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Drake invests in esports betting startup Players’ Lounge – TechCrunch

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Drake’s latest collaboration isn’t with Kanye or Kendrick, it’s with Marissa Mayer.

The rap superstar has joined a bevy of Silicon Valley investors, including Strauss Zelnick, Comcast, Macro Ventures, Canaan, RRE, Courtside and Marissa Mayer, to fund Players’ Lounge, an esports startup looking to pit gamers against each other in their favorite titles with some friendly wagers on the line.

The startup has just announced that it closed $3 million in funding.

The company, which has been around for five years, got its start as an esports startup looking to organize real-life matches at bars in New York City to play FIFA. That’s obviously not the most scalable business of all time, but last year after joining Y Combinator, the company really dove into a new model that looked to create an online hub for gamers to battle each other in titles of their choosing, with money on the line.

The company has a heavy emphasis on sports titles, like FIFA 19, NBA 2K19 and Madden 19, but there are also some heavy hitters like Fortnite, Apex Legends and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.

Gamers can set a match or join one in head-to-head challenges or in massive 500-person tournaments. The wagers are often a buck or two but can swell much higher. Players’ Lounge takes 10 percent of the bets as a fee. Because it’s a game of skill, not chance, there aren’t many issues with gambling regulations, though a few states still don’t allow the service, the company says.

The startup plans to use their new cash to beef up their library of playable games and add to their development team.

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Saving Notre Dame chronicles effort to rebuild France’s famous cathedral

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Enlarge / The iconic spire collapses as smoke and flames engulf the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris on April 15, 2019.

Geoffroy van der Hasselt/AFP via Getty Images

On April 15, 2019, the world watched in horror as the roof of the famed Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris caught fire. The blaze spread rapidly, and for several nail-biting hours, it seemed this 850-year-old Gothic masterpiece might be destroyed entirely. Firefighters finally gained the upper hand in the wee hours of the following morning. Almost immediately after the fire had been extinguished, French President Emmanuel Macron vowed to rebuild Notre Dame.

But first, the badly damaged structure had to be shored up and stabilized and interdisciplinary teams of scientists, engineers, architects, and master craftspeople assembled to determine the best way to proceed with the restoration. That year-long process—headed up by Chief Architects Philippe Villeneuve and Remi Fromont— is the focus of a new NOVA documentary premiering tonight on PBS. Saving Notre Dame follows various experts as they study the components of the cathedral’s iconic structure to puzzle out how best to repair it.

Director Joby Lubman was among those transfixed in horror when the fire broke out, staying up much of the night as the cathedral burned, until it became clear that the structure would ultimately survive, albeit badly damaged. In the office the next morning, “Everyone was a bit shell-shocked talking about it,” he told Ars. “And it might sound opportunistic, but I thought, ‘The restoration of this icon is going to be quite something to document.'”

Lubman and his development team reached out to the appropriate authorities, and within a few weeks they were sitting in on meetings with scientists, architects, engineers, and others combining their expertise to restore Notre Dame to its former glory. “It’s the ultimate restoration and a perfect synergy between science and history,” he said.

While Lubman never felt he and his crew were in any real danger, filming on-site was a challenge because of the strict safety protocols in place. Nobody was allowed to work under the vaulting, which was cordoned off. And one scene in the documentary depicts an alarm going off on the very first day of filming because the 550 tons of badly mangled scaffolding towering over the restoration site had shifted precariously in the wind.

“We all had to leave the site,” he said, scientists included. “That set the tone for our filming, which was highly unpredictable. It was very much, we get what we get [on film] when we go on site.”

The original engineers

Notre Dame is an architectural masterpiece, a testament to the collective expertise of centuries of craftspeople. “They were the original engineers, before engineering as a term existed,” said Lubman. “You couldn’t go to school to learn engineering, it was passed down from father to son over many, many generations. It is rather lovely to think that these buildings are the product of thousands of years of experience. I think so much of that knowledge is imprinted in the materials themselves that have been used. People today can look at the craftsmanship and at the tool marks, and understand exactly how they did it.”

Among the experts featured in Saving Notre Dame is glass scientist Claudine Loisel, who was relieved to find that the cathedral’s famed stained glass windows were intact and not too badly damaged. There were microcracks in some panels from the thermal shock of the fire, and most windows were coated with the toxic lead dust that was emitted when the lead roof burned. She figured out an effective decontamination plan involving a tiny precision vacuum cleaner, followed by removal of any further residue with cotton balls soaked in distilled water. X-ray spectroscopy analysis helped her determine just how many wipes were needed to remove the lead without damaging the paint underneath.

For that segment, Lubman also took his film crew to York, where conservationists have adopted a new preservation approach to the stained glass windows of York Minster Cathedral. The cathedral caught fire in 1984, shattering the glass of the South Transept rose window, although the lead held it together, allowing it to be taken down and painstakingly reassembled. The new approach involves installing protective clear glass external frames before replacing the original stained glass windows. The gap between them improves ventilation and prevents condensation from building up on the original stained glass, as well as protecting it from damaging UV rays.

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How one developer is sneaking emulators through a hole in the Xbox Store

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Modern gaming consoles have exploded with indie games and apps, but one category has always proven an exception: emulators. This week, however, Ars has learned of an apparent loophole in Microsoft’s Xbox Store system being used to distribute high-performing emulators on the platform.
Microsoft usually doesn’t allow emulators to be published on the Xbox Store, though individual emulators have occasionally (and briefly) sneaked past Microsoft’s approval net in the past. Yesterday, we also wrote about how Xbox owners can use the system’s built-in Developer Mode as a workaround to install their own copy of the RetroArch emulator suite onto an Xbox Series X/S (or Xbox One).

But this new effort, led by a third-party app developer going by the handle tunip3, exploits an apparent hole in the Xbox app distribution system to let users download a “retail” version of RetroArch directly to the console’s main interface, without using Developer Mode.

That method involves publishing a slight modification of the existing UWP version of RetroArch as a “private” app, which doesn’t need to be reviewed by Microsoft, tunip3 says. That version can then be downloaded directly (using a code) by anyone whose email is placed on a whitelist. Tunip3 will be accepting applications for that whitelist through Friday, according to a message posted on Discord. (Ars will not be posting links to the Discord or whitelist application page.)

After installing RetroArch, Xbox users can download core updates through the suite’s own interface or access their own files through an app like My Files Explorer.

But why?

To distribute a “retail” version of RetroArch to Xbox consoles in the first place, Tunip3 tells Ars that it took some work “just going through trial and error to figure out how the store’s system works.” Going through that effort, they say, gets around some problems inherent in the extant Developer Mode version of the emulator suite. That includes a limit on accessing individual files larger than 2GB, which makes some Wii and Gamecube titles unplayable in Developer Mode. The retail version also lets Xbox users access apps like Spotify or their Xbox Live parties while playing.

This isn’t the first time tunip3 has distributed RetroArch to Xbox users using the same method. Back in July, they used a little publicized giveaway system to get the app to about 200 people and “keep it on the store for as long as possible.” That version was available for about a month, tunip3 said, before Microsoft discovered it and took it down. After that, users couldn’t redownload the app or any subsequent RetroArch updates, though previous downloads were left intact on users’ systems.

Now, however, tunip3 tells Ars, “we tried getting as many people on it as fast as possible at the risk of it potentially being found by Microsoft sooner. We have already got over 1,500 people on it this time [around].”

While tunip3 thinks Microsoft will eventually shut down this version of the app as well, he says he’s not too worried about potential repercussions. “I think they may ban my dev account, but I don’t think that I have harmed them or threatened them in any real way,” he said. “I doubt there will be any repercussions against the users, as there have been sketchier hidden apps in the past and when they were removed there were no repercussions imposed on the users.”

“[Microsoft] warns that it could ban developer accounts that consistently break the rules,” notes xBartenderx, an outside developer familiar with the effort who spoke to Ars over Discord. “What we don’t know is how tolerable they are with this.”

Microsoft has yet to respond to a request for comment from Ars Technica.

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Lord of the Rings, Hobbit 4K Blu-ray sets: Must-own home-theater stunners

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Ever since its early ’00s conclusion, The Lord of the Rings film trilogy has remained the ultimate collision of nerd scrutiny and filmmaking excellence. It’s the exact kind of series that fans have hoped to one day see on 4K UHD Blu-ray for pristine color reproduction and utmost image quality.

This year, after countless DVD and Blu-ray releases, box sets, and special editions, Peter Jackson’s acclaimed trilogy has finally gotten a home version at four times the previous pixel resolution—and it’s as beautiful as I’d hoped for. If previous Blu-ray releases had you anxious about Jackson and Weta Workshop’s color-correction philosophy, rest assured that 4K Blu-ray’s full HDR canvas has done wonders for all three Tolkien classics.

Oh, and the three Hobbit films have gotten the same treatment, if you’re into that sort of thing. (Should image quality be your jam, you might even want to start with the newer trilogy in your 4K Blu-ray player of choice.)

Filmstock, respected and retouched

Just ahead of the United States’ Thanksgiving break, I received both trilogies’ standard 4K boxed sets, each with a gargantuan $90 price tag. Pay more, and you can get the same discs in slightly fancier packaging, but not with any additional discs or video content. All of the sets (launching December 1 at retailers) include each film’s theatrical and extended edits as separate discs, along with a streaming unlock code to access the films’ 4K versions via Movies Anywhere. The LOTR set weighs in at nine discs, with each theatrical run fitting on a single disc, and each extended edition being split into two discs. The Hobbit set is six discs in all: three theatrical film versions, and three extended cuts.

The past few years have seen more classic and acclaimed films receive 4K Blu-ray launches—and these are arguably the finest way to reproduce a director’s original vision in home theaters. But newcomers to the format should know what they’re in for. 4K Blu-ray often doesn’t guarantee that every pixel is filled with raw, filmed imagery, as fueled by modern filmmaking equipment like Red 8K cameras. Rather, LOTR‘s live-action footage was shot on a variety of 35mm cameras, then immediately transferred to digital formats for the sake of preservation and digital VFX work. The completed, combined product was then transferred to 35mm.

That final digital-to-analog step remains intact in this year’s 4K re-release. Jackson’s production crew has not gone back with the full pixel depth of 4K Blu-ray to insert highest-resolution renders of massive virtual armies, or manually paint super-zoomed detail that was never originally captured. Rather, each frame benefits from a tasteful amount of digital noise reduction (DNR). Many of the films’ original filmstock artifacts remain, like mild dithering to break up otherwise solid blocks of color—yet these are set off with absolutely handsome reproductions of dynamic, color-filled moments. A flicker of light off a sword’s blade shines with the maximum luminance afforded by an HDR panel. A wave of heat blurs an indoor pyre with striking resolution and depth, making its blur effect look that much more like a real fire on your screen.

The results look cleaner and more striking than many classic film re-releases, which may be because Jackson and co. already leaned heavily on digital archival systems when filming began. However they pulled it off, the resulting balance between film stock artifacts and gentle DNR application is some of the finest work I’ve ever seen in the 4K Blu-ray universe.

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