Categories
Game

Among Us VR gives the wildly popular game a brand new perspective

One of the biggest surprises during The 2021 Game Awards was the reveal that Among Us is stepping into the realm of virtual reality. Among Us VR was revealed with a brief teaser trailer in the midst of The Game Awards, and though it didn’t show very much, most of us probably have a good enough grasp on the original game to imagine what a virtual reality version of the game will be like.

Innersloth

A whole new reality for Among Us

Still, it’s nice to have a look at the game, and that’s precisely what we got in this short trailer from The Game Awards. In it, we can see the player character performing tasks in the iconic spaceship – this time rendered in 3D – before they’re attacked by the impostor. Unfortunately, that’s all the trailer gives us, but if the goal for the trailer was getting the average Among Us fan excited about the prospect of a future VR title, what we got was really all we needed to see.

The shift to virtual reality could even bring some survival horror vibes that are missing from the standard game. Sadly, details are pretty slim at this point in time. At the end of the trailer, it’s revealed that the game will come to Meta Quest 2, Steam VR, and PlayStation VR, but there’s no word of a release date yet.

On its blog, developer Innersloth tells us that the VR version will support multiplayer, but unsurprisingly, there won’t be cross-play between the VR version and the standard version. Instead, when you play in VR, you’ll be playing only with other VR players, united in your quest to fix your ship and avoid the imposters among your crew.

What is Among Us?

For those who don’t know what Among Us is, it’s essentially a video game version of the party game Mafia (otherwise known as Werewolf). Mafia is typically played in person, with players split into two groups: the villagers and the Mafiosi. That Mafiosi play a game of deception, attempting to pass as regular villagers while picking a villager to kill each night. Each day, the villagers are informed of who was killed and attempt to determine who the impostors are, eliminating those whom the majority suspects.

Among Us keeps the structure of Mafia, but puts the game in space and moves the setting from a village to a spaceship. Regular players are given a series of tasks they need to complete, while the impostors have to kill off the crew while avoiding suspicion. If the crew finishes all of their objectives or eliminates all of the impostors, they win the game. If the impostors manage to kill the crewmembers before they complete their tasks or manage to trigger a disaster aboard the ship, they win.

Among Us has been around since 2018, but it skyrocketed to popularity during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic when large numbers of prospective gamers were stuck at home and couldn’t play party games like Mafia in person. Now that we’ve reached the point at which the brand Among Us can expand beyond its original piece of media, it’s time to make the jump to the next most logical place: virtual reality. Will you be dropping in on this game when the time comes for public release?

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Categories
Computing

HP Victus 16 Review: A New Gaming Brand Makes Its Mark

HP Victus 16 review: A new gaming brand makes its mark

MSRP $1,360.00

“The HP Victus 16 is a solid gaming laptop at an affordable price.”

Pros

  • Excellent productivity performance
  • Solid 1080p gaming performance
  • Comfortable keyboard
  • Display is good for both productivity and gaming
  • Reasonably priced

Cons

  • Build quality is subpar
  • Keyboard backlighting is limited
  • Poor battery life

Gaming laptops have never been more popular, and HP has a new line of devices to meet the surge in interest. Victus is the name, and it sits under HP’s premium Omen gaming brand and replaces the budget-level Pavilion gaming machines.

HP Victus brings a more premium design, souped-up internals, and Windows 11. I was sent a high-end configuration with a Core i7-11800H and Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060 that’s priced at $1,360.

That’s a fair price for a moderately equipped gaming laptop — the closest Omen 16 configuration I could put together costs $1,950 by comparison. Given the price difference and great performance, the HP Victus 16 has already made its mark in the world of affordable gaming laptops.

Design

Angled image of the back of the HP Victus 16.
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

The first thing you might notice if you’re familiar with the Omen line is the Victus logo. It’s a “V” based on the same core geometry as the Omen logo, with the bottom portion essentially isolated to stand on its own. The logo’s not only on the outside lid and on the display chin, but it’s also embedded in the venting above the keyboard and outlines the venting on the chassis bottom. If nothing else, the Victus has its branding down.

The rest of the Victus 16’s aesthetic is minimalist, with few nods to a more flashy gaming design. In fact, the only real gaming design element is the row of vents along the back of the chassis. They lend some visual flair while also providing enhanced thermals (more on that in a bit). My review unit was in the Mica Silver (black) color; Performance Blue and Ceramic White are the other options.

Overall, the Victus 16 is a gaming laptop inside a more traditional laptop design. We’ve seen that with a few other gaming machines, such as the conservatively designed (and much more expensive) Razer Blade 15 and the Asus ROG Zephyrus G14, which, other than its lid and rear venting, also sports a nongaming aesthetic. The Lenovo Legion 5 Pro lives in both worlds at once, with a businesslike design with some gaming elements like aggressive vents seemingly pasted on. Conversely, the Asus ROG Strix G15 and the Alienware laptops maintain a die-hard gaming aesthetic through and through.

The Victus 16 has reasonably small bezels for a gaming machine, at least on top and along the sides. Even with a massive chin, the combination results in an 84% screen-to-body ratio — not bad for a gaming laptop. That made it possible to fit the 16-inch display into a chassis that’s closer to a 15-inch gaming machine. The Legion 5 Pro has smaller bezels around its 16-inch, 16:10 aspect ratio display and is almost identical to the Victus 16, which sports an old-school 16:9 panel, in width and depth.

The Asus ROG Strix G15, with a 15.6-inch, 16:9 display, is fractions of an inch wider and deeper. The Victus 16 is 0.93 inches thick and weighs 5.5 pounds, compared to the Legion 5 Pro at 1.1 inches and 5.4 pounds and the ROG Strix G15 at about an inch and 5.7 pounds. That makes the Victus 16 a reasonably sized gaming laptop given the display and components. You can get thinner gaming laptops, like the Razer Blade 15 at just 0.67 inches and the HP Omen 16 at 0.89 inches, but you’ll pay for it.

Straightforward image of the HP Victus 16.
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

One area where the Victus 16 doesn’t quite live up to its price is its build quality. It’s an all-plastic laptop, which is fine, but the lid is too bendable and the keyboard deck has enough flex that you can feel your fingers pressing against whatever’s directly underneath the keyboard and palm rest. The Legion 5 Pro and ROG Strix G15 felt sturdier to us, and those are about the same price as the Victus 16. The hinge was incredibly wobbly, easy to open with one hand but prone to shaking during gaming sessions. Maybe the build quality carried over from the budget-oriented Pavilion Gaming line, but HP might want to improve it in future generations.

One of the more meaningful upgrades from the Pavilion Gaming 16 is the thermal design. HP incorporated a new system with five-way airflow thanks to an additional outlet vent on the RTX 3060 model, four heat pipes, and larger fans. The result is a 30% increase in airflow, according to HP, which makes the laptop rather loud when working hard but keeps it cooler than its predecessor. As we’ll see in the performance section below, the Victus 16 makes the most of its components, and that’s in part due to the excellent thermal design.

There’s a mix of connections available on the Victus 16, with a focus on being able to connect numerous gaming peripherals. There’s an Ethernet port, a full-size HDMI port, a USB-A 3.2 port, a USB-C 3.2 port, a 3.5mm audio jack, and a full-size SD card reader along the left-hand side, and two more USB-A 3.2 ports along the right-hand side. Juice is provided by a massive 200-watt power brick and a proprietary barrel connector.

There’s no Thunderbolt 4 support, though, which is disappointing. Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.1 provide wireless connectivity.

Performance

The Victus 16 is equipped with a 45-watt, eight-core/16-thread Intel Core i7-11800H — a workhorse among Intel’s lineup that provides some of the best creative application performance you’ll find outside of AMD’s Ryzen 5000 series. That’s not to mention its productivity performance, which is overkill for even demanding office workers.

There’s nothing that says a gaming laptop can’t be used to get work done, and so it’s worth looking at how well the Victus 16 performs on non-gaming tasks. Consider my wife, an interior designer: She was handed an Alienware gaming laptop as her work machine because it sports both a fast CPU and a discrete GPU for speeding up applications like AutoCAD, Revit, CET, and the Adobe suite. The HP Victus 16 would fit in an office setting more discretely than an Alienware machine, that’s for sure.

Image of the underside of the HP Victus 16.
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

In any event, the Victus 16 is undoubtedly a fast laptop even compared to comparably equipped mainstream laptops. It led the pack in Geekbench 5 with impressively high scores, tied for third place in Cinebench R23 (with the Lenovo Legion 5 Pro and its Ryzen 7 5800H being the fastest machine), took first place in our Handbrake test that encodes a 420MB video as H.265, and even achieved the high score in PCMark 10, a primarily productivity-oriented benchmark.

In PugetBench, which uses Premiere Pro to crunch through a series of demanding tasks and that can utilize a discrete GPU, the Victus 16 again achieved the highest score among its closest competitors.

If you’re looking for a fast laptop for productivity and creative tasks, then you can’t go wrong with the HP Victus 16. It pushes its components to the extreme, thanks mainly to its excellent thermal design, and it’s certainly faster than your typical mainstream — and often thin and light — laptop. Note that you can also purchase the Victus 16 with an AMD Ryzen 7 4800H if you’d like even faster CPU performance.

Laptop Geekbench 5 Cinebench R23 PugetBench
(Premiere Pro)
Handbrake
(seconds)
PCMark 10
HP Victus 16 (Core i7-11800H) 1594 / 9141 1510 / 10145 765 91 6808
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 4 (Core i7-11800H) 1520 / 7353 1519 / 10497 388 99 6251
Dell XPS 15 OLED 2021 (Core i7-11800H) 1544 / 7692 1513 / 9979 509 101 6024
MSI Creator Z16 (Core i7-11800H) 1540 / 7625 1444 / 9615 738 103 6486
Dell XPS 17 (Core i7-11800H) 1568 / 8801 1525 / 10145 692 n/a 6209
LG Gram 16 (Core i7-1165G7) 1573 / 5454 1394 / 4137 N/A 213 4827
Lenovo Legion 5 Pro (Ryzen 7 5800H) 1460 / 7227 1430 / 11195 622 99 n/a

Gaming

Top view of the lid on the HP Victus 16.
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

But of course, the Victus 16 is a gaming laptop, and so it should be measured against other gaming laptops. Here, it also impressed, performing quite well given that it has one of the slower GPUs in our comparison group. Note that HP includes its Omen Gaming Hub app with the Victus 16, which enables undervolting and three power modes: Quiet, default, and performance.

I ran all the benchmarks — including those in the section above — in both default and performance modes and saw very little difference in performance. In most games, performance mode squeezed out only a few extra frame rates.

Its 3DMark Time Spy score was in line with our comparison group, coming in next-to-last place, with only the MSI Creator Z16 — a nongaming machine with the same GPU that I added for comparison purposes — posting a lower score.

In actual games, the Victus 16 did well. It managed to come within a couple of frames of the Razer Blade 14 and Lenovo Legion 5 Pro in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla — and both of those are equipped with RTX 3070s. It almost matched the Lenovo Legion 5 Pro in Battlefield V, and it beat out the Razer Blade 14 in Fortnite. Finally, it beat both the RTX 3070-equipped machines in Civilization VI.

Best yet, these are very playable frame rates across the board, making the Victus 16 a highly capable 1080p gaming machine. These results are all at high graphical settings, meaning you don’t need to turn things down to maintain high frame rates. For a gaming laptop equipped with an RTX 3060, the Victus 16 is competitive. If you select the AMD version of the laptop, you can opt for a slower AMD Radeon RX5500M GPU to save some cash.

Laptop 3DMark Time Spy Assassin’s Creed Valhalla
(1080p Ultra High)
Battlefield V
(1080p Ultra)
Fortnite
(1080p Epic)
Civilization VI (1080p Ultra)
HP Victus 16 (RTX 3060) 7341 59 fps 72 fps 99 fps 118 fps
Razer Blade 14 (RTX 3070) 8605 60 fps 96 fps 96 fps 111 fps
Lenovo Legion 5 Pro (RTX 3070) 9175 61 fps 73 fps 101 fps 114 fps
Asus ROG Strix G15 (RX 6800M) 10504 77 fps 109 fps 108 fps 150 fps
MSI GS66 Stealth (RTX 3080) 9097 70 fps 117 fps 140 fps 149 fps
Razer Blade 15 (RTX 2080 Super) 7637 58 fps 98 fps 110 fps 134 fps
MSI Creator Z16 (RTX 3060) 6322 50 fps 57 fps 56 fps (1600p) 92 fps

The Victus 16 moves a lot of air when it’s working hard, and so fan noise was quite audble. It’s not enough to force you to wear headphones at all times, but you might choose to do so nonetheless. The surface of the laptop remained reasonable, hitting 101 degrees Fahrenheit on the right side of the keyboard deck during benchmarking. The bottom of the chassis didn’t exceed 115 degrees F during my testing. During nongaming use, the laptop remained cool and quiet.

According to 3DMark, GPU temperatures ran between about 75 degrees C and 100 degrees C at the maximum, which is the highest possible safe temperature. We don’t typically like to see temperatures get that high, and you’ll find better thermals in laptops like the Lenovo Legion 5 Pro.

Configurations

While our $1,360 review configuration was at the high end — with the Core i7-11800H, RTX 3060, 16GB of RAM, a 512GB SSD, and the 144Hz Full HD display — you can get the Victus 16 for much less money. For example, for just $730, you can get a Core i5-11400H, GTX 1650, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD, and the entry-level 60Hz Full HD panel. But this, quite frankly, isn’t a configuration that most people are going to enjoy between the outdated graphics card and the 60Hz screen.

The most you can spend is $1,640 by upgrading our configuration to 32GB of RAM, a 1TB SSD, and a QHD (2,560 x 1,440) 165Hz display.

If you want to save money but not compromise so much on performance, then you can still keep your purchase price under $1,000. For $920, you can get the Core i5, an RTX 3050 Ti, 8GB of RAM, a 512GB SSD, and a 144Hz Full HD display — a solid entry-level gaming laptop for a very attractive price, especially if you’re trying to buy a gaming laptop under $1,000.

Display

Closeup image of the HP Victus 16's display.
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

Gaming laptops don’t always boast displays with wide and accurate colors and high contrast, and instead focus on things like refresh rates. The display installed on my review Victus 16 avoided those limitations. It’s a 15.6-inch Full HD IPS display running at a 144Hz refresh rate, with its one weakness being its old-school 16:9 aspect ratio.

But as I used the display, it seemed like a similar panel to what I might find on a premium thin and light laptop aimed at productivity work. It was bright, with dynamic colors that weren’t oversaturated and enough contrast that blacks stood out from whites.

I was very pleased with the Victus 16’s display.

My colorimeter confirmed my impressions. The display is indeed bright at 375 nits, well above our 300-nit threshold, and the contrast came in at 1120:1, exceeding our preferred 1000:1. Colors were wider than average at 79% of AdobeRGB (where around 72% is the norm) and 100% of sRGB, and they were fairly accurate at a DeltaE of 1.85 (1.0 or less is considered excellent).

The Asus ROG Strix G15 wasn’t nearly as good, coming in at 278 nits, a 1,090:1 contrast ratio (a good result), and just 48% of AdobeRGB and 64% of sRGB with a color accuracy of 2.19. The Legion 5 Pro’s display was also good at 515 nits, a 1,380:1 contrast ratio, 74% of AdobeRGB and 97% of sRGB, and a color accuracy of 1.36.

I was very pleased with the Victus 16’s display. Not only is it fast for gaming, but it can perform well for productivity work. It can even do some creative work in a pinch thanks to its fast performance.

The audio wasn’t quite as impressive. The two downward-firing speakers were very quiet even when turned up all the way, although there was no distortion. Mids and highs were clear enough, but the bass was lacking. You’ll want a pair of headphones when you’re gaming at full strength because the sound won’t be loud enough to overcome the fan noise comfortably. The same goes for bingeing Netflix and listening to music — headphones are a must.

Keyboard and touchpad

Closeup image of the keyboard on the HP Victus 16.
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

Here’s one thing the Victus 16 did not inherit from the Omen line: Per-key RGB lighting on the keyboard. In fact, although the Victus 16’s keyboard is indeed backlit with white lighting, it’s only on or off with no levels in between. So, HP has very carefully ensured that the Omen retains its advantage here. The keyboard feels great, though, with deep travel and very snappy switches that provide excellent responsiveness for both gamers and productivity users. It’s not a mechanical keyboard, but it shouldn’t hold back competitive gamers.

The touchpad is increased in size over the Pavilion Gaming 16, and it takes up most of the available space on the palm rest. It has a comfortable surface for swiping, but I found the buttons a little loose, and they vibrated just a touch when pressed. It’s nothing egregious, and as a Microsoft Precision touchpad, it supports the full complement of Windows 11 multitouch gestures. Overall, I’d rate the touchpad as competent but nothing to write home about.

There’s no Windows 11 Hello password-less support, and the display isn’t touch-enabled. So, those are two missing features that would have been welcome but are commonly missing in midrange gaming laptops.

Battery life

The Victus 16 is a gaming laptop with relatively high-end components and a 70 watt-hour battery. I didn’t expect great battery life from the machine, and I didn’t get it.

In our web-browsing test that cycles through a series of complex websites, the Victus 16 managed just 4.5 hours — a terrible score. The Lenovo Legion 5 Pro worked for over seven hours, which still isn’t great, but it’s far better than the HP managed, while the Asus ROG Strix G15 did even worse at just 3.8 hours.

In our video test that loops through a local 1080p movie trailer, the Victus 16 hit 6.5 hours, another terrible score. The ROG Strix G15 managed eight hours, and we didn’t submit the Legion 5 Pro to this test.

I also ran the PCMark 10 Applications battery test, where the Victus 16 made it to just over five hours. We haven’t tested any other gaming laptops with this benchmark, but most laptops get 10 hours or better. In the PCMark 10 Gaming battery test, the Victus 16 managed 92 minutes, which means it keeps working while unplugged.

The Victus 16 isn’t meant to be a portable productivity machine, so these battery results are forgivable. Just know that you’ll want to keep your rather large power adapter with you when you’re switching gaming environments.

Our take

The HP Victus 16 is a legitimate contender in the medium-priced gaming market. It’s well-equipped and performs admirably. Its chassis, although a bit too bendable, isn’t too large to carry around.

HP struck a nice balance with the Victus 16. And now, the company has a genuine gaming brand sitting beneath the Omen lineup that should better entice gamers with less money to spend.

Are there any alternatives?

The Lenovo Legion 5 Pro is likely the best alternative to the Victus 16. It’s about the same size, although its display is in the superior 16:10 aspect ratio, and its gaming performance is similar. You’ll also spend around the same money.

You could also consider the AMD-equipped Asus ROG Strix G15 as a good value alternative, and the ROG Zephyrus G15 offers a more streamlined chassis and higher specs for anyone who wants to step up their gaming a notch.

How long will it last?

Despite a loose hinge and a slightly bendable lid and chassis, the Victus 16 should still last for years of hard gaming. The one-year warranty remains as disappointing as ever.

Should you buy it?

Yes. The HP Victus 16 is a competent gaming performer for the price in a comfortable chassis.

Editors’ Choice




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Categories
Computing

QUICK! Best Buy has a Brand New Chromebook for ONLY $99 Right Now

Digital Trends may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site.

Right now, as part of the Best Buy Black Friday deals, you can buy an HP 11.6-inch Chromebook for just $99 for a strictly limited time only. If you’re keen to be able to work on the move for far less than ever before, this is an unbeatable offer saving you a massive $160 on the usual price. You’ll need to be quick though as we can’t see stock sticking around for long at this price. As with all Black Friday deals, you need to get in on the action immediately to reap the benefits.

The HP 11.6-inch Chromebook in question offers an Intel Celeron processor, 4GB of memory, plus 32GB of eMMC Flash Memory for storage. When it comes to the best Chromebooks, it might not be the most powerful out there but at this price, you really can’t complain. It offers everything you could need for working on the move plus it looks pretty stylish too.

The Chromebook includes the specifications to be able to cope with most productivity tasks conducted via the cloud and for many hours too thanks to its efficient battery life too. It only weighs just under three pounds plus it measures just 0.7-inch thin so it’s easy to carry around with you or toss into a bag between class. There’s also a built-in media reader for easily transferring files.

Ideally suited for class or working on the move, the HP 11.6-inch Chromebook is normally priced at $260 but right now, you can buy it at Best Buy for just $100. A huge saving of $160, it’s a pretty unbeatable price and you won’t regret hitting that buy button. Snap it up now while stocks last. We can’t see it sticking around for long at this price.

More lBlack Friday Chromebook deals

If you’re not sure if this HP 11.6-inch Chromebook is for you or you’re able to stretch your budget a little further, we have all the other best Black Friday laptop deals rounded up too as well as the best Black Friday Chromebook deals too so there’s something for everyone. Check them out to find something more suitable for your budget or needs.


With 4GB of RAM and a 14-inch HD screen, this HP Chromebook is perfect for most students looking for a cheap laptop to take notes at home and on the move.

more


Lenovo as a brand needs no introduction, and along with its great (but often pricey) ThinkPad laptops, it offers some very solid — and super affordable — Chromebooks like the S330.

more


This Chromebook is unlike any other, as it’s all about luxury, from its 4K OLED display to its durable (and attractive) aluminum finish.

more


With its lovely QLED touch display, 2-in-1 capabilities, and PC-like hardware, the Samsung Galaxy Chromebook 2 is one of our favorites that’s perfect for working at home and on the go.

more


For the price, it doesn’t get much better than the Lenovo Chromebook Flex if you’re looking for a compact 2-in-1 laptop that can pull double duty as a tablet.

more

Extra 5% off with coupon


With its sleek gray finish and spacious 14-inch screen, this Chromebook looks the part while helping you get your work done quickly and easily thanks to Google’s online suite of superb apps.

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We strive to help our readers find the best deals on quality products and services, and we choose what we cover carefully and independently. The prices, details, and availability of the products and deals in this post may be subject to change at anytime. Be sure to check that they are still in effect before making a purchase.

Digital Trends may earn commission on products purchased through our links, which supports the work we do for our readers.

Editors’ Choice




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Categories
AI

Ryff raises $11.7M for its real-time brand integration

All the sessions from Transform 2021 are available on-demand now. Watch now.


Ryff has raised $11.7 million for its business of inserting brand advertisements into commercials, live broadcasts, and streams in real time using digital video and animation technology.

Los Angeles-based Ryff runs an advertising business where it places virtual objects in a scene of a movie, TV commercial, TV show, or even live media so that they seem like a natural part of the environment. CEO Roy Taylor said in an interview that Ryff rewrote the rules of product placement using proprietary AI technology, which can insert products into fully mastered and edited content.

Product placement is the advertising tactic of placing a branded object, like a bottle of Coca-Cola, in a scene in a movie or a TV show. But Ryff can put a realistic 3D-animated branded object into a scene after the fact, depending on whether an advertiser wants to become a sponsor.

Big money

Roy Taylor (left) of Ryff and Paul Feinstein of Audent.

Above: Roy Taylor (left) of Ryff and Paul Feinstein of Audent.

Image Credit: Ryff

Audent Global Asset Management led the round, with participation from Vulcan and Mac Ventures.

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Paul Feinstein, managing partner and chief investment officer of Audent Global Asset Management, said in an interview with GamesBeat that his investment firm was instantly drawn to Ryff because they believe it has the potential to dramatically disrupt the product placement industry for digital media. Ryff has worked with brands such as Coca-Cola, Diageo, and WPP/Group M.

“Ryff seamlessly integrates product into scenes, not just television and motion pictures, but anything digital,” Feinstein said. “That’s fascinating for me because I believe that’s where advertising is going. Anything that stands out as disruptive gets my attention. Roy has come up with a way for how advertising is going to be done in the future.”

He added, “Sports is just one area. Think about the influencers, digital media, whether it’s Instagram, Snapchat, where the medium dollars are going to right now. So that creates another opportunity.”

Feinstein said he is drawn to people who disrupt the status quo like Taylor, who contributed to the success of both Nvidia and Advanced Micro Devices.

“I have a lot of high profile entertainment-related clients, and so this was a really good fit,” Feinstein said.

Taylor said the rapid evolution of technology has transformed media and entertainment into an experience-led industry. No longer will viewers tolerate interruptions into their entertainment or want to see messages which are not either culturally or contextually relevant to them.

For the first time, brands and their agencies can tailor messages directly to consumers through the implementation of very large-scale, local and global content brand integration. The Ryff platform allows brands both large and small to discover and build messages and campaigns that deliver results that outperform all other kinds of advertising.

Spheera

Above: The people are real. The Bailey’s is not.

Image Credit: Ryff

Ryff embeds product placement imagery into the content that is not only contextual but also drives positive emotions from audiences, the company said. The imagery embedded can take the form of simple branded objects or signage all the way through to sophisticated interactive and dynamic ads.

Brand references appear as if they were filmed in the original production and can be tailored for audience specificity according to a range of variables including the individual viewer, platform (e.g., traditional broadcast, web, or mobile), geography, date, and demographic profile.

Taylor said the company has a 10,000-hour library of content available for brands. And he said the company is working on Spheera, a platform for the creator economy aimed specifically at every type of entertainment.

Taylor said he plans to make a significant investment in new Nvidia AI hardware.

“Rendering is only one part of what we do when we calculate the scale for an object and its placement,” Taylor said. “We have to calculate scale on any kind of scene, and now we have got to the point where it is in real time. That’s what we call the ingestion process.”

Once it’s ingested, the content goes into a “data lake.” An image will have thousands of data points and metadata per frame. Using that, the company can build out individual promotions or campaigns. Advertisers can switch a product in mid-campaign if it isn’t doing well.

“Increasingly, we use the term brand integration instead of product placement,” Taylor said. “We can do brand integration in real time with Spheero for things like livestreaming.”

Creator economy

Disrupting traditional media is a big task. But the creator economy could be even bigger, Taylor said. Spheera will be a “direct-to-creator platform” where brands and go and find out what people are watching and build campaigns for digital brand integration, he said.

There can be “guard rails” to protect both the brand and the creator, and both can be rewarded for their work in real time, Taylor said. Perhaps AI could be used to help set those guard rails.

“We started to realize there is something much bigger going on here,” he said. “The creator economy isn’t just nice marketing speak. It’s profound and it’s going to happen. You can monetize streams through intelligent brand integration. There is a very large scope for additional work for AI.”

Taylor said that Ryff will promote the ethical use of AI, and it will stay away from “deep fakes.” I suppose that means Ryff shouldn’t place an influencer in a place that they’ve never actually been, for the sake of a promo.

“We just won’t touch it,” he said.

He noted the guy who skateboards to the sound of a Fleetwood Mac song on TikTok while drinking a bottle of Ocean Spray.

“That guy made a little money, but he made hundreds of millions of dollars for Ocean Spray,” Taylor said. “With platforms like TikTok and Twitter, we can help people monetize. I think what we’re doing is going to support creators everywhere.”

Previous investors in Ryff include Valor Equity Partners, and Moneta Ventures. The company has about 30 people and its hiring.

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Categories
AI

BlueOcean raises $15M to measure brand sentiment with AI

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BlueOcean, a software-as-a-service platform that taps AI to deliver brand strategy insights, today announced that it closed a $15 million series A round led by Insight Partners. The company says that the funds will be used to grow its  team, deepen existing investments in AI, and build on BlueOcean’s existing customer base.

Brand drives revenue. The strength of a company’s brand directly affects its ability to sell to a customer, acquire talent, and drive shareholder value. According to McKinsey, strong brands consistently outperform the market. The world’s 40 strongest brands “yielded almost twice the total return to shareholders of an investment in a Morgan Stanley Capital International (MSCI) World index certificate over the course of the 20-year period ending in 2019.”

Historically, companies have relied on opinion surveys and consultants to measure brand sentiment. In contrast, BlueOcean, which was cofounded by Grant McDougall, Liza Nebel, Matthew Gross, and Mike Semick, employs AI to mine, analyze, and triangulate thousands of data sources in order to deliver real-time data and insights.

“BlueOcean is transforming the way marketing decisions are made by helping brands track their total brand health in near real time, using publicly available data to do two things: understand what areas of their brand need attention [and] determine what actions should be taken to drive growth,” McDougall, who serves as CEO, told VentureBeat via email. “[We realized that] much of the data mining and analysis needed for brand strategizing could be automated, and at the same time, it could offer actionable advice that marketing teams and C-suite executives could deploy quickly.”

Tracking brand sentiment

Underscoring the importance of optics, one survey showed that 81% of consumers needed to be able to trust a brand in order to buy from them. And customers make up their minds quickly — it takes about 50 milliseconds (0.05 seconds) on average for them to form an opinion about a website.

BlueOcean, which sees itself in competition with consultancies like Interbrand, McKinsey, Boston Consulting Group, and Accenture, leverages big data and AI models that have been trained for over 16,000 hours on data from more than 1,110 customers and brand strategy professionals. According to McDougall, BlueOcean had to construct its own training datasets so that its algorithm could identify the features most salient to brand marketers.

“BlueOcean’s platform is replicating subjective, human evaluations such as an ad’s simplicity or complexity, or its directness or subtlety,” McDougall explained. “Our algorithms had to be trained to evaluate images, text content, and hundreds of numerical data points to be able to reproduce these types of fuzzy evaluations.  Only by first understanding what factors are going to be most relevant and actionable to brand marketers can our product deliver outputs that make a difference to them.”

BlueOcean

BlueOcean isn’t sharing its revenue numbers, but the startup claims to have grown greater than three times “continuously” since its founding in 2019. As for its customer base, it spans about 60 brands, including teams at Microsoft, Google, Bloomingdale’s, Panda Express, Cisco, Riot Games, and Juniper Networks.

“By using real-time AI-sentiment algorithms that analyze hundreds of data sources, BlueOcean … delivers an unprecedented level of intelligence so that brands can immediately see new growth areas, track momentum, category shifts, and predict a competitor’s next move,” McDougall said. “BlueOcean provides the means for investors to understand competitive brands in the category that have a large footprint but declining customer satisfaction and select acquisition targets to offset operational challenges and form the basis for investment decisions, allowing faster identification and quantification of portfolio company choices.”

To date, San Francisco, California-based Blue Ocean has raised $20 million, a combination of the series A and a $5 million seed round.

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Tech News

Amazon boots another tech brand to the curb seemingly over fake reviews

Anyone who frequently shops on Amazon knows a wide range of companies place little cards into the package promising a gift card, sometimes worth more than the product itself, for users who leave five-star reviews. To say it’s disconcerting to purchase a product based on a horde of high reviews and then find out they’re being paid for would be an understatement. As a result, Amazon has been stomping out brands, many of them from China, that are paying for reviews relentlessly, and another major company has now been delisted.

The latest tech company to get the boot from Amazon is called Choetech. The company is a Chinese tech accessory brand, and it appears that Choetech has been completely delisted from the platform. While the exact reason the company has been removed is unknown, it has likely been caught in the crackdown on paid reviews. Other major tech firms, including Aukey, Ravpower and Mpow, were removed from Amazon in the last few months.

Amazon has very strict guidelines for product reviews prohibiting sellers from posting reviews of their products, paying for reviews, or offering money and gift cards to incentivize users to post positive reviews. Amazon has always been clear about its zero-tolerance policy for violations of those guidelines.

Amazon’s guidelines state that companies caught running afoul of those guidelines will see their products immediately and permanently removed from the platform. Removing products from the store offered by companies paying for fake reviews is a clear win for consumers.

It’s good to see Amazon cracking down hard on companies that aren’t playing by the rules. I frequently shop from Amazon, and the number of products that come with cards offering gift certificates for 5-star reviews on Amazon is staggering. The fake reviews certainly influence my purchase decisions.

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AI

Lucidworks: Chatbots and recommendations boost online brand loyalty

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Pandemic-related shutdowns led consumers to divert the bulk of their shopping to online — and many of those shoppers are now hesitant about returning to stores as businesses begin to open back up. A recent survey of 800 consumers conducted by cloud company Lucidworks found that 59% of shoppers plan to either avoid in-person shopping as much as possible,  or visit in-person stores less often than before the pandemic.

Who is loyal

Above: Shoppers across the U.S. and U.K. agree that high-quality products, personalized recommendations, and excellent customer service are the top three reasons they’re brand-loyal.

Image Credit: Lucidworks

As the world stabilizes, shoppers want brands to provide a multi-faceted shopping experience — expanded chatbot capabilities, diverse recommendations, and personalized experiences that take into account personal preferences and history, Lucidworks found in its study. More than half of shoppers in the survey, 55%, said they use a site’s chatbot on every visit. American shoppers use chatbots more than their counterparts in the United Kingdom, at 70%.

The majority of shoppers, 70%, use chatbots for customer service, and 53% said they want a chatbot to help them find specific products or check product compatibility. A little less than half, or 48%, said they use chatbots to find more information about a product, and 42% use chatbots to find policies such as shipping information and how to get refunds.

A quarter of shoppers will leave the website to seek information elsewhere if the chatbot doesn’t give them the answer. Brands that deploy chatbots capable of going beyond basic FAQs and can perform product and content discovery will provide the well-rounded chatbot experience shoppers expect, Lucidworks said.

Respondents also pointed to the importance of content recommendations. The survey found that almost a third of shoppers said they find recommendations for “suggested content” useful, and 61% of shoppers like to do research via reviews on the brand’s website where they’ll be purchasing from. A little over a third — 37% — of shoppers use marketplaces such as Amazon, Google Shopping, and eBay for their research.

Brands should try to offer something for every step in the shopping journey, from research to purchase to support, to keep shoppers on their sites longer. How online shopping will look in coming years is being defined at this very moment as the world reopens. Brands that are able to understand a shopper’s goal in the moment and deliver a connected experience that understands who shoppers are and what they like are well-positioned for the future, Lucidworks said.

Lucidworks used a self-serve survey tool, Pollfish, in late May 2021 to survey 800 consumers over the age of 18—400 in the U.K. and 400 in the U.S.—to understand how shoppers interact with chatbots, product and content recommendations, where they prefer to do research, and plans for future in-store shopping.

Read the full U.S./U.K. Consumer Survey Report from Lucidworks.

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Tech News

No the GPT3 AI did not create a brand new video game

GPT-3 is arguably the world’s most advanced text-generator. It was trained using supercomputing clusters, a nearly internet-sized dataset, and 175 billion parameters. It’s among the most impressive generative AI systems ever created.

But it absolutely did not create a video game.

You may have read otherwise. But it’s what you didn’t read that matters.

Background

GPT-3, for those who aren’t in the know, is a big powerful AI system that generates text from prompts.

At the risk of oversimplifying, you give GPT-3 a short input and ask it to generate text. So, for example, you might say “What’s the best thing about Paris?” and GPT-3 might generate text saying “Paris is known for its majestic views and vibrant night life,” and it’ll keep spitting out new statements every time you ask it to generate.

GPT-3 is pretty good at generating text that makes sense. So, if you were to keep generating new phrases based on the “What’s the best thing about Paris?” input, it’s likely you’ll get a bunch of different outputs that mostly made grammatical sense.

However, GPT-3 isn’t actually checking its facts or Googling things. It doesn’t have a database of verified information that it accesses before generating and injecting its opinion into things. It just tries to imitate the text its been trained on.

Without filtering, GPT-3 is as likely to say something xenophobic about Parisians and/or the French people as it is something positive. And, most importantly, it’s just as likely to say something factually incorrect.

GPT-3 does not think. It does not understand anything. It doesn’t know what a dog is, it can’t understand the color blue, and it has no mental capacity for continuity or sense. It’s just algorithms and computer tricks.

If you can imagine 175 billion monkeys banging on 175 billion typewriters you can imagine GPT-3 at work. Except, in GPT-3‘s case, instead of letters, the keys all have sentences and phrases on them. And for every monkey there’s a human standing there changing out text templates to fit specific themes.

What’s this about a video game?

A gambling website called, aptly, “Online Roulette” started sending PR emails out a couple weeks ago claiming that GPT-3 had created a video game.

Here’s the thing: This wasn’t a pitch for a game or even an AI-related pitch. It was a pitch for a survey about how gamers responded to a PR pitch for a game that doesn’t exist that referenced text that was generated by GPT-3.

So here’s a few things to keep clear:

  1. The game doesn’t actually exist
  2. All the imagery associated with the game was created by humans
  3. All of the text in the PR pitch was formatted and edited by humans

I call bullshit

This isn’t to say GPT-3 can’t be involved in the development of a video game. AI Dungeon is a game that uses text-generating AI to create novel text-based game experiences. As anyone who’s played it can attest, it’s often cogent in a surreal way. But it’s just as often weird and nonsensical.

However, this marketing pitch from Online Roulette has nothing to do with the creation of an actual game.

Let’s start with the survey and work our way back. Here’s the “methodology” section on the website the original pitch refers to:

We collected results from 1,000 avid gamers. The survey was designed with the intent of having them rate the storylines and characters presented to them. Respondents were not informed that the video game, storylines, and characters were AI-generated. Video game storylines and characters were generated using GPT-3, a text-generating program from OpenAI.

Who were these “avid” gamers? Were they Mechanical Turk workers? Were they Online Roulette customers? Were they Twitter respondents? We don’t know.

What exact images and text were the respondents exposed to? Because if they were exposed to this website, the one the above images came from, they weren’t exposed to the game GPT-3 supposedly spit out.

The entire website describes a game GPT-3 allegedly generated, but nowhere is GPT-3 quoted or is it made explicit that any of the text on the site is directly attributable to GPT-3.

Exactly what did GPT-3 generate?

Why weren’t the survey respondents told they were evaluating a game allegedly generated by an AI?

The real problem

For the sake of argument, let’s say the images and text on the Online Roulette website were actually spit out by GPT-3 in the form we see them. They weren’t. But let’s just say they were.

It would be useless information.

It’s insulting that anyone would think game development and design is such a whimsical field that a machine could randomly spit out ideas that could challenge human talent.

Game developers spend lifetimes learning the industry and its fans. It takes years to gain a perspective on the $90 billion video game market. And even if you have an amazing idea, that doesn’t mean it’ll translate into a compelling game.

Nobody is sitting around waiting for a random video game pitch-generator to spark their development careers.

If coming up with a good idea was the hard part, there’d be more game developers than there are players. That’s like saying GPT-3 is a threat to Metallica because it can write random lyrics about things that are dark. 

But it’s even more insulting that, according to this article, at least one person involved with generating the data actually expects us to believe the results from GPT-3 weren’t cherry-picked. But that’s a ludicrous claim. 

The reality of the situation

We don’t know who was surveyed and we don’t know what the respondents actually saw. We also don’t know what parts of the game’s marketing pitch GPT-3 actually generated.

For all we know, the “researchers” generated results until they found something they liked and then started using prompts specific to that result to generate dozens or hundreds of options from which they then curated, arranged, and edited to go along with the images their human artists created. 

Basically, Online Roulette is asking you to believe that a sketchy marketing pitch with zero details, about a survey referencing a game that doesn’t exist, highlights an example of working artificial intelligence.

The only thing impressive about “Candy Shop Slaughter” is that we’re talking about it.



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Game

Sonic Colors: Ultimate is a remaster, but it looks brand new

If you’ve ever played Sonic the Hedgehog and have looked forward to a return to greatness on a modern console, now would appear to be the time to get excited. The game Sonic Colors was originally released on Nintendo Wii and – shocker – Nintendo DS. It was first developed all the way back in 2008, just after the release of Sonic Unleashed. It was a strange time – and a great time for a great game to get lost on a console. Now, it’s time for that classic to return on a modern place to play.

The game that’ll be coming in 2021 is called Sonic Colors: Ultimate. The game is effectively the same as its original self, including both side-scrolling and third-person perspectives and a wild Sonic universe full of rings and enemies.

The big differences come in the variety of controls one can use to move through the game and defeat enemies, and the graphics. This game will be available in a DIGITAL DELUXE format that’ll include early access, “exclusive music,” “gold and silver wearables,” special “exclusive” player icons, and “sonic movie boost.” Pre-order for the game begins today.

The game Sonic Colors: Ultimate will be released for Nintendo Switch on September 7, 2021. UPDATE: This game will also be released for PC (in the Epic Games Store), on Xbox (Xbox One, Xbox Series X), and on PlayStation (PS4, PS5). UPDATE: The release date for Sonic Colors Ultimate is September 12, 2021. There’ll also be a companion animated miniseries by the name of Sonic Colors: Rise of the Wisps, released this summer to streaming platforms.

There’ll also be a Sonic the Hedgehog “pack” available for the game Two Point Hospital. This game is on PS4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, Steam (PC), and on the Nintendo Switch. You’ll be able to attain the Sonic Pack on July 30, 2021.

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Tech News

Lenovo Go accessory brand launched for hybrid work arrangements

Last year saw many office workers find themselves working mostly from home. Even as restrictions get lifted, however, some businesses have embraced arrangements that have employees working remotely most or some of the time. This kind of hybrid workspaces and arrangements also require more flexible tools to keep up with ever-changing situations. That’s why Lenovo is now launching a new brand of accessories designed exactly for that but, of course, these Lenovo Go products are pretty much just new faces in an already saturated PC accessory market.

That said, each of the new Lenovo Go devices does have some special feature. The Lenovo Go USB-C Laptop Power Bank, for example, not only boasts of a 20,000 mAh battery, it can also output power at 65W. That’s enough not just for USB-C laptops but also for three devices charging at the same time.

The Lenovo Go Wireless Multi-Device Mouse, on the other hand, does more than just connect to three devices, not simultaneously, of course. It can be charged from a USB-C cable or, perhaps more conveniently, from any Qi wireless charger.

Lenovo also teased audio solutions that are still coming later this year. One of those, at least based on the new Lenovo Go landing page, is a pair of over-ear cups headphones. This accessory promises to make online meetings less stressful with some form of noise cancellation.

The Lenovo Go Wireless Multi-Device Mouse will be available starting June for the price of $59.99. Likewise, the Lenovo Go USB-C Laptop Power Bank is launching next month, carrying a $89.99 price tag. Those might just be the tip of the iceberg, however, as Lenovo Go’s website seems to also tease speakers and earphones that may be coming soon as well.

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