Creative Labs Announces Sound Blaster E1 and E3

Subject: General Tech, Mobile | May 15, 2014 - 02:59 AM |
Tagged: Sound Blaster E3, Sound Blaster E1, Creative

Okay, so these products (SoundBlaster E1 and SoundBlaster E3) are confusing because they have several roles. Both are billed as "headphone amplifiers" with battery power. These types of products are somewhat rare and niche on the whole. Probably the main reason for using the amplifier portion is if you had high impedance headphones. Creative claims to support 600 Ohm headphones with both of these models.

And this is where Creative started tossing other features in.

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Both the E1 and E3 can be used as an external sound adapter for PCs and Macs. While features, such as EAX, have gone by the wayside due to modern audio APIs, there is still room for sound devices to differentiate in terms of signal-to-noise ratio (SNR), and so forth, especially when compared to some on-board solutions. Speaking of SNR, the E1 advertises 106dB while the E3, 110dB. Also, sometimes you just want another sound card and USB is convenient. Both include ASIO drivers which is especially useful, although not too uncommon, for professional recording software.

The E3 then goes off on a tangent. Its USB hookup can attach not just to PCs and Mac, but also Android and iOS mobile devices. While it also has Bluetooth for iOS 5+ and Android 3.1+, it can be used as a wired, external sound card over USB on Android 4.2+ (using USB Streaming over Android Open Accessory Protocol 2.0) and iOS 7+ (using a Lightning USB adapter). This allows users to bypass the built-in amplifiers of their smartphones and tablets without Bluetooth compression. I would be interested to see reviews of this unit compared with the 3.5mm jack quality of typical mobile devices.

The Sound Blaster E1 is available now for $69 and the E3 will follow "soon", for $169.

Source: Creative

Mozilla Firefox to Implement Adobe DRM for Video

Subject: Editorial, General Tech | May 14, 2014 - 09:56 PM |
Tagged: ultraviolet, mozilla, DRM, Adobe Access, Adobe

Needless to say, DRM is a controversial topic and I am clearly against it. I do not blame Mozilla. The non-profit organization responsible for Firefox knew that they could not oppose Chrome, IE, and Safari while being a consumer software provider. I do not even blame Apple, Google, and Microsoft for their decisions, either. This problem is much bigger and it comes down to a total misunderstanding of basic mathematics (albeit at a ridiculously abstract and applied level).

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Simply put, piracy figures are meaningless. They are a measure of how many people use content without paying (assuming they are even accurate). You know what is more useful? Sales figures. Piracy figures are measurements, dependent variables, and so is revenue. Measurements cannot influence other measurements. Specifically, measurements cannot influence anything because they are, themselves, the result of influences. That is what "a measure" is.

Implementing DRM is not a measurement, however. It is a controllable action whose influence can be recorded. If you implement DRM and your sales go down, it hurt you. You may notice piracy figures decline. However, you should be too busy to care because you should be spending your time trying to undo the damage you did to your sales! Why are you looking at piracy figures when you're bleeding money?

I have yet to see a DRM implementation that correlated with an increase in sales. I have, however, seen some which correlate to a massive decrease.

The thing is, Netflix might know that and I am pretty sure that some of the web browser companies know that. They do not necessarily want to implement DRM. What they want is content and, surprise, the people who are in charge of the content are definitely not enlightened to that logic. I am not even sure if they realize that the reason why content is pirated before their release dates is because they are not leaked by end users.

But whatever. Technical companies, who want that content available on their products, are stuck finding a way to appease those content companies in a way that damages their users and shrinks their potential market the least. For Mozilla, this means keeping as much open as possible.

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Since they do not have existing relationships with Hollywood, Adobe Access will be the actual method of displaying the video. They are clear to note that this only applies to video. They believe their existing relationships in text, images, and games will prevent the disease from spreading. This is basically a plug-in architecture with a sandbox that is open source and as strict as possible.

This sandbox is intended to prevent a security vulnerability from having access to the host system, give a method of controlling the DRM's performance if it hitches, and not allow the DRM to query the machine for authentication. The last part is something they wanted to highlight, because it shows their effort to protect the privacy of their users. They also imply a method for users to opt-out but did not go into specifics.

As an aside, Adobe will support their Access DRM software on Windows, Mac, and Linux. Mozilla is pushing hard for Android and Firefox OS, too. According to Adobe, Access DRM is certified for use with Ultraviolet content.

I accept Mozilla's decision to join everyone else but I am sad that it came to this. I can think of only two reasons for including DRM: for legal (felony) "protection" under the DMCA or to make content companies feel better while they slowly sink their own ships chasing after numbers which have nothing to do with profits or revenue.

Ultimately, though, they made a compromise. That is always how we stumble and fall down slippery slopes. I am disappointed but I cannot suggest a better option.

Source: Mozilla

It's Alpha Max! Carmageddon: Reincarnation early access on Steam

Subject: General Tech | May 14, 2014 - 04:43 PM |
Tagged: gaming, carmageddon reincarnation, Alpha

If you have fond memories of the first two Carmageddon games and are still a little bitter about TDR 2000 then you probably don't live in Australia.  For those sick and twisted individuals who did love picking pedestrian guts out of their hair and who didn't back the Kickstarter, for $30 you can pick up Carmageddon: Reincarnation on Steam; at least the early access version.  What better way to spend an evening that by torturing peds, other racers and yourself as the game is more than a little buggy at this point, with missing content and a new city map that will crush your GPU.  Rock, Paper, SHOTGUN takes a peek under the bloody hood here and if you do pick up the game remember to post any serious (and repeatable) issues at http://carmageddon.com/bugger.

For a more stable gaming experience just head to the Gaming Forum and see when the Fragging Frogs will be playing next.

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"Anyway, in the meantime, work continues. Carmageddon: Reincarnation yesterday launched its second big Early Access update, bringing a new level, three new cars, more performance options, and other doodads."

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Check out what you can do with 3 Kinects and an Oculus Rift

Subject: General Tech | May 14, 2014 - 02:57 PM |
Tagged: kinect, Oculus

Gizmodo might be going a bit far in calling this a Holodeck but what Oliver Kreylos has done with three Kinects and an Oculus Rift is rather impressive.  As with most cool new projects involving the Oculus you cannot capture what is going on with a picture but that doesn't help with the jealousy you will be feeling after watching some of the videos.  The Kinects capture his motion and the Oculus displays his body inside the zombie game he is using; there will be some space limitations if you are not good at walking in place but it certainly seems less expensive to set up than previous devices we have seen.

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"With no shortage of ingenuity, 3D video expert Oliver Kreylos managed to transplant his entire body into a virtual reality environment using three Microsoft Kinects and an Oculus Rift. It's a little fuzzy, but it's easy to recognize what he's really done. He's created a Holodeck—or something close to it."

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Source: Gizmodo

Why you don't see more OpenGL games

Subject: General Tech | May 13, 2014 - 12:40 PM |
Tagged: opengl, Intel, amd, nividia, graphics drivers

If you have ever wondered what happened to OpenGL games which used to be common then there is a good post to read over on Slashdot.  A developer paints an honest and somewhat depressing picture of what it takes to write working OpenGL code in this day and age.  In his mind the blame lies squarely on the driver teams at the three major graphics vendors, with different issues with each of them.  While officially referred to as Vendors A, B and C anyone even slightly familiar with the market will figure out exactly which companies are being referred to.  While this is a topic worthy of ranting comments be aware that this refers specifically to the OpenGL driver, not the DirectX or Mantle drivers and each company has it's own way of making programmers lives difficult, none are without blame.

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"Rich Geldreich (game/graphics programmer) has made a blog post on the quality of different OpenGL Drivers. Using anonymous titles (Vendor A: Nvidia; Vendor B: AMD; Vendor C: Intel), he plots the landscape of game development using OpenGL. Vendor A, jovially known as 'Graphics Mafia' concentrates heavily on performance but won't share its specifications, thus blocking any open source driver implementations as much as possible. Vendor B has the most flaky drivers. They have good technical know-how on OpenGL but due to an extremely small team (money woes), they have shoddy drivers. Vendor C is extremely rich."

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Source: Slashdot

The Crowbar *WAS* for Half-Life 2 (and Portal) on SHIELD

Subject: General Tech | May 12, 2014 - 09:42 PM |
Tagged: nvidia, shield, half-life 2, Portal

What would Gordon Freeman do? He would tell everyone to... ... oh right.

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Well, apparently he is available on the NVIDIA SHIELD, now, along with Portal. I am not talking about GameStream. These two games have been ported to Android, but only through the SHIELD. From their screenshots, the mobile games look pretty good, especially Portal with its look-through mechanics.

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As usual, whenever NVIDIA really wants something, they will often parachute engineers through your skylights to do it for you. The company revolves around delivering experiences to their customers, which is a good mindset for a company to have. This is one of the main reasons for Microsoft and the success of PC gaming, especially in the late 90's with their DirectX efforts.

If you have an NVIDIA SHIELD, Half Life 2 and Portal are available now for $9.99, through TegraZone.

Source: NVIDIA

NVIDIA Titan Z Missed Its Release Date

Subject: General Tech, Graphics Cards | May 12, 2014 - 08:00 PM |
Tagged: titan z, nvidia, gtx titan z, geforce

To a crowd of press and developers at their GTC summit, NVIDIA announced the GeForce GTX Titan Z add-in board (AIB). Each of the two, fully unlocked, GK110 GPUs would each have access to 6GB of GDDR5 memory (12GB total). The card was expected to be available on May 8th but has yet to surface. As NVIDIA has yet to comment on the situation, many question whether it ever will.

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And then we get what we think are leaked benchmarks (note: two pictures).

One concern about the Titan Z was its rated 8 TeraFLOPs of compute performance. This is a fairly sizable reduction from the theoretical maximum of 10.24 TeraFLOPs of two Titan Black processors and even less than two first-generation Titans (9 TeraFLOPs combined). We expected that this is due to reduced clock rates. What we did not expect is for benchmarks to show the GPUs boost way above those advertised levels, and even beyond the advertised boost clocks of the Titan Black and the 780 Ti. The card was seen pushing 1058 MHz in some sections, which leads to a theoretical compute performance of 12.2 TeraFLOPs (6.1 TeraFLOPs per GPU) in single precision. That is a lot.

These benchmarks also show that NVIDIA has a slight lead over AMD's R9 295X2 in many games, except Battlefield 4 and Sleeping Dogs (plus 3DMark and Unigine). Of course, these benchmarks measure the software reported frame rate and frame times and those may or may not be indicative of actual performance. While I would say that the Titan Z appears to have a slight performance lead over the R9 295X2, although a solid argument for an AMD performance win exists, it does so double the cost (at its expected $3000 USD price point). That is not up for debate.

Whichever card is faster, AMD's is half the price and available for purchase right now.

So, until NVIDIA says anything, the Titan Z is in limbo. I am sure there exists CUDA developers who await its arrival. Personally, I would just get three Titan Blacks since you are going to need to manually schedule your workloads across multiple processors anyway (or 780 Tis if 32-bit arithmetic is enough precision). That is, of course, unless you cannot physically fit enough GeForce Titan Blacks in your motherboard and, as such, you require two GK110 chips per AIB (but not enough to bother writing a cluster scheduling application).

Source: Unknown

Move over G-Sync! FreeSync arrives on DisplayPort 1.2a

Subject: General Tech, Displays | May 12, 2014 - 03:29 PM |
Tagged: g-sync, freesync, displayport 1.2a, adaptive sync

AMD might have originally thought that dynamic refresh rates were not worth adding to their machines but they did develop FreeSync quite a while ago and now that G-Sync is available they've changed their minds.  Even better for the consumer is the way that they went about releasing it; not as proprietary hardware which is only compatible with certain monitors but as an update to the DisplayPort standard which does not require any extra hardware.  We do still have a while to wait before these monitors hit the shelves, the display scaler and control chips manufactures will have to incorporate the new standard into their designs but once they do they should be functional on both NVIDIA and AMD as long as you are connecting with DisplayPort.  Read more about the process on The Tech Report.

Also, you can read the official VESA press release.

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"PC gaming animation may soon become more fluid than ever, thanks to a development just announced by the folks at the VESA display standards organization. VESA has officially added a feature called Adaptive Sync to the DisplayPort 1.2a specification, which means that a G-Sync-style adaptive refresh mechanism could be built into nearly every new desktop monitor in the coming months and years."

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AMD Allegedly Preparing New Mobile Kaveri APUs Including the Flagship FX-7600P

Subject: General Tech, Processors | May 11, 2014 - 11:41 PM |
Tagged: ulv, mobile apu, laptop, Kaveri, APU, amd

According to leaked information, AMD will allegedly be releasing mobile versions of its Kaveri APU later this year. There are reportedly seven new processors aimed at laptops and tablet that follow the same basic design as their desktop counterparts: steamroller CPU cores paired with a GCN-based graphics portion and an integrated memory controller.

According to information obtained by WCCF Tech, AMD will release four ULV and three standard voltage parts. All but one APU will have four Steamroller CPU cores paired with an Radeon R4, R5, R6, or R7 graphics processor with up to 512 GCN cores. The mobile APUs allegedly range in TDP from 17W to 35W and support various AMD technologies including TrueAudio, Mantle, and Eyefinity.

An AMD slide showing a die shot of the desktop "Kaveri" Accelerated Processing Unit (APU).

Of the seven rumored APUs, two of them are OEM-only parts that feature the “FX” moniker. The FX-7500 is the fastest ULV (ultra-low voltage) APU while the FX-7600P is AMD’s flagship mobile processor.

The FX-7600P is the chip that should most interest mobile gamers and enthusiasts looking for a powerful AMD-powered laptop or tablet. This processor allegedly features four CPU cores clocked at 2.7GHz base (that turbo to a maximum of 3.6GHz), a GPU with 512 GCN cores clocked at a base of 600MHz and a boost clock of 666MHz. The chip further uses 4MB of L2 cache and is a 35W TDP part. This should be a decent processor for laptops, offering acceptable general performance and some nice mobile gaming with the beefy integrated GPU!

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The leaked AMD mobile Kaveri APU lineup via WCCF Tech.

Of course, for productivity machines where portability and battery life are bigger concerns, AMD will reportedly be offering up the dual core A6-7000. This 17W ULV processor combines two cores clocked at 2.2GHz (3.0GHz boost), a GPU based on the Radeon R4 with 192 GCN cores (494MHz base and 533MHz boost), and 2MB of L2 cache. Compared to the FX-7600P (and especially the desktop parts), the A6-7000 sips power. We will have to wait for reviews to see how it performs, but it will be facing stiff competition from Intel’s Core i3 Haswell CPUs and even the Bay Trail SoCs which come in at a lower TDP and offer higher thread counts. The GPU capabilities and GPGPU / HSA software advancements (such as LibreOffice adding GPGPU support) will make or break the A6-7000, in my opinion.

In all, the leaked mobile chips appear to be a decent upgrade over the previous generation. The new mobile APUs will bring incremental performance and power saving benefits to bear against competition from Intel. I’m looking forward to more official information and seeing what the OEMs are able to do with the new chips.

Source: WCCF Tech

Free as in UT!

Subject: General Tech | May 8, 2014 - 03:04 PM |
Tagged: gaming, unreal engine 4, Unreal Tournament, kick ass, epic games

The only way Epic could have excited gamers more than the announcement that Unreal Tournament is coming back is to announce that it is utterly free with no DLC or pay-to-win ... which is exactly what they did!  It will be built on Unreal Engine 4, the one you can license at $19 a month and will be designed from the ground up to be moddable and eventually there will be a marketplace where modders can trade, sell or give away their work.  Polygon wasn't given any hint of a release date but this news is so exciting it almost makes you forget UT3 ever existed!

Of course you don't have to wait to join in on some classic UT2K4 action, just head to the Gaming Forum and see when the Fragging Frogs will be playing next.

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"Developer Epic Games revealed today that the multiplayer shooter's next incarnation — in development in Unreal Engine 4 for Linux, Mac and Windows PC and called simply Unreal Tournament — will be free, moddable and collaboratively developed with fans."

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Source: Polygon