Asus Enters Single Board Computer Market with Tinker Board

Subject: General Tech | January 29, 2017 - 05:53 AM |
Tagged: asus, tinker board, Rockchip, rk3288, cortex a17, Raspberry Pi, sbc, 4k, kodi, xbmc

Asus is jumping into the single board computer market with its 90MB0QY1-M0EAY0 Tinker Board. With a physical layout matching the latest Raspberry Pi 3, the Tinker Board offers up faster hardware including support for 4K H.264 video decode.

Asus Tinker Board.jpg

The single board PC offers up the following I/O options:

  • 4 x USB 2.0
  • 1 x Gigabit Ethernet
  • 1 x HDMI 2.0
  • 1 x Micro SD (UHS-1)
  • 1 x Micro USB (for power)
  • 1 x Audio (192 Hz / 24 bit)
  • 40 pin header (28 pin GPIO)
  • 1 x CSI (camera)
  • 1 x DSI (display)
  • PWM and S/PDIF solder points

Asus has opted to use a 32-bit ARM processor to power the device rather than the 64-bit SoC found in the Raspberry Pi 3. Specifally, Asus is using the Rockchip RK3288 which features four ARM Cortex A17 CPU cores clocked at 1.8 GHz and a Mali-T764 GPU. The SoC is paired with 2GB of LPDDR3 memory and wireless radios for 802.11n and Bluetooth 4.0.

Compared to the Raspberry Pi, the Asus Tinker Board has twice the RAM and allegedly twice the processing power with GeekBench score of 3,925 versus the Pi’s 2,092. The Mali-T764 GPU is capable of 4K H.264 (and 10-bit H.265) video decoding which makes it better than the Pi which can only do 1080p in hardware. The cores are clocked faster on the Tinker Board but obviously do not support 64-bit instructions. The increase of system memory is perhaps the biggest boon for those looking to use it for a cheap desktop or media streamer. And for those using analog audio, Asus has included its own audio solution that is, at least on paper, much better than the Pi's.

The Asus SBC reportedly uses up to 5 watts of power with an average power usage of 2.25 watts when playing back a 1080p video with a HDMI display attached.

The Tinker Board at launch is compatible with Debian OS and Kodi media playback software.
The physical layout matches that of the Pi meaning it should be compatible with cases and is potentially a drop in replacement for products powered by a Pi so long as it can supply enough power.

It is currently available from British retailer Farnell for ‎£45.83 ($56.91) or ‎£55 ($68.30) with VAT. It does not appear to be avaiable on this side of the pond quite yet but you can import it if you want to get your hands on it.

More competition in the single board PC space is a good thing, but I do wonder how successful the Asus Tinker Board will be. It is faster, but it is also nearly twice as expensive as the Pi. A lot is going to depend on how well it is received by the software and modding communities and how well Asus supports that Rockchip processor with various Linux distributions and applications at launch and over time. The Pi’s VideoCore IV GPU is closed source and getting information from Broadcom is a pain, but at least it is a known quantity at this point and the boards using it (like the Pi) have the market share and community support to get things working with it. I am also curious how well the audio solution works and whether or not the Gigabit Ethernet port can actually hit gigabit speeds.

What are your thoughts on the Asus Tinker Board?

Source: Farnell

BPainter Add-on Extends Painting in Blender

Subject: General Tech | January 28, 2017 - 04:03 AM |
Tagged: Blender

These days, 3D content is created mostly by blocking out geometry, then painting materials onto it with stencils and stamps. For instance, if you wanted a rusty sign, you would start with a metal base, stencil on the logo, then paint, stamp, or stencil rust spots, scratches, and whatever else. When you’re done, you can then export the resulting, 2D textures. Previously, you would bounce back and forth between Photoshop and your 3D application, trying to remember which edge on your UV outline corresponds to which triangles on the model.

While this Blender Plug-in doesn’t have the same benefits as something like Substance Painter, and its library of PBR materials, BPainter can allow you to paint separate layers and channels on your 3D model. In other words, you can paint scratches and scuffs into the roughness channel, and colors into the albedo channel, directly on top of your model, which immediately shows you the results in your scene’s lighting. Again, this is less direct than “select steel from material library” “fill steel on object” “select rusted steel from material library” “paint rusted steel on object” but it’s a welcome plug-in none-the-less.

Unless one has been announced in the last week, there is currently no release date for BPainter. Their last plug-in, Asset Sketcher, was released under the GPL license.

Steam Client Can Now Move Game Installations

Subject: General Tech | January 28, 2017 - 03:11 AM |
Tagged: valve, pc gaming, steam

A little late on this one, but it’s been on my backlog for quite a while and I think it’s worthy of “public service announcement” status. Last week, Valve published a new Steam Client feature that allows users to relocate specific games to other folders. Just right-click on any installed games, click “Properties”, click the “Local Files” tab, then click “Move Install Folder...”.

Fiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiinallyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy

valve-nope.jpg

Yup!

So yeah, if you want to switch games to and from an SSD, the Steam Client can do it for you. You could always do it by shutting down Steam Client, moving the folder between two folders that Steam tracks, and restarting the client. I have experienced some situations where the Steam Client then looks at the files, determines that they’re invalid, and redownloads them. While I that just happened to align with a new patch or something, it’s a moot point now that Steam Client just does it for you.

So yeah, if you didn’t already find out about this: enjoy.

Firefox 51 and Chrome 56 Launch with WebGL 2.0

Subject: General Tech | January 27, 2017 - 08:55 PM |
Tagged: webgl, webgl2, firefox, chrome, google, mozilla, Opera

After quite a bit of anticipation, both Mozilla and Google have just shipped compatible implementations of WebGL 2. This feature was unlocked to the public in Firefox 51 and Chrome 56 for the desktop, both released this week, while Opera will push it out to desktop and mobile on their next version, Opera 43. Microsoft currently has the API “under consideration” for Edge.

As we’ve highlighted in the past, this new version of the graphics API pushes the platform up to OpenGL ES 3.0, with a few exceptions that are typically made for security reasons. This update allows quite a few new features like off-screen render targets, which is useful for deferred rendering. The shading language is also significantly larger, and can now operate natively on integer types and 3D textures.

WebGL 2.0 does not include compute shaders, however, which is a bit unfortunate. That said, it is (at least last I checked) a highly-requested feature and the browser vendors are interested in providing it.

Learn about holography

Subject: General Tech | January 27, 2017 - 06:24 PM |
Tagged: holography

Ars Technica takes a look at a recent breakthrough in projecting dynamic holograms which can be viewed from a wide variety of angles.  This has been something which has been very difficult to achieve, for reasons which Ars articulates, but which researchers have managed to accomplish with the use of clouded glass.  You usually see that type of glass used to obscure light, for instance to offer privacy when in the bathroom but when designed correctly it can instead act as a large number of lenses project a focused holographic image. There is still a lot of work to be done to scale the holograms to a size and resolution which would be attractive for commercial usage but you can read up on the current state of the research if you are curious.

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"Sometimes it amazes me how fast physics goes from fundamental ideas to producing a new toy. The latest example comes from a bunch of experiments and theory on how opaque materials affect light passing through them, a topic that we have covered extensively in the past."

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Source: Ars Technica

Optical disillusion; Microsoft's HoloLens

Subject: General Tech | January 26, 2017 - 06:42 PM |
Tagged: microsoft, hololens

Microsoft seems to be exploring new territory, previously reserved for those who need a nice mouse or headphones with the pure sound of platinum.  Their HoloLens has been available for several months and they have managed to sell several thousand of them in that time.   Roger Walkden, the commercial lead for HoloLens spoke with The Register and stated that he is happy with the amount of sales so far.  While you cannot expect a headset costing well over $2000 to have large commercial appeal, the pittance of sales of the HoloLens so far makes you wonder if they have misjudged the market.  Then again, maybe we will be seeing Windows 11 Rhodium Exclusive Edition on offer for a select few.

index.jpg

"The Microsoft HoloLens, Judge Dredd-style "mixed reality" headset, went on sale in the UK last year, with the firm offering a developer-only version for £2,179, and an enterprised-focused model for £4,529."

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Source: The Register
Subject: General Tech
Manufacturer: Qualcomm aptX

Introduction

Bluetooth has come a long way since the technology was introduced in 1998. The addition of the Advanced Audio Distribution Profile (A2DP) in 2003 brought support for high-quality audio streaming, but Bluetooth still didn’t offer anywhere near the quality of a wired connection. This unfortunate fact is often overlooked in favor of the technology's convenience factor, but what if we could have the best of both worlds? This is where Qualcomm's aptX comes in, and it is a departure from the methods in place since the introduction of Bluetooth audio.

DSC_0370.jpg

What is aptX audio? It's actually a codec that compresses audio in a very different manner than that of the standard Bluetooth codec, and the result is as close to uncompressed audio as the bandwidth-constrained Bluetooth technology can possibly allow. Qualcomm describes aptX audio as "a bit-rate efficiency technology that ensures you receive the highest possible sound quality from your Bluetooth audio device," and there is actual science to back up this claim. After doing quite a bit of reading on the subject as I prepared for this review, I found that the technology behind aptX audio, and its history, is very interesting.

A Brief History of aptX Audio

The aptX codec has actually been around since long before Bluetooth, with its invention in the 1980s and first commercial applications beginning in the 1990s. The version now found in compatible Bluetooth devices is 4th-generation aptX, and in the very beginning it was actually a hardware product (the APTX100ED chip). The technology has had a continued presence in pro audio for three decades now, with a wider reach than I had ever imagined when I started researching the topic. For example, aptX is used for ISDN line connections for remote voice work (voice over, ADR, foreign language dubs, etc.) in movie production, and even for mix approvals on film soundtracks. In fact, aptX was also the compression technology behind DTS theater sound, which had its introduction in 1993 with Jurassic Park. It is in use in over 30,000 radio stations around the world, where it has long been used for digital music playback.

Qualcomm aptX.jpg

So, while it is clear that aptX is a respected technology with a long history in the audio industry, how exactly does this translate into improvements for someone who just wants to listen to music over a bandwidth-constrained Bluetooth connection? The nature of the codec and its differences/advantages vs. A2DP is a complex topic, but I will attempt to explain in plain language how it actually can make Bluetooth audio sound better. Having science behind the claim of better sound goes a long way in legitimizing perceptual improvements in audio quality, particularly as the high-end audio industry is full of dubious - and often ridiculous - claims. There is no snake-oil to be sold here, as we are simply talking about a different way to compress and uncompress an audio signal - which is the purpose of a codec (code, decode) to begin with.

Continue reading our review of Qualcomm aptX audio technology!

For those who like it longer and harder; XCOM 2: The Long War

Subject: General Tech | January 25, 2017 - 07:35 PM |
Tagged: gaming, xcom 2, the long war 2, Pavonis Interactive

Pavonis Interactive have come through once again for XCOM fans, with the release of the Long War 2 mod, available for download though Steam.  It adds many things other than simply length to your game, such as an infiltration stage to missions which represents the amount of groundwork done by your team before the mission.  If you can reach 100% then Advent forces will be at a disadvantage, if you do not have time to fully prepare you can expect to face stronger opposition.  If you have enough active forces, you can choose to split them between two simultaneous mission instead of having to choose one mission while ignoring the other.  If this peaks your curiosity, pop over to Rock, Paper, SHOTGUN for a deeper look into the changes this mod makes to XCOM 2.

xlw5.jpg

"From the very first mission of The Long War 2, the stakes are different. Your enlarged squad isn’t doing anything as brash as blowing up an Advent statue; instead, they’ve managed to track down an under-strength patrol and are determined to take it down."

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If you hate Windows 10, stop whining and start WINE-ing

Subject: General Tech | January 25, 2017 - 06:18 PM |
Tagged: apple, wine, linux, windows 10, mac

So much for your excuses, if you have sworn that you are abandoning Microsoft because of Windows 10 then start migrating to Mac or Linux and shrink their market share.  Wine 2.0 just dropped, allowing you to continue to use your Windows programs and play your games on Mac or Linux.  Shader Model 4 and 5 support has been improved, DX9, Direct3D 10 and Direct3D 11 all are improved or added for your visual enjoyment.  If you want to make a statement to Microsoft then hit them where it hurts and head over to Slashdot to start your journey onto a competitors OS.

wine-2-0-officially-released.jpg

"It's finally here! After so many months of development and hard work, during which over 6,600 bugs have been patched, the Wine project is happy to announce today, January 24, 2017, the general availability of Wine 2.0. Wine 2.0 is the biggest and most complete version of the open-source software project that allows Linux and macOS users to run applications and games designed only for Microsoft Windows operating systems."

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Source: Slashdot

Dropbox now offering randomly accessible memories

Subject: General Tech | January 24, 2017 - 05:35 PM |
Tagged: security, dropbox

Dropbox has been around long enough that you see it used in a variety of situations, sharing recipes, press releases and holiday snaps, all perfectly reasonable scenarios.  Unfortunately you also see it used as an alternative to SFTP in business, as some clients and executives are less afraid of the pretty blue colours than they are of the folder lists and text that FTP programs present. 

This can present a security problem and possible legal risk as the terms and conditions Dropbox sets may not exactly match what you and your client agreed to.  Case and point today is the news that many users were gifted with a trip down memory lane as files deleted from Dropbox years ago suddenly made a reappearance.  Dropbox states in their retention policy that files which are deleted should be unrecoverable after 30 days but it seems we have more proof that the Cloud never truly forgets.  Think back to what you, or people you know, might have shared on Dropbox and consider it coming back to haunt you a decade down the line before you upload.  You can follow the links from [H]ard|OCP back to the initial forum report and Dropbox's response.

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"This article is merely entertaining if you stay within the headline, but it becomes disturbing once you get into the story and realize that Dropbox’s policy is to keep deleted files only for 30 days. Ever the cynic, I will go ahead and consider the possibility that the file hosting service has been consciously keeping files around forever."

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Source: [H]ard|OCP