Subject: General Tech, Shows and Expos | January 4, 2016 - 11:44 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: pc gaming, mlg, esports, blizzard, Activision
On New Year's Day, rumors flew about MLG being purchased by Activision Blizzard for $46 million USD. At the time, the vast majority of available information discussed how this would affect shareholders, particularly those with lower-class stock in the eSport company. (As it turns out, very poorly.) I wondered why Activision Blizzard would want MLG's assets, especially considering their heavy involvement with ESL, afreecaTV, and others.
According to a press release from Activision Blizzard themselves, they intend to “create the ESPN of esports.” The Activision Blizzard Media Networks division will be led by the former CEO of ESPN, Steve Bornstein, and the co-founder of MLG, Mike Sepso. The other co-founder of MLG, Sundance DiGiovanni, will remain at MLG. It was previously rumored, during the investor's leak, that he was replaced by the former CFO of MLG, Greg Chisholm. While I expect that some shuffling has occurred, DiGiovanni will apparently remain in a management role at MLG. Granted, it could be equivalent to Hideo Kojima's “holiday” last October, but that would just be silly.
As far as I can tell, other broadcasters have not commented on what this means to them.
Follow all of our coverage of the show at http://pcper.com/ces!
Subject: Mobile, Shows and Expos | January 4, 2016 - 04:08 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: zenfone zoom, zenfone, CES 2016, CES, asus
Here is another x86 smartphone from ASUS. Sebastian reviewed the ZenFone 2 in June, which he gave an Editor's Choice award to. It was a high-performance, very responsive phone with a great, IPS screen, and it was available for just $199 or $299.
Today, they are announcing the ZenFone Zoom. This one has a 3x optical zoom using lenses from HOYA. The camera also has a laser autofocus that, ASUS claims, can adjust in three hundredths of a second. While auto modes are available, it also allows the user to override ISO gain, exposure, white balance, and “other options.” It has a dual-LED flash, which is said to generate photos with “more lifelike colors and skin tones.” No flash can overcome the physics of flooding light from a single, small point source. Any dominant light will dominate shadows, which exaggerate wrinkles, intensify oil glare, and so forth. While you will always get better photos in an environment that is lit from several, wider angles, it's good to have a flash that can make the most of a bad situation (have a good control over color, etc.).
Two SoCs are available for this phone. The lower-end chip is the same as the ZenFone 2's higher-end one, the Intel Atom Z3580 (up to 2.3 GHz boost). A higher-end processor is available as well, the Z3590, which gives a 200 MHz bump in boost frequency (up to 2.5 GHz boost). All models are backed with 4GB of RAM, which is a huge amount for a phone. It will come in two storage sizes: 64GB or 128GB. It also includes a MicroSD card slot that supports up to 128GB. It uses the Intel LTE modem.
The ASUS ZenFone Zoom will be available in February, with prices starting at $399.
Follow all of our coverage of the show at http://pcper.com/ces!
Subject: Shows and Expos | December 28, 2015 - 08:18 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: CES, CES 2016, LG, webOS, smart tv
webOS was the final attempt by Palm to regain the smartphone market. It launched with the Palm Pre in 2009, but it failed to attract any consumer attention away from Android and iOS. It did catch HP's eye, though. Palm was purchased by that company for just over a billion dollars, which we would call “half of a Minecraft” today. After a series of unsuccessful products, they started licensing it to LG, who eventually purchased the project (minus patents).
Image Credit: Wikipedia
Ahead of next month's CES, LG announced that a new version will be released at the show. It will be present on their new smart TVs at the show. Some sources claim that the new OS version would also be upgraded on their existing TVs. Unfortunately, this also comes alongside a wave of layoffs at the OS' development group. Former employees claim this was for cost-cutting, while LG says that they intend to consolidate user interface and product management.
We don't typically report on smart TVs, but its heritage as a mobile OS makes it interesting. It has also been used on smart watches, although that area has been silent so-far.
Subject: Displays, Shows and Expos | December 17, 2015 - 02:32 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: benq, VZ2470H, freesync, XR3501, XL2730Z, 144hz, CES 2016
BENQ sent out a teaser of three of the displays they will be demonstrating at CES 2016, the VZ2470H with a slim bezel and impressive contrast ratio, the huge, curved XR3501 and the XL2730Z with VESA Standard Adaptive-Sync, the technology once known as FreeSync.
The VZ2470H is a VA panel, with an impressive 3000:1 native contrast ratio, 4ms GTG response time and what BenQ refers to as ZeroFlicker which they claim will reduce eyestrain from LED backlight flickering. The picture shows this 23.8" 1920 x 1080 display will have a very thin bezel, we can hope that it is not an exaggeration as it would make this a good choice for multiple monitor setups in an office or even for a lower cost gaming system.
The BenQ XR3501 will be of far more interest to gamers, this 35" 2560 x 1080 monitor is curved to give you a great view. It also runs at a 144Hz refresh rate with a 4ms GTG response time. BenQ does not specifiy the panel type but it is likely to be VA as well.
Last but not least is the BenQ XL2730Z, a 27" 2560x1440 display that is fully VESA Standard Adaptive-Sync compliant, with a top refresh rate of 144Hz. It also has a 1ms GTG and is advertised as having no input lag, as you might expect this also means it is a TN panel, but remember, this is not the TN of a few years ago.
The monitor also has some other interesting tricks up its bezel, Display Mode and Smart Scaling allow you to virtually scale the monitor in a variety of sizes, 17", 19", 19"W, 21.5", 22"W, 23"W, 23.6"W and 24"W are defaults but you can create your own as well. The Auto Game Mode feature lets you save monitor settings specific to a game profile and even to export them to a USB drive to take with you if you so desire. All of those functions and more are controlled by the small device you can see on the stand above.
2016 is shaping up to be a very interesting year for displays.
They will also being showing off three different projectors, the HT4050, HT3050 and the budget-friendly HT2050, a portable electrostatic Bluetooth speaker called the treVolo and even even a fancy desk lamp.
Subject: Editorial, Mobile, Shows and Expos | December 9, 2015 - 07:04 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: yahoo, mozilla, google, Firefox OS, Android
Author's Disclosure: I volunteer for Mozilla, unpaid. I've been to one of their events in 2013, but otherwise have no financial ties with them. They actually weren't aware that I was a journalist. Still, our readers should know my background when reading my editorial.
Mozilla has announced that, while Firefox OS will still be developed for “many connected devices,” the organization will stop developing and selling smartphones through carriers. Mozilla claims that the reason is because they “weren't able to offer the best user experience possible.” While the statement is generic enough to apply in a lot of contexts, I'm not sure how close to the center of that region it is.
This all occurred at the “Mozlando” conference in Florida.
Firefox OS was born when stakeholders asked Mozilla to get involved in the iOS and Android duopoly. Unlike Windows, Blackberry, and other competitors, Mozilla has a history of leveraging Web standards to topple industry giants. Rather than trying to fight the industry leaders with a better platform, and hoping that developers create enough apps to draw users over, they expanded what Web could do to dig the ground out of their competitors.
The issue is that being able to achieve high performance is different from actually achieving it. The Web, as a platform, is getting panned as slow and “memory hungry” (even though free memory doesn't make a system faster -- it's all about the overhead required to manage it). Likewise, the first few phones landed at the low end, due in part to Mozilla, the non-profit organization remember, wanting to use Firefox OS to bring computing to new areas of the world. A few hiccups here and there added another coat of paint to the Web's perception of low performance.
Granted, they couldn't compete on the high end without a successful app ecosystem if they tried. Only the most hardcore of fans would purchase a several-hundred dollar smartphone, and intend to put up with just Web apps. Likewise, when I've told people that phones run on the Web, they didn't realize we mean “primarily localhost” until it's explicitly stated. People are afraid for their data caps, even though offline experiences are actually offline and stored locally.
The Dinosaur in the Room
Then there's the last question that I have. I am a bit concerned about the organization as a whole. They seem to be trying to shed several products lately, and narrow their focus. Granted, all of these announcements occur because of the event, so there's plenty of room for coincidence. They have announced that they will drop ad tiles, which I've heard praised.
The problem is, why would they do that? Was it for good will, aligning with their non-profit values? (Update: Fixed double-negative typo) Or was it bringing in much less money than projected? If it's the latter, then how far do they need to shrink their influence, and how? Did they already over-extend, and will they need to compensate for that? Looking at their other decisions, they've downsized Firefox OS, they are thinking about spinning out Thunderbird again, and they have quietly shuttered several internal projects, like their division for skunkworks projects, called “Mozilla Labs.” Mozilla also has a division called "Mozilla Research," although that is going strong. They are continually hiring for projects like "Servo," a potential new browser engine, and "Rust," a programming language that is used for Servo and other projects.
While Mozilla is definitely stable enough, financially, to thrive in their core products, I'm concerned about how much they can do beyond that. I'm genuinely concerned that Mozilla is trying to restructure while looking like a warrior for both human rights and platforms of free expression. We will not see the books until a few months from now, so we can only speculate until then. The organization is pulling inward, though. I don't know how much of this is refocusing on the problems they can solve, or the problems they can afford. We will see.
Subject: Mobile, Shows and Expos | September 22, 2015 - 08:37 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: Nexus, google, Android
Well, the event is apparently official. It's the contents that are rumored...
It's been a little while since Google announced new Android phones, almost a year in fact. Two phones have been rumored this year, which are allegedly named the Nexus 5X and the Nexus 6P. I am not sure how much of the leaks are pure speculation, versus grounded in actual fact, so I will leave it as an exercise to you to read a couple of links that summarize them. A grain of salt will be necessary of course. It's not that we are afraid to look at rumors, as we do so frequently, but I'd rather not play arbitrator this time. I don't think that I can research this topic enough to arrive at a sufficient level of confidence at the moment.
What I can say is that Google will host an event on September 29th, 2015, to announce whatever they have. The invitations have gone out to sites like CNet and it will present devices that use Android 6.0 M, which Google announced stands for “Marshmallow” last August. An updated Chromecast is also expected to be launched at the same event.
Subject: General Tech, Shows and Expos | September 15, 2015 - 01:07 PM | Sebastian Peak
Tagged: VR, virtual reality, Tilt Brush, PAX Prime 2015, paint, nvidia, art
A group of six artists from the gaming industry were brought together at this month's PAX Prime event in Seattle in a joint vebture between NVIDIA, Valve, Google and HTC. The idea? To use virtual reality to create art. The result was very interesting, to say the least.
Wearing HTC’s VR headset the artists had 30 minutes each to create their work using Tilt Brush. What is Tilt Brush, exactly?
"Tilt Brush uses the HTC Vive’s unique hand controllers and positional tracking to allow artists to paint in three dimensions. The software includes a remarkable digital palette, letting users draw GPU-powered real-time effects like fire, smoke and light."
The artists included Chandana Ekanayake from Uber Entertainment, Lee Petty from Double Fine Productions, Michael Shilliday from Whiterend Creative, Mike Krahulik from Penny Arcade, Sarah Northway from Northway Games and Tristan Reidford from Valve.
NVIDIA is hosting a contest to pick the winner on their Facebook page; so what's in it for you? "The artist with the most votes will win ultimate bragging rights, and voters will be entered to win a new GeForce GTX 980 Ti!" Not bad.
This is certainly a novel application of VR, but serves to illustrate (pun intended) that the tech really does provide endless possibilities - far beyond 3D art or gameplay immersion.
Subject: General Tech, Shows and Expos | September 13, 2015 - 08:53 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: valve, Steam Controller, steam
As far as I can tell, this video is not from a larger organization. I sent OMGChad a tweet to verify that he was at PAX as an independent YouTube personality, but I didn't get a response. I couldn't recognize the intro bumper, and it didn't seem to be in use on any of his other videos, or any other PAX video that I could find, but it seemed like a significant amount of work for a one-off. If someone in the comments knows anything, be sure to leave a note.
Update, Sept 14th, 2015: OMGChad has just responded to my tweet. He was there "for myself and @MindcrackLP". Again, it's a minor point, but it's something that I should get correct if possible.
As for the story, OMGChad talks with Robin Walker, the man who takes responsibility for all the hats in TF2, about the Steam Controller in Alienware's booth at PAX Prime 2015. After several delays, the input device is scheduled to launch on November 10th (which will be a busy day apparently). It has changed significantly over time, with early prototypes even playing around with a touch screen. The two touch pads, while markers on them have changed from concentric rings to a cross on the left and nothing on the right, were relatively close to their original concept.
Robin Walker goes over the main design decisions and what rationale led to them. For instance, the reason for the grips on the back is because they found that people were taking their thumbs off of the view stick for just a couple of actions, such as reload or “use”. He also discusses the dual-stage triggers, which have a button at the end for secondary actions (like a nitro boost at the end of your throttle). It is somewhat expected that a representative for a company selling a controller would highlight what makes their product unique, but it's nice to have that extra behind-the-scenes insight.
The Steam Controller will launch on November 10th for $49.99 USD ($59.99 CDN). There was an option to pre-order to get it early, but the early batch is over so -- let's be honest -- you don't need me to tell you what you already did.
Core and Interconnect
The Skylake architecture is Intel’s first to get a full release on the desktop in more than two years. While that might not seem like a long time in the grand scheme of technology, for our readers and viewers that is a noticeable change and shift from recent history that Intel has created with the tick-tock model of releases. Yes, Broadwell was released last year and was solid product, but Intel focused almost exclusively on the mobile platforms (notebooks and tablets) with it. Skylake will be much more ubiquitous and much more quickly than even Haswell.
Skylake represents Intel’s most scalable architecture to date. I don’t mean only frequency scaling, though that is an important part of this design, but rather in terms of market segment scaling. Thanks to brilliant engineering and design from Intel’s Israeli group Intel will be launching Skylake designs ranging from 4.5 watt TDP Core M solutions all the way up to the 91 watt desktop processors that we have already reviewed in the Core i7-6700K. That’s a range that we really haven’t seen before and in the past Intel has depended on the Atom architecture to make up ground on the lowest power platforms. While I don’t know for sure if Atom is finally trending towards the dodo once Skylake’s reign is fully implemented, it does make me wonder how much life is left there.
Scalability also refers to the package size – something that ensures that the designs the engineers created can actually be built and run in the platform segments they are targeting. Starting with the desktop designs for LGA platforms (DIY market) that fits on a 1400 mm2 design on the 91 watt TDP implementation Intel is scaling all the way down to 330 mm2 in a BGA1515 package for the 4.5 watt TDP designs. Only with a total product size like that can you hope to get Skylake in a form factor like the Compute Stick – which is exactly what Intel is doing. And note that the smaller packages require the inclusion of the platform IO chip as well, something that H- and S-series CPUs can depend on the motherboard to integrate.
Finally, scalability will also include performance scaling. Clearly the 4.5 watt part will not offer the user the same performance with the same goals as the 91 watt Core i7-6700K. The screen resolution, attached accessories and target applications allow Intel to be selective about how much power they require for each series of Skylake CPUs.
The fundamental design theory in Skylake is very similar to what exists today in Broadwell and Haswell with a handful of significant and hundreds of minor change that make Skylake a large step ahead of previous designs.
This slide from Julius Mandelblat, Intel Senior Principle Engineer, shows a higher level overview of the entirety of the consumer integration of Skylake. You can see that Intel’s goals included a bigger and wider core design, higher frequency, improved right architecture and fabric design and more options for eDRAM integration. Readers of PC Perspective will already know that Skylake supports both DDR3L and DDR4 memory technologies but the inclusion of the camera ISP is new information for us.
Subject: Graphics Cards, Processors, Mobile, Shows and Expos | August 10, 2015 - 09:01 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: vulkan, spir, siggraph 2015, Siggraph, opengl sc, OpenGL ES, opengl, opencl, Khronos
When the Khronos Group announced Vulkan at GDC, they mentioned that the API is coming this year, and that this date is intended to under promise and over deliver. Recently, fans were hoping that it would be published at SIGGRAPH, which officially begun yesterday. Unfortunately, Vulkan has not released. It does hold a significant chunk of the news, however. Also, it's not like DirectX 12 is holding a commanding lead at the moment. The headers were public only for a few months, and the code samples are less than two weeks old.
The organization made announcements for six products today: OpenGL, OpenGL ES, OpenGL SC, OpenCL, SPIR, and, as mentioned, Vulkan. They wanted to make their commitment clear, to all of their standards. Vulkan is urgent, but some developers will still want the framework of OpenGL. Bind what you need to the context, then issue a draw and, if you do it wrong, the driver will often clean up the mess for you anyway. The briefing was structure to be evident that it is still in their mind, which is likely why they made sure three OpenGL logos greeted me in their slide deck as early as possible. They are also taking and closely examining feedback about who wants to use Vulkan or OpenGL, and why.
As for Vulkan, confirmed platforms have been announced. Vendors have committed to drivers on Windows 7, 8, 10, Linux, including Steam OS, and Tizen (OSX and iOS are absent, though). Beyond all of that, Google will accept Vulkan on Android. This is a big deal, as Google, despite its open nature, has been avoiding several Khronos Group standards. For instance, Nexus phones and tablets do not have OpenCL drivers, although Google isn't stopping third parties from rolling it into their devices, like Samsung and NVIDIA. Direct support of Vulkan should help cross-platform development as well as, and more importantly, target the multi-core, relatively slow threaded processors of those devices. This could even be of significant use for web browsers, especially in sites with a lot of simple 2D effects. Google is also contributing support from their drawElements Quality Program (dEQP), which is a conformance test suite that they bought back in 2014. They are going to expand it to Vulkan, so that developers will have more consistency between devices -- a big win for Android.
While we're not done with Vulkan, one of the biggest announcements is OpenGL ES 3.2 and it fits here nicely. At around the time that OpenGL ES 3.1 brought Compute Shaders to the embedded platform, Google launched the Android Extension Pack (AEP). This absorbed OpenGL ES 3.1 and added Tessellation, Geometry Shaders, and ASTC texture compression to it. It was also more tension between Google and cross-platform developers, feeling like Google was trying to pull its developers away from Khronos Group. Today, OpenGL ES 3.2 was announced and includes each of the AEP features, plus a few more (like “enhanced” blending). Better yet, Google will support it directly.
Next up are the desktop standards, before we finish with a resurrected embedded standard.
OpenGL has a few new extensions added. One interesting one is the ability to assign locations to multi-samples within a pixel. There is a whole list of sub-pixel layouts, such as rotated grid and Poisson disc. Apparently this extension allows developers to choose it, as certain algorithms work better or worse for certain geometries and structures. There were probably vendor-specific extensions for a while, but now it's a ratified one. Another extension allows “streamlined sparse textures”, which helps manage data where the number of unpopulated entries outweighs the number of populated ones.
OpenCL 2.0 was given a refresh, too. It contains a few bug fixes and clarifications that will help it be adopted. C++ headers were also released, although I cannot comment much on it. I do not know the state that OpenCL 2.0 was in before now.
And this is when we make our way back to Vulkan.
SPIR-V, the code that runs on the GPU (or other offloading device, including the other cores of a CPU) in OpenCL and Vulkan is seeing a lot of community support. Projects are under way to allow developers to write GPU code in several interesting languages: Python, .NET (C#), Rust, Haskell, and many more. The slide lists nine that Khronos Group knows about, but those four are pretty interesting. Again, this is saying that you can write code in the aforementioned languages and have it run directly on a GPU. Curiously missing is HLSL, and the President of Khronos Group agreed that it would be a useful language. The ability to cross-compile HLSL into SPIR-V means that shader code written for DirectX 9, 10, 11, and 12 could be compiled for Vulkan. He expects that it won't take long for a project to start, and might already be happening somewhere outside his Google abilities. Regardless, those who are afraid to program in the C-like GLSL and HLSL shading languages might find C# and Python to be a bit more their speed, and they seem to be happening through SPIR-V.
As mentioned, we'll end on something completely different.
For several years, the OpenGL SC has been on hiatus. This group defines standards for graphics (and soon GPU compute) in “safety critical” applications. For the longest time, this meant aircraft. The dozens of planes (which I assume meant dozens of models of planes) that adopted this technology were fine with a fixed-function pipeline. It has been about ten years since OpenGL SC 1.0 launched, which was based on OpenGL ES 1.0. SC 2.0 is planned to launch in 2016, which will be based on the much more modern OpenGL ES 2 and ES 3 APIs that allow pixel and vertex shaders. The Khronos Group is asking for participation to direct SC 2.0, as well as a future graphics and compute API that is potentially based on Vulkan.
The devices that this platform intends to target are: aircraft (again), automobiles, drones, and robots. There are a lot of ways that GPUs can help these devices, but they need a good API to certify against. It needs to withstand more than an Ouya, because crashes could be much more literal.