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Will EA’s Battlefield 1 Be A Hit?

October 21, 2016 by  
Filed under Gaming

The conventional wisdom said that military first-person shooters avoided World War I because it wasn’t a “fun” war. EA DICE set out to prove the conventional wisdom wrong with Battlefield 1, and the initial wave of reviews suggests they succeeded.

As Polygon’s Arthur Gies noted in his 9 out of 10 review of the game, one of the ways DICE accomplished that was by using its single-player War Stories mode as a way to convey just how horrific the war really was.

“Battlefield 1 navigates the tonal challenges of the awful human cost of WWI well, in part by not ignoring them,” Gies said. “There’s a consistent acknowledgment of the abject terror and hopelessness that sat atop the people involved in the conflict on all sides, in part thanks to a grimly effective prologue. There’s also less explicit demonetization of the ‘enemy’ – something that feels like a real relief in the military shooter space, which seems hell-bent on giving players something they can feel good about shooting at.”

War Stories is a mostly unconnected series of short campaigns that total about six hours of playtime in total. The anthology puts players in the roles of different individuals in different combat zones, each one with their own distinct motivations and skill sets.

“Battlefield 1 feels like a move away from military shooter doctrine in plenty of ways,” Gies said. “But the biggest departure is in how little shooting there can be, at least compared to the game’s contemporaries. From tank pilot to fighter ace, from Italian shock trooper to Bedouin horse-back resistance fighter, I was never bored, because I was never doing the same thing for long.”

The change in setting also impacted the multiplayer portion of the game, which Gies appreciated. While DICE made some changes in player classes that Gies seemed to think unnecessary but “mostly fine,” he was particularly taken with the way the series’ signature physics-driven chaos and destruction felt fresh in a new (old) setting.

“Small issues aside, Battlefield 1 marks an impressive, risk-taking reinvention for the series,” Gies said. “That the multiplayer is as good and distinctive as it is is less surprising than a campaign that takes a difficult setting and navigates it with skill and invention. The end result is a shooter than succeeded far beyond my expectations, and one that exists as the best, most complete Battlefield package since 2010.”

Like Gies, GameSpot’s Miguel Concepcion gave the game a 9 out of 10. Also like Gies, Concepcion labelled the game as the best Battlefield since Bad Company 2, praising the War Stories single-player mode and its novel approach to entertaining while also attempting to inform players as to the horrors of the war.

“Beyond these heartfelt tales of brotherhood and solemn reflection, War Stories gracefully complements the multiplayer scenarios as a glorified yet effective training mode,” Concepcion said. “Along with practice time commanding vehicles and heavy artillery, it provides an opportunity to learn melee combat, as well as how to survive against high concentrations of enemy forces.”

Concepcion was also taken with the audiovisual impact of the game, long a selling point for the Battlefield franchise.

“However accurate or inaccurate Battlefield 1 is–lite J.J. Abrams lens effects notwithstanding–the immersive production values superbly amplify the sights and sounds that have previously existed in other war shooters,” Concepcion said. “Examples include the distinct clatter of empty shells dropping on the metal floor of a tank and the delayed sound of an exploding balloon from far away. The brushed metal on a specific part of a revolver is the kind of eye-catching distraction that can get you killed. Beyond the usual cacophony of a 64-player match, salvos from tanks and artillery guns add bombast and bass to the large map match. And many vistas are accentuated with weather-affected lighting with dramatic results, like the blinding white sunlight that reflects off a lake after a rainstorm.

“With Battlefield 1, EA and DICE have proven the viability of World War 1 as a time period worth revisiting in first-person shooters. It brings into focus countries and nationalities that do not exist today while also shedding light on how the outcome of that war has shaped our lives.”

In giving the game four stars out of five, Games Radar’s David Roberts also lauded the way DICE balanced a fun shooter with the horror of war.

“Even though Battlefield 1 skews toward fun rather than realism whenever it gets the chance, it’s as much about the reflection on the real history of these battles and the people who fought in them as it is about the gleeful embrace of ridiculous virtual combat,” Roberts said.

Like his peers, Roberts was impressed by the game’s War Stories single-player mode, but found the anthology format slightly restricting.

“As much as I enjoyed the narratives these missions tell, I wished each one had a little more time to breathe,” Roberts said. “Each chapter is about an hour long, and just when you get invested, they’re over. Battlefield 1’s War Stories barely skim the surface of the history, but – to be fair – this is in-line with the game’s focus on fun over fastidious accuracy.”

As for the multiplayer, Roberts said its “as good here as it’s ever been” for the Battlefield franchise. Even though the setting meant trading in the modern assault rifles of previous Battlefield games for more antiquated rifles and iron sights, Roberts said the overall impact has been an improvement on the game’s online modes.

He also found the franchise focus on destruction was given new meaning by its fresh context.

“When all’s said and done, when the matches end and the dust settles, you’ll see that large portions of the maps have transformed, their buildings pockmarked by blasts, their fortifications turned into piles of rubble,” Roberts said. “Even though bloody entertainment is at Battlefield 1’s heart, the post-game wasteland is a reminder of the toll that conflict takes on the people it consumes. Whether in single or multiplayer Battlefield 1 absolutely nails the historical sense of adventure and expectation before swiftly giving way to dread as the war takes a physical and mental toll on its participants. And this – as much as the intimate, brutal virtual warfare – is the game’s most impressive feat.”

While EGM’s Nick Plessas gave the game an 8 out of 10, he included slightly more critical comments than some other reviewers doling out equivalent scores. He was generally upbeat about the War Stories approach, but said it “misses the forest for the trees somewhat by not giving any story enough time for effectual investment.” He also identified two other issues that hamper the gameplay segments of the single-player mode.

“First, enemy AI leaves much to be desired, so that even on Hard difficulty your foes’ failure to react, flank, or recognize you as a threat syphons some of the fun out of fights,” Plessas said. “Second, the game adds a focus on stealth with a collection of mechanics like enemy awareness levels and distraction tools. While this isn’t inherently a bad thing, the Battlefield games’ fast pace and stiff controls don’t suit stealth very well, and the enemies’ recurring AI deficiencies makes these sections a slog.”

As for online, Plessas said new features like Behemoth vehicles (zeppelins, trains, and warships) were well-handled, as were “elite” classes like flamethrower troops. The addition of cavalry troops and era-appropriate weapons and planes will also require players to adjust the tactics they might have relied on in previous Battlefield games. However, the adjustment may not be as drastic as one might expect.

“These comparisons are integral because they represent the crux of what is truly new in Battlefield 1,” Plessas said. “A World War I setting is novel indeed, but this installment in the franchise is fundamentally the Battlefield game we have played before-and returning players may fall into a familiar groove quicker than expected. This isn’t necessarily bad for those in love with Battlefield, however, and while the setting may be the most significant shift, those invested in the series will find Battlefield 1 as another terrific reason to load up.”


AMD’s Zen To Add More Secure Enterprise Features

October 20, 2016 by  
Filed under Computing

Intel had been working to bake in security into the chip, but it seems that effort has drawn to a close with the selloff of its security division into a revamped McAfee company. Now AMD appears to be taking up the idea.

AMD has a cunning plan to push its Zen chips into the Enterprise market on the back of its new Secure Memory Encryption (SME) and Secure Encrypted Virtualisation (SEV) security features.

These new functions will help enterprises protect their databases that run on Zen servers and this could be just the edge required to get AMD back onto the corporate buy list.

This sort of tech is really useful on virtualised servers which are used through cloud hosts. This makes them affordable and flexible compared to hosting on a physical server. The virtual servers adjust accordingly the load it receives and no bandwidth is wasted.

Normally virtual servers are insecure because the data can be hacked, but the SME and SEV features will help servers protect the data.

So far Intel has not come up with any of this sort of function for its processors, despite the fact that was predicted when it wrote a big cheque for McAfee. What we are still waiting for is the information as to how the Zen chips will help consumer gamers who are leaning on discrete GPUs.


The Xbox One Appears To Be Making A Comeback

October 19, 2016 by  
Filed under Gaming

Microsoft has been making some headway in the generation eight console battle, with the Xbox One celebrating a third month running as the best-selling console in the US. The combined sales of the original One and the new S model also put it at the head of the pack in the UK in September.

US figures come from the NPD group and UK numbers from GfK, although no actual unit values were given. The full US sales report from NPD is due next week.

It’s likely that some of that recent lead is a result of a dip in PS4 sales thanks to the imminent launch of the PlayStation Pro, but the One has also been building momentum too, with sales up across many territories.

“Xbox One was the only gen eight console to see year-over-year growth in September in the U.S., Australia, the U.K and many other countries worldwide,” said corporate VP of Xbox marketing Mike Nichols. “This success was driven by our fans and their support for Xbox One S, which is the only console available this holiday with built-in UHD 4K Blu-ray, 4K video streaming and HDR for gaming and video.”

Is Mobile Virtual Reality A Novelty?

October 17, 2016 by  
Filed under Mobile

Chief technology officer at Oculus, John Carmack, says mobile VR is currently “coasting on novelty” and developers need to be harder on themselves.

According to CNET, Carmack told the assorted throngs at the Oculus Connect event that developers need to pull their socks up and create experiences on par with non-VR applications and games.

“We are coasting on novelty, and the initial wonder of being something people have never seen before But we need to start judging ourselves. Not on a curve, but in an absolute sense. Can you do something in VR that has the same value, or more value, than what these other [non-VR] things have done?”

Carmack moaned about the higher loading times in mobile VR games as a key area in need of improvement. Users should not have to sit through 30 seconds given the brevity of most currently available VR experiences. Although he has clearly never tried to play Total War II whose screens take ages to load.

Still Carmack said that 30 second loads are acceptable if you’re going to sit down and play for an hour “…but in VR initial startup time really is poisonous. If your phone took 30 seconds to unlock every time you wanted to use it. You’d use it a lot less.”

That is true, the daft screen saver/adware/alleged resource saving software makes turning on my wife’s phone an exercise in futility.

He added: “There are apps that I wanted to play, that I thought looked great, that I stopped playing because they had too long of a load time. I would say 20 seconds should be an absolute limit on load times, and even then I’m pushing people to get it much, much lower.”


Is Gears Of War 4 Appease The Harsh Critics?

October 14, 2016 by  
Filed under Gaming

0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-gears-4For game critics, loving Gears of War has been problematic since the very beginning. The rippling, testosterone drenched surface of Epic’s franchise served as a distraction from its abundant qualities. Looking back, it’s clear that the first game, released in 2006, provided the Xbox 360/PlayStation 3 era with the kind of moment that arguably still hasn’t arrived for the current generation. It was a new visual benchmark, its sense of weight and physical force was entirely distinct, and – a year before the launch of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare – it introduced the most credible new multiplayer experience since Halo. For those who based their professional integrity on distinguishing good games from bad, to notice and appreciate any of this was to miss the square-jaws and lumpen dialogue that comprised its story.

Looking back now, it’s clear that Gears of War was one of the defining series of the last console generation, influencing the creative direction of a large proportion of action games, driving the development community towards the Unreal Engine in droves, and with Horde mode in Gears of War 2, introducing a multiplayer concept that would be adopted by everything from Uncharted to Mass Effect. Even its marketing was influential: Gears of War’s popular “Mad World” trailer might well be the origin of action games using pained, acoustic covers of popular songs to score their artfully spliced carnage.

Despite this estimable legacy, however, the reviews of Gears of War 4 are shot through with an almost apologetic tone; a need to address the (arguably misplaced) perception of Gears as nothing more than a dude-bro power fantasy. Polygon, which awards the game an impressive 9 out of 10, spends a full third of its review on story and characterisation, opening with a declaration that, “Gears of War 4 is about home and family.”

“Gears of War as a series has dealt with accusations of hyper-masculine excess and an emphasis on gore and violence since it was first announced more than ten years ago. And it’s not that those observations are wrong, exactly – the characters have always been larger than life, the men in particular wide and heavy, and the violence of the series has always been extreme and enthusiastic. But beneath or even in parallel to that aspect, there’s always been consistent themes of friendship, of relationships of support and camaraderie that would seem corny in most other games but, somehow, work in Gears of War for a passionate fanbase.”

This protagonist of this reboot – which was developed by Microsoft’s The Coalition – is J. D. Fenix, the son of the original series’ central character, Marcus Fenix. Both father and son play pivotal roles in the game’s story, which Polygon describes as, “more focused, less sprawling story than the last few entries… A lot of time is spent exploring the strained relationship between Marcus and his son, with a lot of perspective on both sides of the equation.” The game’s various other key characters all have their own emotional journeys, largely relating to those themes of family and friendship. Gears of War 4’s story and character time works as well as it does for several reasons,” Polygon says. “The writing is matter-of-fact, avoiding over-stoicism and also overwrought fluff for the most part.”

If this is an area of weakness that The Coalition sought to address, then the abiding sense from the game’s reviews is that it has made a significant improvement. Whether that’s what the vast majority of Gears of War’s players care about is another matter, of course, but The Coalition hasn’t dropped the ball with the series’ core strengths, either. Polygon praises Gears of War 4 as “simply a joy to play,” and that sentiment echoes throughout the critical discourse.

The Daily Telegraph, which awards four stars, applauds the “muscular and endlessly gratifying thrill” of the gunplay, which carries the game through a slow start that serves, “as an elongated (re)introduction to that well-oiled Gears combat, flashing between cover-to-cover, switching between shotgun and rifle and familiarising yourself with the rattle of an emptying clip and the satisfaction of a well-timed, power-boosting active reload.” There are two new enemy races to fight in place of the original series’ Locust, and “weaponry…as exotic as the bestiary” with which to fight them. The need to switch between distinct weapons to fight equally distinct weapon types has always been central to Gears of War’s appeal. Here, again, The Coalition has honoured its heritage.

The same is true of Gears of War 4 as a spectacle. You won’t find a single review that doesn’t proclaim it to be one of the very best looking games on either Xbox One or PlayStation 4, and the same is true is the PC version. Indeed, PCGamesN calls it “a visual and technical tour de force,” maintaining “searing frame-rates on ‘ultra’ settings during some of the most mind-blowing – if cheesy – set-pieces I’ve seen in games, while also inviting me to appreciate the vivid redness of sycamore leaves lazily billowing on a cracked yellow wall in a medieval town square on some parallel-to-Earth planet.”

That last observation is crucial, because the beauty of Gears 4 goes beyond polygons, framerates and animations, and extends to art direction. “This certainly ain’t the grey-brown Gears of old,” PCGamesN says, before adding, “the diversity of what it shows is stunning… This is a far cry from the game that single-handedly started the stereotype of the ‘murky brown war shooter’, taking us instead on a historical tour of the vestiges of a world parallel to ours, yet still different enough to be mysterious; I almost felt guilty as I stomped around a scenic town as a giant mech, casually calling in airstrikes to smash my way through buildings. Almost.”

Words like “jawdropping,” “stunning,” “incredible” and “breathtaking” are scattered throughout this and many other reviews, to the point where the handful of scores that fall below 8 out of 10 demand close attention. For Jimquisition, the website started by ex-Destructoid personality Jim Sterling, “there’s nothing quite like Gears on the market. The sense of weight, the meaty impact of combat, the gruesomely satisfying way heads pop and bodies burst, any given Gears game has a baseline quality even at its worst thanks to its undeniably unique style.” However, Gears of War 4 relies on that “baseline quality” a little too much, The Coalition happy to make the improvements necessary to maintain relative standards but, “doing very little to rock the boat and making minor improvements and evolving where needed.”

“Such a tactic provides a game that’s decent just because it’s Gears of War, relying on the groundwork established across four older games to maintain the baseline. And that’s most certainly what Gears 4 is. A maintenance of the series as opposed to an injection of fresh blood.”

In a sense, then, the game’s most ardent supporters and most vocal critics are in full agreement: Gears of War 4 absolutely meets the standard set by its forebears, which is either something to praise or lament depending on the individual. One suspects, though, that in the absence of new Gears, the public will be more than happy to settle for more Gears.

Will Playstation VR Succeed?

October 12, 2016 by  
Filed under Gaming

0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-playvrIn a week’s time, what is arguably the first truly great commercial experiment of the new VR age will begin. For the first time, consumers will be able to go out and buy a VR headset that’s (relatively) inexpensive, that doesn’t require a costly hobbyist PC to operate, and that provides a “good enough” VR experience for gaming and other applications. If there’s to be a sweet spot in the virtual reality market, Sony will be planting its flag firmly in it next Thursday.

Reviews of the device have started to appear and are pretty much what you’d expect. It’s good; we’ve known that from the countless demos and trade show appearances PSVR has made this year. It’s not as technically accomplished as the HTC Vive or the Oculus Rift, but it’s a far more comfortable, well-designed piece of hardware, and its technical shortfalls are far fewer and less noticeable than you’d expect from such a cheap device running on such comparatively low-powered hardware. It’s certainly an entirely different class of experience than any of the “toy” VR experiences currently offered by mobile tech like Samsung’s Gear VR, a situation which Google’s newly announced Daydream headset seems unlikely to change.

So yes, this is the sweet spot, if such a thing exists. Good enough to actually want to use, unlike current mobile VR devices, cheap enough to be accessible to a wider audience of gamers and enthusiasts, and with common sense (if occasionally frustrating) trade offs between complexity of setup and physical arrangement, and accuracy of control. If a VR headset is to rescue this putative Year of VR from the somewhat disappointing launches of HTC and Oculus’ consumer devices – both of which saw interest plateau in the post-launch period – then it’s going to be PlayStation VR.

Is that what Sony has in mind, though? One peculiarity of the PSVR launch is that beyond the specialist press, it’s something of a non-event. Marketing support for the launch is minimal; there’s far less hype and visibility around the product than there would be around, for example, the launch of a major game. Here in Japan, PSVR barely warrants a mention in Sony’s current barrage of advertising, which is promoting PlayStation 4 with TV and streaming site commercials that highlight the launch of games like Persona 5 and Yakuza 6, the arrival of new console hardware, and oh yeah, PSVR is a thing too.

One could argue that Sony would be foolish to push PSVR too hard given that pretty much the entirety of its early shipments are spoken for by pre-orders. We still don’t know how many units of PSVR will ship for launch, or how many are projected to ship by year-end, but every indication is that the numbers are relatively small, at least by comparison with the PS4’s installed base. It’s not unreasonable to expect that PSVR will be for all intents and purposes supply-constrained through into early 2017, making it comfortably the most commercially successful of the tethered VR platforms – regardless of whether the company spends a single cent on further marketing.

However, the slightest glance back over the history of hardware launches in the games business and beyond would demonstrate that companies generally do not row back their marketing budgets just because of being supply-constrained; if anything, this encourages them to redouble their efforts. That’s because supply constraints act as a multiplier on marketing budgets. When demand is outstripping supply, every extra notch that you can ratchet up that demand through your marketing efforts guarantees more media coverage, more word of mouth and more visibility for your product, creating a halo of desirability around the platform which can give a long-term boost to sales that lasts for months or even years after the initial supply constraints are lifted.

That Sony has seemingly decided to eschew that strategy for PSVR is interesting, but probably speaks to a confluence of a number of different factors. For a start, it’s rare for a platform holder to be putting not one but two major new pieces of hardware on the market at once, which is what Sony is doing with PSVR in October and PS4 Pro in November. A huge marketing push, widespread coverage of shortages and the resulting desirability halo that would build around PSVR would be great for the VR headset, but might negatively impact the now overshadowed PS4 Pro. That would hurt all the more if, as is likely, PS4 Pro is not supply constrained while PSVR is. That’s definitely a factor playing into Sony’s decision making here.

There’s something else in play too, though. Lots of software is on the way for PSVR, and there’s actually a pretty respectable line-up at the outset – but reviews of the system are fairly blunt about the extent to which much of it feels more like it’s demoing the hardware, and the concept of VR itself, rather than being a proper, full-strength VR game experience. The games aren’t just short, they expose kinks in the PS Move control system (which may be fixable or may be an innate problem PSVR just has to work around forever) and sidestep major issues instead of tackling them – for example, the Batman VR title’s decision to make the player jump from location to location, rather than walking between them, to avoid motion sickness.

In short, while there’s interesting and even accomplished stuff in there, it all sounds rather like the kind of thing that you play to show off a new system’s capabilities, rather than the kind of thing that makes you say, “you’ve got to go out and get PSVR so you can play this game”. The enthusiasts and the VR faithful don’t need a killer app – they just need enough of a taster to convince themselves that the killer apps will come, given time – but the general public absolutely does. It’s easy for enthusiasts – a category which, if you’re reading this, probably encompasses you – to underestimate the psychological barrier VR needs to overcome. For many consumers, the prospect of strapping on a headset that looks like a Daft Punk cosplay prop, isolating themselves from the world around them and potentially looking like a complete tool as they flail around with objects nobody else in the room can see is a pretty big ask.

A great killer app game that gets the world gushing will overcome that barrier. That may be on the way; all eyes are on January’s Resident Evil 7, which could potentially be VR’s first truly huge AAA title. Until that kind of game is available, though, Sony may be well advised to focus on the VR faithful and keep its marketing powder dry. That’s certainly what seems to have happened so far; this is entirely anecdotal, but I’ve been surprised at just how few people have asked whether I’m getting a PSVR (and if they can bring an offering of beer around in order to have a go on it). Far fewer people have asked me about PSVR than have asked about PS4 Pro, or even Xbox One S. Enthusiasts know about it; the average gamer simply doesn’t seem to care yet.

Given the hurdles facing mainstream VR adoption, that may be for the best. It’s important that when the majority of consumers start to experience VR, their experience of it is fantastic, not just a demo or a proof of concept but a game that makes them want to own this technology right now. Saving the marketing blitz and letting PSVR’s software library mature first could be the best way to prevent the so-called Year of VR from ending with the Winter of VR Discontent.

Will Windows Have Long Term Cannonlake Support?

October 11, 2016 by  
Filed under Computing

Software king of the world Microsoft will not support the upcoming Intel Cannonlake and Coffeelake CPU architectures in its current Long-Term Servicing Branch version of Windows 10.

Vole has said that users who want support for the next generation Intel CPUs will require a regular ‘current branch’ Windows 10 version.

The next update of Windows 10 LTSB will appear in 2019, but before that happens Intel will release two new CPU architectures.

The LTSB version of Windows 10 is designed for long term support of hardware and software. It receives security updates but doesn’t get any new features, including no support for newer hardware.

Michael Niehaus, Director of Product Marketing at Microsoft, told the company is aware of the problem but, “officially every new CPU and chipset requires a new version of Windows, which is the same for LTSB versions.”

“In the past you only needed new drivers to support new CPUs and chipsets, however nowadays chipsets need specific setting in the operating system to work with reasonable performance and battery life.”

This means that users of the current LTSB build 1607 can’t use any of the new CPUs and Intel Cannonlake and Coffeelake architectures will only be supported by ‘current branch’ Windows 10 versions, such as installed on most computers.

Normally new LTSB versions are released every two or three years, however Microsoft also released an update for together with the Anniversary Update. The first LTSB version saw the light in 2015 together with the RTM version of Windows 10.


Will Lenovo Buy Another PC Company?

October 11, 2016 by  
Filed under Computing

The rumor mill has manufactured a hell on earth yarn which claims that the maker of the Thinkpad, Lenovo, is about to swallow up Fujitsu.

Nikkei Asian Review claims Lenovo is in talks with Fujitsu to acquire its PC division, which would make the largest computer maker worldwide even bigger.

The two companies aim to reach a deal this month. One proposal would have the Fujitsu group transfer its PC design, development and manufacturing operations to a Lenovo-led joint venture. Another option involves Lenovo taking a majority stake in Fujitsu’s PC subsidiary. About 2,000 Fujitsu employees likely would shelter under Lenovo’s umbrella.

Japan-based Fujitsu shipped four million PCs worldwide in its last fiscal year, but that division of the company also lost $96.5 million during that time period as well. A proposal to merge Fujitsu’s PC business with Vaio and Toshiba’s computer division fell apart earlier this year.


Salesforce Unveils LiveMessage Service For Chatbot Building

October 10, 2016 by  
Filed under Around The Net

salesforce-150x150Businesses have yet another set of tools to help build chatbots. Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff has begun touting a new LiveMessage service that’s aimed at connecting his company’s Service Cloud with messaging services like Facebook Messenger and SMS.

Benioff is pitching the new service as a way to turn messaging apps into a user interface for Salesforce, in addition to serving as a tool for connecting people with their friends. It will power bots, in addition to direct communications between service representatives and customers. Right now, LiveMessage works with SMS, and it will be expanded to work on Facebook Messenger later this year.

With the launch of LiveMessage, Salesforce is joining a pantheon of different tech companies competing to provide the underlying technology powering companies’ bots. While announcing the product on stage at the company’s Dreamforce event Wednesday, Benioff talked about how it would facilitate “conversations as a platform,” cribbing a phrase directly from Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s discussions of his company’s bot-making tools.

In addition to Microsoft, Salesforce will also be competing with Facebook, Google, Oracle and a host of startups. Salesforce has an advantage, as the home of customer data for its fleet of users. Easily connecting that information with logic that can operate a chatbot might be an appealing option for businesses looking to create one without a ton of work.

In addition to running bots, LiveMessage can also be used to connect customer service representatives with users for a live chat session over a variety of platforms. That means it would be possible for users to message a business on Facebook, and get connected with a person who can help them. With LiveMessage, that person would be able to handle the conversation through Salesforce.

It’s all based on technology from HeyWire, a company that Salesforce acquired earlier this year.

What remains to be seen is whether the bot platforms actually take off with users. Tech industry insiders like execs at Microsoft and Salesforce clearly believe in bots. But it’s not clear that users really want to replace traditional user interfaces with automated conversation partners.

MediaTek Goes 2.5 GHz With The Helio P25

October 10, 2016 by  
Filed under Computing

0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-heli-mediatekJust as it did with Helio X20, Mediatek is about to release a faster than the base original of the P20 called the P25. 

MediaTek already spilled the beans about the Helio P20 at the Mobile World Congress in February and revealed a few key details. Helio P20 is an octa-core FinFET processor manufactured using the 16nm TSMC process.  It has eight Cortex A53 cores clocked up to 2.3GHz. It supports a 24-megapixel camera, full HD resolution 1920×1080 screen and a Cat 6 LTE modem with 2×20 carrier aggregation at 300/50Mbps data speed. We are sure that Helip P20 will put a lot of pressure on the Snapdragon 652 or its sucessor whenever Qualcomm announces it. 

The new Mali T880 graphics unit is clocked at a speedy 900MHz and the new SoC might be the world’s first to use the LPDDR4X. MediaTek invested a lot of time improving its MediaTek Imagiq Image Signal Processor (ISP) by adding advanced 12bit Dual ISP supports Bayer and Mono sensors. These elevates picture quality by reducing noise and capturing three times more light than conventional Bayer + Bayer sensors. It also has dual phase-detection autofocus which achieves real-time auto focus that is four times faster than traditional autofocus systems. The 3A HW engine upgrades for more natural, responsive and detailed photographs and powerful multi-scale temporal de-noising technologies which renders videos and photography more accurately, with less noise, even in low light.

The Helio P25 is faster because of its Cortex A53 cores clocked to 2.5GHz. It might have a faster GPU too but this was not revealed. Helio P25.

Helio P10 secured lots of design wins and the Helio P20 / P25 should continue that tradition when it is launched later this year. MediaTek promised Helio P20 in the second half of 2016 and so far, the only phone we could find announced and listed is the Elephone P20. This phone didn’t ship despite the fact we have entered the last quarter of this year.

Manufacturing a phone takes quite some time despite the fact that MediaTek is shipping Helio P20 to manufacturers as we speak.


Salesforce To Acquire Data Management Company Krux Digital

October 6, 2016 by  
Filed under Around The Net announced plans to acquire user data management platform Krux Digital, potentially allowing businesses to process even more data in their CRM systems.

Salesforce will pay around $340 million in cash and a similar amount in shares for Krux, according to a filing it made with the Securities and Exchange Commission on Tuesday. It expects to close the deal by the end of January.

Krux describes its business as “capturing, unifying, and activating data signatures across every device and every channel, in real time.”

Essentially, it performs the tracking underlying behavioral advertising, handling 200 billion “data collection events” on three billion browsers and devices (desktop, mobile, tablet and set-top) each month.

With that staggering volume of data, “Krux will extend the Salesforce Marketing Cloud’s audience segmentation and targeting capabilities to power consumer marketing with even more precision, at scale,” Krux CEO and co-founder Tom Chavez wrote on the company blog.

The acquisition will also allow joint customers of Salesforce and Crux to feed “billions of new signals” to Salesforce Einstein, a suite of AI-based tools for building predictive models, Chavez said.

Unveiled two weeks ago, Salesforce Einstein will include functions such as predictive lead scoring and recommended case classification. Some functions will be available for free, while others will be charged for based on data volume and user numbers.

Krux is part of the Salesforce ecosystem, but also works with other vendors including Oracle, Google’s DoubleClick, Criteo and a host of other advertising networks. According to Chavez, it won’t be cutting those ties following the acquisition. “Openness remains a guiding principle,” he said. “We expect to continue supporting our thriving partner ecosystem and integrating with a wide variety of platforms.”

Businesses already using Krux to track their customers include media companies BBC, HBO, NBCUniversal and DailyMotion; publishers The Guardian and Financial Times, and food and drink companies ABInBev, Mondelez International, Kelloggs and Keurig.


Is The Pressure Really Off UbiSoft?

October 6, 2016 by  
Filed under Gaming

At its annual general meeting, Ubisoft claimed victory over Vivendi for now. A spokesperson commented, “Today during our Annual General Meeting, Ubisoft shareholders expressed massive support for Ubisoft’s strategy and management. We remain focused on the execution of our strategic roadmap, which has already proven successful and which we are confident will continue to deliver great results and value for all of Ubisoft’s stakeholders. We’re also very happy to welcome two new independent directors, Frederique Dame and Florence Naviner, who will bring their expertise and know-how to Ubisoft’s Board.”

Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot and Ubisoft Motion Picture CEO Gerard Guillemot were both reelected to the board as well, meaning that the board now has five founding members and five independent directors. Vivendi had hoped to exert its influence on Ubisoft by getting its board members elected, but now the hostile takeover route seems like an option to pursue if the French conglomerate is adamant about gaining control. Citing “company insiders,” Polygon is reporting that Vivendi is still likely to pursue a takeover. Meanwhile, Ubisoft is said to be in talks with other game publishers to seek potential support.

Original story:

Yves Guillemot is not only unhappy with Vivendi seeking a potential takeover of Ubisoft; he doesn’t want the French conglomerate to own a single share of the company’s stock.

Ubisoft’s annual general meeting is today, and the company expects Vivendi to make a bid for representation on its board of directors – another step in a strategy that could lead to Vivendi turning its 23% stake into a full takeover. According to a new report from The Wall Street Journal, that is what Ubisoft’s executives fear, and CEO Yves Guillemot is taking an unequivocal stance on how he wants the matter to be resolved.

“We won’t relax until they sell their shares,” Guillemot said. “The creeping control strategy implemented by Vivendi is dangerous. We think that there’s a great risk of shareholders losing value.”

For Ubisoft, today’s AGM is clearly just one skirmish within a larger battle. An anonymous source within Ubisoft said that, “we knew last year that we would have to win the [annual general meeting] and to do that we had to get shareholder support.”

Guillemot and Ubisoft’s executive team have been doing just that ever since Vivendi started raising its stake in the company last year. Gameloft, which was also founded by the Guillemot family, was the focus of similar attention, and Vivendi successfully took over the mobile publisher in June this year.

Beyond appealing to its shareholders, Ubisoft has been strengthening its position in other ways. This week alone, it purchased another 3.2% of its own stock for €122.5 million, and also acquired the mobile publisher Ketchapp.

nVidia Goes Xavier

October 3, 2016 by  
Filed under Computing

Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang has announced a 2017 processor s codenamed Xavier to succeed Parker.

This is a 16 FinFET SoC with an 8 core custom ARM64 CPU and the next generation 512 Core Volta GPU. Nvidia hinted before that Volta would stick to 16nm manufacturing.

Nvidia plans that Xavier will replace the dual-core Drive PX and can do the same sorts of things with a fraction of the power. It should work with a 20 W TDP envelope.

This new computer vision accelerated SoC will speed up self-driving and can process Dual 8K HDR video streams which will be pretty crucial for the future use planned for the chip.

Design for the ASIL C Fictional safety will sample next year but this is as much as Jen-Hsun wanted to share now It should be able to reach 20 bps DL and 160 SpecINT. With 20W TDP it won’t be heading for any tablet or, god forbid, a phone.


Mozilla Brings New Ad-blocking Feature To Firefox

September 30, 2016 by  
Filed under Around The Net

firefox-logo-150x150Mozilla has unveiled three new test features for Firefox, including one that separates YouTube videos from the browser and another that may signal towards a more aggressive ad-blocking strategy by the open-source developer.

“We’re excited to announce the release of three new Test Pilot experiments,” said Nick Nguyen, the vice president of Firefox, in a post to a company blog. “These features will help you share and manage screenshots; keep streaming video front and center; and protect your online privacy.”

Test Pilot was re-introduced in May when Mozilla resurrected a 2009 moniker and used it on a 2015 project that had fallen into disuse. Test Pilot was designed to collect feedback on proposed new features for Firefox before they were added to the browser.

The three features that debuted today were a screenshot taker, called “Page Shot,” that also includes a search mechanism for finding what has been snapped; “Min Vid,” which plays YouTube and Vimeo videos in a Lilliputian window atop Firefox; and “Tracking Protection,” a tool brought over from Firefox’s already-extant Private Browsing.

The last of the trio — Tracking Protection — had the most significant implications for the browser.

As part of Private Browsing — Firefox’s incognito mode — Tracking Protection has blocked web ads, page analytics measuring tools and the sharing buttons, such as those for Facebook and Twitter, that may record users’ site-to-site travels. Mozilla added Tracking Protection to Private Browsing in November 2015.

“This experiment will help us understand where Tracking Protection breaks the web so that we can improve it for all Firefox users,” Nguyen wrote today.

By testing Tracking Protection, Mozilla signaled that it’s thinking of adding the feature to Firefox, where it would be used — whether by default or as an option — by all users, not just those calling up Private Browsing.


Are Developers Giving Up On The Oculus Rift

September 29, 2016 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe has emphasized the freedom that Oculus VR allows its employees to support their personal views, a freedom he said also applied to Palmer Luckey.

In a post on his Facebook page, Iribe spoke about Luckey’s regret at the negative impact the situation had created for “the company, our partners, and the industry.” However, he offered a measure of support for Oculus VR’s founder, citing Luckey’s right to independent political beliefs.

“Everyone at Oculus is free to support the issues or causes that matter to them, whether or not we agree with those views,” he said. “It is important to remember that Palmer acted independently in a personal capacity, and was in no way representing the company.”

Original Story: After numerous publications ( included) no doubt flooded Oculus with requests for comment on Friday, when the story broke that Palmer Luckey allegedly had been funding a pro-Trump “shitposting” group, the man himself took to Facebook (which owns Oculus) to apologize for his actions.

“I am deeply sorry that my actions are negatively impacting the perception of Oculus and its partners.The recent news stories about me do not accurately represent my views,” he wrote. “Here’s more background: I contributed $10,000 to Nimble America because I thought the organization had fresh ideas on how to communicate with young voters through the use of several billboards. I am a libertarian who has publicly supported Ron Paul and Gary Johnson in the past, and I plan on voting for Gary in this election as well.”

Luckey went on to deny that he was the author behind the ‘NimbleRichMan’ posts on Reddit and the vice president of Nimble America: “I am committed to the principles of fair play and equal treatment. I did not write the ‘NimbleRichMan’ posts, nor did I delete the account. Reports that I am a founder or employee of Nimble America are false. I don’t have any plans to donate beyond what I have already given to Nimble America. Still, my actions were my own and do not represent Oculus. I’m sorry for the impact my actions are having on the community.”

The original Daily Beast article, however, confirmed that Luckey was indeed the man behind “NimbleRichMan” and author Gideon Resnick reiterated that fact on his Twitter account today.

Here is where I sought that clarification from him and what he said.

— Gideon Resnick (@GideonResnick) September 24, 2016

One more email: Luckey clearly states in here that the NimbleRichMan account represents him.

— Gideon Resnick (@GideonResnick) September 24, 2016

So it’s essentially Resnick’s word against Luckey’s, but Oculus Head of Content Jason Rubin urged people to take Luckey at his word. “I wanted to give @PalmerLuckey a chance to respond before I posted… knowing Palmer, I take him at his word,” Rubin tweeted, adding, “30 years in the Game business I would not work in a place that I thought condoned or spread hate. Nor would I remain silent if I saw it.”

Denials from Luckey and support from Oculus colleagues aside, the development community is already reacting, and some are pulling support for the Rift. Polytron, which is making a VR game called SuperHyperCube, noted on Twitter that it will not be supporting Oculus now. Scruta Games took it one step further, asking that Luckey leave the company he founded: “Until @PalmerLuckey steps down from his position at @oculus, we will be cancelling Oculus support for our games,” the developer said. Tomorrow Today Labs issued a similar sentiment: “Hey @oculus, @PalmerLuckey’s actions are unacceptable. NewtonVR will not be supporting the Oculus Touch as long as he is employed there.”

Edge of Nowhere developer Insomniac Games said it “condemns all forms of hate speech” and issued the following statement to Polygon as well: “While everyone has a right to express his or her political opinion, the behavior and sentiments reported do not reflect the values of our company. We are also confident that this behavior and sentiment does not reflect the values of the many Oculus employees we work with on a daily basis.”

Not all developers are punishing Oculus for Luckey’s actions, however. James Green, co-founder of VR developer Carbon Games, commented to Motherboard, “This backlash is nonsense. I absolutely support him doing whatever he wants politically if it’s legal. To take any other position is against American values.”

Oculus has had a number of obstacles to overcome on its path to retail, with Rift headsets not making it out to Kickstarter backers for months after launch and some consumers feeling that they had been misled on what the actual price of the unit would be. Luckey admitted that he “handled the messaging poorly” back in January, and now just as manufacturing of the headset has finally improved and the flow of software has started to increase as the company prepares to launch its Oculus Touch controllers, this PR storm and accusations that its founder is vice president of a racist, pro-Trump organization could represent a significant setback. It’s going to be interesting to see how this all plays out in the next few weeks and as we head into the holiday shopping season.

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