Experience the Sony Xperia Z3+

Subject: Mobile | June 12, 2015 - 03:28 PM |
Tagged: smartphone, sony, xperia z3+, snapdragon 810

The new Sony Xperia Z3+ is a tiny bit thinner than the non-plus model at 146x72x6.9mm and 144g compared to 146x72x7.3mm and 152g.  The display is unchanged, a 5.2" IPS screen with a 1080x1920 resolution but the processor received a significant upgrade, it is now a 64-bit octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 810.  The phone ships with Android 5.0 and The Inquirer got a chance to try it out.  The new processor handles 4K video perfectly and the phone feels snappier overall compared to the previous model, check out their full experience here.

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"SONY UNVEILED its latest top-end smartphone, the Sony Xperia Z3+ this week, with an updated, slimmer design, which has a lighter and sleeker frame compared with its predecessor, the Xperia Z3."

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Source: The Inquirer

Onlive has been grabbed by Sony and then immediately consigned to the garbage heap

Subject: General Tech | April 6, 2015 - 02:08 PM |
Tagged: cloud gaming, onlive, sony, pc game streaming

Five years ago Onlive launched a beta of their online gaming system, allowing you to play games over the internet, without needing a high end PC.  Ryan got his hands on the beta to try out and while it did work for him, there was high latency effecting his gameplay and when he mentioned that Onlive had a few words with him.  It seems Sony dislikes the service more than anyone as they have just purchased the company and will be shutting it down in a month, without even offering to move the customers to Playstation Now.  This effects not only the gamers but also the graphics manipulation service they offered to companies using the same infrastructure.   It is always hard to be the first to try offering a new service and streaming has become a competitive business with a lot of companies with deep pockets offering similar services.  There is one major up side for Sony, according to The Register Onlive possesses over 1000 patents for cloud gaming, which Sony can now use to further develop their services.

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"Subscribers to the OnLive cloud gaming service have just 27 days of playing time left before the corporate servers that host their fragging sessions are to be shut down by Sony, which announced that it had acquired the service on Thursday."

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Source: The Register

Sony Announces PlayStation Now for Samsung Smart TVs

Subject: General Tech, Shows and Expos | December 29, 2014 - 10:06 AM |
Tagged: sony, Samsung, playstation now, Playstation

I know that I have said it in the past, but I am not big on cloud streaming services. For art, the ability to genuinely own your content keeps it safe from censorship and licensing disagreements. You only need to look back a year to see Disney pulling access to legally purchased content on Amazon because they wanted their TV channel to have exclusive rights to the Christmas movies in the holiday season. This does not apply to people who actually owned the content (semi-)DRM-free. Streaming services, especially for video games, are examples of perfection for anyone willing to abuse the system.

Remember: If you build it, the abuse will come.

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With that commentary out of the way, what streaming services are good at is pure entertainment. They are just about peak convenience to deliver... some form of entertaining content... unless you have spotty internet (or some other exception). These services have definite merit, so long as they augment platforms for actual art and not attempt to replace them.

So why am I rambling? Recently, Sony has announced that PlayStation Now will arrive for Samsung Smart TVs alongside Sony devices. At first, this might sound surprising. Sony, a console manufacturer, is providing access to the PlayStation ecosystem on other platforms – and yes, that is noteworthy. It is also not without precedent. While the initiative is mostly abandoned, Sony tried opening up to third-party mobile manufacturers (HTC, Sharp, Fujitsu, Wikipad, and Alcatel) with “PlayStation Certified”.

There is also a second reason why this is not too surprising: Samsung and Sony are fairly close partners in TV technology. Until just a few years ago, Sony LCD TV panels were manufactured by S-LCD, until Samsung eventually bought out Sony's interest in the company. The two companies are not really hostile in the TV market. If we see Sony open up PlayStation Now to LG Electronics, then I will scratch my head.

While announced ahead of CES, PlayStation Now is expected to be present at the show on Samsung TVs.

Source: Tom's Guide

Sony PS4 and Microsoft Xbox One Already Hitting a Performance Wall

Subject: General Tech, Graphics Cards | October 27, 2014 - 04:50 PM |
Tagged: xbox one, sony, ps4, playstation 4, microsoft, amd

A couple of weeks back a developer on Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed Unity was quoted that the team had decided to run both the Xbox One and the Playstation 4 variants of the game at 1600x900 resolution "to avoid all the debates and stuff." Of course, the Internet exploded in a collection of theories about why that would be the case: were they paid off by Microsoft?

For those of us that focus more on the world of PC gaming, however, the following week an email into the Giantbomb.com weekly podcast from an anonymous (but seemingly reliable) developer on the Unity team raised even more interesting material. In this email, despite addressing other issues on the value of pixel count and the stunning visuals of the game, the developer asserted that we may have already peaked on the graphical compute capability of these two new gaming consoles. Here is a portion of the information:

The PS4 couldn’t do 1080p 30fps for our game, whatever people, or Sony and Microsoft say. ...With all the concessions from Microsoft, backing out of CPU reservations not once, but twice, you’re looking at about a 1-2 FPS difference between the two consoles.

What's hard is not getting the game to render but getting everything else in the game at the same level of performance we designed from the start for the graphics. By the amount of content and NPCs in the game, from someone who witnessed a lot of optimizations for games from Ubisoft in the past, this is crazily optimized for such a young generation of consoles. This is really about to define the next-generation unlike any other game beforehand.

We are bound from the CPU because of AI. Around 50% of the CPU is used for the pre-packaged rendering parts..

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So, if we take this anonymous developers information as true, and this whole story is based on that assumption, then have learned some interesting things.

  1. The PS4, the more graphically powerful of the two very similarly designed consoles, was not able to maintain a 30 FPS target when rendering at 1920x1080 resolution with Assassin's Creed Unity.
     
  2. The Xbox One (after giving developers access to more compute cycles previously reserved to Kinect) is within a 1-2 FPS mark of the PS4.
     
  3. The Ubisoft team see Unity as being "crazily optimized" for the architecture and consoles even as we just now approach the 1 year anniversary of their release.
     
  4. Half of the CPU compute time is being used to help the rendering engine by unpacking pre-baked lighting models for the global illumination implementation and thus the game is being limited by the 50% remaining performance power the AI, etc.

It would appear that just as many in the media declared when the specifications for the new consoles were announced, the hardware inside the Playstation 4 and Xbox One undershoots the needs of game developers to truly build "next-generation" games. If, as this developer states, we are less than a year into the life cycle of hardware that was planned for an 8-10 year window and we have reached performance limits, that's a bad sign for game developers that really want to create exciting gaming worlds. Keep in mind that this time around the hardware isn't custom built cores or using a Cell architecture - we are talking about very basic x86 cores and traditional GPU hardware that ALL software developers are intimately familiar with. It does not surprise me one bit that we have seen more advanced development teams hit peak performance.

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If the PS4, the slightly more powerful console of the pair, is unable to render reliably at 1080p with a 30 FPS target, then unless the Ubisoft team are completely off the rocker in terms of development capability, the advancement of gaming on consoles would appear to be somewhat limited. Remember the specifications for these two consoles:

  PlayStation 4 Xbox One
Processor 8-core Jaguar APU 8-core Jaguar APU
Motherboard Custom Custom
Memory 8GB GDDR5 8GB DDR3
Graphics Card 1152 Stream Unit APU 768 Stream Unit APU
Peak Compute 1,840 GFLOPS 1,310 GFLOPS

The custom built parts from AMD both feature an 8-core Jaguar x86 architecture and either 768 or 1152 stream processors. The Jaguar CPU cores aren't high performance parts: single-threaded performance of Jaguar is less than the Intel Silvermont/Bay Trail designs by as much as 25%. Bay Trail is powering lots of super low cost tablets today and even the $179 ECS LIVA palm-sized mini-PC we reviewed this week. And the 1152/768 stream processors in the GPU portion of the AMD APU provide some punch, but a Radeon HD 7790 (now called the R7 260X), released in March of 2013, provides more performance than the PS4 and the Radeon R7 250X is faster than what resides in the Xbox One.

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If you were to ask me today what kind of performance would be required from AMD's current GPU lineup for a steady 1080p gaming experience on the PC, I would probably tell you the R9 280, a card you can buy today for around $180. From NVIDIA, I would likely pick a GTX 760 (around $200).

Also note that if the developer is using 50% of the CPU resources for rendering computation and the remaining 50% isn't able to hold up its duties on AI, etc., we likely have hit performance walls on the x86 cores as well.

Even if this developer quote is 100% correct that doesn't mean that the current generation of consoles is completely doomed. Microsoft has already stated that DirectX 12, focused on performance efficiency of current generation hardware, will be coming to the Xbox One and that could mean additional performance gains for developers. The PS4 will likely have access to OpenGL Next that is due in the future. And of course, it's also possible that this developer is just wrong and there is plenty of headroom left in the hardware for games to take advantage of.

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But honestly, based on my experience with these GPU and CPU cores, I don't think that's the case. If you look at screenshots of Assassin's Creed Unity and then look at the minimum and recommended specifications for the game on the PC, there is huge, enormous discrepancy. Are the developers just writing lazy code and not truly optimizing for the hardware? It seems unlikely that a company the size of Ubisoft would choose this route on purpose, creating a console game that runs in a less-than-ideal state while also struggling on the PC version. Remember, there is almost no "porting" going on here: the Xbox One and Playstation 4 share the same architecture as the PC now.

Of course, we might just be treading through known waters. I know we are a bit biased, and so is our reader base, but I am curious: do you think MS and Sony have put themselves in a hole with their shortsighted hardware selections?

UPDATE: It would appear that a lot of readers and commentors take our editorial on the state of the PS4 and XB1 as a direct attack on AMD and its APU design. That isn't really the case - regardless of what vendors' hardware is inside the consoles, had Microsoft and Sony still targeted the same performance levels, we would be in the exact same situation. An Intel + NVIDIA hardware combination could just have easily been built to the same peak theoretical compute levels and would have hit the same performance wall just as quickly. MS and Sony could have prevented this by using higher performance hardware, selling the consoles at a loss out the gate and preparing each platform for the next 7-10 years properly. And again, the console manufacturers could have done that with higher end AMD hardware, Intel hardware or NVIDIA hardware. The state of the console performance war is truly hardware agnostic.

Upgrade your selfies to the next level with these new products announced at IDF

Subject: General Tech | September 15, 2014 - 03:00 PM |
Tagged: idf 2014, sony, Panasonic, Samsung, cameras

At IDF there were a few new cameras on display which caught The Register's attention in amongst the smart appliances and other gadgets.  For the highest quality selfies try the Panasonic HX-500 4K activity cam which is good at depths of up to 3 metres for up to 30 minutes.  Perhaps you would prefer to pair your Galaxy Note 4 with the Samsung Galaxy VR headset to give you an Occulus like look at the world; a 96-degree view which is intended to look like a 175-inch screen seen from 2 metres away.   Samsung users could also pick up the Olloclip for Android, giving you fisheye and wide angle lenses for your Galaxy S4 or S5.  There is more in the article, check them all out here.

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"Image is everything - or so it has been said, and if the gadgets at the recent IFA techfest in Berlin are anything to go by then manufacturers certainly seem to think we’re image obsessed. With selfies being a global compulsion, perhaps they know us better than we know ourselves."

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Source: The Register

Face it, tape backups aren't going anywhere anytime soon

Subject: General Tech | May 1, 2014 - 03:18 PM |
Tagged: tape, backup, sony

Sony has just raised the bar on tape backup after creating a new process which can create strings of uniformly orientated nanocrystals in a layer less than five micrometers thick, giving the tape a storage density of 148 Gb per square inch.  Compare that to the current market standard of 2Gb per square inch on LTO-6 high-end LTO Ultrium tapes.  Unfortunately there are two questions left unanswered by the statement that The Register linked to; what I/O speeds can this media maintain and what its expected lifetime is.

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"Researchers at Sony have developed a new kind of magnetic tape that can store 74 times the data of current designs, dramatically cutting the amount of room needed for backup libraries."

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Source: The Register

Non-Replaceable, Defective Batteries in Sony VAIO Fit 11A

Subject: General Tech, Systems | April 15, 2014 - 08:48 PM |
Tagged: vaio, sony, battery issue

So it turns out that Sony, after releasing their last VAIO PC refresh before the division is sold to Japan Industrial Partners, have found an issue with Panasonic's custom lithium battery packs. The VAIO Fit 11A models, released February 2014, have the potential to overheat and catch fire, burning itself and the PC. They are in the process of creating a refund, repair, or exchange program but, in the mean time, request users stop using the devices for their safety.

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In head-crushing formation. #HandsCheck

The affected products fall under the model number, "SVF11N1XXXX", where Xs are, of course, some random letter or number. This information is printed underneath the display, accessible using the "release-lock" latch when the laptop is open.

Of course, this is all just unfortunate for Sony. The last product they create under their VAIO brand requires what basically amounts to a safety recall -- for a third-party component. Beyond that, Panasonic asserts that the flaw only seems to exist in the batteries that were customized for Sony. Panasonic, like many manufacturers, introduces slight modifications to existing products for a specific customer's needs. They do not believe that their other batteries, even of the same model, is defective outside of the shipment that Sony received.

At some point, you just need to feel bad for them...

Source: Sony

Sony Sells VAIO to Japan Industrial Partners (JIP)

Subject: General Tech, Systems | February 6, 2014 - 03:26 AM |
Tagged: sony vaio, sony

Oh look, something that was not purchased by Lenovo.

Sony has decided to sell its VAIO brand to Japanese Industrial Partners (JIP). Sony has been developing computers under thO brand since the mid 90's. While never a top-five player in the industry, they had a significant presence in stores and in the possession of people I bumped into on a day-to-day basis. The division was apparently in the red. It currently employs 1,000 people, of which 250-300 are expected to be hired with this deal.

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Whether the rest will be laid off or reshuffled within Sony remains to be seen.

As for Sony, they hope to focus on smartphones and tablets. They had a significant presence at last month's CES where they brought multiple Xperia models. VAIO also had its share of the attention though, so I guess that really does not mean much.

The acquisition is expected to complete near the end of July.

Source: The Verge

Sony Password Reset: Problem or Caution?

Subject: General Tech | December 5, 2013 - 07:33 PM |
Tagged: sony, Data Breach

Sony has detected "irregular activity" on their network and, as a precaution, have initiated password resets for several of their customers. Of course the great PlayStation hack is still fresh in our memory. Beyond the potential reference jokes, this time could be a sign that they learned their lesson.

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My hands are still in head-crushing formation.

My gut feeling is that Sony has noticed odd traffic from attackers trying to use break into accounts using information compromised from other sources (such as the recent Adobe hack). I actually received a similar email from Blizzard, just a couple of weeks after the Adobe hack, urging me to reset my password. It does not surprise me that whoever has access to the blob (heck it is probably public by now) would be poking gaming services to extort or troll.

I will give Sony the benefit of the doubt (especially considering how probable it is) and say they have learned from their lesson. This is the same practice used by to good security firms: push the big red reset button whenever something looks fishy and keeps your affected customers informed.

Of course I could eat my words if it is found out that Sony knows of a gigantic problem behind the scenes -- but I doubt it. Congratulations on handling the situation properly, Sony, even if it does open you up to misinformed trolls.

Source: The Verge
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Subject: Systems
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The 7 Year Console Refresh

Be sure you jump to the second page to see our recommendations for gaming PC builds that are inexpensive yet compete well with the capabilities and performance of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One!!

The consoles are coming!  The consoles are coming!  Ok, that is not necessarily true.  One is already here and the second essentially is too.  This of course brings up the great debate between PCs and consoles.  The past has been interesting when it comes to console gaming, as often the consoles would be around a year ahead of PCs in terms of gaming power and prowess.  This is no longer the case with this generation of consoles.  Cutting edge is now considered mainstream when it comes to processing and graphics.  The real incentive to buy this generation of consoles is a lot harder to pin down as compared to years past.

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The PS4 retails for $399 US and the upcoming Xbox One is $499.  The PS4’s price includes a single controller, while the Xbox’s package includes not just a controller, but also the next generation Kinect device.  These prices would be comparable to some low end PCs which include keyboard, mouse, and a monitor that could be purchased from large brick and mortar stores like Walmart and Best Buy.  Happily for most of us, we can build our machines to our own specifications and budgets.

As a directive from on high (the boss), we were given the task of building our own low-end gaming and productivity machines at a price as close to that of the consoles and explaining which solution would be superior at the price points given.  The goal was to get as close to $500 as possible and still have a machine that would be able to play most recent games at reasonable resolutions and quality levels.

Continue reading our comparison of PC vs. PS4 vs. Xbox One Hardware Comparison: Building a Competing Gaming PC!!