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Ears-On: The 4th Gen Astro A40 TR Headset + Mixamp TR Improves Upon Perfection

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If you’ve ever shopped around for a gaming headset then you’ve surely heard of Astro Gaming. For years, the company has released some of the very best headsets on the market. Its most famous product is the Astro A40 TR, which professional players swear by. The company recently released the fourth generation of its classic headset, also named the Astro A40 TR + Mixamp TR. I was sent a unit for review and put it through its paces. I’ve tested out many headsets in recent years and can easily say the Astro A40 TR is the best headset on the market.

The Astro A40 TR + Mixamp TR comes in an oversized box containing the headset, the mixamp, and a detachable boom mic. You’ll also find a 3.0m Micro-USB Cable, 2.0m A40 TR Inline Mute Cable, 3.0m TOSlink Optical Cable, and 0.5m Digital Daisy Chain Cable. Technically, users only need to plug the auxiliary cable directly into their PC or console of choice to use the headset. However, to get the most of out the A40, you’re going to need all of those other aforementioned cables to use with the mixamp. Note that the mixamp only works with PC and PS4.

The headset is lightweight and feels great to wear, even during extended gaming sessions. Two metal tubes connect the ear cups to the headband and you can slide the ear cups up or down as needed. You can swap out the ear cushions, microphone, headband, and speaker tags. You can replace all of these parts with a separately sold modkit to give your headset a more personal touch. I really liked how the headset felt on my big head. The soft cushion ear cups that envelop one’s ears are especially comfortable. They don’t cancel outside noises as well as other headsets, but it wasn’t an issue for me. I don’t like completely cutting myself off from the outside world when gaming.

Aesthetically, the A40 TR is both stylish and practical. Black plastic surrounds the headband and ear cups, while the metal tubes connecting them are silver. The metal tubes resemble antennas and give the headset a somewhat retro vibe. On the sides of the ear cups are glossy removable speaker tags with the Astro logo on one, and the A40 logo on the other. Both look sleek and discreet. The speaker tag with Astro emblazoned on it has a hole for the boom mic, which you can use on either ear. I like how minimalist the headset is. It looks good resting on your head or sitting on your desk.

To get the most out of the A40 TR, you’ll need to use the Mixamp TR. This small box has two large knobs on top. The bigger of the two is for adjusting the overall volume, while the smaller knob lets you balance between chat and game audio. There are four presets between the buttons, though I found the “AR” preset works best. The back contains a number of ports, the most important being the optical and USB ports. There’s also a switch in the back that lets you swap between PC and PS4. Professional players will appreciate the daisy chain ports that let them connect multiple mixamps. The stream port lets you connect to a PC or capture card to capture all of the audio into one source. You can do a lot via the Mixamp.

The USB and optical cables for the mixamp are lengthy. Since I had the mixamp next to the PS4, I ended up with a jumble of cables on the floor. However, if you can’t have the mixamp near your system, you’ll appreciate the cables’ lengths. Unfortunately, the inline cable you plug into the mixamp isn’t as long as the USB or optical cables. I had almost no slack while playing, requiring me to sit closer to my TV than usual. If you play using a monitor on your desk, this won’t be an issue, but it was for me. It isn’t a deal breaker, but I kept worrying I’d yank the mixamp if I moved too much.

To test the sound quality, I played The Division 2, Days Gone, and the Castlevania Collection on PS4. On PC, I played Doom and Sonic Mania. The headset does a fantastic job of transporting you into the open worlds of The Division 2 and Days Gone. Every sound came through clearly, including softly blowing winds, chirping birds, running rivers, and wandering animals (both friendly and otherwise). When the action ramped up, gunfire, explosions, and screaming came through with crystal clarity. Retro games sound great as well, even if they’re not as aurally complex.

One downside in the audio department is there’s no inline volume control. You can only adjust the volume through the mixamp, meaning you’ll either have to pause the game or wait for a lull in the action. If the mixamp is far from you (as was the case with me), the issue becomes more prominent. Every game has different sounds so you’ll need to find a balance where you hear every subtle noise but don’t have your ears blown out when the action picks up.

This is a gaming headset but you can use it to listen to your favorite tunes either at home or on the go. Though sound quality is excellent for video games, I find it comes up lacking for music. There’s a decided lack of bass, which makes music sound thin and less impactful. If you’re on the road or inside a train, you probably won’t notice this, but you will if you’re in a quiet room. I suggest using the A40 for gaming as intended and to use a different headset to listen to music.

The boom mic captures one’s voice perfectly. A lot of headsets tend to make your voice sound thin and trebly. The A40 has some of that, but definitely not as much as I’ve experienced before. I recorded myself on my PC and liked what I heard. Friends who I played The Division 2 with also said I sounded better than I do when using my beloved Hyper Cloud II headset. If you’re a full or part time streamer, you won’t have to worry about your voice sounding crappy with the A40 TR.

I can’t speak for the original version of the Astro A40 TR + Mixamp TR but I find its current iteration absolutely brilliant. It looks great, feels good to wear, and really pulls you into whatever game you’re playing. At $249.99 (available on Amazon), it is an expensive peripheral. However, if you’re a professional gamer or just a really dedicated enthusiast, it is worth every single penny. The A40 is now my default headset and I highly recommend it.

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Polaroid Lab Turns Smartphone Snaps Into Instant Photos

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Like live theater and paper books, printed pictures provide a sense of presence that movies, e-books, and digital images lack.

It’s that feeling—plus a hint of nostalgia—that keeps Polaroid in business.

Now, the company is launching a portable printer* that turns smartphone snaps into instant photos.

“Unlimited cloud storage can actually be your memories’ worst enemy, causing your digital photos to skyrocket in numbers and end up falling into a void of oblivion,” Polaroid CEO Oskar Smolokowski said in a statement.

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With a camera in every pocket, people are taking more pictures than ever. But it’s easy to lose track of special moments among a sea of online pixels.

Enter Polaroid Lab.

The idea, according to Smolokowski, is to turn precious pictures into tangible photographs, “bringing them into the world as something you can hold in your hand and store on the fridge door rather than in the cloud.”

Simply select an image from the Polaroid Originals app, place your handset on top of the machine, press a button, and voila! An instant photo (that you don’t need to shake).

Using a combination of mirrors, light, and “the unique Polaroid chemistry,” snaps are recast as instant pictures (via Polaroid)

The appliance uses a combination of mirrors, light, and “the unique Polaroid chemistry” to recast snapshots as a leave-to-develop, white-rimmed keepsake.

Starting in October, you can make pictures instead of just taking them with the $130 Polaroid Lab, compatible with iPhone 6S/iOS 11 and above, Android 7 or higher, and current Samsung, Huawei, Google Pixel, and One Plus models.

Sign up for the company newsletter “to get your hands on one first.”

*According to Polaroid, its new device is “not a printer, not a scanner, just an instant formula for timeless images.

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McDonald’s Plans to Serve AI Voice Technology at Drive Thru

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McDonald’s is slowly but surely eliminating humans workers from its fast-food equation.

Following the rollout of self-order kiosks and “personalized” menus, the burger empire plans to automate drive-thrus with its acquisition of Apprente.

The Silicon Valley startup, purchased for an undisclosed sum, was founded in 2017 to create voice-based platforms for multilingual, multi-accent, and multi-item conversational ordering.

Now, McDonald’s wants to use the system for faster, simpler, and more accurate order taking.

“Building our technology infrastructure and digital capabilities are fundamental … and enable us to meet rising expectations from our customers, while making it simpler and even more enjoyable for crew members to serve guests,” McD’s CEO Steve Easterbrook said in a statement.

It’s not entirely clear exactly how the Apprente tech will work; McDonald’s has already tested the automation solutions at select restaurants, but provided no further details.

“Apprente was born out of an opportunity to use technology to solve challenging real-world problems,” according to co-founder Itamar Arel. “And we’re thrilled to now apply this to creating personalized experiences for customers and crew.”

Arel & Co. will be founding members of a new in-house team called McD Tech Labs, expected to grow with the addition of engineers, data scientists, and other experts in the future.

While the initial focus will be to enhance McDonald’s drive thrus, the company aims to incorporate this technology into mobile ordering and kiosks.

“As we all know, technology can change by the day. And with that, so do our customers’ expectations,” a Golden Arches press release said. “We are committed to delivering the best possible experience for restaurant crew and our customers. And this is only the beginning.”

Earlier this year, McDonald’s purchased AI platform Dynamic Yield, teasing upcoming “personalized” menu options related to time of day, weather, current restaurant traffic, and trending items.

The electronic bill of fares even understands current service times, suggesting only those things that are easy to make during peak hours, in an effort to keep the drive thru running smoothly.

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Machine Learning Estimates Risk of Cardiovascular Death

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MIT researchers have developed a machine learning model that can estimate, based on the electrical activity of their heart, a patient’s risk of cardiovascular death.

The system, dubbed “RiskCardio,” was created by the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) with the intention of better predicting health outcomes.

It focuses on folks who have survived acute coronary syndrome (ACS)—a range of conditions involving decreased flow to the heart. Just 15 minutes of a patient’s raw electrocardiogram (ECG) signal can produce a score that places people into different risk categories.

“We’re looking at the data problem of how we can incorporate very long time series into risk scores, and the clinical problem of how we can help doctors identify patients at high risk after an acute coronary event,” lead study author Divya Shanmugam said in a statement.

“The intersection of machine learning and healthcare is replete with combinations like this—a compelling computer science problem with potential real-world impact,” she added.

This isn’t the first machine-learning attempt at risk metrics; previous experiments have used external patient information like age or weight, or knowledge and expertise specific to the system.

RiskCardio, however, relies solely on patients’ raw ECG signal—with no added information.

Say someone checks into the hospital after an ACS: A physician would normally estimate risk of cardiovascular death or heart attack using medical data and lengthy tests before choosing a course of treatment.

MIT’s invention aims to improve that first step.

The team tested their model using data from a study of past patients, separating each person’s signal into a collection of adjacent heartbeats. They then assigned a label—”risky” for those who died of cardiovascular complications and “normal” for those who survived—to each set of beats.

When demonstrated on a new patient, CSAIL analysts were able to estimate whether someone would suffer from cardiovascular death within 30, 60, 90, or 365 days.

Moving forward, the team hopes to make the dataset more inclusive to account for different ages, ethnicities, and genders, and evaluate how their system accounts for ambiguous cases.

“Machine learning is particularly good at identifying patterns, which is deeply relevant to assessing patient risk,” Shanmugam said. “Risk scores are useful for communicating patient state, which is valuable for making efficient care decisions.”

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