ADT to extend its profesional security-monitoring service to third-party hardware

ADT

ADT announced a significant addition to its business model today: The well-known security company will soon offer its professional monitoring service as an option on third-party hardware for the first time.

Dubbed ADT Canopy, the new service will link ADT dispatchers to a wide range of third-party hardware. The dispatchers will contact first responders to handle fire, police, or medical emergencies, depending on the device being monitored. In less-severe emergencies—detection of a water leak, for instance—the dispatcher will call the subscriber directly.

ADT will launch Canopy with a number of connected-home devices, including Samsung Smart Things, Ring video doorbell, and Roost Smart Battery. As you can read in our review, this last product powers smoke and carbon-monoxide detectors and listens for the alarm to sound off. As the product works now, it sends a message to your smartphone to let you know the alarm is sounding. With ADT’s Canopy service, an ADT employee will also be notified. That employee will then call you to verify that it’s not a false alarm, and then contact your local fire department to respond to the emergency.

Since ADT offers connected-home products and services of its own, it is in a sense competing against itself.On the other hand, ADT Canopy has features—including no long-term contracts—that might attract customers who would never consider signing up for ADT’s more comprehensive services.

“We have leveraged the company’s significant expertise and heritage as a security company, paired with the latest smart tech solutions, to create a new category that will redefine how we protect our customers,” said ADT CEO Naren Gursahaney.

The impact on you at home: ADT Canopy has the potential to add value to a broad range of connected products. While it remains to be seen how much this service will cost, many will find the notion of having a professional monitoring your home or personal security an attractive value proposition–especially since there will be no long-term contracts.

MSI’s lavish, yet functional SLI bridges for Nvidia GPUs are so ludicrous I adore them

msi sli bridge with fan

Here, we like to preach a smart, practical approach to PC hardware. That hot new gear? You probably don’t need it. But there’s no denying the gut appeal of amped-up, gloriously excessive hardware that cranks things to 11 just for the hell of it. It’s why we stuffed 128GB of DDR4 RAM into a PC. It’s why mad tinkerers did, well, this in the quest for lower temps. And it’s why I fell head over heels in love with MSI’s ostentatious new 3-way and 4-way SLI bridges the second I laid eyes on them.

SLI bridges are the little connectors that allow you to use multiple GeForce graphics cards simultaneously in a single PC. (AMD uses a similar technology dubbed CrossFire, but recent Radeon models have ditched the connectors and allow GPUs to communicate via your motherboard directly.) Since most people use single-GPU configurations, most folks may know them as “one of those extra bits that came packaged with swanky gaming motherboards.” But there’s actually a market for fancier aftermarket SLI bridges constructed from more premium parts, to better suit your flashy multi-GPU gaming setup. Asus ROG and EVGA both offer premium SLI bridges for example.

Enter MSI’s new models.

These bad boys aren’t just “forged out of high-quality materials.” No, that’s not nearly enough. They’re also emblazoned with MSI’s dragon-y GAMING logo, and it’s LED lit, too! Now we’re getting somewhere—but that’s still not excessive enough. The icing on this deliciously over-the-top cake is its fan.

MSI SLI bridge w fan in system

Yes, these tricked-out SLI bridges come bundled with their own “silent” Cooler Master fan accessory that can be attached directly to the bridge to keep air flowing better than ever between your broiling graphics cards. It even offers rubber standoffs at the end of the fan to accommodate graphics cards and custom coolers of varying sizes, and you can shift the fan up or down along the length of the bridge to focus airflow on the top three cards, or the bottom three.

That’s ridonkulous. That’s the definition of “doing it because you can.” As far as I can tell with a quick Google search, the fan’s a first for a fancy SLI bridge. And did I mention the competition for this is something that possibly shipped for free with your motherboard?

MSI’s shamelessly catering to an exclusive, enthusiast niche with these SLI bridges. I love it.

We’ll have to see if the infatuation lingers after MSI comes clean about the price of these SLI bridges, though. A few lights and a superfluous fan may win over my heart, but I’m not crazy.

Razer’s Stargazer is a webcam aimed at YouTubers, Twitch streamers, and other professionals

Razer Stargazer

If you want to see Twitch/YouTube’s influence on the games industry, look no further than this: Here in 2016, Razer—of neon-green-and-black gaming peripherals fame—is putting out a webcam. “The world’s first webcam designed for streamers,” says this press release.

The real surprise is that it didn’t happen sooner. The humble webcam has received little attention in recent years, which is surprising given the amount of video content on the Internet nowadays. The gold standard, the Logitech C920, is pretty ubiquitous in Twitch/YouTube circles and it’s four years old. In peripherals, that’s ancient.

But a flurry of new tech is slowly proliferating through the channels now—Intel’s RealSense 3D camera tech and Windows 10’s “Hello,” which lets you use facial recognition to log into your computer. And, of course, Twitch/YouTube. Suddenly there’s a need for a better webcam.

It’s perhaps deceptive of Razer to say they’ve made a gaming-centric webcam. Or maybe not deceptive—just good marketing. What Razer’s done is adapted Intel’s RealSense camera for desktop use. Until now, RealSense was always built into a computer, embedded into laptops or all-in-one PCs. Razer’s Stargazer functions like the C920, meaning you can set it on top of your existing monitor.

And voila—now you have a webcam “designed for streamers.” I’m serious.

Razer Stargazer

Regardless of the marketing, Intel’s RealSense tech does seem like a smart bet. Professional Twitch/YouTube streamers often have unwieldy green screen setups behind them to isolate their face from the background. This requires a large green piece of fabric, something to hang it on, and usually one or two lights. RealSense, with its depth-sensing tech, can automatically remove whatever’s behind a streamer. Pretty nifty.

A partnership with Razer simply makes sure this tech gets in front of people who play video games—people who might hear “Intel RealSense 3D webcam” and tune out.

The other gaming-centric feature Razer’s pushing is the ability to stream/capture 720p, 60 frames per second from Stargazer—something you’d only care about if you were using it alongside PC games running at that frame rate. For corporate meetings/Skyping with grandma/et cetera, Stargazer can still do 1080p, 30 frames per second.

Stargazer’s remaining features are a grab-bag of oddities. Facial and gesture recognition? 3D scanning? FaceRig support? While welcome, these features belie Stargazer’s RealSense origins. They’re certainly not features the average Twitch user will explore.

Last but not and least, Stargazer sports a noise-canceling, dual-array microphone. I’m sure it’s a decent microphone for a webcam, but anyone using this for Razer’s intended purposes (Twitch/YouTube) undoubtedly owns something better.

Razer Stargazer

The main concern is one of cost. Stargazer’s tech might be perfect for streamers, but its price certainly isn’t. I opened this by discussing the ubiquity of Logitech’s C920, a 1080p30 webcam that’s become a Twitch and YouTube icon. On any given day you can go to Amazon and find the C920 for $60-70. That’s already expensive for a webcam, but Stargazer? Razer’s tagged it with a Razer-size price tag of $200. That certainly prices it out of range of some teenager streaming in his or her bedroom, and maybe even prices it out of range of that teenager’s parents.

Razer’s counterpoint is that RealSense negates the need for a costly green screen setup, which is absolutely true. But a green screen setup can be cobbled together over the span of months, jury-rigged from a garage sale lamp and a half-broken curtain rod and some twine. Stargazer is just flat-out expensive. There’s a risk people look at the C920, look at Stargazer, and decide Logitech’s antiquated approach is still “Good enough.”

The Razer Blade Stealth strips out the gaming bits for an affordable, attractive ultrabook

Razer Blade Stealth

At CES, companies are fond of throwing out “World’s First!” claims, e.g., “World’s first microwave you can program from your phone!”, “World’s first TV that turns off when you fall asleep!”, “World’s first toilet with Twitter integration!”

How’s this one? “World’s first affordable Razer laptop!”

Razer Stealth

Okay, so it’s affordable because Razer stripped out all the Razer-y bits. Don’t be fooled by the fact that the Razer Blade Stealth looks like its older Razer Blade sibling. This is not a gaming laptop.

In fact, it’s an ultrabook—a first from Razer. Like the standard Blade, the Stealth features an aluminum chassis measuring half an inch thick and weighing in at 2.75 pounds. Inside is a 12.5-inch touch display, sporting either a 3840-by-2160 (4K) or 2560-by-1440 resolution, an Intel i7 processor, 8 GB of RAM, and a PCIe SSD.

 

Razer Blade Stealth

Missing from the equation? A graphics card. The Stealth only ships with the i7’s integrated graphics. That’s an oddity for Razer, a company that’s built itself off gaming peripherals and gaming hardware. Razer has a secret weapon, though: an external GPU dock.

I go into more detail about Razer’s external GPU dock, the Razer Core, in this article. But suffice it to say, it’s Razer’s way of selling a “gaming laptop” without all the gaming bits inside. The Stealth features a USB-C Thunderbolt 3 port that connects to the Core at 40 Gbps transfer speeds and—according to Razer—provides “desktop-level graphics.” Without running our own benchmarks on the Core I’m not ready to call it a success, but it’s certainly an interesting proposition. One of the biggest problems with gaming laptops is they’re expensive and rapidly become obsolete.

The Stealth? Well, I wouldn’t necessarily call it cheap but given Razer’s history it’s surprisingly affordable. Razer’s selling the baseline Stealth for only $1,000, which is much lower than I expected. The top-of-the-line version goes for $1,600.

Razer Blade Stealth plus Razer Core
 

Will it be a success? I don’t know, but it’s an interesting move for Razer, a company that—up until now—I considered synonymous with gaming products. It’s weird to think we might see people carrying around Razer Blade Stealth ultrabooks just because they like the design and need something for college/work/what have you.

Perhaps it’ll even woo some people who would’ve opted for a gaming laptop, which has always been a risky purchase, given the high price and rapid obsolescence. A Razer Blade Stealth plus a Razer Core and spare graphics card could, in the long run, save you a lot of money if you don’t mind losing a bit of portability.

If you’re interested, pre-orders for the Razer Blade Stealth are open now through Razer’s website, to ship later this month. Stay tuned to PCWorld for more from CES 2016, all week long.

Digital Storm brings the latest custom-cooling tech to its PCs

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Still proud you moved from a CLC cooler to custom loops with hoses on your gaming rig? We have some bad news for you, Timmy: The cool kids are already two steps ahead of you.

On Tuesday at CES, boutique PC manufacturer Digital Storm announced that it’s taken custom cooling to the “final frontier,” adopting compression fittings and quick releases for all of the bends in its custom machines.

High-end custom loops originally featured soft tubing, and then later hard acrylic tubing. But according to Digital Storm’s chief marketing officer Harjit Chana, those hard acrylic tubes—which are heated up and then bent—can be fragile.

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While we don’t know if that’s true, these tubes can certainly be unsightly. The elbows usually don’t always form Mario-perfect bends—they can flatten out slightly and look simply ghastly (said in a Thurston Howell voice).

Digital Storm’s Aventum 3 features compression metallic elbows, and is just one PC in the company’s lineup that will get this new treatment.

Digital Storm’s Bolt 3 and Velox will also get the shiny elbows and new plumbing treatment, too.

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Insteon adds Sonos compatibility to its connected-home systems

insteon

Insteon has once again expanded the reach of its connected-home systems, this time by adding the ability to control Sonos multi-room speakers using Insteon’s hubs, remotes, and wall-mounted keypads.

In addition to performing basic functions such as volume control, Insteon customers will be able to incorporate Sonos speakers into home-automation “scenes,” so that music can be paired with changes in lighting. A morning scene, for instance, could open your motorized blinds at dawn, turn on your coffeemaker, and begin playing a light jazz playlist.

Insteon users will also be able to assign basic functions such as volume up/down and station changes to buttons on Insteon remotes and existing or newly installed Insteon wall panels. The company also plans to introduce pre-printed keypad buttons specifically for Sonos functions.

Sonos speakers

This Sonos integration will be made available only to iOS users first, via an update to Insteon’s app that should come sometime this week. Insteon says Android compatibility is not far off, but the company gave no timeline for its release.

Why this matters: This announcement could be great news for people who own both an Insteon connected-home system and a Sonos multi-room audio system—provided the execution is done right.

If you haven’t jumped into the connected-home market yet, this integration could make Insteon’s platform more attractive. The company has been in this space longer than almost anyone else, and it has a very deep catalog of products to offer. While its dual-band (radio waves and powerline) mesh network is proprietary, Insteon continues to work hard to render its system compatible with third-party products and platforms.

This Sonos partnership is one of several that Insteon has announced over the past several months. Insteon’s connected-home devices also now work with Amazon’s Echo, the Nest Learning Thermostat, Logitech’s line of Harmony remote controls, and Apple’s HomeKit ecosystem.

DVD Watchbox turns a stack of discs into streaming movies

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Got a massive DVD collection, and wondering how you can move on from the optical disc? A new devic called DVD Watchbox might be able to help.

For $150, DVD Watchbox is a set-top box that streams DVD and Blu-ray video from a networked PC. A companion PC program converts the optical discs to a streaming format and stores them on the computer’s hard drive, so you never have to use the actual DVD or Blu-ray discs again.

While this may sound similar to media server programs such as Plex, the difference with DVD Watchbox is that it preserves the full optical disc experience, including menus and bonus features. It is possible to add extras to a Plex library with some added effort or a Plex Pass subscription, but there’s something to be said for DVD Watch Box’s simpler approach of duplicating the DVD menus and features just as they were.

dvdwatchbox1

Even so, the act of maintaining a networked media server brings its own complications compared to just keeping a DVD player on hand. For one thing, you need a dedicated PC that’s always up and running, such as a desktop computer, as DVD Watch Box doesn’t currently support NAS drives. Each DVD takes up 2GB to 3GB of storage, and Blu-ray discs can require fives times more space. The initial conversion process can be time-intensive, requiring 10 to 15 minutes per DVD and 30 to 45 minutes per Blu-ray disc. These files also stream at a higher bitrate than your average online video—especially for Blu-ray—so you’ll want a good router and a solid network connection from the set-top box for streaming.

Still, DVD Watchbox maker VidOn believes it can serve a niche market. In an interview, CEO Bill Loesch claimed that 8 million people own more than 300 DVD or Blu-ray discs, citing data from the Digital Entertainment Group.

The box itself supports dual-band Wi-Fi, and also has an Ethernet jack. The software is based on Google’s Android TV platform, but users will never notice, as Android TV’s interface and features are completely hidden in favor of DVD Watch Box’s own content selection screen. Loesch said that VidOn debated including the full Android TV experience, but decided to stay focused on DVD and Blu-ray playback. (“Anything that tries to compete with Roku, Google, Amazon, and Apple is suicidal,” he said.)

DVD Watch Box just started shipping and is on sale at Best Buy. It sounds like a promising solution for recovering DVD diehards, though we’ve only taken a quick look at the product during this week’s CES trade show.