I’ve always been interested in Virtual Reality and the possibilities it holds. In its early days, I spent a lot of time in Second Life. I still think that at some point VR is going to fundamentally change our lives.
Although I’m usually an early-adopter, I tried to hold back on VR a bit. Then over the holidays I had a chance to really use an HTC Vive setup, and decided I could wait no longer.
I commenced my usual excessive research and in late January I made a decision and started ordering gear.
Which gear? Some of the “inside out” headsets on the horizon were tempting, but I’m skeptical that they will have the processing power and movement-tracking quality of the PC-based headsets, so I narrowed my search to the HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift.
I went with the Vive. It was close between this and the Rift, but after looking at a lot of reviews and comparisons the Vive seemed to be a slightly better option. The fact that my son has one was also a factor – I could be sure that any multi-player games we might want to try would be available without them needing to be available on both platforms.
It was also a close call between the Vive and the Vive Pro. I chose the Vive mainly because I was not certain just how much I’d really use VR and this was an attempt to not go too wild. If money is no object and/or you are convinced that VR will be amazing, the Pro is pretty tempting. It’s better, but probably not amazingly better. And the price difference is significant.
One big advantage of the Pro beyond better resolution is the Deluxe Audio Strap. This is a $100 option if you add it to the regular Vive headset.
The Deluxe Audio Strap is not only more comfortable, but it avoids the need to fool with earbuds. Well worth the money, and was an immediate upgrade for me.
The next issue is how you run the headset. If you have a Windows PC with a sufficiently fast GPU, then you are all set. I’m a Mac guy, so what I had was a very nice Mac laptop with completely inadequate graphics performance for VR. Yeah, you can do things with external GPUs. However, that only addresses the hardware side.
On the software side, the amount of games and applications that are Windows-only is vast. Apple has a real chicken-and-egg problem here, and until they solve it Windows is really the only viable platform for the full VR experience.
I bought an Alienware Aurora R7 tower, and it’s worked well so far. (Other than having to use Windows 10, which is as awful as I was afraid it was going to be.)
I’ll explain later why I went with a desktop and not a laptop.
Here’s the key specs for mine:
- 8th Gen Intel® Core™ i7-8700 Processor 3.2GHz
- 16GB DDR4 2666MHz RAM
- 2TB 7200RPM SATA Hard Drive
- 8GB NVIDIA® GTX 1080 Graphics
Only thing wrong with the model I got was that instead of an SSD it had a spinning drive. I immediately replaced this with a 512G SATA SSD for a reasonable price. The system I bought was from Costco, and that was worth the drive shenanigans – I like their extended warranty and return policy.
The GTX 1080 is more than the base Vive headset really needs, but I wanted to aim a little high so that when I upgrade to the next generation headset in a couple years, I won’t need to replace my PC hardware as well (hopefully).
I’ve made one other upgrade, which is the HTC wireless adapter for the Vive. This was $300 well spent. Not having to worry about stepping on and getting tangled up in the wire to the headset is great.
May not matter as much if you play mostly games and apps that are “seated” experiences, but for anything room-scale, it is a great advancement.
My suggestion would be to start wired and see just how annoying it is, which is what I did.
Some of the games I enjoy involve a lot of movement and turning, so this was well worth it to me.
I’m still in the early stages, with a lot of games and apps to look at but so far it’s been pretty amazing. I’ll certainly have more updates as I get to spend more time in VR.
When Blu-Ray players came out, I wasted no time in buying one. Well actually I wasted no time in buying an HD-DVD player. Then when that technology died, I switched to Blu-Ray pretty quickly.
I had bought maybe 30 or so movies when it started to become clear that for most purposes, physical media was becoming obsolete. At least for movies. I’ve got a huge TV show collection on DVD which consists of a lot of things not available from iTunes. (iTunes being my chosen source for media.)
So my Blu-Ray purchasing tapered off and my policy became to buy on iTunes. Even when there was a good sale on a movie, if I already had it in Blu-Ray I resisted temptation. Ok, mostly resisted temptation.
Now that Apple has announced the 4K HDR AppleTV and that many movies will be automatically upgraded to 4K HDR I’m pretty pleased with my strategy. I’ve been scorning 4K because I just could not bring myself to buy the same movies in YET ANOTHER format, and for full price again. Yes I have in some cases purchased the same move in VHS, Laserdisc, DVD, and Blu-Ray. Not many did that full ride, but some. And a lot of movies took at least a couple of those segments of the trip.
So obviously the news that I can maybe move into the glorious new 4K world without feeling like an idiot for buying movies in 4K that I own in Blu-Ray makes me really happy.
As of this date, 16-Sep-2017, about a week before the 4K AppleTV ships, I’m already seeing a few movies I own showing up as 4K HDR in iTunes. Hoping more will follow!
Now my only “problem” is that my 1080p plasma TV is still going strong so I cannot readily justify getting a new 4K TV. I’m going to resist as long as possible, in part because my Panasonic plasma still has superior picture quality to any LCD TV out today. It’s looking like OLED will be a worthy replacement when the time comes, but the size I want is still a bit pricey. Another 6-12 months and just maybe I’ll be selling a nice plasma TV…
Now that I’ve had the iPad Pro for about three months, a friend pointed out it’s time for an update to my initial impressions blog post from back in November.
Spoiler: It is great, happy with my purchase!
I still really appreciate the larger screen. For things like PDF documents, technical books, and graphic novels it is dramatically better than the normal full-sized iPad.
And multi-tasking with two apps open on the screen has been a nice productivity advantage in some cases. I use my iPad more for leisure and travel than actual productive work so my expectation would be that for actual work that feature would be a huge factor.
The accessories (Smart Cover and Pencil) are both quite nice In my opinion, and I discuss them a bit more later in this post.
It is certainly true for some people (those who care not about the pencil and the keyboard) that the iPad Pro is just a normal iPad with a larger screen and better speakers. But I don’t see that as a failing of the Pro – most of my use has been without those accessories, and the large screen has made a huge difference in my enjoyment of the iPad.
While I haven’t done any actual benchmarking, the Pro seems to be quite fast, especially compared to my generations-old iPad. This has made using it a pleasure as well.
Watching video has also been, as expected, better with the larger screen. When we travel, we use the iPad as our “TV” in the hotel – great to unwind by watching a show via iTunes or Netflix. So the bigger screen plus the better speakers make it wonderful for that purpose. Nice having no external wired or bluetooth speaker to mess with. And of course, it is our inflight entertainment system when we fly.
Apple Smart Keyboard (Cover)
If you are the type of typist who can live with the minimal-travel keys on the Smart Keyboard, that is quite a nice accessory! It’s basically full-sized to allow touch-typing. Using that keyboard cover I’ve entered much more text that I would have wanted to dow with the onscreen keyboard. And that’s even taking into account the much nicer size of the onscreen keyboard that the iPad pro allows.
I was not an external keyboard guy with my previous iPads, so can’t really compare to earlier offerings. What I do like is that since it is a cover, it can be “always there” if I want it, albeit at the cost of a noticeably thicker cover. Noticeably, but not annoyingly. Still seems almost like just a cover, but with a thicker section than the normal no-keyboard cover that Apple sells.
For artists and anyone who likes doing even fairly simple drawings, the Apple Pencil is quite amazing. I have zero artistic ability, but the Apple Pencil actually tempts me to look into some classes or something that can allow me to take advantage of its capabilities. The way it replicates doing things like shading with the side of a pencil point is really amazing. If you have a shred of artistic talent, you should really spend a little time at an Apple Store playing with the Pencil.
I was really looking forward to Apple announcing an iPad update this Fall. My iPad 3 was due for replacement, being heavy and slow due to the GPU being underpowered for the Retina display. Since the iPad Air 2 had been out for a year, I was waiting for its refresh/replacement model.
When Apple did not announce any new full-sized iPads, I was greatly disappointed.Sure, they announced a new iPad Mini, but I’d had a mini at one point, and missed the larger screen.
As time passed I started to give more and more thought to the iPad Pro that had been announced. Awesome screen. Great sound. Fast CPU and GPU. Huh.
The more I though about it and the way I tend to use my iPad, the more I thought maybe the Pro would work. So when ordering became available, I ordered one, and picked it up the next day at a local Apple store!
Here are my early impressions.
Yeah, it’s not small. But the large screen is terrific. In the same way the mini screen felt to cramped to me, the Pro screen feels better than the “normal” iPad screen. The device is a little heavy, but coming from an iPad 3, which is pretty heavy itself, it’s not bad at all. Admittedly not something you want to spend a lot of time holding up in mid-air, but resting own a lap or a table is more common in my experience anyway. If you are coming from an iPad Air or a mini, your opinion about the added weight may differ from mine!
Great. Very fast and fluid. Haven’t done much that really taxes it (e.g. gaming) yet, but for my normal everyday tasks performance is great.
Having an iPad with a Touch ID sensor is wonderful. I know this isn’t the first iPad to offer that, but it’s a new iPad feature for me!
The audio is impressive. Amazing sound from an iPad.
Split-screen multitasking. So so good. It took me less than a day to begin being annoyed by the apps that don’t support this feature yet. Being able to have two apps on the screen and active at the same time is a fundamental improvement in usability. Even though the pre-existing app switching functionality is pretty fast, not having to do it at all is a vast improvement in usability. Evernote in one pane for reference or not-taking with a browser or some other app in another pane is very cool. And by cool I mean “incredibly useful”.
I expect it to be transformative for travel. When we fly somewhere, the iPad becomes our major device for entertainment. TV shows and movies one the airplane, as well as in the hotel room.
Really looking forward to the larger screen for this purpose. And no more need for a Bluetooth speaker in the hotel. The audio from the iPad itself is plenty for watching video. And, I expect, for background music in the room.
Since the iPad Pro is treated like an iPad for purposes of airplane restrictions, it means that even though the screen is in the laptop size range we can use it during takeoffs and landings. And it can stay in my backpack through security.
I also expect the game of protecting a laptop screen from the suddenly reclined seat on the airplane to be eliminated by the iPad Pro as well. (I’ll admit I need to obtain the new keyboard cover and test this to be sure, but it seems like a reasonable conjecture.)
Combined with a hardware keyboard it should be able to eliminate the need for a laptop when traveling. I never got as much time to program when traveling as I thought I would anyway, and that’s about the only thing the iPad can’t do that the laptop can. And if the rumors of Xcode for the iPad Pro are true…
The Apple Pencil. The Smart Keyboard. Two things I don’t have. When I pre-ordered my iPad Pro, I foolishly thought it would be the hard-to-get item and the accessories would be readily available and I could grab them once I decided how the device itself was going to work for me. Oops. I have both on order, but by the time I decided to place those orders, the deliver time was 4-5 weeks out. Sigh.
I’ve heard nothing but good about the Pencil. So even though I’m in no way an artist, I want to take a look. I do like to sketch diagrams and such, so I’m hopeful it will be useful even for me.
I’m a little more uncertain about the keyboard/cover combo. If Xcode for the iPad ever does actually appear, then OMG yes yes yes. But since I’m not a writer, or even a rabid blogger, I don’t find myself typing that much on an iPad. I suspect that multitasking (and the larger screen) might change that equation a bit for me, but up until now I was much more of a “consumer” on my iPad than a creator.
But the laptop-replacement aspect of the device seems to be related to having a well integrated keyboard, so in for a penny, in for a pound.
Bottom line is I’m looking forward to trying them both!
And if the keyboard isn’t useful for me, it would be for my wife. Who does not have an iPad Pro. But if it is as useful for me as I think it’s going to be, it would be even more useful for her. So I’m expecting/fearing we might have to become a two iPad Pro family at some point. 🙂
Wonderful screen real estate, fast, enough space for multitasking to be comfortable. I love it so far.
Here are a few of my favorite Mac applications. These are mostly generic applications useful to most people using a Mac. I do of course have plenty of task-specific and domain-specific applications I use, but those are a topic for a later post.
Clipboard (cut-and-paste) history
There are many applications that do this, or do this as part of doing all kinds of other application-launching tasks, but this simple utility is the one I’ve used forever. I cannot imagine how people use Macs (or any computer) without a clipboard history.
This is a straightforward and reliable backup tool that let’s use use backends like Amazon and Google for data storage.
Sure, I have a nice little Time Capsule for local backups, but repeat after me “It’s not backed up until it’s offsite”. And using something like Amazon’s Glacier storage means it can be economical to back up large data sets.
Retina Mac Display Resolution Setting
Yes, the Settings app lets you set display resolutions, but with nowhere near the level of control that this utility provides.
If you want to see what is using up space on your disk, this tool is a beautiful way to do it!
So there are really three pillars that make up a comprehensive backup strategy.
- Local and very frequent – Time Capsule
- Offsite – Arq
- Local and immediate restoration – Carbon Copy Cloner
Carbon Copy Cloner is the tool to use for making a bootable backup, or when migrating to a new hard drive.
If you are in a situation where waiting to restore from a Time Capsule, or offline, would result in excessive downtime, a CCC backup is the fastest way to get things working again.
When you want to go many many steps beyond Apple’s Activity Monitor, iStat Menus is there.
Incredible detail and monitoring of your network connection, voltages, temperatures, memory, CPU and more.
Maybe it’s just my love of gauges and dials, but I really like knowing whats going on inside the shiny box.
In no particular order, here are a few other tools that I find useful, but not everyone will:
- Simplenote by Automattic
- The Unarchiver by Dag Agren
- Transmit by Panic
Just wanted to give an update on my slow but steady transition to E-Books – a process that took on new urgency when we went from suburban life to apartment renters in downtown San Diego.
As someone who has spent a lifetime collecting, reading, and cherishing physical books, this has been a challenging journey. As the technology gets better, it has become easier though.
With my latest acquisition of the new Nook Glowlight (the one released at the end of 2013, not to be confused with the Nook SimpleTouch Glowlight which was its predecessor) this transition has become even easier to accept.
In the beginning, E-Books were read either on a Mac or PC, and the mobile hardware was pretty clunky. Today we have Retina iPads and very nice E-Ink readers. My latest Nook is E-Ink, and although my original Nook was also, this one is miles ahead.
It’s actually getting to the point where in many ways I’m preferring reading on my Nook versus a physical hardcover. Sure, this was always the case when portability was the main factor. “Hey, I can take ten novels with me on the plane, and it takes up less space and weight than one hardcover!”
But now I’m finding that the technology has improved to the point where even when the weight and size isn’t an issue, the experience is as good or better.
What factors are bringing about this change? Here they are, in no particular order.
- Incredible reductions in size and weight. My new Nook weighs about the same as a moderate paperback, and about half of what a really think paperback weighs.
- Higher resolution screen. It’s getting pretty close (~210dpi) to printed resolution. Close enough that it’s not obvious that it’s an electronic page rather than a paper one.
- Frontlight for reading in the dark. The new Glowlight is pretty good, with only some mild darkening at the very top of the page. Fantastic for low-light situations. And since it’s front-light versus back-light like an iPad etc. it should have less of the sleep-impacting effects that have been reported for LCD displays.
- No page-flip “flash” that previous generations of E-Ink typical had.
And then there’s the other factors that have been present for a while: The ability to carry hundreds of books, weeks of battery life, and (if reading a book purchased from Barnes & Noble) the ability to read those books on my iPhone or iPad with my place in the book being synced between the devices. Oh, and not having to try and hold a book open when eating lunch etc. is pretty nice as well.
I’m not ready to abandon my physical books just yet – nothing is going to replace that experience. But for my general reading, I think I’m about at the point where I no longer see switching to E-Books as a necessary compromise to accommodate our new less-burdened lifestyle, but as a pretty nice way to enjoy reading.
On Facebook, a friend asked about my take on the Nest acquisition by Google that was recently announced.
(I’ve given Nest thermostats and Smoke Alarms as gifts, and have a Smoke Alarm myself. I’d have a thermostat if we weren’t apartment dwellers at this time.)
Here’s the answer I gave:
Unhappy. While I’m aware of all the positives (e.g. deep pockets to allow expansion of the Nest product line and protection against some of the patent issues they are threatened with), I really don’t trust Google anymore.
Nest has given assurances that the customer data won’t be shared, but that policy is subject to change down the road. Google made similar assurances regarding YouTube and those have weakened over time.
I’m trying not to be too paranoid, and I’m not suggesting that anyone throw away their Nest devices just yet, but I’m definitely concerned.
Really wish it had been Apple. Sure, they want all my money but they get it in an upfront fashion, not by advertising or selling my data.
Oh, I should add that on the bright side, this may kick off the overarching privacy discussions that need to take place as we head further down the “Internet of Things” road.
In an ideal world, the result of the acquisition will be Google realizing that they need to make some serious promises/safeguards regarding privacy for Nest if they expect it to remain a viable product line.
In the non-ideal world they just go ahead and be evil, counting on the sales to people who don’t know or don’t care about the privacy concerns. Sigh.
When the iPad mini was released, I bought one to see just how that size would work. I really liked it, to the point where I regretted getting just the 16G wifi- only model. I also missed the Retina display of my full-sized iPad. My plan was to grab a Retina mini when they release today, but since Apple made the full-sized iPad so much lighter and a bit smaller (but same screen size), my decision became a lot harder.
And then, to further complicate things, I happened to see the latest Nook e-reader at Barnes & Noble last night, and was impressed by both it’s extremely light weight, its small size, and the nice illuminated screen. (I’ve always been a fan of e-ink)
So now I’m contemplating just sticking with my full-sized 3rd gen iPad, perhaps getting rid of the iPad mini, and grabbing a new e-ink reader to fill the “just reading a book” niche.
(Yes, I still have my original Nook, but it’s about the size and weight of the iPad mini, so it hasn’t gotten much use lately.)
The iPad mini is an experiment – wifi only and just 16G, so not planned to replace my “big” iPad.
May put the Nook into the museum though (or limited to use on the beach where sun makes LCDs a poor choice).
The mini is thinner and lighter than the Nook and just slightly larger width and height. And iBooks is way nicer than the somewhat limited Nook software.
The new Lightning connector is very slick – easy to connect and feels a little less fragile than the complicated 30-pin connector of yore. Yes, it’s a pain to have to (slowly) transition all of my cables and devices, but the 30-pin connector had a good run.
The display is certainly less crisp than the Retina display on my full-size iPad, but it’s not bad, just not as good. If you’ve never spent time using a Retina iPad, it will look great, as the dpi is actually better than that of the non-Retina iPads.