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Is CD-quality music streaming about to go mainstream?

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Up until recently, high-fidelity music streaming was pretty much a premium offering that appealed mainly to audiophiles willing to pay more for the privilege. But with Spotify slated to roll out a Hi-Fi tier and Apple Music rumored to follow suit, CD-quality streaming could be poised to go mainstream, particularly if listeners don’t have to pay extra for it.

Late last week, Hits Daily Double said it heard chatter from “label sources” that Apple was set to unveil a Hi-Fi music tier in the coming weeks at “the same $9.99-per-user price point as its standard tier,” suggesting that Apple Music is looking to offer “a more aggressively priced, higher-quality option” following Spotify’s recent price hikes. MacRumors later reported that it found code in the iOS 14.6 beta that bolsters the Hi-Fi music-streaming rumor.

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Source: https://www.techhive.com/article/3617291/is-cd-quality-music-streaming-about-to-go-mainstream.html#tk.rss_all
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The Article Was Written/Published By: Ben Patterson

‘Returnal’ is a frantic, familiar pleasure — but spurns mainstream appeal to its peril

Returnal, released today for the PlayStation 5, is an action adventure that has you exploring an alien world that reconfigures itself whenever you die, bringing you back for another shot at escaping. It’s exciting, frustrating, and beautiful, though it isn’t particularly original. But while it is arguably the first game to be released that was designed and built for next generation consoles, it’s not the mainstream hit many gamers are waiting for.

First I should probably justify my “arguably.” The PS5 debuted with the impressive remake of Demon’s Souls, and while I enjoyed that greatly, it was only next-gen in its presentation; many dated aspects faithfully carried over from the original mean it can’t really be considered a fully next generation title. The pack-in Astro’s Playroom is a delight but doesn’t compare with full-scale games. Destruction All-Stars was something of a damp squib. And excellent games like Spider-Man: Miles Morales and Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla span the generations, playing best but by no means exclusively on PS5.

So Returnal really is, in a non-trivial way, the first really “next-gen” PS5 game — and it carries the “next-gen” PS5 price tag of $70, more in many regions. Can it justify this premium? In some ways yes, but like Demon’s Souls this is a difficult game that involves a potentially off-putting amount of repetition and failure for mainstream audiences.

The game starts with your character, a sci-fi space explorer working for a mysterious company called Astra (there are clear nods to Weyland-Yutani from Alien), crashing on a forbidden planet and finding herself — literally — stuck in a sort of time loop. (You’ll see what I mean by literally.)

The developers have obviously seen Prometheus.

Without getting into the specifics of the plot, which is slowly revealed through found recordings, exploration of ancient ruins, and decoding alien symbols, Selene is seemingly trapped on the planet until she can figure out what’s going on, and whenever she dies the world shifts around to provide new challenges and opportunities.

Each loop or “cycle” involves the player starting from the crash site and progressing through the world, different but familiar every time. You encounter enemies, collect power-ups like new weapons or artifacts that affect your abilities, and occasionally an item that will permanently augment your suit or open new paths to take.

To call any individual aspect of the game original would be inaccurate — it takes with a free hand from its august predecessors in both gameplay and presentation. Without spoiling too much I’d say its progression and design share the most with indie breakout hit Dead Cells, with a dose of Risk of Rain 2, and a setting lifted wholesale from elaborating on Alien and Prometheus. That said, the story and backstory owe more to Solaris. It wears its influences on its sleeve to be sure, but they come together as something cohesive, not a sloppy pastiche.

Run, gun, rinse, repeat

Returnal starts out almost frustratingly simple, but this is soon remedied as new abilities and layers of complexity are added to the mix; expect the “tutorial” to be meted out over a few hours as things are discovered organically.

You make your way through what amounts to arena after arena, sometimes large and multi-layered, sometimes confined, and fight whatever appears. Combat is frantic and high risk — monsters don’t telegraph ponderous swipes at you but rather spew dozens or hundreds of bullets in your direction, making you rely on smart anticipatory movement and the cluttered landscape to stay alive. As you defeat them you accrue increasingly powerful boons that only last until you get hit, at which point they all disappear, adding a layer of urgency to every encounter: you could gain a crucial edge for the next miniboss — or lose what you’ve built up over minutes of careful play. You can’t take any enemy lightly — those that don’t kill you will make you weaker.

The player moves forward by exploring and eventually defeating an area boss, encounters that are more than a little taxing and generally take a few tries. Then it’s on to a new, different “biome” to do it all again with a different color scheme (and new enemies, hazards and so on).

The look and feel of Returnal is what you might call “early next-gen.” It’s detailed, interesting looking and realistic in a sci-fi way, and it uses lighting and color well to create both a sense of place and gameplay objectives. It’s better in some ways than what you’d expect from a PS4 or Xbox One game but ultimately the advances here seem to be more on the side of “fewer limitations” rather than “new capabilities.” Load times are practically non-existent — a second or two at most — and in places where sightlines are farther than a room or two, the scale of what’s being drawn is impressive. The framerate is a steady 60, making combat fluid no matter how crowded and chaotic it gets.

As for the claim of a “living world” that’s truly different every time, you can pretty much ignore that. You’ll encounter the same rooms and structures repeatedly, maybe with different enemies or items, but don’t expect a wildly different experience every loop. Just enough that the repetition isn’t too repetitious.

Image Credits: Sony/Housemarque

Sound is solid and I’d definitely recommend headphones. Your number one issue is going to be getting blasted in the back and positional audio will help a lot with that, as each enemy has characteristic noises for its actions.

The PS5 controller’s advanced haptics are put to good use with two-stage virtual triggers and a lot of contextual vibrations. I do wish there was a way to control these with a bit more granularity, as the constant patter of rain in the first area was numbing my hands, but the other haptic cues were useful and quickly became second nature.

Games in the “roguelite” (i.e. you start from scratch every life like a roguelike, but occasionally gain permanent upgrades) genre can fall flat if your progression, either within a loop or over many of them, involves little more than “+4% pistol damage” or a few more hit points. Fortunately Returnal is well aware of this and its weapons, artifacts, perks and so on often confer interesting bonuses or risk/reward mechanics. And you only have one weapon at a time, meaning the choice between, say, an assault rifle with special ability A and a shotgun with special ability B is a complex and risky one.

Eventually you’ll be able to skip past certain areas, but you may not want to, preferring to scour side paths for resources so you’re not going into the next boss room naked and afraid. In general the game manages to keep a lot of interesting tensions going on with the player that make every decision consequential, not to say agonizing.

Next-gen price tag

Is Returnal worth its premium $70 asking price? For some people, yes. But this isn’t the kind of mainstream blockbuster that would ordinarily justify the increased cost.

So far I’ve played about 20 hours, done 30-odd runs, and based on what I know I’m about halfway through the game. Most of my progress was made on what I think of “prestige” runs, the handful where everything goes right and I get much further than before, making them tense and exciting. (Many ended within five minutes due to poor momentum or rage quits.) The game promises replay value past the credits, though, so a guess of 40 hours of content is more of a floor than a ceiling.

One of several trips to your house, inexplicably replicated on the alien planet…

The difficulty may present a barrier to many players. A dialogue at the start of the game warns you that the game is meant to be challenging and that death is part of the journey. Great, but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating when you get ambushed by a dozen enemies, wiping out half an hour of of progress in an instant. While generally the game falls into the “tough but fair” category, there are spikes here and there that feel gratuitous, and loops where you feel unlucky or underpowered and have to fight the urge to reset.

I don’t mind personally — compared to the Dark Souls series it’s a cakewalk. I almost beat the first boss on my first encounter; good luck doing that with Ornstein and Smough or Father Gascoigne! But like those games it takes a certain type of player to want to power through the early hours and access the huge amount of value essentially locked behind repeated failure. Similar to how many Demon’s Souls players never progress past that game’s punishing first area, players not ready for the acrobatics and perseverance necessary to traverse the unforgiving bullet hell of Returnal may never escape its gloomy, restrictive first biome for the bright, open second one or glimpse its intriguing backstory. (I’ve included some tips below to help people get through the first hours.)

Compared with the steady progression and traditional storytelling of something like AC: Valhalla or Miles Morales this may put off less masochistic gamers or prompt more than a few controller-throwing, refund-requesting moments. After all, paying $70 for a game that slaps you in the face while you try to access the latter $50 worth of it can be justifiably frustrating.

With all that said, it is nice to see a AAA next-generation game that isn’t a sequel or franchise, and seeing the “roguelite” formula embraced seriously beyond the indie world. Returnal may not be for everyone, but for the subset of gamers who have embraced this genre for years, it’s an easy one to recommend.


Tips for playing:

If you do decide to dive in, here are a handful of non-spoilery “wish I’d known that” tips to get you on the right track.

  • There are lots of hidden rooms and items, so check your mini-map frequently for things you’ve missed in the chaos and peek in every nook and cranny.
  • When you’re undamaged, healing pickups contribute towards adding crucial max health — one more reason to not get hit.
  • New abilities create new opportunities in old areas — there’s a reason so much of the first biome is inaccessible at first.
  • You can get to those treasures behind bars. Look around carefully (and shoot everything).
  • “Malignant” treasure is usually more trouble than it’s worth and the debuffs can sink a run. Only do if desperate or you have a cure handy. (Parasites on the other hand can be very useful.)
  • There’s always a healing item for sale at the biome’s “shop,” so there’s no excuse for going into a boss room without one. (And self-healing artifacts will save your life five times over.)

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Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/04/29/returnal-review-a-familiar-frantic-pleasure-but-a-risky-next-gen-debut/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Techcrunch+%28TechCrunch%29
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The Article Was Written/Published By: Devin Coldewey

Mystery Science Theater 3000’s Joel Hodgson on Season 13, the Gizmoplex, and Leaving the Show in Good Hands

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After creator Joel Hodgson launched a new Kickstarter, it took just over a day for Mystery Science Theater 3000’s legion of fans to bring back the show (again). This shouldn’t have surprised anybody—there’s a reason why MST3K has stuck around for more than 30 years, and that’s because people love watching robot…

Read more…

Source: https://io9.gizmodo.com/mystery-science-theater-3000s-joel-hodgson-on-season-13-1846768146
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The Article Was Written/Published By: Rob Bricken

Mobile Facebook Now Includes Spotify Miniplayer

Spotify-Miniplayer-Facebook-Featured.jpg This news seems to have a few different prongs to it. First, there is the ongoing battle between Facebook and Apple. Secondly, the two companies each announced competing paid podcast upgrades and competing paid audio plans. After appearing to leave Spotify out of these plans, the streaming service announced some plans of its own: a Spotify miniplayer will now be part of the mobile Facebook apps. Spotify Miniplayer on Facebook There has certainly been a boon in podcasts with people spending more time at home during the pandemic. It seems the tech world noticed. Apple is making changes… Read more14441790.gif

Source: https://tracking.feedpress.com/link/12555/14441790/mobile-facebook-includes-spotify-miniplayer
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The Article Was Written/Published By: Laura Tucker

Why You Should Use a Keyboard and Mouse With Your PS5 or Xbox Series X/S

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There are plenty of good reasons to hook up a keyboard and mouse to your next-gen console. Not only do peripherals give you greater precision and flexibility while gaming, they also make entering text and using other apps much less of a chore. It opens up ways of using your games box—to browse the web, for…

Read more…

Source: https://gizmodo.com/why-you-should-use-a-keyboard-and-mouse-with-your-ps5-o-1846710891
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The Article Was Written/Published By: David Nield

How to Watch Videos in Picture-in-Picture in Microsoft Edge

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The picture-in-picture (PiP) mode lets you watch videos in a pop-out adjustable floating window that stays on top of your screen. You don’t need to use a third-party app to view videos like this, as it’s a built-in feature in Microsoft Edge.

Read This Article on How-To Geek ›

Source: https://www.howtogeek.com/717503/how-to-watch-videos-in-picture-in-picture-in-microsoft-edge/
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The Article Was Written/Published By: Khamosh Pathak

SEGA’s Cute Little $139 Astro City Mini Arcade Will Get a Limited U.S. Release

An Astro City Mini console with 'Virtua Fighter' on the screen.SEGA

SEGA’s Astro City is one of the company’s most iconic arcade cabinets, thanks to its unique look. When SEGA released an Astro City Mini replica in Japan, the western world could only look on with disappointment. But now, thanks to Limited Run Games, a few units are coming to U.S on March 26th.

If you want one, you better be quick with the trigger finger. When Limited Run opens up orders at 10 A.M. Eastern, it will only sell 3,500 units. After that, you’re out of luck. Those 3,500 units feature English menus and mostly translated games with a few exceptions. You’ll just get the mini arcade, if you want the $30 gamepad or the full-blown $40 arcade-style accessory kit, those are extra.

The Astro City Mini does have an HDMI out port, so if the included display is too tiny for you, you can use your TV instead. It also has a headphone jack and two USB-A ports. And as a nice modern upgrade, you can you progress in the games.

The Astro City comes with the following games:

  • Alex Kidd: The Lost Stars (with Stella)
  • Alien Storm
  • Alien Syndrome
  • Altered Beast
  • Arabian Fight **
  • Bonanza Bros. *
  • Columns **
  • Columns II
  • Cotton **
  • Crack Down
  • Cyber Police ESWAT
  • Dark Edge **
  • Dottori Kun (Dot Race)
  • Fantasy Zone
  • Flicky
  • Gain Ground **
  • Golden Axe
  • Golden Axe: Revenge of Death Adder **
  • My Hero
  • Puyo Puyo *
  • Puyo Puyo 2 *
  • Puzzle & Action: Ichidant-R *
  • Puzzle & Action: Tant-R *
  • Rad Mobile
  • Quartet 2
  • Scramble Spirits **
  • Sega Ninja
  • Shadow Dancer **
  • Shinobi
  • Sonic Boom
  • Space Harrier
  • Stack Columns *
  • Thunder Force AC
  • Virtua Fighter
  • Wonder Boy
  • Wonder Boy in Monster Land *
  • Wonder Boy III: Monster Lair 

* Denotes a game that has menus and text in Japanese

** Denotes a game that has portions of untranslated text, but menus are entirely English.

The Astro City Mini Arcade goes on sale on Friday March 25th at 10 A.M. Set a reminder and don’t forget, because once it sells out you’re out of luck.

A cute lil arcade

Astro City Mini


Don’t miss out, there’s only 3,500 English units of this arcade. After that you’re out of luck. If you love SEGA and the City Astro look, you can grab a miniature replica with 37 games for just $130.

Source: https://www.reviewgeek.com/74939/segas-cute-little-139-astro-city-mini-arcade-will-get-a-limited-u-s-release/
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The Article Was Written/Published By: Josh Hendrickson

The Lover app could revolutionize your sex life in the best ways possible

We realize this is a touchy subject, but we want to talk about your sex life. We all get that it’s a tough topic to talk about. But the numbers show an increasing percentage of people, particularly young men, have become sexually inactive during the last 20 years. — Read the rest

Source: https://boingboing.net/2021/03/18/the-lover-app-could-revolutionize-your-sex-life-in-the-best-ways-possible.html?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-lover-app-could-revolutionize-your-sex-life-in-the-best-ways-possible
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The Article Was Written/Published By: Boing Boing’s Shop

Scientists open arena for dance party to study COVID-19 exposure risk

Pent-up clubgoers descended on Amsterdam’s Ziggo Dome on Sturday for a dance party enabling scientists to study how large events could be held as COVID-19 begins to subside. Around 1,300 people—all who tested negative for COVID-19—hit the dancefloor wearing electronic tags to track their interactions. — Read the rest

Source: https://boingboing.net/2021/03/08/scientists-open-arena-for-dance-party-to-study-covid-19-exposure-risk.html
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The Article Was Written/Published By: David Pescovitz

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