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Virtual reality is in the midst of an ongoing renaissance, sparking incredible interest from every side of the spectrum, including tech giants like Facebook, young startups, big movie studios and independent filmmakers. With that in mind, VRSE, a new production company in the VR space, has taken to Sundance 2015 to reveal its big ambitions for this immersive technology. And it all starts with Evolution of Verse, a 3.5-minute short film featuring a computer-generated landscape setting and other visual effects that are designed to push the envelope in virtual reality.

Over the past couple of days in Utah, I've been asked several times: "What does virtual reality have to do with Sundance?" Granted, that was brought up by people who don't necessarily keep up with the technology and film industries. Still, the question isn't without merit. To a certain degree though, this year's New Frontier event, an exhibit for creators to feature unordinary storytelling during the festival, is where you'll find the answer to that inquiry. It was there that platforms like the Oculus Rift have been born, while in recent times works like Birdly, a virtual reality flight simulator, look to reach new audiences and showcase how science can interact with technology. With its VR experiments, VRSE hopes to make a big impact in the burgeoning space.

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North Carolina residents might soon see Google Fiber vans driving down the streets. According to several publications, Mountain View has invited local Charlotte and Raleigh-Durham officials to a super secret "Save the Date" event on Wednesday, January 28th. The email invitation is reportedly devoid of any pertinent information, aside from the date, time and the promise that there will be "more details to come." While it could be for a completely different service, there's a reason why local authorities would think it's all about Fiber: Google has long named those locations as next possible sites for its Gigabit internet offering.

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"Print stuff didn't scratch the itch. Documentary didn't scratch the itch. TV drama didn't scratch the itch. It wasn't until I started building this stuff. There was no way I could do anything else. I just couldn't do anything else. I don't know even how to explain that. And I think sometimes I wanna shoot myself in the head that I can't do anything else because it just motivates me. [VR] drives me. This is such a visceral empathy generator. It can make people feel in a way that nothing, no other platform I've ever worked in can successfully do in this way."

Let that stand as your introduction to Nonny de la Peña, the woman pioneering a new form of journalism that aims to place viewers within news stories via virtual reality. That vision has culminated in Emblematic Group, her content- and VR hardware-focused company that she runs along with her brother in Los Angeles.

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Vudu Spark

Do you like the idea of a streaming media stick for your TV, but find that even Google's Chromecast or Amazon's Fire TV Stick costs more than you're willing to pay? You'll want to visit your local Walmart, then. The big-box retailer tells GigaOM that its Vudu Spark dongle, teased at the FCC back in November, is already available at 2,400 stores for $25 -- that's at least $10 less than its big rivals, and as much as the upcoming Matchstick. More stores are coming soon, Walmart adds. It's a tempting offering, but there's a good reason why it's so affordable. As hinted earlier, the Spark is only useful for watching Vudu purchases and rentals. That's fine if you're not picky about how you get your movies and TV shows, but you may have to shell out more if you're determined to use Hulu, Netflix or any other online video service.


Been waiting for Sony to start dishing out the $15 million in restitution for the 2011 breach that took its PlayStation Network and Qriocity services down back in 2011? Well, thanks to the outfit putting a claim form online, now you can start the payment redemption process. It's limited to those who had either a PSN, Qriocity or Sony Online Entertainment account prior to the intrusion (May 15, 2011), and the payouts aren't all that different from what the firm gave out as part of its "Welcome Back" program at the time. Of course, back then PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Portable games and themes were a bit more desirable, but three months of PlayStation Plus is actually a bit more valuable now than it once was. Sony doling out the goods could still take a bit longer, though.

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Android Cupcake, Honeycomb, Ice Cream Sandwich and Jelly Bean statues

You might not be happy that Google isn't fixing a web security flaw in your older Android phone, but the search giant now says that it has some good reasons for holding off. As the company's Adrian Ludwig explains, it's no longer viable to "safely" patch vulnerable, pre-Android 4.4 versions of WebView (a framework that lets apps show websites without a separate browser) to prevent remote attacks. The sheer amount of necessary code changes would create legions of problems, he claims, especially since developers are introducing "thousands" of tweaks to the open source software every month.

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Most Blu-rays and DVDs these days come with filmmaker commentary tracks, but it isn't too often you get to hear a game developer give play-by-play while running through something they created. That's the thrust behind the latest episodes of Double Fine Productions' "Devs Play" YouTube series, spotted by Polygon. Here we have one of Doom's co-creators John Romero playing a handful of maps from the legendary first-person shooter that runs on basically any platform. He breaks down everything from the work that went into differentiating it from id's other FPS Wolfenstein 3D, how the team used texture irregularities to denote secret rooms and even how he's watched speed runs that not even he can replicate. Oh, and he designed the first level last, incorporating everything he'd learned throughout the other missions to make the initial one the most interesting.

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Recommended Reading highlights the best long-form writing on technology and more in print and on the web. Some weeks, you'll also find short reviews of books that we think are worth your time. We hope you enjoy the read.

Fermentación del Café

Inside the World's Most Advanced Coffee Laboratory
Jason Koebler, Motherboard

If you're at least somewhat interested in coffee, you've likely researched a bit about where your favorite spot gets its beans and who roasts them. Thanks to Motherboard, we can take a look inside the walls of Cenicafé: a government-backed facility dedicated to analyzing Colombia's coffee varieties.

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Open Road

Autonomous cars may have been all the rage at this year's Consumer Electronics Show, but most of the tech showcased is still pretty far off. What isn't, however, are smarter stopping systems. In fact, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is adding crash imminent braking and dynamic braking support to its list of recommended advanced safety features for new cars. The former uses sensors to activate the brakes if a crash is imminent and the driver already hasn't. Dynamic braking support, on the other hand, increases stopping power if you haven't put enough pressure on the brake pedal. Like lane-departure and front collision warning systems, these features are available on some models already -- this move gives them high-profile attention, though.

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