Subject: Editorial, General Tech | August 3, 2013 - 04:03 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: nvidia, CloudLight, cloud gaming
Trust the cloud... be the cloud.
The executives on stage might as well have waved their hands while reciting that incantation during the announcement of the Xbox One. Why not? The audience would have just assumed Don Mattrick was trying to get some weird Kinect achievement on stage. You know, kill four people with one laser beam while trying to sink your next-generation platform in a ranked keynote. 50 Gamerscore!
Microsoft stated, during and after the keynote, that each Xbox One would have access to cloud servers for certain processing tasks. Xbox Live would be receiving enough servers such that each console could access three times its performance, at launch, to do... stuff. You know, things that are hard to calculate but are not too dependent upon latency. You know what we mean, right?
Apparently Microsoft did not realize that was a detail they were supposed to sell us on.
In the mean time, NVIDIA has been selling us on offloaded computation to cloud architectures. We knew Global Illumination (GI) was a very complicated problem. Most of the last couple decades has been progressively removing approximations to what light truly does.
CloudLight is their research project, presented at SIGRAPH Asia and via Williams College, to demonstrate server-processed indirect lighting. In their video, each of the three effects are demonstrated at multiple latencies. The results look pretty good until about 500ms which is where the brightest points are noticeably in the wrong locations.
The three methods used to generate indirect lighting are: irradiance maps, where lightmaps are continuously calculated on a server and streamed by H.264; photons, which raytraces lighting for the scene as previous rays expire and streams only the most current ones to clients who need it; and voxels, which stream fully computed frames to the clients. The most interesting part is that as you add more users, in most cases, server-processing remains fairly constant.
It should be noted, however, that each of these demonstrations only moved the most intense lights slowly. I would expect an effect such as switching a light on in an otherwise dark room would create a "pop-in" effect if it lags too far behind user interaction or the instantaneous dynamic lights.
That said, for a finite number of instant switches, it would be possible for a server to render both results and have the client choose the appropriate lightmap (or the appropriate set of pixels from the same, large, lightmap). For an Unreal Tournament 3 mod, I was experimenting with using a Global Illumination solver to calculate lighting. My intention was to allow users to turn on and off a handful of lights in each team's base. As lights were shot out or activated by a switch, the shader would switch to the appropriate pre-rendered solution. I would expect a similar method to work here.
What other effects do you believe can withstand a few hundred milliseconds of latency?
The Densest 2.5 Hours Imaginable
Subject: Editorial, General Tech | July 31, 2013 - 08:03 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: Privacy, mozilla, DNT
Mozilla Labs is researching a new approach to the problem of privacy and targeted advertising: allow the user to provide the data that honest advertisers intend to acquire via tracking behavior. The hope is that users who manage their own privacy will not have companies try to do it for them.
Internet users are growing concerned about how they are tracked and monitored online. Crowds rally behind initiatives, such as Do Not Track (DNT) and neutering the NSA, because of an assumed promise of privacy even if it is just superficial.
DNT, for instance, is a web developer tool permitting honest sites to be less shy when considering features which make privacy advocates poop themselves and go to competing pages. Users, who were not the intended audience of this feature, threw a fit because it failed to satisfy their privacy concerns. Internet Explorer, which is otherwise becoming a great browser, decided to break the standard by not providing the default, "user has not specified", value.
Of course, all this does is hands honest web developers a broken tool; immoral and arrogantly amoral sites will track anyway.
Mozilla Labs is currently investigating another solution. We could, potentially, at some point, see an addition to Firefox which distills all of the information honest websites would like to know into a summary which users could selectively share. This, much like DNT, will not prevent companies or other organizations from tracking you but rather give most legitimate situations a fittingly legitimate alternative.
All of this data, such as history and geolocation, is already stored by browsers as a result of how they operate. This concept allows users to release some of this information to the sites they visit and, ideally, satisfy both parties. Maybe then, those who actually are malicious, cannot shrug off their actions as a common industry requirement.
Subject: Editorial | July 30, 2013 - 07:08 AM | Tim Verry
Tagged: time warner, Internet, cable modem, cable isp
According to the Consumerist, cable ISP Time Warner Cable is increasing its modem rental fee to $5.99 per month. The company initially instituted a $3.95 rental fee in October of last year, and it is already ratcheting up the fees further for the same hardware people are already using.
The new rental fee will be $5.99 per month for most accounts (it seems the SignatureHome with TV is exempted from a rental fee), which works out to $71.88 per year. For comparison, the previous $3.95 fee would be $47.4 a year. As such, Time Warner Cable is looking at a healthy increase in revenue from the higher fee, which ISI analyst Vijay Jayant estimates to be around (an extra) $150 million according to Reuters. That’s a lot of money, but even zooming in to the per-customer numbers, it is a large increase. In fact, with the $71.88 total per year in rental fees for the modem, it is now cheaper to buy a new DOCSIS 3 modem outright.
For example, the Motorola SB6121 is on TWC’s approved modem list and is $69.45 on Amazon which would save you about 20 cents a month in the first year, and whatever the rental fee is in later years. I have been using this modem (albeit on Comcast) since February 2012 and I can easily recommend it. Things can look even better in favor of buying your own modem if you are on a slower tier and can get by with a DOCSIS 2 modem, some of which can be purchased for around $40 used.
Time Warner Cable further claims that it has increased speeds on its most popular internet service tier and added additional Wi-Fi hotspots for customers over the past year alongside the fee increase announcement, but unless you are on its “most popular” tier, its hardly enough good news to outweigh the fee increase and is likely to only further the outrage from customers who have already attempted class action lawsuits over the $3.95 fee.
Fortunately, there are options to bring your own modem and it is a simple process if you cannot justify the fee increase out of principle or just want to save a bit of money.
Subject: Editorial, General Tech | July 27, 2013 - 03:39 AM | Tim Verry
Tagged: streaming, media, google. chrome, chromecast, chrome os
Earlier this week, web search giant Google launched a new portable media streaming device called the Chromecast. The Chromecast is a small device about the size of a large USB flash drive that has a full size HDMI video output, micro USB power jack, and Wi-Fi connectivity. The device run’s Google’s Chrome OS and is able to display or playback any web page or media file that the Chrome web browser can.
The Chromecast is designed to plug into televisions and stream media from the internet. Eventually, users will be able to “cast” embedded media files or web pages from a smartphone, tablet, or PC running Android, iOS, Windows, or Mac OS X with a Chrome web browser over to the Chromecast. The sending device will point the Chromecast as the requisite URL where the streaming media or web page resides along with any necessary authorization tokens needed to access content behind a pay-wall or username/password login. From there, the Chromecast itself will reach out to the Internet over the Wi-Fi radio, retrieve the web page or media stream, and output it to the TV over HDMI. Playback controls will be accessible on the sending device, such as an Android smartphone, but it is the Chromecast itself that is streaming the media unlike solutions like wireless HDMI, AirPlay, DLNA, or Miracast. As such, the sending device is able to perform other tasks while the Chromecast handles the media streaming.
At launch, users will be able to use the Chromecast to stream Netflix, YouTube, and Google Play videos. At some point in the future, Google will be adding support for additional apps, including Pandora Internet radio streaming. Beyond that, (and this feature is still in development) users will be able to share entire Chrome tabs with the Chromecast (some reports are indicating that this tab sharing is done using the WebRTC standard). Users will need to download and install a Google Cast extension, which will put a button to the right of the URL button that, when pressed, will “cast” the tab to the Chromecast which will pull it up over its own internet connection and output it to the TV. When on a website that implements the SDK, users will have additional options for sharing just the video and using the PC as a remote along with handy playback and volume controls.
Alternatively, Google is releasing a Chromecast SDK that will allow developers to integrate their streaming media with the Chromecast. Instead of needing to share the entire tab, web developers or mobile app developers will be able to integrate casting functionality that will allow users to share solely the streaming media with the Chromecast similar to the upcoming ability to stream just the YouTube or Netflix video itself rather than the entire web page with the video embedded into it. Unfortunately, there is currently a caveat that states that developers must have all there apps (using the Chromecast SDK) approved by Google.
Sharing ("Casting") a Chrome web browser tab to a TV from a PC using the Chromecast.
It should be noted that Wired has reported success in using the tab sharing functionality to play back local media by electing Chrome to playback locally-stored video files, but this is not a perfect solution as Chrome has a limited number of formats it can playback in a window and audio sync proved tricky at times. With that said, the Chromecast is intended to be an Internet streaming device, and Google is marketing it as such, so it is difficult to fault the Chromecast for local streaming issues. There are better solutions for getting the most out of your LAN-accessible media, after all.
The Chromecast is $35 and will ship as soon as August 7, 2013 from the Google Play Store. Amazon and Best Buy had stock listed on their websites until yesterday when both e-tailers sold out (though you might be lucky enough to find a Chromecast at a brick and mortar Best Buy store). For $35, you get the Chromecast itself, a rigid HDMI extender that extends the Chromecast closer to the edge of the TV to make installation/removal easier, and a USB power cord. Google was initially also offering 3 free months of Netflix Instant streaming but has since backed away from the promo due to overwhelming demand (and if Google can continue to sell out of Chromecasts without spending money on Netflix for each unit, it is going to do that despite the PR hit (or at least disappointed buyers) to bolster the profit margin on the inexpensive gadget).
The Chromecast does have its flaws, and the launch was not perfect (many OS support and device features are still being worked on), but at $35 it is a simple impulse buy on a device that should only get better from here as the company further fleshes out the software. Even on the off-chance that Google abandons the Chromecast, it can still stream Netflix, YouTube, and Google Play for a pittance.
Subject: Editorial | July 17, 2013 - 09:34 PM | Josh Walrath
Tagged: silvermont, quarterly results, money, Lenovo, k900, Intel, atom, 22 nm tri-gate, 14 nm
Intel announced their Q2 results for this year, and it did not quite meet expectations. When I say expectations, I usually mean “make absolutely obscene amounts of money”. It seems that Intel was just shy of estimates and margins were only slightly lower than expected. That being said, Intel reported revenue of $12.8 billion US and a net income of $2 billion US. Not… too… shabby.
Analysts were of course expecting higher, but it seems as though the PC slowdown is in fact having a material effect on the market. Intel earlier this quarter cut estimates, so this was not exactly a surprise. Margins came in around 58.3%, but these are expected to recover going into Q3. Intel is certainly still in a strong position as millions of PCs are being shipped every quarter and they are the dominant CPU maker in its market.
Intel has been trying to get into the mobile market as it still exhibits strong growth not only now, but over the next several years as things become more and more connected. Intel had ignored this market for some time, much to their dismay. Their Atom based chips were slow to improve and typically used a last generation process node for cost savings. In the face of a strong ARM based portfolio of products from companies like Qualcomm, Samsung, and Rockchip, the Intel Atom was simply not an effective solution until the latest batch of chips were available from Intel. Products like the Atom Z2580, which powers the Lenovo K900 phone, were late to market as compared to other 28 nm products such as the Snapdragon series from Qualcomm.
Intel expects the next generation of Atom being built on its 22 nm Tri-Gate process, Silvermont, to be much more competitive with the latest generation offerings from its ARM based competitors. Unfortunately for Intel, we do not expect to see Silvermont based products until later in Q3 with availability in late Q4 or Q1 2014. Intel needs to move chips, but this will be a very different market than what they are used to. These SOCs have decent margins, but they are nowhere near what Intel can do with their traditional notebook, desktop, and server CPUs.
To help cut costs going forward, it seems as though Intel will be pulling back on its plans for 14 nm production. Expenditures and floor space/equipment for 14 nm will be cut back as compared to what previous plans had held. Intel still is hoping to start 14 nm production at the end of this year with the first commercial products to hit at the end of 2014. There are questions as to how viable 14 nm is as a fully ramped process in 2014. Eventually 14 nm will work as advertised, but it appears as though the kinks were much more complex than anticipated given how quickly Intel ramped 22 nm.
Intel has plenty of money, a dominant position in the x86 world, and a world class process technology on which to base future products on. I would say that they are still in very, very good shape. The market is ever changing and Intel is still fairly nimble given their size. They also recognize (albeit sometimes a bit later than expected) shifts in the marketplace and they invariably craft a plan of attack which addresses their shortcomings. While Intel revenue seems to have peaked last year, they are addressing new markets aggressively as well as holding onto their dominant position in notebooks, desktops, and server markets. Intel is expecting Q3 to be up, but overall sales throughout 2013 to be flat as compared to 2012. Have I mentioned they still cleared $2 billion in a down quarter?
Subject: Editorial, General Tech, Systems | July 15, 2013 - 02:09 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: xbox, xbox one
Two weeks have passed since Steve Ballmer informed all Microsoft employees that Don Mattrick would disembark and pursue a career at Zynga for one reason or another. Initially, Ballmer himself was set to scab the void for an uncertain amount of time, further unsettling the upcoming Xbox One launch without a proper manager to oversee. His reign was cut short, best measured in days, when he appointed Julie Larson-Green as the head of Microsoft Devices and Studios.
... because a Christmas gift without ribbon would just be a box... one X box.
Of course the internet, then, erupted with anxiety: some reasonable concerns, even more (predictably) inane. Larson-Green has a long list of successfully shipped products to her name but, apart from the somewhat cop-out of Windows 7, nothing which resonates with gamers. Terrible sexism and similarly embarrassments boiled over the gaming community, but crazies will always be crazy, especially those adjacent to Xbox Live subscribers.
Operating Systems will be filled by Terry Myerson, who rose to power from the Windows Phone division. This could be a sign of things to come for Windows, particularly as Microsoft continues to push for convergence between x86, RT, and Phone. I would not be surprised to see continued pressure from Microsoft to ingrain Windows Store, and all of its certification pros and woes, into each of their operating systems.
As for Xbox, while Julie is very user experience (UX)-focused, division oversight passed to her long after its flagship product's lifetime high-level plans have been defined. If Windows 7 is any indication, she might not stray too far away from that which has been laid out prior her arrival; likewise, if Windows 8 is any indication, a drastically new direction could just spring without notice.
Subject: Editorial, General Tech | July 13, 2013 - 07:24 PM | Tim Verry
Tagged: wireless, spectrum, leap wireless, cricket, AT&T, acquisition, 4g lte
AT&T Plans To Acquire Leap Wireless (Cricket)
In a counter move to the SoftBank-Sprint-Clearwire merger, AT&T has announced its intentions to buy out Leap Wireless and its Cricket pre-paid cell service brand. AT&T will pay as much as $15 per share, which amounts to a bit under $1.19 billion (79.05 million outstanding shares at $15 per share). Before the announcement, Leap Wireless was trading at less than $8, so the bid is fairly generous. So far, approximately 30% of shareholders have voted to accept the buyout offer.
In the buyout deal, AT&T will acquire Leap Wireless, its Cricket brand in the US, licenses, spectrum, Cricket brand, 3,400 employees, and its retail locations. Cricket currently has a 3G CDMA network and is rolling out a 4G network. The company has about 5 million subscribers. AT&T will get to add a bit more spectrum to its portfolio in the PCS and AWS bands. This spectrum held by Leap Wireless is reportedly complementary to AT&T’s existing licenses.
Interestingly Leap Wireless is not doing very well, and has about $2.8 billion in net debt, and its Cricket service is loosing subscribers. AT&T would also have to assume that debt. Cricket offers up unlimited plans that include unlimited voice calls, texting, and data. AT&T has stated that it would assume control of and maintain the Cricket brand. It will continue to offer service to existing Cricket customers and would also offer up its own 4G LTE network for use by Cricket pre-paid plans (phone hardware permitting). AT&T stated in a press release that it intends to use the Leap Wireless acquisition to “jump start AT&T’s expansion into the highly competitive prepaid segment.”
The buyout deal will need to be approved by Leap Wireless as well as by the US Department of Justice and FCC. If it successfully passes through the various regulatory bodies, AT&T expects the deal to close within the next six to nine months.
Personally, I have my doubts that AT&T will continue to maintain the Cricket service as is, especially when it comes to unlimited data. As far as its pre-paid expansion, it at least tried to go down this path before with its line of Go phones. I believe that this deal is mostly about padding out AT&T’s spectrum portfolio in a bid to head off Sprint, and maintain its position against T-Mobile and Verizon. The MVNO and pre-paid market is certainly growing and AT&T is going to want a piece of that market, but I also think that the last thing AT&T wants to do is cannibalize its own contract offerings by offering up a similar pre-paid service with unlimited everything for half the price. Sure, AT&T will take it versus getting nothing, but the company is going to have a hard time balancing both offerings in a way that does not negatively effect one or both of its pre-paid and post paid services.
What do you think about the deal, is this a good thing for Cricket customers? Is AT&T serious about wanting to jump into the pre-paid market?
Subject: Editorial, General Tech | July 6, 2013 - 11:33 PM | Tim Verry
Tagged: windows 8, Windows 7, microsoft, desktop market share
A recent report by NetMarketShare indicates that Windows 8 is having a difficult time displacing Microsoft's older operating systems. Of the total market, Windows occupies 91.50% across all existing versions. Windows 7 and Windows XP dominate the Windows market share at 44.37% and 37.17% respectively. Microsoft's latest operating system, Windows 8, is sitting at 5.1%, which barely scratches past Windows Vista at 4.62%. Having more market share than Windows Vista and Windows 98 is good, but it is hardly proving to be as popular as Microsoft hoped for.
June 2013 Desktop Operating System Market Share, as measured by NetMarketShare.
Granted, Windows 8 is still a new operating system, whereas XP and Windows 7 have had several years to gain users, be included on multiple generations of OEM machines, and be accepted by the enterprise customers. The free Windows 8.1 update should alleviate some users' concerns and may help bolster its market share as well. However, Windows XP simply will not die and Windows 7 (if talk on the Internet is to be believed, hehe) seems to be good enough for the majority of users, so it is difficult to say when (or if) Microsoft's latest OS will outpace the two existing, and entrenched, Windows operating systems.
YoY, Windows 7 lost 0.33% market share while Windows XP lost 6.44% market share. Meanwhile, Windows 8 has been slowly increasing in market share each quarter since its release. Netmarketshare reported 1.72% market share in December of 2012, and in six months the operating system has grown by 3.38%. There is no direct cause and effect here, but it does suggest that few people are choosing a Windows 8 upgrade path, and that despite the growth, the lost market share for Windows 7 and XP is not solely from people switching to Windows 8, but also some small number of people jumping to alternative operating systems such as Mac OS X and Linux. The historical data is neat, but it is difficult to predict how things will look moving forward. If adoption continues at this pace, it is going to take a long time for Windows 8 to dethrone Microsoft's older Windows XP and Windows 7 operating systems.
How you made the switch to Windows 8 or gotten it on a new machine? Will the Back-to-School shopping season give Windows 8 the adoption rate boost it needs?
What do they want Origin to be?
GamesIndustry International conducted an interview with EA's Executive Vice President, Andrew Wilson, during this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3 2013). Wilson was on the team which originally designed Origin before marketing decided to write off all DOS-era nostalgia they once held with PC gamers through recycling an old web address.
The service, itself, has also changed since the original project.
'"Over the years ... there've been some permutations of that vision that have manifested as part of Origin," Wilson said. "I think what we've done is taken a step back and said 'Wow, we've actually done some really cool things with Origin.' It is by no means perfect, but we've done some pretty cool things. As you say, the plumbing is there. What can we do now to really think about Origin in the next generation?"
Fans of Sim City, who faithfully pre-ordered, will likely argue that Origin does not have enough sewage treatment at the end of their plumbing and the out-flow defecated all over their experience. A good service can be built atop the foundations of Origin; but, I have little confidence in their ability to realize that potential.
Wilson, on the other hand, believes they now "get it".
One assertion deals with customers who purchase more than one game. He argues that multiple update and online services are required and that is a barrier for users who desire a second, third, or hundredth purchase thereafter. The belief is that Origin can create a single experience for users and remove that barrier to inhibit a user's purchase. In practice, Origin ends up being a bigger hurdle than a single-game's service. It washes a bad faith over their entire library and fails to justify itself: games, such as Sim City, update on their own and old titles still have their online services taken offline.
What it comes down to is lack of focus. Wilson believes development of Origin was too focused on the transaction, and that lead to bad faith, presumably because customers would smell the disingenuous salesman. Good Old Games (GOG), on the other hand, successfully focused on the transaction. The difference? GOG gets out of your way immediately after the transaction, leaving you with just the game plus its bonus pack-ins you ordered, not DRM and a redundant social network.
Steam is heavily focused as a service and that is where EA desires Origin to be. The problem? Valve has set a high bar for EA to contend with. Steam has built customer faith consistently, albeit not perfectly, over its life with its user-centric vision. Not only would EA need to be substantially better than Steam, it is fighting with a severe handicap from their history of shutting down gaming servers and threatening to delicense merchandise if their customers upset them.
A successful Origin will need to carefully consider what it wants to be and strive to win at that goal. While possible, they are still content to handicap themselves and, then, not own the results of their decisions.