Blade’s Shadow Box transforms any screen into a powerful gaming PC.
PC ownership is dead. The future of PCs is subscription-based, just like Netflix.
That’s what Asher Kagan, president and co-founder of Blade, a French cloud-based computer startup, basically told me as he showed off the full-fledged PC version of Rise of the Tomb Raider — detailed 3D graphics and all — running on a phone, tablet, and MacBook Pro.
Founded in 2015, Blade’s philosophy is simple: Kill the PC as you know it. “A revolution is coming to the PC that will replace it with nothing. No hardware, no upkeep,” Kagan says.
Instead of monstrous towers that sit underneath your desk, Kagan sees personal computers migrating to the cloud, accessed through a streaming service for a monthly fee. In other words, just like how you access movies and videos through a media streaming service like Netflix or Hulu.
Shadow, the company’s cloud-based streaming PC service, launched late last year and has racked up over 5,000 users in France. Germany and the UK are next on the launch list, but so, too, is the U.S.
Making its American debut at CES 2018, the Shadow service will first launch in California on Feb. 15. Service availability for the rest of the U.S. is expected by the summer.
Users will have three options for renting their cloud-based PCs: $35 per month for an annual subscription, $40 for a three-month subscription, or $50 for a no-contract monthly subscription. Committing to an annual subscription will save you the most money with a total cost of $420 per year.
Blade’s Shadow cloud PCs aren’t puny Chromebook-power machines — they’re the equivalent of a $2,000 gaming PC with a bleeding-edge 8-core Intel Xeon Core i7 processor with 12GB of RAM, 256GB of storage, and a high-end Nvidia graphics card with 8.2 teraflops of processing power and 16GB of VRAM.
The company didn’t specify which graphics card it’s using in their cloud computers, but the specs put it on par with an Nvidia GTX 1080, which is pretty beefy. That’s enough punch to run games at 1080p resolution at 144Hz or at 4K at 60GHz.
Over our company’s 300+ Mbps Wi-Fi, Kagan streamed the PC version of Rise of the Tomb Raider to several devices to give me a look at how well its Shadow PC and service would perform.
The real test will be when the Shadow service goes live for thousands of users trying to simultaneously access their cloud PCs.
He promised zero lag in performance and, for the most part, the Shadow PC located some couple thousand miles across country in a California-based data center, delivered when streamed to a 15-inch MacBook Pro, and an Android phone and tablet connected to a Bluetooth controller.
Lara Croft and her archeological surroundings looked quite good and the game ran pretty smoothly. Though we had things on a fast Wi-Fi connection, Kagan says its PCs can be streamed with connections as low as 5 Mbps. Granted, you won’t be able to do much gaming on such a slow connection — 15 Mbps is recommended — it should be enough to get most work-related tasks done. Obviously, the faster your internet connection (wired or wireless) is, the better your streaming experience will be. It’s no different than dealing with Netflix when it’s trying to buffer.
The real test, however, will be when the Shadow service goes live for thousands of users trying to simultaneously access their cloud PCs. Will there any peak time lags? That remains to be seen.
Personally, I’m pumped to see how Blade’s cloud PCs handle hardcore work, like video editing. There’s no doubt the computers have the processing power. But could a video producer do their job using an underpowered (but lightweight!) ultrabook instead of needing to lug around a laptop with a discrete graphics card?
The launch of the Shadow streaming service in the U.S. isn’t the only thing Blade’s going to show off at CES.
The company’s also launching a “Shadow box,” a compact geometric-shaped micro-computing box, that’ll let you connect a keyboard, mouse, or game controller up to any display (like your TV) and essentially turn into a PC. Additionally, it can stream the cloud-located Shadow PC to your mobile devices.
The Shadow box will cost $140 full price or you can pay $10 per month to rent it out.
If Blade’s vision with Shadow really is the future of PCs, expect more competitors to leap into the arena. Short-term, Shadow seems great — Blade manages and upgrades your remote PC with the latest and greatest computer components — and you just enjoy the power from your device of choice. But add up the total cost of renting a Shadow PC over the course of five years (the average time most people keep their PCs for) or more and the cost-savings — $2,100 if you subscribe for five years — may not be worth it.
That said, I thought nobody would ever prefer renting their $1,000 iPhones, or cars, or movies, and yet here we are. Maybe Kagan’s right, and ownership is dead. I hate to say such a cliché, but only time will tell whether it’ll be the Netflix for PCs or end up like the failed OnLive game streaming service.
MoviePass CEO proudly says the app tracks your location before and after movies
Everyone knew the MoviePass deal is too good to be true — and as is so often the case these days, it turns out you’re not the customer, you’re the product. And in this case they’re not even attempting to camouflage that. Mitch Lowe, the company’s CEO, told an audience at a Hollywood event that “we know all about you.”
Lowe was giving the keynote at the Entertainment Finance Forum; his talk was entitled “Data is the New Oil: How will MoviePass Monetize It?” Media Play News first reported his remarks.
“We get an enormous amount of information,” Lowe continued. “We watch how you drive from home to the movies. We watch where you go afterwards.”
It’s no secret that MoviePass is planning on making hay out of the data collected through its service. But what I imagined, and what I think most people imagined, was that it would be interesting next-generation data about ticket sales, movie browsing, A/B testing on promotions in the app and so on.
I didn’t imagine that the app would be tracking your location before you even left your home, and then follow you while you drive back or head out for a drink afterwards. Did you?
Naturally I contacted MoviePass for comment and will update if I hear back. But it’s pretty hard to misinterpret Lowe’s words.
The startup’s plan is to “build a night at the movies,” perhaps complete with setting up parking or ordering you a car, giving you a deal on dinner before or after, connecting you with like-minded moviegoers, etc. Of course they need data to do that, but one would hope that the collection would be a bit more nuanced than this.
People clearly value the service, because it essentially lets them use someone else’s credit card instead of their own at the movies (and one belonging to a bunch of venture capitalists at that). Who would say no? Some people sure might, if they knew their activities were being tracked at this granularity (and, it has to be said, with such a cavalier attitude) to be packaged up and sold. (Good luck with the GDPR, by the way.)
Hopefully MoviePass can explain exactly what data it collects and what it does with it, so everyone can make an informed choice.
Update: In a statement, a MoviePass representative says:
We are exploring utilizing location-based marketing as a way to help enhance the overall experience by creating more opportunities for our subscribers to enjoy all the various elements of a good movie night. We will not be selling the data that we gather. Rather, we will use it to better inform how to market potential customer benefits including discounts on transportation, coupons for nearby restaurants, and other similar opportunities.
I’ve also asked for information on what location data specifically is collected, for how long before and after a movie users are tracked, and where these policies are disclosed to users.
Aesthetic excellence: how cinematography transformed TV
Directors of photography from Atlanta, Transparent and other top shows discuss how they achieve the sensibility of cinema
Much of the conversation regarding the rise of prestige television has rightfully centered around the showrunners and writers rooms whove energized a medium that was once the province of three-camera sitcoms filmed on studio sets. But less often do we focus on the cinematographers behind the lens, many of whom never saw themselves working in television until, in the last decade or so, the schisms between the small and big screens dwindled. And not merely in the scope of the stories or the quality of scripts: never before has television looked so good, from inventive camerawork to glossy lighting.
Its hard to ascertain exactly when the paradigm shift began, but there have certainly been seminal moments that most boldly bridged the gap between the two: the six-minute tracking shot in True Detective following Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson on a drug bust comes to mind, as do early seasons of Game of Thrones and Boardwalk Empire, ambitious, world-building series that took a sledgehammer to the conventions of episodic television. That the Television Academy split its cinematography honors between one-hour and half-hour series last year also signaled that the Emmys governing body had taken note of the profusion of aesthetic excellence on TV.
Nowadays, changes to TVs visual orthodoxy is reflected everywhere, and more diversely, too: in the sprawling, noir-ish science fiction of Netflixs new series Altered Carbon; in the shabby surrealism of FXs Atlanta; in the bright, California sheen of HBOs Insecure; and in the hyper-naturalism of Amazon shows like Transparent and I Love Dick. In these shows, and several others, environment comes alive as much as the characters do and, unsurprisingly, the directors of photography behind them were inspired by the world of film, approaching the work less like fragmented installments of a serialized story than like marathon movies, constructed piecemeal.
None of the creatives involved in this project saw this as a TV show, says Martin Ahlgren, who shot half of Altered Carbons first season and several episodes of House of Cards. We all imagined it as a 10-hour movie, and thats the approach we took to creating not only story arcs but visual arcs.
Snoke Screens: Designing the User Interfaces In The Last Jedi
You’ll find no touch screens in Star Wars: The Last Jedi—not even when you can watch it at home next month (March 13 for digital, two weeks later for physical). Same goes for mice and keyboards. They’re all too familiar, too of-this-world, to appear in a galaxy so far, far away. What you’ll find instead are interface displays, and lots of them. Whether in an X-wing’s cockpit or the bridge of a Star Destroyer, every display in The Last Jedi exists to support the story—to provide a graphical complement to the film’s action and dialogue.
And it started with the film’s director. “Whenever possible, Rian [Johnson] wanted us to use practical graphics to enforce the narrative,” says creative director Andrew Booth, who oversaw the creation of TLJ’s assorted instrument clusters, targeting systems, medical readouts, and tactical displays. “It would actually appear in the script that you look at a screen and gain a deeper understanding of what’s happening. The challenge was always, what can we do in-camera to create something that feels real and believable?”
What’s impressive about the interfaces in The Last Jedi is that they feel believable not just to the audience, but to the film’s dramatis personae. In the real world, designers design for one person: the user. But creatives like Booth—whose design agency, BLIND LTD, has been behind the look and feel of some of this century’s biggest blockbusters, including every Star Wars film from TFA onward—designed the practical displays in The Last Jedi with at least three groups of people in mind: the characters, the actors depicting those characters, and the folks watching along in theaters.
Consider the film’s opening scene, in which (fair warning: plot points and spoilers from here on out) Commander Poe Dameron calls General Hux. The point of Poe’s call is to buy time; he’s charging the engines on his X-wing so he can stage a surprise attack on the First Order Dreadnought that’s poised to obliterate his Resistance buddies planetside. It’s a plan the audience comes to understand when the camera cuts to a display inside Poe’s starfighter that shows the status of his boosters.
“For us, that’s a perfect piece of storytelling,” Booth says. “Now you’ve got exposition, drama, and tension all wrapped up in this close-up of a progress bar.” And because it’s a practical effect, that tension is experienced by audience, actor, and character alike. In fact, every single display in Poe’s cockpit pulls triple duty: The top one depicts the tower Poe is attacking; the middle one shows the status bar for his X-wing’s engines; and the bottom one, which is all wonky, visualizes his spaceship’s damaged targeting system, which BB-8 spends much of the sequence trying to repair.
These kinds of details don’t always make it into the final cut of a film, and even when they do, audiences don’t always notice them. Not explicitly, anyway. “For us, these graphics are more about shape and form than they are about spelling things out—but they do allow people to feel what’s going on in a scene, and they help support the actor’s performance,” Booth says.
The WIRED Guide to Star Wars
Similar details abound inside the spacecraft from Canto Bight, the opulent casino city. The graphics aboard the ship that DJ and BB-8 steal are shiny. Slinky. Sumptuous. A striking contrast to the First Order’s stark, militaristic vibes and the ragtag aesthetics of the Resistance. “This was us trying to evoke a different world,” Booth says.
But even the film’s familiar spaces brim with visual information. Toward the end of the film, on the chalk-dusted mining planet Crait, the audience gets multiple glimpses inside Kylo Ren’s shuttle, from which he has orchestrated the First Order’s assault on what remains of the Resistance. “The aesthetic is sharp, clean, systematic—just like the First Order, itself, and the color palette is all red, grey, black and white,” Booth says.
These are classic, higher-order stylistic cues, many of which date back to the original trilogy. During pre-production on The Force Awakens BLIND LTD researched the original designs closely, and collaborated with production designers Rick Carter and Darren Gilford to get the look and feel just right. The graphics continued to evolve with Lucasfilm design supervisor Kevin Jenkins and production designer Rick Heinrichs on The Last Jedi. They immediately help viewers understand where they are and whose ship it is. (The Resistance’s aesthetic, by contrast, is analog and unstructured—its color palette dominated by orange, green, brown, and other earth colors.)
But look closely, and you’ll see that the screens inside the shuttle are loaded with details. Crait’s topography, the blast door separating the Resistance from the First Order, the line of AT-ATs—they’re all depicted on screens, often for the briefest of moments. “It gives you an idea of the level of detail that we put into these interfaces,” Booth says. “It’s one of the things we pride ourselves on: You don’t necessarily always see it, but you sure as hell feel it.”
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