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Valve is building its own high-end VR headset called ‘Index’ – TechCrunch



Valve is ready to sell its own full VR hardware getup.

The gaming giant behind some classic titles and the ubiquitous Steam store has revealed a teaser image on its site of a VR headset called the Valve Index. Alongside the photo, text reads “Upgrade your experience. May 2019” suggesting a near-term full announcement or release date of what is likely a high-end VR system.

Valve has long been a present name in virtual reality circles but it hasn’t shipped a dedicated headset of its own, instead focusing its work on the underlying software technologies. Valve has been at the forefront of the technology and was making substantial advancements while Oculus was in the process of releasing their first developer kits. Valve’s work eventually surfaced in the HTC Vive which operated on the SteamVR platform, but there hasn’t been widespread adoption from other OEMs of Valve’s VR technologies.

In a lot of ways it has been turning into a two-horse race for consumer VR platforms between Oculus and Microsoft’s Windows Mixed Reality. While SteamVR once seemed a likely choice to be a standard across VR devices, announced products never ended up shipping and the VR market cool-down left HTC pivoting to enterprise.

Things were just as unclear when the company laid off several of its VR hardware-focused employees a few weeks ago, leaving people to wonder whether that meant a release was never coming or one was imminent.

Well, now we know.

Now, there’s admittedly not a ton to go off of with this teaser image.

The look matches the Valve prototype headset that UploadVR found images of this past fall. That report detailed that the headset would have a display resolution similar to HTC’s Vive Pro while stretching that resolution over a wider 135-degree field-of-view. This compares to the near-110-degree FoV on the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive.

This image is a pretty clear shot at Oculus in that while there aren’t many discernible features from the base of the headset, there is what definitely appears to be an IPD adjustment slider which allows users to define the distance between the lenses to accommodate for the space between their eyes. The exclusion of a physical IPD adjustment tool was undoubtedly the most controversial choice on Oculus’s Rift S headset, and prompted the company’s ousted founder to pen a blog post complaining about the omission.

Beyond that control, there are a couple of other things we can infer. First, this is almost definitely a PC-powered headset based on the company’s previous work, thus, the company will likely rely on their SteamVR 2.0 tracking system. The big question is then what those onboard cameras in the image are for. The most likely answer if I saw this headset from anyone else is that they were for inside-out tracking but the more likely answer is that they’re for “mixed reality” passthrough experiences, especially since the cameras both appear to be pointed forward though they are also a bit far apart.

This product’s release might not be great for Oculus, which has seemed to walk away from their position pushing high-end PC VR, but it’s far worse for HTC. The Taiwanese company’s consumer ambitions have kind of dried up in their pivot to enterprise markets though they have still seemed to be marketing towards consumers. For most users the best features of the Vive are features developed largely by Valve including the tracking system and software platform, so getting a high-end device direct from Valve seems like a very easy sell to these customers.

Again, not a huge amount to go off from this landing page, but it seems we’ll hear more in a couple months.

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Libra cryptocurrency renamed Diem to add distance from Facebook



The Facebook-backed Libra cryptocurrency hasn’t even launched yet, but it’s already rebranding, with its stablecoin product now set to debut as Diem. The move – which comes as the organization hires a number of high-profile execs – is being seen as an attempt to draw further distinction between the crypto project and the ever-controversial Facebook.

Indeed, the new Diem Association will make its independence a key pillar. The new name “signals the project’s growing maturity and independence,” Stuart Levey, CEO, said today.

It’s not been an easy path to launch for Libra, now Diem. Announced in mid-2019, it was pitched as another bitcoin alternative that would be “a global, digitally native, reserve-backed cryptocurrency built on the foundation of blockchain technology.” Although the currency itself would be independent, it could be stored in a Facebook-subsidiary digital wallet, called Calibra.

Since then, though, things haven’t been smooth sailing. Libra faced early criticism for its plan to base value on the US dollar, Euro, Japanese Yen, Singapore dollar, and British pound. Original partners like Visa and Stripe have exited the project.

Facebook’s wallet, meanwhile, will no longer launch as Calibra, and has been rebranded to Novi. Arguably most important, the cryptocurrency’s value won’t be for one, single global stablecoin any more. Instead, there will be multiple versions, with each based on an individual currency such as the US dollar.

The goal now, it appears, is making financial transactions more straightforward and traceable. “The Diem project will provide a simple platform for fintech innovation to thrive and enable consumers and businesses to conduct instantaneous, low-cost, highly secure transactions,” Levey said. “We are committed to doing so in a way that promotes financial inclusion – expanding access to those who need it most, and simultaneously protecting the integrity of the financial system by deterring and detecting illicit conduct.”

Dahlia Malkhi is joining as the Diem Association’s Chief Technology Officer, Christy Clark as Chief of Staff, Steve Bunnell as Chief Legal Officer, and Kiran Raj as Executive Vice President for Growth and Innovation and Deputy General Counsel. Diem Networks – which will be the regulated payment system operator for Diem – has also named its key exec team.

Still to come, however, is any sort of confirmation on timing for the actual launch of Diem. That’s conspicuous by its absence, though earlier rumors suggested that it could be scheduled for early in the new year, and potentially as soon as January.

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Snapdragon 888 revealed – Qualcomm’s 5G flagship for Android in 2021



Qualcomm has announced its latest flagship chipset, with the Snapdragon 888 set to power the next generation of high-end Android devices in 2021. As you’d expect, there’s a big focus on 5G, with the Snapdragon 888 featuring the company’s latest 3rd generation Snapdragon X60 modem.

Full details of the chipset won’t be revealed until tomorrow, Qualcomm says, with only the headline features of the new SoC being shared at the moment. Still, there’s enough to get us more than a little curious.

The Snapdragon X60 5G Modem-RF System, for example, will combine mmWave and Sub-6 connectivity “across all major bands worldwide,” Qualcomm promises. There’ll be support for 5G carrier aggregation along with global multi-SIM, as we’ve seen on previous 5G modems, together with standalone, non-standalone, and Dynamic Spectrum Sharing.

Another big area of fascination for Qualcomm recently has been Artificial Intelligence. The 6th generation Qualcomm AI Engine will feature on the Snapdragon 888, with a “completely re-engineered” Hexagon processor. That should be capable of up to 26 TOPS (tera operations per second), and will be linked with the 2nd generation Qualcomm Sensing Hub. That controls always-on sensors in a low-power mode.

Snapdragon Elite Gaming, meanwhile, will continue to offer things like updatable GPU drivers – separate from OS updates, allowing for more frequent incremental improvements in graphics performance, in some cases on a per-game basis – and Desktop Forward Rendering. Qualcomm says the Snapdragon 888 should be able to handle up to 144 fps games with its new Adreno GPUs.

On the flip side of the phone, cameras are another big selling point for the new chipset. There, the updated Qualcomm Spectra ISP will handle photos and videos at up to 2.7 gigapixels per second, or roughly 120 photos at 12-megapixels. That’s up to a 35-percent speed improvement compared to the last Snapdragon flagship, Qualcomm suggests.

Of course, Qualcomm has some rising ARM competition at the moment. All eyes are on Apple, which has spread its own, homegrown chipsets from iPhone and iPad to the desktop, with Apple Silicon launching in the MacBook Air, MacBook Pro 13, and Mac mini. They use the M1 SoC, borrowing heavily from the A-series chipsets in recent iOS and iPadOS devices, but we’re expecting to see more potent Apple chips in 2021.

That’s when we can also likely expect to see Android phones based on the Snapdragon 888, though as always it will be down to smartphone-makers to actually decide when their devices launch. Qualcomm says that ASUS, Black Shark, Lenovo, LG, Meizu, Motorola, Nubia, realm, OnePlus, OPPO, Sharp, vivo, Xiaomi, and ZTE are all planning to launch Snapdragon 888-based devices, though we’d expect to see Samsung and others join that list in the new year.

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Apple MagSafe Duo Charger tipped to launch this month



In October, Apple unveiled its new iPhone 12 line and announced new MagSafe and MagSafe Duo chargers. The standard MagSafe charger is currently available for purchase, but the MagSafe Duo availability is a mystery. A reseller from Switzerland called Digitec Galaxus, apparently a known and popular reseller, has published a listing for the MagSafe Duo charger suggesting that the charger will start shipping this month.

The reseller’s web store claims that MagSafe Duo chargers will ship between December 21 and December 29. It’s worth noting that Apple has yet to offer an official launch date for the charger. It’s certainly not outside the realm of possibility that a major reseller would have inside information about a potential launch date.

Apple certainly won’t be happy that the company is tipping launch dates if there’s any truth to the listing. Another factoid lending weight to the December 21 launch date is that Apple has sent some MagSafe Duo review units out already. It’s unlikely that Apple would’ve sent review units to members in the media if the device wasn’t ready to launch soon.

For those unfamiliar with the MagSafe Duo charger, it’s designed to charge an iPhone 12 series smartphone and an Apple Watch simultaneously. MagSafe chargers are of the sort that the Apple Watch uses and was a new feature to the iPhone 12 series launched in October.

Apple previously said that the MagSafe Duo charger would sell for $129. As is done with recent iterations of its phones and Watch, no USB-C power adapter is included. Apple will gladly sell you one for an additional charge. Most smartphone users likely have USB-C chargers lying around, but you need one with enough power output to get the ideal charge speed.

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