This One Takes It to 11! Windows 10 Insider Build 11082

Subject: General Tech | December 16, 2015 - 06:20 PM |
Tagged: microsoft, windows 10

A new build is available for Windows 10 at the Insider Fast update level. This one is numbered 11082, and it is the first one on the “Redstone” track. Users will probably not notice any changes, beyond the bugs, because the modifications are all under-the-hood. They are working on the core of the operating system, called “OneCore,” to restructure it better for the wide variety of hardware that it's designed for.

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This raises the question: Why now? It's odd that they would release a public preview that seemingly adds nothing, just before the holidays when the engineers will be unavailable to fix it. That feels like replacing the first floor of a building from wood to maybe-not-quite-set concrete, then hopping on a plane for a few weeks. Of course, this is not a bad thing. This is what some Insiders want to experience, and those who don't can drop down to Slow (or leave Insider).

Also, Microsoft sort-of explained why they did this. First, they intend to get down to business on features and upgrades in January. Basically, they structured their work such that pre-Holiday tasks built the infrastructure for post-Holiday creations (as I mentioned in the first paragraph). Big development tasks are often done on branches of a canonical product that are merged when complete. Merging a branch back into the trunk is easier when the trunk is designed more modularly, etc. In that context, it makes sense to see how it reacts in a large sample of configurations just before you start pushing big feature payloads into it. The second explanation is that Microsoft intends to speed up Insider previews in general.

If you're interested, WinBeta has a video “walking through” the features, although they basically just read the announcement. They also checked to see whether Microsoft Edge changed to add extensions, and it didn't.

A list of known issues is also available in the Insider Hub app post. Basically, Language packs and "Features on Demand" will not install. File progress dialogues will not show (even though the actual copy / move / delete will work without issue). Finally, some default apps will be incorrectly reset.

It is available through Windows Update for Fast Insiders.

Source: Microsoft

Mountain climbing with an Oculus

Subject: General Tech | December 16, 2015 - 12:58 PM |
Tagged: gaming, Oculus, crytek, the climb

Crytek announced their designed for Oculus game yesterday, The Climb.  As you might infer from the title of the game you will be scaling cliffs and mountains using either an Xbox One controller or Oculus Touch with your Oculus to experience something that would not be anywhere near as interesting on a computer monitor.  The disembodied hands are a little disturbing, though perhaps not as much as the heights will be for those who suffer from vertigo, though perhaps this would be an interesting way to try to conquer your fears.  The video below shows off the graphics, though not as immersive as it would be in VR it still looks rather interesting.  Many developers are looking to space sims to be the killer app for Oculus, for instance EVE Valkyrie come as part of the pre-order bundle shipped with the first consumer model.

Crytek might have just found the other style of game to interest people in the Oculus, extreme sports could be very compelling with the new VR headset.

"The Climb invites thrill-seekers to experience the ultimate in extreme sports by going beyond the point of no return and scaling deadly cliff faces unaided. The game boasts hyper-realistic climbing locations from around the world, and players will discover the freedom of gaming with the Rift using either an Xbox One controller or Oculus Touch controllers as they soak up their awe-inspiring surroundings."

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Source: The Climb

You should upgrade to Win10 now ... or now ... or how about now ... maybe now ... now might be a good time ...

Subject: General Tech | December 16, 2015 - 12:16 PM |
Tagged: windows 10

You could do it now ... or tonight ... or maybe we will just do it for you while you are away because we are such nice people and we know you are really concerned about running the latest OS and security patches.

Yes that's right folks, if you have yet to take advantage of Microsoft's generosity they will soon be making you an offer that is impossible to refuse ... almost.  The nag screens have been updated to offer two obvious choices, Upgrade Now or Upgrade Tonight, with that little red x in the corner being the only way to turn down the offer.  By now you have probably had relatives reach out to you about this latest virus, or your friends explain how this proves Microsoft is out to eat your brainwaves or some such thing. 

What it does mean is that the average user is going to be rather miffed but will likely upgrade if they are not privy to the secret of the red x.  Those who don't use their computers often, or who will be away for the holidays will come home to a shiny new OS in the very near future as Windows 10 has reached Recommended Update status and will install itself on all Win7/8x systems not configured to defer updates.  The smell of desperation is in the air, the knowledgeable have already chosen to upgrade or to disable the nag screens while the unaware are about to encounter a surprise and we all know how well unexpected surprises are received lately.

Why Microsoft is so desperate to push this free upgrade out, even to with the risk of alienating their largest user base, barring corporations who they had to exempt, is somewhat of a mystery.  Then again, it is better than snatching the upgrade away before the originally announced year and billing full price on the next upgrade cycle.  Perhaps they are looking at Amazon's success with subscription based cloud services with a bit of jealousy?

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"We spoke to Microsoft about our concerns last month and were told that "the average user ... wants to make sure they've got the most secure and always up-to-date version of Windows, and the feedback we get is that people want that to be as simple and seamless as possible""

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Source: The Register

Xbox Wireless Adapter for Windows Now Supports 7, 8.x

Subject: General Tech | December 16, 2015 - 07:20 AM |
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.

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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.

Author:
Subject: General Tech
Manufacturer: Thrustmaster

Build Your Own Setup

Who would have thought that racing wheels would be so much fun?  I have mentioned this before, but until recently my experience with these products has been pretty limited.  I used a joystick for at least a decade after I started into PC racing, and then some five years ago I purchased a pretty basic FFB wheel with the Thrustmaster F430.  I was not entirely sure that a more expensive wheel would give me a better experience.  After having played DiRT Rally, a sim that leans heavily on wheels with a greater than 270 degrees of rotation, I knew that I was missing something.

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The packaging looks nice and conveys the information needed for the purchaser.

I purchased the Thrustmaster TX F458 wheel and my eyes were opened to the light.  The more expensive wheel with a 900 degree rotation made driving a much better experience for those titles that are more than arcade racers.  DiRT Rally became a totally different game and my understanding of the handling and physics was enhanced dramatically with the more advanced wheel.  This is not to mention how huge of a difference such a wheel is as compared to the products in the $50 to $100 range which offer no force feedback and rely on bungie cords to center the steering.

The TX wheel does have some limitations and a couple downsides.  The first is that it is limited to 900 degrees vs. other products that feature a full 1080 degrees.  It is compatible with PC and Xbox One.  It does not support the PS3 or PS4.  It comes with a two pedal stand as well as the Ferrari inspired wheel that is constructed entirely of plastic and a rubberized material on the wheel surface.  It is not a luxury item and I would not expect as such for $294 US.  It is also the least expensive “full” setup of the more professional line of dual pulley FFB servos.

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This is a diagram of the dual pulley system that makes the T300 as smooth as it is.

Over the past few years Thrustmaster has expanded their lineup to include higher end accessories for the wheel setups with three pedal stands (the T3PA and T3PA-Pro), a solid shifter (TH8A), as well as a variety of interchangeable wheels that fit the Thrustmaster Quick Release system (TX, T300, and T500).  These include leather wrapped wheels, a F1 inspired wheel, and finally a newly introduced Alcantara wheel that apparently feels fantastic.

It seems a waste to buy an entire set and then replace pieces with upgraded parts.  Obviously Thrustmaster figured this out and decided to start offering just the servo bases as standalone products and allow the user to pick and choose what type of pedals and wheels they want to use.  This also allows those who are more frugal to buy secondhand parts off eBay and other outlets.  Believe me, there are more than a few F458 wheels and 2 pedal sets out there for pretty good prices.  The T300 Servo Base is the second standalone offering from Thrustmaster with the Xbox One focused TX being the first.

Click to continue reading the Thrustmaster T300 Servo Base Review

V-MODA lets you add a personal touch with their Crossfade Wireless Headset

Subject: General Tech | December 15, 2015 - 03:43 PM |
Tagged: audio, v-moda, crossfade wireless, wireless headset

Considering the way that Beats and other headsets seem to sell based on the recognizable and rather colourful look of their headsets side panels, V-MODA has created product to try to compete on that level.  When you order your headset you can choose between a wide variety of 3D printed side panels in a variety of materials and designs up to and including solid platinum for a mere $27,000 or so.  For the less financially gifted there are other precious metals, fibre, aluminium and steel side panels to place your design on.  V-MODA offers a variety of designs that can be etched on the sides or you can even upload your own design, though as you do authorize V-MODA to use the design make sure it is yours to use. 

The remaining question is how the headsets sound, both while wired and over Bluetooth.  They are based off of the Crossfade M-100s which may be familiar to you, otherwise you can read what Techgage thought of the sound in their full review.

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"Are you in the market for some high-end wireless headphones but crave something a little different? V-MODA may have something of interest. With a range of 3D printed customizable headphones available in a variety of materials, including metal, the Crossfade Wireless certainly has our ears perked."

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Source: Techgage

Netflix is re-encoding their catalog in the coming year

Subject: General Tech | December 15, 2015 - 01:16 PM |
Tagged: Netflix, encoding

In what must be one of the most impressive encoding projects in recent memory, Netflix will be re-encoding their entire catalogue to try to reduce the bandwidth required to stream their content by 20%.  As we mentioned last week, 70% of the downstream bandwidth on the internet is streamed content and you can expect that Netflix accounts for quite a bit of this bandwidth.  The reduced traffic will help Netflix provide content to those with data caps as well as reducing the associated costs Netflix incurs when storing and sending data so the investment is well worth it.

The project itself will be quite interesting, they cannot simply switch to H.265 as most of the hardware connecting to their services still use a dedicated H.264 decoder.  Another challenge is the size of their catalogue, they can't sit down and encode each video separately as a whole, instead they have to find a way to spread the tasks over multiple servers, each taking a small portion of a show.  Additionally their are challenges specific to certain videos, fog and darkness suffer when they are encoded poorly and must be dealt with separately from content which does not show as much noise when encoded to a low bit rate.  Check out the links from Slashdot for more information on this project but be warned, the discussions include My Little Pony references.

*****update*** 

Our awesome reader John Fielding provided a link to the Netflix blog which goes into far more detail.

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"Netflix has spent four years developing a new and more efficient video-encoding process that can shave off 20% in terms of space and bandwidth without reducing the quality of streamed video. With streaming video accounting for 70% of broadband use, the saving is much-needed, although the advent of 4K streaming, higher frame rates and HDR are likely to account for it all soon after."

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Source: Slashdot

Microsoft's penitent weekend

Subject: General Tech | December 14, 2015 - 12:22 PM |
Tagged: microsoft, Surface Pro, surface book

Along with the apology and reversal of their OneDrive policy, Microsoft has also apologized to customers about several issues that many have experienced with their new Surface Pro and Surface Books.  The complaints started on a forum, as usual, with several users encountering screen flickering when using the devices.  However the complaints quickly spread and even an interim firmware update was unable to resolve the issue.  On Friday Microsoft officially apologized for the ongoing issue which has persisted through numerous updates and promise to have more updates available soon, hopefully one of which will permanently resolve the issue.  The Register also mentions several other issues which users have experienced in their article this morning.

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"Buyers have complained on Microsoft user forums about several faults with the machines since their launch earlier this year, including a "weird screen flicker", slowness in waking from sleep mode and worse than expected battery life. Surface Book"

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Source: The Register

Microsoft Allows Opt-in to Grandfather Your Free OneDrive

Subject: General Tech | December 12, 2015 - 09:54 PM |
Tagged: microsoft, onedrive

A month and a half ago, Microsoft announced that they would roll back OneDrive storage plans. Subscription OneDrive storage would return to 1TB, down from unlimited. Free OneDrive was hit, too. The service offered 15GB (with a bonus 15GB for using Camera Roll). That was also scheduled to be reduced to 5GB, with no Camera Roll bonus. Users were naturally upset at having their free storage reduced by a factor of 6.

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These changes will still take effect in early 2016, but not for everyone. If you are a current user with 15GB base storage, you can opt-in to being grandfathered by clicking a link. You will apparently also retain your 15GB camera roll bonus, if applicable, too. This will not be available for new customers, although there might be still time to sneak in, especially if you have a Hotmail / Microsoft Account / .NET / Passport / Passport Network / Live ID / Microsoft Account (again) / whatever they call it now account. Wouldn't hurt to check what OneDrive offers you today, and try to lock it in.

The Ars Technica article is a bit ambiguous about current Unlimited users. I mean, I guess it won't hurt to try. Be sure to let us know if you're successful. It sounds like it only applies to free tiers, though.

I guess it's nice that Microsoft allows users to be retain their settings. It's interesting that they require opt-in, though. This satisfies the users who are most likely to object, but it directs future users to subscribe. You know, unless they find old news posts on Google.

Source: Microsoft

It's getting crowded in the server room already and Qualcomm wants in

Subject: General Tech | December 11, 2015 - 12:16 PM |
Tagged: server, qualcomm

AMD and Intel have been fighting it out in the server room for a while and have had to shift their tactics towards more efficient processors which merely sip at power compared to the first decade of this century.  Coming from the other direction IBM and ARM design teams have been increasing the power of their chips and their ability to work together to match AMD and Intel's performance while still trying to maintain a lead on power efficiency.  Now, according to what DigiTimes has been hearing, Qualcomm is ready to take advantage of its ARM license to officially move into the server market.  Their initial design will sport 24 cores, provide support for VM environments and will be Linux compatible.  Keep an eye on Xilinx and Mellanox Technologies as they were the companies who have announced plans to release products based on Qualcomm's designs.

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"Qualcomm, which announced plans to begin developing ARM-based chips for servers in November 2014, has started delivering server-use CPU samples to potential clients and has also set up a company in Guizhou, China to promote the CPUs exclusively."

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Source: DigiTimes