Monday 19 March 2018

Tech review: Weckler on the latest gadgets

PlayStation VR
PlayStation VR
Nyne Rebel
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

Our Technology Editor reviews the PlayStation VR and the Nyne Rebel  speaker

Virtual reality that  does not require a PhD

PlayStation VR

Price: €399

Rating: 4 Stars

Virtual reality, when done right, knocks your socks off. Forget about the flop that was 3D: this is the real deal. You're properly in The Matrix. The problem is the virtual reality systems, for the most part, are expensive and messy. HTC's Vive, for example, requires an engineering degree to set up (although it's amazing when you do). Oculus Rift requires a computer that can take on Kasparov at chess. And both have more cables trailing around than a Kraftwerk concert.

This is where Sony's PlayStation VR has an immediate advantage. It works off the PlayStation 4, meaning there's no heavy capital investment in contextual kit. And while there are a handful of cables into the mix, it's easier to set up and start than most of its rivals. Because it's plugged into a mainstream gaming platform, you also have a reasonable expectation of a steady stream of content to come.

There's a headset with a 5.7-inch screen that is your main enabler into fooling your senses that you're in a virtual environment. But this is a big jump from the basic VR experiences you get with phone-based headsets, such as Samsung Gear VR or Google Cardboard. You'll believe you're there.

Sony is assuming you already have a PlayStation camera and Move controllers: if not, you need to buy them. For some, this is a hidden cost.

The PlayStation VR kit comes with a demo disc and there are plenty of games available from Sony's online network. Ones to look out for include Rigs Mechanized Combat League, Batman Arkham VR and London Heist.

Most of these are based on one-person campaigns, however. Some titles let others participate, but it's limited.

While this is all good fun, it still feels like an early stage of virtual reality. By and large, the graphic interfaces still feel like existing video console games, with the exception that you're participating in a much more intimate way. Characters still look very much like computer constructs and the social element of it is still too limited. In time, I'm betting that VR systems will incorporate far, far more realism and interaction with others in real time into the experience.

If you have and use a PlayStation 4, it's a very good bet to get this as an add-on. If you don't, you won't miss out too much by waiting for the next iteration.

The Swiss Army Knife  of portable speakers

Nyne Rebel  

Price: €239 from Euronics 

Rating: 4 Stars

Nyne Rebel

There are literally hundreds of portable speakers on the market today, but not many of them are as flexible as Nyne's new Rebel model. It's a Swiss army knife of a portable speaker, being splash-proof, dust-proof, bump-proof and with the ability to charge other gadgets itself. The latter feature comes courtesy of its ­unfeasibly large ­rechargeable battery, which is good for between eight and 10 hours of music playback. Or it will do a little less while ­charging your phone or iPad (from a USB connection cable).

It's a pretty chunky (3.5kg) piece of kit that's designed to be moved around frequently courtesy of a clever hidden handle for picking it up. There are power, volume and track controls usefully placed on top of the device as well as a call-answering button.

The pack comes with an adapter for several countries (in case you're going on a continental road trip) and a 3.5mm jack lead to connect non-Bluetooth audio devices. (NFC is built in for fast pairing of devices.)

It also has a microphone on board in case you want to use it as a hands-free calling device.

I found the audio from the device to be really decent, even if it was mostly tested indoors (it's getting a bit chilly right now). With 40 watts booming out, there's good bass and tracks from Spotify were clear and crisp, even at high volumes.

It's styled to look robust and outdoorsy rather than sleek, although I know a few teens whose bedrooms it would seamlessly adorn.

There's a wider discussion to be had about the pros and cons of portable speakers replacing home hi-fi wholesale. But this probably isn't the place to have it.

Suffice to say, if you're looking for a good audio speaker that's designed for long playback life outside your home, and which can be jostled around the place, this is an excellent choice.

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