Our first thoughts and impressions
Since first hearing about the Kickstarter project that raised nearly 2.5 million dollars from over 9,500 contributors, I have eagerly been awaiting the arrival of my Oculus Rift development kit. Not because I plan on quitting the hardware review business to start working on a new 3D, VR-ready gaming project but just because as a technology enthusiast I need to see the new, fun gadgets and what they might mean for the future of gaming.
I have read other user's accounts of their time with the Oculus Rift, including a great write up in a Q&A form Ben Kuchera over at Penny Arcade Report, but I needed my own hands-on time with the consumer-oriented VR (virtual reality) product. Having tried it for very short periods of time at both Quakecon 2012 and CES 2013 (less than 5 minutes) I wanted to see how it performed and more importantly, how my body reacted to it.
I don't consider myself a person that gets motion sick. Really, I don't. I fly all the time, sit in the back of busses, ride roller coasters, watch 3D movies and play fast-paced PC games on large screens. The only instances I tend to get any kind of unease with motion is on what I call "roundy-round" rides, the kind that simply go in circles over and over. Think about something like this, The Scrambler, or the Teacups at Disney World. How would I react to time with the Oculus Rift, this was my biggest fear...
For now I don't want to get into the politics of the Rift, how John Carmack was initially a huge proponent of the project then backed off on how close we might be the higher-quality consumer version of the device. We'll cover those aspects in a future story. For now I only had time for some first impressions.
Watch the video above for a walk through of the development kit as well as some of the demos, as best can be demonstrated in a 2D plane!
Good effort goes a long way
The wait has been long and anxious for Heart of the Swarm, the expansion to 2010's StarCraft 2: Wings of Liberty. Blizzard originally hinted at a very rapid release schedule which did not exactly come to fruition. The nearly three years of development time for Heart of the Swarm is longer than a single studio spends on a full Call of Duty title; although, one could make a very credible argument that a Blizzard expansion requires more effort to create than said complete Call of Duty title.
But as Duke Nukem Forever demonstrated, a long time in development does not guarantee a fully baked product coming out the other end.
Blizzard games have always been highly entertaining albeit without deep artistic substance; their games are not first on the list for a university literature syllabus. But, there is a lot of room in life for engaging entertainment. In terms of the PC, Blizzard has always been one of the leading developers for the platform; they know how to deliver an exceptional PC experience if they choose to.
Obsidian Series for under $100
If you need a case for your next PC build, the chances are good that Corsair has a model that you'll like. Ranging from the obscenely large Obsidian 900D to the $69 Carbide 200R and just about everything in between, Corsair has a ton of options Today we are reviewing the brand new entrant to the Obsidian series, the 350D, that brings Corsair to the Micro-ATX form factor.
The Obsidian series is the flagship chassis line from Corsair and typically means you are getting the best of the best from the expanding components company. With an MSRP of just $99 you are definitely making some sacrifices on features and on size, limiting us to Micro-ATX or Mini-ITX motherboards and systems.
The front panel has an attractive brushed finish to it with removable front panel (and fan filter).
Connections up top include headphones, microphone as well as a pair of USB 3.0 ports. There power button is right in the center with dual LEDs on each side. The reset button is just to the right of the mic port and is recessed enough to prevent accidental presses.
Subject: Editorial | April 26, 2013 - 11:40 AM | Ryan Shrout
Tagged: video, pcper, Indiegogo
UPDATE 4/26/13: We are extremely excited to see that we have met our first goal for our Indiegogo project! We are eternally grateful for our fans and readers that are supporting us in this endeavor. We are going to start putting together orders for the set materials and I am very excited about the direction this is pointing us in. There is still room to improve the project though and we have lots of great perks available for those of you that are still looking to contribute to the cause! Oh, and we should have our T-shirt design ready early next week as well. Thank you EVERYONE for reading PC Perspective!!
And for those of you looking for a bit more insight into our total goals, here is another mock up of the set!
Yesterday evening, the team at PC Perspective launched a project that will help us grow and expand our coverage of technology and computer hardware. Using the crowd funding service called Indiegogo.com, we are doing a fund drive to help improve the quality of our video content and enable us to do more, unique styles of content.
If you are anything like us, you love technology. Motherboards, graphics cards, processors, SSDs, monitors, laptops, tablets, cell phones and more. And you also love reading about them, hearing about them and seeing them, dissecting them and finding out what makes them tick.
I am confident that high quality video content is the future of our medium and while we have been able to do quite a lot with the basic technology and setup we have here today, my goal is to be able to bring the readers regular, high quality video content on all aspects of technology. We want to not only have video reviews for products but we want to be able to do near-daily content updates on the news of the day while balancing that with long-form interviews of personalities that make the industry function. We have dabbled in some of these content types and the responses have been great, but we need a higher quality setup to really do it right.
Our goal with this project is to build the funds necessary to turn our office in Florence, KY into a high tech video production outlet that starts with a quality set design and better quality equipment.
Other than supporting one of your favorite online outlets, we have also lined up some sweet perks for contributors to our project. We have ad-free versions of the site, Tshirts and access to the PC Perspective Gold Club that has some pretty ridiculous giveaways! If you support us even further you can get some individual time with our team to tell us why you supported us, answer your questions or even join us for an episode of the PC Perspective Podcast!
Come visit the offices, join the process of creating a new show or make fun of Josh's laugh in person - it's all possible!
So if you have the means and you want to support our cause, if you have enjoyed any of our articles, podcasts or video reviews, consider helping to fund our project!
Support PC Perspective's Indiegogo Project
Subject: General Tech | April 25, 2013 - 02:13 PM | Ken Addison
Tagged: video, Xe, seiki, raidr, podcast, nvidia, Never Serttle, hd 7990, GA-Z77N-WiFi, frame rating, crossfire, amd, 4k
PC Perspective Podcast #248 - 04/25/2013
Join us this week as we discuss AMD HD 7990, CrossFire Frame Rating improvements, 4K TVs and more!
The URL for the podcast is: http://pcper.com/podcast - Share with your friends!
- iTunes - Subscribe to the podcast directly through the Store
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- MP3 - Direct download link to the MP3 file
Hosts: Ryan Shrout, Jeremy Hellstrom, Josh Walrath, and Allyn Malventano
Program length: 1:16:34
0:01:20 Update on Indiegogo: You guys rock!
Week in Review:
0:06:30 AMD Radeon HD 7990 6GB Review
News items of interest:
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The card we have been expecting
Despite all the issues that were brought up with our new graphics performance testing methodology we are calling Frame Rating, there is little debate in the industry that AMD is making noise once again in the graphics field. From the elaborate marketing and game bundles with all Radeon HD 7000 series cards over the last year to the hiring of Roy Taylor, VP of sales but also the company's most vocal supporter.
Along with the marketing though goes plenty of technology and important design wins. With the dominance of the APU on the console side (Wii U, Playstation 4 and the next Xbox), AMD is making sure that the familiarity with its GPU architecture there pays dividends on the PC side as well. Developers will be focusing on AMD's graphics hardware for 5-10 years with the console generation and that could result in improved performance and feature support for Radeon graphics for PC gamers.
Today's release of the Radeon HD 7990 6GB Malta dual-GPU graphics card shows a renewed focus on high-end graphics markets since the release of the Radeon HD 7970 in January of 2012. And while you may have seen something for sale previously with the HD 7990 name attached, those were custom designs built by partners, not by AMD.
Both ASUS and PowerColor currently have high-end dual-Tahiti cards for sale. The PowerColor HD 7990 Devil 13 used the brand directly but ASUS' ARES II kept away from the name and focused on its own high-end card brands instead.
The "real" Radeon HD 7990 card was first teased at GDC in March and takes a much less dramatic approach to its design without being less impressive technically. The card includes a pair of Tahiti, HD 7970-class GPUs on a single PCB with 6GB of total memory. The raw specifications are listed here:
Considering there are two HD 7970 GPUs on the HD 7990, the doubling of the major specs shouldn't be surprising though it is a little deceiving. There are 8.6 billion transistors yes, but there are still 4.3 billion on each GPU. Yes there are 4096 stream processors but only 2048 on each GPU requiring software GPU scaling to increase performance. The same goes with texture fill rate, compute performance, memory bandwidth, etc. The same could be said for all dual-GPU graphics cards though.
A very early look at the future of Catalyst
Today is a very interesting day for AMD. It marks both the release of the reference design of the Radeon HD 7990 graphics card, a dual-GPU Tahiti behemoth, and the first sample of a change to the CrossFire technology that will improve animation performance across the board. Both stories are incredibly interesting and as it turns out both feed off of each other in a very important way: the HD 7990 depends on CrossFire and CrossFire depends on this driver.
If you already read our review (or any review that is using the FCAT / frame capture system) of the Radeon HD 7990, you likely came away somewhat unimpressed. The combination of a two AMD Tahiti GPUs on a single PCB with 6GB of frame buffer SHOULD have been an incredibly exciting release for us and would likely have become the single fastest graphics card on the planet. That didn't happen though and our results clearly state why that is the case: AMD CrossFire technology has some serious issues with animation smoothness, runt frames and giving users what they are promised.
Our first results using our Frame Rating performance analysis method were shown during the release of the NVIDIA GeForce GTX Titan card in February. Since then we have been in constant talks with the folks at AMD to figure out what was wrong, how they could fix it, and what it would mean to gamers to implement frame metering technology. We followed that story up with several more that showed the current state of performance on the GPU market using Frame Rating that painted CrossFire in a very negative light. Even though we were accused by some outlets of being biased or that AMD wasn't doing anything incorrectly, we stuck by our results and as it turns out, so does AMD.
Today's preview of a very early prototype driver shows that the company is serious about fixing the problems we discovered.
If you are just catching up on the story, you really need some background information. The best place to start is our article published in late March that goes into detail about how game engines work, how our completely new testing methods work and the problems with AMD CrossFire technology very specifically. From that piece:
It will become painfully apparent as we dive through the benchmark results on the following pages, but I feel that addressing the issues that CrossFire and Eyefinity are creating up front will make the results easier to understand. We showed you for the first time in Frame Rating Part 3, AMD CrossFire configurations have a tendency to produce a lot of runt frames, and in many cases nearly perfectly in an alternating pattern. Not only does this mean that frame time variance will be high, but it also tells me that the value of performance gained by of adding a second GPU is completely useless in this case. Obviously the story would become then, “In Battlefield 3, does it even make sense to use a CrossFire configuration?” My answer based on the below graph would be no.
An example of a runt frame in a CrossFire configuration
NVIDIA's solution for getting around this potential problem with SLI was to integrate frame metering, a technology that balances frame presentation to the user and to the game engine in a way that enabled smoother, more consistent frame times and thus smoother animations on the screen. For GeForce cards, frame metering began as a software solution but was actually integrated as a hardware function on the Fermi design, taking some load off of the driver.
Subject: General Tech, Graphics Cards, Displays | April 18, 2013 - 08:52 PM | Ryan Shrout
Tagged: video, seiki, se50UY04, hdtv, hdmi 1.4, displays, 4k, 3840x2160
This just in! We have a 4K TV in the PC Perspective Offices!
While we are still working on the ability to test graphics card performance at this resolution with our Frame Rating capture system, we decided to do a live stream earlier today as we unboxed, almost dropped and then eventually configured our new 4K TV.
The TV in question? A brand new SEIKI SE50UY04 50-in 3840x2160 ready display. Haven't heard of it? Neither have we. I picked it up over the weekend from TigerDirect for $1299, though it actually a bit higher now at $1499.
The TV itself is pretty unassuming and other than looking for the 4K label on the box you'd be hard pressed to discern it from other displays. It DID come with a blue, braided UHD-ready HDMI cable, so there's that.
One point worth noting is that the stand on the TV is pretty flimsy; there was definitely wobble after installation and setup.
Connecting the TV to our test system was pretty easy - only a single HDMI cable was required and the GeForce GTX 680s in SLI we happened to have on our test bed recognized it as a 3840x2160 capable display. Keep in mind that you are limited to a refresh rate of 30 Hz though due to current limitations of HDMI 1.4. The desktop was clear and sharper and if you like screen real estate...this has it.
The first thing we wanted to try was some 4K video playback and we tried YouTube videos, some downloaded clips we found scattered across the Internet and a couple of specific examples I had been saving. Isn't that puppy cute? It was by far the best picture I had seen on a TV that close up - no other way to say it.
We did have issues with video playback in some cases due to high bit rates. In one case we had a YUV uncompressed file that was hitting our SSD so hard on read speeds that we saw choppiness. H.265 save us!
And of course we demoed some games as well - Battlefield 3, Crysis 3, Skyrim and Tomb Raider. Each was able to run at 3840x2160 without any complaints or INI hacks. They all looked BEAUTIFUL when in a still position but we did notice some flickering on the TV that might be the result of the 120 Hz interpolation and possibly the "dynamic luminance control" feature that SEIKI has.
We'll definitely test some more on this in the coming days to see if we can find a solution as I know many PC gamers are going to be excited about the possibility of using this as a gaming display! We are working on a collection of benchmarks on some of the higher end graphics solutions like the GeForce TITAN, GTX 680s, HD 7990 and HD 7970s!
If you want to check out the full experience of our unboxing and first testing, check out the full live stream archived below!!
Not a simple answer
After publishing the Frame Rating Part 3 story, I started to see quite a bit of feedback from readers and other enthusiasts with many requests for information about Vsync and how it might affect the results we are seeing here. Vertical Sync is the fix for screen tearing, a common artifact seen in gaming (and other mediums) when the frame rendering rate doesn’t match the display’s refresh rate. Enabling Vsync will force the rendering engine to only display and switch frames in the buffer to match the vertical refresh rate of the monitor or a divisor of it. So a 60 Hz monitor could only display frames at 16ms (60 FPS), 33ms (30 FPS), 50ms (20 FPS), and so on.
Many early readers hypothesized that simply enabling Vsync would fix the stutter and runt issues that Frame Rating was bringing to light. In fact, AMD was a proponent of this fix, as many conversations we have had with the GPU giant trailed into the direction of Vsync as answer to their multi-GPU issues.
In our continuing research on graphics performance, part of our Frame Rating story line, I recently spent many hours playing games on different hardware configurations and different levels of Vertical Sync. After this time testing, I am comfortable in saying that I do not think that simply enabling Vsync on platforms that exhibit a large number of runt frames fixes the issue. It may prevent runts, but it does not actually produce a completely smooth animation.
To be 100% clear - the issues with Vsync and animation smoothness are not limited to AMD graphics cards or even multi-GPU configurations. The situations we are demonstrating here present themselves equally on AMD and NVIDIA platforms and with single or dual card configurations, as long as all other parameters are met. Our goal today is only to compare a typical Vsync situation from either vendor to a reference result at 60 FPS and at 30 FPS; not to compare AMD against NVIDIA!!
In our initial research with Frame Rating, I presented this graph on the page discussing Vsync. At the time, I left this note with the image:
The single card and SLI configurations without Vsync disabled look just like they did on previous pages but the graph for GTX 680 SLI with Vsync on is very different. Frame times are only switching back and forth between 16 ms and 33 ms, 60 and 30 instantaneous FPS due to the restrictions of Vsync. What might not be obvious at first is that the constant shifting back and forth between these two rates (two refresh cycles with one frame, one refresh cycle with one frame) can actually cause more stuttering and animation inconsistencies than would otherwise appear.
Even though I had tested this out and could literally SEE that animation inconsistency I didn't yet have a way to try and demonstrate it to our readers, but today I think we do.
The plan for today's article is going to be simple. I am going to present a set of three videos to you that show side by side runs from different configuration options and tell you what I think we are seeing in each result. Then on another page, I'm going to show you three more videos and see if you can pinpoint the problems on your own.
Gaming on your Couch
Sometimes really unique products come across our door step and we just love to tell our readers about things that might normally fall outside the PC hardware field. The COUCHMASTER, essentially a piece of furniture made for gaming, is one of those items.
The COUCHMASTER, produced by a German company called Nerdytec, is a device built to help gamers use a mouse and keyboard while sitting on a couch and gaming in large screen environments. It has a pair of foam-stuffed side block that hold up a wood-constructed center panel that puts your mouse and keyboard at a comfortable angle.
Cable routing is made simple with Velcro removable panels under the keyboard and mouse and some versions of COUCHMASTER include a 4-port USB hub for connecting input devices, audio headsets, etc. The only that didn't work in our testing were external hard drives - just not enough power coming from the USB 3.0 connection through the include extension cable.
I played the entirety of Bioshock Infinite with the COUCHMASTER, and other than getting some odd looks from my wife, couldn't think of a more impressive and comfortable way to play PC games from a distance and without a standard desk setup.
I would love to see some changes like the addition of recessed drink holders on the sides, but otherwise, the only drawback to Nerdytec's COUCHMASTER is the price; it starts at $170 or so USD.
Check out the full video review posted below!!
UPDATE: The CouchMaster is now for sale in the US now!