Oculus Rift review, revisited: The dream’s real now – CNET

My eyes aren't here anymore. They're somewhere else. Once the eyepiece is over my face, I'm gone. Like looking through a window into another world.

It's a city that's in front of me. Trees sway gently. I know they're not real, but I look closely at them. I lift my head, I see sky. Blue like you'd rarely really see. I look down. My legs are gone. I see wings. And a beak.

I wrote that five years ago, to try to explain a VR headset that was arriving with promises almost impossible to conceive. The Oculus Rift, arriving at the end of March 2016, felt like a dream coming alive. Partially.

VR had shown its possibilities for years before. In phone headsets, like the Samsung Gear VR. In little folding boxes like the Google Cardboard that turned your iPhone and Android phone into a makeshift VR headset. And peppered across CESes, E3s, conferences in Barcelona. So many demos. The entire last decade for me was full of headsets and wearables. But Oculus threaded itself through almost all of it.

The little jaunts on holodecks, carefully prepared by on-site staff, with special blank rooms laid out just right -- these little visits were incredible pieces of tech theater. They became the things I remembered most, and looked forward to most. From 2013 to 2016, I saw VR in iterations all over the place. And the best experiences were simply stunning. CNET's Dan Ackerman tried the Oculus Rift way back in 2012. My first Oculus Rift demo I ever had, after that, will stick with me my whole life.

In Las Vegas, January 2013 at CES, a hotel suite was waiting for me, and a chair and a table beckoned with a PC and a headset. That was it. All I did was put it on and look around a medieval village that I seemed to glide through. That's all I remember, at least. It was enough. Other colleagues tried it too (check out Geoffrey Morrison's story). We were all excited to dive in.

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My Vegas demo, 2013.

Josh Lowensohn/CNET

Another demo in 2015 (again, at CES) let me walk around a bit, on a little square mat. It was like a mini world. I kneeled, leaned, got disoriented. But 2015 had a lot of VR announcements coming out of the woodwork. In March, Valve and HTC showed an even more expansive VR demo on the Vive in Barcelona (and with Portal references, too).

Then, at a wild E3 that also had the first demos of Sony's PlayStation VR headset and Microsoft's HoloLens, Oculus reupped with another Rift demo, this time letting me play with virtual objects using my hands and these wild controllers called the Oculus Touch, while someone else in another room guided me through, in VR. The person I tried the demo with? Oculus founder Palmer Luckey.

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E3, 2015. Oculus Touch. So many photos like this.

Josh Miller/CNET

The hype was pretty massive. What could 2016 do to top it?

I'm looking back because the Oculus Rift is five years old, and we're now in a year when virtual and augmented reality look poised to vault in a lot of different directions at once. Apple headset? Facebook neural wristbands? Pokemon Go glasses? Snapchat and Qualcomm and Microsoft and so many companies at once, all pushing forward. And meanwhile, the Oculus Quest 2 is my little everyday immersive home gadget that reminds me how far things have come since 2016.

But back in 2016, we said, "Companies from Facebook to Google to Microsoft know that VR is likely the next step up from phones, tablets and computer screens. Now, they're all jockeying to dominate the next big computing platform." In that sense, things are very much still the same. 

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The Oculus Rift: Here's what came in that first box. Note the Xbox controller.

Scott Stein/CNET

Our 2016 review of the Rift, written by Sean Hollister and me, had a bold design (lost to time, sadly, but the text at least is preserved in that link), and split the idea of "Dream" versus "Reality" apart. That's because the dream of VR didn't match the reality of what was being delivered at that moment.

The Oculus Rift didn't arrive in finished form. The $600 original retail box only had the headset, one camera sensor-on-a-stick that needed to be plugged into a PC and... an Xbox controller. Oculus actually included the official Xbox One controller in-box, because those wild Touch controllers weren't ready yet. They arrived in December, for an extra $200 (and another camera stand). The total all-in cost was $800, plus you needed a gaming PC with compatible graphics cards.

Plugging it in and snaking those camera sensors to your PC meant that you needed a dedicated "PC VR zone" in your home, something preferably around 5 feet square. It didn't feel like something I'd be sharing with a lot of people.

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I remember setting up the HTC Vive in our office, and creating a whole holodeck area. The Oculus Rift couldn't do this yet in spring 2016.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The best VR holodeck experience at that time wasn't the Oculus Rift, it was the HTC Vive. The Vive provided the whole package, a full-room walkaround experience. The Vive felt like that crazy future right now, with areas so large I could wander around and forget where I was. Except, of course, for that giant cable connecting me to the PC.

On the flip side, there were plenty of cheap and easy VR goggles for phones by then that could turn Samsung and Android phones (or iPhones, if you used Google Cardboard, which was basically free) into decent enough little 3D novelties. That was the stuff I reached for when I wanted to show my family a cool 360-degree video, or a weird VR game. PC VR was for me, whenever I had patience to boot it up.

It took years for Oculus to catch up to that freedom with in-headset camera-based tracking on the Oculus Rift S, and eventually a fully untethered standalone Oculus Quest in 2019, a device that would have blown me away if I had seen it in 2016. It still amazes me now.

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2019: Oculus Rift S, and Oculus Quest. Facebook was already making moves to mobile, the lines starting to blur.

John Kim/CNET

It's a dream I've had since I was a child, that I've read about in science fiction books. To cast myself somewhere else. To open a magic door. It's the closest I've been to that dream.

As I spend more time here, I lose track of where the rest of my real body is.

The original Oculus Rift review was divided into five sections: The Eyes, The Hands, The Room, The Doors, The Future. For the most part, these corresponded to the different parts of what make up a VR experience. The visuals (displays), hand interfaces, room tracking, software and then a conclusion looking at what comes next.

The divisions of those sections ended up evolving into the CNET subcategories which we used to review VR and AR headsets after that, which is still a work in progress. How do we consider "immersiveness," for instance? Or the quality of a display? In VR, one well-made piece of sensory input can make up for others. A crisp sound that feels like it's speaking to you can make a confusing interface make sense. Clever animations can be better than hyperreal graphics.

I remember spending an entire day playing Oculus games with Sean before the Rift launch, at an event in San Francisco where we felt woozy and happy and tired. Our faces had lines on them, marking where the headsets touched our faces. We dipped in and out of dozens of worlds, drifted from room to room. We got excited about the possibilities. We saw the future science-fiction dreams coming alive. But beyond some "wow" moments, how would it play out as a home device? We still had no idea.

VR has gone through fits and spurts since then: Gear VR and the phone versions are gone. The PlayStation VR has hung in there, and is rebooting with new hardware as soon as next year. Microsoft developed its own VR ecosystem and mixed reality app store, and is trying to blend AR and VR together, and Valve made its own VR headset. AR glasses seem to loom as the next wave of devices beyond VR. Along the way, VR headsets will bring AR into the experience. I've already seen some that do this.

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Oculus Quest 2, 2020: At this point, VR is totally self-contained and portable. This was what I imagined the Rift being.

Scott Stein/CNET

I look at the Oculus Quest 2 compared to the Rift, and I see a completely different type of device. It's far less expensive, and it doesn't need a PC. It has similar controllers to the Rift's Touch ones, but then the similarities end. The Quest has hand tracking, and instantly starts up. I can use it for fitness. It launches quick social meetings with friends. It reminds me more of a prototype for the glasses of tomorrow: something you throw on fast and dive into. Like the Microsoft HoloLens, but for play and home. I don't spend hours in it at a time, but I drop in for lots of small sessions. It sits near me during the day more often than I'd ever expect.

Sometimes I want to stay in one place. Sometimes I want to leave. Sometimes I want to talk to people. Sometimes I don't want to be seen. Dozens of theater performances. Or games. Or films. Or experiences. Or dreams. One at a time, like experiential channel-surfing. How many doors can I go through before I feel like I should take a break?

When the Rift Touch controllers arrived, we gave a more normal, straightforward review of the whole package. Verdict: really good, mostly for those controllers, but not necessarily the best (the Vive felt more like a full holodeck) and crazy expensive.

"What I really want is VR that's as affordable as the PSVR, with the room-tracking of the Vive and Oculus Touch controllers," I said back then. I got a lot more than that. The totally self-contained Quest and what it represents feel more like the doorway to the untethered reality-blending I dreamed about back in 2016... and before.

I also said then, "Oculus used to be the one singular name in VR. Now it isn't. The competition is growing, and the Rift headset is a high-quality player in a fast, ever-moving game." While there's nothing else like the Quest 2 right now, there are lots of other players moving in fast. And that upcoming future still makes me think of how I dreamed things would be in 2016, a dream that's still not entirely here, but it's a lot closer than ever. And the world around VR has gotten muddled and strange, too: AI-generated art, deepfakes, NFTs, meme warfare, gaming metaverses, instant social apps everywhere. The virtual is everywhere, now. The hardware just needs to catch up.

In these glasses. Just glasses. I can open them up, or close them down. Let the real world in, or close it out. Allow the dreams to creep in just a bit, or all the way. In virtual reality, you can't see the wires. So why do they have to exist at all? In the real world, it can all disappear. Eventually, even the real world will seem like a dream. A blend, of the real world and the other. I can't even see the tech anymore. There are so many places to go, things to pick from. More experiences than stars in the sky. I'll never try them all. Just like regular life. But at least it knows what I like. A small flick of my fingers, a blink of my eyes, and I'm gone.

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Fitbit’s new Tile tracking hook-in works with iOS and can ring your phone – CNET

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The Fitbit Inspire 2 now works with Tile.

Fitbit

Finding lost things has become the 2021 goal of a number of tech companies: Samsung has new SmartTag trackers. Apple may have AirTags this year. Google just added a new Tile feature into the Fitbit Inspire 2 band that could help make it easier to find, or make your phone ring to find it.

"Wearables are an exciting new category for us to support and a strong complement to our existing integrations with headphones and laptops," Tile CEO CJ Prober said in Fitbit's press release.

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How the Tile app looks on iOS.

Fitbit

The Tile partnership is the first time Tile's been on a wearable. The Bluetooth tracking connection requires the Tile app and a Tile account, but works for free. A Tile Premium subscription adds smart alerts and other extras. The Tile-enabled update is arriving this week to the Fitbit app.

Fitbit hasn't confirmed whether this Tile hook-in is coming to other Fitbits, but it would be nice. "We're excited to partner with Tile so our users can focus on building healthy habits without worrying about not being able to find their misplaced device, with the potential to bring Tile's finding technology to more Fitbit devices in the future," Larry Yang, Director, Product Management of Fitbit Devices at Google, says in Fitbit's press release.

Using my watch to find my phone is one of my favorite underappreciated absentmindedness cures.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.

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Hands-on at home with Microsoft’s Hololens 2 – CNET

Microsoft recently invited me to join mixed reality pioneer Alex Kipman, the company's technical fellow for Windows mixed reality, in a one-on-one chat. The difference was it wasn't on Zoom, or Teams: It was gathered around a virtual table that sprouted up in my home office.

A holographic cartoon version of Alex hovered in my space, and I walked around him. The only thing I needed to connect was a self-contained visor I wore over my face: the Microsoft HoloLens 2. My test-drive of the HoloLens 2 at home, for the first time ever, showed me where AR glasses are likely to head. And, also, the challenges that have yet to be solved. Microsoft Mesh, a technology promising a way to beam people into the same shared virtual space, shows amazing promise. But the hardware that will make the most of it hasn't quite arrived.

Now playing: Watch this: Meeting with Microsoft's Alex Kipman in the HoloLens...

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The HoloLens 2 has been around for over a year, but not to you or to me. It's sold as an enterprise device, meaning it's a $3,500 headset that's intended for people in workplaces that can afford it. Unlike VR headsets, it's not really designed to play games. And Microsoft never sent review units of the HoloLens 2 out before this: My demos were always in controlled spaces, for limited amounts of time. When Microsoft offered to send a loaner HoloLens 2 out as part of coverage of their mixed-reality software announcement, I was extremely intrigued. It's still a really new device to me.

Bear in mind that this is an AR headset, not a VR headset: Its lenses are transparent. The HoloLens 2 overlays glowing virtual objects that seem to exist in the real world. The only other headset like it is the Magic Leap One, also a business device (which I once got to try in my office for a week or so). It's not about entering a virtual space, but about being in my own space and putting stuff on top of it. All those Marvel and Kingsman and Star Wars dreams about holograms you can interact with, well, that's Microsoft's goal. As Qualcomm and Facebook and maybe Apple (and others) work on AR headsets, the HoloLens 2 looks like the prototype for what's next.

The HoloLens 2 isn't quite at that goal, but no one is. Still, it may come closer right now than anything else.

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HoloLens 2, Oculus Quest 2: both standalone, both easy to start up. One's AR, one's VR.

Scott Stein/CNET

It reminds me, oddly, of the Oculus Quest 2

The headset is surprisingly compact and about the same size as (though lighter-feeling, actually, than) the Oculus Quest 2, Facebook's self-contained VR headset. While the Quest 2 is $300 and the HoloLens 2 is more than $3,000, there's a spiritual similarity to both. They're both standalone devices that don't need PCs or phones to use. They both fit easily over my head and fit over my prescription glasses. 

The self-contained and easy-to-use feel of both serves a similar purpose: get people into VR (or AR) fast and without cable tangles or weird interfaces.

That's where the similarities end.

Look, no controllers

The Oculus Quest and HoloLens 2 both allow hand tracking, but Facebook uses it as an alternative to the Quest's controllers. Hand tracking on the Oculus Quest works surprisingly well, but the HoloLens 2 has no controllers at all: Everything is done with your hands. That's where the HoloLens 2 shines... and has awkward moments, too.

To touch virtual things, like buttons or keyboards, I reach my fingers out and tap them. To grab an object, I pinch the edge. I open the HoloLens menu by looking at my wrist and tapping a button that appears there, glowing. To control far-off things, I open my hand and cast a beam like I'm Vision. There's a feeling of having supernatural powers that flows through the HoloLens interface.

On my own, I try playing a game called Roboraid on the HoloLens 2, where things pop out of my walls -- I tried a variation of this game many years ago at an E3 demo, but at home, I use my hands to play. Pinching and pointing and tapping my fingers together is a lot of what HoloLens 2 requires. The arm gestures can get tiring. I'd like simple shortcuts. And also, a controller would be nice. I can't get any feedback like vibration, which is where a wristband or ring or neural input tech down the road, like what Facebook has planned, comes in. Some sort of controller could help make gestures more minimal and even let me feel what I'm doing.

Even with the limits of the HoloLens' smaller-than-desired display, I can draw in 3D in my room, scribbling lines from my bookshelf and annotating actual objects. I put virtual objects alongside real ones. The virtual, glowing ones stay in place, and when I come back later, HoloLens 2 on, they're still there.

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The HoloLens 2's flip-down lenses. The headset can also track my eyes.

Scott Stein/CNET

Eye tracking: a technology waiting in the wings

The HoloLens 2 also has eye tracking, something that current non-business VR headsets don't. Eye tracking is subtle, but it allows me to look at an object -- like an open app window across the room -- and say "close app," and it knows which one to close. For moments where I talk to people in AR, they could potentially see my virtual avatar eyes moving because the eye tracking is noticing where I'm looking.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wants eye tracking on future VR and AR headsets for that same purpose, to map facial expressions and eye movements to realistic avatars. Microsoft's tech, however, being business-focused, contains the use of that eye-tracking data to very specific secure instances. In mainstream headsets and glasses, how will that data be used and shared? We don't know yet.

A floating virtual desktop full of windows

I demoed Microsoft's software and also tried a few other apps. I sat down and tried opening web browsers, then played a game or two (yes, there are a couple). What really struck me was how windows could pop up and float on my desk, or in whatever formation I wanted. I could get up and they'd stay pinned there. They'd even be there the next day. 

Qualcomm's AR smart glasses are designed to be connected displays for phones and PCs. What I'm seeing on the HoloLens 2 feels like a preview of those glasses and what they'll eventually be able to do.

On the HoloLens 2, I'm limited to using my hands (although I guess I could pair a keyboard). I'd love to see what it's like for my laptop to suddenly sprout extra windows and monitors hovering in the air when I put my future smart glasses on.

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The cameras on the HoloLens 2, which can depth-scan my room much like the iPhone 12 Pro's lidar.

Scott Stein/CNET

The displays aren't perfect yet

The HoloLens 2's limited field of view feels like a floating large window in front of me where glowing 3D things appear. But the window isn't wide enough, which means I have to move my head to take in things around the room that I don't know are there. 

The display also has a slightly hazy rainbow-like quality. It's not the perfect vivid display I'd expect on a monitor, or even recent VR headsets. If I want to use an AR headset to see movies, or play games, I'd want something more evolved. It's not easy on a transparent lens, but maybe Micro LED tech could help improve things soon.

What will the killer apps be?

Microsoft's HoloLens 2 uses communications and telepresence as its killer apps for business. It could also excel at giving heads-up instructions in the workplace. But what would the killer apps be for AR glasses sold to everyday people? Would it be fitness? Games? Virtual movie glasses? An extra monitor that can go anywhere?

No one's figured this out yet. Companies like Niantic, makers of what's arguably AR's ultimate killer app, Pokemon Go, are exploring what it's like to play on AR glasses using a HoloLens 2. Microsoft's headset isn't meant to go everywhere. It's not great in bright daylight; it looks big and helmet-like; and the battery life isn't long. But it's probably the best prototype I've ever tried for what AR glasses will need to do next.

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How spicy chili crisp can change your life: A pandemic story – CNET

How did my yearlong relationship with chili crisp start? I'm not really sure anymore. I think it was some article, a tweet, realizing it was already a trend somewhere. The look of the jar reminded me of something. I knew the taste, the funk. I had it in a Sichuan restaurant before. So things go in the pandemic time: fuzzy memories out of time, stuff absorbed from social feeds. An idea floats up out of the sea of tweets. Sometimes I'm late to discoveries, or right on time.

My love affair began last summer, back when isolation had only been happening for a few months, yet still felt like forever. I ordered three jars of Lao Gan Ma. This company and its condiments had already become a pandemic trend then. I thought I was late. But I also realized I was cooking all the time, ordering everything I needed online and never going to stores, and I had completely avoided restocking my spices. Instead of dreaming of Sichuan food I could no longer eat in restaurants, maybe I could just try having some of the flavors on hand.

That's how I got my jars. I haven't looked back since. What I didn't expect is that it would resonate with my friends, reconnect me with old acquaintances, and provide a spark of kinship that's helped me endure my year away from so many people. Thank you, chili crisp. 

Chili crisp is bits of chili and onion fried in oil, more or less. Or garlic. Or Sichuan peppercorns, ideally. Maybe fermented soybeans. Lao Gan Ma's chili crisp has all of that, plus a big dollop of MSG. Monosodium glutamate has become a modernist-cuisine addition now, as opposed to the feared additive it was decades ago. Basically, it's the umami flavor. A funky, addictive part of the taste spectrum. Chili crisp isn't all that spicy. Or even that incredibly salty. 

I didn't plan to connect with friends over my chili crisp love. It was going to be my personal lifeboat, my own little comfort. Something to sit on my shelf and remind me of the lost places, like a souvenir of adventures I couldn't take anymore. I tried a small spoonful. Then another.

My first order of Lao Gan Ma chili crisp was on Aug. 9, 2020, according to my Amazon shopping history. I shared my first photo of it on Aug. 14. Why did I share it? I don't know, I was excited. I also took a photo of it next to a jar of everything bagel seasoning, which had been my previous comfort souvenir. Onions, garlic, salt, sesame. Also umami. Umami and umami, side by side. 

The first thing I remember putting it in was a bowl of ramen with spam and a fried egg. It was fantastic.

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Aug. 15, 2020: Ramen, egg, spam, Lao Gan Ma chili crisp.

Scott Stein/CNET

Chili crisp wasn't the first condiment I stocked up on during the pandemic. I bought a jar of sambal before that. Sambal, a tangy chili sauce, has a totally different profile. I specifically bought sambal oelek, which is wonderfully profiled here. I added sambal to fried rice, eggs, all sorts of things. Leftover Chinese takeout. I started using chili crisp the same way.

Things evolved (or devolved) quickly after that. When I realized everything bagel spice and chili crisp were both umami, I thought: Why not chili crisp on bagels, too?

Chili crisp on a bagel, with cream cheese (and raw onion, and maybe everything bagel spice, too) was my new favorite "leave me alone, I'm pandemic-eating" snack.

Also, oatmeal. I've added it to more oatmeal permutations than I can possibly remember. And buckwheat. Barley, everything bagel seasoning and eggs and chili crisp and oats. It worked, really well. The idea's like congee, a Chinese rice porridge. But with other grains. I started getting weird and mixing other umami in, like nutritional yeast.

I also shared some photos on Facebook. This is around the time the relationship with old friends began.

I've never felt comfortable on Facebook. Compared with Twitter, which is a fast-paced, mad feed of strangers trying to stay afloat in currents of information, Facebook always seemed to taunt me with the illusory promise of reuniting with old friends. People I knew at some point, sharing their experiences, giving likes and loves and comments. It always feels like a community I'm almost on the verge of joining.

Facebook hurts because when I share things there -- stories, strange thoughts -- I don't feel like people respond. And those people are supposed to be my friends. Are my friends? Were my friends? They hover adjacently. No likes on Twitter, I don't take it that personally. No likes on Facebook hits harder, no matter how many times I tell myself it's all an algorithmic casino. No matter how much I try to say likes don't matter, they do. So I pull back.

Besides my posting of family pics, I find, like a cruel joke, that Facebook works better when posting about things that just don't matter to me. Or are tangentially absurd. I've started using it like that. Floating stuff out there. So went the chili crisp photos.

Friends liked it. Over time, as I posted more, more people reacted. Especially to my sauce experiments.

Because I loved chili crisp, I kept eating it. What wouldn't it be good on? I haven't tried it on ice cream (which people do, quite a bit), but I've had it in eggs, on chicken, in sandwiches. On bread (bagels, pizza, sourdough, anything).

When Chanukah came, I added it to latkes. It worked, again. Sour cream and chili crisp. I huddled with my family and ate.

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Dec. 13, 2020. Chili crisp, latke, sour cream.

Scott Stein/CNET

When New Year's came, I bought cheap caviar online and mixed the two together. On a bagel. Because, why not -- what matters anymore? No regrets at all.

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January 2, 2021. Chili crisp, caviar, bagel. Some saw this as a cry for help.

Scott Stein/CNET

I tried oatmeal with peanut butter and chili crisp. Oatmeal, peanut butter, chili crisp and Captain Crunch. I told myself I was becoming the David Chang of home snacks. I think I was just having my own little nervous breakdown.

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Jan. 9, 2021. Oatmeal, honey, chili crisp, peanut butter, Peanut Butter Crunch cereal. That was a rough week.

Scott Stein/CNET

Along the way, I made friends. Or rekindled friendships. I found it weird how many people I knew who started becoming chili crisp-curious. Or looking for my advice on which chili crisp to get, or what to use it on. I regularly post articles on VR headsets, watches, iPads, games ... but what they really cared about were my thoughts on chili crisp. People started buying jars and trying my suggestions. A little chili crisp club was starting to emerge.

I started buying other chili crisps. I got one made by Momofuku and started putting that on pizza and breakfast tacos.

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Jan. 12, 2021. Eggs, kale, tomatoes, chili crunch on a tortilla. I guess it's a taco.

Scott Stein/CNET

Did I play into the Facebook algorithm that rewarded me for my chili crisp photos? Did I post more because people seemed to care? Probably. Did the algorithms guide my chili crisp life? Perhaps. I still have friends asking how the chili crisp experiments are going. I tell them about varieties I've tried.

For Valentine's Day, my wife bought me chili crisp T-shirts. A friend asked me if I wanted to do a chili crisp podcast. Now, a year into the pandemic, still at home, surrounded by snow, I look at the new jars I've ordered and think to myself… how did I get here?

I've let chili crisp carry me down the road. It's given me happiness and somehow become part of my identity. I still think it's a fantastic condiment. I'm just really confused about my journey here.

My 3 go-to chili crisp combinations

If you're not familiar with chili crisp, I can offer some suggestions of ones I've tried below. You should get at least one jar from somewhere. Other good lists of suggestions: read this, and this.

Lao Gan Ma: The Guizhou, China-based company is considered the iconic chili crisp. If you get one, get this. Lao Gan Ma makes a variety of condiments: fried chilis in oil, chili oil with black beans. I've only tried the spicy chili crisp, and it's wonderful. The most addictive and all-around useful one I've tried, and it's the gold standard. Flavors: funky, tingly, oniony, a bit salty, sensation of fermented soy.

Momofuku Chili Crunch: David Chang's online shop, Peachy Keen, sells batches of this chili crisp-like mix. It's made with Mexican chilies, crispy onions and garlic, and coconut sugar. I've gotten really into it, and the flavor profile is completely different. The crunchy onions remind me of everything bagel spice, and the spice level is higher than Lao Gan Ma, with more chilies. The coconut sweetness is beautiful. I use it everywhere, especially eggs and sandwiches.

Fly by Jing Sichuan Chili Crisp: My wife bought me a surprise gift box of sauces and chilies from Fly by Jing, which has amazing chilies and spice rubs. Their chili crisp is very different, and to me less universally applicable. I taste five-spice and black beans when I eat it, and it's less crunchy, more saucy. But I've started finding myself appreciating its complexity. It feels particularly good with pork and other meats.

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The PlayStation 5 is getting a new VR headset, Sony confirms – CNET

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The PlayStation VR (original model seen here) will be getting an upgrade to go with the PS5, Sony reveals.

Scott Stein/CNET

The PlayStation 5 will be getting a new VR headset to make the most of its high-end graphics and VR games. But it won't be coming this year.

Sony announced via a blog post Tuesday that a new VR headset is indeed on its way, and revealed some of the first details about it. Expect a far easier setup than the bulky and cable-ridden PSVR that's currently on sale. The headset should have its own self-contained tracking system, much like the Oculus Quest and more recent VR headsets, possibly meaning that the PlayStation Camera is unnecessary.

There will be new controllers. Sony promises controllers that will adopt parts of the DualSense controller's technology: Most likely, the DualSense's advanced vibrating haptics, which can feel incredibly realistic. The DualSense also has unique force feedback on its triggers, which could be applied to VR inputs in some fascinating ways. The existing PlayStation VR still relies on either the DualShock 4 controller, or PlayStation Move wands that are extremely long in the tooth.

The new headset will have increased display resolution, too. The current PSVR uses a single 1080p display for its VR input, while more recent headsets like Oculus Quest 2 have a far crisper resolution.

In an interview with GQ Tuesday, PlayStation CEO Jim Ryan says that developer kits for the next-gen PSVR headsets are "about to go out," adding the headset will be a "completely new VR format for PS5."

Dominic Mallinson, Sony's head of PlayStation R&D, told CNET about ideas for a next-generation PlayStation VR headset back in 2019. Some of those discussed possibilities look like they'll be happening, possibly by next year.

Read moreThe best PSVR games to try on a PS5

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Qualcomm’s new AR smart glasses blueprint shows what’s coming in the next year – CNET

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Qualcomm's vision of AR smart glasses: they tether to phones or to PCs.

Qualcomm

A big wave of phone-connected smart glasses could be on its way over the next year. Qualcomm's newest reference design blueprint for AR glasses looks like a pretty clear snapshot of what to expect. The company's vision for smart glasses has been underway for years and both 5G phone-connect and Windows-connected glasses may finally be on their way. 

For now they'll be tethered with a cable to your phone in order to work, but wireless versions are in the works, possibly for 2022. These AR Smart Viewer glasses will be able to place 3D AR objects in a room, much like Microsoft's larger Hololens or Magic Leap. They will use hand tracking or a phone's touchscreen for controls and they'll have MicroOLED displays. They're designed to work over 5G with certain Android phones, where service is available.

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Qualcomm briefed reporters about the news via VR, through the Spatial app (I did the briefing via an Oculus Quest 2).

With Apple reportedly working on its own AR and VR headsets, Facebook releasing its own pair or smart glasses later this year and Samsung possibly having something in the works too, there could be a fresh wave of AR glasses announcements in the next few years.

Qualcomm is a notable company to follow: Its chips are in most of the standalone AR and VR headsets currently on the market, including the Oculus Quest and Quest 2 and the Hololens 2. I had a chance to try out previous reference design hardware -- basically, an early concept model that other companies can build off of -- ahead of headsets like the Oculus Quest. 

Last year, Qualcomm promised a new wave of phone-connected AR glasses. This year, the specific specs are a lot clearer.

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A look at the reference design glasses from above: they connect via a USB-C cable.

Qualcomm

Qualcomm's AR glasses specs include two 0.71-inch 90Hz 1080p MicroOLED displays. MicroLED is also being featured in Vuzix's next smart glasses and reports say Apple's future headset will be MicroLED as well. Qualcomm's glasses use a Snapdragon XR1 processor, which is less powerful than the XR2 chip inside the Oculus Quest 2, and it still needs a Windows PC, Snapdragon 888-chip phone, or a separate processing puck to do the rest of the AR computing. The reference design glasses have dual black and white cameras plus an RGB camera that can scan spatial dimensions in a room and allow hand tracking, much like the way Facebook's Oculus Quest works for room and hand tracking. 

The glasses have their own six-axis motion sensor and magnetometer along with proximity sensors, helping virtual objects stay pinned in place while moving around. 

While the glasses will be able to show 3D objects floating in the air, a big use case Qualcomm sees is for extra virtual monitors. The glasses will work with an upcoming Qualcomm framework to show Android apps on multiple virtual monitors, and stream videos and games, including protected digital content.

Qualcomm doesn't seem like it's going to make this hardware work with iOS, however: The reference design is Android and Windows-compatible only.

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Qualcomm's concept of how using AR apps, like Spatial, will feel using the glasses.

Qualcomm

The glasses need to be tethered with a USB-C cable in order to work, at least for the immediate future. The next phase is to make the glasses connect wirelessly with 6Ghz Wi-Fi (Wi-Fi 6E): Qualcomm's head of XR, Hugo Swart, sees that happening more towards 2022. The end goal is to make the glasses work directly over 5G, but the battery life and processing power on these glasses isn't there yet.

I tried something similar to this idea last year, testing Nreal's glasses paired to a phone. The NReal Light glasses aren't built to Qualcomm's new specifications yet, but that company is working on a new pair of connected glasses, according to Qualcomm, that will add more AR features based on Qualcomm's blueprint.

Lenovo's ThinkReality A3 glasses, announced at this year's virtual CES, are also an example of the type of tech to expect. The somewhat compact glasses use a cable to connect to Windows PCs, and promise to offer multiple floating monitor displays for multitasking. 

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How creating multiple virtual monitors could feel.

Qualcomm

Qualcomm's reference design is similar to Lenovo's glasses, with a nearly-normal pair of glasses that house cameras, displays, and a small battery and processor. Some so-called smart glasses like Snapchat Spectacles were just connected cameras on glasses. Others, like Bose Frames and Echo Frames, are display-free and just have audio. Previous glasses with displays, like Google Glass or the Vuzix Blade, usually just showed flat screens floating in air. Qualcomm's glasses are a lot more advanced, however: While the stereo displays will also show floating monitors, it can layer these in 3D and show holographic 3D objects, too, approaching what Microsoft's larger, expensive Hololens and Magic Leap's goggles aimed for.

Qualcomm's news could mean more products emerging soon. Samsung's possible smart glasses design, which was leaked over the weekend, looks an awful lot like Qualcomm's reference design. It's likely that any Samsung glasses could involve Qualcomm's hardware, too. The Galaxy S21 already uses a Snapdragon 888 processor (in the US and China, at least).

For now, at least, it looks like we're getting a very clear picture as to what smart glasses in 2021 and even 2022 will look like: they'll be peripheral tethered to your phone and PC.

It almost feels like the early days of VR, when headsets needed to be cabled to PCs in order to work before cutting the cord and working on their own. Smart glasses look to be evolving that way, too, over the coming years.

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Deepak Chopra comes to Fitbit Premium – CNET

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Fitbit

Fitbit has added a collection of guided meditations sessions with world-famous wellness leader Deepak Chopra to its subscription-based Premium app

Mindfulness has become a prominent trend in the health tech world, with some of the major players in the space incorporating even more of these features into their apps and wearable devices as we continue to navigate the stress and uncertainty of this global pandemic. Earlier this year, Apple also added a series of mindfulness-focused audio walks for the Apple Watch via its Apple Fitness Plus subscription service.

We haven't tried the experiences on Fitbit Premium yet, but we did a live audio meditation with Chopra ahead of launch where he guided us through a 10-minute grounding session that left us feeling calmer and mentally refreshed.

Fitbit Premium subscribers ($9.99 per month, or $80 for a year) will have access to over 30 recorded Chopra meditation sessions in addition to the mindfulness sessions that were already available in the app. 

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Fitbit

While the sessions are similar to what you would find offered by other meditation apps and services, what sets Fitbit's sessions apart is integration with Fitbit smartwatches and fitness trackers. These devices can keep tabs on changes in heart rate during each session and show how each session affects overall wellness. 

Optionally, the Fitbit Sense's electrodermal activity sensor can also be used to detect changes in stress levels. Fitbit is looking at EDA measurements as another indicator of stress, but so far its use on the higher-end Sense watch has felt experimental.

Chopra is one of the bigger names to hit Fitbit's Premium service, but not the first. The service also offers workout sessions with celebrity trainer Ayesha Curry and other names in fitness. 

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The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.

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A virtual tour of Meow Wolf’s newest Vegas attraction – CNET

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Omega Mart looks like a normal convenience store...then strange things happen.

Meow Wolf

I'm in a convenience store in Las Vegas, generic cans of brightly colored sodas everywhere. A masked employee guides me to a wall where a weird garden is growing. My hands are robot hands. I see the garden and step through, and there's a strange universe beyond. I'm pulled back. We head to a staircase along the edge of the convenience store, go upstairs, and then things get even stranger.

I'm not at Meow Wolf's Omega Mart, which just opened inside Las Vegas' immersive art space, Area 15. Instead I'm watching all of this on a monitor at home. I'm seeing a live-streamed (at least I think it's live) walk through the space, recorded on camera, and presented to me as if I was embodying a robot worker in this Omega Mart space. In essence, I'm tele-presencing in. And I love it.

Of course, Omega Mart isn't enabling this type of virtual visit. The experience is designed to be enjoyed in person, exploring this immersive theatrical space and touching items, walking through doorways. It's actually open now for people to attend in person. But I'm not going to be doing that anytime soon.

I haven't been anyplace at all in a year, and while I've been on the extreme side of what a lot of people have lived through in the past 12 months, I'm not alone. I used to go to Las Vegas once a year for the CES show, and back in January 2020 I saw Area 15's still-incomplete building in person. I went on a hard hat tour. I was hoping Meow Wolf's Omega Mart would be open soon. I was hoping to come back and visit when it did.

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The inside of Omega Mart looks massive.

Meow Wolf

Meow Wolf, an immersive art collective funded in part by Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin, started in Sante Fe, New Mexico, with a now cult-famous experience called The House of Eternal Return. Meow Wolf expanded to a theme park ride in Denver, and this Las Vegas experience is the group's next large-scale installation.

Like The House of Eternal Return, the Omega Mart space is filled with the works of immersive artists and musicians, with many rooms being walk-through art experiences. Meow Wolf worked with Brian Eno, Amon Tobin and Santigold for some of the music in the project. 

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It looks like a convenience store -- but those products aren't normal products.

Meow Wolf

It starts as a mundane convenience store, but mutates after that, as weird doorways seem to beckon into another overarching storyline. The experience issues people employee ID cards with RFID chips which can be scanned throughout the space. Meow Wolf intends for storylines and branching experiences to emerge through multiple visits, and eventually across Meow Wolf installations, using the RFID link. 

"The RFID experience is a building block towards a technology platform that will exist both in-exhibition, but also long-term outside the exhibition, and will allow people to both create and co-create," Jim Ward, co-CEO of Meow Wolf, says to me over a Zoom call.

Of course, in my last year at home, I've grown used to virtual theater experiences: in VR headsets, over Zoom, on headphones, projected on my furniture and desks. The chance to embody something in a physical space, like Meow Wolf made seem possible in my virtual tour, seems tempting. But it's not part of the experience's plans right now.

"I think right now, what our bread and butter is is creating these mind-blowing immersive environments that are really truly hard to explain," Corvis Brinkerhoff, Executive Creative Director of Meow Wolf and one of its founding members, says. "You just have to see it for yourself." 

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Meow Wolf

The immersive space has had to make changes to its extremely hands-on, free-wandering installation for the COVID-19 era. Brinkerhoff says most of the exhibition didn't need to be changed, but "in some cases, we have small passageways that people pass through, climb through, crawl through, and those have been made one-way." Highly-touched surfaces are cleaned frequently. The staff, playing the parts of convenience store employees in Omega Mart, wear masks.

Meow Wolf does seem interested in a crossover between remote and in-person immersive, someday. "The idea of an integral co-reality with both our physical sites and a digital co-presence is not only an opportunity, but something we absolutely want to do," Ward says. "We're taking a first step with the RFID interactivity...Omega Mart is a first step towards that."

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Meow Wolf

Meow Wolf is also planning to knit its physical spaces together. Dozens of phones in the Omega Mart space can be used to check messages in voicemail and reach out to other phones where other characters or people might be, and eventually even in other exhibitions in other cities.

"When we become more sophisticated around predictive modeling and behavioral tracking... all of a sudden a phone may ring right next to you, and you answer it, and it's that character," Ward says. 

But I'd love something that could help me attend now, in some way, but not travel. I've wondered how traveling to Disney could happen virtually at home in VR, bridging a gap to an eventual real visit in the future. Meow Wolf could open doors like that for people at home, enticing them to an eventual real visit to the physical Omega Mart. I'd rent a robot body for a while, for sure (or, a person who would let me "see" their experience as a telepresence host). 

Maybe that's not in the works now. But for Meow Wolf, and other immersive spaces, it would help bridge the gap between now and whenever I take my next vacation. Which, unfortunately, isn't anytime soon.

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The Oculus Quest now works with multiple accounts and app-sharing – CNET

Oculus Quest 2

The Oculus Quest 2, which went on sale last fall, needs a Facebook account to use. But others can log in to yours now, too.

Scott Stein/CNET

Facebook's VR headset, the Oculus Quest, is going to be a lot easier to share with other people. But no, there's still no kid's mode.

One of the most annoying things about Facebook's Oculus Quest VR headset, besides the shift to require a Facebook account to log in, had been its one-account-per-device limit on the standalone VR goggles. Facebook is now rolling out support for multiple accounts to be registered on a single Quest, the company announced today. But there are a few catches.

Each person has to sign in with their Facebook account. And, while the original Oculus Quest owner can share their purchased apps with others who have logged in, that app sharing won't carry over to other Quest headsets. It sounds a bit like the way the Nintendo Switch allows other Nintendo accounts to share games on the primary Switch.

Up to three additional accounts can be added to a single Quest headset, but Facebook says this app sharing is not necessarily a permanent move, though: "it might change as more households begin to own multiple Quest devices." So we'll see how it goes.

Multiple Oculus Quest headsets can still log in using the same account, but only one can be designated to share apps with other accounts. This can't be used a way to share your library with someone on another headset.

Multiple accounts and app sharing are being introduced as "experimental features," which means they'll need to be toggled in the Oculus Quest settings once the update hits headsets. Also, none of this addresses kids using VR. Oculus doesn't recommend that children under 13 use the Quest, but a more pared-down child mode with safety features would maybe help any parents out there whose kids are already in VR...and maybe using apps they shouldn't be.

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Splatoon 3 is coming to the Nintendo Switch… in 2022 – CNET

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Splatoon 3 could be great, but it's not a 2021 game.

Nintendo/screenshot by CNET

The latest Nintendo Direct was full of raised expectations for big games, but mostly it was third-party games (aside from Nintendo's The Legend of Zelda Skyward Sword HD and Mario Golf). But one big franchise is getting another sequel. No, not Mario Kart.

Splatoon 3 was revealed right at the end of the Direct, but the release date isn't this year. Splatoon 3 is no doubt a highly anticipated game, at least for my kids. The online, fast-based Nintendo shooter started on the Wii U, then got a sequel the year the Switch launched back in 2017.

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The new game looks a bit... post-apocalyptic. A lot of the teaser trailer showed a customizable character waiting in a harsh desert, then riding a train into a crazily huge megalopolis. From there, the brief bits of battles seemed a lot like the gameplay of Splatoon 2. It went by very fast. Perhaps it's getting an expanded single player to go along with an update to its popular multiplayer mode? Time will tell.

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That's a huge city.

Nintendo/screenshot by CNET

One of the biggest letdowns of Splatoon 2 is that it requires multiple Switches for local multiplayer, with no single-TV split-screen mode like Mario Kart. Maybe that will change with Splatoon 3. But for now, we'll have to wait another year. Meanwhile we're still waiting on Breath of the Wild 2 and Metroid Prime 4.

And, well, as far as another Mario Kart, at least we got that RC car version last year. And if you're really desperate for some new Splatoon-type gaming in 2021, there's a dodgeball-battle game that was announced called Knockout City that could be a good stand-in this May.

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