Sony Announces the New PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 4 Pro

Subject: General Tech | September 7, 2016 - 09:18 PM |
Tagged: sony, ps4, ps4 pro, microsoft, Project Scorpio, xbox

At today's media briefing event, Sony announced two new versions of their PlayStation 4 console. The first is not even given a new name; they are just referring to it as the “new slimmer and lighter PS4” in their marketing material. It replaces the current version with one that is about 30% smaller, 16% lighter, and 28% more power efficient, according to a press release provided by AMD.

This update will be sold for $299.99 USD ($379.99 CDN) starting on September 15th.

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The main topic of discussion was the PlayStation 4 Pro, though. Like Microsoft is doing with Project Scorpio, Sony wants the PS4 Pro to be compatible with the same catalog of titles, but do so at higher resolution and color depths. Sony claims that this generation is basically maxing out what can be done with 1080p. PC developers do not seem to have a problem using performance for new features, but the point that development costs are quickly becoming the limiting factor is valid to some extent.

In terms of specifications, while the CPU got an unspecified speed bump, the main upgrade is a new GPU, which is rated at 4.2 TFLOPs. This is about 30% slower than Microsoft's announced Project Scorpio (6 TFLOPs) but it also will arrive a year sooner. Will this lead time matter, though? The software catalog is already being built up by both companies, and it has been since each console launched in 2013.

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Did they ever explain the extra ring on the case?

Also, because Microsoft started with a weaker console, scaling up to 4K resolution should be easier for their game developers. Project Scorpio is about 4.6x faster than the Xbox One, and it intends to draw four times the number of pixels. The gap between the PS4 and the PS4 Pro is just 2.3x. That could be a problem for them. (Meanwhile, us PC gamers can strap multiple 10+ TFLOP GPUs together for true 4K at decent frame rates, but that's another discussion.)

Granted, theoretical is different than real-world. We'll need to re-evaluate the industry in a couple of years, once an appropriate amount of hindsight is available. Also, Sony claims that PlayStation VR will still be available for both consoles, and that it will be a good experience whatever you choose. This is clearly aimed at Microsoft requiring Project Scorpio for their upcoming VR initiative, although likely to prevent confusion in their own fan base, rather than prodding their competitor.

Again, the PlayStation 4 Pro is launching this year, November 10th, and is expected to retail for $399.99 USD ($499.99 CDN). It's not a big jump in performance, but it's also not a big jump in price, either. In fact, I would consider it priced low enough to question the value of the regular PS4, even at $299.

What are your thoughts? Is this actually priced too low for pro?

Source: Sony

What dwells in the heart of HoloLens? Now we all know!

Subject: General Tech | August 23, 2016 - 12:40 PM |
Tagged: hololens, microsoft, Tensilica, Cherry Trail, hot chips

Microsoft revealed information about the internals of the new holographic processor used in their Hololens at Hot Chips, the first peek we have had.  The new headset is another win for Tensilica as they provide the DSP and instruction extensions; previously we have seen them work with VIA to develop an SSD controller and with AMD for TrueAudio solutions.  Each of the 24 cores has a different task it is hardwired for, offering more efficient processing than software running on flexible hardware.

The processing power for your interface comes from a 14nm Cherry Trail processor with 1GB of DDR and yes, your apps will run on Windows 10.  For now the details are still sparse, there is still a lot to be revealed about Microsoft's answer to VR.  Drop by The Register for more slides and info.

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"The secretive HPU is a custom-designed TSMC-fabricated 28nm coprocessor that has 24 Tensilica DSP cores. It has about 65 million logic gates, 8MB of SRAM, and a layer of 1GB of low-power DDR3 RAM on top, all in a 12mm-by-12mm BGA package. We understand it can perform a trillion calculations a second."

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Source: The Register

Use Bing in Edge for 30 hours a month and get ...

Subject: General Tech | August 22, 2016 - 01:26 PM |
Tagged: microsoft, microsoft rewards, windows 10, bing, edge

If you remember Bing Rewards then this will seem familiar, otherwise the gist of the deal is that if you browse on Edge and use Bing to search for 30 hours every month you get a bribe similar to what credit card companies offer.  You can choose between Skype credit, ad-free Outlook or Amazon gift cards, perhaps for aspirin to ease your Bing related headache; if such things seem worth your while.  The Inquirer points out that this is another reminder that Microsoft tracks all usage of Edge, otherwise they would not be able to verify the amount of Bing you used. 

Then again, to carry on the credit card analogy ...

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"Microsoft Rewards is a rebrand of Bing Rewards, the firm's desperate attempt to get people using the irritating default search engine, and sure enough the bribes for using Edge apply only if you use Bing too."

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Source: The Inquirer

Now we know what happened to Josh's stream; does your camera do YUY2 encoding?

Subject: General Tech | August 19, 2016 - 01:06 PM |
Tagged: yuy2, windows 10, skype, microsoft, idiots

In their infinite wisdom, Microsoft has disabled MJPEG and H.264 encoding on USB webcams for Skype in their Adversary Update to Windows 10, leaving only YUY2 encoding as your choice.  The supposed reasoning behind this is to ensure that there is no duplication of encoding which could lead to poor performance; ironically the result of this change is poor performance for the majority of users such as Josh.  Supposedly there will be a fix released some time in September but for now the only option is to roll back your AU installation, assuming you are not already past the 10 day deadline.   You can thank Brad Sams over at Thurrott.com for getting to the bottom of the issue which has been plaguing users of Skype and pick up some more details on his post.

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"Microsoft made a significant change with the release of Windows 10 and support for webcams that is causing serious problems for not only consumers but also the enterprise. The problem is that after installing the update, Windows no longer allows USB webcams to use MJPEG or H264 encoded streams and is only allowing YUY2 encoding."

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Source: Thurrott

Microsoft Won't End Support for Skylake on Windows 7/8.1

Subject: General Tech | August 11, 2016 - 05:42 PM |
Tagged: windows 10, microsoft

Previously, Microsoft said that they will end support for Skylake-based processors on Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 before the OS's extended support date. Later processors, like Intel's Kaby Lake and AMD's Bristol Ridge, will not be supported on 7 and 8.1 at all. To use those processors, their associated devices will need to be running Windows 10 (or, you know, Linux or something).

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This has just changed for Skylake, but not for Kaby Lake and Bristol Ridge. Skylake will now be supported through the entire life-cycle of Windows 7 (January 14, 2020) and Windows 8.1 (January 10, 2023). This is particularly good because Skylake was already released and in the hands of users when they first announced pulling the plug. Now users will know before they purchase their hardware (albeit not before many have purchased a retail copy of Windows 7 or Windows 8.x with transfer rights that intend to continually upgrade beyond Skylake or to AMD's Zen architecture) that Microsoft will not support it outside of Windows 10.

Source: Microsoft

Backdoors are bad Microsoft; hadn't this become very obvious already?

Subject: General Tech | August 11, 2016 - 12:48 PM |
Tagged: Secure Boot, microsoft, backdoor, security

Yes, even though this occurs on a regular occasion, we are to be shocked that another secret backdoor into a security product has been discovered, exploited and published.  In this case it is Microsoft's Secure Boot which has been unlocked and even better news is that it probably cannot be completely repaired without rendering previous backups and installations incompatible.  On the positive side, devices which are locked down even for those with administrative privileges such as ARM-based Windows RT tablets can be unlocked and you can chose a different OS to install.  The negatives will have more of an effect on businesses and system builders who relied on it to prevent modified Windows installs from booting, preventing infections and questionably sourced Windows images from being used. 

The Register has links to more information on Secure Boot and Microsoft's response and you can read some information about the group which found and released the information about this over at The Inquirer.

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"Microsoft leaked the golden keys that unlock Windows-powered tablets, phones and other devices sealed by Secure Boot – and is now scrambling to undo the blunder."

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Source: The Register

Windows 10 Rollback Period Cut to 10 Days

Subject: General Tech | August 9, 2016 - 05:21 PM |
Tagged: windows 10, microsoft

According to ComputerWorld, Microsoft has decided that their 30-day rollback period is too long, and so they reduced it to 10 days with version 1607. Honestly, 30 days seemed a bit too long to leave (in my case) 30 GB of crap laying around your main drive, especially considering a new build is dropped to the public once every six to nine months or so. They should have an interface for users to easily delete early, and maybe even a power-user tool to move it to external storage or something.

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This should not affect users who upgrade from Windows 7 and 8.x, unless the rules have changed since the November (1511) update. A non-Windows Insider machine will only install a new build of Windows 10 if the previous install was a clean install, or if the rollback period has already timed out. Also, users can still return to Windows 7 or Windows 8.x by performing a clean install with their respective product key, and Microsoft still provides ISOs on their website even if the user lost their install DVD.

That said, Microsoft still should make this much more clear in their interface, though. Looking at the Settings page, above, there doesn't seem to be any indication that my time is running out. Not cool.

Xbox One S is Compact, Power Efficient, and (Slightly) Faster

Subject: General Tech | August 8, 2016 - 11:06 PM |
Tagged: xbox one s, xbox one, TSMC, microsoft, console, 16nm

Microsoft recently unleashed a smaller version of its gaming console in the form of the Xbox One S. The new "S" variant packs an internal power supply, 4K Blu-ray optical drive, and a smaller (die shrunk) AMD SoC into a 40% smaller package. The new console is clad in all white with black accents and a circular vent on left half of the top. A USB port and pairing button has been added to the front and the power and eject buttons are now physical rather than capacitive (touch sensitive).

Rear I/O remains similar to the original console and includes a power input, two HDMI ports (one input, one output), two USB 3.0 ports, one Ethernet, one S/PDIF audio out, and one IR out port. There is no need for the power brick anymore though as the power supply is now internal. Along with being 40% smaller, it can now be mounted vertically using an included stand. While there is no longer a dedicated Kinect port, it is still possible to add a Kinect to your console using an adapter.

Microsoft Xbox One S Gaming Console 4K Media BluRay UHD.jpg

The internal specifications of the Xbox One S remain consistent with the original Xbox One console except that it will now be available in a 2TB model. The gaming console is powered by a nearly identical processor that is now 35% smaller thanks to being manufactured on a smaller 16nm FinFet process node at TSMC. While the chip is more power efficient, it still features the same eight Jaguar CPU cores clocked at 1.75 GHz and 12 CU graphics portion (768 stream processors). Microsoft and AMD now support HDR and 4K resolutions and upscaling with the new chip. The graphics portion is where the new Xbox One S gets a bit interesting because it appears that Microsoft has given the GPU a bit of an overclock to 914 MHz. Compared to the original Xbox One's 853 MHz, this is a 7.1% increase in clockspeed. The increased GPU clocks also results in increased bandwidth for the ESRAM (204 GB/s on the original Xbox One versus 219 GB/s on the Xbox One S).

According to Microsoft, the increased GPU clockspeeds were necessary to be able to render non HDR versions of the game for Game DVR, Game Streaming, and taking screenshots in real time. A nice side benefit to this though is that the extra performance can result in improved game play in certain games. In Digital Foundry's testing, Richard Leadbetter found this to be especially true in games with unlocked frame rates or in games that are 30 FPS locked but where the original console could not hit 30 FPS consistently. The increased clocks can be felt in slightly smoother game play and less screen tearing. For example, they found that the Xbox One S got up to 11% higher frames in Project Cars (47 FPS versus 44) and between 6% to 8% in Hitman. Further, they found that the higher clocks help performance in playing Xbox 360 games on the Xbox One in backwards compatibility mode such as Alan Wake's American Nightmare.

The 2TB Xbox One S is available now for $400 while the 1TB ($350) and 500GB ($300) versions will be available on the 23rd. For comparison, the 500GB Xbox One (original) is currently $250. The Xbox One 1TB game console varies in price depending on game bundle.

What are your thoughts on the smaller console? While the ever so slight performance boost is a nice bonus, I definitely don't think that it is worth specifically upgrading for if you already have an Xbox One. If you have been holding off, now is the time to get a discounted original or smaller S version though! If you are hoping for more performance, definitely wait for Microsoft's Scorpio project or it's competitor the PlayStation 4 Neo (or even better a gaming PC right!? hehe).

I do know that Ryan has gotten his hands on the slimmer Xbox One S, so hopefully we will see some testing of our own as well as a teardown (hint, hint!).

Also read:

Source: Eurogamer

Microsoft Publishes HLSL Shader Model 6.0 MSDN Docs

Subject: Graphics Cards | August 2, 2016 - 07:37 AM |
Tagged: windows 10, vulkan, microsoft, DirectX 12

Update (August 3rd @ 4:30pm): Turns out Khronos Group announced at SIGGRAPH that Subgroup Instructions have been recently added to SPIR-V (skip video to 21:30), and are a "top priority" for "Vulkan Next". Some (like WaveBallot) are already ARB (multi-vendor) OpenGL extensions, too.

Original post below:

DirectX 12's shading language will receive some new functionality with the new Shader Model 6.0. According to their GDC talks, it is looking like it will be structured similar to SPIR-V in how it's compiled and ingested. Code will be compiled and optimized as an LLVM-style bytecode, which the driver will accept and execute on the GPU. This could make it easy to write DX12-compatible shader code in other languages, like C++, which is a direction that Vulkan is heading, but Microsoft hasn't seemed to announce that yet.

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This news shows a bit more of the nitty gritty details. It looks like they added 16-bit signed (short) and unsigned (ushort) integers, which might provide a performance improvement on certain architectures (although I'm not sure that it's new and/or GPUs exist the natively operate upon them) because they operate on half of the data as a standard, 32-bit integer. They have also added more functionality, to both the pixel and compute shaders, to operate in multiple threads, called lanes, similar to OpenCL. This should allow algorithms to work more efficiently in blocks of pixels, rather than needing to use one of a handful of fixed function calls (ex: partial derivates ddx and ddy) to see outside their thread.

When will this land? No idea, but it is conspicuously close to the Anniversary Update. It has been added to Feature Level 12.0, so its GPU support should be pretty good. Also, Vulkan exists, doing its thing. Not sure how these functions overlap with SPIR-V's feature set, but, since SPIR was original for OpenCL, it could be just sitting there for all I know.

Windows 10 Version 1607 Changes Driver Signing Policy

Subject: General Tech | August 1, 2016 - 06:33 PM |
Tagged: windows 10, microsoft

Remember, folks, that “the road to Hell is paved with good intentions”. Microsoft has been trying to shed their stigma as a giant source of malware, but all solutions have side-effects, and those side-effects can have damaging consequences. When you believe that you or someone else is doing good, that is when you should be extra cautious, not less. It's a source of complacency.

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With tomorrow's Windows 10 Anniversary Update, Microsoft will require kernel-mode drivers to be signed by them on systems with Secure Boot enabled. This change will not affect PCs that have been upgraded from a previous version of Windows, including Windows 10 1507 and Windows 10 1511. That said, this could be a concern for those (like me) who are planning to clean install soon.

To me, this doesn't look like it will be that big of a deal. Hobbyists should be able to manage with either disabling Secure Boot, if their system allows it, or by fitting their driver around the user-mode framework. It might cause an issue with hotfix graphics drivers, though, which are pushed out before getting signed by Microsoft.

Also, if Microsoft changes their driver signing policy in the future, then this is could be (Update @ 7:30pm ET: original verbage was a little too strong) huge leverage against anyone attempting to circumvent it (such as implementing a graphics API that outperforms whatever DirectX version they have at the time -- see how Vulkan is not allowed on MacOSX). Even if you trust Microsoft now, you need to think about what Microsoft in 10+ years can do if they choose to.

Source: Microsoft