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A quiet facade
Iceberg Interactive, whom you may know from games like Killing Floor or the Stardrive series have released a new strategy game called Oriental Empires, and happened to send me a copy to try out.
On initial inspection it resembles recent Civilization games but with a more focused design as you take on a tribe in ancient China and attempt to become Emperor, or at least make your neighbours sorry that they ever met you. Until you have been through 120 turns of the Grand Campaign you cannot access many of the tribes; not a bad thing as that first game is your tutorial. Apart from an advisor popping up during turns or events, the game does not hold your hand and instead lets you figure out the game on your own.
That minimalist ideal is featured throughout the entire game, offering one of the cleanest interfaces I've seen in a game. All of the information you need to maintain and grow your empire is contained in a tiny percentage of the screen or in a handful of in game menus. This plays well as the terrain and look of the campaign map is quite striking and varies noticeably with the season.
Spring features cherry blossom trees as well as the occasional flooding.
Summer is a busy season for your workers and perhaps your armies.
Fall colours indicate the coming of winter and snow.
Which also shrouds the peaks in fog. The atmosphere thus created is quite relaxing, somewhat at odds with many 4X games and perhaps the most interesting thing about this game.
In these screenshots you can see the entire GUI that gives you the information you need to play. The upper right shows your turn, income and occaisonally a helpful advsor offering suggestions. Below that you will find a banner that toggles between displaying three lists. The first is of your cites and their current build queues and population information, the second lists your armies compositions and if they currently have any orders while the last displays any events which effect your burgeoning empire. The bottom shows your leader and his authority which, among other things, indicates the number of cities you can support without expecting quickly increasing unrest.
The right hand side lets you bring up the only other five menus which you use in this game. From top to bottom they offer you diplomacy, technology, Imperial edicts you can or have applied to your Empire, player statistics to let you know how you are faring and the last offering detailed statistics of your empire and those competing tribes you have met.
YouTube TV for NVIDIA SHIELD
When YouTube TV first launched earlier this year, it had one huge factor in its favor compared to competing subscription streaming services: local channels. The service wasn't available everywhere, but in the markets where it was available, users were able to receive all of their major local networks. This factor, combined with its relatively low subscription price of $35 per month, immediately made YouTube TV one of the best streaming options, but it also had a downside: device support.
At launch YouTube TV was only available via the Chrome browser, iOS and Android, and newer Chromecast devices. There were no native apps for popular media devices like the Roku, Amazon Fire TV, or Apple TV. But perhaps the most surprising omission was support for Android TV via devices like the NVIDIA SHIELD. Most of the PC Perspective staff personally use the SHIELD due to its raw power and capabilities, and the lack of YouTube TV support on Google's own media platform was disappointing.
Thankfully, Google recently addressed this omission and has finally brought a native YouTube TV app to the SHIELD with the SHIELD TV 6.1 Update.
Overview and CPU Performance
When Intel announced their quad-core mobile 8th Generation Core processors in August, I was immediately interested. As a user who gravitates towards "Ultrabook" form-factor notebooks, it seemed like a no-brainer—gaining two additional CPU cores with no power draw increase.
However, the hardware reviewer in me was skeptical. Could this "Kaby Lake Refresh" CPU provide the headroom to fit two more physical cores on a die while maintaining the same 15W TDP? Would this mean that the processor fans would have to run out of control? What about battery life?
Now that we have our hands on our first two notebooks with the i7-8550U in, it's time to take a more in-depth look at Intel's first mobile offerings of the 8th Generation Core family.
When we first saw product page for the Marseille mCable Gaming Edition, a wave of skepticism waved across the PC Perspective offices. Initially, an HDMI cable that claims to improve image quality while gaming sounds like the snake oil that "audiophile" companies like AudioQuest have been peddling for years.
However, looking into some of the more technical details offered by Marseille, their claims seemed to be more and more likely. By using a signal processor embedded inside the HDMI connector itself, Marseille appears to be manipulating the video signal to improve quality in ways applicable to gaming. Specifically, their claim of Anti-Aliasing on all video signals has us interested.
So for curiosities sake, we ordered the $150 mCable Gaming Edition and started to do some experimentation.
Even from the initial unboxing, there are some unique aspects to the mCable. First, you might notice that the connectors are labeled with "Source" and "TV." Since the mCable has a signal processor in it, this distinction which is normally meaningless starts to matter a great deal.
Similarly, on the "TV" side, there is a USB cable used to power the signal processing chip. Marseille claims that most modern TV's with USB connections will be able to power the mCable.
While a lot of Marseilles marketing materials are based on upgrading the visual fidelity of console games that don't have adjustable image quality settings, we decided to place our aim on a market segment we are intimately familiar with—PC Gaming. Since we could selectively turn off Anti-Aliasing in a given game, and PC games usually implement several types of AA, it seemed like the most interesting testing methodology.
A Tale of Two Form-Factors
HyperX (a division of Kingston) entered the mechanical keyboard market a year ago with the Alloy series, which began as a pair of 104-key designs with the Alloy Elite and Alloy FPS. Both keyboards feature Cherry MX keys, with the FPS sporting a minimalist design with a compact frame to save room on a desk. Now a TKL version of the FPS has arrived - the FPS Pro - to compliment the 104-key version already at the PC Perspective offices, and in this review we will test out both versions of this gaming keyboard.
Both keyboards feature adjustable red backlighting
Features from HyperX for the Alloy FPS:
- Compact design frees desktop space — waste less time reorienting the mouse
- Solid-steel frame for stability, giving you supreme confidence in your controls
- Ultra-portable design with detachable cable is great for LAN parties and tournaments
- Cherry MX mechanical keys for tactile feedback and reliable keypresses
- Convenient USB charge port allows you to charge other devices
- Game mode, 100-percent Anti-Ghosting and full N-key rollover features ensure your inputs are correct
- HyperX red backlit keys with customizable, dynamic lighting functions
- Additional colored, textured keycaps spotlight the most important keys
Now take virtually the same feature list (minus the additional keycaps) and subtract the number pad, and you have the Alloy FPS Pro, an “ultra-minimalistic tenkeyless design ideal for FPS pros”, according to HyperX. This reduction in size and number of keys is accompanied by a reduction in price, and the Alloy FPS Pro will be 20% less expensive than the 104-key FPS when it launches in late August. How do these mechanical keyboards stack up? Read on for our full review!
Introduction and Technical Specifications
Courtesy of Clutch Chairz
The Throttle Series Gaming Chair is the king of Clutch Chairz gaming line, hosting the largest chairs in the cornucopia of offerings. The Throttle Series chairs are built to accommodate what I like to refer to as "normal-sized" gamers, being those of us more weathered enthusiasts in our 30-to-40 somethings with kids at various states of schooling. The series is built with larger profile seats and seat backs to better accommodate "normal-sized" people with its steel skeleton covered in soft leather and memory foam for premium comfort. That premium comfort comes with a premium price with the Throttle Series Gaming Chair MSRP coming in at $469.99.
Courtesy of Clutch Chairz
Courtesy of Clutch Chairz
Courtesy of Clutch Chairz
As shown in the pics, the Throttle Series chair comes with two support pillows, an upper pillow with straps for neck support and a lower large pillow for lumbar support. Both support pillows are made from the same memory foam material as the chair. The chair itself has an adjustable seat back that goes between 90 and 180 degrees, as well as allowing for rocking without fear of tipping. Its armrests are adjustable in 4 dimensions and the seat can be height adjusted as well. From the detailed dimensions shown (all in mm), you get a better picture of just how large a Throttle Series chair is and the superb upper limits it can support.
Introduction and Specifications
Corsair has released a premium version of their VOID headset with the VOID PRO family, which includes wired and wireless option boasting major improvements to the previous designs.
“We made it better. Building upon the success of CORSAIR’s VOID series of headsets, VOID PRO features various significant enhancements across comfort, sound, mic quality and wireless performance designed to provide an even better gaming experience. VOID PRO resets the bar and delivers best-in-class performance.“
Surely, every major segment of the PC accessory market has reached saturation at this point, with the gaming headset market one of the most crowded. Companies need to offer more than just style and value to differentiate at the high end, with sound quality - including the microphone - now beginning to get some much-needed attention.
At times, aggressive styling and an apparent obsession with low bass seemed to dominate design choices, but a more balanced and accurate sound provides the kind of fidelity that can transform gaming and entertainment into a truly immersive experience. So, can Corsair match the improvements of such competitors as Logitech and provide a more premium sonic experience? We will find out!
Logitech Powerplay Wireless Charging System
Logitech was the first company to introduce a commercially available wireless mouse, way back in 1991. Since then, the company and its competitors have evolved the concept to the point where most of the technology's downsides have been addressed, even for some of the most demanding users. But despite significant improvements over the past few years, the one advantage that traditional wired mice have continued to hold over their wireless counterparts is power.
Absent technical issues, a wired mouse will always be ready to work when you sit down at your PC. It will never give up and quit on you in the middle of a gaming session or business presentation. Wireless mice, conversely, rely on batteries with limited running time. The batteries in modern wireless mice can last weeks, even months in some cases, but at some point they'll need to be recharged or replaced. Depending on the situation, it might not be a big deal to simply plug in the USB charging cable or swap batteries when your mouse dies, but it's a safe bet that most wireless mouse users have been caught without adequate battery life at a highly inconvenient time at least once.
The obvious solution to this issue is wireless charging. The technology is already commercially available for devices like smartphones and smart watches, and for years we've been promised more ambitious solutions, such as desks that charge all of your devices at once. But there's a difference between the type of wireless charging products that have been on the market for the past few years and the type of product that would be ideal for your mouse. In other words, it's easier to design and implement a small wireless charging system that accommodates a stationary object (your smartphone) than it is to create an adequately sized mousing surface that can charge an often rapidly moving device.
But that's exactly the challenge that Logitech decided to address, and the result of their efforts is the Powerplay, the world's first consumer-targeted wireless charging system for mice. When paired with compatible Logitech devices, the Powerplay system offers a low latency "Lightspeed" experience for both gaming and everyday productivity, and it's the first step into a world where users may never need to worry about charging their mouse.
Dropping Price Points for Wider Appeal
Fanatec needs little introduction for anyone that has seriously considered racing wheel and the corresponding components. It is a German based company that produces high quality and authentic feeling gear for PC and console racers. Their ClubSport products are their top end models which also commands a top level price. Solid construction, high quality materials, and sharp looking designs have defined the company since its inception.
Fanatec always features a classy design. The first portion of the 4-flap saying is on the top. Otherwise, a bit confusing if you didn't know that...
Last year I was given the chance to test out some of the latest, and highest end, Fanatec gear. The ClubSport V2 base and pedals were fantastic performers. The build quality, fit and finish, and functionality were all superior to anything that I had used before. The unfortunate part of the setup was the corresponding price. These parts were not inexpensive. Thankfully, most people who are familiar with Fanatec know that they cater to a more discerning crowd where price constraints are not the driving factor for this gear. Even though these parts are expensive, they are still far less than the direct-drive counterparts that typically cost two to three times more.
Like any company, Fanatec is looking to expand and attract new users. Their biggest hurdle with the ClubSport series is obviously price. To attract new customers Fanatec introduced a new, more cost effective design that provides much the same experience as the higher end ClubSport series, but at a more reasonable price tag. The CSL Elite series (ClubSport Lite) is aimed to address this area with more reasonably priced units that promise the same build quality and attention to detail as the higher end products in the ClubSport realm. Costs were cut throughout, but Fanatec hopes that the overall product will provide much the same gaming experience as their higher end products.
The packing is always well designed and copious when it comes to materials.
A Premium Mechanical Option Under $100
In the past year or two we have seen a number of sub-$100 mechanical gaming keyboards on the market, and several of these have passed through our hands here at the PC Perspective offices. The latest of these to garner our attention is the ZALMAN ZM-K900M, a premium gaming design featuring RGB lighting effects and Kailh Blue key switches, along with a 1000 Hz polling rate and full N-key rollover. It currently retails for $89.99, though it can be found for as little as $79.99 (currently, at least) with a little googling. How impressive is it in person? Read on to find out!
The ZM-K900M offers a variety of RGB effects
The ZM-K900M certainly checks the right boxes as a gaming keyboard, with the above-mentioned 1000 Hz polling rate (which ZALMAN calls 'Z-Engine') and customizable RGB lighting, supports simulanious key presses for the full 104 keys, and offers programmable macro keys. All of the keyboard features are controlled via hot keys on the ZM-K900M itself, eliminating the need for software.
“The ZM-K900M requires no software installation and is universally compatible with any operating system. The macros automatically remember the time interval between the inputs and run exactly as you typed. The keyboard stores the data inside the keyboard so you can instantly run your macros on any computer.”
Features and specifications from ZALMAN:
- Simple and minimal design
- Equipped with Z-Engine
- Supports USB and PS/2 connection
- Intelligent hardware macro with option to add mouse clicks
- Multimedia hotkeys
- 4-stage macro speed adjustment
- 6-key and N-Key rollover
- Option to lock Windows key or entire keyboard
- High quality laser-etched keycaps
- Model: ZM-K900M
- Keyboard Layout: 104-key
- Key Switch: Kailh Blue mechanical key switch
- Keyboard Matrix: USB & PS/2 N key rollover (anti-ghost function)
- Key cap type: Step Sculpture 2
- Interface: USB
- Cable length: 5.6 ft
- Dimensions: 17.32 x 5.51 x 1.34 inches, 2.75 lbs
- ZALMAN ZM-K900M Keyboard: $89.99 - Amazon.com
Kal Simpson recently had the chance to sit down and have an extensive interview with SILVIA's Chief Product Officer - Cognitive Code, Alex Mayberry. SILVIA is a company that specializes on conversational AI that can be adapted to a variety of platforms and applications. Kal's comments are in bold while Alex's are in italics.
Always good to speak with you Alex. Whether it's the latest Triple-A video game release or the progress being made in changing the way we play, virtual reality for instance – your views and developments within the gaming space as a whole remains impressive. Before we begin, I’d like to give the audience a brief flashback of your career history. Prominent within the video game industry you’ve been involved with many, many titles – primarily within the PC gaming space. Quake 2: The Reckoning, America’s Army, a plethora of World of Warcraft titles.
Those more familiar with your work know you as the lead game producer for Diablo 3 / Reaper of Souls, as well as the executive producer for Star Citizen. The former of which we spoke on during the release of the game for PC, PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One, back in 2014.
So I ask, given your huge involvement with some of the most popular titles, what sparked your interest within the development of intelligent computing platforms? No-doubt the technology can be adapted to applications within gaming, but what’s the initial factor that drove you to Cognitive Code – the SILVIA technology?
AM: Conversational intelligence was something that I had never even thought about in terms of game development. My experience arguing with my Xbox and trying to get it to change my television channel left me pretty sceptical about the technology. But after leaving Star Citizen, my paths crossed with Leslie Spring, the CEO and Founder of Cognitive Code, and the creator of the SILVIA platform. Initially, Leslie was helping me out with some engineering work on VR projects I was spinning up. After collaborating for a bit, he introduced me to his AI, and I became intrigued by it. Although I was still very focused on VR at the time, my mind kept drifting to SILVIA.
I kept pestering Leslie with questions about the technology, and he continued to share some of the things that it could do. It was when I saw one of his game engine demos showing off a sci-fi world with freely conversant robots that the light went on in my head, and I suddenly got way more interested in artificial intelligence. At the same time, I was discovering challenges in VR that needed solutions. Not having a keyboard in VR creates an obstacle for capturing user input, and floating text in your field of view is really detrimental to the immersion of the experience. Also, when you have life-size characters in VR, you naturally want to speak to them. This is when I got interested in using SILVIA to introduce an entirely new mechanic to gaming and interactive entertainment. No more do we have to rely on conversation trees and scripted responses.
No more do we have to read a wall of text from a quest giver. With this technology, we can have a realistic and free-form conversation with our game characters, and speak to them as if they are alive. This is such a powerful tool for interactive storytelling, and it will allow us to breathe life into virtual characters in a way that’s never before been possible. Seeing the opportunity in front of me, I joined up with Cognitive Code and have spent the last 18 months exploring how to design conversationally intelligent avatars. And I’ve been having a blast doing it.
To say that the consumer wired networking market has stagnated has been an understatement. While we've seen generational improvements on NICs from companies like Intel, and companies like Rivet trying to add their own unique spin on things with their Killer products, the basic idea has remained mostly unchanged.
And for its time, Gigabit networking was an amazing thing. In the era of hard drive-based storage as your only option, 100 MB/s seemed like a great data transfer speed for your home network — who could want more?
Now that we've moved well into the era of flash-based storage technologies capable of upwards of 3 GB/s transfer speeds, and even high capacity hard drives hitting the 200 MB/s category, Gigabit networking is a frustrating bottleneck when trying to move files from PC to PC.
For the enterprise market, there has been a solution to this for a long time. 10 Gigabit networking has been available in enterprise equipment for over 10 years, and even old news with even faster specifications like 40 and 100 Gbps interfaces available.
So why then are consumers mostly stuck at 1Gbps? As is the case with most enterprise technologies, the cost for 10 Gigabit equipment is still at a high premium compared to it's slower sibling. In fact, we've only just started to see enterprise-level 10 Gigabit NICs integrated on consumer motherboards, like the ASUS X99-E 10G WS at a staggering $650 price point.
However, there is hope. Companies like Aquantia are starting to aggressively push down the price point of 10 Gigabit networking, which brings us to the product we are taking a look at today — the ASUS XG-C100C 10 Gigabit Network Adapter.
There has been a lot of news lately about the release of Cryptocurrency-specific graphics cards from both NVIDIA and AMD add-in board partners. While we covered the currently cryptomining phenomenon in an earlier article, today we are taking a look at one of these cards geared towards miners.
It's worth noting that I purchased this card myself from Newegg, and neither AMD or Sapphire are involved in this article. I saw this card pop up on Newegg a few days ago, and my curiosity got the best of me.
There has been a lot of speculation, and little official information from vendors about what these mining cards will actually entail.
From the outward appearance, it is virtually impossible to distinguish this "new" RX 470 from the previous Sapphire Nitro+ RX 470, besides the lack of additional display outputs beyond the DVI connection. Even the branding and labels on the card identify it as a Nitro+ RX 470.
In order to test the hashing rates of this GPU, we are using Claymore's Dual Miner Version 9.6 (mining Ethereum only) against a reference design RX 470, also from Sapphire.
On the reference RX 470 out of the box, we hit rates of about 21.8 MH/s while mining Ethereum.
Once we moved to the Sapphire mining card, we move up to at least 24 MH/s from the start.
Introduction and Specifications
Logitech has been releasing gaming headphones with a steady regularity of late, and this summer we have another new model to examine in the G433 Gaming Headset, which has just been released (along with the G233). This wired, 7.1-channel capable headset is quite different visually from previous Logitech models as is finished with an interesting “lightweight, hydrophobic fabric shell” and offered in various colors (our review pair is a bright red). But the G433’s have function to go along with the style, as Logitech has focused on both digital and analog sound quality with this third model to incorporate the Logitech’s Pro-G drivers. How do they sound? We’ll find out!
One of the main reasons to consider a gaming headset like this in the first place is the ability to take advantage of multi-channel surround sound from your PC, and with the G433’s (as with the previously reviewed G533) this is accomplished via DTS Headphone:X, a technology which in my experience is capable of producing a convincing sound field that is very close to that of multiple surround drivers. All of this is being created via the same pair of left/right drivers that handle music, and here Logitech is able to boast of some very impressive engineering that produced the Pro-G driver introduced two years ago. An included DAC/headphone amp interfaces with your PC via USB to drive the surround experience, and without this you still have a standard stereo headset that can connect to anything with a 3.5 mm jack.
The G433 is available in four colors, of which we have the red on hand today
If you have not read up on Logitech’s exclusive Pro-G driver, you will find in their description far more similarities to an audiophile headphone company than what we typically associate with a computer peripheral maker. Logitech explains the thinking behind the technology:
“The intent of the Pro-G driver design innovation is to minimize distortion that commonly occurs in headphone drivers. When producing lower frequencies (<1kHz), most speaker diaphragms operate as a solid mass, like a piston in an engine, without bending. When producing many different frequencies at the same time, traditional driver designs can experience distortion caused by different parts of the diaphragm bending when other parts are not. This distortion caused by rapid transition in the speaker material can be tuned and minimized by combining a more flexible material with a specially designed acoustic enclosure. We designed the hybrid-mesh material for the Pro-G driver, along with a unique speaker housing design, to allow for a more smooth transition of movement resulting in a more accurate and less distorted output. This design also yields a more efficient speaker due to less overall output loss due to distortion. The result is an extremely accurate and clear sounding audio experience putting the gamer closer to the original audio of the source material.”
Logitech’s claims about the Pro-G have, in my experience with the previous models featuring these drivers (G633/G933 Artemis Spectrum and G533 Wireless), have been spot on, and I have found them to produce a clarity and detail that rivals ‘audiophile’ stereo headphones.
Astute readers of the site might remember the original story we did on Bitcoin mining in 2011, the good ole' days where the concept of the blockchain was new and exciting and mining Bitcoin on a GPU was still plenty viable.
However, that didn't last long, as the race for cash lead people to developing Application Specific Integrated Circuits (ASICs) dedicated solely to Bitcoin mining quickly while sipping power. Use of the expensive ASICs drove the difficulty of mining Bitcoin to the roof and killed any sort of chance of profitability from mere mortals mining cryptocurrency.
Cryptomining saw a resurgence in late 2013 with the popular adoption of alternate cryptocurrencies, specifically Litecoin which was based on the Scrypt algorithm instead of AES-256 like Bitcoin. This meant that the ASIC developed for mining Bitcoin were useless. This is also the period of time that many of you may remember as the "Dogecoin" era, my personal favorite cryptocurrency of all time.
Defenders of these new "altcoins" claimed that Scrypt was different enough that ASICs would never be developed for it, and GPU mining would remain viable for a larger portion of users. As it turns out, the promise of money always wins out, and we soon saw Scrypt ASICs. Once again, the market for GPU mining crashed.
That brings us to today, and what I am calling "Third-wave Cryptomining."
While the mass populous stopped caring about cryptocurrency as a whole, the dedicated group that was left continued to develop altcoins. These different currencies are based on various algorithms and other proofs of works (see technologies like Storj, which use the blockchain for a decentralized Dropbox-like service!).
As you may have predicted, for various reasons that might be difficult to historically quantify, there is another very popular cryptocurrency from this wave of development, Ethereum.
Ethereum is based on the Dagger-Hashimoto algorithm and has a whole host of different quirks that makes it different from other cryptocurrencies. We aren't here to get deep in the woods on the methods behind different blockchain implementations, but if you have some time check out the Ethereum White Paper. It's all very fascinating.
Logitech G413 Mechanical Gaming Keyboard
The rise in popularity of mechanical gaming keyboards has been accompanied by the spread of RGB backlighting. But RGBs, which often include intricate control systems and software, can significantly raise the price of an already expensive peripheral. There are many cheaper non-backlit mechanical keyboards out there, but they are often focused on typing, and lack the design and features that are unique to the gaming keyboard market.
Gamers on a budget, or those who simply dislike fancy RGB lights, are therefore faced with a relative dearth of options, and it's exactly this market segment that Logitech is targeting with its G413 Mechanical Gaming Keyboard.
An Data Format for Whole 3D Scenes
The Khronos Group has finalized the glTF 2.0 specification, and they recommend that interested parties integrate this 3D scene format into their content pipeline starting now. It’s ready.
glTF is a format to deliver 3D content, especially full scenes, in a compact and quick-loading data structure. These features differentiate glTF from other 3D formats, like Autodesk’s FBX and even the Khronos Group’s Collada, which are more like intermediate formats between tools, such as 3D editing software (ex: Maya and Blender) and game engines. They don’t see a competing format for final scenes that are designed to be ingested directly, quick and small.
glTF 2.0 makes several important changes.
The previous version of glTF was based on a defined GLSL material, which limited how it could be used, although it did align with WebGL at the time (and that spurred some early adoption). The new version switches to Physically Based Rendering (PBR) workflows to define their materials, which has a few advantages.
First, PBR can represent a wide range of materials with just a handful of parameters. Rather than dictating a specific shader, the data structure can just... structure the data. The industry has settled on two main workflows, metallic-roughness and specular-gloss, and glTF 2.0 supports them both. (Metallic-roughness is the core workflow, but specular-gloss is provided as an extension, and they can be used together in the same scene. Also, during the briefing, I noticed that transparency was not explicitly mentioned in the slide deck, but the Khronos Group confirmed that it is stored as the alpha channel of the base color, and thus supported.) Because the format is now based on existing workflows, the implementation can be programmed in OpenGL, Vulkan, DirectX, Metal, or even something like a software renderer. In fact, Microsoft was a specification editor on glTF 2.0, and they have publicly announced using the format in their upcoming products.
The original GLSL material, from glTF 1.0, is available as an extension (for backward compatibility).
A second advantage of PBR is that it is lighting-independent. When you define a PBR material for an object, it can be placed in any environment and it will behave as expected. Noticeable, albeit extreme examples of where this would have been useful are the outdoor scenes of Doom 3, and the indoor scenes of Battlefield 2. It also simplifies asset creation. Some applications, like Substance Painter and Quixel, have artists stencil materials onto their geometry, like gold, rusted iron, and scuffed plastic, and automatically generate the appropriate textures. It also aligns well with deferred rendering, see below, which performs lighting as a post-process step and thus skip pixels (fragments) that are overwritten.
PBR Deferred Buffers in Unreal Engine 4 Sun Temple.
Lighting is applied to these completed buffers, not every fragment.
glTF 2.0 also improves support for complex animations by adding morph targets. Most 3D animations, beyond just moving, rotating, and scaling whole objects, are based on skeletal animations. This method works by binding vertexes to bones, and moving, rotating, and scaling a hierarchy of joints. This works well for humans, animals, hinges, and other collections of joints and sockets, and it was already supported in glTF 1.0. Morph targets, on the other hand, allow the artist to directly control individual vertices between defined states. This is often demonstrated with a facial animation, interpolating between smiles and frowns, but, in an actual game, this is often approximated with skeletal animations (for performance reasons). Regardless, glTF 2.0 now supports morph targets, too, letting the artists make the choice that best suits their content.
Speaking of performance, the Khronos Group is also promoting “enhanced performance” as a benefit of glTF 2.0. I asked whether they have anything to elaborate on, and they responded with a little story. While glTF 1.0 validators were being created, one of the engineers compiled a list of design choices that would lead to minor performance issues. The fixes for these were originally supposed to be embodied in a glTF 1.1 specification, but PBR workflows and Microsoft’s request to abstract the format away from GLSL lead to glTF 2.0, which is where the performance optimization finally ended up. Basically, there wasn’t just one or two changes that made a big impact; it was the result of many tiny changes that add up.
Also, the binary version of glTF is now a core feature in glTF 2.0.
The slide looks at the potential future of glTF, after 2.0.
Looking forward, the Khronos Group has a few items on their glTF roadmap. These did not make glTF 2.0, but they are current topics for future versions. One potential addition is mesh compression, via the Google Draco team, to further decrease file size of 3D geometry. Another roadmap entry is progressive geometry streaming, via Fraunhofer SRC, which should speed up runtime performance.
Yet another roadmap entry is “Unified Compression Texture Format for Transmission”, specifically Basis by Binomial, for texture compression that remains as small as possible on the GPU. Graphics processors can only natively operate on a handful of formats, like DXT and ASTC, so textures need to be converted when they are loaded by an engine. Often, when a texture is loaded at runtime (rather than imported by the editor) it will be decompressed and left in that state on the GPU. Some engines, like Unity, have a runtime compress method that converts textures to DXT, but the developer needs to explicitly call it and the documentation says it’s lower quality than the algorithm used by the editor (although I haven’t tested this). Suffices to say, having a format that can circumvent all of that would be nice.
Again, if you’re interested in adding glTF 2.0 to your content pipeline, then get started. It’s ready. Microsoft is doing it, too.
ARM Refreshes All the Things
This past April ARM invited us to visit Cambridge, England so they could discuss with us their plans for the next year. Quite a bit has changed for the company since our last ARM Tech Day in 2016. They were acquired by SoftBank, but continue to essentially operate as their own company. They now have access to more funds, are less risk averse, and have a greater ability to expand in the ever growing mobile and IOT marketplaces.
The ARM of today certainly is quite different than what we had known 10 years ago when we saw their technology used in the first iPhone. The company back then had good technology, but a relatively small head count. They kept pace with the industry, but were not nearly as aggressive as other chip companies in some areas. Through the past 10 years they have grown not only in numbers, but in technologies that they have constantly expanded on. The company became more PR savvy and communicated more effectively with the press and in the end their primary users. Where once ARM would announce new products and not expect to see shipping products upwards of 3 years away, we are now seeing the company be much more aggressive with their designs and getting them out to their partners so that production ends up happening in months as compared to years.
Several days of meetings and presentations left us a bit overwhelmed by what ARM is bringing to market towards the end of 2017 and most likely beginning of 2018. On the surface it appears that ARM has only done a refresh of the CPU and GPU products, but once we start looking at these products in the greater scheme and how they interact with DynamIQ we see that ARM has changed the mobile computing landscape dramatically. This new computing concept allows greater performance, flexibility, and efficiency in designs. Partners will have far more control over these licensed products to create more value and differentiation as compared to years past.
We have previously covered DynamIQ at PCPer this past March. ARM wanted to seed that concept before they jumped into more discussions on their latest CPUs and GPUs. Previous Cortex products cannot be used with DynamIQ. To leverage that technology we must have new CPU designs. In this article we are covering the Cortex-A55 and Cortex-A75. These two new CPUs on the surface look more like a refresh, but when we dig in we see that some massive changes have been wrought throughout. ARM has taken the concepts of the previous A53 and A73 and expanded upon them fairly dramatically, not only to work with DynamIQ but also by removing significant bottlenecks that have impeded theoretical performance.
It Started with an OpenCL 2.2 Press Release
Update (May 18 @ 4pm EDT): A few comments across the internet believes that the statements from The Khronos Group were inaccurately worded, so I emailed them yet again. The OpenCL working group has released yet another statement:
OpenCL is announcing that their strategic direction is to support CL style computing on an extended version of the Vulkan API. The Vulkan group is agreeing to advise on the extensions.
In other words, this article was and is accurate. The Khronos Group are converging OpenCL and Vulkan into a single API: Vulkan. There was no misinterpretation.
Original post below
Earlier today, we published a news post about the finalized specifications for OpenCL 2.2 and SPIR-V 1.2. This was announced through a press release that also contained an odd little statement at the end of the third paragraph.
We are also working to converge with, and leverage, the Khronos Vulkan API — merging advanced graphics and compute into a single API.
This statement seems to suggest that OpenCL and Vulkan are expecting to merge into a single API for compute and graphics at some point in the future. This seemed like a huge announcement to bury that deep into the press blast, so I emailed The Khronos Group for confirmation (and any further statements). As it turns out, this interpretation is correct, and they provided a more explicit statement:
The OpenCL working group has taken the decision to converge its roadmap with Vulkan, and use Vulkan as the basis for the next generation of explicit compute APIs – this also provides the opportunity for the OpenCL roadmap to merge graphics and compute.
This statement adds a new claim: The Khronos Group plans to merge OpenCL into Vulkan, specifically, at some point in the future. Making the move in this direction, from OpenCL to Vulkan, makes sense for a handful of reasons, which I will highlight in my analysis, below.
Going Vulkan to Live Long and Prosper?
The first reason for merging OpenCL into Vulkan, from my perspective, is that Apple, who originally created OpenCL, still owns the trademarks (and some other rights) to it. The Khronos Group licenses these bits of IP from Apple. Vulkan, based on AMD’s donation of the Mantle API, should be easier to manage from the legal side of things.
The second reason for going in that direction is the actual structure of the APIs. When Mantle was announced, it looked a lot like an API that wrapped OpenCL with a graphics-specific layer. Also, Vulkan isn’t specifically limited to GPUs in its implementation.
Aside: When you create a device queue, you can query the driver to see what type of device it identifies as by reading its VkPhysicalDeviceType. Currently, as of Vulkan 1.0.49, the options are Other, Integrated GPU, Discrete GPU, Virtual GPU, and CPU. While this is just a clue, to make it easier to select a device for a given task, and isn’t useful to determine what the device is capable of, it should illustrate that other devices, like FPGAs, could support some subset of the API. It’s just up to the developer to check for features before they’re used, and target it at the devices they expect.
If you were to go in the other direction, you would need to wedge graphics tasks into OpenCL. You would be creating Vulkan all over again. From my perspective, pushing OpenCL into Vulkan seems like the path of least resistance.
The third reason (that I can think of) is probably marketing. DirectX 12 isn’t attempting to seduce FPGA developers. Telling a game studio to program their engine on a new, souped-up OpenCL might make them break out in a cold sweat, even if both parties know that it’s an evolution of Vulkan with cross-pollination from OpenCL. OpenCL developers, on the other hand, are probably using the API because they need it, and are less likely to be shaken off.
What OpenCL Could Give Vulkan (and Vice Versa)
From the very onset, OpenCL and Vulkan were occupying similar spaces, but there are some things that OpenCL does “better”. The most obvious, and previously mentioned, element is that OpenCL supports a wide range of compute devices, such as FPGAs. That’s not the limit of what Vulkan can borrow, though, although it could make for an interesting landscape if FPGAs become commonplace in the coming years and decades.
Personally, I wonder how SYCL could affect game engine development. This standard attempts to guide GPU- (and other device-) accelerated code into a single-source, C++ model. For over a decade, Tim Sweeney of Epic Games has talked about writing engines like he did back in the software-rendering era, but without giving up the ridiculous performance (and efficiency) provided by GPUs.
The reason for bringing up this anecdote is because, if OpenCL is moving into Vulkan, and SYCL is still being developed, then it seems likely that SYCL will eventually port into Vulkan. If this is the case, then future game engines can gain benefits that I was striving toward without giving up access to fixed-function features, like hardware rasterization. If Vulkan comes to web browsers some day, it would literally prune off every advantage I was hoping to capture, and it would do so with a better implementation.
More importantly, SYCL is something that Microsoft cannot provide with today’s DirectX.
Admittedly, it’s hard to think of something that OpenCL can acquire from Vulkan, besides just a lot more interest from potential developers. Vulkan was already somewhat of a subset of OpenCL that had graphics tasks (cleanly) integrated over top of it. On the other hand, OpenCL has been struggling to acquire mainstream support, so that could, in fact, be Vulkan’s greatest gift.
The Khronos Group has not provided a timeline for this change. It’s just a roadmap declaration.
YouTube Tries Everything
Back in March, Google-owned YouTube announced a new live TV streaming service called YouTube TV to compete with the likes of Sling, DirecTV Now, PlayStation Vue, and upcoming offerings from Hulu, Amazon, and others. All these services aim to deliver curated bundles of channels aimed at cord cutters that run over the top of customer’s internet only connections as replacements for or in addition to cable television subscriptions. YouTube TV is the latest entrant to this market with the service only available in seven test markets currently, but it is off to a good start with a decent selection of content and features including both broadcast and cable channels, on demand media, and live and DVR viewing options. A responsive user interface and generous number of family sharing options (six account logins and three simultaneous streams) will need to be balanced by the requirement to watch ads (even on some DVR’ed shows) and the $35 per month cost.
YouTube TV was launched in 5 cities with more on the way. Fortunately, I am lucky enough to live close enough to Chicago to be in-market and could test out Google’s streaming TV service. While not a full review, the following are my first impressions of YouTube TV.
Setup / Sign Up
YouTube TV is available with a one month free trail, after which you will be charged $35 a month. Sign up is a simple affair and can be started by going to tv.youtube.com or clicking the YouTube TV link from “hamburger” menu on YouTube. If you are on a mobile device, YouTube TV uses a separate app than the default YouTube app and weighs in at 9.11 MB for the Android version. The sign up process is very simple. After verifying your location, the following screens show you the channels available in your market and gives you the option of adding Showtime ($11) and/or Fox Soccer ($15) for additional monthly fees. After that, you are prompted for a payment method that can be the one already linked to your Google account and used for app purchases and other subscriptions. As far as the free trial, I was not charged anything and there was no hold on my account for the $35. I like that Google makes it easy to see exactly how many days you have left on your trial and when you will be charged if you do not cancel. Further, the cancel link is not buried away and is intuitively found by clicking your account photo in the upper right > Personal > Membership. Google is doing things right here. After signup, a tour is offered to show you the various features, but you can skip this if you want to get right to it.
In my specific market, I have the following channels. When I first started testing some of the channels were not available, and were just added today. I hope to see more networks added, and if Google can manage that YouTube TV and it’s $35/month price are going to shape up to be a great deal.
- ABC 7, CBS 2, Fox 32, NBC 5, ESPN, CSN, CSN Plus, FS1, CW, USA, FX, Free Form, NBC SN, ESPN 2, FS2, Disney, E!, Bravo, Oxygen, BTN, SEC ESPN Network, ESPN News, CBS Sports, FXX, Syfy, Disney Junior, Disney XD, MSNBC, Fox News, CNBC, Fox Business, National Geographic, FXM, Sprout, Universal, Nat Geo Wild, Chiller, NBC Golf, YouTube Red Originals
- Plus: AMC, BBC America, IFC, Sundance TV, We TV, Telemundo, and NBC Universal (just added).
- Optional Add-Ons: Showtime and Fox Soccer.
I tested YouTube TV out on my Windows PCs and an Android phone. You can also watch YouTube TV on iOS devices, and on your TV using an Android TVs and Chromecasts (At time of writing, Google will send you a free Chromecast after your first month). (See here for a full list of supported devices.) There are currently no Roku or Apple TV apps.
Each YouTube TV account can share out the subscription to 6 total logins where each household member gets their own login and DVR library. Up to three people can be streaming TV at the same time. While out and about, I noticed that YouTube TV required me to turn on location services in order to use the app. Looking further into it, the YouTube TV FAQ states that you will need to verify your location in order to stream live TV and will only be able to stream live TV if you are physically in the markets where YouTube TV has launched. You can watch your DVR shows anywhere in the US. However, if you are traveling internationally you will not be able to use YouTube TV at all (I’m not sure if VPNs will get around this or if YouTube TV blocks this like Netflix does). Users will need to login from their home market at least once every 3 months to keep their account active and able to stream content (every month for MLB content).
YouTube TV verifying location in Chrome (left) and on the android app (right).
On one hand, I can understand this was probably necessary in order for YouTube TV to negotiate a licensing deal, and their terms do seem pretty fair. I will have to do more testing on this as I wasn’t able to stream from the DVR without turning on location services on my Android – I can chalk this up to growing pains though and it may already be fixed.
Features & First Impressions
YouTube TV has an interface that is perhaps best described as a slimmed down YouTube that takes cues from Netflix (things like the horizontal scrolling of shows in categories). The main interface is broken down into three sections: Library, Home, and Live with the first screen you see when logging in being Home. You navigate by scrolling and clicking, and by pulling the menus up from the bottom while streaming TV like YouTube.