Sunday, February 19, 2017

Toolbox

  • Monday, Oct. 17, 2016
MAX music video shot with Blackmagic URSA Mini 4.6K
A scene from the MAX music video "Lights Down Low"
FREMONT, Calif. -- 

Blackmagic Design announced that URSA Mini 4.6K EF was used to shoot the music video for “Lights Down Low” by MAX. Blackmagic Design Video Assist 4K was used for 4K monitoring and recording on the intensely packed two day shoot, while DaVinci Resolve Studio was used for color grading the video.
 
MAX collaborated with production company and full service music management label Crush Music on “Lights Down Low” to create a music video emblematic of MAX’s personal experience behind the song, telling a love story over the better part of a lifetime. “We wanted to show what it would be like to be a fly on the wall,” explained Jade Ehlers, creative director at Crush Music. “It’s a one shot video that we shot with just one camera mounted directly above the room, and you watch MAX experience various relationships. The music video depicts what one’s life might look like if they lived in one apartment their whole life. And when it came down to choosing a camera, the Blackmagic URSA Mini 4.6K was ideal for the shoot.”
 
With just 15 feet between the floor and the ceiling, Crush was challenged with capturing the full scope of the studio built bedroom, complete with fake windows and artificial lighting. They paired a Sigma 8mm super wide angle lens with the URSA Mini 4.6K to account for the lack of distance between the camera and subject. “We wanted to be sure we had a lens that would give us a wide enough angle to capture the whole room, and the Sigma 8mm worked perfectly with the URSA Mini, which gives us as full frame as we can get.”
 
Because the video for “Lights Down Low” is shot entirely from the ceiling looking down on the room, the production crew had to mount the URSA Mini 4.6K camera above the set using C-clamps and a dolly. Once the camera was set in place and the shoot began, it was imperative that the camera was not moved, so as not to compromise the steady shot, not to mention the camera was far out of reach from the ground. To work around the physical limitations, Crush hooked up the Blackmagic Video Assist 4K to the URSA Mini 4.6K, which enabled them to manage all camera operations as well as to frame and focus their shot perfectly.
 
“Everything came out great, we were really stoked on it. Being able to shoot RAW, which gave us tons of information to use in post, and capture 4K was super important for us to be able to deliver an amazing looking music video for MAX,” said Ehlers. “Even before we went into grading with DaVinci Resolve Studio, when we just had the base color, I could already tell the color was going to be amazing.”
 
“The video for MAX’s ‘Lights Down Low’ was a unique concept because there was so much we had to do in regards to getting the camera just right, and in most music videos you can just shoot something and then scale different angles. This one was more complex in trying to find something that worked perfectly. Luckily, the Blackmagic URSA Mini 4.6K and Video Assist 4K did just that.”

  • Thursday, Oct. 13, 2016
Periscope extends beyond phones as Twitter ups ante on video 
In this June 29, 2015, file photo, Lauren Simo, left, answers questions during a weekly forum streamed via Periscope on the smartphone of Toby Srebnik, Fish Consulting director of social media, at the company's offices in Hollywood, Fla. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz, File)
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- 

Twitter is taking the smartphone shackles off its live-video service Periscope in its latest attempt to broaden its audience.

The Periscope Producer feature announced Thursday will let media companies and other users pipe live video feeds directly into Twitter, without using a smartphone to record the images. Since its debut early last year, Periscope had been confined to live video feeds taken on a smartphone.

During Producer's testing phase last week, a Florida television station showing live video on its website used the new tool to redistribute the same feeds on Twitter. To start, Producer will be limited to a small group of media companies such as Disney's ABC News and major brands such as Louis Vuitton. Others can apply for approval at http://t.co/periscopeproducer .

Periscope CEO Kayvon Beykour said Producer will be available to all comers soon, something that he acknowledged could lead to unauthorized redistribution of live video. Piracy has been an issue dogging Periscope since people began using the service to broadcast live video of movies and TV shows with their smartphones.

The Periscope extension ups the ante on Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey's bet that the increasing popularity of online video will help widen the messaging service's appeal.

Twitter already has been streaming more news, entertainment and sports events, including the National Football League's Thursday Night games for 10 weeks during the season. Twitter hopes to build a following beyond people who rely on the service to tweet their thoughts and keep tabs on what's happening around the world. Dorsey sees Twitter evolving into the go-to place for watching live video in a digital town square where people can share their opinions with each other.

Internet companies young (Snapchat) and old (Facebook) are scrambling to get on the live video train, though there are no easy ways to make advertising money off of them yet. That's coming, though. Some companies are already experimenting with livestreaming for marketing purposes. Automaker General Motors, for example, launched out its electric Chevy Bolt EV using Facebook Live earlier this year. Media outlets, meanwhile, are livestreaming coverage of the presidential debates in ways not seen in any previous election.

With the latest move, Periscope joins other livestreaming services such as Twitch and YouTube that allow for broadcasts from sources beyond users' smartphones. Facebook, meanwhile, has so far stuck to a mobile-only strategy. But even with Periscope's expanded capability, Facebook has an advantage with a larger audience.

Since the end of 2014, Twitter has picked up just 15 million monthly users to expand its audience to 313 million people through June. During the same stretch, Facebook gained 319 million users to extend its reach beyond 1.7 billion people.

In an effort to distinguish Twitter from Facebook, Dorsey has been trying to position it as the "people news network" - though with little success since he replaced Dick Costolo as CEO 15 months ago.

Things have been looking so bleak that Twitter's board last month hired investment bankers to woo suitors that might be interested in buying the San Francisco company, according to published reports that cited unnamed people familiar with the matter. The prospective bidders included Google's parent company, Alphabet Inc., as well as Apple Inc., Salesforce.com and Walt Disney Co.

The possibility of a sale tantalized investors until other media reports made it seem unlikely that Twitter will strike a deal soon. With a sale apparently off the table, the company's stock has dropped by nearly 30 percent in the past week. The shares fell 20 cents to $17.85 in early afternoon trading Thursday.

  • Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2016
NUGEN Audio's Halo Upmix streamlines 5.1 surround delivery at U.K.'s Fonic
Fonic's dubbing mixer JM Finch
LEEDS, UK -- 

NUGEN Audio announced that Fonic, a full-service audio postproduction facility based in Shoreditch, East London, has chosen the company’s Halo Upmix plug-in to provide upmixing for a range of television and cinema productions. Available in Avid AAX, VST, and AU formats, Halo Upmix automates the creation of a stereo-to-5.1/7.1 downmix-compatible upmix with unique center channel management and spatial density controls.

“Increasingly, we’re required to deliver broadcast projects in 5.1 surround audio, but most music composers still produce audio tracks in stereo. In order to keep to tight delivery schedules, we need to be able to create surround mixes quickly and easily without degrading the sound quality,” said JM Finch, dubbing mixer, Fonic. “Compared to other tools we’ve worked with, Halo Upmix is truly unique in its ability to produce both a high-quality and great-sounding 5.1 upmix and a downmix that sounds almost identical to the original stereo source. Plus, the tool’s highly intuitive user interface and extensive manual controls make upmixing fast and easy.”

Recently, Fonic has used Halo Upmix for two high-profile projects — “Thomas and Friends: The Great Race,” a 60-minute animated film released in May; and “To Build a Fire,” a film based on a book by Jack London. The common thread on both of these projects was the outstanding musical track, originally mastered in stereo. With Halo Upmix, Fonic was able to produce a 5.1 upmix of the music that was almost 100 percent true to the sound of the original mix. 

In addition to Halo Upmix, Fonic uses NUGEN Audio’s VisLM-H2 plug-in for loudness metering and monitoring, ISL 2 for reliable true-peak limiting, and LM-Correct 2 to make quick fixes for easy loudness compliance. Together with Halo Upmix, those NUGEN Audio plug-ins are instrumental in Fonic’s audio workflows — not just for TV projects, many of which are now subject to international loudness regulations, but also for online and film productions. In addition, Fonic is exploring the use of NUGEN Audio’s new 9.1 extension for Halo Upmix, which will expand its capabilities to 9.1 upmixing with overhead positioning.

“Our partnership with NUGEN Audio is very important to our operation,” Finch said. “The ironclad quality and reliability of their solutions is something we can count on; in fact, to this day, we have not had to call on the NUGEN Audio support team. That says a lot about the build of the plug-ins and the rigorous testing that goes into each one.”

“Fonic has been offering some of London’s finest audio postproduction services since 2004, with a culture of providing ‘creative sound by people who care.’ That’s an ethos that we share at NUGEN Audio; therefore we feel especially privileged that Fonic Post has chosen our loudness and upmix solutions,” said Jon Schorah, founder and creative director, NUGEN Audio.

  • Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2016
RED Digital Cinema rolls out EPIC-W and New WEAPON cameras
RED EPIC-W (l) and the newest WEAPON camera.
IRVINE, Calif. -- 

RED Digital Cinema will begin shipping two new cameras--the highly anticipated RED EPIC-W and the newest WEAPON. Both cameras feature the compact and intuitive design of the DSMC2™ form factor as well as the new HELIUM™ 8K S35 sensor. HELIUM, which is RED’s latest sensor technology, allows for higher resolution in an S35 frame, while maintaining the superior dynamic range found in the award-winning RED DRAGON® sensor.  

The EPIC-W 8K S35 camera captures 8K Full Frame motion at up to 30 fps, produces ultra-detailed 35.4 megapixel stills and offers Super 35 lens coverage. Additionally, EPIC-W is capable of fast data speeds up to 275 MB/s. Best of all, it is priced at $29,500 (for the camera BRAIN), setting a new standard for making 8K accessible to professional filmmakers.

The WEAPON 8K S35 is the latest option in the WEAPON line of cameras, featuring data speeds up to 300 MB/s, the ability to capture 8K Full Frame motion at up to 60 fps, and a sensor upgrade path to the RED DRAGON 8K VV. It is available for the same price as the WEAPON 6K with RED DRAGON sensor, at $49,500 for the BRAIN.

“From the very beginning, we’ve strived to not only develop the best imaging technology on the planet, but also make it available to as many shooters as possible,” said Jarred Land, president of RED Digital Cinema.  “The WEAPON remains our premier camera--and now comes with the option to either go with the 8K HELIUM sensor or 6K DRAGON sensor. 

“Since we began shipping the EPIC in 2010, it has been the workhorse camera of the industry,” continued Land.  “Our latest camera, the EPIC-W, continues that legacy and features our current-gen DSMC2 form factor as well as the 8K HELIUM sensor.”

RED also announced special pricing on these new cameras for registered RED camera owners--as well as those that have placed a deposit for RED RAVEN and SCARLET-W--starting at $14,500. 

“As RED technology advances, we always strive to give our customers the opportunity to update their gear along the way,” said Land.  “Our pricing for RED owners-only will allow them to move into either an EPIC-W or WEAPON with the 8K HELIUM sensor.”

In related news, RED has pre-announced that it will introduce an improved image processing pipeline, including new color science, in the coming weeks. These improvements will be available in-camera on all BRAINs with a HELIUM sensor, and will be available to all footage shot on RED cameras in postproduction. The new image processing pipeline will be made available soon via free firmware  and software upgrades.     

All of RED’s DSMC2 cameras offer incredible dynamic range, shoot simultaneous REDCODE® RAW and Apple ProRes or Avid DNxHD/HR recording and adhere to the company’s dedication to OBSOLESCENCE OBSOLETE®--a core operating principle that allows current RED owners to upgrade their technology as innovations are unveiled and move between camera systems without having to purchase all new gear.

  • Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2016
EuclidIQ to demo IQ264 encoding plugin at Streaming Media West
This "Unified Importance Map" generated by IQ264 shows areas that are more or less interesting to the human eye. Blue areas indicate blocks that are determined to be perceptually unimportant, whereas red areas are where the eye notices quality the most.
CONCORD, Mass. -- 

At Streaming Media West, EuclidIQ®, a provider of video compression products that mimic the human visual system, will announce the immediate availability of IQ264, an encoding plugin that is billed as having significant bandwidth reduction with no perceptible quality loss for any H.264 encoder. As quality of experience on every device from smartphones to smart TVs becomes an ever larger factor in the battle for viewers, traditional and over-the-top distributors of premium content are coming under mounting pressure to find ways to improve encoding efficiency on their MPEG-4 H.264 infrastructures.

Unlike pre- or post-processing optimization technologies that pre-encode or re-encode video files, IQ264 instructs the encoder by providing additional parameters important to the human visual system. IQ264 does this by applying perceptual quality optimization (PQO) to produce improved, standards-compliant H.264 encoding. PQO considers the way the human visual system (HVS) processes video and integrates such considerations into the video encoding process.

“Our IQ264 technology allows content creators and distributors to ‘get more from 264’ by creating the most efficient encode the first time media is encoded,” said Frank Capria, chief product and marketing officer at EuclidIQ. “We believe that pre-treating or re-encoding media to save bandwidth will always result in a loss of quality for users. Giving existing encoders more information about what is important to the eye, and what is not gives a superior result every time.”

One of the secrets to the success of IQ264 is in how EuclidIQ tests its results. For too long, encoding companies and manufacturers have relied on mathematical, objective, testing to measure video quality. The scientists at EuclidIQ have developed a practical, subjective testing methodology that generates meaningful results based on how the human eye perceives video. Armed with this data, EuclidIQ has created technology that enables a video encoder to make better decisions about which aspects of an image can be more heavily compressed and which aspects demand lighter processing to guarantee perceived quality.

“Computers don’t watch video, we do. That is why we use subjective testing with everyday people to confirm our results,” said Nigel Lee, PhD., chief science officer at EuclidIQ. “The most advanced objective metrics fall short of subjective metrics and cannot capture video quality as accurately as subjective metrics. This guarantees that our savings are our customers’ savings.”

IQ264 will be demonstrated at Streaming Media West oi booth 216 at the Huntington Beach Hyatt Regency in California November 1-2.

  • Monday, Oct. 10, 2016
ICG to host drone panel discussion at NAB Show NY
A hexacopter drone is flown during a drone demonstration at a farm and winery on potential use for board members of the National Corn Growers, Thursday, June 11, 2015 in Cordova, Md. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
NEW YORK -- 

The International Cinematographers Guild (ICG, IATSE Local 600) will host the panel discussion, "Drones...Getting Beyond High, Wide (and Stupid)," at the NAB Show New York, formerly known as Content & Communications World. 

Speaking will be Edward Kostakis, chief pilot and head of aerial operations at Xizmo Media, a boutique production company specializing in aerial cinematography. He has worked on numerous music videos, documentaries, extreme sports events, TV series, commercials and real estate and fashion marketing promotions for clients worldwide.

Joining him will be Maxwell Tubman, founder and chief pilot, Steam Machine Aerial and an sUAS specialist and instructor. He has piloted more than 100 media and entertainment projects over the past six years and his credits include the TV series Mr. Robot, Alpha House and The Blacklist and commercials for car companies such as Honda, Land Rover and Jaguar.

Technologist and ICG business representative Michael Chambliss will be moderating. 

The session will be held on Wednesday, November 9 from 11:15am to 11:45 am, on Inspiration Stage 4, in the Javits Center, lower floor, halls 1A - 1C. Topics will include: drone cinematography as an integral part of the camera department, what producers and crew should consider when planning and executing drone shots; best practices for using drones safely, legally, and reliably; the impact of the latest FAA guidelines; and drones' creative potential for storytellers.

  • Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016
Facebook's Oculus to start selling hand controllers
This photo provided by Oculus shows a set of Oculus Touch hand-held controllers, expected to go on sale Dec. 6, 2016. (Oculus via AP)
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- 

Facebook says it's working to make virtual reality more social as the industry gets more crowded.

With a host of leading tech companies now selling VR products, Facebook's Oculus division is hoping to distinguish its offerings with more interactive and social experiences. At an event Thursday, the company announced a long-awaited shipping date - Dec. 6 - for its Oculus Touch hand controllers, designed to let users make gestures and grasp virtual objects within the simulated worlds projected by Oculus Rift headsets.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, meanwhile, donned one of those headsets for an onstage demonstration in which he visited Mars, played virtual cards with two other people, then made a video call to his wife while standing in a digital simulation of his living room.

Zuckerberg said his company has invested $250 million to back developers building new games and other virtual-reality programs for Oculus, and is vowing to double that amount. He also said the company is working on a prototype for a mobile VR headset that doesn't have to be linked to a personal computer, which the Oculus Rift requires, while promising a better experience than current headsets powered by smartphones, like those sold by Samsung and Google.

Other Oculus executives showed a host of new virtual-reality games for their platform and new tools for software developers to build programs in which multiple players can interact.

In addition to Zuckerberg, Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe and other company leaders spoke during a two-hour presentation, but co-founder Palmer Luckey did not appear on stage. Luckey recently made a public apology for donating $10,000 to a political group that boasted of creating negative social media posts about Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton.

Oculus has been showing prototypes of its Touch hand controllers since last year, but started shipping its high-end virtual-reality headsets without them this spring. Gartner tech analyst Brian Blau said the controllers will let people do more with the Oculus system, which should increase consumer interest.

But they won't be cheap. Oculus will sell a pair of controllers, with a sensor device, for $199. Oculus says they're designed to be more comfortable and intuitive than traditional video game controllers, which can be purchased for less than $50.

  • Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016
Matthew Goldman to become SMPTE president on January 1
Matthew Goldman
WHITE PLAINS, NY -- 

The Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers® (SMPTE®) announced that the membership has elected new officers and governors for the 2017-2018 term. Matthew Goldman, senior VP of technology, TV and media at Ericsson, will take office as the new SMPTE president on Jan. 1, 2017.

“Matthew has held a variety of key SMPTE roles that have furthered the Society’s mission, and I am confident that as the new SMPTE president, he will build on Bob Seidel’s excellent work,” said SMPTE past president Wendy Aylsworth, who served as the chair of the Society Nominating Committee. “Matthew and Bob are among the many SMPTE Members who have worked to bolster the Society’s growth leading into and during our Centennial celebrations. The officers and governors elected for the 2017-2018 term — and those who continue in their existing roles — are a broad and strong group who bring extraordinary leadership to SMPTE as we enter our second century of ensuring interoperability across the media ecosystem and, in turn, facilitating the ongoing growth of our industry.”

Goldman, a SMPTE Fellow who has previously held SMPTE board roles including executive vice president, finance VP, and Eastern Region governor, will serve a two-year term as SMPTE president. He succeeds outgoing president Robert Seidel, VP of engineering and advanced technology at CBS, who will continue to serve on the SMPTE Board of Governors as the Society’s past president.

“The influx of IP into broadcasting, the embrace of software-defined networking and processing, and the rise of a fully-connected world are just a few examples of the extraordinary evolution taking place across the media and entertainment industry,” said Goldman. “SMPTE has been working diligently to address the industry’s growth and to provide standards and education programs that are relevant — in concept and practice — to the current and future work of its engineers, creatives, and other professionals. I look forward to this new opportunity, as SMPTE president, to contribute to this important work and to help guide the Society toward ever-greater growth, stability, and success.”

Other incoming SMPTE officers elected for the two-year 2017-2018 term include Patrick Griffis, VP of technology at Dolby Laboratories and SMPTE education vice president, who will serve as executive VP; Richard Welsh, CEO of Sundog Media Toolkit and a former SMPTE Governor, who has been newly elected by the membership to serve as education vice president; and Peter Wharton, VP of technology and business development at BroadStream Solutions Inc., who will continue to serve as secretary/treasurer.

Ten governors, two of which are incumbents, were elected to serve in SMPTE Regions around the world. The re-elected governors include Andrew G. Setos, CEO of Blackstar Engineering, who will continue to serve as a governor for the Hollywood Region, and Douglas I. Sheer, CEO and chief analyst at DIS Consulting Corporation, who will again serve as a governor of the New York Region. 

Newly elected governors for the 2017 – 2018 Term:

François Abbe, president and founder of Mesclado, will serve as a governor for SMPTE’s Europe, Middle East, Africa, and Central and South America Regions.

Brian Claypool, vice president of business development at Barco, will serve as a Central Region governor.

Christopher Fetner, director of engineering and partnerships at Netflix, who has previously served as governor-at-large, will now serve as a Hollywood Region governor.

George Hoover, chief technology officer at NEP Group, will serve as an Eastern Region governor.

Michal Koetter, vice president of digital media systems at Turner Broadcasting, will serve as a Southern Region governor.

Gary Mandle, senior product manager for Sony North America, will serve as a Western Region governor. 

Masayuki Sugawara, executive engineer at NEC Corporation, will serve as an Asia-Pacific Region governor. 

François Vaillant, executive director of engineering and infrastructure at CBC/Radio-Canada, will serve as a Canadian Region governor. 

Officers who were not up for re-election and who continue to serve on the SMPTE Board of Governors Executive Committee include SMPTE Standards Vice President Alan Lambshead, retired from Evertz; Finance Vice President Paul Michael Stechly of Applied Electronics Ltd.; and Membership Vice President William C. Miller of Miltag Media Technology, LLC.

Governors who were not up for re-election and who continue on the SMPTE Board of Governors include Dan Burnett of Ericsson (Southern Region); Randy Conrod of Imagine Communications (Canadian Region); Bruce Devlin of Dalet (UK Region); John Ferder of CBS, Inc. (New York Region); Siegfried Foessel of Fraunhofer IIS (EMEA and Central and South America Region); Patricia Keighley of IMAX (Hollywood Region); John Luff of HD Consulting (Eastern Region); John Maizels of Entropy Enterprises and Productions (Asia-Pacific Region); and Mark Narveson of Artegis Law Group, LLP (Western Region).

Newly elected officers and governors will be introduced to the SMPTE membership at the Society’s Annual General Membership Meeting, which takes place in Salon One of the Ray Dolby Ballroom at the Hollywood and Highland Center in Los Angeles, on Tuesday, Oct. 25 at 5:30 p.m., in conjunction with the SMPTE 2016 Annual Technical Conference & Exhibition (SMPTE 2016). The SMPTE 2016 Welcome Reception will immediately follow in the Ray Dolby Exhibit Hall. Both the Annual General Membership Meeting and Welcome Reception are open to all attendees of SMPTE 2016, including those with exhibits-only passes.

  • Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016
TVU Networks to showcase RPS, other technologies at Rocky Mountain Expo
MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. -- 

TVU Networks will highlight its latest IP-based live video solutions at the upcoming Rocky Mountain Audio Video Expo (AVX) on October 26-27 at the Crowne Plaza Dia in Denver. TVU Networks will exhibit in Booth #508.

The company will also present a session on low-cost, remote synchronized multi-camera IP video production using an ubiquitous Internet connection during the conference. The session, to be presented by Matt Keiler, a senior business development and relationship management professional at TVU Networks, will cover the benefits of an innovative technology that uses a broadcaster’s existing studio control room infrastructure and public Internet connection for live, multi-camera production from the field. His session, “Low Cost Remote & Synchronized Multi-Cam Live IP Video Production,” will take place on October 26 from 2:15-3:00 in the Longs Peak Pavilion during the show. Keiler will also discuss advances in IP based live video acquisition, transmission and distribution as part of his presentation.

TVU Networks will showcase its recently introduced, award-winning Remote Production System (RPS). TVU RPS is a cost-effective alternative solution for live, remote, synchronized multi-camera news and sports coverage. It enables the production of a live, multi-camera program in a remote location using mainly a broadcaster’s existing control room in their studio and a public Internet connection from the field. The TVU RPS transmitter encodes up to six synchronized SDI sources and transmits high-quality and low-latency IP video from the remote location to a studio-based TVU receiver, and the receiver outputs six synchronized SDI outputs.

The company will also show its popular TVU One mobile newsgathering solution - which allows broadcasters to fully leverage the versatility that a small, lightweight IP video transmitter brings in the field without sacrificing performance, feature functionality or picture quality. TVU One features TVU Networks’ patented Inverse Statmux Plus (IS+) transmission algorithm, Smart VBR technology, and the TVU.264 video codec.

AVX 2016 will feature manufacturers, workshops and speakers, with a focus on staying ahead of technology’s steady curve and demonstrate emerging technologies in television, mobile, digital signage, and the Internet.

Already in use by hundreds of leading broadcast organizations around the world, the TVU Networks family of IP transmission solutions gives broadcasters and organizations a powerful and reliable tool to distribute live video content to broadcast, online and mobile platforms. The TVU Networks suite of solutions has been used to deliver professional-quality live HD footage of a number of important events around the world including the World Cup, both Summer and Winter Olympic Games, U.S. presidential elections, natural disasters, the 2013 Papal conclave, the Super Bowl, the 2015 Papal visit to the United States and several international sporting events. 

  • Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2016
Google gets aggressive with new phones, other gadgets 
Clay Bavor, Google vice president of virtual reality, talks about the Daydream View virtual-reality headset during a product event, Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2016, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- 

Google launched an aggressive challenge to consumer electronics giants like Apple and Samsung on Tuesday, introducing a new line of smartphones called Pixel and other gadgets designed to showcase a digital helper the company calls "Google Assistant."

The new devices represent a big push by Google to make and sell its own hardware, instead of largely just supplying software for other manufacturers. At a starting price of roughly $650, the new Pixel phones are aimed at the same markets as Apple's iPhone and Samsung's Galaxy flagship phones.

GADGETS ON PARADE
During a press event Tuesday, Google executives showed off a series of gadgets in rapid succession. Its new Home device is a sleek internet-connected speaker that's designed to respond to voice commands, like Amazon's popular Echo. A new virtual reality headset called Daydream View will work with the new Pixel phones and other devices based on Google's Android software. The company also unveiled a new Wi-Fi router and an update to the company's Chromecast streaming media device.

In announcing the new Pixel phones, Google executives touted features like a powerful camera, a long-lasting battery - and a dedicated headphone jack, which Apple recently eliminated from its latest iPhones. The Pixel phones will be sold in two screen sizes - 5 inches and 5.5 inches - and three colors: black, silver and blue.

But they're clearly hoping the new Pixel phones and other devices will be distinguished by their use of Google's software. A central element of all the new gadgets is the Google Assistant, which uses artificial intelligence to deliver what CEO Sundar Pichai described as "a personal Google for each and every user."

Pichai said the company's goal is to let customers interact "naturally and seamlessly" with artificial intelligence through devices like the Home device and their smartphone.

Still, while Google showed its new Assistant performing a variety of impressive tasks, analyst Patrick Moorhead of Moor Insights & Strategy cautioned that similar services, which include Apple's Siri and Microsoft's Cortana, don't always live up to their early promises.

On the other hand, Moorhead said in an email that Google was smart to emphasize the performance of the new smartphone cameras, since "consumers care about this a lot." But he said other features in the new phones didn't seem that much different from what Samsung and Apple have offered in their latest devices.

HARDWARE AND SOFTWARE, TOGETHER AGAIN
The products announced Tuesday also underscore Google's hope that its products and services will work better if the company designs its own hardware and software together - something Apple has long done.

That's also a model that Microsoft has begun following, with its own brand of Surface tablets and laptop computers that use Microsoft's Windows software. But analysts warned that Google runs the risk of alienating partners like Samsung, LG and other companies that sell competing Android gadgets.

Android now powers the majority of smartphones sold around the world. But Samsung, the biggest maker of Android phones, has increasingly been adding more of its own software - even its own Samsung Pay mobile wallet - on the phones it sells. Another big rival, Apple, has built its own services, such as online maps and its own Siri personal assistant, to replace Google's apps on the iPhone.

Google, which is best known for its widely used internet search engine, makes most of its money from online software and digital ads. But it's putting more emphasis on hardware as it competes for consumers' attention with other leading tech firms.

In recent years, Google has sold smartphones and tablets under the Nexus brand, which it launched in 2010 as a way to show off the best features of its Android software. But it put relatively little effort into promoting those devices, which have mostly ended up in the hands of Google purists.

The new Pixel phones will be sold online, through retail chains like Best Buy and various wireless carriers around the world, although the company said it has an exclusive deal with Verizon in the United States.

HOME, BUT NOT ALONE
Like the Pixel phones, the Home device uses the digital Google Assistant service, a voice-activated personal butler that can search the internet, play music or perform other useful tasks. Google Assistant is the company's answer to similar concierge services from rivals, including Siri, Amazon's Alexa and Microsoft's Cortana.

Google said the Home device will sell for roughly $130 online and at electronics retailers starting next month. Along with answering questions and playing music, the device can be used to control streaming video through Google's Chromecast device, at voice command.

Home-based systems like the Echo are taking on more importance as voice technology has improved, said analyst Julie Ask of Forrester Research. "You can't assume somebody is going to go sit down at a computer or pick up a phone and type in a question anymore," she said.

Technology Writer Anick Jesdanun contributed from New York