Tabb Firchau thinks a lot about the future of cinema. He’s the president of Freefly Systems, a company that makes high-end camera gear like $20,000 gimbals and $17,000 drones for Hollywood movies and shows. The company’s creations help professional filmmakers get sweeping aerial footage they can’t capture with a standard camera rig, but those high prices make the equipment—and the shots—inaccessible to non-pros.
Like any good entrepreneur, Firchau wants to democratize the market. Freefly is doing just that with the Movi, a $299 stabilizing gimbal for the iPhone (and only the iPhone) that’ll launch during the first half of next year.
Like any gimbal, it holds your camera still while you’re filming and mitigates bumps and shakes. A pair of motors inside the hand-held unit work to keep the phone from bouncing around while recording, and some nifty software keeps the whole system in sync.
Earlier this week, I met with Firchau to get an early look at the new Movi gimbal. He brought with him a couple of the five 3D-printed prototypes and plopped one of them down on the table outside a local coffee shop. The Movi is about seven or eight inches wide, and a little taller than an iPhone 8 Plus. The mount for your iPhone connects to one side of a flat base; the other side has a grip with a slew of buttons and triggers. You clip your iPhone into the mount, pair it to the Movi using Bluetooth, then open the Movi app to start shooting.
There are a few different capture modes. The first, which Firchau says he expects beginners to use, is called Majestic Mode. It’s the basic stabilizing mode—it keeps the shot steady no matter fiercely you jiggle the rig, and you can use the app to fine-tune the speed with which the lens catches up to your movements. The only hiccup, Firchau points out, is that the iPhone’s own optical image stabilization system can clash with Movi’s, so if you jerk the grip around too quickly, you can end up with some jittery artifacts.
For there, the Movi’s modes get more complex. There’s A-B mode—Firchau says it’ll be called Echo Mode by the time the Movi ships—which lets you set an A and B point in your shooting environment with a little trigger on the grip, and then it’ll record footage panning from the first point to the second. You can tweak the speed of the pan, too.
Then there’s Orbit Mode, which lets you circle around a subject while remaining perfectly still. Right now you have to trust yourself to move around the subject, which can be tricky for budding cinematographers. Firchau hopes that, in the future, Freefly will be able to use Apple’s AR Kit to select a subject and have the Movi intelligently track it. His team has gotten AR Kit’s tracking to work, but he says getting it to record has been a hassle.
Finally, you can record slowly panning time-lapses with the Movi by setting it down on a flat surface, setting the exposure, and telling it how long to record. The gimbal moves the camera slightly between each shot, and you won’t notice it moving while it records. But the final shots are about as crisp and attractive as anything you’d expect in a professional production.
Run and Gun
After the demo, Firchau asked if I knew of any places in San Francisco where he could grab some good time-lapse shots. I suggested the Ferry Building, a bustling indoor-outdoor marketplace, and brashly invited myself to tag along.
Along the narrow sidewalks of the city, Firchau told me he’s excited to see people bring Movis into places where bigger, more professional rigs wouldn’t work. “I was able to do three-axis, motion-controlled time-lapses in an airport,” he says, “You can’t do that with a full rig without crazy permissions.”
At the Ferry Building, we loaded up our Movis and started shooting. First, we planned to walk from one end of the market to the other, each recording a time-lapse of our walk. After shooting a few time-lapses (his all turned out way better), Firchau showed me one last trick: Roll Mode. It rotates the camera on a horizontal axis to give anywhere from a 180 to a 360 degree view of the scene.
Traditional high-end video rigs usually require two operators for more complex shots. “The two-person thing is really difficult because the two people have to be really synced up or the shots turn out terribly,” Firchau says, “We tried to bundle all of that into the Movi to do a perfect move between two points, which is tough to do by hand.”
“Taking a photo and putting a filter on it is one thing. But creating a short film, and then sharing it with people and have them like it is really tough,” he says.
The Movi ships during the second quarter of 2018, but pre-orders (and plenty of sample videos) are available on the product’s website today.
This is What It’s Like to Race a Drone at Full-Throttle
If you’re not crashing, you’re not flying. At least that’s the idea behind the Drone Racing League—a relatively new organization where drone pilots compete by racing high-performance aircrafts through tight and intricate courses. Find out what it’s like to fly one of the technically advanced drones from the pilots who are paving the way.
When you start researching video streaming devices, the first ones you’ll find will likely be Apple TV, Google Chromecast and Amazon Fire TV. Between those three there’s a decent price range, so your search can just stop there, right?
Wrong. While the most popular video streaming devices out there will likely be a good fit for many users, there are other options you should look at.
Perhaps you’re looking for more versatility? Maybe you’re a power user that wants something extremely tweakable? Are you looking for a cheap PlayStation alternative? Or you’re just looking for the cheapest possible option out there that also does 4K?
We’ve rounded up some of the lesser-known video streaming devices out there to ease your search.
China’s Xiaomi has a reputation for delivering solid products with top-notch specs for an impossibly low price. The company has done it with nearly every gadget you can think of — from smartphones to smart TVs to scooters, and with the Xiaomi Mi Box, it entered the video streaming space as well.
And yes, for the features it offers — Android TV 6.0, 4K streaming, HDR video support, DTS/Dolby Digital Plus support and a Bluetooth voice remote — the Mi Box is pretty darn cheap at $69. Add to that the elegant, simple, Apple-like design, and you get a pretty sweet deal.
Since the device is Android TV-based, you get a ton of apps, including Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, Vevo, Vudu Plex, and Google Play Movies & TV. Google Cast is built in, so you’ll be able to send content to your TV from phones, laptops, tablets and more.
The specs are decent: quad-core Cortex-A53 CPU, MALI 450 GPU 2GB of RAM, 8GB of flash storage (expandable via a USB port). And this is where you might find chinks in Mi Box’s armor: While these specs are decent, especially for the price, some users might want more powerful innards to power 4K playback.
Starting at $179, the Nvidia Shield is one of the most expensive video streaming devices, but hear us out. This device is an absolute powerhouse, with an Nvidia Tegra X1 processor, 3GB of RAM and 16GB of storage, which should be enough for smooth 4K playback. It also supports HDR playback, Dolby Atmos/DTS-X audio, and comes with a remote, Gigabit Ethernet, two USB 3.0 jacks, and an HDMI 2.0 jack. It runs Android TV, meaning you get the Google software experience and all the nice apps that go with it.
But besides being a great media-streaming machine, the Shield’s greatest strength is that it’s also a game console. Add $20 to the base price and you get a game controller (for $299 you also get 500GB of storage instead of 16GB). So what can you do with all that? Play games, of course! For $7.99 per month, you can subscribe to GeForce Now, which lets you play Android titles such as Outlast 2, Obduction, and The Surge as you would with a GTX 1080 GPU, and stream them to your big screen.
Obviously, you do not need this device if you only want a media streaming device, and that’s perfectly fine. But if price is no issue, and you’re not a big fan of Apple TV, the Nvidia Shield is pretty powerful, and one of the most versatile media streaming devices you’ll find.
Roku sells quite a few video streaming devices, so you’ll be forgiven if you’ve overlooked the Roku Express. Its specs are nothing special: You get 720p or 1080p resolution, a single HDMI jack, a remote… and that’s about it.
But where Roku Express wins is the price. At just $29.99, it’s the cheapest option out there (outside of no-name devices from China), and for the price, you also get a remote and an HDMI cable, so you’re ready to go pretty much as soon as you bring it home. It’s the perfect option for someone that’s just not sure whether she needs a media streaming device in their life, or as a secondary device for your bedroom.
Supported apps include the usual suspects: Netflix, Amazon, Spotify, and Google Play Movies & TV, among others.
If you want all the latest bells and whistles, such as 4K resolution and HDR support, you can also check Roku’s most powerful video streaming device, the Roku Ultra. You’ll have to dish out three times the money, as it costs $99, but it’s still a pretty fair price for what you get.
Unlike the other devices in this list, Minix doesn’t have a big brand behind it, but it does have a pretty big following. This is because its video streaming devices are actually much more than that — they’re pretty powerful little computers with impressive specs and a plethora of connectors.
The company’s U9-H came out in 2017, but it’s still one of the best options for media streaming in Minix’s range. It’s got an octa-core, 64-bit, AmLogic S912 processor, a Mali-820 MP3 GPU, 2GB of RAM, and 16GB of storage. It’s also got a serious array of output connectors: HDMI 2.0, 3.5mm audio, optical audio, Gigabit Ethernet, and three USB 2.0 ports. Add to that a microSD card reader and you’ll see that adding some serious storage to this baby is no issue.
Its predecessor, Minix U1, had a pretty big software shortcoming, as it ran on now very dated Android 5 Lollipop. Minix U9-H remedied this by switching to the next version, Android 6 Marshmallow, which makes it a lot more future-proof.
If you opt for a Minix, know that setting things up isn’t as easy on most other streaming devices — for example, installing something as common as Netflix can be a chore. But if you know your way around Android, you should be fine.
The Minix Neo U9-H can be had on Amazon for $159.90.
Evanpo’s hexagonal box, the awkwardly named Evanpo T95Z Plus, probably offers the best bang for the buck in terms of sheer specs. It comes in several variants, and the most powerful one sports an octa-core processor (same one as the Minix U9-H), 3GB of RAM, 32GB of storage, Android 7.1, a remote, and a wireless keyboard — and you get all that for $104.99.
The T95Z Plus can play 4K videos at 60fps, which should result in a very smooth picture. It also has both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth support, meaning you can connect all sorts of peripherals to it. And did we mention the wireless, full-sized keyboard? No more fidgeting five seconds per letter on a numerical keyboard.
On the connectivity side, you get two USB 2.0 ports, a HDMI port, optical port and a Gigabit Ethernet port.
The biggest downsides of Evanpo are that it’s a lesser-known brand and that sometimes, getting everything to work as you want might be a more complex than, say, plugging an Amazon stick into your TV. But you’ll be rewarded with a myriad options that very few devices on the market offer.
“The biggest question around MoviePass and its $10-per-month unlimited subscription has never been whether it’s a good deal. It’s whether—or how long—it can possibly last. But there’s another monthly moviegoing plan that has largely dodged those existential doubts. In fact, in some parts of the world, it even makes money. Imagine that.
That company is Sinemia, an awkwardly named subscription plan that launched in Istanbul in 2014, spread to the UK not long after, and touched down in the US just a few months ago. In broad strokes, it’s the same idea as MoviePass: Pay a monthly rate, get movie tickets. But the differences between the two matter, both for your own wallet and the future of moviegoing.
On the Cheap
MoviePass, as you likely know by now, lets you purchase one movie ticket, every day, for $10 per month. (It also now offers a plan with an iHeartRadio trial bundled in, but the action’s at the all-you-can-watch buffet.) For that same $10, Sinemia offers you … two movie tickets…”
“With so much controversy swirling around the advertising-driven business models typified by Facebook and Google, and the increasing rigors of regulations like GDPR, it’s no wonder the blockchain world is starting to whet its appetite at the prospect of paying users for attention with crypto assets.
Now a company involved in the production of Hollywood blockbusters featuring the likes of James Franco, Selena Gomez, Alec Baldwin, Heidi Klum and Al Pacino is backing a new startup to reward viewers in this manner.
Hollywood producer Andrea Iervolino (best known for backing the James Franco film “In Dubious Battle” based on the novel by the Nobel Prize-winning author John Steinbeck) has decided to enter the fray by launching a new blockchain platform called TaTaTu. The startup’s aim is to bring a social, crypto economy to the entertainment industry.
Iervolino says the platform allows users to get rewarded for the content they watch and share with others through the use of crypto tokens. Of course, whether it can actually pull that off remains to be seen. Many other startups are trying to play in this space. But where Iervolino might just have an edge is in his Hollywood connections.
The idea is that the TaTaTu token can also be used by advertisers to run their ads on the platform. Organizations will also be able to earn tokens by uploading content to the platform. The more content an organization brings to the platform, the more revenue they earn. TaTaTu aims to show ads to viewers and will even share advertising revenues with them in return for their attention.
But it doesn’t stop there. Users are supposed to invite their friends via their social media to join TaTaTu, and then watch and create videos that can be shared with friends, chat with other members and share the content they like. TaTaTu will give its users the possibility to be rewarded for their social entertainment activity. TaTaTu plans not only movies and videos, but also music, sports and…”