Posts with «author_name|devindra hardawar» label

'We Met in Virtual Reality’ finds love in the metaverse

Mark Zuckerberg's vision of a sanitized, hypercapitalist metaverse will likely never be as compelling or idiosyncratic as VRChat, the virtual reality community that's been home to anime fans, Furries and a slew of other sub-cultures since 2014. That's my main takeaway from We Met in Virtual Reality, the first documentary filmed entirely in VRChat, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival today.

There's no chance Zuck's metaverse would let people wear trademarked avatars without paying a ton, attend exotic clubs to receive (or give) virtual lapdances, or allow users to build whatever the hell they want. VRChat, as portrayed by director Joe Hunting, is basically a proto-metaverse where anything is possible. And for many, it has served as a crucial social hub during the pandemic, a place where they can forget about the world, relax with friends and maybe find love.

But of course, that's been the nature of practically every online community. We're social animals — people have always been able to connect with each other over BBS, IRC, Usenet and the plethora of forums and chat services that populated the early internet. I spent most of the '90s hanging out in anime and gaming chat rooms, the sorts of places that today's connected youth would probably find quaint. Still, the people I met there helped me survive the worst parts of middle and high school. Those relationships, and the internet itself, shaped me into who I am (for better or worse).

We Met in Virtual Reality proves that the unbridled, experimental sense of online community is still alive and well today, despite relentless consolidation from Big Tech. But now, instead of staring at tiny CRT monitors, people are slapping on VR headsets to explore fully realized environments. Hardcore VRChat users are also investing in powerful computing rigs as well as upgrades like finger and whole-body tracking. In the '90s, I was grateful to get another 16MB of RAM so that I could have more than one browser window open. Today, VRChat devotees can communicate using American Sign Language, or have their anime avatars show off their belly dancing skills.

Hunting approaches his subjects with the eye of an anthropologist, without any judgment towards their sometimes ridiculous avatars (do all the anime ladies need to have jiggly, Dead or Alive-level boob physics?). We Met in Virtual Reality begins as a chill hangout flick — we follow a group of friends as they have virtual drinks and go on joyrides in crudely-built VR cars — but it quickly moves beyond the novelty of its setting. One person credits their VRChat girlfriend for helping them to "unmute" after being silent for two years. An exotic performer explains that being able to dance for people in VRChat helped her grieve with a family tragedy and manage a bout of alcoholism.

Joe Hunting

The film chronicles how that exotic dancer, a young woman based in the UK, formed a romantic relationship with another VRChat user in Miami. These sorts of cyber relationships aren’t anything new, but the VR platform allowed them to do much more than trade links and memes over IM. They could exist in a space together, go on dates to new environments every night. I won’t spoil where things end up for the couple, but I can say that it wouldn’t have been nearly as effective outside of VR.

We Met in Virtual Reality effectively conveys why people would gravitate towards VRChat, especially during a pandemic. But it doesn't fully capture the wonder of exploring these environments yourself. Seeing people hop on a virtual rollercoaster isn't nearly as thrilling as doing it, where your entire field of vision is covered and you can easily get vertigo. But I don't blame Hunting too much for that; his job was to boil down the VR experience so people can enjoy it on a 2D screen, and the film is mostly successful in that respect. The film was shot using a virtual camera that could mimic all of the functionality of a typical shooter, from focus points to aperture levels. So even though it's produced in an alien environment most people aren't familiar with, it still feels like a traditional documentary.

Hunting has spent the past few years making VR documentaries, starting with a few short films, as well as the series Virtually Speaking. It’s clear from We Met in Virtual Reality that he’s not just dropping into the community for a quick story. Instead, he sees the humanity behind the avatars and virtual connections. These people aren't just escaping from their lives  with VR — their lives are being made richer because of it.

Engadget Podcast: James Webb’s eye in the stars, Microsoft buys Activision

Now that the James Webb Space Telescope is safely on the way to its orbital home, Cherlynn and Devindra chat about why it’s so important with editor-in-chief Tariq Malik, as well as science and technology journalist Swapna Krishna. They dive into why it’s such a big upgrade from Hubble, as well as the discoveries astronomers hope to make about exoplanets, black holes and our own solar system. Also, Senior Editor Jessica Conditt joins to chat about Microsoft’s mammoth $68.7 billion acquisition of Activision Blizzard. Is more consolidating a bad thing for the video game industry? (Spoilers: Probably.)

Listen above, or subscribe on your podcast app of choice. If you've got suggestions or topics you'd like covered on the show, be sure to email us or drop a note in the comments! And be sure to check out our other podcasts, the Morning After and Engadget News!



  • James Webb Space Telescope post-launch update – 1:07

  • Microsoft buys Activision/Blizzard for $68.7 billion – 31:03

  • Working On – 58:46

  • Pop Culture Picks – 1:01:06

Video livestream

Hosts: Cherlynn Low and Devindra Hardawar
Guests: Tariq Malik and Swapna Krishna
Producer: Ben Ellman
Music: Dale North and Terrence O'Brien
Livestream producers: Julio Barrientos and Luke Brooks
Graphic artists: Luke Brooks, Kyle Maack 

'Splitgate' is getting a map builder and new modes on January 27th

Splitgate, the sci-fi portal shooter that transported me back to carefree Quake 3 Arena days, is getting a slew of updates on January 27th with its Beta Season One update. There's a map builder for constructing and sharing stages with friends, a 100 level battle pass, as well as new One Flag CTF and Evolution modes. (The latter gives the losing team of every round increasingly powerful weapons.) Developer 1047 Games also says the Foregone Destruction map is getting a major fidelity bump, which should be a sign of similar upgrades coming to other maps.

“Our custom map creator will continue to evolve alongside the rest of the game,” Ian Proulx, CEO of 1047 Games, said in a statement. “We’re looking at the map creator as an evolutionary tool driven by the community — it’s a robust feature for fans to play with day one of our new season, and we’re really interested in hearing feedback from the community regarding the types of features and tools they want.”

All of this sounds like great news for Splitgate fans—at least, the few who've stuck around. According to SteamDB, the game is currently seeing 1,000 to 2,500 players per day, a far cry from its 67,000 player peak five months ago. I'd wager the launch of Halo Infinite's free multiplayer mode in December didn't help (that's where all my free time has been spent lately), but Splitgate's popularity has also steadily dropped since its open beta last August. 

Sure, it was impressive that Splitgate hit 10 million downloads in under 30 days, but with the plethora of free shooters out there, 1047 Games will need to do more to actually keep people interested for the game's full release. A hardcore fanbase isn't enough.

GM aims to use hydrogen fuel cells for mobile power generators

Automakers have been pursuing the dream of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles for decades — who wouldn't want a car that runs on renewable hydrogen and only emits water vapor? But many challenges, from designing cars that can easily hold the fuel, to setting up reliable hydrogen distribution, have made it difficult to turn that dream into a reality. But what if you used those fuel cells to set up a remote EV charging station, or to replace a traditional gas or diesel generator for a large camp? That's what GM is planning to do with its HYDROTEC fuel cell technology, the company announced today.


GM's Mobile Power Generators, or MPGs, are pretty self descriptive: they'd basically let you bring large amounts of electricity anywhere without burning fossil fuels, or expanding a local power grid. It could be useful for concerts, movie sets, or neighborhoods that frequently lose power. (In my town outside of Atlanta, almost everyone owns a gas generator to deal with storm-related outages.) 

The announcement also makes plenty of sense for GM, as it's already bringing its fuel cell technology to trucking, aerospace and rail partners. The company says the MPGs will be able to spit out 60 to 600 kilowatts without producing much noise or heat.

GM plans to show off an MPG-powered EV charging station in the middle of 2022, a project co-funded by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and the U.S. Army. Additionally, the California Energy Commission is exploring how MPGs could help provide energy during power shutdowns. GM is also working together with Renewable Innovations to build the EMPOWER rapid charger, which could deliver fast EV charging to existing stations without the need for huge infrastructure improvements. Taking things to an even more extreme level, there's a large MPG implementation that could potentially power large military camps and heavy-duty equipment. (And as a bonus, those camps can actually use the water the MPG emits.)

While it'll likely be years before MPGs can actually deployed, it's heartening to see GM explore uses for fuel cells outside of cars. Battery-powered EVs have evolved so quickly that hydrogen-powered cars don't have much of a future (sorry, Toyota). So it's about time we start considering other ways fuel cells could help.

Engadget Podcast: Everything we loved (and hated) at CES 2022

It’s that time of the year again! Cherlynn and Devindra break down some of the best tech they’ve seen at CES 2022, as well as a bunch of weird and awful products. Get ready for notebooks with hybrid Intel chips and better NVIDIA graphics! And how about a foldable laptop or two? Our big takeaway: it’s going to be an interesting year for Windows laptops. Also, we dive into Razer’s crazy gaming table and Samsung’s wild, rotating 55-inch gaming monitor.

Listen above, or subscribe on your podcast app of choice. If you've got suggestions or topics you'd like covered on the show, be sure to email us or drop a note in the comments! And be sure to check out our other podcasts, the Morning After and Engadget News!



  • Chipmakers at CES: Intel, AMD, and more – 1:19

  • Laptopapolooza: Lenovo’s Thinkbook Plus Gen 3, Dell’s XPS 13 Plus sans headphone jack – 10:40.322

  • Google announces Fast Pair and Android Auto improvements – 37:51

  • A couple of phones from CES: Samsung Galaxy S21 FE and OnePlus 10 Pro – 43:11

  • Standout weird stuff: Samsung’s Massive Curved Monitor and Razer’s new mask – 45:55

  • Other News – 1:05:04

  • Pop Culture Picks – 1:08:59

Video livestream

Hosts: Cherlynn Low, Devindra Hardawar
Producer: Ben Ellman
Music: Dale North and Terrence O'Brien
Livestream producers: Julio Barrientos,Luke Brooks
Graphic artists: Luke Brooks, Kyle Maack 

The Sundance Film Festival is going completely virtual again

The Sundance Film Festival was gearing up for an ambitious hybrid event later this month, but those plans are now squashed thanks to the Omicron COVID-19 surge. Sundance is instead planning for a completely virtual event starting on January 20th, along with a handful of screenings in local markets. While disappointing, the festival's investment in a better digital platform last year puts it in a better position than other major events. (Looking at you, CES.) And of course, you'll still be able to check out the Sundance New Frontiers experiences in VR. Based on our experience last year, it'll be well worth it.

"While it is a deep loss to not have the in-person experience in Utah, we do not believe it is safe nor feasible to gather thousands of artists, audiences, employees, volunteers, and partners from around the world, for an eleven-day festival while overwhelmed communities are already struggling to provide essential services," Sundance Film Festival director Tabitha Jackson wrote in an e-mail to attendees.

Cadillac's new self-driving concept is a luxury loveseat on wheels

After introducing a six-person self-driving box and a frickin' ridable drone concept last year, GM's latest luxury self-driving EV idea is much more grounded. The InnerSpace concept looks like a futuristic car from the outside—but inside, there's a two-seat loveseat surrounded by one of the widest screens we've ever seen. There's no steering wheel or pedals, of course. Instead, there's a built-in ottoman and a compartment for slippers and a blanket. Where GM's going, you won't need any sort of manual control.

Even stepping into the car seems like something from science fiction: the doors pop out, while the large windshield/sunroof rises up. As usual, concepts like the InnerSpace are a way for car designers to flex their muscles and imagine what future vehicles could actually be like. While it certainly seems out of reach for most people, perhaps Cadillac's more affluent clientele would be intrigued by owning a personal spaceship. At least it's better for the environment than full-sized luxury SUVs. 

“Electrification and autonomous driving will fundamentally change the role of vehicles and the experiences customers have with them,” Bryan Nesbitt, GM's executive director of Global Advanced Design, said in a statement. “We’re exploring where that will go with these innovative concepts, envisioning mobility as an ally of wellness, giving customers the ultimate luxury, more personal time rather than taking it.”

As someone who hates the act of driving, but lives in a place where I can't avoid it, it'll be interesting to see how car makers turn these self-driving concept vehicles into a reality. And maybe after getting these wild designs through their systems, they'll show us more concepts for self-driving family EVs.

ASUS' ROG Flow Z13 is a gaming tablet with NVIDIA's RTX 3050 Ti

After delivering an ambitious gaming convertible notebook last year, the svelte ROG Flow X13, ASUS is taking that concept even further with the Flow Z13 tablet. Think of it like a souped-up Surface Pro: the Z13 packs in Intel's new 12th-gen processors and up to NVIDIA's RTX 3050 Ti all in a sleek slate. Weighing in at 2.43 pounds, it's clearly not meant to replace smaller tablets like the iPad. Instead, ASUS sees it as a way to bring your PC games everywhere — say a cramped airplane tray table — without the bulk of a laptop.

Like the ROG Flow X13, the Z13 can connect to the ASUS XG Mobile external GPU, which supports up to AMD's Radeon RX 6850M in addition to NVIDIA's mobile RTX 30-series lineup. That eGPU still relies on a custom PCIe connection, which can reach up to 63 Gbps of graphics bandwidth, making it more capable than Thunderbolt 4's 40 Gbps. I was wary of the XG Mobile last year, given just how expensive and flaky similar eGPUs have been. And that was before we learned it would cost $1,500 with the 3080, and that it wasn't nearly as fast as reviewers would have liked. At the very least, the Z13 promises to be a better performer than the X13 with its built-in hardware, so maybe an eGPU would be unnecessary.

In person, the Z13 is exactly what you'd expect from an ROG gaming laptop to look like. The preview unit ASUS sent for me to borrow felt dense and sturdy, surprisingly so for its 12 millimeter thickness. Unlike iPads and other tablets, it feels strong enough to survive a backpack commute without a protective case. From the front, you could easily mistake it for a notebook. From the sides and back though, it's more like a Super Surface, with a flexible kickstand and keyboard cover.

Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

I wasn't able to run any games and benchmarks on the ROG Z13, unfortunately. (I'd wager ASUS's software and drivers aren't ready for serious testing yet.) But I could see why it could be compelling: An RTX 3050 Ti in a machine this size would be a dream for travel (at least, when that's safe again). And its 4K 13-inch display was perfectly fine for productivity tasks (there's also a 1080p 120Hz option). Given its size, though, the Z13 felt too heavy to use as a standard tablet. It's also not nearly as "lappable" as the Surface Pro devices; it's just too heavy to stay put while you're typing.

Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

ASUS deserves credit for actually including the keyboard case with the Z13, something Microsoft still refuses to do with the Surface Pro. And the typing experience actually feels pretty decent, so long as the Z13 is planted firmly on a flat surface. I could see it being a solid option for casual gaming, but the WASD inputs don't feel nearly as responsive as a basic desktop gaming keyboard. Basically, if you're expecting to compete while using the Z13, plan to bring along a separate keyboard.

You'll likely be able to connect most of your accessories to the Z13 as well, since it includes both a USB 2.0 Type-A connection, as well two USB 3.2 Type-C ports (one is hidden under the XG Mobile connection. There's also a microSD card slot, which is useful for throwing in additional storage or offloading media.

Without knowing the ROG Z13's price and testing it properly, it's hard to make any final judgements. Personally, I think most consumers would be better off investing in a gaming notebook, which would have bigger screens, faster hardware and more capable keyboards. But ASUS already makes plenty of those, including our beloved Zephyrus G14 and G15. The Z13, which is expected to land in the first half of 2022, is clearly meant for gamers who prioritize portability more than anything else. For them, this might be the tablet of their dreams.

Follow all of the latest news from CES 2022 right here!

Intel's 12th-gen KS-series chips will reach 5.5GHz on a single core

Intel is seriously planning to crank things up with its 12th-generation KS-series desktop CPUs. On stage at the company's CES press event today, Intel's Client Computing head Gregory Bryant revealed that the KS chips will reach a whopping 5.5GHz on a single core. Of course, that's while the chip is being stressed to reach a Max Turbo speed, so don't expect that to be sustained for long. 

Even better, Bryant said that the KS chips will also be able to go beyond 5GHz across multiple cores when they arrive this spring. That'll be particularly useful for rendering and other demanding work, but both milestones should deliver some impressive gaming performance too.

Follow all of the latest news from CES 2022 right here!

Intel Evo PCs will include foldables, offer iPhone integration this year

Intel hasn't forgotten about Evo, its premium branding for PCs that meet its array of performance benchmarks. Now in its third iteration (remember it was originally called Project Athena), the company says it's also adding a foldable specification for Evo PCs this year, along with new requirements around "intelligent collaboration" and support for faster H-series 12th-gen chips. So, in addition to guaranteeing long battery life and instant wake, new Evo PCs will also need to include WiFi 6E support, tap into the company's AI noise cancellation capabilities as well as Intel's Connectivity Performance Suite. The goal, as always, is to make sure consumers get the best experience possible when they're buying an "Intel Evo" branded PC.


Intel also offered more details around its plans for Screenovate, a recent acquisition that gained notoriety for integrating iPhones and Android devices with Windows PCs. (It also powers Dell's Mobile Connect tool, which allows you to send files to your phone and control its screen remotely.) According to Josh Newman, Intel's VP of Mobile Innovation, the company plans to bring Screenovate's technology to Evo PCs in the 2022 holiday season. The goal, naturally, is to offer it to more PCs eventually, but Newman says Intel wants to ensure that it's a high quality experience before that. The company plans to work with partners, including Apple, to make that happen.

While Intel's specialized Project Athena/Evo PC branding seemed more like a marketing stunt at first, it's actually pushing PC makers to build better hardware. Newman says that partners are building off of Intel's foldable PC design, while also adding their own twists. The specification also gives Intel a bit more leverage: for example, it's requiring partners to design keyboard accessories for their foldables. While Intel can't force them to include keyboards in the box, company representatives tells us they're being "encouraged" to do so. 

Follow all of the latest news from CES 2022 right here!