Depth-sensing tech from Qualcomm challenges Apple

Subject: Mobile | August 15, 2017 - 02:30 PM |
Tagged: qualcomm, spectra, depth sensing, apple

New camera and image processing technology from Qualcomm promises to change how Android smartphones and VR headsets see the world. Depth sensing isn’t new to smartphones and tablets, first seeing significant use in Google’s Project Tango and Intel’s RealSense Technology. Tango uses a laser-based implementation that measures roundtrip times bouncing off surfaces but requires a bulky lens on the rear of the device. Early Tango phones like the Lenovo Phab 2 were hindered by large size requirements as a result. Intel RealSense was featured in the Dell Venue 8 7000 tablet and allowed the camera to adjust depth of field and focal points after the image had been capturing. It used a pair of cameras and calculated depth based on parallax mapping between them, just as the human eye works.

Modern devices like the iPhone 7 Plus and Samsung Galaxy S8 offer faux-depth perception for features like portrait photo modes. In reality, they only emulate the ability to sense depth by use different range camera lenses and don’t provide true depth mapping capability.

New technology and integration programs at Qualcomm are working to improve the performance, capability, and availability of true depth sensing technology for Android-based smartphones and VR headsets this year. For the entry-level market devices that today do not have the ability to utilize depth sensing, a passive camera module was built to utilize parallax displacement and estimate depth. This requires two matching camera lenses and a known offset distance between them. Even low-cost phones will have the ability to integrate image quality enhancements like blurred bokeh and basic mixed or augmented reality, bringing the technology to a mass market.

The more advanced integration of the Qualcomm Spectra module program provides active depth sensing with a set of three devices. A standard high resolution camera is paired with both an infrared projector and an infrared camera that are utilized for high resolution depth map creation. The technology projects an infrared image with a preset pattern into the world, invisible to the human eye, but picked up by the IR camera. The Spectra image processor on the Qualcomm Snapdragon mobile platform then measures the displacement and deformations of the pattern to determine the depth and location of the items in the physical world. This is done in real-time, at high frame rates and high resolution to create a 10,000 data point “cloud” in a virtual 3D space.

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For consumers this means more advanced security and advanced features on mobile devices. Face detection and mapping that combines the standard camera input along with the IR depth sensing combination will allow for incredibly accurate and secure authentication. Qualcomm claims that the accuracy level is high enough to prevent photos of faces and even 3D models of faces from unlocking the device thanks to interactions of human skin and eyes with IR light.

3D reconstruction of physical objects will also be possible with active depth sensing, allowing gamers to bring real items into virtual worlds. It also allows designers to accurately measure physical spaces that they can look through in full 3D. Virtual reality and augmented reality will benefit from the increased accuracy of its localization and mapping algorithms, improving the “inside-out” tracking capabilities of dedicated headsets and slot-in devices like Samsung’s Gear VR and Google Daydream.

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Though the second generation Qualcomm Spectra ISP (image sensor processor) is required for the complex compute tasks that depth sensing will create, the module program the company has created is more important for the adoption, speed of integration, and cost of the technology to potential customers. By working with companies like Sony for image sensors and integration on modules, Qualcomm has pre-qualified sets of hardware and provides calibration profiles for its licensees to select from and build into upcoming devices. These arrangements allow for Qualcomm to remove some of the burden from handset vendors, lowering development time and costs, getting depth sensing and advanced photo capabilities to Android phones faster.

It has been all but confirmed that the upcoming Apple iPhone 8 will have face detection integrated on it and the company’s push into AR (augmented reality) with iOS 11 points to a bet on depth sensing technology as well. Though Apple is letting developers build applications and integrations with the current A9 and A10 processors, it will likely build its own co-processor to handle the compute workloads that come from active depth sensing and offset power consumption concerns of using a general purpose processor.

Early leaks indicate that Apple will focus its face detection technology on a similar path to the one Qualcomm has paved: security and convenience. By using depth-based facial recognition for both login and security (as a Touch ID replacement), users will have an alternative to fingerprints. That is good news for a device that is having problems moving to a fingerprint sensor design that uses the entire screen.

It now looks like a race to integration for Android and Apple smartphones and devices. The Qualcomm Spectra ISP and module program will accelerate adoption in the large and financially variable Android market, giving handset vendors another reason to consider Qualcomm chipsets over competing solutions. Apple benefits from control over the entire hardware, software, and supply chain, and will see immediate adoption of the capabilities when the next-generation iPhone makes its debut. 

Source:
Author:
Subject: Mobile
Manufacturer: Various

Specifications

In the original premise for today’s story, I had planned to do a standard and straight-forward review of the iPad Pro 10.5-inch model, the latest addition to Apple’s line of tablet devices. After receiving the 12.9-in variant, with the same processor upgrade but a larger and much more substantial screen, I started using them both as my daily-driver computing device. I was surprised at how well both handled the majority of tasks I tossed their way but there was still some lingering doubt in my mind about the usefulness of the iOS system as it exists today for my purposes.

The next step was for me to acquire an equivalent Windows 10-based tablet and try making THAT my everyday computer and see how my experiences changed. I picked up the new Surface Pro (2017) model that was priced nearly identical to the iPad Pro 12.9-in device. That did mean sacrificing some specifications that I would usually not do, including moving down to 4GB of memory and a 128GB SSD. This brought the total of the iPad Pro + Pencil + keyboard within $90 of the Surface Pro and matching accessories.

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I should mention at the outset that with the pending release of iOS 11 due in the fall, the Apple iPad Pro line could undergo enough of a platform upgrade to change some of the points in this story. At that time, we can reevaluate our stance and conclusions.

Specifications

Let’s start our editorial with a comparison of the hardware being tested in the specification department. Knowing that we are looking two ARM-based devices and an x86 system, we should realize core counts, clocks, and the like are even less comparable and relatable than in the Intel/AMD debates. However, it does give us a good bearing on how the hardware landscape looks when we get into the benchmarking section of this story.

Surface Pro (2017) vs. iPad Pro (2017) Comparison
Processor Intel Core i5-7300U (Kaby Lake)
2-core/4-thread
Apple A10X
(3x high performance Hurrican, 3x high efficiency Zephyr cores)
Graphics Intel HD Graphics 620 12-core Custom PowerVR
Memory 4GB 4GB
Screen 12.3-in 2736x1824 IPS 12.9-in 2732x2048 IPS 120 Hz
10.5-in 2224x1668 IPS 120 Hz
Storage

128GB SSD

256GB SSD
Camera 5MP Front
8MP Rear
7MP Front
12MP Rear + OIS
Wireless 802.11ac 802.11ac
Connections USB 3.0
Mini DisplayPort
Headphone
Lightning
Headphone
Battery 45 Wh 12.9-in: 41 Wh
10.5-in: 30.4 Wh
Dimensions 11.50-in x 7.93-in x 0.33-in 12.9-in: 12.04-in x 8.69-in x 0.27-in
10.5-in: 9.87-in x 6.85-in x 0.24-in
OS Windows 10 iOS 10
Price $999 - Amazon.com 12.9-in: $899
10.5-in: $749 - Amazon.com

Continue reading our comparison of the 2017 Surface Pro and iPad Pro!

Imagination Technologies Pursues Acquisition Talks

Subject: Graphics Cards, Mobile | June 23, 2017 - 10:45 PM |
Tagged: Imagination Technologies, imagination, apple, gpu

According to a press release from Imagination Technologies, the group has been approached by multiple entities who are interested in acquiring them. None of these potential buyers have been mentioned by name, however. The press release also makes it clear that the group is only announcing that discussions have started, and that other interested parties can contact their financial adviser, Rothschild, to join in.

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It’s entirely possible that nothing could come from these discussions, but Imagination Technologies clearly wants as many options to choose from as possible.

This announcement is clearly related to the recent news that Apple plans to stop licensing technology from them, which made up about half of the whole company’s revenue at the time. The press release states that they are still in dispute with Apple with a dedicated, highly visible, single-line paragraph. As far as I know, Apple hasn’t yet provided proof that they are legally clear of Imagination Technology’s licenses, and the press release claims that they still dispute Apple’s claims.

Hopefully we’ll hear more concrete details in the near future.

Valve and Mozilla Announce SteamVR and WebVR for macOS

Subject: General Tech | June 5, 2017 - 04:58 PM |
Tagged: mozilla, valve, steamvr, webvr, apple, macos

At WWDC, Valve and HTC announced that their SteamVR platform would be arriving for macOS. This means that the HTC Vive can now be targeted by games that ship for that operating system, which probably means that game engines, like Unreal Engine 4 and Unity, will add support soon. One of the first out of the gate, however, is Mozilla with WebVR for Firefox Nightly on macOS. Combine the two announcements, and you can use the HTC Vive to create and browse WebVR content on Apple desktops and laptops that have high-enough performance, without rebooting into a different OS.

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Speaking of which, Apple also announced a Thunderbolt 3 enclosure with an AMD Radeon RX 580 and a USB-C hub. Alternatively, some of the new iMacs have Radeon graphics in them, with the new 27-inch having up to an RX 580. You can check out all of these announcements in Jim’s post.

Source: HTC

WWDC 2017: One Small Step for the iMac, One Giant Leap for the iMac Pro

Subject: General Tech | June 5, 2017 - 04:13 PM |
Tagged: wwdc, imac pro, imac, apple, all-in-one

In a product-packed WWDC keynote Monday afternoon, Apple announced significant hardware updates to its all-in-one iMac desktop line. After letting the product line go without updates since late 2015, Apple is finally bringing Kaby Lake to its standard iMac models and, as rumored, will be launching a new high-end "iMac Pro" model in December.

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iMac

The now "normal" line of iMacs received a range of expected feature updates, including USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 support, and new discrete GPU options from AMD.

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The 21.5-inch 4K iMacs will be configurable with Radeon Pro 555 and 560 GPUs with up to 4GB of VRAM, while those opting for the 27-inch 5K iMac will be able to choose from the Radeon Pro 570, 575, or 580 with up to 8GB of VRAM.

The Radeon Pro 580, coupled with software and API improvements coming as part of the next version of macOS, "High Sierra" (no, seriously), was specifically called out as being ready to power a new era of VR experiences and content creation on the Mac, thanks to Apple partnerships with Valve (Steam VR), Unity, and Epic (Unreal Engine 4).

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Other new features available on the iMac include higher official RAM limits (32GB for the 21.5-inch model and 64GB for the 27-inch), faster NVMe flash storage (up to 2TB capacities), two Thunderbolt 3 ports (which will support Apple's new external GPU initiative), and improved displays (higher maximum brightness, 10-bit dithering, and greater color reproduction).

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The starting price for the new iMacs ranges from $1,099 to $1,799 and they're available for order today at Apple's website.

iMac Pro

By far the more interesting Mac-related announcement from today's keynote is the new iMac Pro. Although it shares the same basic design as its "non-Pro" counterparts, it features an improved dual fan cooling system that Apple claims is able to accommodate much higher end hardware than has previously been available in an iMac.

imac-pro.jpg

This includes Xeon CPUs ranging from 8 to 18 cores, up to 128GB of 2666MHz DDR4 ECC memory, up to 4TB of flash storage that Apple rates at a speed of 3GB/s, graphics options powered by AMD's upcoming Vega platform, and, to power it all, a 500 watt power supply.

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The new iMac Pro will also include four USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports (compared to just two on the non-Pro models), as well as 10Gb Ethernet (NBase-T), making it not only the most powerful iMac, but also the most powerful Mac yet, as Apple continues to let its Mac Pro line languish in the midst of future promised updates.

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The iMac Pro's hardware is already quite pricey before you factor in Apple's 5K display, design, and "Apple Tax," so those familiar with the company won't be shocked to learn that this new flagship Mac will start at $5,000 when it launches this December.

Source: Apple

WWDC 2017: Apple Updates MacBook line-up with Kaby Lake, Improved Graphics

Subject: Mobile | June 5, 2017 - 03:58 PM |
Tagged: wwdc, radeon pro 560, radeon pro 550, radeon pro, macbook pro, MacBook Air, macbook, kaby lake, iris plus6540, iris plus 650, i7-7700hq, i5-7360U, i5-7267u, apple

Alongside other updates, Apple at its World Wide Developers Conference this morning announced some modest updates to the MacBook line of notebooks.

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Starting with the MacBook Pro, we see an across the board upgrade to Kaby Lake processors. As we saw on the desktop side with Kaby Lake, there aren't radical differences with these new processor,  however we do see a 200MHz bump across the line on clock speeds. Essentially these are the same relative chips in Intel's Kaby Lake processor lineup as Apple used in the Skylake generation.

  MacBook Pro 13" with Function Keys MacBook Pro 13" with Touch Bar MacBook Pro 15" with Touch Bar
MSRP $1,299+ $1,799+ $2,399+
Screen 13.3" 2560x1600 with DCI-P3 Color Gamut, 500-nits 13.3" 2560x1600 with DCI-P3 Color Gamut, 500-nits 15.4" 2880x1800 with DCI-P3 Color Gamut, 500-nits
CPU Core i5-7360U (2.3GHz up to 3.6GHz) Core i5-7267U (3.1GHz up to 3.5GHz) Core i7-7700HQ (2.8GHz up to 3.8GHz)
GPU Intel Iris Plus 640 Intel Iris Plus 650

AMD Radeon Pro 555 (2GB)

AMD Radeon Pro 560 (4GB)

RAM 8 or 16 GB DDR3-1866 (non-upgradeable) 8 or 16 GB DDR3-2133 (non-upgradeable) 16 GB DDR3-2133 (non-upgradeable)
Storage 128, 256, 512, or 1TB NVMe SSD (non-upgradable) 256, 512, or 1TB NVMe SSD (non-upgradable) 256GB, 512GB, 1TB, or 2TB NVMe SSD (non-upgradable)
Connectivity 2 x Thunderbolt 3, headphone jack 4 x Thunderbolt 3, headphone jack 4 x Thunderbolt 3, headphone jack

Disappointingly, we do not see the rumored expandability to 32GB of RAM that many power users have been asking for.

Additionally, graphics are generationally upgraded to Intel's Iris Plus 640 and 650 on the 13" models with and without the touch bar respectively.

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The 15" MacBook Pro models see refreshed Polaris GPUs in the form of the Radeon Pro 555 and 560. It's worth nothing that the old entry level 15" MacBook Pro previously had the Radeon Pro 450 GPU, so the base configuration is now a more capable GPU even after you take away the expected improvements to the improved Polaris architecture seen in the RX 580.

In addition, the MacBook saw an upgrade to Kaby Lake processors. Apple also claimed that the onboard SSDs in this machine have seen a speed bump, but provided no real data on such claims.

Finally, the stalwart MacBook Air sees a processor speed bump. We aren't sure exactly what processor is in the new Air, but it seems to only have a 100MHz speed increase. Interestingly enough it still retains HD graphics 6000branding, which would lead us to believe this is still a Broadwell -based mobile processor.

These updated models are now available from Apple.

Source: Apple
Author:
Subject: Systems, Mobile
Manufacturer: Apple

What have we here?

The latest iteration of the Apple MacBook Pro has been a polarizing topic to both Mac and PC enthusiasts. Replacing the aging Retina MacBook Pro introduced in 2012, the Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch with Touch Bar introduced late last year offered some radical design changes. After much debate (and a good Open Box deal), I decided to pick up one of these MacBooks to see if it could replace my 11" MacBook Air from 2013, which was certainly starting to show it's age.

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I'm sure that a lot of our readers, even if they aren't Mac users, are familiar with some of the major changes the Apple made with this new MacBook Pro. One of the biggest changes comes when you take a look at the available connectivity on the machine. Gone are the ports you might expect like USB type-A, HDMI, and Mini DisplayPort. These ports have been replaced with 4 Thunderbolt 3 ports, and a single 3.5mm headphone jack.

While it seems like USB-C (which is compatible with Thunderbolt 3) is eventually posed to take over the peripheral market, there are obvious issues with replacing all of the connectivity on a machine aimed at professionals with type-c connectors. Currently, type-c devices are few and are between, meaning you will have to rely on a series of dongles to connect the devices you already own. 

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I will say however, that it ultimately hasn't been that much of an issue for me so far in the limited time that I've owned this MacBook. In order to evaluate how bad the dongle issue was, I only purchased a single, simple adapter with my MacBook which provided me with a Type-A USB port and a pass-through Type-C port for charging.

Continue reading our look at using the MacBook Pro with Windows!

The Qualcomm and Apple spat heats up

Subject: General Tech | May 4, 2017 - 12:59 PM |
Tagged: qualcomm, apple, sueball

Qualcomm and Apple are already at loggerheads over the possible dirty trick played in the iPhone7 to ensure that Intel powered iPhone models performed the same as the ones with Qualcomm inside.  Slashdot and other sources have reported on a somewhat related feud taking place, which has lead Qualcomm to reach out to the US based ITC to block the import of iPhones into the US.  It seems that last month Apple decided not to pay Qualcomm royalties on their phone sales, which is owed due to core patents Qualcomm holds on mobile communications chips.  Apple's defence is the fact that Qualcomm gets a cut even in devices without a single Qualcomm component while Qualcomm points out the it is their patents which generate the fee, not their hardware.

It will be interesting in this current environment to see how the US based Qualcomm fares against Apple and their products, which are made in Asia.

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"Qualcomm is preparing to ask the International Trade Commission to stop the iPhone, which is built in Asia, from entering the country, threatening to block Apple's iconic product from the American market in advance of its anticipated new model this fall, according to the person, who asked not to be identified because the discussions are private."

Here is some more Tech News from around the web:

Tech Talk

Source: Slashdot
Author:
Subject: Mobile
Manufacturer: Dell

Overview

The Dell Inspiron 15 7000 Gaming series has been part of the increasingly interesting sub-$1000 gaming notebook market since it’s introduction in 2015. We took a look at last year’s offering and were very impressed with the performance it had to offer, but slightly disappointed in the build quality.

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Dell is back this year with an all-new industrial design for the Inspiron 15 7000 Gaming along with updated graphics in form of the GeForce GTX 1050 Ti.  Can a $850 gaming notebook possibly live up to expectations? Let’s take a closer look.

After three generations of the Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming product, it’s evident that Dell takes this market segment seriously. Alienware seems to have lost a bit of the hearts and minds of gamers in the high-end segment, but Dell has carved out a nice corner of the gaming market.

Dell Inspiron 15 7567 Gaming  (configuration as reviewed)
Processor Intel Core i5-7300HQ (Kaby Lake)
Graphics NVIDIA Geforce GTX 1050 Ti (4GB)
Memory 8GB DDR4-2400 (One DIMM)
Screen 15.6-in 1920x1080 I
Storage

256GB SanDisk X400 SATA M.2 

Available 2.5" drive slot

Camera 720p / Dual Digital Array Microphone
Wireless Intel 3165 802.11ac + BT 4.2 (Dual Band, 1x1)
Connections Ethernet
HDMI 2.0
3x USB 3.0
SD
Audio combo jack
Battery 74 Wh
Dimensions 384.9mm x 274.73mm x 25.44mm (15.15" x 10.82" x 1")
5.76 lbs. (2620 g)
OS Windows 10 Home
Price $849 - Dell.com

Let's just get this out of the way: for the $850 price tag of the model that we were sent by Dell for review, this is an amazing collection of hardware. Traditionally laptops under $1000 have an obvious compromise, but it's difficult to find one here. Dedicated graphics, flash Storage, 1080p screen, and a large battery all are features that I look for in notebooks. Needless to say, my expectations for the Inspiron 15 Gaming are quite high.

Click here to continue reading our review of the Dell Inspiron 15 7000 Gaming.

It has been a while since the last legal battle but Qualcomm may be our next contender

Subject: General Tech | April 12, 2017 - 12:30 PM |
Tagged: sueball, qualcomm, Intel, blackberry, apple

Ah, the old days of Microsoft versus governments, Apple and Samsung, Intel and AMD, SCO and ... well just about everyone; lately there has not been much legal vitriol in the headlines.  This may change as Qualcomm is now involved in several suits which are likely to become high profile.  First up is what may be the driving force behind their need to seek restitution from Apple; they were just ordered to pay Blackberry $815 million after that company was successful in their legal battle to dispute certain royalty payments.  Even a company as large as Qualcomm is going to feel the pain from that.

On to the real upcoming battle royal, featuring Apple and Qualcomm over the iPhone 7.  It seems that Apple has taken offence to Qualcomm's claims that Apple handicapped their chip to ensure it did not out perform the models which contained an Intel chipset.  Qualcomm released a large rebuttal to the lawsuit which Apple launched this January which you can read about at Ars Technica, or follow the link to read the entire document.  This may prove to be the next interesting technological legal battle, stay tuned for more.

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"For example, Qualcomm’s technological contributions enable popular smartphone apps such as Uber, Snapchat, Spotify, Apple Music, Skype, Google Maps, and Pokémon GO, among others."

Here is some more Tech News from around the web:

Tech Talk

Source: Ars Technica