo then responded with an Audible sample from “Cracking the Tech Career: Insider Advice on Landing a Job at Google, Microsoft, Apple, or any Top Tech Company,” launching into the opening paragraphs.

“Everything you’ve heard is true. Almost,” it began. “Tech companies are known for brightly colored walls, ball pits in the office, free food (organic and gluten-free, of course) and shuttles transporting you to and from work. They’re engaged in a constant game of one-upmanship, the latest and greatest company taking what its predecessor does and morphing it into something even better. With an obvious focus on technology, their engineering divisions are presumed to be filled with nerds who eat, sleep, and breathe code.”

Almost instantly the crowd broke out into heavy snickering, and at times, boisterous laughter. After all, technology is an all-too-real part of people’s lives here in the Bay Area, and it’s amusing to hear it glamorized in such a starry-eyed perspective when the reality is often the complete opposite.

Alexa, Improvise

The team then used that as inspiration for a few different scenes. In one, performer Vivian Chan pretended to be a programmer for Google who had spent the past five years trapped inside campus, with random former co-workers appearing in the walls, beckoning her to come out. In another, Smith and fellow improviser Max Lelu played a couple arguing about painting the nursery “Facebook blue” instead of the multiple colors in Google’s logo. From there, more scenes emerged and more characters were born, each riffing off the other, all of which culminated in a grand and ridiculous wedding between Chan and a personified Google HVAC algorithm. (It’s funnier than it sounds, really.)

Throughout the show, Alexa continued to be involved in different ways, depending on what the team is inspired to do. “As you can imagine, Alexa often gets confused or says something unexpected,” Baker said. For example, at one point in between scenes, Smith asked Alexa to “Play the song ‘Apple.'” Unfortunately, the Echo froze and didn’t come up with anything. Smith quickly ad-libbed and suggested “Fuji” as a replacement (it’s a type of Apple, after all). Then it played an esoteric instrumental song that everyone swayed and danced to, and thus the team recovered itself from the Echo malfunction. After the show was over, Smith told me this had never happened before, theorizing that the Echo must not have played any music for ‘Apple’ because it’s also the name of an Amazon competitor.

Alexa, Improvise

“When Alexa gets things right, it’s fantastic,” said Smith. “But when she gets it wrong, she gets it so very, very wrong.”

As Mirowski told the Times about A.L.Ex, robots and comedy can be antithetical to theater and comedy. “Theatre is about the human expression on stage, and it’s about the communication and empathy between the actors and the audience,” he said. “Robots do not have the sensors to perceive any of that.” Instead, Mirowski says that the A.I. is good at saying unusual and weird things that challenge the human improviser to work harder. When shows are a success, he said, they are more celebrations of human creativity than A.I.

Though Alexa wasn’t programmed to do theater in the same way as A.L.Ex, it appears that it has a very similar comedy effect. Much of the humor of the show comes from the human performers as they try to make sense of random facts and nonsense that comes from Amazon’s servers. From a viewer perspective, it’s brilliant. And from the performer’s perspective, it’s a deep well of inspiration. No longer do you just get a one-word suggestion to base a scene; you can get an excerpt from a book or an interesting fact about army ants.

When I asked if the team had considered other smart speakers, like Apple’s HomePod or Google’s Home, Smith said they did, but quickly discarded the idea. Siri just wasn’t smart enough and Google’s Assistant doesn’t really have a very sexy name. “Yeah, Google would probably have better answers,” he said. “But ‘Alexa, Improvise’ sounds a lot better than ‘Okay Google, Improvise.'”

Raised in the tropics of Malaysia, Nicole arrived in the United States in search of love, happiness and ubiquitous broadband. That last one is still a dream, but two out of three isn’t bad. Her love for words and technology reached a fever pitch in San Francisco, where she learned you could make a living writing about gadgets, video games and the internet. Truly, a dream come true. Other interests include baseball, coffee, cooking and chasing after her precocious little cat.


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Overwatch League events expand beyond LA in 2019


Robert Paul for Blizzard Entertainment

To date, Overwatch League matches have taken place in Blizzard’s own venue in Los Angeles. It’s a special experience, but likely off-limits if you live on the other side of the continent or another country. For the 2019 season, though, you might not have to travel quite so far… or travel at all. Blizzard has announced that the new season will include home games in the form of Homestand Weekend series. Atlanta Reign, Dallas Fuel and LA Valiant fans can watch their teams play as part of a series of matches in two-day events.

The events start with Dallas on April 27th and 28th, followed by Atlanta on July 6th and 7th. Despite the proximity to the Blizzard Arena, the LA Valiant series will take place at The Novo by Microsoft on August 24th and August 25th. Blizzard is promising further details and tickets “at a later date.”

The 2019 season itself kicks off February 14th with a four-day series of matches, including a rematch between Grand Finals competitors London Spitfire and Philadelphia Fusion.

This likely won’t please you if you live outside the US, although there have been exhibition matches in other countries. Even so, it’s a start. It also reflects Blizzard’s long-term esports ambitions. It effectivley wants the Overwatch League to behave more like a conventional sports league, complete with home games that foster connections to specific teams.

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Algoriddim merges its iOS djay apps, adds new Pro-level features

Algoriddim’s djay app has been an Apple favorite for some time, regularly appearing in the company’s keynotes to show off incremental updates over the years. There’s been djay, djay for iPhone, djay for iPad, vjay (for video), djay 2, djay Pro and djay Pro 2, but the whole thing has gotten a bit fragmented. Today, the company is simplifying its app catalog by releasing the new djay for iOS, spanning all the requisite devices and available as a free download in the App Store. On top of that, djay for iOS Pro is now the same app, but with an unlocked set of new features as part of a $5-per-month subscription model (or $40 if you pre-pay for a full year).

Previous apps needed to be purchased separately depending on your device, so the company is promoting this single-app experience across all iOS products as a savings in that regard. Newer versions also arrived every couple of years and required another purchase if you wanted to upgrade. With the subscription model, these extra expenses have been rolled into the monthly fee.

Gallery: djay Pro for iOS | 23 Photos

For multi-device power users, this could balance out, especially if you prepay for the full-year discount. The basic free version is a solid option here though, if you’re just mixing and need minimal tools. And you can dip your toes in the Pro version on a month-to-month basis at minimal cost. While it may end up being more expensive, there are some pretty attractive features to be had in Pro this time around.

For desktop Pro users, however, things will remain the same as they were. There’s no word on what the future may hold, but we’re told it will be supported for the “foreseeable future”, so not to worry. You’re already grandfathered in with a hefty stack of features.

djay

The djay for iOS free version will be capable, but bare bones in comparison to the paid version. It includes Automix AI, official djay controller support, Spotify integration and a classic two turntable mixing mode with five effects to choose from. This is great for free, but it’s definitely limited.

As for a djay for iOS Pro subscription, the company is certainly putting an enticing line up of features behind the paywall. One of the new standouts is the addition of a grid-based looper and sequencer that has six channels surfacing 48 loops. Each channel has its own volume slider and draws content in packaged groups from a dedicated 1GB sample library, which is organized by music style. We hope it gets new additions frequently enough to keep things interesting.

djay

While you could use these samples to record a track, you’d have to do it live since there’s no way to sequence beyond the looped bar. They should be great for augmenting DJ mixes since they’re automatically quantized to the output. Also, it’s a great time killer if you happen down the loop rabbit hole.

These audio loops can also be tied to visual segments for the video mixing portion of djay for iOS Pro. Video “loops” are new here and so is support for external displays so you can split the output for an audio visual set. There are also a variety of FX to choose from and videos can be tied to the loop grid mentioned above, really putting that A12 Bionic processor to task.

djay

MIDI support has opened up beyond just officially sanctioned controllers, letting you work with a variety of external tools including (but not limited to) Pioneer DJ, Reloop, Numark, Denon DJ and Novation. iPad Pro users will be happy to know that USB-C works great, but dongles may come into play if you’re using any other iOS device. If you’re into collaborating, Ableton Link is also onboard, letting you sync the clock with other compatible devices on your network.

Djay for iOS is available at the App Store today and the Pro version is accessible as an in-app purchase. While this $5-per-month subscription fee may up the ante for users, you do get a lot of high-level features to play with. Prepaying the year will also save you about $20. The 7-day Pro trial can give newcomers a taste of what they might be missing, but if you’re a current owner of any djay version on iOS you can take advantage of a special upgrade price. Instead of $5 per month, existing customers will get a single year’s subscription for just $10. After playing with this app for a short while, I can assure you the Pro version is worth checking out. You’ll just need to carve out enough time to play with all the features.

Images: Algoriddim / djay Pro (Two decks, loop sequencer, video output)

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