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Introduction, Specifications, and Design
More than an ordinary pair of headphones, the SINE headphones from Audeze feature planar magnetic drivers, and the option of direct connection to an Apple Lightning port for pure digital sound from the SINE's inline 24-bit DAC and headphone amp. So how does the "world’s first on-ear planar magnetic headphone" sound? We first had a chance to hear the SINE headphones at CES, and Audeze was kind enough to loan us a pair to test them out.
"SINE headphones, with our planar magnetic technology, are the next step up in sound quality for many listeners. Instead of using ordinary dynamic drivers, our planar technology gives you a sound that’s punchy, dynamic, and detailed. In fact, it sounds like a much larger headphone! It’s lightweight, and folds flat for easy travelling. Once again, we’ve called upon our strategic partner Designworks, a BMW group subsidiary for the industrial design, and we manufacture SINE headphones in the USA at our Southern California factory."
Planar headphones certainly seem be be gaining traction in recent years. It was a pair from Audeze that I was first was able to demo a couple of years ago (the LCD-3 if I recall correctly), and I remember thinking about how precise they sounded. Granted, I was listening via a high-end headphone amp and lossless digital source at a hi-fi audio shop, so I had no frame of reference for what my own, lower-end equipment at home could do. And while the SINE headphones are certainly very advanced and convenient as an all-in-one solution to high-end audio for iOS device owners, there’s more to the story.
One the distinct advantages provided by the SINE headphones is the consistency of the experience they can provide across compatible devices. If you hear the SINE in a store (or on the floor of a tradeshow, as I did) you’re going to hear the same sound at home or on the go, provided you are using an Apple i-device. The Lightning connector provides the digital source for your audio, and the SINE’s built-in DAC and headphone amp create the analog signal that travels to the planar magnetic drivers in the headphones. In fact, if your own source material is of higher quality you can get even better sound than you might hear in a demo - and that’s the catch with headphones like this: source material matters.
One of the problems with high-end components in general is their ability to reveal the limitations of other equipment in the chain. Looking past the need for quality amplification for a moment, think about the differences you’ll immediately hear from different music sources. Listen to a highly-compressed audio stream, and it can sound rather flat and lifeless. Listen to uncompressed music from your iTunes library, and you will appreciate the more detailed sound. But move up to 24-bit studio master recordings (with their greater dynamic range and significantly higher level of detail), and you’ll be transported into the world of high-res audio with the speakers, DAC, and headphone amp you need to truly appreciate the difference.
Even before the formulation of the term "Internet of things", Steve Gibson proposed home networking topology changes designed to deal with this new looming security threat. Unfortunately, little or no thought is given to the security aspects of the devices in this rapidly growing market.
One of Steve's proposed network topology adjustments involved daisy-chaining two routers together. The WAN port of an IOT-purposed router would be attached to the LAN port of the Border/root router.
In this arrangement, only IOT/Smart devices are connected to the internal (or IOT-purposed) router. The idea was to isolate insecure or poorly implemented devices from the more valuable personal local data devices such as a NAS with important files and or backups. Unfortunately this clever arrangement leaves any device directly connected to the “border” router open to attack by infected devices running on the internal/IOT router. Said devices could perform a simple trace-route and identify that an intermediate network exists between it and the public Internet. Any device running under the border router with known (or worse - unknown!) vulnerabilities can be immediately exploited.
Gibson's alternative formula reversed the positioning of the IOT and border router. Unfortunately, this solution also came with a nasty side-effect. The border router (now used as the "secure" or internal router) became subject to all manner of man-in-the-middle attacks. Since the local Ethernet network basically trusts all traffic within its domain, an infected device on the IOT router (now between the internal router and the public Internet) can manipulate or eavesdrop on any traffic emerging from the internal router. The potential consequences of this flaw are obvious.
The third time really is the charm for Steve! On February 2nd of this year (Episode #545 of Security Now!) Gibson presented us with his third (and hopefully final) foray into the magical land of theory-crafting as it related to securing our home networks against the Internet of Things.
Make Sure You Understand Before the Deadline
I'm fairly sure that any of our readers who want Windows 10 have already gone through the process to get it, and the rest have made it their mission to block it at all costs (or they don't use Windows).
Regardless, there has been quite a bit of misunderstanding over the last couple of years, so it's better to explain it now than a week from now. Upgrading to Windows 10 will not destroy your original Windows 7 or Windows 8.x license. What you are doing is using that license to register your machine with Windows 10, which Microsoft will create a digital entitlement for. That digital entitlement will be good “for the supported lifetime of the Windows 10-enabled device”.
There's three misconceptions that kept recurring from the above paragraph.
First, “the supported lifetime of the Windows 10-enabled device” doesn't mean that Microsoft will deactivate Windows 10 on you. Instead, it apparently means that Microsoft will continue to update Windows 10, and require that users will keep the OS somewhat up to date (especially the Home edition). If an old or weird piece of hardware or software in your device becomes incompatible with that update, even if it is critical for the device to function, then Microsoft is allowing itself to shrug and say “that sucks”. There's plenty of room for legitimate complaints about this, and Microsoft's recent pattern of weakened QA and support, but the specific complaint that Microsoft is just trying to charge you down the line? False.
Second, even though I already stated it earlier in this post, I want to be clear: you can still go back to Windows 7 or Windows 8.x. Microsoft is granting the Windows 10 license for the Windows 7 or Windows 8.x device in addition to the original Windows 7 or Windows 8.x license granted to it. The upgrade process even leaves the old OS on your drive for a month, allowing the user to roll back through a recovery process. I've heard people say that, occasionally, this process can screw a few things up. It's a good idea to manage your own backup before upgrading, and/or plan on re-installing Windows 7 or 8.x the old fashioned way.
This brings us to the third misconception: you can re-install Windows 10 later!
If you upgrade to Windows 10, decide that you're better with Windows 7 or 8.x for a while, but decide to upgrade again in a few years, then your machine (assuming the hardware didn't change enough to look like a new device) will still use that Windows 10 entitlement that was granted to you on your first, free upgrade. You will need to download the current Windows 10 image from Microsoft's website, but, when you install it, you should be able to just input an empty license key (if they still ask for it by that point) and Windows 10 will pull down validation from your old activation.
If you have decided to avoid Windows 10, but based that decision on the above three, incorrect points? You now have the tools to make an informed decision before time runs out. Upgrading to Windows 10 (Update (immediate): waiting until it verifies that it successfully activated!) and rolling back is annoying, and it could be a hassle if it doesn't go cleanly (or your go super-safe and back-up ahead of time), but it might save you some money in the future.
On the other hand, if you don't want Windows 10, and never want Windows 10, then Microsoft will apparently stop asking Windows 7 and Windows 8.x users starting on the 29th, give or take.
The New Corinthian Leather?
I really do not know what happened to me, but I used to hate racing games. I mean, really hate them. I played old, old racing games on Atari. I had some of the first ones available on PC. They did not appeal to me in the least. Instant buyer’s remorse for the most part. Then something strange happened. 3D graphics technology changed that opinion. Not only did hardware accelerated 3D help me get over my dislike, but the improvements in physical simulations also allowed a greater depth of experience. Throw in getting my first force feedback device and NFS: Porsche Unleashed and I was hooked from then on out.
The front of the box shows the lovely Ferrari 599XX supercar with the wheel in the foreground.
The itch to improve the driving experience only grows as time goes on. More and more flashy looking titles are released, some of which actually improve upon the simulation with complex physics rewrites, all of which consume more horsepower from the CPU and GPU. This then leads to more hardware upgrades. The next thing a person knows they are ordering multiple monitors so they can just experience racing in Surround/Eyefinity (probably the best overall usage for the technology).
One bad thing about having a passion for something is that itch to improve the experience never goes away. DiRT 2 inspired me to purchase my first FFB wheel, the TM Ferrari F420 model. Several games later and my disappointment for the F420’s 270 degree steering had me pursue my next purchase which was a TX F458 Ferrari Edition racing wheel. This featured the TX base, the stock/plastic Ferrari wheel, and the two pedal set. This was a tremendous upgrade from the older TM F420 and the improvement to 900 degrees of rotation and far better FFB effects was tremendous. Not only that, but the TX platform could be upgradeable. The gate leading to madness was now open.
The TX base can fit a variety of 2 and 3 pedal systems, but the big push is towards the actual wheel itself. Thrustmaster has several products that fit the base that feature a materials such as plastic, rubber, and leather. These products go from $120 on up to around $150. These are comprised of three GT style wheels and one F1 wheel. All of them look pretty interesting and are a big step up from the bundled F458 replica that comes standard with the TX set.
The rear shows the rim itself at actual size.
I honestly had not thought about upgrading to any of these units as I was pleased with the feel and performance of the stock wheel. It seemed to have fit my needs. Then it happened. Thrustmaster announced the Ferrari 599XX EVO wheel with honest-to-goodness Alcantara ™ construction. The more I read about this wheel, the more I wanted it. The only problem in my mind is that it is priced at a rather dramatic $179. I had purchased the entire TX F458 setup on sale for only $280 some months before! Was the purchase of the 599XX worth it? Would it dramatically change my gaming experience? I guess there is only one way to find out. I hid the credit card statement and told my wife, “Hey, look what I got in for review!”
ARM Releases Egil Specs
The final product that ARM showed us at that Austin event is the latest video processing unit that will be integrated into their Mali GPUs. The Egil video processor is a next generation unit that will be appearing later this year with the latest products that utilize Mali GPUs up and down the spectrum. It is not tied to the latest G71 GPU, but rather can be used with a multitude of current Mali products.
Video is one of the biggest usage cases for modern SOCs in mobile devices. People constantly stream and record video from their handhelds and tablets, and there are some real drawbacks in current video processor products from a variety of sources. We have seen the amazing increase in pixel density on phones and tablets and the power draw to render video effectively on these products has gone up. We have also seen the introduction of new codecs that require a serious amount of processing capabilities to decode.
Egil is a scalable product that can go from one core to six. A single core can display video from a variety of codecs at 1080P and up to 80 fps. The six core solution can play back 4K video at 120 Hz. This is assuming that the Egil processor is produced on a 16nm FF process or smaller and running at 800 MHz. This provides a lot of flexibility with SOC manufacturers that allows them to adequately tailor their products for specific targets and markets.
The cores themselves are fixed function blocks with dedicated controllers and control logic. Previous video processors were more heavy on the decode aspects rather than encode. Now that we have more pervasive streaming from mobile devices and cameras/optics that can support higher resolutions and bitrates, ARM has redesigned Egil to offer extensive encoding capabilities. Not only does it add this capability, but it enhances it by not only decoding at 4K but being able to encode four 1080p30 streams at the same time.
Egil will eventually find its way into other products such as TVs. These custom SOCs will be even more important as 4K playback and media become more common plus potential new functionality that has yet to be implemented effectively on TVs. For the time being we will likely see this in mobile first, with the initial products hitting the market in the second half of 2016.
ARM is certainly on a roll this year with introducing new CPU, GPU, and now video processors. We will start to see these products being introduced throughout the end of this year and into the next. The company certainly has not been resting or letting potential competitors get the edge on them. Their products are always focused on consuming low amounts of power, but the potential performance looks to satisfy even power hungry users in the mobile and appliance markets. Egil is another solid looking member to the lineup that brings some impressive performance and codec support for both decoding and encoding.
Introduction and Specifications
The Corsair VOID Surround Gaming Headset is a hybrid product of sorts, combining a traditional stereo gaming headset with a Dolby Headphone-enabled USB dongle to unlock virtual 7.1 surround sound. We’ll have a look, and listen, in this review.
The market for gaming headsets being what it is, one of the most important factors with each new product inevitably becomes price. There are different tiers of products out there from many companies, and Corsair themselves offer a few different choices and various price-points. With the VOID Surround we have a pretty affordable option at $79.99, which is about half the price of the previous wired pair of gaming headphones I looked it, Logitech’s G633.
One of the advantages Corsair offers with this VOID headset is a pair of 50mm drivers, which theoretically offer better bass than 40mm options (though of course size alone is not a guarantee). The 7.1 surround effect is via Dolby Headphone, which is a virtual effect that is commonly found with single-driver options such as this. If the effect is convincing, a headset like the VOID can save the user a lot of money over the pricey discrete multi-driver options on the market.
Introduction and Unboxing
A few years ago, Ryan reviewed the Couchmaster. It was a simple keyboard and mouse holder that suspended those parts above your lap, much like a computer chair, but at your couch. It was a cool concept, but at the time, living room PC gaming hadn't gained much popularity. While we don't all suddenly have living room PCs, the concept has gained some steam. We've seen recent launches of devices like the Corsair Bulldog - a rather beefy DIY living room PC meant to handle enough hardware to support living room gaming at up to 4K resolutions. This left a bit of a gap in Corsair's lineup. They make keyboards, mice, and now a living room PC, but where do you put those peripherals while sitting on your couch? Enter the Corsair Lapdog:
Above is the setup process staged with the keyboard and mouse plugged into the integrated 4-port USB 3.0 hub. Note that we did not need to plug in both keyboard connectors as there is no need to use the USB pass-through feature of these keyboards as the mouse gets its own dedicated port. Owners of the older K70 RGBs might note that even though the early models did not come with a pass-through port, they still had an additional connector for additional USB current. Fear not, as the second plug of those keyboards is also not needed here since the Lapdog uses a powered USB 3.0 hub that can provide sufficient current to light up those models over that single connector.
The cable that combines both power and USB connection from the Lapdog to the wall/PC is 16 feet long, which should provide plenty of space to stretch between just about any TV + couch combination. It was a great idea by Corsair to combine the USB cable and power cable in this way, minimizing the mess and cable clutter that reaches across the floor. You get another 5 feet or so of length for the 12V power adapater as well, so install should be a breeze for users.
Here we see the removable block-off plate. This comes pre-installed in case the user intends to use a K65 (short-body) keyboard. For those cases, the plate keeps the surface flush while covering the area normally used by the number pad. We are installing a K70 model and will be removing the plate for our configuration.
In case you're wondering how to remove the various cover plates and mouse pad in order to complete the installation, there is a mini hex driver built-in to the back of the foam lap pad.
Looking at the bottom of the Lapdog keyboard/mouse housing, we see six magnets that mate with the appropriate places on the bottom of the foam lap pad. The pad is made of cloth covered polyurethane foam. It does not appear to be memory foam and is fairly rigid, which is desirable as we need to keep the keyboard and mouse on a reasonably firm surface when using it on a lap.
On the right edge of the Lapdog we have rear ports for power and USB 3.0 back to the PC, and on the side, we have another pair of USB 3.0 ports off of the internal powered hub. This lets you do other cool stuff like plugging in portable USB storage or even connecting and charging your phone.
With the build complete, I'd just like to comment on how seamlessly the corsair keyboards blend with the rest of the Lapdog. The anodized brushed aluminum is a perfect match, though it does add some weight to the completed product. There is a slight lip at the bottom and right edges of the mouse pad which keep it from sliding off when not in use.
After setup, I spent some quality time with the Lapdog. In gaming, it definitely works as advertised. With the device on your lap, WASD + mouse gaming is essentially where your hands naturally rest with the default positioning, making gaming just about the same as doing so on a desktop. The lap pad design helps to keep it from sliding around on your lap while in use, and the overall bulk and heft of the unit keep it firmly planted on your lap. It is not overly heavy, and I feel that going any lighter would negatively impact stability.
I also tried some actual writing on the Lapdog (I used it to write this article). While the typical gaming position is natural when centered, the left offset of the keyboard means that any serious typing requires you to scoot everything over to the right. The keyboard side is heavier than the mousing side, so there are no tipping issues when doing so. Even if you were to place the center of the Lapdog over your right leg, centering the keyboard on your lap, its weight will still keep the Lapdog planted on your left, so no issues there. Long periods of typing may put a strain on your back if you tend to lean forward off of the front edge of your couch, but the Lapdog is really meant to be a 'lay back' experience, and extended typing is certainly doable in that position with a bit of practice.
The Corsair Lapdog is available for $119.99, which I feel is a fair price given the high-grade components and solid build quality. If you're into PC gaming from the comfort of your couch, the Corsair Lapdog looks to be the best solution your you!
New Products for 2017
PC Perspective was invited to Austin, TX on May 11 and 12 to participate in ARM’s yearly tech day. Also invited were a handful of editors and analysts that cover the PC and mobile markets. Those folks were all pretty smart, so it is confusing as to why they invited me. Perhaps word of my unique talent of screenshoting PDFs into near-unreadable JPGs preceded me? Regardless of the reason, I was treated to two full days of in-depth discussion of the latest generation of CPU and GPU cores, 10nm test chips, and information on new licensing options.
Today ARM is announcing their next CPU core with the introduction of the Cortex-A73. They are also unwrapping the latest Mali-G71 graphics technology. Other technologies such as the CCI-550 interconnect are also revealed. It is a busy and important day for ARM, especially in light of Intel seemingly abandoning the sub-milliwatt mobile market.
ARM previously announced the Cortex-A72 in February, 2015. Since that time it has been seen in most flagship mobile devices in late 2015 and throughout 2016. The market continues to evolve, and as such the workloads and form factors have pushed ARM to continue to develop and improve their CPU technology.
The Sofia Antipolis, France design group is behind the new A73. The previous several core architectures had been developed by the Cambridge group. As such, the new design differs quite dramatically from the previous A72. I was actually somewhat taken aback by the differences in the design philosophy of the two groups and the changes between the A72 and A73, but the generational jumps we have seen in the past make a bit more sense to me.
The marketplace is constantly changing when it comes to workloads and form factors. More and more complex applications are being ported to mobile devices, including hot technologies like AR and VR. Other technologies include 3D/360 degree video, greater than 20 MP cameras, and 4K/8K displays and their video playback formats. Form factors on the other hand have continued to decrease in size, especially in overall height. We have relatively large screens on most premium devices, but the designers have continued to make these phones thinner and thinner throughout the years. This has put a lot of pressure on ARM and their partners to increase performance while keeping TDPs in check, and even reducing them so they more adequately fit in the TDP envelope of these extremely thin devices.
We’ve probably all lost data at some point, and many of us have tried various drive recovery solutions over the years. Of these, Disk Drill has been available for Mac OS X users for some time, but the company currently offers a Windows compatible version, released last year. The best part? It’s totally free (and not in the ad-ridden, drowning in popups kind of way). So does it work? Using some of my own data as a guinea pig, I decided to find out.
The interface is clean and simple
To begin with I’ll list the features of Disk Drill as Clever Files describes it on their product page:
- Any Drive
- Our free data recovery software for Windows PC can recover data from virtually any storage device - including internal and external hard drives, USB flash drives, iPods, memory cards, and more.
- Recovery Options
- Disk Drill has several different recovery algorithms, including Undelete, Protected Data, Quick Scan, and Deep Scan. It will run through them one at a time until your lost data is found.
- Speed & Simplicity
- It’s as easy as one click: Disk Drill scans start with just the click of a button. There’s no complicated interface with too many options, just click, sit back and wait for your files to appear.
- All File Systems
- Different types of hard drives and memory cards have different ways of storing data. Whether your media has a FAT, exFAT or NTFS file system, is HFS+ Mac drive or Linux EXT2/3/4, Disk Drill can recover deleted files.
- Partition Recovery
- Sometimes your data is still on your drive, but a partition has been lost or reformatted. Disk Drill can help you find the “map” to your old partition and rebuild it, so your files can be recovered.
- Recovery Vault
- In addition to deleted files recovery, Disk Drill also protects your PC from future data loss. Recovery Vault keeps a record of all deleted files, making it much easier to recover them.
- Disk Drill For Windows - Free download here
The Recovery Process
(No IDE hard drives were harmed in the making of this photo)
My recovery process involved an old 320GB IDE drive, which was used for backup until a power outage-related data corruption (I didn’t own a UPS at the time, and the drive was in the process of writing) which left me without a valid partition. At one point I had given up and formatted the drive; thinking all of my original backup was lost. Thankfully I didn’t use it much after this, and it’s been sitting on a shelf for years.
There are different methods that can be employed to recover lost or deleted data. One of these is to scan for the file headers (or signatures), which contain information about what type of file it is (i.e. Microsoft Word, JPEG image, etc.). There are advanced recovery methods that attempt to reconstruct an entire file system, preserving the folder structures and the original files names. Unfortunately, this is not a simple (or fast) process, and is generally left to the professionals.
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.
A Very Familiar Look and Feel
Released alongside the launch of Windows 8 in October 2012, the original Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13 was a revolutionary device. While Microsoft's initial vision for a touch-enabled Windows may have not panned out exactly as they wanted it to, people still found utility in 2-in-1 devices like the Yoga. In the proceeding years, similar devices from companies like HP and Dell have arose, but consumers ultimately migrated towards Lenovo's offerings.
The Yoga line has seen several drastic changes since it's inception in 2012. Industrial design changes like the Watchband Hinge introduced in the Yoga 3 Pro, and the spinning off of Yoga out of the IdeaPad brand into it's own family this generation with the Yoga 900 point towards the longevity of this 2-in-1 design.
Today we are taking a look at the most affordable option in the Yoga family, the Lenovo Yoga 700.
Introduction and First Impressions
Edifier might not be a household name, but the maker of speakers and headphones has been around for 20 years now; formed in 1996 in Beijing, China. More recently (2011), Edifier made news by purchasing Stax, the famous Japanese electrostatic headphone maker. This move was made to 'improve Edifier's position' in the headphone market, and with the Stax name attached it could only raise awareness for the brand in the high-end audio community.
But Edifier does not play in the same market as Stax, whose least expensive current offering (the SR-003MK2) is still $350. Edifier's products range from earbuds starting at $19 (the H210) to their larger over-ear headphones (H850) at $79. In between rests the smaller over-ear H840, a closed-back monitor headphone 'tuned by Phil Jones of Pure Sound' that Edifier claims offers a 'natural' audio experience. The price? MSRP is $59.99 but Edifier sells the H840 for only $39.99 on Amazon.
"Developed with an electro-acoustic unit on the basis of the coil, these Hi-Fi headphones provide life like sound. The carefully calibrated balance between treble and bass makes Edifier H840 the perfect entry level monitor earphones."
At the price, these could be a compelling option for music, movies, and gaming - depending on how they sound. In this review I'll attempt to describe my experience with these headphones, as well as one can using text. (I will also attempt not to write a book in the process!)
Introduction and Background
VR is rapidly gaining steam lately with the recent launch of several capable platforms. I’ve briefly sampled the various iterations of development kits and pre-release units coming through our office, and understanding how they tracked the headset position was relatively easy. Then we got to play with an HTC Vive, and things got a bit more interesting. The Vive is a ‘whole room’ VR experience. You’re not sitting at a desk with a game controller. Instead, you are holding a pair of controllers that behave more like extensions of yourself (once you get used to them, that is). Making all of this work took some extra pieces included with the kit, and the electronics technician in me was dying to know just what made this thing tick. I’d imagine other readers of this site might feel the same, so I thought it appropriate to do some digging and report my findings here.
Before diving straight into the HTC Vive, a brief history lesson of game system positional tracking is in order.
I'll start with the Wii Remote controllers, which had a front mounted IR camera that ‘saw’ a pair of IR LED banks mounted in the ‘Sensor Bar’ – an ironic naming as the ‘sensor’ was actually in the Remotes. This setup lets you point a Wii Remote at the television and use it as a mouse. Due to the limited number of points in use, the system could not tell the Wii Remote location within the room. Instead, it could only get a vector relative to the Sensor Bar itself. Wii Remotes also contained accelerometers, but those were typically not used to assist in the accuracy of the pointing (but were used to determine if the remote was inverted, as the Sensor Bar had only two light sources).
The Oculus Rift was essentially a reversing of the technology used in the old Nintendo Wii Remotes. The headset position and orientation are determined by a desk-mounted IR camera which ‘looks’ at IR LEDs mounted to the headset. The system dubbed ‘Constellation’, can decode the pattern (seen faintly in the above photo) and determine the headset position and orientation in space.
Even the sides and rear of the headset have a specific LED pattern to help the camera lock on to someone looking away from it. If the IR camera sees the triangular pattern on the headset strap, it can conclude that the viewer us looking behind them.
The HTC Vive takes a different approach here. Since it was launching with a headset and two controllers that would all need to be tracked in space simultaneously. The Wii Remote style idea would only work with a much larger grid of sensor bars (or QR codes) peppered all over the room, so that idea was out. The Rift’s constellation system might have a hard time identifying unique light patterns on multiple devices that could be far away and possibly occluding each other. So if having cameras on the headset and controllers is out, and having a camera on the desk is out, what’s left?
Things are about to get...complicated
Earlier this week, the team behind Ashes of the Singularity released an updated version of its early access game, which updated its features and capabilities. With support for DirectX 11 and DirectX 12, and adding in multiple graphics card support, the game featured a benchmark mode that got quite a lot of attention. We saw stories based on that software posted by Anandtech, Guru3D and ExtremeTech, all of which had varying views on the advantages of one GPU or another.
That isn’t the focus of my editorial here today, though.
Shortly after the initial release, a discussion began around results from the Guru3D story that measured frame time consistency and smoothness with FCAT, a capture based testing methodology much like the Frame Rating process we have here at PC Perspective. In that post on ExtremeTech, Joel Hruska claims that the results and conclusion from Guru3D are wrong because the FCAT capture methods make assumptions on the output matching what the user experience feels like. Maybe everyone is wrong?
First a bit of background: I have been working with Oxide and the Ashes of the Singularity benchmark for a couple of weeks, hoping to get a story that I was happy with and felt was complete, before having to head out the door to Barcelona for the Mobile World Congress. That didn’t happen – such is life with an 8-month old. But, in my time with the benchmark, I found a couple of things that were very interesting, even concerning, that I was working through with the developers.
FCAT overlay as part of the Ashes benchmark
First, the initial implementation of the FCAT overlay, which Oxide should be PRAISED for including since we don’t have and likely won’t have a DX12 universal variant of, was implemented incorrectly, with duplication of color swatches that made the results from capture-based testing inaccurate. I don’t know if Guru3D used that version to do its FCAT testing, but I was able to get some updated EXEs of the game through the developer in order to the overlay working correctly. Once that was corrected, I found yet another problem: an issue of frame presentation order on NVIDIA GPUs that likely has to do with asynchronous shaders. Whether that issue is on the NVIDIA driver side or the game engine side is still being investigated by Oxide, but it’s interesting to note that this problem couldn’t have been found without a proper FCAT implementation.
With all of that under the bridge, I set out to benchmark this latest version of Ashes and DX12 to measure performance across a range of AMD and NVIDIA hardware. The data showed some abnormalities, though. Some results just didn’t make sense in the context of what I was seeing in the game and what the overlay results were indicating. It appeared that Vsync (vertical sync) was working differently than I had seen with any other game on the PC.
For the NVIDIA platform, tested using a GTX 980 Ti, the game seemingly randomly starts up with Vsync on or off, with no clear indicator of what was causing it, despite the in-game settings being set how I wanted them. But the Frame Rating capture data was still working as I expected – just because Vsync is enabled doesn’t mean you can look at the results in capture formats. I have written stories on what Vsync enabled captured data looks like and what it means as far back as April 2013. Obviously, to get the best and most relevant data from Frame Rating, setting vertical sync off is ideal. Running into more frustration than answers, I moved over to an AMD platform.
3D printing has been an interest of the staff here at PC Perspective for a few years now. Seeing how inexpensive it has gotten to build your own or buy an entry level 3D printer we were interested in doing some sort of content around 3D printing, but we weren't quite sure what to do.
However, an idea arose after seeing Monoprice's new 3D printer offerings at this year's CES. What if we put Ryan, someone who has no idea how 3D printers actually work, in front of one of their entry level models and tell him to print something.
Late last week we received the Maker Select 3D printer from Monoprice, along with a box full of different types of filament and proceeded to live stream us attempting to make it all work.
And thus, the new series "Ryan 3D Prints" was born.
While I've had some limited 3d printing experience in the past, Ryan honestly went into this knowing virtually nothing about the process.
The Maker Select printer isn't ready to print out of the box and requires a bit of assembly, with the setup time from unboxing to first print ultimately taking about 90 minutes for us on the stream. Keep in mind that we were going pretty slow and attempting to explain as best as we could as we went, so someone working by themselves could probably get up and running a bit quicker.
I was extremely impressed with how quickly we were printing successful, and high-quality objects. Beyond having to take a second try at leveling the print bed, we ran into no issues during setup.
Monoprice includes a microSD card with 4 sample models you can print on the Maker Select, and we went ahead and printed an example of all of them. While I don't know at what resolution these models were sliced at, I am impressed with the quality considering the $350 price tag on the Maker Select.
This certainly isn't the end of our 3D printing experience. Our next steps involve taking this printer and hooking it up to a PC and attempting to print our own models with an application like Cura.
Beyond that, we plan to compare different types of filament, take a look at the Dual Extruder Monoprice printer, and maybe even future offerings like the SLA printer they showed off at CES. Stay tuned to see what we end up making!
Gaming headsets are an ever-growing segment, with seemingly every hardware company offering their own take on this popular concept these days. Logitech is far from a new player in this space, with a number of headsets on the market over the years. Their most recent lineup included the top-end G930, and this headset has been superseded by the new G933 (wireless) and G633 (wired) models. We’ll take a look - and listen - in this review.
With the new Artemis Spectrum headsets Logitech is introducing their new 40 mm Pro-G drivers, which the company says will offer high-fidelity sound:
"Patent pending advanced Pro-G audio drivers are made with hybrid mesh materials that provide the audiophile-like performance gaming fans have been demanding. From your favorite music to expansive game soundtracks, the Pro-G drivers deliver both clean and accurate highs as well as a deep rich bass that you would expect from premium headphones."
More than a pair of stereo headphones, of course, the Artemis Spectrum G933 and G633 feature (simulated) 7.1 channel surround via selectable Dolby or DTS Headphone:X technology. How convincing this effect might be is a focus of the review, and we will take a close look at audio performance.
While these two pairs of gaming headphones might look identical, the G933 differentiates itself from the G633 by offering 2.4 GHz wireless capability. Both headsets also feature two fully customizable RGB lighting zones, with 16.8 million colors controlled through the Logitech Gaming Software on your PC. But a computer isn't required to use these headsets; both the G933 and G633 are fully compatible with the XBox One and PlayStation 4, and with a 3.5 mm audio cable (included with both) they can be used as a stereo headset with just about anything including smartphones.
A mix of styles
Logitech continues its push and re-entry into the gaming peripherals market in 2016, this time adding another keyboard under the Orion brand to the mix. The Logitech G G810 Orion Spectrum is, as the name implies, an RGB mechanical keyboard using the company's proprietary Romer-G switches. But despite the similarity in model numbers to the G910 Orion Spark announced in late 2014, the G810 has some significant design and functionality changes.
This new offering is cleaner, less faceted (both in key caps and design) but comes much closer to the feel and function than the tenkeyless G410 from last year. Let's take a look at how the G810 changes things up for Logitech G.
The G810 Orion Spectrum is a full size keyboard with tenkey (also known as the numeric keypad) that has sleeker lines and more professional lines that its big brother. The black finish is matte on the keys and framing but the outside edges of the keyboard have a gloss to them. It's a very minimal part of the design though so you shouldn't have to worry about fingerprints.
At first glance, you can see that Logitech toned down some of the gamer-centric accents when compared to either the G910 or the G410. There is no wrist rest, no PCB-trace inspired lines, no curves and no sharp edges. What you get instead is a keyboard that is equally well placed in modern office or in an enthusiasts gaming den. To me, there are a lot of touches that remind me of the Das Keyboard - understated design that somehow makes it more appealing to the educated consumer.
This marks the first keyboard with the new Logitech G logo on it, though you are likely more concerned about the lack of G-Keys, the company's name for its macro-capable buttons on the G910. For users that still want that capability, Logitech G allows you to reprogram the function keys along the top for macro capability, and has a pretty simple switch in software to enable or disable those macros. This means you can maintain the F-row of keys for Windows applications but still use macros for gaming.
Dell has never exactly been a brand that gamers gravitate towards. While we have seen some very high quality products out of Dell in the past few years, including the new XPS 13, and people have loved their Ultrasharp monitor line, neither of these target gamers directly. Dell acquired Alienware in 2006 in order to enter the gaming market and continues to make some great products, but they retain the Alienware branding. It seems to me a gaming-centric notebook with just the Dell brand could be a hard sell.
However, that's exactly what we have today with the Dell Inspiron 15 7000. Equipped with an Intel Core i5-6300HQ and NVIDIA GTX 960M for $799, has Dell created a contender in the entry-level gaming notebook race?
For years, the Inspiron line has been Dell's entry level option for notebooks and subsequently has a questionable reputation as far as quality and lifespan. With the Inspiron 15 7000 being the most expensive product offering in the Inspiron line though, I was excited to see if it could sway my opinion of the brand.
My new desk mate
Earlier this month at the 2016 edition of the Consumer Electronics Show, Logitech released a new product for the gaming market that might have gone unnoticed by some. The G502 Proteus Spectrum is a new gaming mouse that takes an amazing product and makes it just a little better with the help of some RGB goodness. The G502 Proteus Core has been around for a while now and has quickly become one of the best selling gaming mice on Amazon, a testament to its quality and popularity. (It has been as high as #1 overall in recent days.)
We have been using the G502 Proteus Core in our gaming test beds at the office for some months and during that time I often lamented about how I wanted to upgrade the mouse on my own desk to one. While I waited for myself stop being lazy and not just switching one for the G402 currently in use at my workstation, Logitech released the new G502 Proteus Spectrum and handed me a sample at CES to bring home. Perfect!
|Logitech G502 Proteus Spectrum Specifications|
|Resolution||200 - 12,000 DPI|
|Max Speed||>300 IPS|
|USB Data||16 bits/axis|
|USB Report Rate||1000 Hz (1 ms)|
|Button rating||20 million clicks|
|Feet rating||250 kilometers|
|Price||$79 - Amazon.com|
The G502 Proteus Spectrum is very similar to the Core model, with the only difference being the addition of an RGB light under the G logo and DPI resolution indicators. This allows you to use the Logitech Gaming Software to customize its color, its pattern (breathing, still or rotating) as well as pair it up and sync with the RGB lights of other Logitech accessories you might have. If you happen to own a Logitech G910 or G410 keyboard, or one of the new headsets (G633/933) then you'll quickly find yourself in color-coordinated heaven.
In the box you'll find the mouse, attached to a lengthy cable that works great even with my standing desk, and a set of five weights that you can install on the bottom if you like a heavier feel to your mousing action. I installed as many as I could under the magnetic door on the underside of the mouse and definitely prefer it. The benefit of the weights (as opposed to just a heavier mouse out of the box) is that users can customize it as they see fit.
Laptops and Monitors
Dell kicked off their CES presence with a presentation that featured actor Josh Brener of “Silicon Valley” fame. His monologues were entertaining, but unfortunately he was performing in front of a pretty tough crowd. It was 10:30 in the morning and people were still scarfing down coffee and breakfast goods that were provided by Dell. Not exactly a group receptive of humorous monologues at that time in the morning. Oddly enough I was seated next to Josh's wife, Meghan Falcone, who helped provide the laugh track for his presentation. She was kind enough to place my dirty, germ-ridden coffee cup right next to the AV equipment table when I was finished with it. Probably a poor move on her part.
The presentation was actually about some pretty interesting products coming to Dell this year. The presentation was held in a restaurant in The Venetian and space was rather limited. Dell did what they could in the space provided, and entertained some 60+ reporters and editors with the latest and greatest technology coming from Dell.
Dell had a runaway success last year with their latest XPS laptops with the InfinityEdge Displays. The 13” model was a huge success with even Ryan buying one. These products featured quick processors and graphics, outstanding screen quality, and excellent battery life considering weight and performance. Dell decided to apply this design to their business class Latitude laptops. The big mover is expected to be the new Dell Latitude 13” 7000 series Ultrabook. This will come with a variety of configurations, but it will all be based on the same chasis that features the 13” InfinityEdge Display as well as a carbon fiber top lid. This will host all of the business class security features that those customers expect. It also features USB Type-C connectors as well as Thunderbolt 3.
The Latitude 12 7000 series is a business oriented 2-in-1 device with a 12.5” screen. This easily converts from a laptop to a tablet and is along the same design lines as the latest Surface 4. It features a 4K touch display that is covered by a large piece of Gorilla Glass. The magnesium unibody build provides a great amount of rigidity while keeping weight low. The attachable base/keyboard is a backlit unit that is extremely thin.
Finally we have the smaller Latitude 11 5000 series 2-in1 that features a 10.8 inch touch display, hardened glass, and the magnesium frame. It is only 1.56 pounds and provides all the business and security features demanded by that market.