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Yahoo Wants Clarity On Its Email Scanning Controversy

October 21, 2016 by  
Filed under Around The Net

yahoo-hq-150x150Yahoo is asking the U.S. government to provide further clarity  on requests for user data, following reports that said the internet company secretly scanned customer emails for terrorism-related information.

On Wednesday, Yahoo sent a letter to James Clapper, the director of National Intelligence, saying the company has been “unable to respond” to news articles earlier this month detailing the alleged government-mandated email scanning.

“Your office, however, is well positioned to clarify this matter of public interest,” the letter said.

The scanning allegedly involved searching through the email accounts of every Yahoo user and may have gone beyond other U.S. government requests for information, according to a report from Reuters.

However, Yahoo has called the Reuters report misleading. “The mail scanning described in the article does not exist on our systems,” the company said.

A separate report from The New York Times suggested the email scanning was done on behalf of the U.S. Department of Justice and was intended to look for signs of code belonging to a foreign terrorist group.

The recent news stories on the email scanning have “provoked broad speculation” about Yahoo and U.S. government activities, the internet company said in its letter. Although Yahoo respects the need for confidentiality, the company is urging more transparency over how the U.S. government goes about legally obtaining users’ private communications.

“Transparency underpins the ability of any company in the information and communications technology sector to earn and preserve the trust of its customers,” the letter said.

Yahoo has agreed to be sold to Verizon as part of a $4.8 billion deal. But the internet company’s value may have diminished on news of the secret email scanning and a massive data breach publicized in September.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

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.


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.

Salesforce Still Has Interest In Bidding For Twitter

October 12, 2016 by  
Filed under Around The Net Inc  is still mulling over whether it should make an offer for Twitter Inc  in the face of resistance from Salesforce shareholders over the strategic merits and valuation of such a deal, people familiar with the matter said.

Twitter shares have lost as much as a third of their value since Oct. 5 on concerns the company has attracted less interest from potential acquirers than previously envisaged. It now has a market capitalization of $12 billion.

Salesforce is deliberating whether it is worth making a lowball offer for Twitter in the coming days based on Twitter’s stock performance and any news of other bidders, the people said.

Other potential acquirers such as Alphabet Inc’s Google and Walt Disney Co have backed away from making offers for the Internet company, the people said. There may however be other companies contemplating offers for Twitter whose identity has not yet been reported, some of the sources suggested.

The sources asked not to be identified because the deliberations are confidential. Salesforce declined to comment while Twitter, Google and Disney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Reuters previously reported that Twitter aimed to conclude deliberations about selling itself by Oct. 27, when it reports its third-quarter earnings., run by CEO Marc Benioff, is focused on cloud-based sales and marketing software. Unlike Twitter, its main product is aimed at business users, not consumers. Under, Twitter could become a corporate tool used to power sentiment analysis and nurture customer relationships.

A potential acquisition of Twitter has weighed down Salesforce’s stock since news broke on Sept. 23 that it was vying for Twitter. Its shares rose as much as 7 percent on Monday after a weekend report by Bloomberg News suggested Salesforce was unlikely to make an offer.

Some analysts and investors have questioned why Salesforce would need to own Twitter, when it already licenses the Twitter “firehose” for its new artificial intelligence platform, Einstein.

Will Verizon Seek A Discount On Purchase Of Yahoo?

October 10, 2016 by  
Filed under Around The Net

yahoo-hq-150x150Verizon should push for a large price reduction on its pending $4.8 billion deal to acquire Yahoo, given Yahoo’s recent data breach and reported questionable security practices, several analysts said Friday.

“Verizon should certainly pay less for Yahoo at this point,” said Patrick Moorhead, an analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy. “Unfortunately, the property is damaged goods, particularly after the acknowledged security breach.”

A report on Thursday in the New York Post, quoting unnamed sources, said Verizon pushed Yahoo for a $1 billion discount on the purchase deal.

The discount is being sought because of Yahoo’s enormous data breach revealed two weeks ago and, more recently, reports that Yahoo was under a court order to scan emails for terrorist chatter, according to Post report.

Neither Yahoo nor Verizon would confirm the discount is being actively sought when asked by Computerworld. However, three Verizon officials who asked not to be named said that Verizon is very concerned about Yahoo’s recent data hack and security practices.

Verizon said it only learned about the hack of at least 500 million user accounts two days before Yahoo’s disclosure to the public on Sept. 22. At that time, Verizon said it would evaluate its future direction with Yahoo “through the lens of overall Verizon interests, including consumers, customers, shareholders and related communities.”

According to sources in the Post report, Verizon’s AOL Division chief Tim Armstrong flew to the West Coast to meet with Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer in recent days to seek the price reduction. The sources said Yahoo officials pushed back hard, saying that a deal is a deal, and that Verizon had no legal recourse to change the terms.

But analysts said that deals such as the one between Yahoo and Verizon would certainly include provisions for changing the final purchase price, depending on discovery of new information after the deal was first reached.

“Undoubtedly there are clauses in deals like this,” Moorhead said. “In this case, it could be extraordinary, given the size of the breach and the newer, unverified, revelations on the U.S. government scanning emails.”


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.


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.


DoesThe PS4 Pro Truly Offer 4K Gaming?

September 29, 2016 by  
Filed under Gaming

0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-ps4-proA little bit of clarity can go a long way. A few weeks ago at the reveal of the PS4 Pro, in a staff roundtable I questioned whether Sony’s new console would hurt Microsoft’s chances with the more powerful Scorpio. I also gave Sony an edge because of its HDR rollout to all PS4s. As it turns out, the HDR update is practically useless (no games supported yet and no video streaming) and the PS4 Pro itself will see most games upscaled, according to Sony Interactive boss Andrew House.

While PS4 architect Mark Cerny did make it clear during the conference that the Pro does not render games in true 4K resolution, many fans had no doubt assumed it would and likely glossed over his technical explanation of the Pro’s “streamlined rendering techniques” and “temporal and spatial anti-aliasing.” It’s hard to say how much consumers will care when the Pro goes on sale in November, but Microsoft wasted no time in puffing up its chest to declare its superiority with a console that won’t ship for many, many months.

Microsoft Studios Publishing general manager Shannon Loftis told USA Today, “Any games we’re making that we’re launching in the Scorpio time frame, we’re making sure they can natively render at 4K.” Moreover, Albert Penello, senior director of product management and planning at Xbox, hammered home the point with our sister site Eurogamer, commenting, “I think there are a lot of caveats they’re giving customers right now around 4K. They’re talking about checkerboard rendering and up-scaling and things like that. There are just a lot of asterisks in their marketing around 4K, which is interesting because when we thought about what spec we wanted for Scorpio, we were very clear we wanted developers to take their Xbox One engines and render them in native, true 4K. That was why we picked the number, that’s why we have the memory bandwidth we have, that’s why we have the teraflops we have, because it’s what we heard from game developers was required to achieve native 4K.”

That’s a punch to the gut in true console war fashion, and one that Microsoft is no doubt happy to get in during a console cycle which has seen PS4 dominate. It may not seem like a big deal right now, as 4K TV sales are still relatively minor, but the prices are falling and interest in 4K and HDR is picking up, not only with consumers, but also with game developers and content providers for streaming services like Netflix. This could be a decent holiday for the 4K TV market, and by the time Scorpio actually does launch there will be that many more 4K TV owners to target with the only console that renders 4K natively. That’s a nice feather in Microsoft’s cap.

This week we also featured an interesting writeup on VR and AR from DICE Europe. While VR proponents like Unity’s Clive Downie said there will be over a billion people using VR in the next 10 years, others such as Niantic’s John Hanke and Apple boss Tim Cook cast doubt on the long-term appeal and commerical success of VR. Of course, this isn’t the first time that people have wondered whether VR will ever move beyond a niche category – and indeed, our Rob Fahey talks about the over-investment in the space in his column today – but the idea that VR is merely an intermediary step before AR comes into its own is the wrong way to think about these technologies in my view.

Just because they both offer altered realities and utilize headsets does not mean they should be lumped together. The use cases and experiences are vastly different for VR and AR, and while I agree that AR likely is the better bet from a commercial standpoint, I don’t underestimate VR for one second. I’ve had way too many fun game sessions using the tech already, and it’s early days. Beyond that, serious movie makers are starting to leverage the great potential of the medium. Jon Favreau (Iron Man, The Jungle Book), for example, is working on a VR film called Gnomes and Goblins and he’s even brought on veteran game designer Doug Church (System Shock, Thief) to fine tune the VR interactions.

The fact is VR has enormous storytelling potential and can immerse its users in ways that we’ve never experienced before. “As I work in film, so much has been done,” Favreau commented. “There are technological breakthroughs but there is less and less up in the air.  You’re really writing a song in the same format that has been going on for at least a hundred years. And what’s interesting about VR is that, although I really don’t know where it’s going or if it’s going to catch on in a significant way culturally, I do know that there is a lot of unexplored territory and a lot of fun things as a storyteller for me to experiment with. It’s exciting to have so much fresh snow that nobody has walked through yet. There’s been no medium that I’ve felt that way since I’ve come into the business, where it feels like you can really be a pioneer.”

AR will be tremendously exciting in its own right, and I can’t wait for Magic Leap, HoloLens and castAR, but to think that VR will be cast aside to make way for AR’s ascendancy is totally off base.

Virtual Reality Devices On The Rise

September 28, 2016 by  
Filed under Around The Net

The numbers of VR-enabled smartphones and tablets, as well as shipments of VR devices bundled with gaming consoles or PCs will grow like topsy in the fourth quarter.

Beancounters at Digitimes Research have added up some numbers and divided by their shoe size and reached the conclusion that we should see some significant changes in the VR market soon.

Shipments of VR video-enabled smartphones and VR devices bundled with consoles will be higher compared to other devices. Vendors of VR-enabled tablets and VR headset bundled PCs which niche markets initially before they make headways by coming out with products with reduced prices and enriched content, should do rather well, the Digitimes Report claim.

Gaming and video are still the dominant VR applications in 2016. The successful launch of VR video-enabled flagship smartphones by Samsung Electronics in the first half of 2016 will encourage other vendors to follow suit.

Google and ARM updates to their VR video applications with reduced algorithm requirements in the fourth quarter of 2016 will help develop more VR video-enabled mobile devices.

Shipments of VR video-enabled smartphones are expected to reach 70 million units in 2016, accounting for 5 per cent of global smartphone shipments, Digitimes Research thinks.

Sony is expected to ship over three million PlayStation VR devices in the quarter, far higher than rival vendors.


MediaTek Goes For Two With TSMC

September 28, 2016 by  
Filed under Computing

While Intel has admitted it can’t build a 10nm chip, Mediatek is planning to release two of them using TSMC’s process.

According to the Economic Daily News MediaTek is considering rolling out two versions of its 10nm chips, the Helio X30 for high-end smartphones and the X35 for the lower-end segment.

It said that it will start volume production for the Helio X30-series SoCs as scheduled between the end of 2016 and early-2017. It is also thinking of having another 10nm series designed for mid- and high-end but not necessarily flagship smartphones.

The Helio X35 chips from MediaTek will also be built by TSMC using a lower-spec variant of the foundry’s 10nm processes. It is the first of TSMC’s first group of customers to adopt its 10nm process technology. The other is Apple.

TSMC said that its 10nm process has received product tape-outs from three clients, and will start generating revenues in the first quarter of 2017.


AMD 7nm APU Goes Gray Hawk

September 27, 2016 by  
Filed under Computing

A few of you might remember that we exclusively posted the news that AMD is working on a 7nm CPU codenamed Starship. The 7nm APU is codenamed Gray Hawk and it aims to attain lower TDPs.

The AMD Starship X86 CPU is a 7nm unit with up to 48 cores and 96 threads and this definitely targets the high end server market as well as performance desktop computers. These CPUs will have a range of TDP values from 35W all the way to 180W. It is safe to assume that the version with 35W TDP ends up with much less than 48 cores.

Now AMD plans to launch its first 7nm and target some embedded markets. Of course, there will be a notebook version of a Gray Hawk, possibly with a different codename but AMD plans to use the 7nm quad core with eight threads, in 7nm for casino gaming machines, arcade gaming, industrial control and automation, retail signage, HMI and security machines. It will also fit into the highly profitable medical imaging market, premium thin clients and communication infrastructure.

We already said with that the APU that joins Polaris GPU architecture and 14nm FinFET Zen core is coming in the second half of 2017, and the Gray Hawk is the successor to that.

There is a big chance that this APU will mix with the Navi architecture that is also expected to launch in 7nm. This product is scheduled for a 2019 launch, so we have quite some time before it happens, but it is good to know that AMD is planning far ahead.

The lowest TPD parts will get to 10W, which sounds quite amazing considering what kind of specification that APU might end up having.

The middle of next year is when we expect to see the Zen / Polaris APUs in notebooks and a bit later in embedded systems. AMD’s Lisa Su was clear at Computex earlier this year. She said that the company plans to launch the desktop first, following with server then notebook and last of all t will be a unit aimed at the embedded market.

Bear in mind that these products should still be considered as concepts and they are subject to change. AMD first needs to master a 14nm FinFET low TDP notebook and embedded Zen based parts before it can more to the very exciting 7nm.


Will AMD’s Zen Rule The Server Space?

September 21, 2016 by  
Filed under Computing

AMD Chief Technology Officer Mark Papermaster has told the world that AMD will become the top manufacturer when it comes to PCs and servers.

According to IDG, Papermaster said that the outfit will be making Vega 10 GPU available by first half of 2017. He added that AMD plans to release high-end PCs and servers which will be powered by the new Zen chip and the first Vega 10 GPU.

He thinks that this will gain market share in the gaming, virtual reality, other desktop applications, which will require high-performance GPUs. AMD is going to pitch Zen and Vega 10 GPU (possibly  AMD Radeon GTX 490) as being the best of the PC generation. Apparently that positive attitude will give Nvidia and Intel a good kicking.

AMD’s next GPU architecture powered by HBM2, which is proven to increase performance significantly while maintaining power efficiency. HBM2 is also reported to provide maximum throughput of up to 256GBps, thus it is capable of carrying out all existing powerful apps such as virtual reality, 3D rendering and many more.

This leaves the budget and mid-level PCs running Polaris.

Basically this means that AMD is carrying on the same business model it always has done – compete on cost against Nvidia and Intel. That does not mean that the quality is noticeably different, but it does mean that it will always be cheaper.


EA’s Battlefield 1 Beta Was An Overwhelming Success

September 20, 2016 by  
Filed under Gaming

0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-battlefield-1Looking back to World War I may have pointed EA’s Battlefield franchise to a brighter future, with the beta of the latest game in the long-running series attracting 13.2 million players.

Those players all participated in Battlefield 1’s beta across ten days, between August 30 and September 8. EA DICE has confirmed that the 13.2 million people make it “the biggest beta in EA’s history,” topping the previous record holder, Star Wars: Battlefront, which attracted more than 9 million players.

As big as Battlefront’s beta was, though, it was surpassed in popularity by Blizzard Entertainment’s Overwatch, which pulled in 9.7 million in May this year. The question surrounding Battlefield I, then, is whether it’s the most popular beta of this generation. While EA hadn’t laid claim to that at the time of writing, based on other publicly available figures it seems likely: Ubisoft’s The Division had 6.4 million players in its beta, while Activision’s Destiny had 4.6 million.

In any case, these will be glad tidings for EA DICE, and EA’s shareholders. As Niko Partners’ Daniel Ahmad pointed out on Twitter, Destiny, The Division, Battlefront and Overwatch all demonstrate a clear trend.

One trend I’ll note is that each of the full games above sold to more people than played the open beta’s within the 3 months from launch.

— Daniel Ahmad (@ZhugeEX) September 15, 2016

Battlefield 1 launches on October 21.


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