Subject: General Tech | June 16, 2016 - 11:43 AM | Ryan Shrout
Tagged: XPoint, xbox one, void, video, Strider, Silverstone, rx 480, rx 470, rx 460, podcast, PHAB2, Optane, MX300, Lenovo, GTX 1080, Egil, crucial, corsair, asus, arm
PC Perspective Podcast #404 - 06/16/2016
Join us this week as we discuss the new Crucial MX300 SSD, news on upcoming Xbox hardware changes, GTX 1080 shortages and more!
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This episode of the PC Perspective Podcast is sponsored by Lenovo!
Hosts: Ryan Shrout, Allyn Malventano, Jeremy Hellstrom, and Josh Walrath
Intro and Xbox One
Introduction to Remote Streaming
The ability to play console games on the PC is certainly nothing new. A wide range of emulators have long offered PC owners access to thousands of classic games. But the recent advent of personal game streaming gives users the ability to legally enjoy current generation console games on their PCs.
Both Microsoft and Sony now offer streaming from their respective current generation consoles to the PC, but via quite different approaches. For PC owners contemplating console streaming, we set out to discover how each platform works and compares, what level of quality discerning PC gamers can expect, and what limitations and caveats console streaming brings. Read on for our comparison of Xbox One Streaming in Windows 10 and PS4 Remote Play for the PC and Mac.
Xbox One Streaming in Windows 10
Xbox One Streaming was introduced alongside the launch of Windows 10 last summer, and the feature is limited to Microsoft's latest (and last?) operating system via its built-in Xbox app. To get started, you first need to enable the Game Streaming option in your Xbox One console's settings (Settings > Preferences > Game DVR & Streaming > Allow Game Streaming to Other Devices).
Once that's done, head to your Windows 10 PC, launch the Xbox app, and sign in with the same Microsoft account you use on your Xbox One. By default, the app will offer to sign you in with the same Microsoft account you're currently using for Windows 10. If your Xbox gamertag profile is associated with a different Microsoft account, just click Microsoft account instead of your current Windows 10 account name to sign in with the correct credentials.
Note, however, that as part of Microsoft's relentless efforts to get everyone in the Virgo Supercluster to join the online Microsoft family, the Xbox app will ask those using a local Windows 10 account if they want to "sign in to this device" using the account associated with their Xbox gamertag, thereby creating a new "online" account on your Windows 10 PC tied to your Xbox account.
If that's what you want, just type your current local account's password and click Next. If, like most users, you intentionally created your local Windows 10 account and have no plans to change it, click "Sign in to just this app instead," which will allow you to continue using your local account while still having access to the Xbox app via your gamertag-associated online Microsoft account.
Once you're logged in to the Xbox app, find and click on the "Connect" button in the sidebar on the left side of the window, which will let you add your Xbox One console as a device in your Windows 10 Xbox app.
Subject: General Tech | April 12, 2016 - 02:33 PM | Josh Walrath
Tagged: Thrustmaster, TMX, T300, tx f458, force feedback, wheels, racing pedals, DiRT Rally, project cars, Assetto Corsa, xbox one
Subject: General Tech | March 1, 2016 - 11:05 AM | Ryan Shrout
Tagged: xbox one, windows 10, uwp, uwa, universal windows platform, pc gaming, microsoft, consoles
If my editorial from yesterday didn't get you interested in this discussion, then perhaps a new line of talking from Microsoft's Phil Spencer will do the job. During its spring presser, the company's gaming lead talked about a plan to merge the PC and Xbox gaming experiences with cross platform gaming, universal applications and compatibility for upgraded Xbox consoles. I found a great write up over at The Guardian that I will pick some of the quotes from and then offer up my views.
Now it seems Microsoft’s plan is to shift the entire development model towards universal applications that run across PC and console – indeed any machine that’s compatible with the Universal Windows Platform. This could have radical implications for the console model, which so far has always been based on the idea that the hardware has to remain largely unchanged throughout the machine’s lifespan.
Much like I detailed in yesterday's story, the Universal Windows Platform and applications are the key here, with the goal of allowing developers to code a single game or program that will run on the entire gamut of PCs in the world including desktops and tablets, as well as on the Xbox One game console.
“In other [consumer technology] ecosystems you get more continuous innovation in hardware that you rarely see in consoles because consoles lock the hardware and software platforms together at the beginning and they ride the generation out for seven years or so,” said Spencer. “We’re allowing ourselves to decouple our software platform from the hardware platform on which it runs.”
I am actually incredibly excited for the idea of more, and more frequently, updated Xbox hardware from Microsoft. Like it or not, with UWP or without it, consoles and their hardware capability have always been a somewhat limiting factor on how much effort game devs put into creating new games for the PC. If we can depend on newer console hardware, and that games will more ably handle newer, faster components, then it raises the ceiling for image quality, new features, experiences like VR, etc.
“We can effectively feel a little bit more like what we see on PC where I can still go back and run my old Quake and Doom games, but then I can also see the best 4K games coming out. Hardware innovation continues and software takes advantage. I don’t have to jump generation and lose everything I played before.”
Expect to see some rolled eyes as you read this quote from Spencer; as PC gamers we already HAVE that capability and the move to UWP and UWAs is threatening to hinder that for us going forward. The PC has seen Steam, Origin, DRM-free gaming, an accelerated path to digital distribution, mods, overlays, benchmarking - all things that were held back or outlawed on consoles.
The Xbox chief ended his keynote by reiterating the importance of the PC as a gaming platform. He promised that UWAs will support multiple different graphics processors and that issues with V-Sync ( a setting that matches the game framerate with your monitor’s screen refresh rate) would be resolved.
Enabling support for different GPUs is a good promise, but much more important than just saying it is knowing HOW that support will be handled. As we saw based on our testing and research with Ashes of the Singularity, just supporting Radeon and GeForce cards isn't enough. What about features unique to each GPU? What about SLI and CrossFire? Variable refresh rate monitors? Enabling maximum performance with exclusive fullscreen modes? There is a lot to be answered and discussed.
Quantum Break will be on PC, exclusively as a Unified Windows App
This also marks the second time I have heard Spencer mention a "fix" for Vsync issues. I'd love to hear what they have in mind, and I have asked MS several times, but so far I haven't gotten any kind of solid answer. The real question is: does MS understand the problem and the gaming community on the PC well enough to even know what the problem is they are trying to fix?
The big question now is how onboard the development community is with the UWA concept. In theory, these apps should run seamlessly on top of PC and Xbox One architectures, with abstractions to exploit the graphics processors, system memory and other hardware features, as well as compatibility with Microsoft’s DirectX application programming interface (API) for enhanced graphics performance. But will the reality match the promise?
"In theory" and "in practice" are two wildly different things, and we've already seen one example of this not going as planned. I do believe that game developers would jump at the chance to have true cross compatibility as long as the hiccups and issues we are discussing can be dealt with in a reasonable way. It just makes sense: this eases development hurdles and expands the possible customer base.
Outside of Microsoft, it will be interesting to see how studios react. “In principle UWA sounds like a good idea,” says Byron Atkinson-Jones, a veteran games programmer, now running his own indie studio, Xiotex, and working on sci-fi puzzler, Caretaker. “It offers a more unified platform or environment rather than a fragmented operating systems running on an even more fragmented hardware base. However, this is all reliant on just how hard it is to develop for and how much of a closed shop it will become.
“The best thing about PC is that anyone can make a game for it and UWA sounds like it’s going to become a curated system that will probably require some developer registration to get on.”
Exactly this. The benefit of the PC is its openness, even when running on Windows (as opposed to SteamOS or Linux, for example.) If you take that away, will developers and gamers start to walk?
Given that Microsoft is promoting UWP as a catch-all platform for Windows 10 that encompasses Xbox one, what does this mean in terms of support for the console’s hardware specifications? “As it stands currently, if you are making an Xbox one game you can be sure on what kind of hardware it’s running,” says Atkinson-Jones. “If developers are then forced down a UWA route, is it going to be the case that this certainty is gone and we get back to the situation on PC where you have to start specifying a minimum spec – which kind of renders a unified platform redundant?”
I disagree that having a minimum spec makes a unified platform less useful, it simply sets a standard for which experience and gameplay can be measured. Even Apple iPhones and iOS implement this to some degree and they have as locked down of a software ecosystem as you can get. If it's handled correctly, Microsoft could be the arbiter of hardware classification and certification, as they kind of already are with WHQL, making sure that any PC hardware or updated Xbox hardware will pass the test for previous and upcoming gaming titles.
But that is a very difficult task and is likely why MS would like to integrate some restrictions through the API and Windows compositing engine to help them hold that promise moving into the future.
But he will have to convince not just gamers, but the development community. “Microsoft has tried this before with Games for Windows and that was a disaster,” says Atkinson-Jones. “There will be many game developers who had to go through that monstrosity shaking their heads in disbelief that history may just be about to repeat itself.”
Oh yeah, that...remember Games for Windows Live? Remember when it cratered and we had to deal with the fallout of some games not working without GWL servers running? Or just the complication of needing a unique sign-in that often tied the game down in unwieldy ways? That's the dystopian future that PC gamers want to avoid.
All of that being said, I'm still hopeful that Microsoft can turn this into a positive movement. Removing the 7 year upgrade cycle for the Xbox One means that PC gamers will benefit from moving specs on the consoles, giving game developers the ability to target higher end hardware as the platform evolves. I do believe that cross platform games will mean an increase in innovative titles with expanded audiences and more opportunity for developers to make money for their work. But all of this has to be done with more sensitivity to the PC ecosystem than it is being addressed with currently. If nothing else, PC gamers are a loud and easily started group.
Be sure you read the full story over at The Guardian!
Subject: General Tech | December 16, 2015 - 07:20 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: xbox one, Windows 8.1, windows 8, Windows 7, windows 10, microsoft
Last week, Microsoft announced that the Xbox Wireless Adapter for Windows now supports Windows 7 and 8.x. Previously, the dongle would only work on Windows 10, which meant that other operating systems required Xbox One controllers to be wired.
This does not mean that all functionality will be available on Windows 7 and 8.x, though. The Xbox Accessories app is required to manage profiles and update firmware without an Xbox One console. As far as I can tell, that will continue to be the case. If you have an Xbox One console, and don't mind managing the controllers there, then this wireless adapter might be for you. If you have don't have an Xbox One console, Windows 10, or an existing Xbox One controller, then you may want to reconsider getting an Xbox One controller at all. If you do, then you can turn it wireless, now even on Windows 7 and 8.x.
The Xbox One Wireless Adapter for Windows has been out for a couple of months.
Subject: General Tech | November 15, 2015 - 10:58 PM | Tim Verry
Tagged: xbox one, chatpad, microsoft
Microsoft released the Xbox One chatpad on Thursday, making it easier to chat with friends and browse the internet thanks to the full QWERTY keyboard. The pad plugs into the bottom of the controller using both the proprietary connector and the 3.5mm audio jack. The chatpad then provides its own audio jack to plug a chat headset into.
The chatpad keyboard is back-lit features dedicated buttons to control the volume level, game and voice chat volume mix, and a microphone mute. it also has two user programmable keys (X1 and X2) that are usable only on the Xbox One although that functionality will not be available until "mid 2016" according to Microsoft. Currently, pressing the X1 and X2 function keys will take a screenshot and save the last 30 seconds of game play as a video clip respectively.
The chatpad is compatible with all Xbox One controllers provided they are running the latest firmware. It can be used with both the Xbox One and Windows 10 PCs. Note that the Xbox One must be running the NXOE (New Xbox One Experience) update and Windows 10 must be updated to the November Update. Function keys only work with the Xbox One.
The chatpad and chat headset are available now from Amazon for $34.99.
- Just Delivered: Xbox One Elite Wireless Controller
- Just Picked Up: Xbox Wireless Adapter for Windows
Subject: General Tech | October 28, 2015 - 10:02 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: xbox one, xbox, pc gaming
The Xbox One Elite Wireless Controller launched yesterday, and mine arrived in the early afternoon by mail. It was not a review unit, I bought it at retail, but I intend to publish my thoughts on the device in the near future. I am currently thinking up tests and benchmarks to run it through. Be sure to look out for that. It will be told from the perspective of a PC gamer who does not own an Xbox One console, and who does not intend to get one.
I have been using it over the last two days, off and on, however. I must say, it is pretty solidly built from what I can tell. The thumb sticks rolls around with basically zero grinding sensation, and the D-Pad feels precise (although that will need to be actually tested). It does feel just a bit awkward for games that center on the D-Pad though, because my left thumb feels more natural somewhere between it, the left thumb stick, and the “view” (back) button. It is certainly better than a standard Xbox 360 gamepad for “16-bit” style games, but probably not a step-up from USB-based knock-off SNES controllers for enthusiasts who go for that sort of thing.
It's definitely the best offering that I've used for titles like Super Meat Boy, though... even as far back as Windows 98/XP era. Granted, I didn't dip too far into the niche companies.
So keep an eye out for our later review. It will probably be one of the few that exclusively focus on the PC, and was written by someone who could potentially see themselves buying one... because I did. A word of warning though -- the controller's firmware still cannot be updated without an Xbox One console (although the Xbox Accessories app to customize it is available for free in the Windows Store). I've reached out to Xbox PR asking for any update on that situation, and the answer will probably be a big part of the review.
Subject: General Tech, Shows and Expos | June 17, 2015 - 10:24 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: xbox one, xbox, Steam Controller, microsoft, E3 2015, E3 15, E3, controller
And, of course, Xbox One... but I can assume who is the bulk of my audience.
Microsoft announced the Xbox One Elite Controller at E3, which includes support for Windows 10. This is part of their initiative to amend relations with the PC gaming industry. They seem to be going about it by focusing on the high-end gamer first. If not, then I wonder why they chose a $150 controller as a leading product.
At that price, you could literally purchase three Steam Controllers from Valve instead of a single one of these, but whether you should... depends. In all honesty, I might end up purchasing both and doing a comparison between them over a variety of games. Of course, my primary input device is the mouse and keyboard for most games, but I occasionally add an early model Xbox 360 wired controller to the mix for Saint's Row, Grand Theft Auto, NASCAR 2003, and a few other titles.
The real disappointment is its D-Pad, though. It just cannot reliably send a single direction without sometimes accidentally sending others. This gets worse in games that are styled in the “8-bit” and “16-bit” era. I actually need to play most of those on a keyboard, which is a terrible experience. Valve's implementation looks interesting with the cross-shaped thumbpad, but Microsoft's new version has options: an old-fashioned cross as well as a nine-sectioned cup, called a “faceted D-pad”.
That leads into the main design of Microsoft's controller: customization. Two switches on the back of the controller allow the range of trigger motion to be limited on the fly. This is designed for games like Grand Theft Auto, where the player wants precise control over throttle and brake, but would prefer to rapidly max-out the trigger as fast as possible when shooting a weapon. With this controller, you flip the switch when you leave the car and, what normally would be some fraction of its range, would be considered “bottoming out” and it would apparently even physically stop the trigger from pushing in further. According to the website, the threshold is user-customizable. I did not use it personally because I wasn't at E3.
Like Valve's controller, it has optional rear paddles near the grips. They are stainless steel apparently, and can be used to compensate for weird button combinations by mapping them to fingers that normally just clutch the device itself. In Valve's version, there is just two while Microsoft's allows for up to four. Microsoft also allows you to detach them, rather than just disable them.
This is when we get to software customization. Valve claims that the Steam Controller can be bound to many events across mouse, keyboard, and gamepad buttons and axises. Microsoft, on the other hand, seems to be keeping within the range of buttons found on a standard Xbox One controller. This is concerning to me because it means that extended inputs will be redundant, which is fine for an Xbox One game but could be annoying for a PC title that has many independent, simpler commands. This might be a limitation of XINPUT, which supposedly cannot address more than 10 buttons. I thought I remembered that limit being extended, but that seems to be true even in the MSDN documentation. Even still, the driver could address the extra functions as a secondary virtual device (keyboards, etc.) but Microsoft doesn't seem to want to. As a final note, Valve also allows the end of both triggers to be considered a clicky button, while Microsoft just recognizes it as a bottomed-out axis.
The Xbox One Elite Controller will ship in October for $149.99. A wireless adapter for the PC will not be required if you use the included USB Micro cable, but add that to the price if you want it wireless. Add batteries on top of that, because it takes AA. They include a pair of disposable AA, but that is obviously not a permanent solution.
Subject: General Tech, Shows and Expos | March 6, 2015 - 03:57 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: xbox one, xbox, microsoft, gdc 15, GDC, controller
During his keynote speech, Phil Spencer of Microsoft announced a wireless adapter for PC. It can apparently be used to connect any wireless Xbox One peripheral on Windows 10. If you watch the presentation, the statement occurred at about 36 minutes and 30 seconds in. It was just a brief acknowledgement of its existence this year.
A similar device existed for the Xbox 360, pictured above, and I used it heavily with controller-friendly games (until the adapter died abruptly). I was not a fan of the directional pad, of course, but the rest of the controller suited the games that I play without a mouse and keyboard. I also used the adapter with the Xbox 360 wireless headset, which was surprisingly good (especially at removing speaker noise).
On the same day, Neowin acquired a leak that claims the company is looking to create a new Xbox One controller. They expect that, if the project doesn't get killed internally, we will see the new controller at E3 2015 in June. The design is supposed to focus on first person shooters and driving titles, but nothing else is known about it. We'll see.
Introducing Windows 10 (Again)
I did not exactly make too many unsafe predictions, but let's recap the Windows 10 Consumer announcement anyway. The briefing was a bit on the slow side, at least if you are used to E3 keynotes, but it contained a fair amount of useful information. Some of the things discussed are future-oriented, but some will arrive soon. So let's get right into it.
Price and Upgrade Options
Microsoft has not announced an official price for Windows 10, if the intent is to install it on a new PC. If you are attempting to upgrade a machine that currently runs Windows 7 or Windows 8.1, then that will be a free upgrade if done within the first year. Windows Phone 8.1 users are also eligible for a no-cost upgrade to Windows 10 if done in the first year.
Quote Terry Myerson of Microsoft, “Once a device is upgraded to Windows 10, we will be keeping it current for the supported lifetime of the device.” This is not elaborated on, but it seems like a weird statement given what we have traditionally expected from Windows. One possible explanation is that Microsoft intends for Windows to be a subscription service going forward, which would be the most obvious extension of “Windows as a Service”. On the other hand, they could be going for the per-device revenue option with Bing, Windows Store, and other initiatives being long tail. If so, I am a bit confused about what constitutes a new device for systems that are regularly upgraded, like what our readers are typically interested in. All of that will eventually be made clear, but not yet.
A New Build for Windows 10
Late in the keynote, Microsoft announced the availability of new preview builds for Windows 10. This time, users of Windows Phone 8.1 will also be able to see the work in progress. PC “Insiders” will get access to their build “in the next week” and phones will get access “in Feburary”. Ars Technica seems to believe that this is scheduled for Sunday, February 1st, which is a really weird time to release a build but their source might be right.
We don't know exactly what will be in it, though. In my predictions, I guessed that a DirectX 12 SDK might be available (or at least some demos) in the next build. That has not been mentioned, which probably would have been if it were true. I expect the next possibility (if we're not surprised in the next one-to-ten days when the build drops) is Game Developers Conference (GDC 2015), which starts on March 2nd.
The New Web Browser: Project Spartan
My guess was that Spartan would be based on DirectX 12. Joe Belfiore said that it is using a new, standards-compliant rendering engine and basically nothing more. The event focused on specific features. The first is note taking, which basically turns the web browser into a telestrator that can also accept keyboard comment blocks. The second is a reading mode that alters content into a Microsoft Word-like column. The third is “reading lists”, which is basically a “read it later” feature that does offline caching. The fourth is Adobe PDF support, which works with the other features of Spartan such as note taking and reading lists.
Which Transitions Into Cortana
The fifth feature of Spartan is Cortana integration, which will provide auto-suggestions based on the information that the assistant software has. The example they provided was auto-suggesting the website for his wife's flight. Surprisingly, when you attempt to control a Spartan, Cortana does not say “There's two of us in here now, remember?” You know, in an attempt to let you know she's service that's integrated into the browser.
Otherwise, it's an interesting demo. I might even end up using it when it comes out, but these sorts of things do not really interest me too much. We have been at the point where, for my usage, the operating system is really not in the way anymore. It feels like there is very little friction between me and getting what I want done, done. Of course, people felt that way about rotary phones until touch-tone came out, and I keep an open mind to better methods. It's just hard to get me excited about voice-activated digital assistants.
As I stated before, DirectX 12 was mentioned but a release date was not confirmed. What they did mention was a bit of relative performance. DirectX 12 supposedly uses about half of the power consumption of DirectX 11, which is particularly great for mobile applications. It can also handle scenes with many more objects. A FutureMark demo was displayed, with the DirectX 11 version alongside a DirectX 12 version. The models seem fairly simple, but the DirectX 12 version appears to running at over 100 FPS when the DirectX 11 version outright fails.
Other gaming features were mentioned. First, Windows 10 will allow shadow recording the last 30 seconds of footage from any game. You might think that NVIDIA would be upset about that, and they might be, but that is significantly less time than ShadowPlay or other recording methods. Second, Xbox One will be able to stream gameplay to any PC in your house. I expect this is the opposite direction than what people hope for, rather wishing for high-quality PC footage to be easily streamed to TVs with a simple interface. It will probably serve a purpose for some use case, though.
Well that was a pretty long event, clocking in at almost two-and-a-half hours. The end had a surprise announcement of an augmented reality (not virtual reality) headset, called the “HoloLens”, which is developed by the Kinect team. I am deliberately not elaborating on it because I was not at the event and I have not tried it. I will say that the most interesting part about it, for me, is the Skype integration, because that probably hints at Microsoft's intentions with the product.
For the rest of us, it touched on a number of interesting features but, like the Enterprise event, did not really dive in. It would have been nice to get some technical details about DirectX 12, but that obviously does not cater to the intended audience. Unless an upcoming build soft-launches a DirectX 12 preview (or Spartan) so that we can do our own discovery, we will probably need to wait until GDC and/or BUILD to find out more.
Until then, you could watch the on-demand version at Microsoft's website.