GDC 2017: zSpace Joins OpenXR Working Group

Subject: General Tech | March 3, 2017 - 07:01 AM |
Tagged: zspace, VR, Khronos

About a year before I joined PC Perspective, I acquired a degree in Education, which involved teaching at a local high school. Even though that was just five years after graduating high school, the amount of available technology has exploded in that time. SmartBoards were relevant enough to be taught at my teacher’s college just in case you got one. Contrast this to when I was a high school student, where “overhead projector” was assumed to mean “transparent paper and erasable marker”.

Why do I mention this? Well, basically everyone in the tech industry has been investigating the potential of VR and AR for the last couple of years, and education is a very obvious and practical application of it.

In this case, zSpace reached out and informed that they just joined the Khronos Group’s OpenXR Working Group. They hope to guide the specification from the educational technology perspective. From what I can see on their website, their products are basically like Wacom Cintiqs, except that the pen can function the volume of air in front of the screen, and glasses with markers adjust the output image to make it look like objects are floating between you and the display.

If you’re in the education sector, then be sure to check out what zSpace is doing, if only to be aware of the teaching tools that are available in the world. Every teacher I knew enjoyed browsing Staples, looking through the various bits of stationary for ideas, like recipe cards for cheap, impromptu student polls and challenges.

As for the rest of us? The more mainstream VR and AR is, the more innovation will occur, especially when they contribute back to open standards; win win.

Source: zSpace

Wondering about upgrading your cooler mounts for Ryzen?

Subject: General Tech, Motherboards, Cases and Cooling | March 2, 2017 - 02:05 PM |
Tagged: AM4, ryzen, nzxt, fractal design, scythe

We have some good news from several companies about compatibility with that AM4 board you are hoping to set up.  NXZT have announced a program in which you can request a free AM4 mounting kit for your Kraken X62, X52, X42, X61, X41 or Kraken X31.  Just follow this link to apply for one, they will ship world wide starting on the 15th of March.  You will need to provide proof of purchase of both your AM4 motherboard and Kraken cooler.

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Fractal Design have a similar offer for owners of of their Kelvin series of coolers.  You can email their Support team for a bracket for your Kelvin T12, S24 or S36, make sure to attach proof of purchase of either a Ryzen processor or AM4 board.

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Scythe is doing things a litle differently.  If you reside in Europe, they are offering free mounting kits to owners of their Mugen 5 cooler, simply reach out them via this link, again attaching a receipt for the cooler and either a Ryzen CPU or AM4 motherboard.  Owners of a Katana 3 or 4, Kabuto 3, Shuriken Rev. B, Tatsumi “A”, Byakko, or Iori cooler need not even go through that process, your coolers mount is already compatible.  For owners of other coolers you can reach out to Scythe via the previous link to order a bracket for  3,99€, to ship out sometime in May or later.  We will let you know when we hear from the NA branch.

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"Coinciding with the new AMD Zen-based Ryzen CPUs, and the new AM4 socket, NZXT will be providing a free retention bracket for all current Kraken users. NZXT believes in providing high-quality components to our customers, in addition to exceptional customer service no matter where they reside and we will continue that support alongside the launch of Ryzen."

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Source: NZXT

GDC 2017: $200 Off Oculus Rift and Touch

Subject: General Tech | March 2, 2017 - 02:59 AM |
Tagged: Oculus, VR, pc gaming

Alongside the release of Robo Recall from Epic Games, which is free of you own an Oculus Rift and the Oculus Touch controllers, Oculus has changed up how you can purchase the Oculus Rift. As was the case since the Touch controllers shipped, the Oculus Rift is bundled with these motion controllers. The difference is that, now, the bundle will cost $598 USD. This is a $200 reduction in price compared to someone who purchased the headset and the controllers separately last week. The controllers, alone, are now $99 USD.

So this is interesting.

According to recent statements by Gabe Newell, who is obviously in the HTC Vive camp, the VR market doesn’t have “a compelling reason for people to spend 20 hours a day in VR”. This assertion was intended to dispel the opinion that a price cut would help VR along. From his perspective, VR will have a huge bump in resolution and frame rate within one or two years, and current headsets are basically the minimum of adequacy.

So, from both a software and technology standpoint, VR can benefit from more time in the oven before tossing it down the garbage disposal. I see that point and I agree with it, but only to a point. A price reduction can still help in several ways. First, the games industry has made some drastic shifts toward the individual. Free tools, from IDEs to AAA-quality game engines, seem to be picking up in adoption. A high entry fee for a segment of that mind share will push those with creative ideas elsewhere.

But, probably more importantly, even if the market is small, pulling in more users makes it grow. The more lead users that you can acquire, the more risk can be attempted, which will make an even better situation for whenever we need to start considering mass market. Imagine if a factor of two increase in user base would be enough for Microsoft (or Linux distros) to consider virtual desktops for VR. If we reach that threshold a year or two sooner, then it will have a more significant impact on the value for mainstream users whenever the technology catches up to their interest.

And yes, this is coming from the guy who is currently surrounded by four monitors...

Anyway, rant aside, Oculus has jumped in to a significant price reduction. This should get it into the hands of more people, assuming the injunction order doesn’t get accepted and drop on them like a hammer.

Source: Oculus

YouTube Launching Its Own $35 Per Month Live TV Streaming Service With Cloud DVR

Subject: General Tech | March 2, 2017 - 12:16 AM |
Tagged: youtube red, youtube, live tv, cord cutting, cloud dvr, broadcast tv

YouTube is jumping into the streaming TV market with the launch of YouTube TV. The new "over the top" streaming service is aimed at cord cutters and users that want to watch live and recorded TV on their mobile devices. YouTube TV joins AT&T's DirecTV Now, Dish Network's Sling TV, and PlayStation Vue with a streaming package of ~40 channels for $35 per month that is reportedly the result of licensing negotiations and deals two years in the making.

The streaming platform, which is reportedly coming in the next weeks to months (depending on the market and local market licensing), will come out swinging with two main advantages over the existing competition: YouTube TV will allow more simultaneous streams (six accounts with up to 3 streams going at the same time) and have DVR functionality with unlimited storage and unlimited simultaneous recordings where episodes will be saved for 9 months.

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Unfortunately, YouTube TV suffers the same main drawback of these over the top TV streaming services which is channel selection. Due to licensing issues, YouTube TV will have a collection of 40 channels at launch including access to ABC, NBC, FOX, CBS, CBS Sports Network, ESPN, E!, CW, FX, USA, Freeform, FS1, Disney Channel, and more. However, it lacks the cable-only networks like AMC and Viacom (also no MTV, CNN, TNT, TBS, Comedy Central, HGTV, or Food Network). Showtime is available for an extra monthly fee though.

The sports channels are nice to see and are sure to be appreciated, but due to Verizon's exclusivity deal NFL games are restricted to PCs and can not be streamed on mobile devices using YouTube TV.

For those interested, CNET has a full list of the channels here. YouTube TV will reportedly also allow access to YouTube Red programming, but the TV programming will still have ads (of course).

Excepting the NFL streams, users can watch live and recorded TV on their PCs, smartphones, tablets, and Chromecasts. Google Home support is currently in development as well and will eventually allow you to tune into a channel on your Chromecast using your voice.

I am a excited to see another major player enter this IP TV streaming space, and with a working DVR it will have a leg up over the competition (here's looking at you, DirecTV Now). With Google backing the venture I am hopeful that it can flex its considerable capital muscle to work out further deals with the stubborn cable networks and eventually (maybe) we will see a truly a la carte TV streaming service!

What are your thoughts on YouTube TV? Is it enough to get you to cut the cord, or are you too into The Walking Dead?

Source: YouTube

GDC 2017: The Khronos Group (re-)Announces OpenXR

Subject: General Tech | March 1, 2017 - 08:12 PM |
Tagged: VR, pc gaming, openxr, Khronos

While the Vulkan update headlines the Khronos Group’s presence at GDC 2017, they also re-announced their VR initiative, now called OpenXR. This specification wraps around the individual SDKs, outlining functionality that is to be exposed to the application and the devices. If a device implements the device layer, then it will immediately support everything that uses the standard, and vice-versa.

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OpenVR was donated by Valve, leading to OpenXR...
... because an X is really just a reflected V, right?

Like OpenGL and Vulkan, individual vendors will still be allowed to implement their own functionality, which I’m hoping will be mostly exposed through extensions. The goal is to ensure that users can, at a minimum, enjoy the base experience of any title on any device.

They are aiming for 2018, but interested parties should contribute now to influence the initial release.

Nintendo Switches out spinach green and almost black for 720p

Subject: General Tech | March 1, 2017 - 03:46 PM |
Tagged: Tegra X1, Nintendo Switch, Joy-Con, gaming

The Nintendo Switch has arrived for those who feel that mobile gaming is lacking in analog joysticks and buttons.  The product sits in an interesting place, the 720p screen is nowhere near the resolution of modern phones though those phones lack a dock which triggers an overclocked mode to send 1080p to a TV.  The programming team behind Nintendo also has far more resources than most mobile app developers and they can incorporate some tricks which a phone simply will not be able to replicate.  Ars Technica took the Switch, its two Joy-Cons and the limited number of released games on a tour to see just how well Nintendo did on their new portable gaming system.  There are some improvements that could be made but the Joy-Cons do sound more interesting than the Gameboy Advanced.

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"With the Switch, Nintendo seems to be betting that the continued drum beat of Moore's Law and miniaturization has made that dichotomy moot. The Switch is an attempt to drag the portable gaming market kicking and screaming to a point where it's literally indistinguishable from the experience you'd get playing on a 1080p HDTV."

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Source: Ars Technica

Tearing open a Tesla; a look at the Model S battery

Subject: General Tech | March 1, 2017 - 01:23 PM |
Tagged: tesla motors, battery

Hack a Day posted a video of a teardown of the battery that powers the Tesla Model S, for those curious about how it is set up.  This is not recommended for you to try at home, not only are there a huge number of bolts and Torx screws, it seems that each has a specific torque amount which must be adhered to.  Inside are 16 battery packs, each of which contain 444 cells with a total of 24V, for a sum of 5.3 kWh.  Do not test the charge on these batteries with your tongue!  Click on through to watch the video.

tesla-teardown-featured.jpg

"Tesla famously build their battery packs from standard 18650 lithium-ion cells, but it’s safe to say that the pack in the Model S has little in common with your laptop battery. Fortunately for those of a curious nature, [Jehu Garcia] has posted a video showing the folks at EV West tearing down a Model S pack from a scrap car, so we can follow them through its construction."

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Source: Hack a Day

AMD Unveils Next-Generation GPU Branding, Details - Radeon RX Vega

Subject: General Tech | February 28, 2017 - 05:46 PM |
Tagged: amd, Vega, radeon rx vega, radeon, gdc 2017, capsaicin, rtg, HBCC, FP16

Today at the AMD Capsaicin & Cream event at GDC 2017, Senior VP of the Radeon Technologies Group, Raja Koduri officially revealed the branding that AMD will use for their next generation GPU products.

While we usually see final product branding deviate from their architectural code names (e.g. Polaris becoming the Radeon RX 460, 470 and 480), AMD this time has decided to embrace the code name for the retail naming scheme for upcoming graphics cards featuring the new GPU – Radeon RX Vega.

RadeonRXVega.jpg

However, we didn't just get a name for Vega-based GPUs. Raja also went into some further detail and showed some examples of technologies found in Vega.

First off is the High-Bandwidth Cache Controller found in Vega products. We covered this technology during our Vega architecture preview last month at CES, but today we finally saw a demo of this technology in action.

Vega-HBCCslide.jpg

Essentially, the High-Bandwidth Cache Controller (HBCC) allows Vega GPUs to address all available memory in the system (including things like NVMe SSDs, system DRAM and network storage.) AMD claims that by using the already fast memory you have available on your PC to augment onboard GPU memory (such as HBM2) they will be able to offer less expensive graphics cards that ultimately offer access to much more memory than current graphics cards.

Vega-HBCC.jpg

The demo that they showed on stage featured Deus Ex: Mankind Divided running on a system with a Vega GPU running with 2GB of VRAM, and Ryzen CPU. By turning HBCC on, they were able to show a 50% increase in average FPS, and a 100% increase in minimum FPS.

While we probably won't actually see a Vega product with such a small VRAM implementation, it was impressive to see how HBCC was able to dramatically improve the playability of a 2GB GPU on a game that has no special optimizations to take advantage of the High-Bandwidth Cache.

The other impressive demo running on Vega at the Capsaicin & Cream event centered around what AMD is calling Rapid Pack Math.

Rapid Pack Math is an implementation of something we have been hearing and theorizing a lot about lately, the use of FP16 shaders for some graphic effects in games. By using half-precision FP16 shaders instead of the current standard FP32 shaders, developers are able to get more performance out of the same GPU cores. In specific, Rapid Pack Math allows developers to run half-precision FP16 shaders at exactly 2X the speed of traditional standard-precision FP32 shaders.

TressFX-FP16.jpg

While the lower precision of FP16 shaders won't be appropriate for all GPU effects, AMD was showing a comparison of their TressFX hair rendering technology running on both standard and half-precision shaders. As you might expect, AMD was able to render twice the amount of hair strands per second, making for a much more fluid experience.

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Just like we saw with the lead up to the Polaris GPU launch, AMD seems to be releasing a steady stream of information on Vega. Now that we have the official branding for Vega, we eagerly await getting our hands on these new High-end GPUs from AMD.

 

The Microsoft Store's unintentional cash back offer

Subject: General Tech | February 28, 2017 - 03:48 PM |
Tagged: microsoft, oops, Lawsuit

If you purchased anything from the Microsoft store between November 2013 and February 24 of this year and live in the USA you could be eligible for up to $100 in cash damages.  It seems that the credit card information they provided on receipts contained more than half of your credit card numbers which is in violation of a law implemented in 2003 which states that no more than five numbers can be shown on receipts.  Now that the judgment against Microsoft is in, the proposed settlement for Microsoft to set aside $1,194,696US for customers who were affected by this issue.  The settlement needs to be approved by the judge so you cannot claim your money immediately, keep an eye out for more new.  The Register have posted links to the original lawsuit as well as the judgment right here.

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"On Friday, the Redmond giant agreed to give up roughly seven minutes of its quarterly revenue to a gaggle of Microsoft Store customers who claimed that their receipts displayed more of their payment card numbers than legally allowed."

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Source: The Register

Futuremark at GDC and MWC

Subject: General Tech, Graphics Cards | February 27, 2017 - 03:39 PM |
Tagged: MWC, GDC, VRMark, Servermark, OptoFidelity, cyan room, benchmark

Futuremark are showing off new benchmarks at GDC and MWC, the two conferences which are both happening this week.  We will have quite a bit of coverage this week as we try to keep up with simultaneous news releases and presentations.

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First up is a new benchmark in their recently released DX12 VRMark suite, the new Cyan Room which sits between the existing two in the suite.  The Orange Room is to test if your system is capable of providing you with an acceptable VR experience or if your system falls somewhat short of the minimum requirements while the Blue Room is to show off what a system that exceeds the recommended specs can manage.  The Cyan room will be for those who know that their system can handle most VR, and need to test their systems settings.  If you don't have the test suite Humble Bundle has a great deal on this suite and several other tools, if you act quickly.

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Next up is a new suite to test Google Daydream, Google Cardboard, and Samsung Gear VR performance and ability.  There is more than just performance to test when you are using your phone to view VR content, such as avoiding setting your eyeholes on fire.  The tests will help you determine just how long your device can run VR content before overheating becomes an issue and interferes with performance, as well as helping you determine your battery life.

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VR Latency testing is the next in the list of announcements and is very important when it comes to VR as high or unstable latency is the reason some users need to add a bucket to their list of VR essentials.  Futuremark have partnered with OptoFidelity to produce VR Multimeter HMD hardware based testing. This allows you, and hopefully soon PCPer as well, to test motion-to-photon latency, display persistence, and frame jitter as well as audio to video synchronization and motion-to-audio-latency all of which could lead to a bad time.

servermark.jpg

Last up is the brand new Servermark to test the performance you can expect out of virtual servers, media servers and other common tasks.  The VDI test lets you determine if a virtual machine has been provisioned at a level commensurate to the assigned task, so you can adjust it as required.  The Media Transcode portion lets you determine the maximum number of concurrent streams as well as the maximum quality of those streams which your server can handle, very nice for those hosting media for an audience. 

Expect to hear more as we see the new benchmarks in action.

Source: Futuremark