Sunday, 31 March 2019

DJI Mavic 2 Pro Review

DJI Mavic 2 Pro

The DJI Mavic 2 Pro is the most powerful consumer drone you can buy thanks to its gimbal-stabilized Hasselblad camera with a 1-inch CMOS sensor for stunning aerial 4K video and photos.

It's one of two foldable drones Chinese brand DJI just launched, further cementing it as the king of drones in 2018 and giving us a sequel to the likeable DJI Mavic Pro (which we'll call the Mavic Pro 1 in this hands-on review for convenience).

DJI Mavic 2 Pro

What's new? It mostly comes down to the camera quality and the smarter modes for capturing video and photos. The picture is brighter on the DJI Mavic 2 Pro vs the DJI Mavic Pro 1 without being blown out. You'll to see a difference side-by-side.

Comparisons matter when it comes to the price, too: it's noticeably more expensive. And even with superior 10-bit HDR video, an adjustable aperture, and a built-in Hyperlapse mode, the alluring power behind the Mavic 2 Pro doesn't guarantee it will sit at the top of our best drones 2018 list. It's not that easy; DJI has DJI to blame.

The new DJI Mavic 2 Zoom is slightly cheaper and features a 2x optical zoom lens – it can shift from 24mm to a 48mm in 4K (for a 2x zoom), and simulate 96mm in Full HD (4x the zoom). It's all done with a gesture on your smartphone that sits inside the controller clamshell. The downside? It uses a smaller 1/2.3-inch CMOS camera sensor.

DJI just made your life more difficult by introducing two compelling drone choices if you're looking to spend considerable cash on a consumer drone. Everyone else with a smaller budget should look no further than the still-excellent DJI Mavic Air, our pick for first-time fliers.

Release date and price

DJI dropped a bombshell on us at its launch event when it announced that the DJI Mavic 2 Pro release date was August 23 – that very day – with orders going out right away. The Mavic 2 Zoom is ready to ship within one business day, too.

DJI Mavic 2 Pro

The Mavic 2 Pro price is decidedly more expensive than the Mavic Pro 1 worldwide. It costs $1,499 (£1,299, AU$2,299). Compare these prices to the Mavic Pro 1, which was  £899, $999 and AU$1,349 at launch.

Right in between those prices is the Mavic 2 Zoom at a little more tolerable $1,249 (£1,099, AU$1,900), but still considerably expensive. Whichever new drone you get, you're going to expect a lot for your money. 

We'll continue to test the new DJI drones before rendering a judgment in a full DJI Mavic 2 Pro review, but this appears to be the foldable drone to buy if you want the best on a consumer level. While we test it, enjoy these photos of the drone from the launch event.

DJI Mavic 2 Pro


DJI Mavic 2 Pro


DJI Mavic 2 Pro


DJI Mavic 2 Pro


DJI Mavic 2 Pro gives us the sharpest video and photos out of any consumer-level drone thanks to its color-rich 4K HDR-equipped camera. Compared to the original Mavic Pro, the new the 1-inch sensor in this gimbal-stabilized camera amps up the brightness from video and stills without blowing out the picture. But, be warned, the high price blows away the competition, too, and it still can't shoot 4K at 60fps.

Great foldable drone design
1-inch 4K camera sensor
New modes like Hyperlapse

Very expensive
Can't shoot 4K at 60fps
Mavic 2 Zoom is compelling alternative

Analysts Foresee Supply Chain Impact from Chip Hack Report

Analysts Foresee Supply Chain Impact from Chip Hack Report

TAIPEI — Analysts expect changes in the global electronics supply chain following a report that Chinese spies planted chips in the servers of nearly 30 U.S. companies, including Amazon and Apple.

A Bloomberg report, citing U.S. government and corporate sources speaking off the record, said a unit of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) was behind the effort to hack into the operations of U.S. companies and compromise the global supply chain.

The Bloomberg report, which Apple and Amazon refuted, comes as the Trump administration escalates its trade war with China, targeting computer and networking hardware in its latest round of sanctions. White House officials expect companies to shift their supply chains to other countries as a result.

Analysts said the impact of the reported spying will be substantial.

“There’s going to be structural changes in how hardware gets validated, tested and approved across the supply chain following this,” Arete Research analyst Brett Simpson said to EE Times. “We’ve lost the trust factor -- and where something is made will get scrutinized until steps are taken to get that trust factor back. Geopolitics and tech are becoming intertwined and that’s the new normal we have to live with.”

One of the results may be higher manufacturing costs.

“There will certainly be a lot of parties interested in moving production back to domestic territory, but that’s swimming upstream against all of the efficiencies that today’s global supply chain provides,” IDC Vice President of Devices Research Bryan Ma told EE Times. “As such, it would likely be contained to more sensitive components and systems.”

Perception is part of reality. The Bloomberg report comes at a time when trade tensions are high, and Ma said he won’t be surprised if it fuels more political agendas.

“In a nutshell, it will raise the risk concern on outsourcing electronic manufacturing to China,” said Bernstein analyst Mark Li.

According to the Bloomberg report, which cited numerous sources in the U.S. government and insiders at companies including Apple and Amazon, one of the first signs of the hack came in 2015, when Amazon Web Services (AWS) hired a third-party company to evaluate the security of software compression firm Elemental Technologies, a company Amazon was planning to acquire.

That security check raised a flag, prompting AWS to scrutinize Elemental’s main product: servers that customers installed to handle video compression. The servers were assembled by Super Micro Computer Inc., one of the world’s biggest suppliers of server motherboards. The company is generally known as Supermicro. That company also questioned the accuracy of the Bloomberg report.

The AWS checks revealed a rogue chip on the motherboards, the Bloomberg report said. Amazon reported the discovery to the U.S. government, sounding an alarm in the intelligence community. Elemental’s servers were in Department of Defense data centers, the CIA’s drone operations and networks of Navy warships. Elemental was just one of hundreds of Supermicro customers.

A top-secret probe, which Bloomberg said is ongoing, showed that the chips created a backdoor into networks running the altered servers. The chips were inserted on motherboards at factories run by subcontractors in China, according to the report.

The chips were planted by operatives from a unit of China’s People’s Liberation Army, according to the report. U.S. officials called it the most significant supply chain attack known to have been carried out against American companies.

Among the companies allegedly affected are a major bank, government contractors and Apple. Apple was a key Supermicro customer until several years ago, when the company found suspicious chips on Supermicro motherboards. Apple has severed ties with Supermicro for what it described as unrelated reasons.

Amazon, Apple and Supermicro disputed the Bloomberg report. The Chinese government commented that supply chain safety is an issue of common concern, and China is also a victim.

The companies’ denials were countered in the Bloomberg story by six current and former U.S. senior national security officials, who described the discovery of the chips and the government’s investigation. One of those officials and two people inside AWS provided extensive information on the attack at Elemental and Amazon. In addition to three Apple insiders, four of the six U.S. officials said that Apple was a victim.

One government official says China’s goal was long-term access to high-value corporate secrets and sensitive government networks. No consumer data is reportedly known to have been stolen.

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Elemental has worked with American spy agencies. In 2009 the company announced a development partnership with In-Q-Tel Inc., the CIA’s investment arm, a deal that opened the door for Elemental servers to be used in other U.S. national security operations. NASA, both houses of Congress and the Department of Homeland Security have been customers.

Supermicro was founded by Charles Liang, a Taiwanese engineer who attended graduate school in Texas and moved to California to start Supermicro in 1993. Supermicro’s motherboards were designed mostly in San Jose and manufactured overseas.

Supermicro dominates the $1 billion market for boards used in special-purpose computers, from MRI machines to weapons systems. Its motherboards can be found in custom servers at banks, hedge funds, cloud computing providers and web-hosting services. Supermicro has assembly facilities in California, the Netherlands and Taiwan, but its motherboards are nearly all made by contractors in China.

Most of the company’s workforce in San Jose is Taiwanese or Chinese.

As early as the first half of 2014, intelligence officials alerted the White House that China’s military planned to insert the chips into Supermicro motherboards, the report said.

Apple allegedly discovered suspicious chips inside Supermicro servers around May 2015, after detecting odd network activity and firmware problems. Two senior Apple insiders cited in the report say the company noted the incident to the FBI but kept details highly confidential. Government investigators allegedly got more evidence when Amazon made its discovery and provided samples of sabotaged hardware. U.S. intelligence agencies then conducted a detailed investigation of the chips and their operation.

The chips looked more like signal conditioning couplers than ICs, making the components hard to detect without specialized equipment, according to Bloomberg. The spy chips were traced to four subcontractors in China that have been making Supermicro motherboards for at least two years.

In some cases, plant managers were approached by people who claimed to represent Supermicro or who held positions suggesting a connection to the Chinese government, according to Bloomberg. The middlemen would request changes to the motherboards’ original designs, initially offering bribes in conjunction with their unusual requests. If that didn’t work, they threatened factory managers with inspections that could shut down their plants. Once arrangements were in place, the middlemen would organize delivery of the chips to the factories.

The U.S. investigators concluded that a People’s Liberation Army unit specializing in hardware attacks was behind the scheme.

—Alan Patterson covers the semiconductor industry for EE Times. He is based in Taiwan.

Roku Premiere The Cheapest Way To 4K

Roku Premiere The Cheapest Way To 4K

Roku continues to push the price of 4K streaming down with the new $40 Premiere. The device supports 4K, HDR10, and Dolby Atmos playback and costs even less than Amazon’s recently announced $49.99 Fire TV Stick 4K.

Over the last few days I’ve been testing out the Premiere, and it’s a truly excellent value that offers zippy performance, a terrific viewing experience, Roku’s tried-and-true software, and a vast app selection. But the Premiere is just one of a trio of Roku devices under $100 that each have different strengths.

Premiere ($40): The upside here is definitely price. At $40, the Premiere is more affordable than rival 4K-capable products from Google, Amazon, and Apple. It supports HDR video — HDR10, but not Dolby Vision — and outputs Dolby Atmos sound from apps that offer it. The included IR remote is good for navigating the Roku, but lacks the ability to control your TV. It also doesn’t support voice control.

Premiere Plus ($50, exclusive to Walmart): The Premiere Plus includes a better, more convenient remote that has power and volume buttons for controlling your TV. And there’s a built-in mic for voice search. Unlike the Premiere, which requires line of sight between the Roku and its remote, the Plus model can be mounted to the back of your TV — putting it forever out of view — and still receives remote commands just fine.

Streaming Stick Plus ($60): The Streaming Stick Plus HDMI dongle costs slightly more than both Premiere devices, but it offers superior Wi-Fi by supporting 5GHz networks and Wi-Fi 4 (802.11ac). The Premieres only support 2.4Ghz networks, which in my case prevented the unit I tested from seeing The Verge’s primary office network.

Even with its relatively basic Wi-Fi, I found the Premiere to work well at streaming 4K content, which buffered up to UHD resolution very quickly across several different services including Netflix and Vudu. If there’s a semi-long distance between your TV and router, upgrading to the Streaming Stick Plus might be worth the extra twenty bucks. (Plex power users might want to stick with the top-tier Roku Ultra and its wired Ethernet connection.) Otherwise I think you’re fine with one of the other two. Between the Premiere and Premiere Plus, I’d definitely drop the extra $10 for the much better remote. Otherwise the two devices are identical.

The Premiere is a miniature set-top box with an HDMI port and Micro USB port for power. (There’s no Ethernet jack.) It’s light enough that it’s unlikely to stay put on a table, so Roku includes a piece of double-sided sticky tape in the box — with a logo that sticks out from underneath the box — so you can give it more surefooted placement.

The setup process takes little time at all. For existing customers, Roku is getting better about remembering which apps you had installed on previous devices, but it failed to remember the home screen layout of the Roku TV I’ve got at home, so I had to move a bunch of icons around to restore order. That grid-of-apps home screen continues to put simplicity above all else. And while it feels dated, I’m happy to take this over Roku potentially screwing things up with an ill-executed overhaul. I don’t need or want AI recommendations everywhere.

So while the experience is very familiar, Roku continues to make improvements by adding new sections to the main menu. Featured Free pulls together shows from TV networks (and the ad-sponsored Roku Channel) that you can stream without needing a cable login. And if you’ve got the voice remote, you can say “show me free comedies” or “show me free action movies” to get a list of content that you won’t have to rent or buy. In general, Roku’s universal search continues to do a superb job in finding the thing you want and the best place to watch it. And it feels more neutral / unbiased than Fire TV, which can go a little heavy on promoting Amazon’s original content.

You can also remove the Fandango-branded TV show and movie stores from the home screen, which was a nice surprise that I didn’t expect on a $40 player. Even Featured Free can be toggled off if it annoys you. There’s no avoiding the giant ad to the right of your apps list, though. Remember: these days Roku considers itself more of an advertising business than a consumer electronics company.

Within the coming weeks, you’ll be able to control the Premiere (and Roku’s other devices) with Google Assistant, which will be great for people with a Home or Home Mini in their living room — and it should help Roku fend off Amazon’s one-two punch of Fire TV and Alexa.

Roku’s omission of Dolby Vision in the Premiere and the rest of its product lineup is disappointing, especially when Amazon gives you everything — HDR10, Dolby Vision, and Atmos — with the new $50 Fire TV Stick 4K. HDR10 is great in its own right; you’ll still get the vivid colors and impressively bright highlights of HDR, but Vision can be even better for the films and shows that support it.

But I still consider the Premiere a fantastic value. It works well, streams 4K reliably, and it's easy to use. Roku is delivering a lot for a small price.