No audio jack, eh? A Creative way to use your phones USB-C port

Subject: General Tech | January 24, 2019 - 04:03 PM |
Tagged: usb-c, SXFI Amp, Headphone Amp, Creative, Aurvana Trio, Aurvana SE, audio

There was a dearth of USB-C audio devices shown off at CES, with wireless connectivity and other ways of dealing with the removal of the audio jack from phones getting far more attention.  However, Creative were up to the challenge and showed off their new USB-C to 3.5mm SXFI Amp for headphones as well as the Aurvana SE over the ears headset and Aurvana Trio earbuds. 

The amp is quite impressive, with an Asahi Kasei Microdevices AK4377 32-bit DAC that can drive headphones with up to a 600Ω impedance, and provide 120dB SNR from 24 bit/96 kHz input and provide 2.0, 5.1 or  7.1 channel sound.  TechPowerUp took a listen to all three products and compiled a review for those who want high quality audio from their phone.

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"Creative finally brings to market its Super X-Fi technology built over 20 years of R&D. It aims to be a radical new change to the audio world by not only offering extremely convincing surround sound using stereo headphones, but generally enhancing the audio experience even for mono recordings provided you have a certain set of compatible devices."

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Source: TechPowerUp

War never changes? It is an EA-scalating problem!

Subject: Editorial, General Tech | January 24, 2019 - 01:19 PM |
Tagged: ea, dice, battlefield V, rant, editorial, gaming

At some point EA and DICE will cross another even more absurd line than they already have, but it is hard to figure out how.  They are scratching their heads about why sales of Battlefield V have been so abysmal, and come up with bizarre scenarios such as a lack of realism or that there was a female on the cover art.   There are of course other explanations for the poor performance, and somehow they have decided to continue emptying a Luger into their foot.

Today they have found yet another reason to convince people not to buy the game, on top of so many other reasons; they've rescinded their promise to include the Rental Server Program that was included on each and every other one of their recent BF releases.  This is, of course, after they went after customers who had the temerity to keep older BF games alive on their own servers after Gamespy went off to silicon heaven. 

That is just the most recent of their blunderful performances, which include such highlights as rebranding loot boxes as booster packs and once again delving into microtransactions.  We won't even mention that the killer app of the engine is still slowly being implemented and that you need to buy a $1000 piece of hardware just to have the opportunity to see the work in progress; assuming your eyes are good enough to spot it. 

One hoped the declining sales figures might have a positive impact on EA and DICE's treatment of their customers but for now it seems they are just doubling down on being ...

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"Battlefield V developer DICE now says it's not sure whether it will be able to "deliver" the series' traditional Rental Server Program (RSP) for the latest game in the franchise."

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Source: Ars Technica

Lenovo Unleashes Smart Devices with Alexa and Google Assistants

Subject: General Tech | January 24, 2019 - 02:11 AM |
Tagged: tablet, snapdragon 450, Lenovo, google, Android, Alexa

While Lenovo’s desktop displays and mobile PCs got most of the attention at CES earlier this month, the company also took the wraps off a number of smart devices for the home in the form of a Google Assistant powered clock and a pair of Alexa powered tablets.

The Lenovo Smart Clock features a four-inch touchscreen using an IPS panel and 480x800 resolution wrapped in a soft touch fabric shell. Around back there is a single USB port, mute mic button, and volume controls. The Smart Clock uses a single 3-watt speaker (6W max) and there is support for Google’s multi-room audio and Chromecast support integrated. Measuring 113.88x79.2x79.8mm and weighing 328 grams (0.72 lbs), Lenovo’s smart clock is powered by a MediaTek 81675 clocked at 1.5 GHz paired with 1GB RAM and 8GB of internal eMMC storage. Wireless support includes 802.11ac (2.4GHz and 5GHz) and Bluetooth 5.0.

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On the tablet front, Lenovo launched the Smart Tab P10 and Smart Tab M10 which officially launched January 19th. Both models are 10-inch tablets that run Android Oreo and include a docking station (the Smart Dock) that enables Alexa Show Mode. The Lenovo M10 is the budget option and the P10 dials up the specifications a bit. Both tablets have a 10.1” 1920x1200 IPS display, front-facing Dolby Atmos speakers (the M10 has two, the P10 has four), front and rear cameras (the M10 uses a 2MP camera up front and a 5MP rear camera while the P10 has a 5MP front camera and an 8MP rear camera), and a Qualcomm Snapdragon 450 processor. The M10 features a soft touch finish, measures 8mm thick and weighs in at 1.05 pounds while the P10 uses a dual glass design and is slightly thinner and lighter at 7mm and 0.97 pounds respectively. The Lenovo M10 has 2GB or 3GB of RAM and 16GB or 32GB of internal storage depending on the specific SKU along with a 4850 mAh battery. Stepping things up slightly the P10 offers up to 4GB of RAM, 64GB of internal storage, and a 7,000 mAh battery. The P10 further adds a Fingerprint reader and extra sensors.

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When docked the tablet can take advantage of dual 3-watt speakers and three far-field microphones to listen for Alexa activation commands while also being charged via the dock connector. The Smart Dock itself weighs 1.76 lbs and measures 2.57” x 11.16” x 1.96”.

Lenovo’s Smart Tab tablets are available now starting at $199.99 for the Smart Tab M10 and $299.99 for the Smart Tab P10. The Google Assistant-powered Smart Clock has a MSRP of $79.99 and is slated for a spring 2019 release.

What are your thoughts on the Alexa integrated tablets? I think it’s a nice-to-have feature, but I’m not sure I like Alexa enough to buy a tablet because of it. With that said, I will say that I was resistant to the various assistants (Cortana, Alexa, Google), and I still don’t use it on my phone, but the Echo and Echo Dots at the house are useful and can do some cool stuff! A tablet that can dock and use Alexa controls to display stuff could be handy for looking up recipies or watching the PC Perspective podcast (#JoshTekk) while in the kitchen.

Source: Lenovo

Adobe Buys Allegorithmic (Substance Suite)

Subject: General Tech | January 23, 2019 - 09:16 PM |
Tagged: Adobe, allegorithmic

In a modern 3D workflow, it’s common to paint materials onto a model from a library. The artist could, for instance, place apply an iron base to their geometry before painting a rust material atop certain sections of it. There can also be stencils of paint and so forth. The software package that they use then bakes those materials into PBR textures that a game engine can combine to recreate the look of the material.

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In my experience, there are two popular applications for this: Substance Suite from Allegorithmic and Quixel Suite from Quixel.

The former, Allegorithmic, was just purchased by Adobe for an undisclosed amount. Adobe plans to “incorporate Allegorithmic’s Substance tools into Creative Cloud over the coming months” but the subscriptions are (at least as far as I can tell) unchanged for now. The logo changed, but that’s about it.

As a bit of an aside, Allegorithmic just announced RTX support for light baking in their Substance Suite. I haven't used it myself, but I've heard that it works well.

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Image Credit: Allegorithmic. Model by Glauco Longhi.

The reaction to this announcement is a bit all over the map. Naturally GIMP responded by tweeting out that people should donate to Blender – which is a good idea, but using proprietary tools is okay, too. It’s not like the tools are required to use the products going forward, as is the case with an operating system. There was also some non-specific complaints on Twitter about the software being absorbed into Adobe. At the same time, there’s been some excitement from those who have at least one subscription to Adobe and/or Allegorithmic already. (I am in this group.)

I am curious what will happen to their Linux support when being absorbed by Adobe, however. Mac and Windows should not change any time soon, but Allegorithmic serves Linux and Adobe is historically flippant about the penguin. Hopefully that will continue.

So it looks like the 3D painting suite is coming to Creative Cloud with a time frame of “over the coming months”. What are your thoughts?

Source: Adobe

The rocket pack's red glare

Subject: General Tech | January 23, 2019 - 03:16 PM |
Tagged: gaming, anthem, BioWare, origin

BioWare's soon to be released not-a-fantasy-RPG, Anthem, is offering a free open demo for you to try out on the first weekend of February.  If you are more interested in flying around with a jetpack than watching the SuperBowl, the demo will start you at level 10 so you will get a better idea of how the game plays than starting fresh.  Rock, Paper, SHOTGUN were told that the amount of drops will be much higher than in the actual game, so you may also see a wide selection of upgrades and new items during your brief peek. 

The game, which does not actually feature the Power Rangers, will arrive at the end of February if you happen to fall in love with it ... on Origin.

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"The open demo will run from 5pm next Friday, February 1st until Sunday the 3rd. No, it’s not long. That is preceded by a couple extra days of demo for folks who pre-order but pre-ordering is for mugs."

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The Internet of Ubuntu things

Subject: General Tech | January 23, 2019 - 02:00 PM |
Tagged: canonical, ubuntu core, iot

Canonical is one of the few that take the security of the various connected devices, colloquially known as the Internet of Things, seriously.  They released an OS called Ubuntu Core 18, based on Ubuntu 18.04 LTS, to the internet back in December which is designed to offer a way not only to secure your IoT devices but to update them as well.  All hardware has digitally signed snaps which let you verify the state of it's firmware and software at any time to ensure no one has been mucking about in it.  Along with the virtualisation comes a decade of security updates, with patches that can be released to x86, x64 and ARM based hardware simultaneously. 

The Inquirer mentions that while most of these patches will be free, there may be some with a small cost associated, which may indicate they will support discontinued products and those with tiny market shares.

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"There's loads more to discover about Ubuntu Core 18, which was first made available as a preview in December. As ever, its open source and it's free to download."

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Source: The Inquirer

Something possible and something true, a little AMD and NVIDIA news for you

Subject: General Tech | January 22, 2019 - 01:30 PM |
Tagged: and, nvidia, leak, linux, 1660 ti, radeon vii

Once again we have an interesting leak from TUM_APISAK, this time about an upcoming NVIDIA product.  The performance of the GTX 1660 Ti may or may not match the benchmark below but if it does we may finally be seeing a new mid-range Turing GPU from NVIDIA.  The GTX naming scheme is worth noting, as it implies this will not feature the Ray Tracing or other enhancements brought by the RTX family and the strange new numbering system implies we might see more.  That lack may help drive the price down, which would give people a chance to pick up something noticeably faster than a GTX 1060.

If you are more interested in verifiable news, The Inquirer also offers that this morning with confirmation of Linux support for AMD's new GPUs right from the very start.  This has been something which we haven't really seen from AMD in the past, with enthusiasts working in the dark to tweak existing open source drivers to power AMD cards.  Over the past few years AMD has been more forthcoming with information that helped in the development of drivers and has been more successful at releasing their own.   This is great news that the new Radeon VII family will be conversant in Linux as of day one; we will keep an eye out for comparative performance once the cards launch.

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"The leaked benchmarks come courtesy serial leaker APISAK, which posted a screenshot of the Ashes of Singularity benchmark showing a GPU called the GeForce GTX 1660 Ti."

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Source: The Inquirer

Grab your IronClaw fellow Corsairs and let's go a-raiding!

Subject: General Tech | January 21, 2019 - 02:45 PM |
Tagged: input, gaming mouse, RGB, corsair, ironclaw, PMW3391

For gamers that wear large sized gloves there are many rodents that don't nestle comfortably in their palms, especially the travel sized ones.  For them there is a new mouse on the market, the Corsair IronClaw which is large enough for comfort (130x80x45mm) but not to a point which will make it uncomfortable for others.  The PMW3391 sensor matches the quality you expect from a gaming mouse and Corsair's iCUE software lets you program the buttons and RGBs as you would expect as well as incorporating hardware monitoring graphs.

Take a look over at The Guru of 3D.

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"Oh wait, there's one more. Our third mouse review this week is the IronClaw RGB mouse. Designed with a comfortable fit and some pretty iCUE related features this critter might be just what the doctor ordered at 59 bucks."

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Rumor: AMD Gonzalo APU for Next-Gen Game Consoles Leaks

Subject: General Tech | January 21, 2019 - 02:28 PM |
Tagged: Playstation, Navi 10 Lite, navi, leak, Gonzalo, APU, amd, PS5, rumor, xbox, Zen 2, Zen+

What's in a name? Depending on how much you read into it, quite a bit, depending on what you infer from product code 2G16002CE8JA2_32/10/10_13E9. There are some very interesting rumours floating around the net today which suggest AMD might have another big win on their hands.  They provided much of the hardware for the release of the two major consoles way back in 2013 and there have been recent statements they will be inside the next generation of XBox.  Now that NVIDIA is working on supporting Active Sync that benefit is a little less clear in the long term but at least for now they are a little late to the game.

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Image credit: Twitter user @TUM_APISAK

The image, from from a source that has a rather impressive track record, demonstrates the decoding process - and pay close attention to the letter "G", the second character in the string, which presumably indicates that this intended for a game console. The source also suggests that this new chip will be a Zen 2 and Navi based APU called Gonzolo, with eight cores clocking between 1GHz to 3.2GHz with 4MB of L2 cache and 16 MB of L3 cache.  There is less information on the "Navi 10 Lite" GPU, apart from a belief that it's core will be running at a frequency of at least 1GHz.

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Image via Twitter user @KOMACHI_ENSAKA

This is great news for AMD, who have been enjoying the royalties from the sales of consoles and could use the fresh injection of cash as gamers upgrade once the consoles launch.

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Source: The Inquirer

Q2VKPT Makes Quake 2 the First Entirely Raytraced Game

Subject: General Tech | January 18, 2019 - 06:09 PM |
Tagged: vulkan, rtx, raytracing, Quake II, quake, Q2VKPT, Q2PRO, path tracing, open source, nvidia, john carmack, github, fps

Wait - the first fully raytraced game was released in 1997? Not exactly, but Q2VKPT is. That name is not a typo (it stands for Quake 2 Vulkan Path Tracing) it's actually a game - or, more correctly, a proof-of-concept. But not just any game; we're talking about Quake 2. Technically this is a combination of Q2PRO, "an enhanced Quake 2 client and server for Windows and Linux", and VKPT, or Vulkan Path Tracing.

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The end result is a fully raytraced experience that, if nothing else, gives the computer hardware media more to run on NVIDIA's GeForce RTX graphics cards right now than the endless BFV demos. Who would have guessed we'd be benchmarking Quake 2 again in 2019?

"Q2VKPT is the first playable game that is entirely raytraced and efficiently simulates fully dynamic lighting in real-time, with the same modern techniques as used in the movie industry (see Disney's practical guide to path tracing). The recent release of GPUs with raytracing capabilities has opened up entirely new possibilities for the future of game graphics, yet making good use of raytracing is non-trivial. While some games have started to explore improvements in shadow and reflection rendering, Q2VKPT is the first project to implement an efficient unified solution for all types of light transport: direct, scattered, and reflected light (see media). This kind of unification has led to a dramatic increase in both flexibility and productivity in the movie industry. The chance to have the same development in games promises a similar increase in visual fidelity and realism for game graphics in the coming years.

This project is meant to serve as a proof-of-concept for computer graphics research and the game industry alike, and to give enthusiasts a glimpse into the potential future of game graphics. Besides the use of hardware-accelerated raytracing, Q2VKPT mainly gains its efficiency from an adaptive image filtering technique that intelligently tracks changes in the scene illumination to re-use as much information as possible from previous computations."

The project can be downloaded from Github, and the developers neatly listed the needed files for download (the .pak files from either the Quake 2 demo or the full version can be used):

  • Github Repository
  • Windows Binary on Github
  • Quake II Starter ("Quake II Starter is a free, standalone Quake II installer for Windows that uses the freely available 3.14 demo, 3.20 point release and the multiplayer-focused Q2PRO client to create a functional setup that's capable of playing online.")

There were also a full Q&A from the developers, and some obvious questions were answered including the observation that Quake 2 is "ancient" at this point, and shouldn't it "run at 6000 FPS by now":

While it is true that Quake II is a relatively old game with rather low geometric complexity, the limiting factor of path tracing is not primarily raytracing or geometric complexity. In fact, the current prototype could trace many more rays without a notable change in frame rate. The computational cost of the techniques used in the Q2VKPT prototype mainly depend on the number of (indirect) light scattering computations and the number of light sources. Quake II was already designed with many light sources when it was first released, in that sense it is still quite a modern game. Also, the number of light scattering events does not depend on scene complexity. It is therefore thinkable that the techniques we use could well scale up to more recent games."

And on the subject of path tracing vs. ray tracing:

"Path tracing is an elegant algorithm that can simulate many of the complex ways that light travels and scatters in virtual scenes. Its physically-based simulation of light allows highly realistic rendering. Path tracing uses Raytracing in order to determine the visibility in-between scattering events. However, Raytracing is merely a primitive operation that can be used for many things. Therefore, Raytracing alone does not automatically produce realistic images. Light transport algorithms like Path tracing can be used for that. However, while elegant and very powerful, naive path tracing is very costly and takes a long time to produce stable images. This project uses a smart adaptive filter that re-uses as much information as possible across many frames and pixels in order to produce robust and stable images."

This project is the result of work by one Christoph Schied, and was "a spare-time project to validate the results of computer graphics research in an actual game". Whatever your opinion of Q2VKPT, as we look back at Quake 2 and its impressive original lighting effects it's pretty clear that John Carmack was far ahead of his time (and it could be said that it's taken this long for hardware to catch up).

Source: Q2VKPT