BBC launches new interactive drama for Amazon Alexa smart speakers

BBC R&D has launched a new interactive radio drama for Amazon Alexa that’s different for everyone who hears it. 

The Unfortunates is adapted from a BBC Radio 3 play starring Martin Freeman, which was based on an experimental ‘book in a box’ novel by BS Johnson. The story contained 27 unbound sections, with only the start and end points specified; the rest could be read in any order.

The story, which was originally released in 1969, follows a sports journalist whose memories of a friend are triggered when he is sent to report on a football match, and according to the author, the format is intended to convey “the mind’s randomness”.

The new radio drama is split into 17 sections, which are shuffled with each listen. As with Johnson’s book, only the first and last chapters are fixed in place.

Degrees of interaction

Last year, BBC R&D released its first interactive audio drama for smart speakers: sci-fi story The Inspection Chamber. The production cast the listener in an active role, speaking with other characters as the story progressed.

“[We] found a perfect example of a story we could bring to smart speakers, creating something which would sound and interact like a traditional radio programme but also take advantage of new technology”

Henry Cooke, BBC R&D

Afterwards, senior producer and creative technologist Henry Cooke carried out a detailed survey to find out how listeners felt about such productions, and discovered that people fell into two distinct groups.

One set of listeners wanted more interaction, creating an experience more like a game, while the other preferred not to interact with a story once it was in motion. However, even among the latter group, people were interested in a story that could change in interesting ways; they just didn’t want to be interacting with it constantly.

While considering that split, Cooke had a conversation with his colleague Tom Armitage, who mentioned Radio 3’s adaptation of Johnson’s book. 

“We dug into it a little more, and found a perfect example of a story we could bring to smart speakers, creating something which would sound and interact like a traditional radio programme but also take advantage of new technology,” says Cooke.

Restoring randomness

The order for the radio adaptation was picked live on a special edition of radio programme The Verb, but after that it was frozen, losing the randomness of the printed version.

“Near the beginning of this year, I collaborated on a quick prototype with BBC R&D alumnus Tom Howe, chopping up the Radio 3 broadcast back up into its parts and building a player for Alexa which shuffled those parts into a new order – essentially, a randomized playlist,” says Cooke.

“We then took that version to a meeting with the Radio 3 creative team – producer Mary Peate and writer Graham White – who had no idea what we’d been up to!

“Luckily, they loved what we’d done to their show, and were very supportive of our new version. This meant that the hard work of building out our prototype into a full skill could begin.”

Cooke has described the full process of adapting the drama for smart speakers on the BBC R&D blog, including how the team overcame challenges like managing she sheer number of audio assets, controlling the flow of conversation, and creating artwork for Amazon Echo devices with screens (like the Echo Show).

The interactive version of The Unfortunates is free to download. To listen, ask your Alexa device to enable The Unfortunates, find it in the Alexa Skill Store, or get it from the BBC Taster website. 

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Vodafone launches new VeryMe reward scheme with selected phone deals

It seems Vodafone is jumping on the reward scheme bandwagon, having launched its ‘VeryMe’ scheme for mobile phone customers to get free gifts and discounts.

VeryMe’s first offer includes discounts on Odeon cinema tickets (two for £7), free Costa coffee and  treats from Millie’s Cookies, Hotel Chocolat and Tesc. There are also  free trials on apps and a whole load of other rewards – and not to mention you get a free extra 2GB of data when you sign up.

Vodafone’s UK Chief Executive Nick Jeffery, said: “VeryMe Rewards is designed as a personalised thank you to our customers for their loyalty. The Vodafone App is quick and easy to use and rewards customers with daily treats and offers that have been individually tailored to them.” 

Vodafone isn’t the first mobile phone provider to do this. O2 has its Priority Reward scheme and Three has its interestingly named ‘Wuntu’ app to give customers deals alongside their contract. Where Vodafone seems to differ is that the app will tailor the offers to you so you’re only ever getting deals that you’re interested in.

If you are already with the provider you can get started by downloading the Vodafone App and clicking through to the VeryMe section and over time the app will figure out what you like and tailor its suggestions to your liking. 

If the idea of VeryMe has caught your interest but you’re not yet on Vodafone, check out our best Vodafone deals page to try and find a contract that works for you. 

Today’s best Vodafone mobile deals

These mega cheap Nintendo Switch deals expire today – unless they sell out first

It can be a bit of a nightmare chasing Nintendo Switch deals around Black Friday, as the deals come in thick and fast while the best ones selling out early on. But there’s no need to worry if you didn’t find one over the weekend or on Cyber Monday, as we’ve found some super cheap deals on brand new consoles from reputable stores on eBay.

Actually, the prices are even better than we saw at the weekend, but you’ll have to be quick as the coupon code that produces the magic prices expires at 23:59 tonight. 

The promotional eBay voucher code knocks 15% off a huge range of items, with a minimum spend of £20 and a maximum discount of £50. We’ve been able to do some proper damage to Nintendo Switch prices on the highlighted deals below. We’ve included a longer list of other applicable categories you may want to use the voucher on elsewhere around eBay too at the bottom of this page. 

Nintendo Switch deals

  • Shop by category at eBay for 15% off with ‘PRESENTS’
  • Furniture
  • Video Game Console
  • Laptops
  • Video Games
  • Virtual Reality
  • Computer components and parts
  • Smart watches
  • Toys and games
  • More deal categories

And you might be tempted to check out the remaining Cyber Monday deals that are still going. Want more options, then check out our roundups of the other best Nintendo Switch deals and PS4 deals.

Get free delivery on Amazon for a whole week

Black Friday and Cyber Monday have only just finished, but if you were unable to bag the bargain you wanted Amazon has a different offer for you. 

Free delivery. On everything. For a whole week.

Between November 29 and December 5, you can get free delivery on all products “listed as ‘dispatched’ or ‘fulfilled’ by Amazon on the product detail page…with no minimum order amount.”

Normally you have to have at least £20 of eligible products in your basket to qualify for free delivery (or £10 if you’re buying books), which is annoying if you’re looking for a single low-cost item that’s listed as free delivery, but comes in under the £20 threshold – forcing you to spend more than you would have liked.

For one week though, you can make as many of these small purchases as you want and get free delivery on every order. There’s no limit to the amount of times you can take advantage of Amazon’s free delivery offer during the week.

How to get Amazon free delivery

Taking advantage of the Amazon free delivery week couldn’t be easier. Just load up your basket with free delivery-eligible items, head to the checkout and enter code FREEDELIVERY in the voucher code box.

Make sure you don’t have one-click purchase enabled, as you’ll skip the code entry box, and make sure the products in your basket are ‘dispatched’ or ‘fulfilled’ by Amazon, otherwise you’ll find yourself paying for delivery.

It’s great news if you’re yet to finish your Christmas shopping, with Amazon claiming that all orders will be delivered within 1-2 working days after dispatch. Plenty of time to get them wrapped ahead of the big day, then.

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T-Mobile quietly launches site for mobile banking service

Shortly after Cyber Monday, T-Mobile quietly unveiled the website for its mobile banking service. Yes, that’s right, the self-described “Un-Carrier” can store and lend you money – and you’ll get bonus benefits if you’re already signed up with T-Mobile.

The service, called T-Mobile Money, works like a traditional bank since it’s backed by one: BankMobile, a division of Customers Bank. That grants T-Money subscribers physical access points through the about 55,000 AllPoint ATMs around the world. 

T-Mobile Money is promising reduced overhead, like zero account or maintenance fees, nor are subscribers required to have a minimum balance. They also promise 1% APY on all balances. 

If you’re a T-Mobile subscriber, you can get up to 4% APY so long as your checking account balances are at or below $3,000 and deposit at least $200 per month. Either way, only those with US addresses can sign up – at least for now.

Unfortunately, the digital-only service has caveats, including the inability to simply deposit cash into their accounts. You’ll have to get a money order or cashier’s check and use the mobile deposit feature or simply deposit cash into another bank and transfer it over to your T-Mobile Money account, per to 9to5Google.

Further, T-Mobile Money is really just putting the telecom’s name on an existing BankMobile product, as Android Police points out. Unless you’re already a T-Mobile subscriber, there’s not too good a reason to switch over.

The T-Mobile Money website was quietly launched today without any fanfare from the company, and it was discovered when support for the mobile banking service was added to Google Pay, according to 9to5Google. It’s also supported by Samsung Pay.

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Should I buy a SunBriteTV? A look at the outdoor, weatherproof TV manufacturer

Growing up, the idea of bringing a TV outside was something we had always wanted but were never allowed to do. Now that we find ourselves in the positions of our parents, it’s easy to understand why: TVs just aren’t meant to be outside … unless, of course, they’re specifically designed to be there. 

That’s more or less the M.O. for SunBriteTV, a maker of all-weather LED-LCD TVs that’s based in Thousand Oaks, California. They design TVs to withstand the elements and last outdoors all year long. It’s an interesting premise, certainly, and one that proves to be useful in more situations than you might expect.

We’ll cover what it’s like to buy one in the section below, but first let’s talk about how SunBriteTV’s series stack up. 

The most important thing to know is that SunBriteTV offers three series – Veranda, Signature and Pro – that correspond to where the TV is going to sit on your outdoor patio, deck or mounted to the side of your house. 

SunBriteTV

SunBriteTV Veranda Series 

Rather than create a good, better and best series like other manufacturers, SunBrite’s lineup starts with the full shade Veranda Series. 

This is the kind of TV that still sits outside, but should ideally be in the shade most of the time. According to SunBrite, the Veranda Series is about 30% brighter than your run-of-the-mill LED-LCD from Samsung, LG or Sony, but that’s still not bright enough to resist the dulling effects or glare that occur when a TV sits in direct sunlight. 

In terms of resolution, all models the Veranda series supports 4K while the 55-inch model supports both 4K and HDR. The series comes in four screen sizes (43-, 55-, 65- and 75-inches) all of which are cheaper than an equivalent sized screen in the Signature or Pro series. Like the other series, the Veranda Series includes a weatherproof remote and weatherproof bay for a streaming player like the Roku Premiere, Chromecast or Amazon Fire TV Stick. 

SunBriteTV

SunBriteTV Signature Series 

SunBriteTV’s Signature Series serves a slightly different purpose: it’s designed to sit in places that fluctuate between full sun and full shade, ideally in a spot that’s partially sunny in the times that you’d be outside watching TV. 

Unlike the Veranda Series, none of SunBrite’s Signature Series have HDR – an important consideration if you’re a cinephile – but, that said, the Signature Series is brighter than the Veranda Series and up to three times as bright as traditional LED-LCD screens from Samsung, Sony and LG. 

The trade-off here is that the Signature Series is more expensive: the 43-inch model starts at $2,799 and the 65-inch model will set you back nearly $8,000.

SunBriteTV

SunBriteTV Pro Series 

Last but not least is the SunBriteTV Pro Series, which, oddly enough, doesn’t feature 4K at all. How it gets its Pro name isn’t necessarily based on the picture quality, but rather, because it features an impact-resistant glass screen. 

Like the Signature Series, the Pro Series is outstandingly bright (around 1,000 nits according to SunBrite) and ready for whatever the outdoors has to throw at it. It’s designed to sit in direct sunlight areas and is UV-resistant so performance won’t diminish over time. 

In terms of audio quality, while the two other series use 20-watt down-firing speakers, the Pro Series ups the ante to a separate, detachable speaker bar. 

The Pro Series comes in four screen sizes from 32- up to 55-inches and range in price from $3,295 on the low-end to almost $6,000 on the 55-inch SB-5518HD. 

Should I buy a SunBriteTV?  

If you frequently host soirees, own a hot tub where you want some extra entertainment or plan on spending a time outside during warm summer nights, a SunBriteTV is pretty much the only brand of TVs we’d recommend. 

In fact, even in relatively enclosed spaces that are still subject to excessive moisture or heat, we’d recommend a SunBriteTV as well. This might be a downstairs basement, partially enclosed sun room or garage, all of which would benefit from a little extra protection in case temperatures fluctuate. 

If there are drawbacks to the SunBriteTV lineup it’s that AV enthusiasts might be nonplussed by the omission of HDR in all but one of the models, and budget buyers probably won’t be able to afford much more than the 32- or 43-inch TV. At around $6,000 and up, it’s prohibitively expensive to buy anything bigger than 55-inch screen unless you’re looking to outfit a business or decorate a high-end property for a sale. 

SunBriteTV’s biggest selling point is the peace of mind you get by buying a TV that was designed for the outdoors. You’ll know that it can resist the elements (SunBriteTV claims they’ll work at temperatures from -40 F up to 122 degrees), and was designed to be bright enough to overcome direct sunlight and glare – two things that indoor TVs were just never designed to do. That comes at a price, obviously, but for those willing to pay a bit more, it’s one that feels justified.

  • Looking for the best TV or best 4K TV? We can help with that, too

Got a fantastic photo story? Now’s the time to enter Zeiss’s photo competition

The 2019 Zeiss Photography Award is now open for entries, but rather than just rewarding single photos the competition is aimed at those shooting a body of work comprising multiple images.

And if you’ve got a stunning collection of 5-10 photos that fit the brief from Zeiss (more on that in the moment), you could be in with a chance of picking up not only €12,000 (around £10,697 / $13,680) worth of Zeiss glass, but also a grant of €3,000 (£2,674 / $3,420) to pay for a photographic project. 

The competition is now in its fourth year, and runs in conjunction with the Sony World Photography Awards, with the awards presented in London next April. The brief for this years competition is ‘Seeing Beyond – The Unexpected’.

Zeiss hopes the brief will challenge photographers, who can submit a series of five to ten images, to look past the everyday and address something unforeseen or surprising – whether this is through the landscape and the physical environment, through human expression, emotion and interaction, through political or social causes, or something more conceptual.  

Nick Hannes, 2018 Zeiss Photography Award winner, said: “Winning the Zeiss Photography Award 2018 for ‘Garden of Delight’ has given great extra visibility for my project, both through repetitive online publications and through portfolios in the regular media and on photography platforms.”

The Award is free to enter at www.worldphoto.org/zeiss, and the deadline is February 8, 2019.

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How predictive analytics will transform urban living

By 2050, it is expected that the global population will have reached over 9.8billion, with 2.5billion of these people living in cities. As we flock to urban areas, our cities are being challenged by overcrowding, policy issues and the threat of rising pollution levels.

TechRadar Pro spoke with Wael Elrifai, VP for Solution Engineering at Hitachi Vantara, who explained the ways predictive analytics is set to revolutionise the future of urban living.

Wael Elrifai, VP for Solution Engineering at Hitachi Vantara

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Netflix’s interactive Minecraft adventure goes live

Netflix has expanded its offering of ‘interactive storytelling’ with Minecraft: Story Mode, a choose-your-adventure story developed by Telltale Games.

Minecraft: Story Mode isn’t a video game, or really a television show, but an interactive branching narrative whose outcome is decided by the viewer’s choices at key points in the story.

The series is based on Minecraft, the bestselling crafting sandbox game that’s driven by user-created content – fitting then to make the TV spin-off an interactive affair.

The first three episodes of Minecraft: Story Mode landed on Netflix on November 28, with another two episodes to follow on December 5. 

You can find it on the Netflix browser or iOS app, though there’s a standalone Minecraft: Story Mode app for those on Android smartphone or tablet devices.

Telltale signs

More recently, Telltale has been in the news more for the games it isn’t making, than the ones it manages to put out. 

The California-based game developer expanded dazzlingly fast over the past few years, putting out episodic tie-in games with the likes of The Walking Dead, Batman: The Telltale Series, and Tales from the Borderlands.

This September, the studio announced it was laying off 90% of its 250 employees and canceling many titles still in development, after sales of various properties didn’t meet company expectations.

  • Telltale games is laying off most of its staff, canceling upcoming games

Netflix had also planned a Stranger Things interactive series in partnership in Telltale, which is reportedly still going ahead with a different studio, with a Netflix spokesperson saying “We are in the process of evaluating other options for bringing the Stranger Things universe to life in an interactive medium.”

There’s currently no official word on whether there’ll be more Minecraft: Story Mode seasons down the line.

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Nintendo Switch killer cometh? Sony patents new game cartridge tech

Sony, the company that created the compact disc and steered the gaming world away from cartridges to its format, is working on a new cartridge format for storing video games. Spotted first by German technology outlet TechTastic, Sony has already patented the new storage format.

The patent went through official channels in South Korea last year and was published by the Korea Intellectual Property Rights Information Service (KIPRIS) earlier this month. Sony’s filing includes very little information on the product itself, but plenty of imagery that’s quite telling.

The patent application is blatantly titled “Electronic Game Cartridge” and depicts something that looks like a cross between a classic PlayStation memory card and a Nintendo Switch game cartridge. We’re not sure what the hole cut out toward its top is for, and that connection port seems awfully proprietary.

Honestly, the port is confusing, as this is assumed to be a video game storage format. Every cartridge product used the store game data within the past several years has been metal contact-based, like with SD cards. This port suggests a different method of transmitting data, almost looking like HDMI or the classic 40-pin iPhone port.

Sony electronic game cartridge

Image credit: TechTastic

Connecting the dots

The release of this patent is far too specific and pointed to not inspire connections made between it and a previously-released Sony patent. Back in early 2017, the company published a patent for a handheld game console that looked awfully similar to the Nintendo Switch.

Now, we see a patent for a video game storage format, one that’s solid state and therefore can take a tumble, which is ideal for a portable console.

Plus, while we joke about the seemingly backwards nature of Sony’s decision to create a new cartridge-based game storage medium, it’s not as if Sony is new to the pursuit. The ill-fated PlayStation Vita employed flash-based media for its games.

There’s no way of knowing whether Sony intends to act on these patents, but it sure seems like the company has spent considerable time and money at least investigating the possibility of re-entering the handheld gaming arena with Nintendo. After all, it’s the only competition Sony really has in the market at this point.

Here’s to hoping that Sony’s thirst for revenge drives it to develop another boss handheld gaming console, because the Vita was actually pretty fantastic where it counted.

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Via Tom’s Guide