Amazon’s Cloud Gaming Is Still a Work in Progress, but It Has Potential

Photo: Joanna Nelius/Gizmodo

When Luna works it handles games as effortlessly as a local computer. That’s a pleasant surprise for someone like me who is generally skeptical of cloud gaming platforms but has come to embrace them over the last year. After many, many hours of playing games on other platforms like GeForce Now, Shadow, and Stadia, and seeing how well they handle cloud gaming, I was a little more hopeful with Luna. There are many things about this fledging cloud gaming service that I love, like the controller, but also some things that I don’t love so much, like network performance: one of the main pillars of any successful cloud gaming platform. Luna has a ways to go before anyone would feel 100% justified spending any amount of money on its service. I think Amazon may have rushed the beta a bit when it could have taken the time to learn from Stadia’s mistakes.

Luna is still in a limited beta, so I expected there to be some glitches here and here, but not as many as I did. Because Luna is only available to a select number of users at the moment, I won’t be diving into latency tests or anything like that until it’s fully launched. But I have spent enough time with Luna to say it has the protentional to be another good option for anyone who wants to ditch their gaming PC or console. Provided it can fix the network issues that plague it.

I hope Amazon doesn’t change much about the Luna controller itself because it’s fantastic. I’m not one to fall in love with a controller because they’re usually designed for bigger hands, but I was pleasantly surprised at how comfortable the Luna controller was in my hands. The buttons and thumbsticks are laid out like an Xbox controller, but its overall size is smaller. I was able to wrap my fingers all the way around the back and my thumbs and index fingers didn’t feel like they were stretching a bit too far to reach all the controls. It’s honestly the best controller I have ever held.

Like the whole controller, the buttons themselves are sturdy and have a firm but gentle click when you press down. The purple accents around the bottom of the thumbsticks are also a nice pop of color against all that flat black. Compared to Google’s Stadia controller, it’s way more attractive. (Subjectively, purple is a better color than orange.)

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Unlike the Stadia controller when it first released, Bluetooth is enabled on the Luna controller out the box, although you most likely will need to install the Luna controller driver on your PC or Mac before you are able to use it. Setting the controller up with FireTV or on your phone is much more seamless because there are no other extra downloads required aside from the Luna controller app, and once you power on the controller, it’s instantly connected. You can also use the controller to navigate through all other apps included with FireTV, which is a nice extra perk.

Because Luna is still in beta, there’s no option to share screenshots (although you can link your account to your Twitch account and stream directly to that), and you’re stuck with 1080p and an “auto” sound setting. No 4K resolution or 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound. I imagine these features will be available in the future for an additional fee, though; To get 4K resolution on Stadia, you have to have a $10/month Pro account, otherwise, you are limited to 1080p and lower. It’s totally plausible that Amazon might do something similar with Luna.

Like GeForce Now, Luna has stand-alone PC and macOS apps, as well as web support for iOS. You can also use it directly in your Chrome browser. The only thing it doesn’t have at the moment that its competitors do is Android functionality, which is a shame because I would have liked to see how it ran on my phone rather than just on my PC and MacBook Air.

All that finally brings me to performance: How is it playing on Amazon Luna? Well…playing games during across the morning, afternoon, and evening hours was interesting—and by interesting I mean it’s probably best if Luna stays in beta for a little bit. There are still a lot of kinks to work out. Compared to how GeForce Now and Stadia run on my PC and MacBook Air, which is near-perfect, I encountered much more pixilation, lag, rubberbanding, warped sound, longer loading times, and unresponsiveness to my inputs—even with a super-fast download speed. But things get stranger still.

I had some issues trying to walk around in Control.

Every time I fired up a game in Luna, my internet speed would tank. Where I usually get at least 200 Mbps on 5.0 GHz wifi, that number would drop to 100 Mbps or lower within seconds of launching a game. That’s something I have never experienced with GeForce Now and Stadia. But 100 Mbps should still be more than enough to run games on Luna without a hitch, right? Especially since Amazon says the recommended minimum speed is 10 Mbps?

Not really.

Switching to another computer closer to my router (like, almost literally right next to my router) helped alleviate some of the issues I was experiencing. It didn’t completely get rid of them, but it made the games playable. (Only switching to an Ethernet connection made Luna work seamlessly.) GeForce Now and Stadia gameplay from this computer was the same as on my PC in the other room, so that tells me whatever is going on is more likely a network issue on Amazon’s end rather than on my end.

Luna could be too data-hungry right now, causing bandwidth saturation, when all available bandwidth in a given direction is utilized by a large upload or download. (Many GeForce Now users experienced similar issues a few years before its official launch.) This would explain all the issues I had when trying to use Luna from a specific PC. Cloud gaming is naturally data-hungry anyway, capable of consuming as much as 10 GB per hour at 1080p depending on the game. It’s possible the games on Luna are using more data than what is normal. Thank goodness that I don’t have a data cap! If you do definitely wait until the beta has resolved the issue.

I ran into the same lag issues with my 3rd-gen FireTV stick, although not as severe. But any time the connection dropped, the connection to the Luna controller was lost too. Luna would say it reconnected the controller to the cloud, but no amount of button mashing would get my character to move on-screen nor bring up a pause screen. I had to back-out of the Luna app with the home button on the FireTV remote and basically hard-restart the game.

The issues I have right now with Luna are annoying, but largely because this isn’t the first, or even second, cloud gaming platform to launch, and you’d think Amazon would have learned from the mistakes of others. A bad beta launch aside, I’m actually kind of excited about Luna. I am concerned about what the subscription price will be after Luna officially launches since the $6 a month price is not set in stone, but as long as it’s not more expensive than Stadia or even Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, it has a strong chance of retaining users because of its channel subscription model. Performance consistency absolutely needs to be addressed first though, as I suspect most users would want to play Luna wirelessly with a controller instead of on their PC via Ethernet. But if Luna can build up its base library to at least the equivalent of Stadia’s and implement a screenshot sharing feature in addition to that, it has a good shot of attracting lasting users faster than Stadia.

via Gizmodo

November 23, 2020 at 08:06AM

Nintendo’s Theme Park Is Looking Fantastic

Super Nintendo World at Universal Studios Japan was supposed to be open by now, but you know, stuff has happened. It’s almost done though, and even if none us are likely to be travelling there anytime soon, we can at least press our disgusting faces up against the glass and admire it from a distance.

The park, now due to open next Spring, is looking like a dream come true. A photo published by The Sankei News last month shows that things are pretty much finished, at least externally. Guests enter the park through the area in the bottom left of the photo (Peach’s castle, visible more clearly in another photo), and will find themselves standing in a space that takes in some of the most iconic Mario locations imaginable, from Toad Houses to general platforming stages to an ice level.

There are coin blocks everywhere—for a reason—and the rear of the park is dominated by the Mario Kart ride and an enormous rendering of Bowser’s Castle, complete with N64-style polygonal styling.

While it of course all looks incredible, what’s wildest for me at least is how close the whole thing comes to the original concept art. I mean, look at this image below, and compare it to the final construction up top; they’ve been able to do pretty much everything, in some cases—like the flagpole section on the right—even better, as the actual one seems to be towering even higher than the art.

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Image: Universal Studios Japan

Imagine standing there, at ground level, where none of those scaffolding “holes” are visible and all you’re surrounded by is Mario stuff. It’s gonna be so good.

All of which is a very positive sign for the other Super Nintendo Land, the one being built in Los Angeles, which began construction last month. Perfect for those who either don’t want to travel to Japan or are just more patient.

via Kotaku

November 22, 2020 at 05:36PM

China EV push will curb world’s oil demand growth within a decade

SHANGHAI — An aggressive China-led shift to electric vehicles is expected to slash global oil demand growth by 70% by 2030 and will help bring an end to the “oil era,” according to research by the Carbon Tracker think tank published on Friday.

Within 10 years, China could save more than $80 billion in annual oil import costs as new-energy vehicles (NEVs) become increasingly competitive, Carbon Tracker said.

Its calculations were based on a “conservative” scenario by the International Energy Agency projecting that electric vehicles would account for 40% of China’s total car sales by 2030, and for 20% of sales in India and other emerging markets.

The cost of importing the oil required to fuel an average car is 10 times higher than the cost of solar equipment required to power an electric vehicle, Carbon Tracker said.

“This is a simple choice between growing dependency on what has been expensive oil produced by a foreign cartel, or domestic electricity produced by renewable sources whose prices fall over time,” said Kingsmill Bond, strategist with Carbon Tracker and the report’s lead author.

Electric vehicles are a key component of China’s efforts to slash climate-warming greenhouse gases and improve urban air quality, and India is also setting ambitious 2030 vehicle sales targets.

China has not yet set a date when it will ban the production and sale of traditional cars, but an industry official said last month that NEVs will account for 50% of all new car sales by 2035, with hybrid vehicles making up the remainder.

via Autoblog

November 21, 2020 at 12:42PM

Google is testing an AI system to help vision-impaired people run races

Google is testing an artificial intelligence system designed to help blind and vision-impaired people to run races by themselves. Project Guideline, which is an early-phase research program, is an attempt to give those people more independence. They wouldn’t necessarily need to rely on a tethered human guide or a guide dog to help them around a course.

To use the system, a runner attaches an Android phone to a Google-designed harness that goes around their waist, according to VentureBeat. A Project Guideline app can use the phone’s camera to track a guideline that’s been laid down on a course. The app then sends audio cues to bone-conducting headphones when a runner veers away from the line — the sound will get louder in one ear the further they stray to the side. The app doesn’t need an internet connection to work, and it can account for a number of lighting and weather conditions.

Google developed the system with the help of Thomas Panek, president and CEO of Guiding Eyes for the Blind and an avid runner. It’s looking to team up with other organizations to set up courses with painted guidelines in a number of communities. 

The company has rolled out a number of other features in recent years to assist blind and vision-impaired people. Detailed spoken walking directions in Google Maps may help them to move around town independently. Chrome’s AI can recognize images and provide descriptions of what they depict. Google’s Lookout app, meanwhile, can give users an audio cue if there’s a possible obstacle in their path and read documents out loud.

via Engadget

November 20, 2020 at 02:36PM

Hypoallergenic Cats: Scientists Are Developing Treatments to Make Cats Allergy-Free

Every year, around 3.2 million cats are placed in U.S. animal shelters, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. There are many reasons why these pets are given up, but one of the most common is allergies. Cats are one of the most common allergy triggers in the world, with at least 10 percent of Americans exhibiting some symptoms. These symptoms can be mild, but they can also cause serious health complications, particularly among younger children who are at risk of developing asthma through prolonged exposure. And while there are a variety of ways to treat allergies, most of them only address the symptoms rather than removing the underlying cause. The only way to do that, for now, is to remove the cat itself.  

“With any disease, you want to address the root cause, rather than just the symptoms, and that’s all that is available today,” says Gary Jennings, a biochemist and the CEO of Swiss biotech company HypoPet. “It’s suboptimal.”   

Luckily for cat lovers, researchers and companies like HypoPet are working on alternative treatments to cat allergies –– ones that treat the cat instead of the human. And although this research is still in its beginning phases, don’t be surprised if cat allergies become a thing of the past sometime soon.      

Allergy Vaccine for Cats

HypoPet, which spun off from research conducted at the University of Zurich in 2014, aims to prevent household cats from producing a key allergen called Fel d 1. It’s a protein produced in various cat glands and is found in their saliva and on their skin. Fel d 1 is the primary cause of allergic reactions to cats among humans.  

HypoPet is working on an experimental vaccine called Fel-CuMV (or HypoCat), which incorporates particles from the cucumber mosaic virus attached to a Fel d 1 protein. The vaccine tricks the cat’s immune system into recognizing the protein as a foreign intruder. This induces the production of antibodies that neutralize the Fel d 1 proteins, essentially eliminating their presence in the cat’s body.  

Although HypoPet has been developing this treatment since 2014, in the past year they’ve made accelerated progress toward their vaccine. In July 2019, they published a paper in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology reporting the results of a number of studies they did on the vaccine’s effects on 70 cats, showing that it successfully induced a sustained antibody response in the felines. They also noted that cat saliva samples contained lower concentrations of the allergenic protein, and that overall, the vaccine didn’t seem to harm the animals.  

In March of this year, they published the results of a long-term clinical study on 10 cat owners with feline allergies. The cats were vaccinated, and over the course of two years, the symptoms of the human allergy sufferers were tracked. Cat owners showed a significant reduction in their allergy symptoms, and they could spend longer periods of time directly interacting with their cats before developing symptoms, according to the work published in the journal Viruses.  

Recently, HypoPet began working with a new business partner. Jennings declined to name names, but says they’re one of the top global animal health companies. They hope to get the vaccine on the market in the next two to three years, Jennings adds.    

Jennings says the HypoCat vaccine is a practical solution for cat owners with allergies because of how long the antibiotic reaction lasts. After the initial vaccination, cats will only have to be vaccinated roughly every six months to a year to maintain the effects. This treatment is a stark contrast to decongestant sprays or daily allergy pills, which require consistent use to effectively prevent allergy symptoms.  

“We think it’s going to be cost-effective and convenient for the cat owner,” Jennings says. “And we know it’s safe and well tolerated for the cat.”     


Another preventative method for cat allergies is to delete the gene that produces Fel d 1 proteins altogether, effectively making the cat completely hypoallergenic. This method is being tested by a Virginia-based company, Indoor Biotechnologies, which researches and develops tools to measure different types of indoor allergens. President and CEO Martin Chapman, a former professor of microbiology at University of Virginia, says the company has been researching CRISPR gene-editing software in cats for the last two years.  

The project, known as CRISPR Cat, is being led by biologist Nicole Brackett. Brackett says her research started by sequencing Fel d 1 from 50 cat tissue samples, and finding DNA regions that were consistent among the cats and were suitable to test CRISPR editing on. Brackett then tested the CRISPR technology on a feline kidney cell line, using 10 different synthetic RNA guides targeting the genes that produce Fel d 1. The project ended with a 50 to 55 percent success rate in editing the genes out of the samples. Because the team was only working with cells, no cats were harmed.  

“50 to 55 percent efficiency is great,” Brackett says. “Especially because the cell type that we were using was not a very easy cell type to work with, and the target is a bit difficult as well. So that was a great sign.”  

Brackett says her team is currently working on acquiring and testing samples from different types of cats, such as big cats or wild cats, to compare the genetic structures and Fel d 1 production of different feline species. Because there isn’t that much research on cat allergens, Brackett hopes the project can shed more light on how Fel d 1 is produced among all feline species, as well as house cats.         

Brackett says there is some concern that CRISPR technology could cause negative effects in the cats. The genetic scissors they use called Cas9 is only intended to cut or modify a specific part of the DNA, but it’s possible that it could change another part of the genome and cause unanticipated mutations in the cat. Fortunately, Brackett says there are several newly developed tools that improve gene-editing accuracy, which has helped to minimize the risk CRISPR has on its subject.  

Chapman says the CRISPR technology has a major advantage over other forms of potential allergy treatments because it’s the only method that removes allergy risk permanently. Others only reduce allergen levels temporarily, whereas CRISPR editing allows for the complete elimination of Fel d 1 proteins from a house cat.

Furthermore, Chapman says the team hopes that their CRISPR research can determine the function of the protein in the cat, and why it is produced in the first place.  “If that were the case, then one could look for other alternatives to control the allergen,” Chapman says. “So that, big picture, is what we’re looking at.”

via Discover Main Feed

November 20, 2020 at 01:09PM

It’s Time to Embrace Cloud Gaming, Especially GeForce Now

Screenshot: Joanna Nelius/Gizmodo

GeForce Now is on iOS. Luna is on iOS. Stadia and xCloud are coming to iOS in the not too distant future. Ideally, this would have been through a stand-alone app and not the Safari browser, but hey, when Apple says you have to submit every individual game on your cloud gaming platform for review to get it on the App Store, you improvise. These companies have likely been working on iOS web app support long before Epic Games vs. Apple saga started. But that’s not as important as cloud gaming hitting one of its major promises: playing games on any device. We’re there. The cloud has made gaming more accessible to those who might not have the cash or the desire to shell out hundreds or thousands of dollars on a gaming PC or laptop.

Yet every single one of these platforms does cloud gaming in a different way. Each one is crafted for a different kind of user in mind, but right now none are as consumer-friendly as GeForce Now. Not only can you use it on PC, Mac, Android, iOS, Chromebook, and Shield (a media streaming device like Chromecast), but it’s free to use and it’s compatible with over 650 games that you might already own on Steam, Epic, GOG, or Ubisoft.

GeForce Now has a “bring your own games” model, which connects to accounts you have on other digital storefronts to let you play the same games over the cloud instead of your local machine. It’s the only dedicated cloud gaming service that doesn’t require a subscription nor you to purchase games from its service. Of course, if you want to pay $5 a month you can play games with ray tracing, get extended play sessions, and get priority access to re-join the server queue, but if you ever decide to stop paying for all those extra perks, you won’t lose your games. They’re still right where you bought ‘em.

Call me old-school, but growing up in a time long before downloadable copies of games existed has made me a staunch advocate of consumers owning the games they purchase. Sure, you pay more money up front, but if you play a game often enough and long enough, that $50 or $60 game more than pays for itself in a few months. And you can always return to it without restarting a subscription. GeForce Now combines the best of that old-school model with cloud gaming.

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The only catch is that if there’s a game you want to play that GeForce Now isn’t compatible with, you have to either find it on another service, play it locally on your PC (if you can), or wait until it comes to GeForce Now. But every cloud gaming platform has its limitations on the library front, and other than that GeForce Now is cut-and-dry. Straight forward. Uncomplicated. In a world that is dominated by subscription services for practically everything, it’s so nice not to have to worry about one for video games.

Stadia, Luna, and xCloud are all great, but I see them as the back-ups to GeForce Now. Their libraries are much smaller at the moment, and they all use subscription models that revoke access to your games once you stop paying. In the case of Luna ($6/month) and xCloud ($15/month with Xbox Game Pass Ultimate) your ability to access the cloud and play games on different devices goes when your subscription is up. Stadia does have individual games for purchase, but any games you get for “free” on its $10 a month Pro subscription tier disappear once your subscription is up.

Each service gets a little more complicated from there. Luna, for instance, has positioned itself early on to offer channels like Prime Video. That $6 a month will get you around 50 games already included with “base” Luna, but if you want to add on the Ubisoft game channel, that’s another $15 a month. You don’t need the base service to get the Ubisoft channel, but if you want both that monthly price becomes $21 a month. Some people might like that model, but if there’s a game I want, I just want that game.

One of the most annoying things about the subscription cloud model for games, movies, and TV shows is that feeling like I have to hunt around for that one game I want to play or that one movie I want to watch. I get it—studios are going to make deals with specific streaming services so they can attract more people to their service. Hell, I bought a PS4 in the past just so I could play an exclusive title. When Fable 4 is eventually released, I’ll buy an Xbox Series X just to play it if it’s not on PC. But these days I often find myself heading to Amazon first to rent or purchase something specific just so I don’t have to waste time looking across Hulu, Netflix, Shudder, CBS All Access, whatever. If I can get a physical copy of a movie, even better. When Friends left Netflix, I bought the entire collection on Blu-ray because I didn’t want to subscribe to yet another streaming service.

I feel the same way with Stadia and xCloud. I’ve already invested in so many individual copies of games on Steam, Epic, and Ubisoft that it makes zero sense for me to purchase another copy on Stadia or get an Ubisoft subscription just to play it in the cloud when GeForce Now is around. (Not to mention I’ve claimed nearly every free game Epic has offered over the last year. No subscription required.) And sure, you can buy stand-alone copies of all the xCloud-enabled games, but if you want to play in the cloud, which is limited to Android devices at the moment, you have to get the subscription.

Cloud gaming is for everyone, but gaming subscriptions? Not so much. If you spend all of your free time playing games, or want to try out a few games on the cheap before committing to a stand-alone copy, OK, paying for a subscription for just a month or two is a logical choice, especially since game demos aren’t really a thing anymore. No cloud gaming service stands a chance against a bad internet or mobile connection, but in a world where scalpers buy up all the new graphics cards and processors and consoles the day of release, cloud gaming is the best go-to alternative to play the games you want if you don’t have the system you want—and when it comes to cost and convenience, GeForce Now has the best model.

via Gizmodo

November 19, 2020 at 11:36AM

Britain to ban new internal combustion cars even sooner, by 2030

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Sir David Attenborough speak with schoolchildren about climate change at the Science Museum in London in February. (Reuters)


LONDON — Britain will ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans from 2030, five years earlier than previously planned, as part of what Prime Minister Boris Johnson is casting as a “green revolution” to cut emissions to net zero by 2050.

Under the next step in the plan, the sale of new hybrid cars and vans will be banned in 2035.

Johnson, who is grappling with Europe’s most deadly COVID-19 crisis, Brexit trade negotiations and the departure of his most senior adviser, wants to underscore his green credentials as part of what he hopes will be a reset for his government.

“Now is the time to plan for a green recovery with high-skilled jobs that give people the satisfaction of knowing they are helping to make the country cleaner, greener and more beautiful,” Johnson said in a column published in the Financial Times on Tuesday.

Britain last year became the first G7 country to set in law an overall net zero emission target by 2050, which will require wholesale changes in the way Britons travel, use energy and eat.

In total the plan would mobilize 12 billion pounds ($16 billion) of government money, with as much as three times that amount coming from the private sector, and create and support 250,000 highly skilled green jobs by 2030, Johnson said.

The new date for a ban on new petrol and diesel cars is five years earlier than the 2035 pledge made by Johnson in February.

The plan offers 582 million pounds ($773 million) in grants for those buying zero or ultra-low emission vehicles to make them cheaper to buy, which was welcomed by auto industry group SMMT.

“Success will depend on reassuring consumers that they can afford these new technologies,” SMMT said in a statement, adding the new deadline posed an “immense challenge” to the sector.

Johnson’s plan was broadly welcomed by industry.

“It gives a springboard to the huge opportunities for UK-wide investment and green jobs that a true low-carbon economy can bring,” said Josh Hardie, acting director at the Confederation of British Industry.

An extra 200 million pounds ($265 million) would create industrial clusters mustering technology to capture, store and use carbon dioxide emissions by the mid-2020s. Another two hubs are projected by 2030, taking the total investment in the technology to 1 billion pounds ($1.33 billion).

This funding is likely to benefit sites in northern England, such as the Humber region and Teesside, and Port Talbot in south Wales, where industrial carbon capture projects are being developed at sites such as steel works.

Johnson, who has promised to increase Britain’s offshore wind power to 40 gigawatts by 2030 from around 10 GW now, pledged up to 500 million pounds for projects trailing the use of hydrogen including for home heating and cooking.

The government also pledged 525 million pounds ($697 million) to support development of large- and small-scale nuclear plants.


via Autoblog

November 18, 2020 at 07:50AM