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Tag Archives: image

Netflix experiments with promoting its shows on the login screen

Netflix is testing a new way to promote its original shows – right on the login screen. A company spokesperson confirmed the streaming service is currently experimenting with a different login screen experience which replaces the black background behind users’ names and profile thumbnails with full-screen photos promoting a Netflix Original series or special, like “BoJack Horseman,” “Orange is the New Black,” “Dark,” “My Next Guest…”, “13 Reasons Why,” and several others. We first noticed the change on a TV connected to a Roku media player and on a Fire TV, but Netflix says the test is running “for TV,” which means those on other TV platforms may see the promoted shows as well. (Our Roku TV, however, had the same black background on the login screen, we should note.) The promoted shows aren’t necessarily those Netflix thinks you’d like – it’s just a rotating selection of popular originals. Every time you return to the Netflix login screen, it will have refreshed the photo that’s displayed. After cycling in and out of the Netflix app several times on our TV, we found the image selection to be fairly random – sometimes the promoted show would repeat a couple of times before a new show hopped in to take its place. Netflix will likely decide whether or not to move forward with the change to the login screen based on how well this new promotional effort works to actually increases viewership of its originals. While it makes sense to better utilize this space, I’m not sold on having ads for adult-oriented shows appearing on the same login screen that’s used by a child. The ads themselves (so far) have not been inappropriate, but it doesn’t seem like a good fit for multi-person households and families. For example, I now have to explain to a school-ager why they can’t watch that funny-looking cartoon, “BoJack Horseman.” Meanwhile, when I was logging in to watch more grown-up fare, I saw an ad for the new “Trolls” kids’ show. Uh, okay.  That said, this is still a much less intrusive way to advertise Netflix shows, compared with putting promos at the beginning of a show, like HBO does.

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Spotify users push back at the over-the-top Drake promotion

Some Spotify users were so annoyed by the recent Drake promotion that they asked for and were granted refunds, according to a report from Billboard . The streaming service had heavily promoted the artist’s latest album, “Scorpion,” even using his image on playlists that didn’t even contain his music, like “Massive Dance Hits,” “Best of British” and “Happy Pop Hits,” for example. The promotion, dubbed “Scorpion SZN,” was first-ever global artist takeover of Spotify’s service and the first time an artist took over multiple Spotify playlists on the same day. While it’s not uncommon for artists to receive promotion on Spotify, some felt that the Drake promotion had gone too far – the album and Drake’s image were everywhere in sections like Browse and Playlists. One Reddit user shared how they were able to obtain a refund from customer service, and that post soon went viral. The screenshot of their chat with the support rep has, to date, been viewed nearly 12,000 times. That transcript doesn’t indicate any official policy on Spotify’s part here, but was instead the efforts of a customer service rep helping retaining an individual’s business. However, a few other people then tried similar tactics, and were also able to get refunds, they said. Spotify isn’t officially commenting on the pushback from users, but Billboard claims the number of refunds were minimal. It’s clear that the streaming service noticed the complaints, however, as it was responding to users on Twitter to clarify that things would soon be back to normal. Hey there! We're celebrating Drake's new album and his spot as most streamed artist in the world right now. The Browse section and Playlists will be back to normal soon /JX — SpotifyCares (@SpotifyCares) July 1, 2018 While Spotify has never refunded customers unhappy over a promotion – the larger news here is not the financial loss of those refunds, or even that they happened at all, but rather the damage this has done to Spotify’s reputation. For those who complained, the problem wasn’t just that they weren’t Drake fans (though that’s obviously a part of it), but rather that they felt they were viewing advertisements when they were paying for a Premium, ad-free version of Spotify’s service.

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Facebook’s new AI research is a real eye-opener

There are plenty of ways to manipulate photos to make you look better, remove red eye or lens flare, and so on. But so far the blink has proven a tenacious opponent of good snapshots. That may change with research from Facebook that replaces closed eyes with open ones in a remarkably convincing manner. It’s far from the only example of intelligent “in-painting,” as the technique is called when a program fills in a space with what it thinks belongs there. Adobe in particular has made good use of it with its “context-aware fill,” allowing users to seamlessly replace undesired features, for example a protruding branch or a cloud, with a pretty good guess at what would be there if it weren’t. But some features are beyond the tools’ capacity to replace, one of which is eyes. Their detailed and highly variable nature make it particularly difficult for a system to change or create them realistically. Facebook, which probably has more pictures of people blinking than any other entity in history, decided to take a crack at this problem. It does so with a Generative Adversarial Network, essentially a machine learning system that tries to fool itself into thinking its creations are real. In a GAN, one part of the system learns to recognize, say, faces, and another part of the system repeatedly creates images that, based on feedback from the recognition part, gradually grow in realism. From left to right: “Exemplar” images, source images, Photoshop’s eye-opening algorithm, and Facebook’s method. In this case the network is trained to both recognize and replicate convincing open eyes. This could be done already, but as you can see in the examples at right, existing methods left something to be desired. They seem to paste in the eyes of the people without much consideration for consistency with the rest of the image

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Lenovo teases a slick, all-screen smartphone that doesn’t have a notch

Lenovo has teased a new arrival that might top Apple’s iPhone X in a bid to deliver a true all-screen smartphone. Apple’s iPhone X goes very close but for a tiny bezel and its distinctive notch, but Lenovo’s Z5 seems like it might go a step further, according to a teaser sketch (above) shared by Lenovo VP Chang Cheng on Weibo that was first noted by CNET . The device is due in June and Cheng claimed it is the result of “four technological breakthroughs” and “18 patented technologies,” but he didn’t provide further details. The executive previously shared a slice of the design — see right — on Weibo, with a claim that it boasts a 95 percent screen-to-body ratio. Indeed, the image appears to show a device without a top screen notch à la the iPhone X. Where Lenovo will put the front-facing camera, mic, sensors and other components isn’t clear right now. A number of Android phone-makers have copied Apple’s design fairly shamelessly. That’s ironic given that Apple was widely-derided when it first unveiled the phone. Nonetheless, the device has sold well and that’s captured the attention of Huawei , Andy Rubin’s Essential , Asus and others who have embraced the notch. The design is so common now that Google even moved the clock in Android P to make space for the notch. Time will tell what Lenovo adds to the conversation. The company is in dire need of a hit phone — it trails the likes of Xiaomi, Oppo, Vivo and Huawei on home soil in China — and the hype on the Z5 is certainly enough to raise hope.

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Sonos plans home theater event for June 6th

Sonos announced today that it will be hosting an event in June and its invite included the image below. While it's not yet clear exactly what's on the docket for this event, it could have something to do with a Sonos FCC filing reported earlier this...

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‘SmartLens’ app created by a high schooler is a step towards all-purpose visual search

A couple of years ago I was eagerly expectant of an app that would identify anything you pointed it at. Turns out the problem was much harder than anyone expected — but that didn’t stop high school senior Michael Royzen from trying. His app, SmartLens, attempts to solve the problem of seeing something and wanting to identify and learn more about it — with mixed success, to be sure, but it’s something I don’t mind having in my pocket. Royzen reached out to me a while back and I was curious — as well as skeptical — about the idea that where the likes of Google and Apple have so far failed (or at least failed to release anything good), a high schooler working in his spare time would succeed. I met him at a coffee shop to see the app in action and was pleasantly surprised, but a little baffled. The idea is simple, of course: You point your phone’s camera at something and the app attempts to identify it using an enormous but highly optimized classification agent trained on tens of millions of images. It connects to Wikipedia and Amazon to let you immediately learn more about what you’ve ID’ed, or buy it. It recognizes more than 17,000 objects — things like different species of fruit and flower, landmarks, tools and so on. The app had little trouble telling an apple from a (weird-looking) mango, a banana from a plantain and even identified the pistachios I’d ordered as a snack. Later, in my own testing, I found it quite useful for identifying the plants springing up in my neighborhood: periwinkles, anemones, wood sorrel, it got them all, though not without the occasional hesitation. The kicker is that this all happens offline — it’s not sending an image over the cell network or Wi-Fi to a server somewhere to be analyzed. It all happens on-device and within a second or two. Royzen scraped his own image database from various sources and trained up multiple convolutional neural networks using days of AWS EC2 compute time. Then there are far more than that number in products that it recognizes by reading the text of the item and querying the Amazon database. It ID’ed books, a bottle of pills and other packaged goods almost instantly, providing links to buy them

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Battle royale smash-hit Fortnite’s next move could be super

Fortnite Battle Royale has transcended your average video game to become somewhat of a cultural phenomenon. In fact, the third-person shooter saw a peak 3.4 million concurrent players in March , with the servers buckling under the pressure. Fortnite Battle Royale also holds the record for individual streamer numbers on Twitch with Ninja’s stream featuring Drake . Part of that has to do with the popularity of Battle Royale games in general, and part of it has to do with the Epic Games’ ability to add small details (like these dances ) to a colorful, fun-to-watch world. But perhaps most importantly, Epic Games seems to be obsessive about keeping the game fresh, whether it’s adding new player skins, new areas of the map, or new equipment within the game. In that vein, Fortnite BR is structured in seasons, lasting three months each, that add a new flavor to Battle Royale. Season 3, with a space theme, ends on April 30. But beyond space-themed skins, Epic has also layered in a little storyline, with a comet set to hit the game map. As part of this, meteors have been gradually getting closer to the map, and recently hitting it. TVs throughout the game are broadcasting an emergency message. Rooftops and mountain peaks now have telescopes and lawn chairs where people supposedly set up to check out the incoming comet. The question on every Battle Royale players mind?

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Flipboard launches a new tech section

With recent changes,  Flipboard has been placing a big emphasis on allowing readers to go deep on their interests . Now it’s adding even more features around one particular interest, in the Technology section of the Flipboard website and app. “We want to make Flipboard definitive for tech insiders and enthusiasts,” said CEO Mike McCue . This positions Flipboard as more of a direct competitor to a tech news aggregator like Techmeme , but with more curation from partners and from readers themselves. The most immediately noticeable change is what the company describes as a “newspaper-like, high-density layout.” Basically, it moves away from the image-heavy look that Flipboard is known for, towards a layout that places a bigger emphasis on headlines and text, designed for quick scanning. While McCue said the new look is “really meant for the desktop,” Flipboard has also created a version for the mobile web, and the app will also vary between a high-density and low-density layout depending on the stories. (If it seems strange for Flipboard to be prioritizing its web experience, remember that the company has also been shifting its focus away from its own native article formats towards the mobile web .) Regardless of which layout you’re seeing, the section will also have new content. Some of it will be curated by Flipboard publishers, with The Verge creating roundups for Gadgets News and Artificial Intelligence, the Wirecutter offering Deals of the Week and the team here at TechCrunch curating our latest Features . “Flipboard has really become more of an ecosystem,” McCue said. “Publishers and curators are curating stories around all sorts of different topics. We want to provide access to that ecosystem on any platform, with or without the app.” Teams can also create their own magazines, which are basically private collections of stories. So if you’re at a startup and want all of your colleagues to be up-to-date on the latest headlines about your industry and competitors, you can curate a magazine that’s only visible to them. Flipboard will also be asking experts and influencers for book recommendations, starting with Wired Editor in Chief Nick Thompson’s roundup of “Five Books I’ve Recently Read About the Future.” And all of this will be rounded up in a daily email, which will include the latest tech headlines as well as selections from any team magazine you contribute to. On Saturday, the newsletter will focus on those book recommendations, with links to buy the titles on Amazon. McCue suggested that if all this new content is embraced by readers, we might see Flipboard start to pursue a similar strategy around other topics, with a focus on reaching professional readers

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Spectral Edge’s image enhancing tech pulls in $5.3M

Cambridge, U.K.-based startup  Spectral Edge  has closed a $5.3M Series A funding round from existing investors Parkwalk Advisors and IQ Capital. The team, which in 2014 spun the business out of academic research at the University of East Anglia, has developed a mathematical  technique for improving photographic imagery in real-time, also using machine learning technology.  As we’ve reported previously , their technology — which can be embedded in software or in silicon — is designed to enhance pictures and videos on mass-market devices. Mooted use cases include for enhancing low light smartphone images, improving security camera footage or even for drone cameras.  This month Spectral Edge announced its first customer, IT services provider NTT data, which said it would be incorporating the technology into its broadcast infrastructure offering — to offer its customers an “HDR-like experience”, via improved image quality, without the need for them to upgrade their hardware. “We are in advanced trials with a number of global tech companies — household names — and hope to be able to announce more deals later this year,” CEO Rhodri Thomas tells us, adding that he expects 2-3 more deals in the broadcast space to follow “soon”, and enhance viewing experiences “in a variety of ways”. On the smartphone front, Thomas says the company is waiting for consumer hardware to catch up — noting that RGB-IR sensors “haven’t yet begun to deploy on smartphones on a great scale”. Once the smartphone hardware is there he reckons its technology will be able to help with various issues such as white balancing and bokeh processing. “Right now there is no real solution for white balancing across the whole image on smartphones — so you’ll get areas of the image with excessive blues or yellows, perhaps, because the balance is out — but our tech allows this to be solved elegantly and with great results,” he suggests. “We also can support bokeh processing by eliminating artifacts that are common in these images.” The new funding is going towards ramping up Spectral Edge’s efforts to commercialize its tech, including by growing the R&D team to 12 — with hires planned for specialists in image processing, machine learning and embedded software development. The startup will also focus on developing real-world apps for smartphones, webcams and security applications alongside its existing products for the TV & display industries. “The company is already very IP strong, with 10 patent families in the world (some granted, some filed and a couple about to be filed),” says Thomas. “The focus now is productizing and commercializing.” “In a year, I expect our technology to be launched or launching on major flagship smartphone devices,” he adds. “We also believe that by then our CVD (color vision deficiency) product, Eyeteq, is helping millions of people suffering from color blindness to enjoy significantly better video experiences.”

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Snap introduces group video calls for up to 16 people

Snapchat has today introduced a new group video chat feature, letting users chat with up to 16 of their closest friends. If users need more people in the chat (which, for those of us who have large conference calls, sounds awful!), Snap is also offering group voice calls with up to 32 participants. The feature is relatively simple. Just tap the video icon in a group chat to get started, or start up a call with a few people and invite new friends to join. As one might expect, Snapchat’s crown jewel filters will also be available to use within a group video chat. Folks that aren’t camera ready can easily toggle between voice and video to just voice. gallery ids="1616138,1616139,1616140" Snap first introduced group chat and video chat in 2016, looking to give people new ways to communicate on the image-first platform. Snap says that the community is making millions of calls a day since launch. That said, it’s worth wondering about the timing of this new feature, which comes almost two years after the company announced video chat. It’s possible that Snap wants to take advantage of the #deletefacebook movement offering people as much functionality as possible to connect on their platform instead of the incumbent’s. It’s also worth noting that Snap’s 16-person group video chat is strikingly similar to Houseparty , the video chat app launched by the founders of live streaming app Meerkat. Alongside the introduction of group video calls, Snap is also bringing @mentions to the platform.

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