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Game

Amazon Luna arrives on Samsung’s latest smart TVs

Earlier this year, the Samsung Gaming Hub brought Xbox Game Pass, NVIDIA GeForce Now, Google Stadia and other gaming services to Samsung smart TVs and smart monitors, promising to add new services like Amazon Luna “soon.” Soon, it turns out, is today: Amazon’s cloud gaming service is now available on 2022 Samsung smart TVs.

Samsung says that with Luna, the gaming hub now has more than 1000 games available to play. Most of these games will require an extra subscription fee, though if you’re an Amazon Prime subscriber, you already have access to a small library of games. Very small. Right now Prime users can play four games (Steel Assault, MYST, Control: Ultimate Edition and Garfield Kart: Furious Racing) included with their subscription.

The selection of free with Prime games changes every month, but users can subscribe to additional channels to expand their library. Luna Plus, for instance, includes games like Yakuza: Like a Dragon, Mega Man 11, Ghostrunner and Resident Evil VII. Luna’s Retro Channel has a collection of classic games, from Centipede to Street Fighter II. Users can also subscribe to channels featuring Ubisoft and Jackbox game packs, all priced between $4.99 and $17.99 a month. If you do subscribe, your games won’t be locked to your TV: Luna games are playable on PCs, Macs, tablets and smartphones.

How well all these games work, however, depends on your connection speed. Amazon Luna and Xbox Game Pass both recommended minimum internet speeds of 10Mbps to 20Mbps on a 5GHz WiFi connection — and of course, you’ll also need the aforementioned 2022 Samsung Smart TV and a Bluetooth gamepad. If you have all that, Luna’s Free with Prime games are a great way try game streaming on your TV.

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Game

Vizio is elevating its mid-range TVs and soundbars

Vizio has long been known as a budget TV brand, but over the past few years the company started to push into premium territory with its P-Series and OLED TVs, as well as the rotating Elevate Dolby Atmos soundbar. This year, Vizio is focusing on its more affordable mid-range devices. That includes its M-Series Quantum X (MQX) TVs, which deliver a bevy of features that gamers will appreciate, as well as the M-Series Elevate soundbar, which brings the rotating Dolby Atmos functionality of the original Elevate down to a lower price-range.

All of the devices make it clear that Vizio is trying to aim for a market that’s demanding better specifications and features, but also doesn’t want to pay too much for Vizio’s most premium hardware. The 50-inch 4K MQX TV is particularly geared towards gamers, as it offers a 240Hz refresh rate while playing in 1080p. Players who want to see faster frame rates typically lower their resolutions to 1080p, even with 4K or higher-resolution monitors. So it’s not hard to imagine the 50-inch MQX being paired up with a gaming PC, especially since it supports AMD FreeSync Premium VRR.

The MQX family of TVS — at 50, 65 and 75-inches — are loaded up with Quantum dot technology and VIzio’s new IQ Ultra Plus Processor. The company says they’ll cover 80 percent of the Rec. 2020 color space, which technically makes it one of the best TVs on the market for color accuracy (at least, according to RTings’s testing). The MQX TVs also have full-array backlighting and 32 local-dimming zones, which should help to improve contrast and black levels, as well as 1,000 nits of peak brightness.

When it comes to gaming, the MQX sets offer a 120 Hz native refresh rate (the 50″ model is a bit unique with its 1080p 240Hz mode), as well as sub-8ms lag at 120Hz. That may sound a bit high compared to PC monitors touting less than a millisecond of lag, but it’s on the faster end of current TVs. There are also four HDMI 2.1 ports, enough for every new console and a PC, as well as a new “Game” menu that should make it easier to adjust your settings.

Vizio M-Series Quantum X in the living room.

Vizio

During a brief demo on Vizio’s traveling demo bus (which definitely stood out in a nearby suburban park), the MQX TVs looked almost as good as Vizio’s 2020-era P-series TVs. Colors popped off the screen during daytime scenes in Moana, and the bevy of local dimming zones kept light from bleeding into dark areas of the screen. It’s clear that Vizio has made plenty of progress since the last batch of M-series sets. The new MQX TVs will start at $630 when they arrive later this month.

Vizio is still keeping its existing higher-end sets on the market, but you’ll see some changes across the rest of its lineup too. The M-series Quantum 6 TVs also feature Quantum Dots and Full Array backlighting and a few helpful gaming features like FreeSync VRR, Dolby Vision and three HDMI 2.1 ports. The 43-inch MQ6 TV will start at just $350, but there will also be sizes between 55 and 75-inches to choose from.

Vizio V Series

Vizio

Stepping another level down, there’s Vizio’s new V-series TVs, which also have quite a few gaming smarts with a much lower $290 starting price for the 43-inch entry. Those will also range up to 75-inches and will include features like VRR and three HDMI 2.1 ports. From the demos I’ve seen, these appear to to be the ideal choice for gamers on a budget. At the bottom end, once again, are the D-series 1080p sets. These have always excelled at being cheap TVs for small rooms, and it looks like Vizio is continuing that trend this year. Still, even they have some gaming features, like low input lag and VRR. They’ll range from 24 to 43 inches and will start at $160 when they arrive this month.

Vizio M-Series Elevate

Vizio

If you’ve been eyeing Vizio’s first Elevate soundbar, which features rotating speakers that can bounce off of your ceiling for over-head Dolby Atmos sound, you’ve now got a cheaper option to consider: the aptly-titled M-Series Elevate. Starting at $800, it offers 5.1.2 sound (five speakers, a subwoofer and two height channels) across 13 speakers, along with two small rear speakers for surround sound. During normal programming, the Dolby Atmos speakers point towards you to widen the sound stage, but once it detects an Atmos source, they flip up to give you enveloping sound.

Judging from the bevy of Moana songs I listened to, the M-Series Elevate sounds impressive, but I was surprised that it felt a bit tinnier and weaker than Sonos’s Arc soundbar. That device goes for the same price, and while it doesn’t include rear speakers or a subwoofer, it delivers far richer sound and more believable Atmos imaging. The M-Series Elevate may make more sense if Vizio lowers the price a bit. The original Elevate is only $200 more, after all, you’d think there would be a bigger difference for a mid-range alternative. If you’re looking for something more compact, there’s also the new M-Series All-in-One, which features dual built-in subwoofers, DTS:X and a low $200 starting price.

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Game

Xbox Game Pass comes to new Samsung smart TVs on June 30th

Xbox has been talking about bringing the Game Pass Ultimate library to smart TVs for at least a year, and it’s finally happening in 2022. The Xbox app will hit this year’s lineup of Samsung smart TVs and monitors on June 30th, allowing Game Pass Ultimate subscribers to play titles from the cloud with no additional hardware, aside from a Bluetooth-connected gamepad. Even a PlayStation controller will do the trick.

Some 2022 Samsung smart TV models already support game-streaming services including Google Stadia and NVIDIA’s GeForce Now. Samsung launched a new Gaming Hub for its TVs in January, putting these cloud services front-and-center, and the Xbox app is set to join them. Xbox is one of the biggest forces in cloud gaming, with more than 25 million Game Pass subscribers – though not all of these are at the Ultimate tier, which unlocks streaming capabilities.

The Game Pass Ultimate library has hundreds of games available to stream and Xbox has made it a point to release its big first-party titles on the service on day one. On Samsung devices, the Xbox app will support Bluetooth headsets and gamepads including the Xbox Wireless Controller, and PlayStation’s DualShock 4 and DualSense.

There’s no update for now on the dedicated streaming device that Xbox said it was working on last year alongside the smart TV app.

Xbox Game Pass 2022 updates

Xbox

Xbox has more big plans for Game Pass in the coming months. Later this year, the company plans to add the ability for Ultimate subscribers to stream select games that they purchase outside of the Game Pass library. It’s unclear exactly how this will break down – it likely applies to titles that leave the Game Pass catalog but remain in the Xbox ecosystem, but it could include games from third-party distributors.

In response to a request for clarification, an Xbox spokesperson said, “Later this year, it’s our intent to roll out the ability for Xbox Game Pass Ultimate members to play select games from the cloud that you already own or purchase outside the Xbox Game Pass library. We’ll have more to share on the specific games that will be supported via Xbox Cloud Gaming (Beta) over the next year.”

Xbox is bringing cloud gaming to two new countries, Argentina and New Zealand, on June 9th. This includes access to the Xbox streaming library and Fortnite. Xbox partnered with Epic Games to bring Fortnite to Xbox Cloud Gaming in May, and it’s available to play there for free without a subscription. At the time, Xbox said it was interested in adding other free-to-play titles to its cloud network.

Over the coming year or so, Xbox plans to test out a system that allows for multiple profiles to play at the same time under a single Game Pass subscription. That’ll be tested in Colombia and Ireland, and Xbox executives are positioning it as a “potential addition” to Game Pass.

Xbox Game Pass 2022 updates

Xbox

Finally, game demos are on their way to Game Pass. Within the next year, Xbox will start rolling out curated, bite-sized bits of upcoming games in Game Pass, allowing subscribers to test these titles for free and provide feedback to developers. The program will focus on independent titles at first, and Xbox said developers will be compensated for participating, meaning all the work that goes into building a demo won’t go unfunded. The demo program is called Project Moorcroft. There’s no word on if a Minecraft Project Moorcroft demo will ever drop, but it’s fun to say that regardless.

Time-limited, free game demos are one of the perks of the new PlayStation Plus subscription service, which will be competing directly with Game Pass. The new PS Plus goes live on June 13th and its most expensive tier, Premium, includes access to about 700 games in the PS Now library, plus cloud play for some games from past PlayStation eras. Sony’s subscription plan doesn’t support native streaming on mobile devices, as Xbox’s does, and it won’t include any new, first-party games at launch.

Sony received negative press in April after reports surfaced that the studio was making it mandatory for developers of certain games to build and release two-hour demos for PlayStation Plus Premium, with no apparent plans to compensate them for the work. Xbox, of course, made sure to highlight its plans to pay developers for building demos.

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Computing

LG’s first OLED gaming monitor matches its smart TVs in price

LG has finally revealed the price for its LG UltraGear 48GQ900 OLED gaming monitor and made it available for pre-order, three months after its initial March announcement.

The monitor appears to be available only in the U.K. at the moment, where it will sell exclusively at Overclockers UK for 1,400 pounds ($1,724). The peripheral stands as LG’s first OLED gaming monitor, and is priced comparably to the LG C2 Smart OLED TV in the U.K. NotebookCheck pointed out.

The 48-inch UltraGear 48GQ900 is LG’s first OLED gaming monitor.

The availability of the gaming monitor outside of the U.K. remains unknown.

In comparison, the LG C2 Smart OLED TV sells for $1,400 in its 42-inch option in the U.S., however, it also comes in 48-inch, 55-inch, and 65-inch options, which quickly exceed that price. OLED panels are much more common in the TV market, and the LG C2 series uses advanced OLED evo panels, the publication added.

The LG UltraGear 48GQ900 features a 47.5-inch panel with a 4K 3,840 x 2,160 resolution and a 120Hz minimum refresh rate, which can be overclocked to 138Hz. There is still no word on what kind of OLED technology is being used on the monitor, which is still not overly expensive given its size.

Traditional OLED is known as an expensive technology, which is likely why its rollout to monitors has been so slow and many brands have opted for cheaper alternatives. The popular Alienware 34 monitor sells for just $1,300 and features a Samsung QD-OLED panel, for example.

Other specs for the monitor include a 10-bit panel, HDR support, an antiglare coating, 1-millisecond gray-to-gray response time, a DCI-P3 color gamut with 98.5% coverage, built-in speakers, and a purple design in the rear. It also features two additional HDMI ports, a DisplayPort, and a headphone jack, as well as AMD FreeSync Premium and Nvidia G-Sync compatibility.

There is no word on an exact release date for the LG UltraGear 48GQ900, however, Overclockers U.K. said it expects to receive stock in the August time frame.

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Game

Google Stadia is finally available on LG TVs almost one year later

It took the better part of a year, but Google Stadia is available on recent LG TVs. Anyone with an LG set running webOS 5.0 or 6.0 (that is, 2020 or newer) can use the cloud gaming service to play Assassin’s Creed or Madden without requiring a media device or PC as a go-between. You’ll need a compatible gamepad, but that shouldn’t be an issue when the Stadia Controller and common console pads should work either wirelessly or through USB.

Not surprisingly, LG suggests one of its OLED TVs for Stadia thanks to the fast pixel response times, low latency and (for Stadia Pro subscribers) 4K HDR visuals. They’re certainly not required, though, and it’s arguably the lag from game streaming that will make the larger difference.

Stadia is available through the LG Content Store in all 22 countries where the service already exists. You probably won’t buy a TV with Stadia in mind, but this significantly widens the number of sets where native support is an option — you might be more inclined to try it if the barrier to entry is that much lower.

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Game

LG smart TVs finally get Google Stadia support, but only certain models

Google’s cloud-based gaming platform Stadia is now available on certain LG smart TVs. The new support eliminates the need to purchase and use a separate device for accessing one’s Stadia library, though it’s important to note that only newer LG models running specific versions of the company’s webOS support Google’s gaming service.

Ascannio/Shutterstock

LG smart TVs join the Stadia lineup

LG Electronics USA

Unlike a regular “dumb” television, a smart TV features more robust hardware that powers a built-in operating system. Some manufacturers like TCL and Westinghouse bundle their smart TVs with third-party operating systems like Fire TV and Roku OS, while other companies like LG sell smart TVs that feature the company’s own operating system.

LG’s smart TV platform is called webOS; it provides users with direct access to popular streaming services like Netflix and Disney+, apps that provide information on things like the weather, and more. In an announcement today, the South Korean company said some of its smart TVs also now offer Google Stadia (via PRNewswire).

Stadia subscribers can download the app in the LG app store on their smart TV, but only if the model runs webOS 5.0 or webOS 6.0. This means only newer smart TV models support the cloud-based gaming platform — if your model was made before 2020, there’s a good chance it isn’t included. The native support is available in all 22 markets where Stadia is available.

What is Google Stadia?

Google Stadia on devices

Google

Google Stadia is one of a growing number of cloud-based gaming platforms. Rather than purchasing typically expensive hardware like a console to play games, cloud-based services like Stadia allow users to stream content over a high-speed Internet connection.

Because the heavy-duty work takes place on Google’s servers, players are able to fire up their favorite titles — including AAA games — on a huge variety of devices otherwise incapable of running high-end games. Gamers can, for example, play Stadia games on an Android smartphone or tablet, their existing laptop using Chrome, or with the Chromecast Ultra, a 4K HDR streaming dongle that costs $109 USD.

Assuming the gamer has access to high-speed Internet service, Stadia is a great way to play the latest games without spending a bunch of money — and it is particularly great for consumers who already own smart TVs, but only if those models are supported. By adding native Stadia support, LG has given some of its customers the option of joining Stadia at minimal costs, requiring them to merely buy a compatible controller and the games they want.

Beyond Stadia

NVIDIA GeForce NOW on phone

Nikkimeel/Shutterstock

While Stadia is a great platform, it’s not the only cloud-based game streaming service on the market. Last month, LG announced a GeForce NOW app beta test for select 2021 webOS smart TV models, paving the way for access to NVIDIA’s own cloud gaming platform. The GeForce NOW service is particularly useful for gamers who have already purchased a number of titles because the platform connects with existing PC gaming stores.

Consumers who aren’t concerned with native LG smart TV support can also check out PlayStation Now, Sony’s own cloud-based game streaming platform. PS Now provides access to a huge library of PlayStation games dating back to the PS2 era, though they can only be streamed on the PS4, PS5, and Windows PCs. There’s also Microsoft’s Xbox Cloud Gaming platform offered as part of the Xbox Game Pass subscription, providing customers with access to more than 100 console games on mobile devices and Windows PCs.

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Game

LG WebOS Smart TVs will soon have an NVIDIA GeForce NOW app

LG is clearly dead-serious about expanding its smart TV kingdom, not just in terms of hardware but also software. In addition to adding new apps and services to its smart TVs, like Apple TV+ and support for AirPlay 2, LG has also started licensing its WebOS platform to other smart TV manufacturers. Most of those new features have revolved around “passive” entertainment, but this newest feature treads into the realm of interactive content, with the upcoming arrival of NVIDIA’s GeForce NOW game streaming to select LG smart TVs.

There are two or three major game streaming platforms these days, but NVIDIA was actually playing around with that possibility long before Google revealed its own take with Stadia. GeForce NOW did go out of beta a bit later, but it also has one of the largest numbers of supported devices to run. In addition to mobile, computers, and consoles, GeForce NOW is also coming to smart TVs, at least those running LG’s WebOS.

Select 2021 models of LG’s 4K OLED, QNED Mini LED, and NanoCell TVs in 80 markets will soon be able to test out a beta version of the GeForce NOW app that’s coming this week. Of course, availability still depends on whether the service is actually available in particular countries, but US owners need not worry about that at all. They also don’t need to worry about their TV’s hardware capabilities because the whole point of game streaming is to offload the heavy processing to remote computers.

Those remote computers happen to be using NVIDIA’s beefy RTX graphics card to stream smooth 1080p games running at 60 fps, complete with ray tracing effects. That said, this particular feature requires a paid subscription.

LG naturally promotes features of its TVs, like deep blacks on its OLED sets and fast 1 ms response times to combat input lag. It will be curious to see how the image quality will end up since they will have to be upscaled on 2K and 4K TVs. LG also isn’t saying if this app will be exclusive to LG smart TVs or if it will eventually find its way to third-party WebOS sets.

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Game

Samsung is building a cloud gaming platform for its TVs

Samsung doesn’t want to cede the game streaming space to the likes of Google, Microsoft or NVIDIA. IGN reports Samsung has teased plans for a TV-based “Cloud Game Platform” during its developer conference presentation. Details were scarce, but this would let Samsung TV owners play games without “high-end hardware.” This would be more likely used to play console- or PC-quality titles, then, rather than mobile games.

The tech firm tried cloud gaming through a team-up with Gaikai in 2012, although that clearly didn’t go far when Gaikai sold to Sony and transitioned to working on PlayStation Now. However, circumstances were also different then — internet connections are much faster, and many more people are familiar with the concept of game streaming. Samsung’s potential audience is considerably wider, even if it’s focused primarily on TVs.

Whether or not Samsung grabs that audience is another matter. The cloud gaming market already has a few heavyweights, and even those are facing challenges. Google closed Stadia’s internal game studios in February, and this month started licensing Stadia tech to companies like AT&T. Samsung hasn’t yet shown how it might stand out from that pack.

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Game

RetroArch emulator platform is now available on Amazon Fire TVs

Gaming on the big screen in the living room isn’t really new, but that has traditionally been the domain of gaming consoles. In recent times, however, even other gaming platforms, like PCs and even mobile, have started to make their presence on TVs known. Most of these games come from more modern titles that try to take advantage of every pixel that a 2K or 4K TV can offer. RetroArch, in contrast, is coming from the opposite end and is bringing the games of Amazon’s Fire devices, including Fire TV.

RetroArch itself isn’t actually an emulator, something that would have made distributing the app in official channels more problematic. Instead, it is a sort of platform, technically a front-end, for emulation “cores” that serve as the actual engine for the consoles they emulate. If you want to play Nintendo DS games, you’d need to plug in an NDS core into RetroArch.

RetroArch’s popularity comes from two traits. For one, it offers a uniform interface and experience, no matter which gaming platform you’re trying to emulate. For another, it is available on a wide variety of devices, both officially, like Google Play Store, or unofficially, like on actual consoles.

The emulator front-end is adding one more platform to its list, a sub-platform, really. RetroArch’s developers announced its official availability on Amazon Appstore, which means everyone with a Fire TV or a Fire tablet can easily download and use the app without having to resort to sideloading or workarounds. In theory, it can be installed on some of Amazon’s older Fire tablets, but don’t expect decent performance due to the hardware demands of emulation.

As mentioned, RetroArch alone doesn’t emulate consoles, and you’ll have to look for and install the appropriate cores, not to have game data available. That’s a legally grey area, though, but RetroArch also supports running original CDs, if you can figure out how to do that from your Fire TV, that is.

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Tech News

LG’s Quantum Dot NanoCell Mini LED TVs priced up for July debut

LG’s new flagship TVs will go on sale in July, the company has confirmed today, packing up to 8K resolution, Quantum Dot NanoCell color, and Mini LED backlight technology. Announced at CES 2021, the new line-up of 8K QNED99 and QNED95 series plus the with 4K QNED90 series run up to a whopping 86-inches in size.

There are a number of improvements LG wheels out to deliver its better picture quality, but one of the most significant is the smaller LEDs it relies upon for its backlighting. In the case of the 86-inch 8K TV from the QNED99 range, for example, there are around 30,000 LEDs behind the panel, organized in roughly 2,500 local dimming zones.

The result, LG says, is up to 10x the contrast ratio than a conventional LCD could manage.

Most affordable of the range is the LG QNED MiniLED 90 Series. Available in 65-inch, 75-inch, and 86-inch sizes, it uses a 4K panel with LG’s Alpha 7 Gen 4 AI processor for image and audio upscaling. There’s Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos support.

LG uses webOS for the interface, and there’s built-in support for the Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa. Apple AirPlay 2 streaming is supported as well. 2.2 channel speakers are built-in, with 40W of power, while connectivity includes WiFi 802.11ac, Bluetooth 5.0, four HDMI inputs, three USB 2.0, ethernet, and a digital audio output among others.

Pricing will start from $1,999 for the 65-inch 4K QNED90, then $2,999 for the 75-inch version, and finally $3,999 for the 86-inch model.

More expensive – but bringing more pixels – is the 2021 LG QNED MiniLED 99 Series. Again, LG is offering its 8K sets in 65-inch, 75-inch, and 86-inch sizes, all using Quantum Dot NanoCell panels. There’s the Alpha 9 Gen 4 AI processor with AI-powered upscaling, plus Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos.

You get the same built-in assistant support for Google and Amazon’s tech, and AirPlay 2 streaming as well. The more expensive sets have an even more eye-catching design too, with super-slim bezels and a depth designed with wall-mounting in mind.

Pricing starts at $3,499 for the 65-inch 8K QNED99 TV, then $4,799 for the 75-inch model, and finally a hefty $6,599 for the largest 86-inch model.

Both ranges come with the new LG Magic Remote, which has gesture-based navigation, shortcuts to content, and Magic Tap support for compatible phones. For example, you could tap your LG Android phone to the remote to automatically start streaming content from it to the TV, or reverse mirror content in the opposite direction.

LG says the new QNED Mini LED TVs will go on sale in North America first, in early July 2021. That’ll be followed by additional regions around the world in the coming weeks.

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