Technology US

Super Bowl 2021 won’t stream in 4K, but these TV deals are still worth it

In news that’s likely to be devastating to people who are looking for any and all reasons to upgrade their TV, CBS announced that Super Bowl LV won’t be broadcast in 4K HDR. The decision was made because of complications caused by the pandemic. This likely isn’t going over too well with all of the TV manufacturers that use the Super Bowl as the moment to clear out 2020 models at a big discount. But there are other reasons to seize these deals while they’re around.

There’s more 4K content than ever, with HBO Max’s Wonder Woman 1984 being one of the big new releases to support 4K HDR. One of the TVs mentioned below has HDMI 2.1 ports, giving it the ability to display certain PS5 and Xbox Series X games at 4K resolution with up to 120 frames per second.

If you’re not into TVs, though, we’ve included a few other deals for you.

Check out these great 4K TV deals

Vizio’s 65-inch P-Series Quantum X (pictured above) is about $330 off its usual price right now at a few retailers. This model sits near the top of the company’s TV offerings, and its specs also put it near the top of what you can get in a QLED 4K TV right now. It features 384 local dimming zones for great contrast, and for gamers, its HDMI 2.1 support will let you get the most out of your Xbox Series X, PS5, or PC built with a recent Nvidia RTX graphics card.

Vizio P-Series Quantum X

Prices taken at time of publishing.

Vizio’s P-Series Quantum X is a high-end QLED TV that will showcase your sports, games, and movies in spectacular fashion. It’s loaded with 384 local dimming zones for better contrast, and its HDMI 2.1 ports make it a solid choice for 4K120Hz gaming.

Hisense is also discounting a few of its big-screened 4K HDR TVs. The 75-inch H8G model with Android TV software built in for easy movie and TV show streaming is $1,300 right now at Walmart. Like the P-Series Quantum X above, this one has a quantum dot LED screen, which can offer better contrast and more accurate lighting than your average LED display.

If you value size over core specs, Best Buy is selling the 85-inch Hisense H65 model for $1,400 (normally $1,700). It’s bigger than either TV mentioned above, and it similarly has Android TV built in, in case you want to get into watching Netflix right after you unbox it. But it likely won’t stack up if you’re particular about picture quality, particularly when it comes to contrast and accurate backlighting.

HBO Max’s 20 percent discount has been extended

Remember last week when I warned that the deal that gets you 20 percent off a six-month subscription of HBO Max was coming to an end? Well, WarnerMedia extended it to March 1st. So you have even more time to take advantage of this offer. The fine print: it’s open to new and returning users, and instead of paying $90 for six months of service, it’s about $70. Though, you need to pay in full and upfront to get this deal.


Prices taken at time of publishing.

Through March 1st, 2021, you can save 20 percent on a prepaid six-month subscription to HBO Max. Usually $90, you’ll pay $70, which is like paying around $12 per month instead of $15.

You have one more week to preorder Samsung’s Galaxy S21

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra has Gorilla Victus glass on the back

Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

Samsung’s next family of Galaxy S-series phones releases on January 29th. You have until January 28th to preorder one, and with that, you’ll receive some preorder perks. My colleague Taylor Lyles has all of the details on the cost from various retailers and carriers in this post, but no matter where you get an S21, S21 Plus, or S21 Ultra, you’ll get up to $200 in Samsung credit, in addition to a free Galaxy SmartTag.

While I have you, Dieter Bohn shared his thoughts on the Galaxy S21 Ultra, a phone that makes good where last year’s model over-promised and under-delivered. The photo quality and its gorgeous high refresh rate screen are worth reading more about.

Technology US

Radio and TV host Larry King dies at 87

Longtime TV and radio host Larry King died Saturday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. He was 87. Ora Media, which King co-founded in 2012, confirmed the news in a tweet to the @KingsThings Twitter account. A cause of death was not immediately available Saturday, but he had reportedly been hospitalized recently with COVID-19.

“Larry always viewed his interview subjects as the true stars of his programs,” the statement from Ora reads. “Whether he was interviewing a U.S. president, foreign leader, celebrity, scandal-ridden personage, or an everyman, Larry liked to ask short, direct, and uncomplicated questions.”

King started his career in local radio in Florida in the 1950s, according to the New York Times obituary, and began a national radio call-in show in 1978. Between 1985 and 2010, King hosted Larry King Live on CNN, with guests that ran the gamut from political and business leaders to celebrities to crime victims to religious figures. He proudly claimed he didn’t prepare for his interviews, which often had an impromptu feeling to them.

“I don’t pretend to know it all,” King told the Associated Press in a 1995 interview. “Not, ‘What about Geneva or Cuba?’ I ask, ‘Mr. President, what don’t you like about this job?’ Or ‘What’s the biggest mistake you made?’ That’s fascinating.”

Larry King Live was TV’s highest-rated talk show for a time, winning a Peabody Award in 1992. In 2012, he launched a new show, Larry King Now on the on-demand Ora TV. He later became known for a string of infomercials. His Twitter account @kingsthings became a virtual version of his syndicated newspaper column, where he dropped random thoughts and observations such as “I guess it’s difficult but can’t they make bigger bathrooms on airplanes?” and “Kosher hot dogs are the best hot dogs.” tagging the tweets with #itsmy2cents.

King had a colorful personal life; the son of immigrants, he was born Lawrence Zeiger in Brooklyn in 1933, and eventually ended up in Miami, where he got his first on-air radio gig. He struggled with gambling debts and declared bankruptcy twice. In 1971, King faced fraud charges which were later dropped, but which cast a pall over his career for a few years.

Last summer, two of King’s children died within weeks of each other; Chaia King, 52, had been diagnosed with lung cancer and Andy King, 65, suffered a heart attack.

King himself was plagued with health issues in his later years that included several heart attacks, and a quintuple bypass surgery in 1987. At one time a heavy smoker, King was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2017.

King is survived by his children Larry Jr., Chance, and Cannon. Funeral arrangements will be announced at a later date, according to Ora Media.

Technology US

Parkinson’s meds are hard to grab, so TikTok users crowdsourced a solution

Jimmy Choi’s TikTok page is filled with the typical videos of a high-level athlete: clips of himself doing one-armed pushups, climbing ropes, holding planks with weights on his back. If you look closely, though, you’ll notice that even before he begins his feats of strength and endurance, his hands are shaking. Choi has Parkinson’s disease, a central nervous system disorder that causes tremors, and he often posts about what it’s like to live with the disease.

“People see the stuff that I post and they’re things that most average people can’t do,” Choi says. “I often show the other side of things, things that I struggle with on a daily basis.” He makes air quotes as he talks about the things “normal” people do easily — tying shoes, buttoning shirts, picking up pills — that he has trouble with.

One of his daily struggles comes in the shape of the pills he takes to manage his tremors. They’re very tiny, making them difficult to grasp with trembling hands. In late December, he posted a video showing his struggle to grab a pill from a container. That video set off a domino effect, inspiring designers, engineers, and hobbyists across TikTok to craft a better pill bottle for people with tremors or other motor disorders.

The video made its way to the For You page of Brian Alldridge, a videographer whose page had, until then, mostly consisted of Snapple facts. Though he had no prior product design experience, Choi’s problem struck him so much that he almost immediately set out to fix it. He started sketching designs for a 3D-printable bottle that would remove the need to dig for an individual pill.

One of Alldridge’s initial sketches for the bottle design.
Illustration by Brian Alldridge

Alldridge has graphic design experience, but he had never tried making a 3D-printable object before. So he started learning Fusion 360 3D modeling software, and a few days after seeing Choi’s video, Alldridge posted a TikTok with a design for a more accessible pill bottle. The design features a rotating base that isolates a single pill, which can then be dispensed through a chute to a small opening at the top.

Because he doesn’t have a 3D printer himself, Alldridge put out a call on TikTok seeking someone to try printing his design. That’s when things started to snowball in a way neither he nor Choi could have anticipated. Alldridge woke up the next day to find that his video had thousands of views, and an overwhelming number of people wanted to print the bottle. He says he panicked, thinking to himself, “Oh no, this is bad, what if it doesn’t work.” And it didn’t. The base didn’t turn, the pieces wouldn’t snap together.

But the 3D printmakers of TikTok had already latched on to the idea. One of them, Antony Sanderson, printed a copy and stayed up for hours sanding down the pieces to get the bottle to work. Once it was proven that the design had potential, others joined in to fine-tune it — fixing up the printing problems, adding a quarter turn, and making it spillproof. The design is now up to version 5.0, and while some people are continuing to make tweaks, it’s ready for use and distribution.

People sometimes get so swept up in the excitement of making a thing to help disabled people that they forget to actually consult with any. “As disabled people, we are used to frequently being designed for, not designed with,” says Poppy Greenfield, an accessibility consultant with Open Style Lab. But the team involved in the making of the bottle have been in contact with Choi throughout the process, sending him each prototype and asking for feedback.

Choi has been excited about the device from the very first version. He’s found that it not only cuts down the amount of time it takes him to grab a pill, but also significantly reduces the frustration and anxiety that usually come with it. Stress makes the symptoms of Parkinson’s worse, but with this bottle, “the anxiety level goes away,” he says. “The time it takes, and your risk of spilling these pills out on the floor in public, it’s almost zero.”

David Exler, a mechanical engineer, began sending bottles out to other people. He started a fundraising push through TikTok to raise money for the Michael J. Fox Foundation: when someone orders a bottle on Etsy for $5, he sends that money to the foundation. So far, he’s reached his initial goal of 50 bottles, and he plans to continue donating as he prints and sends more. He just bought a second 3D printer to keep up with demand, and he’s been using part of his stimulus check to fund printing and shipping.

Three yellow bottle bodies, three caps, and three bases sitting on a 3D printer.

Printed bottle parts ready to be assembled.
Photo by Antony Sanderson

While Exler, Sanderson, and others continue printing the bottles, Alldridge is working on patenting his original design and pursuing mass production. He plans to release the 3D-printable version into the public domain and let nonprofits manufacture their own. Version 5.0, which is Exler’s derivation of Alldridge’s design, will remain available to anyone who wants to print it. “His creation of that patent doesn’t stop me or others from taking this model, making changes, sending it out to people who need it,” says Exler.

Alldridge is dismayed at people who have reached out to him with the intention to make money from the design. “The thing that really surprised me and continues to surprise me,” he says, “is the audacity of people to try and take something that’s been so community-driven and should be made so freely available, to outright show up and be like, ‘Hey we can make a lot of money on this.’” For everyone involved in the project, the point is to get bottles into the hands of people whose lives would be improved by it, at as little cost as possible.

Low costs are important for disabled people, who often encounter a “CripTax” on useful products and services that are prohibitively expensive and not covered by insurance. A collaborative process like this one, where anyone with a 3D printer can print and send the bottle to whoever needs it, “has the potential to minimise CripTax and put us on a level playing field,” says Greenfield.

Both Greenfield and Choi think the pill bottle project is a prime example of the good that can come out of social media. When it comes to community-driven projects for disabled people, “it can be hard to attract the attention of non-disabled designers,” says Greenfield. “I think TikTok does this in an enticing way, creating awareness and encouraging more community involvement through visually seeing the issue.”

Choi thinks the way videos spread on TikTok is something that’s particularly useful for disabled people whose struggles are typically overlooked. “We don’t have to wait for the knight on a horse to come save us, we can be our own advocates and we can make a difference on our own,” he says. In this case, his self-advocacy led to an idea that was crowdsourced into fruition in only a few days. That speed is exciting for Choi, who is used to hearing about Parkinson’s research and product development that take months or years to complete.

There’s a story Choi likes to tell about a marathon he ran a few years ago. He stopped at a water station to take his Parkinson’s medication. His tremors caused him to drop the pills on the ground. “People are stepping on these pills,” he says, “and I’m sitting there staring at five or six crushed pills on the floor and I’m thinking to myself, ‘do I want to lick them off the floor?’” He still had miles to go in the marathon, and he seriously considered crouching down to lick the stomped pills. “If I had a device like this back then, that wouldn’t have been a problem.”

Technology US

Microsoft backtracks on Xbox Live Gold price hike

Microsoft has reversed its controversial Xbox Live price increase. The company announced a price hike on Friday that would have doubled the cost of a yearly subscription to the service, which is required to play games online on Xbox consoles, to $120 for many users. Now, though, Microsoft says the price will stay the same.

Beyond that, Microsoft has decided to bring Xbox Live in line with Sony and Nintendo’s online services by dropping the subscription requirement for free-to-play games. Popular free-to-play titles like Fortnite are playable on PlayStation consoles and the Nintendo Switch without an online subscription, but you still need one for Xbox consoles; Microsoft says it’s “working hard to deliver this change as soon as possible in the coming months.”

Here’s Microsoft’s full statement, which was just delivered as an update to a blog post:

We messed up today and you were right to let us know. Connecting and playing with friends is a vital part of gaming and we failed to meet the expectations of players who count on it every day. As a result, we have decided not to change Xbox Live Gold pricing.

We’re turning this moment into an opportunity to bring Xbox Live more in line with how we see the player at the center of their experience. For free-to-play games, you will no longer need an Xbox Live Gold membership to play those games on Xbox. We are working hard to deliver this change as soon as possible in the coming months.

If you are an Xbox Live Gold member already, you stay at your current price for renewal. New and existing members can continue to enjoy Xbox Live Gold for the same prices they pay today. In the US, $9.99 for 1-month, $24.99 for 3-months, $39.99 for 6-months and $59.99 for retail 12-months.

Thank you.

Microsoft’s focus in recent years has been on Xbox Game Pass, which has an Ultimate tier that includes access to Xbox Live Gold. While Game Pass provides great value for many players, the Gold price increases came off as an attempt to nudge people into paying for the more expensive service.

It’s not surprising that the initial announcement was so poorly received, but Microsoft’s reversal is good news for Xbox Live Gold subscribers who aren’t interested in Xbox Game Pass, and even better news for people who only use Xbox Live Gold to play free-to-play games.

Technology US

SpaceX is sparring with a Texas oil company to drill for natural gas

SpaceX is locked in a legal fight with a Texas oil company for a plot of land it wants to use to drill for natural gas, according to public records. The 806-acre site in southern Texas sits near SpaceX’s Starship facilities, a sprawling testing ground for its methane-fueled Raptor rocket engine.

Tim George, an attorney for the SpaceX subsidiary fighting for the land, was quoted by Bloomberg News, which first reported the legal despute, as saying methane reserves from the land will be used “in connection with their rocket facility operations.”

In filings with a Texas energy regulator, the SpaceX subsidiary Lone Star Mineral Development LLC demanded that Dallas Petroleum Group (DPG) LLC, which claims ownership to wells on the land, vacate the wells by the end of 2020. The filings allege that the oil firm doesn’t have the right to own them and that it “illegally trespassed and installed a lock on the entry gate to prevent Lone Star’s access to” the wells.

Public records show SpaceX leased the land from Mesquite Energy Inc. in June 2020. DPG says it maintains the right to the wells on the same plot of land and asked a judge to dismiss Lone Star’s claims.

None of the Lone Star or SpaceX attorneys involved in the case could be reached for comment. DPG attorneys likewise could not be reached for comment.

The case is currently before the Railroad Commission of Texas, a state regulatory agency. The Commission’s three commissioners will vote on the outcome of the case once a judge issues a “proposal for decision,” a spokesman for the agency said, a process that could take several months.

SpaceX’s Raptor engines power the company’s heavy-lift Starship system, a shiny rocket tailored for routine flights to Mars. SpaceX has been conducting test flights of early Starship prototypes in Boca Chica, Texas, a rural beachside area in Cameron County.

Last year, the company purchased two deepwater oil rigs for $3.5 million each that it plans to convert into seafaring launchpads for Starship. Elon Musk, SpaceX’s founder and chief executive, named the rigs Deimos and Phobos.

Lone Star’s dispute with DPG is the latest legal hurdle faced by SpaceX as it aims to turn its Boca Chica site into a launch facility capable of supporting routine orbital Starship missions. Attorneys with SpaceX and its other Texas-based subsidiary, Dogleg Park LLC, have been negotiating with residents of a small Boca Chica community to buy out their properties to make way for SpaceX personnel and other test site expansions.

Technology US

Cyberpunk 2077’s first big patch is out now, and it’s packed with bug fixes

Cyberpunk 2077’s first big update is available now, and it’s packed with bug fixes for the notoriously buggy game. In a tweet, developer CD Projekt Red also said that the update “lays the groundwork” for future patches.

The 1.1 patch arrives more than a month after Cyberpunk 2077’s rocky launch. The game has been plagued with bugs and issues, particularly on older consoles, though CD Projekt Red has released three hotfixes to try to shore up some of the problems. Sony yanked the game from the PlayStation Store and began offering full refunds on December 17th, but the game still hasn’t returned to the store.

CD Projekt Red has already announced another major patch would follow this one, and the studio described it as a “larger, more significant update” that will arrive “in the weeks after” patch 1.1. The studio is also aiming to release a free update to optimize the game for the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X in the second half of 2021.

Technology US

GameStop stock halts trading after Reddit drama

Trading in stock of video game retailer GameStop (GME) was halted briefly Friday, as it soared more than 70 percent, due partly to the enthusiastic support of a group of Reddit day traders.

The stock is up more than 250 percent year to date, rising sharply last week after GameStop announced Chewy CEO Ryan Cohen was joining its board, CNBC reported. Short-seller Citron Research predicted the price would drop, but members of the Reddit board r/wallstreetbets, who had been generating interest in the stock, criticized Citron on the Reddit message board and continued praising the stock on social media.

The hype generated by r/wallstreetbets helped create what’s known as a “short squeeze” on GameStop’s stock. A short squeeze works like this: some investors, known as shorts, essentially bet that a company’s stock will fall. These investors borrow stock from other investors and sell it — with plans to buy it back when the prices fall and then return it to the original owner. However, the problem with shorting is that one’s losses are theoretically infinite; if a stock begins an upward run, some short sellers will abandon their short and buy shares at the higher price to return. This, in turn, makes the stock go higher, burning any other shorts who remain in the stock, some of whom may, in turn, choose to cover their own shorts.

GameStop is the most-shorted stock in the market, CNBC said, citing FactSet. More than 138 percent of its shares are sold short — making it a prime target for a short squeeze. GameStop’s Reddit-related surge triggered a circuit breaker stoppage when it rose 69 percent (nice) on Friday around 12:45PM ET.

Citron said Friday it would no longer comment on the GameStop stock because of “the angry mob who owns this stock.” Citron Research editor Andrew Left wrote in a note to readers that the backlash had included criminal activity he planned to report to the Securities and Exchange Commission, which included harassment of minor children as well as financial crimes.

According to Bloomberg, the past 10 days has been the most volatile period in GameStop’s stock in its history. At the close of markets Friday, GSE was up more than 50 percent from its Thursday close, with a market cap of $4.5 billion.

Technology US

US Defense Intelligence Agency admits to buying citizens’ location data

An intelligence agency has just confirmed that the US government does indeed buy location data collected by its citizens’ smartphones. In a memo sent to Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and obtained by The New York Times, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) admitted that it buys location data from brokers — and that the data isn’t separated by whether a person lives in the US or outside of it.

Data brokers are companies that, as the name implies, collect and sell people’s information. The companies collect people’s location information (and much more) by paying app makers and websites for it. Once the broker has the information, they can aggregate it and sell it to whoever’s willing to pay for it — including the US government.

In the memo, the DIA says that its “personnel can only query the US location database when authorized through a specific process” that requires approval from senior leadership, the Office of Oversight and Compliance, and the Office of General Counsel. The DIA also says that in the past two and a half years, it’s been given permission to look through US device location data five times. You can read the full memo below.

The Fourth Amendment requires government agencies to get a warrant before they can compel data from a third party like a phone company — a rule most recently upheld by the Supreme Court’s Carpenter decision. But the DIA argues that the ruling doesn’t apply to getting that same data from brokers because the agency isn’t invoking the power of law. In the memo it states that the agency “does not construe the Carpenter decision to require a judicial warrant endorsing purchase or use of commercially available data for intelligence purposes.”

The American Civil Liberties Union disagrees. In a statement provided to The Verge, senior staff attorney Ashley Gorski said that “the government cannot simply buy our private data in order to bypass bedrock constitutional protections,” and called on Congress to “end this lawless practice and require the government to get a warrant for our location data, regardless of its source.”

We’ve been aware for a while that government agencies have been using data brokerages to get around having to obtain a warrant for location information, but some legislators are working to close the loophole. Sen. Wyden, who requested the memo be made, has a bill called “The Fourth Amendment Is Not For Sale,” which aims to “ban the government from buying information that would otherwise require a court order or a warrant.”

Technology US

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 remake studio will now focus exclusively on Blizzard games

Vicarious Visions, the studio that developed Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy and the remake for Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2, has been reassigned within Activision Blizzard, reports. Moving forward, the studio’s team of about 200 people will now be “fully dedicated to existing Blizzard games and initiatives.” That means for any games Vicarious Visions works on in the future, it will not serve as the lead development studio.

“After collaborating with Vicarious Visions for some time and developing a great relationship, Blizzard realized there was an opportunity for [Vicarious Visions] to provide long-term support,” a Blizzard spokesperson told The studio did not specify what projects Vicarious Visions is providing support for currently, as Blizzard Entertainment is currently working on three titles — an ARPG hack and slash mobile game, Diablo Immortal, in addition to sequels for Diablo and Overwatch.

As part of the merger, Jen Oneal, who previously served as the studio’s head, has been promoted as the executive vice president of development at Blizzard. Vicarious Visions was founded in 1990 and became a subsidiary of Activision in 2005. Throughout its 30-plus year lifespan, the studio has worked on various projects across numerous franchises, including Tony Hawk, Crash Bandicoot, and Guitar Hero.

Technology US

Go read this story about COVID-19 vaccine fights on Facebook

Adequate COVID-19 vaccine distribution still seems like the greatest obstacle to slowing the spread of the pandemic, but if you’re looking to worry about the other threat that’s still blocking progress — an unwillingness to take the vaccine at all — and the creative efforts on Facebook that are going into stopping it, you should go read this FiveThirtyEight report.

Facebook’s taken steps to combat misinformation related to the pandemic, removing false claims about COVID-19 vaccines and banning ads that discourage vaccine use, but reporter Kaleigh Rogers highlights some of the more direct outreach that pro-vaccine activists are doing to combat misinformation. From “honeypot” Facebook groups designed to capture the anti-vax curious to direct outreach from groups like C.I.C.A.D.A. (Community Immunity Champions and Defenders Association) flooding comments with positive vaccine information, there’s a daily struggle to change minds (and dunk on the misinformed).

The larger problem remains, though: Facebook’s advertising-based business can often incentivize emotional reactions to posts that drive people into the arms of the anti-vax movement. COVID-19’s popularity as a topic of discussion on Facebook has made it even easier for anti-vaxxers to reuse false narratives about the “dangers” of vaccines to quickly bring people into the fold.

Until Facebook comes up with a new way to combat misinformation or changes how its algorithm chooses to surface posts, this kind of work will remain important. Rogers summarizes those efforts well, along with the obvious problem of Facebook’s core design. You can read the whole article on FiveThirtyEight.