Valve Software Releases Steam Audio SDK on GitHub

Subject: General Tech | February 26, 2017 - 05:13 AM |
Tagged: valve, pc gaming

When VR started to take off, developers begun to realize that audio is worth some attention. Historically, it’s been difficult to market, but that’s par for the course when it comes to VR technology, so I guess that’s no excuse to pass it up anymore. Now Valve, the owners of the leading VR platform on the PC have just released an API for audio processing: Steam Audio SDK.

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Image Credit: Valve Software

First, I should mention that the SDK is not quite open. The GitHub page (and the source code ZIP in its releases tab) just contain the license (which is an EULA) and the readme. That said, Valve is under no obligation to provide these sorts of technology to the open (even though it would be nice) and they are maintaining builds for Windows, Mac, Linux, and Android. It is currently available as a C API and a plug-in for Unity. Unreal Engine 4, FMOD, and WWISE plug-ins are “coming soon”.

As for the technology itself, it has quite a few interesting features. As you might expect, it supports HRTF out of the box, which modifies a sound call to appear like it’s coming from a defined direction. The algorithm is based on experimental data, rather than some actual, physical process.

More interesting is their sound propagation and occlusion calculations. They are claiming that this can be raycast, and static scenes can bake some of the work ahead-of-time, which will reduce runtime overhead. Unlike VRWorks Audio or TrueAudio Next, it looks like they’re doing it on the CPU, though. I’m guessing this means that it will mostly raycast to fade between versions of the audio, rather than summing up contributions from thousands of individual rays at runtime (or an equivalent algorithm, like voxel leakage).

Still, this is available now as a C API and a Unity Plug-in, because Valve really likes Unity lately.

Source: Valve

AZiO's Armato mechnical keyboard has a big knob

Subject: General Tech | February 24, 2017 - 08:58 PM |
Tagged: cherry mx brown, input, mechanical keyboard, armato, AZiO

The Azio Armato is a big aluminium keyboard, with five macro keys located on the lower left, on the upper right are media control buttons beside the large volume knob.  The keyboard does come with a wrist rest, which attaches via a magnet so you can choose to remove it at will.  The keyboard does not require software, lighting is controlled via keystrokes and macros are recorded by pushing that large REC button and one of the macro keys, then up to up to 31 keys in sequence and the REC button again to save the macro.  You can see more of the Armato over at Benchmark Reviews.

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"In any case Benchmark Reviews has in hand their Armato Mechanical Gaming Keyboard, model MGK-ARMATO-01. As a single-color backlit mechanical keyboard with Cherry MX switches, it might seem as if there’s little to distinguish it from the many other similar products available. But first appearances can be deceiving, as we’ll find out in this review."

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Farm out your hard drive for profit?

Subject: General Tech | February 24, 2017 - 08:04 PM |
Tagged: storj, farming, bitcoin

Startup company Storj has a new twist on an old service, they are offering secure, distributed storage but the storage is located on hard drives which consumers are renting to them.  You can set up an account and get 1.5 cents per gigabyte you give to them.  You certainly are not going to get rich running out and buying some SSDs to use but if you have a few old HDDs kicking around perhaps you would like to make a few crypto-coins on the side.  They current have 8200 farmers and more than 15000 users so there is certainly some interest.  On the other hand residential internet stability and the reliability of consumer hard drives could lead to unexpected interruptions to your access.  Drop by The Register for links to sign up for the service or sell some space if you are interested.

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"The network consists of the internet and a shared community of “farmers”, users who rent out their spare desktop hard drive space and bandwidth. Payment, at $0.015/GB, is via a cryptocurrency: namely, Bitcoin."

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Source: The Register

30 nanoseconds is way too slow, down with the latency gap!

Subject: General Tech | February 23, 2017 - 03:45 PM |
Tagged: hbll, cache, l3 cache, Last Level Cache

There is an insidious latency gap lurking in your computer between your DRAM and your CPUs L3 cache.  The size of the latency depends on your processor as not all L3 cache are created equally but regardless there are wasted CPU cycles which could be reclaimed.   Piecemakers Technology, the Industrial Technology Research Institute of Taiwan and Intel are on the case, with a project to design something to fit in that niche between the CPU and DRAM.  Their prototype Last Level Cache is a chip with 17ns latency which would improve the efficiency at which L3 cache could be filled to pass onto the next level in the CPU.  The Register likens it to the way Intel has fit XPoint between the speed of SSDs and DRAM.  It will be interesting to see how this finds its way onto the market.

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"Jim Handy of Objective Analysis writes about this: "Furthermore, there's a much larger latency gap between the processor's internal Level 3 cache and the system DRAM than there is between any adjacent cache levels.""

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Source: The Register

It's a race to the pointy stikk! DoW 3 trailer drops

Subject: General Tech | February 22, 2017 - 07:04 PM |
Tagged: gaming, dawn of war III, wauughh

Dawn of War certainly changes from version to version.  The first involved standard RTS fare, build bases and upgrade using resources collected on the map.  The second was more squad based, with a hero leading meatshields into the fray.  The third incarnation seems to lead off of the gameplay of the second, with at least some base and resource management making a comeback. 

The new feature are superunits, extremely large and destructive units which you will gain access to as you take over portions of the map.  Details are still a bit light but the game engine certainly looks pretty.  You can pop by Rock, Paper, SHOTGUN to find a few of the other older teaser trailers.

"This cinematic-o-gameclip video introduces the broad story in Relic’s RTS and yes, it does basically boil down to finding a pointy stick. But what better item to fight over? If you can win a fight without a pointy stick, just imagine how powerful you’ll be once you get one!"

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Are you sure that's wise? Samsung is shrinking the Note 7's battery so they can sell refurbs

Subject: General Tech | February 22, 2017 - 04:27 PM |
Tagged: Samsung, note 7

From what Slashdot is reporting we are unlikely to see refurbished Note 7s in North America but they will be appearing in markets on the far side of the Pacific.  The battery was determined to be the cause of the rather spectacular failure of Samsung's latest tablet and so they will be installing a battery with a smaller capacity in the refurbished models.  One hopes it is physically smaller or more carfeully manufactured, as it was the expansion and puncturing of the battery which caused them to burst into flames.  It is understandable that Samsung would like to recoup some losses, this seems like a very risky move to undertake.

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"Samsung is said to be swapping the Note 7's 3,500 mAh batteries with a "3,000 to 3,200 mAh" batteries, according to The Korean Economic Daily's sources, predominately for sale in emerging markets such as India and Vietnam."

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Source: Slashdot

Intel Details Optane Memory System Requirements

Subject: General Tech, Storage | February 22, 2017 - 12:14 AM |
Tagged: Optane, kaby lake, Intel, 3D XPoint

Intel has announced that its Optane memory will require an Intel Kaby Lake processor to function. While previous demonstrations of the technology used an Intel Skylake processor, it appears this configuration will not be possible on the consumer versions of the technology.

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Further, the consumer application accelerator drives will also require a 200-series chipset motherboard, and either a M.2 2280-S1-B-M or M.2 2242-S1-B-M connector with two or four PCI-E lanes. Motherboards will have to support NVMe v1.1 and Intel RST (Rapid Storage Technology) 15.5 or newer.

It is not clear why Intel is locking Optane technology to Kaby Lake and whether it is due to technical limitations that they were not able to resolve to keep Skylake compatible or if it is just a matter of not wanting to support the older platform and focus on its new Kaby Lake processors. As such, Kaby Lake is now required if you want UHD Blu Ray playback and Optane 3D XPoint SSDs.

What are your thoughts on this latest bit of Optane news? Has Intel sweetened the pot enough to encourage upgrade hold outs?

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Source: Bit-Tech

A good year to sell GPUs

Subject: General Tech | February 21, 2017 - 06:18 PM |
Tagged: jon peddie, marketshare, graphics cards

The GPU market increased 5.6% from Q3 to Q4 of 2016, beating the historical average of -4.7% by quite a large margin, over the year we saw an increase of 21.1%.  That increase is even more impressive when you consider that the total PC market dropped 10.1% in the same time, showing that far more consumers chose to upgrade their existing machines instead of buying new ones.  This makes sense as neither Intel nor AMD offered a compelling reason to upgrade your processor and motherboard for anyone who purchased one in the last two or three years.

AMD saw a nice amount of growth, grabbing almost 8% of the total market from NVIDIA over the year, though they lost a tiny bit of ground between Q3 and Q4 of 2016.  Jon Peddie's sample also includes workstation class GPUs as well as gaming models and it seems a fair number of users chose to upgrade their machines as that market increased just over 19% in 2016.

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"The graphics add-in board market has defied gravity for over a year now, showing gains while the overall PC market slips. The silly notion of integrated graphics "catching up" with discrete will hopefully be put to rest now," said Dr. Jon Peddie, president of Jon Peddie research, the industry's research and consulting firm for graphics and multimedia."

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The Qt Company Announces Qt 3D Studio

Subject: General Tech | February 20, 2017 - 09:46 PM |
Tagged: vulkan, Qt, nvidia

NVIDIA has just donated their entire DRIVE Design Studio to The Qt Company, who will form it into Qt 3D Studio. This product will be a visual editor for 3D user interfaces, where layers of 2D and 3D objects can be created, animated, and integrated into C++ applications. It will take them a little while to clean it up for public consumption, but it will eventually be available under the commercial / open-source dual-license that users of Qt are accustomed to.

If you’re not familiar with the Qt Framework, then, basically, think of a cross-platform, open-source alternative to the .NET framework, although it is based in unmanaged C++. (It also competes with GTK+. This isn’t a major point, but I would like it to be clear that it’s not a two-person race between one proprietary and one open-source player.) When AMD updated their graphics drivers to Crimson Edition, and flaunted huge speed-ups, it was mostly because they switched the control panel's UI framework from .NET to Qt.

As an aside, The Qt Company joined the Khronos Group on the day that Vulkan launched, which was almost exactly a year ago, and they are actively working on integrating the API in their framework. Combined with today’s announcement, it’s not hard to imagine how much easier it will be, some day, to create efficient and beautiful UIs.

Update: Speaking of which, The Qt Company is apparently planning to release Vulkan support with Qt 5.10.

Monday morning penguins

Subject: General Tech | February 20, 2017 - 05:56 PM |
Tagged: linux, linux 4.10

The new week brings a new Linux kernel to users, with some additions which will interest fans of low powered computing as well as those of high powered machines.  The new kernel brings support for the Snapdragon 808 and 810 for those who are working with Linux on those SOCs.  For the high powered crew, added support for L2 and L3 cache on Intel processors, there is now support for virtual GPUs and The Inquirer mentions that AMD cards should get a bit of a boost.  So much for skipping straight to 4.11.

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"On the whole, 4.10 didn't end up as small as it initially looked.After the huge release that was 4.9, I expected things to be pretty quiet, but it ended up very much a fairly average release by modern kernel standards. So we have about 13,000 commits (not counting merges - that would be another 1200+ commits if you count those)."

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Source: The Inquirer