Subject: Systems | October 7, 2013 - 03:09 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: htpc, ceton, tv tuner
TV addicts and members of large families rejoice as Ceton's InfiniTV6 PCIe digital cable tuner card allows you to record up to 6 separate channels concurrently. The $300 price tag makes it a bit of an investment but for those uninterested in online TV streaming services may really like the idea of being able to record that many shows at the same time. Activating and pairing your cable card is not too difficult and the included instructions should be able to help anyone who does encounter troubles. Missing Remote mentions that Win7 is the way to go with this card, Win8 support is in beta and nowhere near as reliable.
"Six is a good number – even better when it is equated to the number of tuners in your current HTPC. Obviously it is possible to get by with less, but after considering EPG overlaps, a couple children and the spouse – what was an impossible luxury not that long ago quickly becomes a celebrated necessity. With ClearQAM disappearing and ATSC difficult to master in some markets, it is hard to argue with the simplicity that a single Digital Cable Tuner (DCT) provides. Ceton InfiniTV6 PCIe Digital Cable Tuner card includes the ability to use an M-CARD CableCARD to record any channel you subscribe to from your Cable TV Provider."
Here are some more Systems articles from around the web:
- Streacom FC5 EVO Fanless HTPC Case @ Kitguru
- ASRock M8 Mini-ITX Z87 Barebones System @ Kitguru
- Google Chromecast Review @ Legit Reviews
- Apple TV Review @ Hardware Secrets
- Intel NUC Kit D54250WYK Review @MissingRemote
Subject: General Tech, Graphics Cards, Cases and Cooling, Systems | October 4, 2013 - 04:19 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: valve, Steam Machine
Well, that did not take long.
Valve announced the Steam Machines barely over a week ago and could not provide hardware specifications. While none of these will be available for purchase, the honor of taking money reserved for system builders and OEMs, Valve has announced hardware specifications for their beta device.
The raw specifications, or range of them, are:
- GPU: NVIDIA GeForce Titan through GeForce GTX660 (780 and 760 possible)
- CPU: Intel i7-4770 or i5-4570, or i3-something
- RAM: 16GB DDR3-1600 (CPU), 3GB GDDR5 (GPU)
- Storage: 1TB/8GB Hybrid SSHD
- Power Supply: 450W
- Dimensions: approx. 12" x 12.4" x 2.9"
Really the only reason I could see for the spread of performance is to not pressure developers into targeting a single reference design. This is odd, since every reference design contains an NVIDIA GPU which (you would expect) a company who wants to encourage an open mind would not have such a glaring omission. I could speculate about driver compatibility with SteamOS and media streaming but even that feels far-fetched.
On the geeky side of things: the potential for a GeForce Titan is fairly awesome and, along with the minimum GeForce 660, is the first sign that I might be wrong about this whole media center extender thing. My expectation was that Valve would acknowledge some developers might want a streaming-focused device.
Above all, I somewhat hope Valve is a bit more clear to consumers with their intent... especially if their intent is to be unclear with OEMs for some reason.
Subject: Systems | September 30, 2013 - 12:56 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: overclocking, nuc, Intel, d54250wyk
Perhaps your first thought upon seeing the new Haswell based NUC was something other than how to overclock it but when Legit Reviews got their hands on the D54250WYK they went straight to the BIOS to see what they could get out of this tiny system. Intel's Visual BIOS made it a snap with their Performance Dashboard page that allows you access to all the usual frequencies you need. Along the way they investigated RAM compatibility, both speed and size, but in the end they succeeded in getting 1866MHz RAM running full speed.
"We’ve spent pretty much all our free time this week using the Intel NUC Kit D54250WYK and if you couldn’t tell from our review, we love the new design and the Intel 4th Generation Core i5-4250U Haswell processor that powers it. In our review we showed you the general performance of the system running at stock speeds. The one question that we didn’t answer at that time is how it performs when overclocked. There aren’t too many things that you can overclock on the NUC since the CPU multiplier and bus speeds are locked down, but we can overclock the DDR3 memory. In the past overclocking the memory clock frequency has yielded some pretty good results for memory bandwidth limited applications and gaming benchmarks. Read on to see how the Intel NUC Kit D54250WYK performs with 1866MHz memory!"
Here are some more Systems articles from around the web:
- Intel NUC Kit D54250WYK Review @ Legit Reviews
- HP Envy Rove 20 Review @ TechReviewSource
- Shuttle Fanless Slim-PC DS47 @ techPowerUp
- MESH Elite G4 760SLi @ Kitguru
- 8Pack Releases Ultra High End Systems Range with OverclockersUK @ Kitguru
- CyberPower PC Zeus EVO Lightning 2000 SE System Review @ Ninjalane
- Acer Aspire AZ3-605-UR23 Review @ TechReviewSource
- Gigabyte Brix XM11-3337 @ Legion Hardware
If Microsoft was left to their own devices...
Microsoft's Financial Analyst Meeting 2013 set the stage, literally, for Steve Ballmer's last annual keynote to investors. The speech promoted Microsoft, its potential, and its unique position in the industry. He proclaims, firmly, their desire to be a devices and services company.
The explanation, however, does not befit either industry.
Ballmer noted, early in the keynote, how Bing is the only notable competitor to Google Search. He wanted to make it clear, to investors, that Microsoft needs to remain in the search business to challenge Google. The implication is that Microsoft can fill the cracks where Google does not, or even cannot, and establish a business from that foothold. I agree. Proprietary products (which are not inherently bad by the way), as Google Search is, require one or more rivals to fill the overlooked or under-served niches. A legitimate business can be established from that basis.
It is the following, similar, statement which troubles me.
Ballmer later mentioned, along the same vein, how Microsoft is among the few making fundamental operating system investments. Like search, the implication is that operating systems are proprietary products which must compete against one another. This, albeit subtly, does not match their vision as a devices and services company. The point of a proprietary platform is to own the ecosystem, from end to end, and to derive your value from that control. The product is not a device; the product is not a service; the product is a platform. This makes sense to them because, from birth, they were a company which sold platforms.
A platform as a product is not a device nor is it service.
Another Next Unit of Computing
Just about a year ago Intel released a new product called the Next Unit of Computing, or NUC for short. The idea was to allow Intel's board and design teams to bring the efficient performance of the ultra low voltage processors to a desktop, and creative, form factor. By taking what is essentially Ultrabook hardware and putting it in a 4-in by 4-in design Intel is attempting to rethink what the "desktop" computer is and how the industry develops for it.
We reviewed the first NUC last year, based on the Intel Ivy Bridge processor and took away a surprising amount of interest in the platform. It was (and is) a bit more expensive than many consumers are going to be willing to spend on such a "small" physical device but the performance and feature set is compelling.
This time around Intel has updated the 4x4 enclosure a bit and upgrade the hardware from Ivy Bridge to Haswell. That alone should result in a modest increase in CPU performance with quite a bit of increase in the integrated GPU performance courtesy of the Intel HD Graphics 5000. Other changes are on the table to; let's take a look.
The Intel D54250WYK NUC is a bare bones system that will run you about $360. You'll need to buy system memory and an mSATA SSD for storage (wireless is optional) to complete the build.
Subject: General Tech, Cases and Cooling, Systems | September 27, 2013 - 11:42 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: SteamOS, Steam Controller, reverse-consolitis
Steam Controller is the third, and final, announcement in the Steam Hardware event. Sure, the peripheral looks weird. It looks very weird. The first thing(s?) you will notice, and likely the driving influence for the iconography, is... or are... the touch pads which replace the expected thumbsticks. The second thing you will notice is the "high resolution" (no specific resolution or dimension was provided) touchscreen.
The most defining aspect of the controllers, as previously stated, is its pair of trackpads. This input method might actually stand the chance of precise controls while maintaining comfort for a couch. To start, I will quote Valve:
In addition, games like first-person shooters that are designed around precise aiming within a large visual field now benefit from the trackpads’ high resolution and absolute position control.
The emphasis was placed by me.
Last year, almost to the date, I published an editorial, "Is the Gamepad Really Designed for Gaming?" In it, I analyzed console controllers from an engineering standpoint. I blamed velocity-based joystick control for the need to enable auto-aim on console titles. Quoting myself, which feels a little weird to be entirely honest:
Analog sticks are a velocity-oriented control scheme where the mouse is a relative position-oriented control scheme. When you move a joystick around you do not move the pointer to a target rather you make it travel at some speed in the direction of the target. With a mouse you just need to move it the required distance and stop. It is easier to develop a sensitivity to how far you need to pull a mouse to travel to the target than a sensitivity to how long to hold a joystick in a given direction to reach a target. Joysticks are heavily reliant on our mental clocks and eye coordination.
Each trackpad can also be clicked, like the thumbsticks of current controllers just probably more comfortably, to provide extra functionality. From a User Experience (UX) standpoint, I can envision a first-person shooter which emulates a (velocity-based) joystick when the right trackpad is pressed (assuming it is very light to press and comfortably to rub your thumb against while pressing) but switches to position-based when touched but not pressed.
The implication is quick rotation when firing from the hip, but positionally-based targeting when precision is required. Maybe other methods will come up too? I find the technology particularly exciting because Valve, clearly, designed it with the understanding of position-based versus velocity-based control. This challenge you rarely hear discussed.
The touchscreen is also a large clickable surface. The controller recognizes touch input and overlays the contents of the screen atop the user's screen but it will not commit the action until the touchpad is pressed. This is designed so the gamer will not need to look at their controller to see what action they are performing.
Personally, I hope this is developer-accessible. Some games, as the WiiU suggests, can benefit from hiding information.
Haptic feedback also ties into the trackpads. Their intent is to provide sensations to the thumbs and compensate for loss of mechanical sensation with thumbsticks. Since they are in there, Valve decided to offer a large, programmable, data channel to very precisely control the effect.
They specifically mention the ability to accept audio waveforms to function as speakers "as a parlour trick".
The devices will be beta tested, via the Steam Machine quest, but without wireless or touchscreen support. Instead of a touchscreen, the controller will contain a four-quadrant grid of buttons mapped to commands.
Thus wraps up the three-pronged announcement. Valve directs interested users to their Steam Universe group for further discussion.
Subject: General Tech, Systems, Mobile | September 26, 2013 - 02:25 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: Rock, Paper, Firefox OS, APC
Update: (9/28/2013) APC responded to my email and confirmed all models support up to 32GB microSD cards (so, microSD or microSDHC).
Firefox OS is an operating system which boots into a web standards rendering engine. All applications and user interface elements are essentially web sites, often hosted by the device but could obviously have online components as the creator desires, web standards making it easier to port and manage code.
Hardware designers are continuing to adopt the platform.
APC, an initiative of VIA Technologies, got our attention over a year ago when they launched their smaller-than-a-banana Android desktop. It was an interesting design which came out at roughly the same time as the Raspberry Pi. I cannot tell whether that boost or harmed consumer interest.
Either way, the APC has announced two successors: The APC Paper and the APC Rock. Both devices dropped Android (side note: the $50 APC 8750 based on Android 2.3 is apparently still available) replacing it, instead, with Firefox OS. Both devices are in the Neo-ITX form factor although that should not matter too much, for Paper, as it includes a case.
Paper covers Rock, get it?
The raw specifications are as follows:
- SoC: VIA ARM Cortex-A9 @ 800 MHz
- GPU: Built in 2D/3D up to 720p
- Memory: 512MB DDR3
- Storage: 4GB NAND Flash
Expandable Storage: microSD (maximum 32GB)
- Update: APC confirmed all models support up to 32GB, which is microSDHC
- I/O: HDMI, VGA (Rock-only), 2x USB 2.0, MicroUSB, 3.5mm Headphone/Mic
This build of Firefox OS contains mouse and keyboard support. If you wish to install your own operating system, while you are on your own, the kernel and bootloader are available on the APC website and the hardware is unlocked. They also provide access to the ARM debug headers for the real developer types.
If you are one of these developer types, would you consider fixing a known issue? APC will donate free devices to users who submit fixes for specially tagged bugs on their Github repo. Think of it like investing time fixing a product which, if you would have bought it, probably would have crushed the bug anyway.
It would have been nice to see a bump in processor performance and graphics functionality, and perhaps more than 512 MB of RAM, although it should be sufficient for light web browsing. As a developer of GPU-intensive web applications, which I expect to have an article on soon, I am not sure how much that colors my view of these devices. Then again, we are also talking about devices in the Roku price-point, so (apart from sticking with 720p... come on now) I may not have a valid complaint.
Both devices are available now, in limited quantities, through the manufacturer website. The Paper carries a price tag of $99 USD while the Rock is slightly cheaper at $79 USD.
Subject: General Tech, Systems | September 25, 2013 - 11:16 AM | Scott Michaud
If you were hoping to purchase a Valve-stamped device then you will be disappointed.
Valve, as it becomes increasingly clear, does not want to limit SteamOS to specific hardware. With the tag line, "Finally, a multiple choice answer", Valve wants consumers to purchase from OEMs or create the devices themselves.
Valve will make 300 of their own boxes and deliver them to selected beta testers, for free, after an "eligibility quest" ending October 25th. No specifications have been announced for these devices except that they are high performance, upgradable, and open. Even if you do not get one of these boxes, completing the quest will earn you a Steam badge so, that is something, right?
The most important announcement, hidden in the FAQ, is that game streaming will be available during the Beta test. I could assume, from this, that it will be available at launch. This allows users to access "the 3,000 games on Steam" whether running natively or networked to your gaming computer. Also in the FAQ, SteamOS will have mouse and keyboard support although it clearly is designed for gamepad input, too.
The longer this goes, the more correct I feel about Valve picking up the slack left behind by Microsoft. These boxes look at consoles from the model of "Media Center Extenders" except with Steam and other streaming partners being the Media Center server instead of actual Windows Media Center. Sure, I expect them to be more powerful than Roku boxes and many even more powerful than the Xbox One and PS4, but they are looking to follow that market segment.
I do not see these devices even trying to compete with PC market share.
You can purchase your own Steam Machine from a number of OEMs in 2014. The beta contest closes October 25th and those devices will be shipped between now at the end of the year. For details on the "eligibility quest", check out Steam's page.
Make sure to come back on Friday for the last of three announcements. Also, if you're around in 45 minutes (after publish), check out AMD's Hawaii GPU announcement live stream.
Subject: General Tech, Systems | September 23, 2013 - 11:20 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: valve, SteamOS, Steam Box, big picture mode
SteamOS is the first announcement, of three, in Valve's attempt to install a PC into your living room. The operating system is unsurprisingly built from Linux and optimized for the living room. Still no announcement of hardware although the second part is less than 48 hours away. The key features of SteamOS will also be ported to the Steam client on Windows, OSX, and Linux. Are you seeing... the big picture?
The four main features are: in-home streaming, media services, family sharing, and family options.
In-home streaming allows users to, by leaving their Steam client running on their PC or Mac, use their network to transmit video and controller input to SteamOS. The concept is very similar to OnLive and Gaikai. Latency is barely an issue, however, as the server is located on your local network. As the user owns the server, also known as their home computer, there is less concern of the service removing the title from their library. Graphics performance would be dictated by that high-end PC, and not the gaming consoles.
As a side note: Gabe Newell, last year at CES, mentioned plans by NVIDIA to allow virtualized GPUs with Maxwell (AMD is probably working on a similar feature, too). Combined with in-home streaming, this means that two or more Steam boxes could play games from the same desktop even while someone else uses it.
SteamOS will have music, movie, and TV functionality. Very little details on this one but I would assume Netflix is a possibility. The Steam distribution platform can physically handle video and audio streaming, especially with their updates a couple of years ago, but their silence about content deals leads me to assume they are talking about third-party services... for now, at least. We do know, from LinuxCon, that Gabe Newell is a firm believer in one library of content regardless of device.
We have already discussed Steam Family Sharing, but this is obviously aimed at Steam Box. One library for all content includes games.
Lastly, Steam will be updated for family control options. Individual users can be restricted or hidden from certain titles in other users' libraries. This helps keep them at-or-above parity with the gaming consoles for concerned parents.
Valve also believes in user control.
Steam is not a one-way content broadcast channel, it’s a collaborative many-to-many entertainment platform, in which each participant is a multiplier of the experience for everyone else. With SteamOS, “openness” means that the hardware industry can iterate in the living room at a much faster pace than they’ve been able to. Content creators can connect directly to their customers. Users can alter or replace any part of the software or hardware they want. Gamers are empowered to join in the creation of the games they love. SteamOS will continue to evolve, but will remain an environment designed to foster these kinds of innovation.
SteamOS will be free, forever, to everyone. Both users and system builders (including OEMs) can download the operating system and install it on their machines. No release date, yet, but it will be available soon... Valve Time?
The second announcement will occur at 1PM EDT this Wednesday, September 25, 2013. According to their iconography, we can now assume SteamOS will be the circle. The next announcement is circle in square brackets: SteamOS in a box? If you come on over to find out (please do! : D), stick around an extra couple of hours (minus the time it takes to write the article) for our AMD Hawaii Live Stream at 3PM EDT also on September 25th.
Subject: Editorial, General Tech, Systems, Mobile, Shows and Expos | September 16, 2013 - 06:15 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: Steam Box, LinuxCon, Gabe Newell
Valve Software, as demonstrated a couple of days ago, still believe in Linux as the future of gaming platforms. Gabe Newell discussed this situation at LinuxCon, this morning, which was streamed live over the internet (and I transcribed after the teaser break at the bottom of the article). Someone decided to rip the stream, not the best quality but good enough, and put it on Youtube. I found it and embed it below. Enjoy!
Gabe Newell highlights, from the seventh minute straight through to the end, why proprietary platforms look successful and how they (sooner-or-later) fail by their own design. Simply put, you can control what is on it. Software you do not like, or even their updates, can be stuck in certification or even excluded from the platform entirely. You can limit malicious software, at least to some extent, or even competing products.
Ultimately, however, you limit yourself by not feeding in to the competition of the crowd.
If you wanted to get your cartridge made you bought it, you know, FOB in Tokyo. If you had a competitive product, miraculously, your ROMs didn't show up until, you know, 3 months after the platform holder's product had entered market and stuff like that. And that was really where the dominant models for what was happening in gaming ((came from)).
But, not too surprisingly, open systems were advancing faster than the proprietary systems had. There used to be these completely de novo graphics solutions for gaming consoles and they've all been replaced by PC-derived hardware. The openness of the PC as a hardware standard meant that the rate of innovation was way faster. So even though, you would think, that the console guys would have a huge incentive to invest in it, they were unable to be competitive.
Microsoft attempts to exert control over their platform with modern Windows which is met by a year-over-year regression in PC sales; at the same time, PC gaming is the industry hotbed of innovation and it is booming as a result. In a time of declining sales in PC hardware, Steam saw a 76% growth (unclear but it sounds like revenue) from last year.
Valve really believes the industry will shift toward a model with little divide between creator and consumer. The community has been "an order of magnitude" more productive than the actual staff of Team Fortress 2.
Does Valve want to compete with that?
This will only happen with open platforms. Even the consoles, with systems sold under parts and labor costs to exert control, have learned to embrace the indie developer. The next gen consoles market indie developers, prior to launch, seemingly more than the industry behemoths and that includes their own titles. They open their platforms a little bit but it might still not be enough to hold off the slow and steady advance of PC gaming be it through Windows, Linux, or even web standards.
Speaking of which, Linux and web standards are oft criticized because they are fragmented. Gabe Newell, intentionally or unintentionally, claimed proprietary platforms are more fragmented. Open platforms have multiple bodies push and pull the blob but it all tends to flow in the same direction. Proprietary platforms have lean bodies with control over where they can go, just many of them. You have a dominant and a few competing platforms for each sector: phones and tablets, consoles, desktops, and so forth.
He noted each has a web browser and, because the web is an open standard, is the most unified experience across devices of multiple sectors. Open fragmentation is small compared to the gaps between proprietary silos across sectors. ((As a side note: Windows RT is also designed to be one platform for all platforms but, as we have been saying for a while, you would prefer an open alternative to all RT all the time... and, according to the second and third paragraphs of this editorial, it will probably suffer from all of the same problems inherent to proprietary platforms anyway.))
Everybody just sort of automatically assumes that the internet is going to work regardless of wherever they are. There may be pluses or minuses of their specific environment but nobody says, "Oh I'm in an airplane now, I'm going to use a completely different method of accessing data across a network". We think that should be more broadly true as well. That you don't think of touch input or game controllers or living rooms as being things which require a completely different way for users to interact or acquire assets or developers to program or deliver to those targets.
Obviously if that is the direction you are going in, Linux is the most obvious basis for that and none of the proprietary, closed platforms are going to be able to provide that form of grand unification between mobile, living room, and desktop.
Next week we're going to be rolling out more information about how we get there and what are the hardware opportunities that we see for bringing Linux into the living room and potentially pointing further down the road to how we can get it even more unified in mobile.
Well, we will certainly be looking forward to next week.
Personally, for almost two years I found it weird how Google, Valve, and Apple (if the longstanding rumors were true) were each pushing for wearable computing, Steam Box/Apple TV/Google TV, and content distribution at the same time. I would not be surprised, in the slightest, for Valve to add media functionality to Steam and Big Picture and secure a spot in the iTunes and Play Store market.
As for how wearables fit in? I could never quite figure that out but it always felt suspicious.
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