Subject: Systems | January 25, 2017 - 03:30 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: xbox one, xbox, Project Scorpio, microsoft
Digital Foundry received an Xbox Project Scorpio whitepaper from an anonymous source, although they were able to validate its authenticity. Basically, they sent it to their own, off-the-record sources who would have access to the same info, and those individuals confirmed it’s an official document that they’ve seen before. Of course, the trust bottlenecks through Digital Foundry, but they’re about as reputable as you can get in this industry, so that works.
Anywho, disclaimer aside, the whitepaper unveils a few interesting details about how Project Scorpio is expecting to provide higher performance. The most interesting change is what’s missing: the small, on-chip RAM (ESRAM). Microsoft claims that the higher global memory bandwidth removes the need to have it on Project Scorpio.
Digital Foundry is still a bit concerned that, while the 320 GB/s bandwidth might be enough, the latency might be a concern for compatibility. Personally, I’m not too concerned. Modern GPUs do a huge amount of latency-hiding tricks, such as parking whole shaders at global memory accesses and running other tasks while the GPU fetches the memory the original shader needs, swapping it back and finishing when it arrives. Also, the increased GPU performance will mean that the game has more room to be wasteful of GPU resources, since it only needs to perform at least as good as a regular Xbox One. I expect that there wouldn’t be enough round-trips to ESRAM for it to be a major slowdown when running on Project Scorpio (and its not-ESRAM).
Seriously, Wall-E with a Freddie Mercury 'stache.
Microsoft does suggest that developers make use of ESRAM on Xbox One and Xbox One S, though. Yes, don’t deliberately throw away performance on the slower machines just because that accelerator isn’t available on higher-end devices, like Project Scorpio or a gaming PC (heh heh heh).
Another point that Digital Foundry highlighted was that the actual number of rendered fragments (pixels that may or may not make it to screen) didn’t scale up by a factor-of-four (going from 1080p to 4K) in all cases. A first-party developer noticed a case where it was only a 3.5x scaling between the two resolutions. (This metric was actually rendered pixels, not even just GPU load, which would include resolution-independent tasks, like physics simulations.) I’m not exactly sure how the number of fragments decreased, but it could be due to some rendering tricks, like when Halo renders the background at a lower resolution. (Yes, I’m using Khronos verbiage; it’s less ambiguous.)
They also assume that Project Scorpio will use pre-Zen AMD CPU cores. I agree. It seems like Zen wouldn’t be around early enough to make production, especially when you consider the pre-release units that are circulating around Microsoft, and probably third-party developers, too.
Project Scorpio launches this holiday season (2017).
Stepping Up the Simulation Game
I don’t exactly remember when I first heard about Fanatec, but it likely was sometime after the release of DiRT 2. I was somewhat into racing games before that, but that particular title sold me on the genre and I have not looked back since. Before then I used a Microsoft Sidewinder FFB stick for my racing, but it was D2 that convinced me to purchase a wheel for the full fledged experience. The initial impression of Fanatec was of course “high priced, but really nice gear”. These were products that I did not think I would ever see in any personal capacity as they were out of my price range and my driving passion was just not amped up enough to rationalize it.
My dog is quite suspicious of the amount of boxes the set came in.
I know I probably talk about it too much, but the introduction of DiRT Rally really supercharged my interest in driving accessories due to the work they did on physics and Force Feedback effects. My older Thrustmaster Ferrari F430 wheel featured a meager 270 degrees of rotation and clunky FFB that did not translate well with this particular title. It may have done OK with older, more arcade based racers, but with the latest generation of sims that focus on accuracy in experience it just did not cut it. Purchasing a Thrustmaster TX based unit was a night and day experience for these latest titles.
The next few months after that I spent time with multiple other wheels and accessories and provided a few reviews based on them. My level of interest grew exponentially about what the industry offered. I was able to contact Fanatec and they agreed to put together a bundle of products based on their latest ClubSport V2 products. This would include the ClubSport V2 Base, ClubSport Universal Hub for Xbox One, ClubSport Pedals V3, ClubSport Shifter SQ, and the desk mounting hardware for the units.
Fanatec is not for the faint of heart when it comes to pricing. The total package I received is worth 1800 Euro, or about $2016 US. This is a pretty tremendous amount of money for racing gear, but it is about average for higher end products that exist in this market. People will question why it costs so much, but after my experience with it I now know why.
Subject: Graphics Cards | September 20, 2016 - 07:58 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: microsoft, xbox, xbox one, pc gaming, nvidia, GTX 1080, gtx 1070
NVIDIA has just announced that specially marked, 10-series GPUs will be eligible for a Gears of War 4 download code. This bundle applies to GeForce GTX 1080 and GeForce GTX 1070 desktop GPUs, as well as laptops which integrate either of those two GPUs. As always, if you plan on purchasing a GPU due to this bundle, make sure that the product page for your retailer mentions the bundle.
Also, through the Xbox Play Anywhere initiative, NVIDIA claims that this code can be used to play the game on Xbox One as well. Xbox Play Anywhere allows users to purchase a game on either of Microsoft's software stores, Xbox Store or Windows Store, and it will automatically count as a purchase for the cross-platform equivalent. It also has implications for cloud saves, but that's a story for another day.
The bundle begins today, September 20th. Gears of War 4 launches on October 11th.
Subject: General Tech | August 9, 2016 - 03:06 AM | Tim Verry
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.
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!).
- Xbox One Teardown - Microsoft still hates you
- PC vs. PS4 vs. Xbox One Hardware Comparison: Building a Competing Gaming PC
- Sony PS4 and Microsoft Xbox One Already Hitting a Performance Wall
- Tech Interview: Inside Xbox One S @ Eurogamer
Subject: General Tech | June 16, 2016 - 03:43 PM | Ryan Shrout
Tagged: XPoint, xbox one, void, video, Strider, Silverstone, rx 480, rx 470, rx 460, podcast, PHAB2, Optane, MX300, Lenovo, GTX 1080, Egil, crucial, corsair, asus, arm
PC Perspective Podcast #404 - 06/16/2016
Join us this week as we discuss the new Crucial MX300 SSD, news on upcoming Xbox hardware changes, GTX 1080 shortages and more!
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This episode of the PC Perspective Podcast is sponsored by Lenovo!
Hosts: Ryan Shrout, Allyn Malventano, Jeremy Hellstrom, and Josh Walrath
Intro and Xbox One
Introduction to Remote Streaming
The ability to play console games on the PC is certainly nothing new. A wide range of emulators have long offered PC owners access to thousands of classic games. But the recent advent of personal game streaming gives users the ability to legally enjoy current generation console games on their PCs.
Both Microsoft and Sony now offer streaming from their respective current generation consoles to the PC, but via quite different approaches. For PC owners contemplating console streaming, we set out to discover how each platform works and compares, what level of quality discerning PC gamers can expect, and what limitations and caveats console streaming brings. Read on for our comparison of Xbox One Streaming in Windows 10 and PS4 Remote Play for the PC and Mac.
Xbox One Streaming in Windows 10
Xbox One Streaming was introduced alongside the launch of Windows 10 last summer, and the feature is limited to Microsoft's latest (and last?) operating system via its built-in Xbox app. To get started, you first need to enable the Game Streaming option in your Xbox One console's settings (Settings > Preferences > Game DVR & Streaming > Allow Game Streaming to Other Devices).
Once that's done, head to your Windows 10 PC, launch the Xbox app, and sign in with the same Microsoft account you use on your Xbox One. By default, the app will offer to sign you in with the same Microsoft account you're currently using for Windows 10. If your Xbox gamertag profile is associated with a different Microsoft account, just click Microsoft account instead of your current Windows 10 account name to sign in with the correct credentials.
Note, however, that as part of Microsoft's relentless efforts to get everyone in the Virgo Supercluster to join the online Microsoft family, the Xbox app will ask those using a local Windows 10 account if they want to "sign in to this device" using the account associated with their Xbox gamertag, thereby creating a new "online" account on your Windows 10 PC tied to your Xbox account.
If that's what you want, just type your current local account's password and click Next. If, like most users, you intentionally created your local Windows 10 account and have no plans to change it, click "Sign in to just this app instead," which will allow you to continue using your local account while still having access to the Xbox app via your gamertag-associated online Microsoft account.
Once you're logged in to the Xbox app, find and click on the "Connect" button in the sidebar on the left side of the window, which will let you add your Xbox One console as a device in your Windows 10 Xbox app.
Subject: General Tech | April 12, 2016 - 06:33 PM | Josh Walrath
Tagged: Thrustmaster, TMX, T300, tx f458, force feedback, wheels, racing pedals, DiRT Rally, project cars, Assetto Corsa, xbox one
Subject: General Tech | March 1, 2016 - 04:05 PM | Ryan Shrout
Tagged: xbox one, windows 10, uwp, uwa, universal windows platform, pc gaming, microsoft, consoles
If my editorial from yesterday didn't get you interested in this discussion, then perhaps a new line of talking from Microsoft's Phil Spencer will do the job. During its spring presser, the company's gaming lead talked about a plan to merge the PC and Xbox gaming experiences with cross platform gaming, universal applications and compatibility for upgraded Xbox consoles. I found a great write up over at The Guardian that I will pick some of the quotes from and then offer up my views.
Now it seems Microsoft’s plan is to shift the entire development model towards universal applications that run across PC and console – indeed any machine that’s compatible with the Universal Windows Platform. This could have radical implications for the console model, which so far has always been based on the idea that the hardware has to remain largely unchanged throughout the machine’s lifespan.
Much like I detailed in yesterday's story, the Universal Windows Platform and applications are the key here, with the goal of allowing developers to code a single game or program that will run on the entire gamut of PCs in the world including desktops and tablets, as well as on the Xbox One game console.
“In other [consumer technology] ecosystems you get more continuous innovation in hardware that you rarely see in consoles because consoles lock the hardware and software platforms together at the beginning and they ride the generation out for seven years or so,” said Spencer. “We’re allowing ourselves to decouple our software platform from the hardware platform on which it runs.”
I am actually incredibly excited for the idea of more, and more frequently, updated Xbox hardware from Microsoft. Like it or not, with UWP or without it, consoles and their hardware capability have always been a somewhat limiting factor on how much effort game devs put into creating new games for the PC. If we can depend on newer console hardware, and that games will more ably handle newer, faster components, then it raises the ceiling for image quality, new features, experiences like VR, etc.
“We can effectively feel a little bit more like what we see on PC where I can still go back and run my old Quake and Doom games, but then I can also see the best 4K games coming out. Hardware innovation continues and software takes advantage. I don’t have to jump generation and lose everything I played before.”
Expect to see some rolled eyes as you read this quote from Spencer; as PC gamers we already HAVE that capability and the move to UWP and UWAs is threatening to hinder that for us going forward. The PC has seen Steam, Origin, DRM-free gaming, an accelerated path to digital distribution, mods, overlays, benchmarking - all things that were held back or outlawed on consoles.
The Xbox chief ended his keynote by reiterating the importance of the PC as a gaming platform. He promised that UWAs will support multiple different graphics processors and that issues with V-Sync ( a setting that matches the game framerate with your monitor’s screen refresh rate) would be resolved.
Enabling support for different GPUs is a good promise, but much more important than just saying it is knowing HOW that support will be handled. As we saw based on our testing and research with Ashes of the Singularity, just supporting Radeon and GeForce cards isn't enough. What about features unique to each GPU? What about SLI and CrossFire? Variable refresh rate monitors? Enabling maximum performance with exclusive fullscreen modes? There is a lot to be answered and discussed.
Quantum Break will be on PC, exclusively as a Unified Windows App
This also marks the second time I have heard Spencer mention a "fix" for Vsync issues. I'd love to hear what they have in mind, and I have asked MS several times, but so far I haven't gotten any kind of solid answer. The real question is: does MS understand the problem and the gaming community on the PC well enough to even know what the problem is they are trying to fix?
The big question now is how onboard the development community is with the UWA concept. In theory, these apps should run seamlessly on top of PC and Xbox One architectures, with abstractions to exploit the graphics processors, system memory and other hardware features, as well as compatibility with Microsoft’s DirectX application programming interface (API) for enhanced graphics performance. But will the reality match the promise?
"In theory" and "in practice" are two wildly different things, and we've already seen one example of this not going as planned. I do believe that game developers would jump at the chance to have true cross compatibility as long as the hiccups and issues we are discussing can be dealt with in a reasonable way. It just makes sense: this eases development hurdles and expands the possible customer base.
Outside of Microsoft, it will be interesting to see how studios react. “In principle UWA sounds like a good idea,” says Byron Atkinson-Jones, a veteran games programmer, now running his own indie studio, Xiotex, and working on sci-fi puzzler, Caretaker. “It offers a more unified platform or environment rather than a fragmented operating systems running on an even more fragmented hardware base. However, this is all reliant on just how hard it is to develop for and how much of a closed shop it will become.
“The best thing about PC is that anyone can make a game for it and UWA sounds like it’s going to become a curated system that will probably require some developer registration to get on.”
Exactly this. The benefit of the PC is its openness, even when running on Windows (as opposed to SteamOS or Linux, for example.) If you take that away, will developers and gamers start to walk?
Given that Microsoft is promoting UWP as a catch-all platform for Windows 10 that encompasses Xbox one, what does this mean in terms of support for the console’s hardware specifications? “As it stands currently, if you are making an Xbox one game you can be sure on what kind of hardware it’s running,” says Atkinson-Jones. “If developers are then forced down a UWA route, is it going to be the case that this certainty is gone and we get back to the situation on PC where you have to start specifying a minimum spec – which kind of renders a unified platform redundant?”
I disagree that having a minimum spec makes a unified platform less useful, it simply sets a standard for which experience and gameplay can be measured. Even Apple iPhones and iOS implement this to some degree and they have as locked down of a software ecosystem as you can get. If it's handled correctly, Microsoft could be the arbiter of hardware classification and certification, as they kind of already are with WHQL, making sure that any PC hardware or updated Xbox hardware will pass the test for previous and upcoming gaming titles.
But that is a very difficult task and is likely why MS would like to integrate some restrictions through the API and Windows compositing engine to help them hold that promise moving into the future.
But he will have to convince not just gamers, but the development community. “Microsoft has tried this before with Games for Windows and that was a disaster,” says Atkinson-Jones. “There will be many game developers who had to go through that monstrosity shaking their heads in disbelief that history may just be about to repeat itself.”
Oh yeah, that...remember Games for Windows Live? Remember when it cratered and we had to deal with the fallout of some games not working without GWL servers running? Or just the complication of needing a unique sign-in that often tied the game down in unwieldy ways? That's the dystopian future that PC gamers want to avoid.
All of that being said, I'm still hopeful that Microsoft can turn this into a positive movement. Removing the 7 year upgrade cycle for the Xbox One means that PC gamers will benefit from moving specs on the consoles, giving game developers the ability to target higher end hardware as the platform evolves. I do believe that cross platform games will mean an increase in innovative titles with expanded audiences and more opportunity for developers to make money for their work. But all of this has to be done with more sensitivity to the PC ecosystem than it is being addressed with currently. If nothing else, PC gamers are a loud and easily started group.
Be sure you read the full story over at The Guardian!
Subject: General Tech | December 16, 2015 - 12:20 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: xbox one, Windows 8.1, windows 8, Windows 7, windows 10, microsoft
Last week, Microsoft announced that the Xbox Wireless Adapter for Windows now supports Windows 7 and 8.x. Previously, the dongle would only work on Windows 10, which meant that other operating systems required Xbox One controllers to be wired.
This does not mean that all functionality will be available on Windows 7 and 8.x, though. The Xbox Accessories app is required to manage profiles and update firmware without an Xbox One console. As far as I can tell, that will continue to be the case. If you have an Xbox One console, and don't mind managing the controllers there, then this wireless adapter might be for you. If you have don't have an Xbox One console, Windows 10, or an existing Xbox One controller, then you may want to reconsider getting an Xbox One controller at all. If you do, then you can turn it wireless, now even on Windows 7 and 8.x.
The Xbox One Wireless Adapter for Windows has been out for a couple of months.
Subject: General Tech | November 16, 2015 - 03:58 AM | Tim Verry
Tagged: xbox one, chatpad, microsoft
Microsoft released the Xbox One chatpad on Thursday, making it easier to chat with friends and browse the internet thanks to the full QWERTY keyboard. The pad plugs into the bottom of the controller using both the proprietary connector and the 3.5mm audio jack. The chatpad then provides its own audio jack to plug a chat headset into.
The chatpad keyboard is back-lit features dedicated buttons to control the volume level, game and voice chat volume mix, and a microphone mute. it also has two user programmable keys (X1 and X2) that are usable only on the Xbox One although that functionality will not be available until "mid 2016" according to Microsoft. Currently, pressing the X1 and X2 function keys will take a screenshot and save the last 30 seconds of game play as a video clip respectively.
The chatpad is compatible with all Xbox One controllers provided they are running the latest firmware. It can be used with both the Xbox One and Windows 10 PCs. Note that the Xbox One must be running the NXOE (New Xbox One Experience) update and Windows 10 must be updated to the November Update. Function keys only work with the Xbox One.
The chatpad and chat headset are available now from Amazon for $34.99.
- Just Delivered: Xbox One Elite Wireless Controller
- Just Picked Up: Xbox Wireless Adapter for Windows