GDC 15: Valve Shows Off $50 Steam Link Game Streaming Box

Subject: General Tech | March 4, 2015 - 04:31 PM |
Tagged: GDC, valve, streaming box, Steam Box, steam, pc game streaming, gaming, gdc 2015

Valve has slowly but surely been working on its living room gaming initiative. Despite the slow progress (read: Valve time), Steam Machines are still a thing and a new bit of hardware called the “Steam Link” will allow you to stream all of your Steam content from your computers and Steam Machines to your TV over a local network. Slated for a November launch, the Steam Link is a $49.99 box that can be paired with a Steam Controller for another $49.99.

Steam Link Angled.jpg

Valve has revealed little about the internals or specific features of the Steam Link. We do know that it can tap into Valve’s Steam In-Home Streaming technology to stream your PC games to your TV and output it at 1080p 60Hz (no word on specific latency numbers but the wired connection is promising). The box is tiny, looking to be less than half of a NUC (and much shorter) with sharp angles and one rounded corner hosting the Steam logo. Two USB ports, a Gigabit Ethernet port, a HDMI output, and an AC power jack sit on the rear of the device with a third USB port located on the left side of the Steam Link.

Steam Link Budget Streaming Box.jpg

In all, the Steam Link looks like a promising device so long as Valve can get it out the door in time, especially with so many competing streaming technologies hitting the market. I’m looking forward to more details and getting my hands one later this year.

GDC 15: NVIDIA Shows TITAN X at Epic Games Keynote

Subject: Graphics Cards | March 4, 2015 - 01:10 PM |
Tagged: titan x, nvidia, maxwell, gtx, geforce, gdc 15, GDC

For those of you worried that GDC would sneak by without any new information for NVIDIA's GeForce fans, Jen-Hsun Huang surprised everyone by showing up at the Epic Games' keynote with Tim Sweeny to hijack it.

The result: the first showing of the upcoming GeForce TITAN X based on the upcoming Maxwell GM200 GPU.


JHH stated that it would have a 12GB frame buffer and was built using 8 billion transistors! There wasn't much more information than that, but I was promised that the details would be revealed sooner rather than later.


Any guesses on performance or price?



Jen-Hsun signs the world's first TITAN X for Tim Sweeney.

Kite Demo running on TITAN X

UPDATE: I ran into the TITAN X again at the NVIDIA booth and was able to confirm a couple more things. First, the GPU will only require a 6+8-pin power connections, indicating that NVIDIA is still pushing power efficiency with GM200.


Also, as you would expect, the TITAN X will support 3-way and 4-way SLI, or at very least has the SLI bridges to support it.


GDC 15: ZOTAC Announces the SN970 Steam Machine - Powered by a GTX 970M and Intel Skylake CPU

Subject: Systems | March 4, 2015 - 12:11 AM |
Tagged: Skylake, zotac, valve, SteamOS, Steam Machine, steam, gdc 2015, gdc 15, GDC, GTX 970M

Favor a steamier TV gaming experience? ZOTAC has announced a new Steam Machine on the eve of Valve’s presentation at GDC on Wednesday.


The SN970 presumably gets its name from the GTX 970M mobile GPU within, and this does the heavy lifting along with an unspecified 6th-generation Intel (Skylake) CPU. The massive amount of HDMI outputs (there are 4 HDMI 2.0 ports!) is pretty impressive for a small device like this, and dual Gigabit Ethernet ports are a premium feature as well.


There's a lot going on back here - the rear I/O of the ZOTAC SN970

Here's the rundown of features and specs from ZOTAC:

Key Features

  • SteamOS preloaded
  • NVIDIA GeForce® GTX 970M MXM graphics
  • 4 x HDMI 2.0, supports 4K UHD @ 60Hz


  • 6th Gen Intel Processor
  • NVIDIA GeForce® GTX 970M 3GB GDDR5
  • 64GB M.2 SSD
  • 1 x HDMI in
  • 2D/3D NVIDIA Surround
  • Dual Gigabit Ethernet
  • 4 x USB 3.0, 2 x USB 2.0
  • 1 x 2.5” 1TB HDD
  • 802.11ac WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0
  • Mic-In, Stereo Out
  • SD/SDHC/SDXC Card Reader

The release for this new Steam Box isn't specified, but we will be doubtless be hearing more from Valve and their partners tomorrow so stay tuned!

Source: ZOTAC
Manufacturer: NVIDIA

Finally, a SHIELD Console

NVIDIA is filling out the family of the SHIELD brand today with the announcement of SHIELD, a set-top box powered by the Tegra X1 processor. SHIELD will run Android TV and act as a game playing, multimedia watching, GRID streaming device. Selling for $199 and available in May of this year, there is a lot to discuss.

Odd naming scheme aside, the SHIELD looks to be an impressive little device, sitting on your home theater or desk and bringing a ton of connectivity and performance to your TV. Running Android TV means the SHIELD will have access to the entire library of Google Play media including music, movies and apps. SHIELD supports 4K video playback at 60 Hz thanks to an HDMI 2.0 connection and fully supports H.265/HEVC decode thanks to Tegra X1 processor.


Here is a full breakdown of the device's specifications.

  NVIDIA SHIELD Specifications
Processor NVIDIA® Tegra® X1 processor with 256-core Maxwell™ GPU with 3GB RAM
Video Features 4K Ultra-HD Ready with 4K playback and capture up to 60 fps (VP9, H265, H264)
Audio 7.1 and 5.1 surround sound pass through over HDMI
High-resolution audio playback up to 24-bit/192kHz over HDMI and USB
High-resolution audio upsample to 24-bit/192hHz over USB
Storage 16 GB
Wireless 802.11ac 2x2 MIMO 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz Wi-Fi
Bluetooth 4.1/BLE
Interfaces Gigabit Ethernet
HDMI 2.0
Two USB 3.0 (Type A)
Micro-USB 2.0
MicroSD slot (supports 128GB cards)
IR Receiver (compatible with Logitech Harmony)
Gaming Features NVIDIA GRID™ streaming service
NVIDIA GameStream™
SW Updates SHIELD software upgrades directly from NVIDIA
Power 40W power adapter
Weight and Size Weight: 23oz / 654g
Height: 5.1in / 130mm
Width: 8.3in / 210mm
Depth: 1.0in / 25mm
OS Android TV™, Google Cast™ Ready
Bundled Apps PLEX
NVIDIA SHIELD controller
HDMI cable (High Speed), USB cable (Micro-USB to USB)
Power adapter (Includes plugs for North America, Europe, UK)
Requirements TV with HDMI input, Internet access
Options SHIELD controller, SHIELD remove, SHIELD stand

Obviously the most important feature is the Tegra X1 SoC, built on an 8-core 64-bit ARM processor and a 256 CUDA Core Maxwell architecture GPU. This gives the SHIELD set-top more performance than basically any other mobile part on the market, and demos showing Doom 3 and Crysis 3 running natively on the hardware drive the point home. With integrated HEVC decode support the console is the first Android TV device to offer the support for 4K video content at 60 FPS.

Even though storage is only coming in at 16GB, the inclusion of an MicroSD card slot enabled expansion to as much as 128GB more for content and local games.


The first choice for networking will be the Gigabit Ethernet port, but the 2x2 dual-band 802.11ac wireless controller means that even those of us that don't have hardwired Internet going to our TV will be able to utilize all the performance and features of SHIELD.

Continue reading our preview of the NVIDIA SHIELD set-top box!!

GDC 15: Native versions of Doom 3, Crysis 3 running on Android, Tegra X1

Subject: Graphics Cards, Mobile | March 3, 2015 - 10:43 PM |
Tagged: Tegra X1, tegra, nvidia, gdc 15, GDC, Doom 3, Crysis 3

Impressively, NVIDIA just showed the new SHIELD powered by Tegra X1 running a version of both Doom 3 and Crysis 3 running natively on Android! The games were running at impressive quality and performance levels.

I have included some videos of these games being played on the SHIELD, but don't judge the visual quality of the game with these videos. They were recorded with a Panasonic GH2 off a 4K TV in a dimly lit room.

Doom 3 is quoted to run at full 1920x1080 and 60 FPS while Crysis 3 is much earlier in its development. Both games looked amazing considering we are talking about a system that has a total power draw of only 15 watts!

While these are just examples of the power that Tegra X1 can offer, it's important to note that this type of application is the exception, not the rule, for Android gaming. Just as we see with Half-Life 2 and Portal NVIDIA did most of the leg work to get this version of Doom 3 up and running. Crysis 3 is more of an effort from Crytek explicitly - hopefully this port is as gorgeous as this first look played.

GDC 15: NVIDIA Announces SHIELD, Tegra X1 Powered Set-top with Android TV

Subject: General Tech, Mobile | March 3, 2015 - 10:21 PM |
Tagged: Tegra X1, tegra, shield, gdc 15, GDC, android tv

NVIDIA just announced a new member of its family of hardware devices: SHIELD. Just SHIELD. Powered by NVIDIA's latest 8-core, Maxwell GPU Tegra X1 SoC, SHIELD will run Android TV and act as a game playing, multimedia watching, GRID streaming set-top box.


Odd naming scheme aside, the SHIELD looks to be an impressive little device, sitting on your home theater or desk, bringing a ton of connectivity and performance to your TV. Running Android TV means the SHIELD will have access to the entire library of Google Play media including music, movie and apps. SHIELD supports 4K video playback at 60 Hz thanks to an HDMI 2.0 connection and fully supports H.265/HEVC decode thanks to Tegra X1 processor.


Speaking of the Tegra X1, the SHIELD will include the power of 256 Maxwell architecture CUDA cores and will easily provide the best Android gaming performance of any tablet or set-top box on the market. This means gaming, and lots of it, will be possible on SHIELD. Remember our many discussions about Tegra-specific gaming ports from the past? That trend will continue and more developers are realizing the power that NVIDIA is putting into this tiny chip.


In the box you'll get the SHIELD set-top unit and a SHIELD Controller, the same released with the SHIELD Tablet last year. A smaller remote controller that looks similar to the one used with the Kindle Fire TV will cost a little extra as will the stand that sets the SHIELD upright.

Pricing on the new SHIELD set-top will be $199, shipping in May.

GDC 15: Khronos Acknowledges Mantle's Start of Vulkan

Subject: General Tech, Graphics Cards, Shows and Expos | March 3, 2015 - 03:37 PM |
Tagged: vulkan, Mantle, Khronos, glnext, gdc 15, GDC, amd


Neil Trevett, the current president of Khronos Group and a vice president at NVIDIA, made an on-the-record statement to acknowledge the start of the Vulkan API. The quote came to me via Ryan, but I think it is a copy-paste of an email, so it should be verbatim.

Many companies have made great contributions to Vulkan, including AMD who contributed Mantle. Being able to start with the Mantle design definitely helped us get rolling quickly – but there has been a lot of design iteration, not the least making sure that Vulkan can run across many different GPU architectures. Vulkan is definitely a working group design now.

So in short, the Vulkan API was definitely started with Mantle and grew from there as more stakeholders added their opinion. Vulkan is obviously different than Mantle in significant ways now, such as its use of SPIR-V for its shading language (rather than HLSL). To see a bit more information, check out our article on the announcement.

Update: AMD has released a statement independently, but related to Mantle's role in Vulkan

ARM and Geomerics Show Enlighten 3 Lighting, Integrate with Unity 5

Subject: Graphics Cards, Mobile | March 3, 2015 - 12:00 PM |
Tagged: Unity, lighting, global illumination, geomerics, GDC, arm

Back in 2013 ARM picked up a company called Geomerics, responsible for one the industry’s most advanced dynamic lighting engines used in games ranging from mobile to console to PC. Called Enlighten, it is the lighting engine in many major games in a variety of markets. Battlefield 3 uses it, Need for Speed: The Run does as well, The Bureau: XCOM Declassified and Quantum Conundrum mark another pair of major games that depend on Geomerics technology.


Great, but what does that have to do with ARM and why would the company be interested in investing in software that works with such a wide array of markets, most of which are not dominated by ARM processors? There are two answers, the first of which is directional: ARM is using the minds and creative talent behind Geomerics to help point the Cortex and Mali teams in the correct direction for CPU and GPU architecture development. By designing hardware to better address the advanced software and lighting systems Geomerics builds then Cortex and Mali will have some semblance of an advantage in specific gaming titles as well as a potential “general purpose” advantage. NVIDIA employs hundreds of gaming and software developers for this exact reason: what better way to make sure you are always at the forefront of the gaming ecosystem than getting high-level gaming programmers to point you to that edge? Qualcomm also recently (back in 2012) started employing game and engine developers in-house with the same goals.

ARM also believes it will be beneficial to bring publishers, developers and middleware partners to the ARM ecosystem through deployment of the Enlighten engine. It would be feasible to think console vendors like Microsoft and Sony would be more willing to integrate ARM SoCs (rather than the x86 used in the PS4 and Xbox One) when shown the technical capabilities brought forward by technologies like Geomerics Enlighten.


It’s best to think of the Geomerics acquisition of a kind of insurance program for ARM, making sure both its hardware and software roadmaps are in line with industry goals and directives.

At GDC 2015 Geomerics is announcing the release of the Enlighten 3 engine, a new version that brings cinematic-quality real-time global illumination to market. Some of the biggest new features include additional accuracy on indirect lighting, color separated directional output (enables individual RGB calculations), better light map baking for higher quality output, and richer material properties to support transparency and occlusion.

All of this technology will be showcased in a new Subway demo that includes real-time global illumination simulation, dynamic transparency and destructible environments.

Geomerics Enlighten 3 Subway Demo

Enlighten 3 will also ship with Forge, a new lighting editor and pipeline tool for content creators looking to streamline the building process. Forge will allow import functionality from Autodesk 3ds Max and Maya applications making inter-operability easier. Forge uses a technology called YEBIS 3 to show estimated final quality without the time consuming final-build processing time.


Finally, maybe the biggest news for ARM and Geomerics is that the Unity 5 game engine will be using Enlighten as its default lighting engine, giving ARM/Mali a potential advantage for gaming experiences in the near term. Of course Enlighten is available as an option for Unreal Engine 3 and 4 for developers using that engine in mobile, console and desktop projects as well as in an SDK form for custom integrations.

Who Should Care? Thankfully, Many People

The Khronos Group has made three announcements today: Vulkan (their competitor to DirectX 12), OpenCL 2.1, and SPIR-V. Because there is actually significant overlap, we will discuss them in a single post rather than splitting them up. Each has a role in the overall goal to access and utilize graphics and compute devices.


Before we get into what everything is and does, let's give you a little tease to keep you reading. First, Khronos designs their technologies to be self-reliant. As such, while there will be some minimum hardware requirements, the OS pretty much just needs to have a driver model. Vulkan will not be limited to Windows 10 and similar operating systems. If a graphics vendor wants to go through the trouble, which is a gigantic if, Vulkan can be shimmed into Windows 8.x, Windows 7, possibly Windows Vista despite its quirks, and maybe even Windows XP. The words “and beyond” came up after Windows XP, but don't hold your breath for Windows ME or anything. Again, the further back in Windows versions you get, the larger the “if” becomes but at least the API will not have any “artificial limitations”.

Outside of Windows, the Khronos Group is the dominant API curator. Expect Vulkan on Linux, Mac, mobile operating systems, embedded operating systems, and probably a few toasters somewhere.

On that topic: there will not be a “Vulkan ES”. Vulkan is Vulkan, and it will run on desktop, mobile, VR, consoles that are open enough, and even cars and robotics. From a hardware side, the API requires a minimum of OpenGL ES 3.1 support. This is fairly high-end for mobile GPUs, but it is the first mobile spec to require compute shaders, which are an essential component of Vulkan. The presenter did not state a minimum hardware requirement for desktop GPUs, but he treated it like a non-issue. Graphics vendors will need to be the ones making the announcements in the end, though.

Before we go further, some background is necessary. Read on for that and lots more!

GDC 15: Quixel Advertises MEGASCANS with Jungle Scene

Subject: General Tech | March 1, 2015 - 09:11 PM |
Tagged: quixel, GDC, gdc 15, ue4, unreal engine 4, gdc 2015

You know that a week will be busy when companies start announcing a day or two early to beat the flood. While Game Developers Conference starts tomorrow, Quixel published their Jungle demo to YouTube today in promotion of their MEGASCANS material library. The video was rendered in Unreal Engine 4.

Their other material samples look quite convincing. The vines on a wall (column in this case) is particularly interesting because it even looks like two distinct layers, despite being a single mesh with displacement as far as I can tell. I don't know, maybe it is two or three layers. It would certainly make sense if it was, but the top and bottom suggests that it is single, and that is impressive. It even looks self-occluding.


Pricing and availability for the library is not yet disclosed, but it sounds like it will be a subscription service. The software ranges from $25 to $500, depending on what you get and what sort of license you need (Academic vs Commercial and so forth).

Source: Quixel