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Gift Guide: 7 perfect gifts for podcasters and streamers

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So, this one is going to be a different from last year. Because everything is different from last year. I know 2020 has been a pretty big change for my own personal podcast. I always prefer conducting interviews in person when I’m able — in fact, around 400 or so episodes were done exactly like that.

But face-to-face interviews are going to continue to be a non-starter for the foreseeable future, so I’ve had to switch the show up to a virtual setup. It’s less than ideal for my own creative and aesthetic preferences but when the world shifts radically, you do your best to adapt along with it.

For me, that’s meant a couple of things. First — and most obviously — shifting from in-person interviews to virtual ones. Another more surprising (for me) aspect has been the addition of a video element. I’ve started doing it less frequently, but I’ve incorporated YouTube live-streaming into my repertoire. After all, most of my interviews are done over Zoom, with the video stripped out. Sometimes it’s fun to do both.

So here’s a good place to start for the podcaster in your life — whether they’re just starting out or looking to make the transition to remote streaming.

This article contains links to affiliate partners where available. When you buy through these links, TechCrunch may earn an affiliate commission.

AKG Lyra

Image Credits: Brian Heater

This one is a repeat from last year, mostly because I’ve been using the heck out of it. AKG’s mic has become my go-to for podcasts and meetings alike. I’ve used it for television appearances, Disrupt panels and a recent guest hosting appearance on NPR. It sounds good, has simple-to-understand settings, plug-and-play functionality and it looks great.

Price: Around $140 from Amazon

Logitech StreamCam

The thing about webcams is that there are a lot them. The other thing about them is they’re mostly pretty cheap. Logitech’s StreamCam is pretty pricey as far as the category goes. Many or most of these products can be had for around $100 or less. The StreamCam comes with a premium— but you get a lot of camera for that price.

It’s probably overkill for most scenarios (see also: our work from home gift guide), but it delivers really solid streaming quality in a compact package. That includes 1080p video at 60fps, with facetracking and good lowlight shooting.

Price: $170 from Logitech

Yotto Microphone Pop Filter

Image Credits: Yotto

Okay, this one is less exciting, but man oh man is it important. I suspect most amateur podcasters don’t even consider a wind screen, but after listening to bit of level-spiking sibilance, you’ll understand exactly why this microphone add-on is so important.

I was using another model until its recent, untimely demise. I just picked this one up for $12 on Amazon and it’s been great. There’s a clamp at the bottom that attaches to most USB mics (including the Blue Yeti and the above AKG). The arm is also super flexible, which is the biggest issue I had with the older model.

Price: $12 from Amazon

GVM Light Ring

Image Credits: GVM

This is the light ring that made most of our staff look great during our first-ever virtual Disrupt. It’s been sitting in the corner of my living room for several months now, and I utilize it for both video streams and meetings.

Like anything involving stills or video, lighting is incredibly important, and the GVM is a real powerhouse with a stated 70,000 hours of life. It’s intense and adjustable/dimmable, offering really solid realistic color settings.

Price: $127 from Amazon

Rodecaster Pro

Image Credits: Brian Heater

Another returning item from last year. And honestly, this one is a bit hopeful that some day soon we’ll all be comfortable talking at each other in cramped spaces again. But the Rodecaster Pro is honestly just too good not to include here.

The Rodecaster Pro is a multi-channel mixing board that saves up to four mics worth of input (along with effects and guest phonecalls via Bluetooth) to an SD card, which will greatly assist in any post-podcast processing. I’m happy to retire it from my list when another podcasting board can offer similar functionality with such an accessible interface and reasonable price. Until then, the Rodecaster Pro continues to be the best way to quickly up your podcasting game.

Price: $599 from Sweetwater

Zencastr Subscription

Your results will vary, but I know a lot of folks who rely on Zencastr for remote recording. The interface is great, recording each track remotely, offering levels in-real time and uploading them to the servicer. Files are saved as lossless .wavs and separated by guest.

Price: $20/month from Zencastr

Audio-Technica ATH-M50

Image Credits: Audio-Technica

This is just a great pair of super comfortable and versatile over-ear professional headphones at a reasonable price. Audio-Technica is well regarded in DJ and studio circles, and the $149 price point delivers really excellent quality without breaking the bank.

Price: $149 from Sweetwater

Lyron Foster is a Hawaii based African American Musician, Author, Actor, Blogger, Filmmaker, Philanthropist and Multinational Serial Tech Entrepreneur.

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Elon Musk is donating $100M to find the best carbon capture technology

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Elon Musk said Thursday via a tweet that he will donate $100 million toward a prize for the best carbon capture technology.

Musk, who recently surpassed Amazon’s Jeff Bezos to become the world’s richest person, didn’t provide any more details except to add in an accompanying tweet the “details will come next week.” It’s unclear if this is a contribution to another organization that is putting together a prize such as the Xprize or if this is another Musk-led production.

The broad definition of carbon capture and storage is as the name implies. Waste carbon dioxide emitted at a refinery or factory is captured at the source and then stored in an aim to remove the potential harmful byproduct from the environment and mitigate climate change. It’s not a new pursuit and numerous companies have popped up over the past two decades with varying means of achieving the same end goal.

The high upfront cost to carbon capture and storage or sequestration (CCS) has been a primary hurdle for the technology. However, there are companies that have found promise in carbon capture and utilization — a cousin to CCS in which the collected emissions are then converted to other more valuable uses.

For instance, LanzaTech has developed technology that captures waste gas emissions and uses bacteria to turn it into useable ethanol fuel. A bioreactor is used to convert into liquids captured and compressed waste emissions from a steel mill or factory or any other emissions-producing enterprises. The core technology of LanzaTech is a bacteria that likes to eat these dirty gas streams. As the bacteria eats the emissions it essentially ferments them and emits ethanol. The ethanol can then be turned into various products. LanzaTech is spinning off businesses that specialize in a different product. The company has created a spin-off called LanzaJet and is working on other possible products such as converting ethanol to ethylene, which is used to make polyethylene for bottles and PEP for fibers used to make clothes.

Other examples include Climeworks and Carbon Engineering.

Climeworks, a Swiss startup, specializes in direct air capture. Direct air capture uses filters to grab carbon dioxide from the air. The emissions are then either stored or sold for other uses, including fertilizer or even to add bubbles found in soda-type drinks. Carbon Engineering is a Canadian company that removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and processes it for use in enhanced oil recovery or even to create new synthetic fuels.

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Chinese esports player VSPN closes $60M Series B+ round to boost its international strategy

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eSports “total solutions provider” VSPN (Versus Programming Network) has closed a $60 million Series B+ funding round, joined by Prospect Avenue Capital (PAC), Guotai Junan International, and Nan Fung Group.

VSPN facilitates esports competitions in China, which is a massive industry and has expanded into related areas such as esports venues. It is the principal tournament organizer and broadcaster for a number of top competitions, partnering with more than 70% of China’s eSports tournaments.

The “B+” funding round comes only three months after the company raised around $100 million in a Series B funding round, led by Tencent Holdings.

This funding round will, among other things, be used to branch out VSPN’s overseas esports services.

Dino Ying, Founder, and CEO of VSPN said in a statement: “The esports industry is through its nascent phase and is entering a new era. In this coming year, we at VSPN look forward to showcasing diversified esports products and content… and we are counting the days until the pandemic is over.”

Ming Liao, the co-founder of PAC, commented: “As a one-of-its-kind company in the capital market, VSPN is renowned for its financial management; these credentials will be strong foundations for VSPN’s future development.”

Xuan Zhao, Head of Private Equity at Guotai Junan International said: “We at Guotai Junan International are very optimistic of VSPN’s sharp market insight as well as their team’s exceptional business model.”

Meng Gao, Managing Director at Nan Fung Group’s CEO’s Office said: “Nan Fung is honored to be a part of this round of investment for VSPN in strengthening their current business model and promoting the rapid development of emerging services and the esports streaming ecosystem.”

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Google’s parent firm is shutting down Loon connectivity project

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Google’s parent firm Alphabet is done exploring with the idea of using giant balloons to beam high-speed internet in remote parts of the world.

The firm said on Thursday evening that it was winding down Loon after failing to find a sustainable business model and willing partners. The demise of Loon comes a year after Android-maker ended Google Station, its other major connectivity effort. Through Station, Google provided internet connectivity at over 400 railway stations in India and sought to replicate the model in other public places in more nations.

That said, Alphabet’s move is still surprising. Just last year, Loon had secured approval from the government of Kenya to launch first balloons to provide commercial connectivity services in Kenya — something it did successfully achieve months later, giving an impression that things were moving in the right direction.

Perhaps the growing interest of SpaceX and Amazon in this space influenced Alphabet’s decision — otherwise, the two firms are going to have to answer some difficult feasibility questions of their own in the future.

“We talk a lot about connecting the next billion users, but the reality is Loon has been chasing the hardest problem of all in connectivity — the last billion users,” said Alastair Westgarth, chief executive of Loon, in a blog post.

“The communities in areas too difficult or remote to reach, or the areas where delivering service with existing technologies is just too expensive for everyday people. While we’ve found a number of willing partners along the way, we haven’t found a way to get the costs low enough to build a long-term, sustainable business. Developing radical new technology is inherently risky, but that doesn’t make breaking this news any easier.”

The blog post, which makes no mention of what will happen to Loon’s existing operations in Kenya, characterised Loon’s connectivity effort as successful. “The Loon team is proud to have catalyzed an ecosystem of organizations working on providing connectivity from the stratosphere. The world needs a layered approach to connectivity — terrestrial, stratospheric, and space-based — because each layer is suited to different parts of the problem. In this area, Loon has made a number of important technical contributions,” wrote Westgarth.

More to follow…

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