While the Oculus Quest virtual reality headset debuted just 17 months ago, it’s time for it to move over, as Facebook is launching the Oculus Quest 2 on October 13, it announced today at its Connect event. And this headset has a lot going for it that could get a lot of people excited, particularly if they’re staying home because of the pandemic.
I’ve been able to play with the headset in my home, and I found it had a lot of improvements over the original, which I have used more than any other VR headset. One big difference is the price. The first Quest launched at $400 and $500, while the new headset will cost $300 for 64GB of storage and $400 for 256GB. It also has 50% better resolution, and it’s 10% lighter at 1.1 pounds.
Facebook also promises an update will beef up the refresh rate from 72 frames a second to 90 frames per second. These are some pretty big upgrades for such a short time. By contrast, the game consoles from Sony and Microsoft went six years before hitting a new generation, with one upgrade midlife. Facebook is also beefing up its production because it believes that this is the one the version of VR that will take the industry from an elite curiosity to a mainstream market.
With the Quest 2’s accessibility improvements, I believe this may be a pretty good bet. But like many others who saw the promise of VR back in 2016, when the first modern headsets appeared, I’m cautious about making any wild predictions.
Powering up the headset
While the first Quest is black, this one is white. I charged the headset and turned it on by holding the power button for 2 seconds. A white LED light turns on, and the big “O” appears inside the headset as it boots up. It does an automatic software update if you sign in with your Facebook account and provide the right Wi-Fi credentials.
Upon setup, you can still create the Guardian, which is a border that you set where you are free to move without running into objects in your room. The Guardian uses the Passthrough+ cameras so that you can see the room while wearing your headset. You use your hand controller to draw an outline on the floor where you can move. If you move outside of or near the line while playing, you get a visual warning. You can access Passthrough+ any time by double-tapping on your headset. If you move to a new room, you have to reset the Guardian.
I logged in via Facebook and was immediately able to access the older titles that were available on my Oculus Quest. I had to re-download the applications that I wanted to play, but that was pretty simple via the Wi-Fi connection. The Home environment is a more relaxing and inviting place, and the improved resolution means that text looks better when you are browsing the web or watching videos.
It was pretty easy to pair my Quest 2 with the Oculus App via Bluetooth. In the Home interface, you can see new apps, social stories, and active multiplayer games that you can join, as well as apps that are popular with your friends and which friends are currently playing in VR.
Playing some games
I played Pistol Whip from Cloudhead Games and Vader Immortal: Episode 2 on the Oculus Quest 2 headset as well as on the older Quest. I wanted to jog my memory about how good the graphics are on the original model.
Both games performed flawlessly, and they both looked great on the Quest 2’s new display. For the most part, it’s hard to tell that the display is different than on the first Quest. One of the few clues is antialiasing, a visual feature where you see a smoothing out of the jagged lines in images. The original Quest doesn’t have the best antialiasing, and the Oculus Quest 2 is much better at it. So you’ll see more smooth lines in games. But that’s not such a great improvement that you will immediately notice it.
It took me a second or two to adjust the headset so that I could see clearly. I had a slightly harder time aiming in Pistol Whip with my gun on the Ouest 2 than I did with the original model. But it wasn’t so bad that I couldn’t play the game. I’m looking forward to playing games that exploit the better resolution.
I also sweated myself silly in the first few levels of Beat Saber with the new Quest. I’m looking forward to playing side-by-side with someone else. When Facebook revs up the framerate to 90 hertz from 72 hertz, I think you’ll see a noticeable difference. Meanwhile, the way you’ll really notice this improvement is when developers start shipping games that can use the higher resolution, the better antialiasing, and the faster frame rate. There are a number of games coming, so the wait shouldn’t be that long.
Facebook Horizon hands-on
I tried out Facebook Horizon, the online virtual world that Facebook is creating for VR. The world is in closed beta testing now, but I got a demo with Facebook’s Kevin Reilly, who gave me a guided tour. When it opens, most of the content will be created by users, much like in Minecraft or Roblox — only it’s all in VR. This aspect could also be appealing for the corporate market, either via meetings or branded spaces.
As I was setting it up, the first thing Horizon asked was whether I wanted to sign in with my Facebook account. I proceeded and then started creating my avatar. (By October, you will have to login with a Facebook account, or if you want to keep your Oculus account, you can do that for two more years). I could choose from different kinds of skin color, hair, body type, and clothes. They were all fairly rudimentary and cartoon-like. I didn’t spend that much time playing around with it, because there weren’t that many choices.
Then I met Reilly and Eliza Kern of Facebook in a place called The Plaza. It was my second visit to Horizon, and it looked nicer. The Plaza is a city plaza in a park. You can see doors in various places that are portals to VR experiences, though most of them so far come from Facebook’s internal teams (in the future, Facebook expects Horizon users to make many of these with its content-creation tools). Before checking them out, Reilly took me around the side of the main plaza to see a secret hideaway. It’s a little cliffside hideout where you can look out on a nice view of the horizon. We took a selfie on the cliff and moved on. Reilly thinks of the hideout as an Easter egg.
Reilly taught me how to navigate Horizon. I used my hand controllers to maneuver to a tab in the Worlds interface called Worlds. These are the places within Horizon that people in the community will create for others to explore. They can be games, escapes, gathering places, or social hangouts that are animated in a cute but realistic cartoon art style. One day, if enough people come and build it out, it will be Facebook’s version of the the Metaverse, the universe of virtual worlds that are all interconnected, like in novels such as Snow Crash and Ready Player One.
Right now, it’s not a huge place for big events. You don’t watch movies or go to concerts. Rather, you visit social spaces with just a handful of friends.
You can maneuver either by using a slider that moves you in a fluid way, or a teleporter that quickly transports you from one place to another (without making you nauseous).
The first place we visited was a Facebook employee’s creation called Balloon Bash. Reilly showed me how to pick up a balloon-shooting gun with my Touch controller and then fire a balloon by pulling a trigger. I had to shoot at a target. This was where my wife interrupted me and led me from our living room to the kitchen. Thankfully, the Guardian reformed itself in the new space, and I didn’t get knocked out of the game.
While we were there, Reilly showed me a safety measure. If you look at your wrist in VR, you’ll see a shield. If you hit it, it will take you out of the social experience with other people and put you in your own bubble. You can take the time to recover there if you need to, or you can report someone if you had a bad experience. That bubble is a pretty good manifestation of an escape route in case you needed it.
Then we started Balloon Bash by stepping on a big pad with the word “Ready.” Then the loading screen started and Facebook Horizon built the world for us. It took a little while, but it wasn’t a huge wait. And then we were in this playground with a bunch of hanging targets. We had to move from one spot to another and shoot balloons at the targets to get points. Once you hit the target, it disappeared, and you had to teleport to another part of the playground to shoot some more targets. There are a hundred targets. It’ss a timed competition, and Reilly humored me by saying I was good.
But it’s an effortless experience that I learned within a minute of playing it. The toy gun is cute because you could leave it hanging in the air, and it would just stay there. And if you let go and walk away from it, it would just magically reappear in front of you so you didn’t have to search for it.
Next, we teleported to a place called The Interdimensional. Kern abandoned us for a little while because she forgot to charge her Quest 2. But she came back. Inside The Interdimensional, we joined a game show with two contestants, while Kern was a spectator. It’s a two-player game that requires communication and cooperation.
The object is to move a cube into a hole in the wall. But one person has to describe the figure on a wall or floor that will cause the cube to move in a certain direction. The other player has to press one of six buttons that will make the action happen, manipulating gravity so the cube moves. You have to have a little bit of spatial ability to solve the puzzle, which reminded me of Valve’s Portal 2. It was a cute puzzle. It wasn’t too hard to figure out, but it was clever.
Finally, Reilly took me to a blank canvas. It was a pretty big space, with a bunch of white tiles leading toward the horizon. Reilly asked me what I wanted to build. I asked for a Trojan horse. He started working on it.
Meanwhile, he also told me how to build my own objects inside the world. Here, your hands turn into tools. You can move your fingers like pincers to change how big you are. If you want to be huge, you can do so, and this helps you see what you are building better. I made myself too small, and Reilly had a hard time seeing me.
You can use your controllers to put yourself into “edit mode.” Your hands become discs, and you can move the analog stick to initiate different functions, like preview mode. I opened a palette of shapes, like cubes, cones, balls, and so on. I picked them up with one hand and placed them into the world. I could go up to the shape and expand it or contract it on the fly. There was no latency as this was happening. Everything took place in real time. You can build things together if you want, with four-to-eight people in a space.
I started putting shapes together and built a white tin man, which Reilly mistook as a robot. He showed me how to paint my robot, again using hand controls. And then I glanced at what he had built. It was a metallic Trojan horse, with a black mane and brown coat. And he built a wall with a gate. Then he began scooting the Trojan horse all around the place. I hopped in. It was hilarious.
And that was the end of my 45-minute jaunt through Facebook Horizon. It’s a cool world. The sunset was beautiful. And once I figure out how to build things, I think I could spend a lot of time in there.
The Oculus Quest 2 is an easy-to-use system with a lot of potential. I hope the developers show up with a lot of cool experiences in the future.
US hits Iran court, judges with sanctions over wrestler
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration on Thursday hit an Iranian revolutionary court and several judges with sanctions in part for their role in the conviction and execution of a young wrestler.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo imposed the sanctions on two judges with Branch 1 of the Revolutionary Court of Shiraz as well as three prisons where he said human rights abuses were rampant. The sanctions include asset freezes and ban Americans from doing business with the targets.
Pompeo said Judge Seyyed Mahmoud Sadati was being hit for his involvement in the case of 27-year-old wrestler Navid Afkari who was executed earlier this month despite worldwide appeals for clemency, including from President Donald Trump. Pompeo called the execution “an unconscionable act” that “must not be in vain.”
“The United States calls upon all nations to promote accountability for this regime by imposing sanctions like the ones announced today,” Pompeo said. “Too often, the Iranian regime targets, arrests, and kills the brightest and most promising Iranians, thereby depriving Iran of its greatest asset – the skill and talent of its own people.”
On Sept. 12, Iran executed Afkari, who was convicted of murder, despite an international outcry to stop the execution and following Trump’s plea. His case had drawn attention after a social media campaign portrayed him and his brothers, who remain in prison, as victims who were targeted because they participated in protests against Iran’s Shiite theocracy in 2018.
Authorities accused Afkari of fatally stabbing a water supply company employee in the southern city of Shiraz amid the unrest.
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3 ‘Strong Buy’ Stocks With Over 7% Dividend Yield
Markets are volatile, there can be no doubt. So far this month, the S&P 500 has fallen 9% from its peak. The tech-heavy NASDAQ, which had led the gainers all summer, is now leading the on the fall, having lost 11% since September 2. The three-week tumble has investors worried that we may be on the brink of another bear market.The headwinds are strong. The usual September swoon, the upcoming election, doubts about another round of economic stimulus – all are putting downward pressure on the stock markets.Which doesn’t mean that there are no opportunities. As the old saw goes, “Bulls and bears can both make money, while the pigs get slaughtered.” A falling market may worry investors, but a smart strategy can prevent the portfolio from losing too much long-term value while maintaining a steady income. Dividend stocks, which feed into the income stream, can be a key part of such a strategy.Using the data available in the TipRanks database, we’ve pulled up three stocks with high yields – from 7% to 11%, or up to 6 times the average dividend found on the S&P 500 index. Even better, these stocks are seen as Strong Buys by Wall Street’s analysts. Let’s find out why.Williams Companies (WMB)We start with Williams Companies, an Oklahoma-based energy company. Williams controls pipelines connecting Rocky Mountain natural gas fields with the Pacific Northwest region, and Appalachian and Texan fields with users in the Northeast and transport terminals on the Gulf Coast. The company’s primary operations are the processing and transport of natural gas, with additional ops in crude oil and energy generation. Williams handles nearly one-third of all US commercial and residential natural gas use.The essential nature of Williams’ business – really, modern society simply cannot get along without reliable energy sources – has insulated the company from some of the economic turndown in 1H20. Quarterly revenues slid from $2.1 billion at the end of last year to $1.9 billion in Q1 and $1.7 billion in Q2. EPS in the first half was 26 cents for Q1 and 25 cents for Q2 – but this was consistent with EPS results for the previous three quarters. The generally sound financial base supported the company’s reliable dividend. Williams has been raising that payment for the past four years, and even the corona crisis could not derail it. At 40 cents per common share, the dividend annualizes to $1.60 and yields an impressive 7.7%. The next payment is scheduled for September 28.Truist analyst Tristan Richardson sees Williams as one of the midstream sector’s best positioned companies.“We continue to look to WMB as a defensive component of midstream and favor its 2H prospects as broader midstream grasps at recovery… Beyond 2020 we see the value proposition as a stable footprint with free cash flow generation even in the current environment. We also see room for incremental leverage reduction throughout our forecast period on scaled back capital plans and even with the stable dividend. We look for modestly lower capex in 2021, however unlike more G&P oriented midstream firms, we see a project backlog in downstream that should support very modest growth,” Richardson noted.Accordingly, Richardson rates WMB shares as a Buy, and his $26 price target implies a 30% upside potential from current levels. (To watch Richardson’s track record, click here)Overall, the Strong Buy analyst consensus rating on WMB is based on 11 Buy reviews against just a single Hold. The stock’s current share price is $19.91 and the average price target is $24.58, making the one-year upside potential 23%. (See WMB stock analysis on TipRanks)Magellan Midstream (MMP)The second stock on our list is another midstream energy company, Magellan. This is another Oklahoma-based firm, with a network of assets across much of the US from the Rocky Mountains to the Mississippi Valley, and into the Southeast. Magellan’s network transports crude oil and refined products, and includes Gulf Coast export shipping terminals.Magellan’s total revenues rose sequentially to $782.8 in Q1, and EPS came in at $1.28, well above the forecast. These numbers turned down drastically in Q2, as revenue fell to $460.4 million and EPS collapsed to 65 cents. The outlook for Q3 predicts a modest recovery, with EPS forecast at 85 cents. The company strengthened its position in the second quarter with an issue of 10-year senior notes, totaling $500 million, at 3.25%. This reduced the company’s debt service payments, and shored up liquidity, making possible the maintenance of the dividend.The dividend was kept steady at $1.0275 per common share quarterly. Annualized, this comes to $4.11, a good absolute return, and gives a yield of 11.1%, giving MMP a far higher return than Treasury bonds or the average S&P-listed stock.Well Fargo analyst Praneeth Satish believes that MMP has strong prospects for recovery. “[We] view near-term weakness in refined products demand as temporary and recovering. In the interim, MMP remains well positioned given its strong balance sheet and liquidity position, and ratable cash flow stream…” Satish goes on to note that the dividend appears secure for the near-term: “The company plans to maintain the current quarterly distribution for the rest of the year.”In line with this generally upbeat outlook, Satish gives MMP an Overweight (i.e. Buy) rating, and a $54 price target that implies 57% growth in the coming year. (To watch Satish’s track record, click here)Net net, MMP shares have a unanimous Strong Buy analyst consensus rating, a show of confidence by Wall Street’s analyst corps. The stock is selling for $33.44, and the average price target of $51.13 implies 53% growth in the year ahead. (See MMP stock analysis on TipRanks)Ready Capital Corporation (RC)The second stock on our list is a real estate investment trust. No surprise finding one of these in a list of strong dividend payers – REITs have long been known for their high dividend payments. Ready Capital, which focuses on the commercial mortgage niche of the REIT sector, has a portfolio of loans in real estate securities and multi-family dwellings. RC has provided more than $3 billion in capital to its loan customers.In the first quarter of this year, when the coronavirus hit, the economy turned south, and business came to a standstill, Ready Capital took a heavy blow. Revenues fell by 58%, and Q1 EPS came in at just one penny. Things turned around in Q2, however, after the company took measures – including increasing liquidity, reducing liabilities, and increasing involvement in government-sponsored lending – to shore up business. Revenues rose to $87 million and EPS rebounded to 70 cents.In the wake of the strong Q2 results, RC also started restoring its dividend. In Q1 the company had slashed the payment from 40 cents to 25 cents; in the most recent declaration, for an October 30 payment, the new dividend is set at 30 cents per share. This annualizes to $1.20 and gives a strong yield of 9.9%.Crispin Love, writing from Piper Sandler, notes the company’s success in getting back on track.“Given low interest rates, Ready Capital had a record $1.2B in residential mortgage originations versus our $1.1B estimate. Gain on sale margins were also at record levels. We are calculating gain on sale margins of 3.7%, up from 2.4% in 1Q20,” Love wrote.In a separate note, written after the dividend declaration, Love added, “We believe that the Board’s actions show an increased confidence for the company to get back to its pre-pandemic $0.40 dividend. In recent earnings calls, management has commented that its goal is to get back to stabilized earnings above $0.40, which would support a dividend more in-line with pre-pandemic levels.”To this end, Love rates RC an Overweight (i.e. Buy) along with a $12 price target, suggesting an upside of 14%. (To watch Love’s track record, click here)All in all, Ready Capital has a unanimous Strong Buy analyst consensus rating, based on 4 recent positive reviews. The stock has an average price target of $11.50, which gives a 9% upside from the current share price of $10.51. (See RC stock analysis on TipRanks)To find good ideas for dividend stocks trading at attractive valuations, visit TipRanks’ Best Stocks to Buy, a newly launched tool that unites all of TipRanks’ equity insights.Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the featured analysts. The content is intended to be used for informational purposes only. It is very important to do your own analysis before making any investment.
Veteran Senate candidate responds to critics using photo of her tattoos
After a Republican super PAC in Texas posted a photo of Senate candidate MJ Hegar featuring her tattoos and calling her a “radical,” Hegar had a quick response on Twitter: the tattoos covered shrapnel wounds she received as an Air Force helicopter pilot in Afghanistan.
“A pro-Cornyn Super PAC is using a photo of my tattoos to make me seem ‘radical.’ That’s pretty funny to me,” Hegar tweeted on Thursday, referring to her opponent in the race, longtime GOP Senator John Cornyn. “You think I’m ashamed of them? They cover my shrapnel wounds from when my helicopter was shot down. They’re a mark of my service to our country. I’m damn proud of them.”
A pro-Cornyn Super PAC is using a photo of my tattoos to make me seem “radical.” That’s pretty funny to me.
You think I’m ashamed of them? They cover my shrapnel wounds from when my helicopter was shot down. They’re a mark of my service to our country. I’m damn proud of them. pic.twitter.com/HrqX68ZzKa
— MJ Hegar (@mjhegar) September 24, 2020
The PAC, Texans for a Conservative Majority, is not directly affiliated with Senator Cornyn’s campaign. Cornyn’s office did not respond to requests for comment.
Hegar was awarded a Purple Heart after the Taliban shot down the medevac helicopter she was co-piloting, and she helped defend her fellow servicemembers despite injuries to her arm and leg.
“In Texas, foreign policy and national security is a kitchen-table issue because everyone has someone [they know] in uniform,” she told the Texas Tribune earlier this year.
Recent polling shows Hegar, who supports progressive policies like universal health care, trailing Cornyn by nearly 8 percent. Texas is increasingly being seen as a competitive state where Democrats have a chance to win in national races.
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