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AMD’s Carrizo Goes Mobile Only

July 30, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

AMD’s upcoming Carrizo APU might not make it to the desktop market at all.

According to Italian tech site bitsandchips.it, citing industry sources, AMD plans to limit Carrizo to mobile parts. Furthermore the source claims Carrizo will not support DDR4 memory. We cannot confirm or deny the report at this time.

If the rumours turn out to be true, AMD will not have a new desktop platform next year. Bear in mind that Intel is doing the exact same thing by bringing 14nm silicon to mobile rather than desktop. AMD’s roadmap previously pointed to a desktop Carrizo launch in 2015.

AMD’s FM2+ socket and Kaveri derivatives would have to hold the line until 2016. The same goes for the AM3+ platform, which should also last until 2016.

Not much is known about Carrizo at the moment, hence we are not in a position to say much about the latest rumours. AMD’s first 20nm APU will be Nolan, but Carrizo will be the first 20nm big core. AMD confirmed a number of delays in a roadmap leaked last August.

The company recently confirmed its first 20nm products are coming next year. In all likelihood AMD will be selling 32nm, 28nm and 20nm parts next year.

Courtesy-Fud

AMD Tumbles

July 21, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

AMD’s debt load is causing huge problems for the chipmaker — this quarter it had another substantial loss. The tame Apple Press has been claiming that AMD’s woes are caused by the fact it did not move to mobile as was directed by the profit Steve Jobs. They claim, along with some of the dafter analysts, that mobile computing has replaced the PC and companies that stuck to the “old technology” suffered.

However that does not explain how Intel made a stonking profit mostly because of its PC chip sales while its mobile division bled cash. The insistence that mobile was a replacement technology, rather than a parallel development which would not have been noticed if the economy had not tanked, is evidence of how many analysts and hacks drank the Jobs’ kool aid.

AMD’s problems are a lot more obvious. Each quarter it has to pay $49 million to service its huge debt pile. If it did not have to do this the company would have reported a non-GAAP operating profit of $67 million. In fact AMD’s revenue rose 24 percent to $1.44 billion in the second quarter. The company said its third-quarter revenue would rise 2 percent, plus or minus 3 percent, from the June quarter. That would be about $1.47 billion. Analysts on average had expected revenue of $1.44 billion in the second quarter and $1.57 billion in the third quarter.

AMD’s stock fell 15 percent in extended trade after the outfit said it had a net loss of $36 million in the June quarter, compared with a loss of $74 million, a year earlier. AMD has been expanding into non-PC markets like game consoles and low-power servers and it aims to obtain half of its revenue from those additional businesses by the end of 2015. It is also doing well in professional graphics.

Revenue in the Computing Solutions Group dropped 20 percent from a year ago, to $669 million, as microprocessor unit shipments declined. But notebook processor sales rose, while AMD sold fewer desktop processors and chipsets. GPU revenue declined as well, partially offset by a rise in chips sold into graphics workstations and add-on cards.

Courtesy-Fud

Video Streaming Company RayV Acquired By Yahoo

July 15, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Yahoo has purchased online video streaming company RayV with the aim of distributing content to more consumers, mostly through mobile devices.

RayV, founded in 2005, is focused on efficiently distributing HD-quality video to a global audience, with a focus on mobile.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed. “Yahoo is focused on growing video users and monthly streams, and while we’re only getting started, we’re very focused on this in 2014,” Yahoo said in its announcement of the deal.

RayV’s service will improve Yahoo’s underlying technology infrastructure, and most of RayV’s employees will join Yahoo’s R&D center in Tel Aviv, Israel.

A deal between Yahoo and RayV was in the works for at least a couple months, according to The Wall Street Journal. The acquisition comes as Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer is focused on giving people more of a reason to visit Yahoo’s site, partly through original online shows.

Yahoo’s Screen portal includes a range of videos including original news, as well as content from partners like Comedy Central, BuzzFeed and Saturday Night Live.

Yahoo recently announced that it would be airing the television show “Community” on Screen, after it was canceled by NBC earlier this year.

 

Are Japanese Gamer’s Disappearing?

July 15, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Gaming

There’s a popular narrative about Japan’s game development industry: it’s an industry in trouble, lagging behind the West and running out of ideas. If any Japanese developer wants to get themselves splashed into the headlines, all they need do is trot out a soundbite disparaging their own industry; in a world of click bait headlines, the fall of Japanese development is a sure-fire winner. The apparent decline of Japan’s game developers is linked to a secondary narrative as well, namely the decline of Japan’s internal market for videogames. Once the undisputed gaming capital of the world, Japan seems to be falling out of love with the pastime – at least on consoles, and at least according to some rather unusual readings of the data.

There’s a nugget of truth to both of these stories; just enough to make them worth considering, yet certainly not enough to prevent the majority of reporting and discussion on them from being a torrent of absolute nonsense. Japanese game development is somewhat troubled, but it’s troubled by exactly the same factors that are giving sleepless nights to Western game developers – skyrocketing AAA budgets, new business models, a diversification of platforms and the globalisation of the audience. Japanese development studios remain perfectly capable of making superb games that delight their fans; their problem, just as everywhere else, is figuring out how to make money from those games in a new world where profitability escapes everything but the million-selling megahit.

That links back to the second narrative; Japan is falling out of love with games. On the surface, it’s hard to see this alleged decline. The country’s arcades may not be what they once were, but they’re still far more numerous and spacious, not to mention well-attended, than any such establishments in the west. Dedicated videogame stores remain a fixture of shopping districts, while every large electronics store (and there are plenty of those, dominating most city centre areas) has a large videogames section – a stark contrast with, for example, central London, where actually going out and buying a videogame in a shop is an increasingly difficult task. Food courts and fast-food joints still play host to groups of children and teenagers engaged in the likes of Pokemon and Monster Hunter, and a trip outside in an urban area with a 3DS in your pocket will bag a full complement of Street Pass hits in no time flat.

Where’s the decline, then? Well, as figures released earlier this week by Japanese magazine publisher and industry data agency Enterbrain confirm, it’s not actually a decline so much as a stagnation. Enterbrain’s report, widely reported online after being translated in part by Kantan Games’ boss Serkan Toto on the company’s blog, showed that combined hardware and software sales in the first half of 2014 were almost exactly the same as the first half of 2013 – showing growth of just 0.1%. Toto’s entirely reasonable point was that this is much, much lower growth than Japan’s booming smartphone game market, yet this seems to have been picked up by many outlets as further confirmation of a Japanese gaming decline and specifically of a failure to ignite interest in the PS4.

Let’s be clear – the Japanese smartphone game market is in extraordinarily rude health. Revenues from mobile games, by some measures, surpassed packaged game revenue about three years ago and haven’t looked back since. For every person you see playing a 3DS or a Vita (the latter, I note, becoming vastly more commonplace on trains in recent months), you see dozens engrossed in mobile games. Puzzle & Dragons remains the clear favourite, but a trip on a busy Tokyo commuter line will turn up any number of different games gracing the ubiquitous smartphones. The industry’s revenues are clear to see, too; the vast majority of expensive marketing campaigns for games here are for mobile games, not console titles. Only last week I walked onto a train carriage on the phenomenally busy Yamanote loop line in central Tokyo to find that every advertising space in the carriage was full of Clash of Clans marketing; the huge billboard near my apartment, meanwhile, alternates fortnightly between ads for hopeful Puzzle & Dragons clones and ads for new singles by terrible boybands. There’s a huge amount of cash flowing through mobile games in Japan right now, and from a business perspective, that makes it a more interesting (if vastly more challenging) space than the console market.

Yet that doesn’t change the slowdown of Japan’s console market into a “decline” or a “crisis”. We all know that Japan has been ahead of the curve in terms of the adoption of videogames since the 1980s. 30 years down the line, is it surprising that it has hit a plateau? Gaming as a whole – including mobile, browser and online gaming – continues to grow at a massive rate, but in Japan at least, the console space has reached a point where there simply isn’t much new market to conquer. That may change in future as new devices open up new audiences, but console games as they stand don’t seem to have much further to go in Japan. That doesn’t make them a bad business. It means that if you want to make huge bucks and impress shareholders with your growth figures, you probably want to place your investments elsewhere – but if you want to make great games and make money selling them, a mature, stable market is no worse a place to do that than a growing one.

Moreover, when you consider the underlying factors in Japan’s economy, maintaining a steady market size is actually quite impressive. Japan’s population peaked in 2008 and has slowly declined since then; the most rapid decline being the proportion of young people (the most avid consumers of videogames). So this is a market with less “core” consumers of videogames than before; moreover, a series of ill-targeted reforms and a few decades of economic slump have meant that a very large proportion of those young people are trapped in low-paying work with no job security. Furthermore, Japan’s prices have been in slow but steady decline since the early 1990s. Yes, unlike most western economies, Japanese prices aren’t slowly rising due to inflation – rather, they’re falling due to deflation. This has supposedly been reversed in the past 12 months or so, with tiny inflation figures finally showing up, but most of the change so far has been down to a sharp rise in energy costs (a consequence of expensive imported fuels replacing Japan’s still-offline nuclear power plants) and it generally hasn’t been reflected in consumer goods.

One other economic factor has been mentioned by a handful of writers this week. They pointed out that Japan’s consumption tax went up from 5 per cent to 8 per cent in April, in the middle of this reporting period; if that 3 per cent hike were included in Enterbrain’s figures, it would mean industry revenues actually fell. However, to my knowledge Enterbrain’s numbers are based on pre-tax figures, much as US market data is, and thus the consumption tax rise isn’t a factor – except in that it would have been expected to push videogame sales down, thus making the rise slightly more impressive.

In short – Japan has less consumers for games and it’s charging less for things than it used to. Under those circumstances, a market which was performing precisely as well this year as it did last year would be expected to show a modest decline. Just staying still would mean you’d actually grown by a few percent in relative to offset the underlying audience decline and price deflation. Growing by 0.1% in Japan is comparable to growing by a couple of percent in the USA or much of Europe, where population is still generally growing and prices are being inflated, not deflated.

These factors don’t combine to mean that Japan is magically showing strong growth in defiance of the figures, but they are important to understanding what the figures mean. Japan’s “decline” is more like stagnation, and in the past year, even that stagnation has showed a positive trend. The market for consoles and games remains big and pretty healthy even as the market for smartphone games shoots through the roof; both of them clearly have an important place in the future of the country’s games industry.

As for the supposedly “disappointing” impact of the PlayStation 4? There’s no doubt that the performance of the console has slowed down significantly since a very strong launch, but it’s worth noting that sales of hardware were actually up nearly 7% year-on-year, with the PS4 and the resurgent Vita picking up slack from slower sales of the 3DS. PS4′s software line-up in Japan is still largely composed of western titles with limited appeal to the local audience, and the console probably won’t pick up significantly until more local software is available later this year – it’s notable that the PS Vita’s success in the first half of 2014 is largely attributable to the sudden arrival of software titles that match local tastes, and not (as some commentators would have it) to an upsurge of interest in PS4 Remote Play functionality. Overall, PS4 in Japan continues to perform as you’d expect for a new console with limited software – a great launch, followed by slow but steady sales while it awaits new software to spark purchases from new audiences. It’s done well, but it hasn’t “rescued” the Japanese market; but then again, if you take the time to understand the figures, it should be pretty clear that the Japanese market doesn’t actually need rescuing.

Courtesy-GI.biz

Will EA Mimic Mobile Developers?

July 9, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Gaming

Late last year, Frank Gibeau switched roles at Electronic Arts, moving from president of the PC and console-focused EA Labels to be the executive vice president of EA Mobile. Speaking with GamesIndustry International at E3 last month, Gibeau said he was enticed by the vast opportunity for growth in the mobile world, and the chance to shape the publisher’s efforts in the space.

“One of the things I enjoy doing is building new groups, new teams and taking on cool missions,” Gibeau said. “The idea was that EA is known as a console company, and for our PC business. We’re not particularly well known for our mobile efforts, and I thought it would be an awesome challenge to go in and marshal all the talent and assets of EA and, frankly, build a mobile game company.”

It might sound a little odd to hear Gibeau speaking of building a mobile game company at EA. After all, he described EA as “the king of the premium business model” in the mobile world not too long ago, when the company was topping charts with $7 apps like The Sims 3 or raking it in with paid offerings like Tetris, Monopoly, or Scrabble.

“Two years ago, we were number one on feature phones with the premium business model,” Gibeau said. “Smart devices come in, freemium comes in, and we’re rebuilding our business. I think we’ve successfully gotten back into position and we see a lot of opportunity to grow the business going forward, but if you had talked to me about two years ago and tried to speculate there would be a company called Supercell with that much share and that many games, we wouldn’t even have come close.”

Gibeau expects that pace of upheaval to continue in the mobile market, but some things seem set in stone. For example, Gibeau is so convinced that the days of premium apps are done, he has EA Mobile working exclusively on freemium these days.

“If you look at how Asia operates, premium just doesn’t exist as a business model for interactive games, whether it’s on PC or mobile devices. If you look at the opportunity set, if you’re thinking globally, you want to go freemium so you can capture the widest possible audience in Japan, Korea, China, and so on… With premium games, you just don’t get the downloads you do with a free game. It’s better to get as many people into your experience and trying it. If they connect with it, that’s great, then you can carry them for very long periods of time. With premium, given that there are so many free offerings out there, it’s very difficult to break through.”

Unfortunately for EA, its prior expertise is only so relevant in the new mobile marketplace. Its decades of work on PCs and consoles translated well to premium apps that didn’t require constant updating, but Gibeau said running live services is a very different task – one EA needs to get better at.

“Our challenge frankly is just mastering the freemium live service component of what’s happening in mobile,” Gibeau said. “That’s where we’re spending a lot of our time right now. We think we have the right IP. We have the right talent. We’ve got great production values. Our scores from users are pretty high. It’s really about being able to be as good as Supercell, King, Gungho, or some of these other companies at sustained live services for long periods of time. We have a couple games that are doing really well on that front, like The Simpsons, Sims Freeplay, and Real Racing, but in general I think that’s where we need to spend most of our time.”

As Gibeau mentioned, EA has already had some successes on that front, but its record isn’t exactly unblemished. The company launched a freemium reboot of Dungeon Keeper earlier this year and the game was heavily criticized for its aggressive monetization approach. In May, EA shuttered original developer Mythic.

“Dungeon Keeper suffered from a few things,” Gibeau said. “I don’t think we did a particularly good job marketing it or talking to fans about their expectations for what Dungeon Keeper was going to be or ultimately should be. Brands ultimately have a certain amount of permission that you can make changes to, and I think we might have innovated too much or tried some different things that people just weren’t ready for. Or, frankly, were not in tune with what the brand would have allowed us to do. We like the idea that you can bring back a brand at EA and express it in a new way. We’ve had some successes on that front, but in the case of Dungeon Keeper, that just didn’t connect with an audience for a variety of reasons.”

The Dungeon Keeper reboot wasn’t successful, but EA continues to keep the game up and running, having passed the live service responsibilities to another studio. It’s not because the company is hoping for a turnaround story so much as it’s just one more adaptation to running games with a live service model.

“If you watch some of the things we’ve been doing over the last eight or nine months, we’ve made a commitment to players,” Gibeau said. “We’re sincere and committed to that. So when you bring in a group of people to Dungeon Keeper and you serve them, create a live service, a relationship and a connection, you just can’t pull the rug out from under them. That’s just not fair. We can sustain the Dungeon Keeper business at its level for a very long time. We have a committed group of people who are playing the game and enjoying it. So our view is going to be that we’ll keep Dungeon Keeper going as long as there’s a committed and connected audience to that game. Are we going to sequel it? Probably not. [Laughs] But we don’t want to just shut stuff off and walk away. You can’t do that in a live service environment.”

Much like EA’s institutional experience, there’s only so much of Gibeau’s past in the console and PC core gaming world that is directly relevant to today’s mobile space. But as the segment grows out of what he calls the “two guys in a garage” stage, EA’s organizational expertise will be increasingly beneficial.

“These teams are starting to become fairly sizeable,” Gibeau said, “and the teams and investment going into these games is starting to become much greater. Now they’re much, much less than you see on the console side, but there’s a certain rigor and discipline in approach from a technology and talent standpoint that’s very applicable… If you look at these devices, they will refresh their hardware and their computing power multiple times before you see a PlayStation 5. And as you see that hardware get increasing power and capability on GPU and CPU levels, our technology that we set up for gen 4 will be very applicable there. We’re going to be building technologies like Frostbite that operate on mobile devices so we can create richer, more immersive experiences on mobile.”

Even if mobile blockbusters like Candy Crush Saga aren’t exactly pushing the hardware, Gibeau said there’s still a need for all that extra horsepower. With the increased capabilities of multitasking on phones, he sees plenty of room for improvement before the industry runs up against diminishing returns on the CPU and GPU front. He likens today’s mobile titles to late-generation PS2 games, with PS3 and Xbox 360-level games just around the corner.

“As it relates to games, this is like black and white movies with no sound at this point, in terms of the type of games we’ve created,” Gibeau said. “We’re just starting to break through on the really big ideas is my personal view. If you look at games like Clash of Clans, Real Racing, even Candy Crush, they’re breaking through in new ways and spawning all types of new products that are opening up creativity and opportunities here. So I think computing power is just something we’ll continue to leverage.”

The best part for Gibeau is that the hard work of convincing people to buy these more powerful devices isn’t falling solely on the shoulders of game developers.

“The beauty of it is it’s not a single-use device,” Gibeau said, “so people will be upgrading them for a better camera, better video capability, different form factor, different user inputs, as a wearable… I think there’s so much pressure from an innovation standpoint between Samsung, Apple, Google, and Windows coming in, that they’ll continue to one up each other and there will be a very vibrant refresh cycle for a very long period of time. The screens get better, the computing power gets better, and I don’t have to worry about just games doing it like we were in the console business. Those were pretty much just games consoles; these are multi-use devices. And the beauty of it is there will be lots of different types of applications coming in and pushing that upgrade path.”

Courtesy-GI.biz

Do Game Developers Want A Union?

June 27, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Gaming

Support for a union among game developers has grown, according to survey results released today by the International Game Developers Association. The group today announced the result of its Developers Satisfaction Survey from earlier this year, which found that more than half of respondents were in favor of unionization.

Of the more than 2,200 developers surveyed, 56 percent said yes when asked if they would vote to form a national union of game developers in their own countries today. That’s up from the group’s 2009 Quality of Life Survey, where just 35 percent of more than 3,300 developers said they would vote in favor of unionizing at that time.

As for whether the IGDA was considering a move in that direction, the group’s executive director Kate Edwards dismissed the notion.

“For the IGDA, we will always be a professional association,” Edwards told GamesIndustry International. “That’s what we exist for, and what we’ll always be. But if we are seeing that developers feel unionization is what they perceive to be a solution, then that’s something we’re going to pay attention to and see where it goes for them.”

“When we asked people how many jobs they’d had in the last five years and the average number was four, that was pretty eye-opening for us.”

IGDA head Kate Edwards

The survey also yielded new findings on gender diversity. While the group determined that men still “dominate” the industry, it isn’t to the same degree as before. The IGDA found 22 percent of respondents identified as female, up from 11.5 percent in 2009. Additionally, the 2009 survey only included “male” and “female” designations; this year’s poll found 2 percent of respondents identifying as male-to-female transgender, male-to female transgender or “other.”

Edwards also found responses on the lack of job security in the industry notable, if not exactly surprising.

“When we asked people how many jobs they’d had in the last five years and the average number was four, that was pretty eye-opening for us,” Edwards said. “But I do think it basically confirms what a lot of us have sort of known and have been hearing anecdotally for a while now.”

The Developers Satisfaction Survey also polled people on their salary, and found that nearly half of developers earn less than $50,000 annually. That stands in stark contrast to the Gamasutra annual Game Developer Salary Survey, which found that last year the average developer made more than $84,000, with QA being the only discipline with a sub-$50,000 average salary (and even that was a little shy of $49,000). Edwards chalked the difference up to a high percentage of the IGDA survey respondents who identified themselves as independent developers, saying they were likely working in freelance or start-up capacities.

A little less than two-thirds of respondents (61 percent) said they planned to work in games indefinitely. Of those who saw themselves leaving at some point, the most frequently given reason (39 percent) was a desire for a better quality of life.

The IGDA will release a summary report of the survey next month, followed up by reports focusing on specific topics within the survey, like diversity, quality of life, and employment practices. The group has said it will use the findings to help identify what its members care about and prioritize its initiatives and advocacy efforts around those subjects. To keep up with members’ needs as they change, the IGDA is planning the Developer Satisfaction Survey as an annual exercise.

Courtesy-GI.biz

Yahoo Releases Personalization App For Android Phones

June 25, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Yahoo has launched an Android personalization app that could give the company a bigger presence in mobile contextual search.

Yahoo Aviate is the product of the company’s acquisition of Aviate earlier this year, through which it obtained an app for personalizing the home screen on Android phones based on what users are doing.

Aviate’s app had been in closed beta. The app is available globally for Android phones in English, with some new features.

The app’s developers have been focused on organizing people’s apps based on any number of signals. Walk by a gym and fitness apps might pop up. Driving in your car might bring music apps like Spotify to the fore.

Yahoo’s version of the app has features to make it more useful, including alerts for weather changes, and a way to connect to conference calls with a single tap.

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer has spoken out on the company’s efforts to offer more in the way of “contextual search,” with Aviate comprising a key element in that pursuit.

But Aviate exists in a crowded field of apps offering personal assistant-like functions, such as EverythingMe and EasilyDo. Plus, trying to predict what people really want is hard, and could be annoying if not done right.

Apps like Aviate also compete to a degree with Google Now, Google’s mobile tool for iOS and Android that provides different information likes sports scores and news headlines based on data signals specific to the person.

 

 

Will AMD’s Mantle See Success On Linux?

June 20, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

AMD is planning to bring its new Mantle API to Linux in the near future. Although Linux is not a big gaming platform at the moment, SteamOS could change all that starting next year.

AMD’s Richard Huddy says the decision was prompted by requests from developers who would like to see Mantle on Linux. However, he stopped short of specifying a launch date. Huddy confirmed that AMD plans to dedicate resources to bringing Mantle to Linux, but other than that we don’t have much to go on.

Mantle on SteamOS makes a lot of sense

Mantle is designed to cut CPU overhead and offer potentially significant performance improvements on certain hardware configurations. This basically means gamers can save a few pennies on their CPU and use them towards a better GCN-based graphics card.

However, aside from enthusiasts who build their own gaming rigs, the world of PC gaming is also getting a lot of attention from vendors specialising in out-of-the box gaming PCs and laptops. Many of them have already announced plans to jump the SteamOS bandwagon with Steam Machines of their own.

Should Mantle become available on Linux and SteamOS, it would give AMD a slight competitive edge, namely in the value department. In theory vendors should be able to select a relatively affordable APU and discrete GPU combo for their Steam boxes.

AMD already tends to provide good value in the CPU department. The prospect of using mainstream APUs backed by cheap discrete Radeons (or even Dual Graphics systems) sounds interesting.

It will take a while but the potential is there

Huddy told PC World that Mantle has some clear advantages over DirectX. Microsoft’s new DirectX 12 API has already been announced, but the first games to support it won’t arrive until late 2015.

“It (Mantle) could provide some advantages on Steam boxes,” said Huddy. “We are getting requests to deliver this high-performance layer.”

While DirectX 12 will be very relevant in the PC space, the same obviously cannot be said of Linux and SteamOS. Therefore Mantle on Linux makes a lot of sense. However, it all depends on AMD’s timetable.

Last month Valve announced Steam Machines would be pushed back to 2015. They were originally supposed to launch this summer and the first announcements were made months ago. The first designs were based on Intel and Nvidia silicon, but support for AMD hardware was added just a bit later.

When Valve announced the delay we argued that it could have a silver lining for AMD. It simply gives AMD more time to improve its drivers or add Mantle support, something Nvidia and Intel do not have to worry about.

It still remains to be seen whether Steam Machines can make a big dent on the gaming market. PC gaming is going through a renaissance, but the latest consoles are doing well, too (apart from the Wii U). The concept is very attractive on more than one level, but it is very difficult to make any predictions yet, since we are still about 15 months away from launch.

Courtesy-Fud

Intel Joins Forces With Rockchip For SoC

June 2, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

Intel has joined forces with Chinese chip design firm Rockchip to develop next generation processors for the tablet market based on Intel Atom core technology and integrating 3G broadband communications.

Under the terms of the agreement, Intel and Fuzhou Rockchip Electronics (Rockchip) will work together on an Intel branded mobile system on chip (SoC) processor with the intention of enabling a range of entry-level Android tablets.

The chip is expected to ship in the first half of 2015, according to Intel, and will be based on a quad-core Atom processor design integrated with Intel’s 3G modem technology, which the firm gained through its acquisition of Infineon Technologies in 2010.

Rockchip, which is expected to contribute to the integrated graphics technology, will also help Intel bring the product to market faster than might otherwise be the case. The firm is a leading fabless semiconductor design company and already develops mobile SoCs, although its present designs are largely focused around the ARM architecture.

The agreement builds on announcements Intel made at an investor relations day last year, where chief executive Brian Krzanich disclosed the Intel Sofia family, of which the latest chip will form part, and conceded that the chipmaker needed to become more agile in order to gain traction in entry-level markets.

“The strategic agreement with Rockchip is an example of Intel’s commitment to take pragmatic and different approaches to grow our presence in the global mobile market by more quickly delivering a broader portfolio of Intel architecture and communications technology solutions,” Krzanich said.

With this announcement, the Intel Sofia family comprises three products, which are not shipping yet.

A dual-core 3G version is slated for the fourth quarter this year, the quad-core 3G version is due in the first half of 2015, and a version with 4G/LTE communication is also due in the first half of next year.

Courtesy-TheInq

Why Were GPU Shipments Down In Q1?

May 27, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

According to Jon Peddie Research (JPR), shipments of discrete graphics cards were down in the first quarter of the year. This is in line with seasonal trends, as the market cools down after the holiday season.

The sequential drop was 6.7 percent, which was still better than the overall desktop PC market, which slumped 9 percent. However, on a year-to-year basis add-in-board (AIB) shipments were down 0.8 percent. PC sales were down 1.1 percent.
Nvidia still controls two thirds of the market

Total AIB shipments in Q1 were just 14 million units. AMD and Nvidia both saw their shipments decrease 6.6 percent, so their market share did not change much.

Nvidia controls an estimated 65 percent of the market, up from 64.2 percent last year. AMD’s market share in Q1 was 35 percent, down from 35.6 percent a year ago.

The overall volume remains weak and in the long run things could get even worse, as on-die integrated graphics have already taken a big toll on sales of entry level discrete cards. As integrated GPUs become even faster, they are likely to cannibalize the low end market even further.

JPR points out that the AIB market peaked in 1999, with 114 million units shipped. Last year saw only 65 million units and the stagnant trend is likely to continue this year.

It’s not all bad news for AIBs
Although the slump in discrete GPU shipments is hurting AMD and NV hardware partners, JPR offers a rather encouraging outlook.

It points out that graphics cards are one of the most powerful, essential and exciting components in the PC market today. PC gaming is hardly dead, in fact it is going through what can only be described as a small renaissance. PCs will offer 4K/UHD gaming years ahead of consoles and the Steam Machine concept is looking good, too.

The compute market is another driver, as JPR points out:

“The technology is entering into major new markets like supercomputers, remote workstations, and simulators almost on a daily basis. It would be little exaggeration to say that the AIB resembles the 800-pound gorilla in the room.”
The AIB market is quite a bit less colourful and eventful than it was back in the day, but at least AIBs still have a lot on their hands and they are trying to tap new markets.

Courtesy-Fud

Is Far Cry Playing With Fire?

May 23, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Gaming

In the Far Cry games, fire is a wonderful tool. It spreads dynamically, opening up a wealth of creative and strategic possibilities for players to achieve their goals. However, it also gets out of control in a hurry, potentially coming back to hurt the player in sometimes unpredictable ways.

It’s an appropriate metaphor for the series’ approach to controversial subject matter. Last week, Ubisoft announced the development of Far Cry 4, showing off some key art in the process. The picture depicts a blonde light-skinned man in a shiny pink suit against the backdrop of the Himalayas, smirking as he uses a defaced statue as a throne. His right hand rests on the head of a darker skinned man who is kneeling before him, clutching a grenade with the pin pulled. Though we know very little about the characters depicted, their backgrounds, or their motivations, the art got people talking (and tweeting). Some were concerned about racism. Others were worried about homophobia. Many saw neither. At the same time, details about the game are so scant that it’s entirely possible the problematic elements here are properly addressed within the context of the game itself.

But at the moment, we don’t have that context. It’s promotional art, so to a certain extent, it’s designed to exist out of context, to catch the eye of someone on a store shelf, even if they’ve never heard of the series before. And while we lack the context the actual game would provide, there’s no such thing as “without context.” Here, the context we have is that this is a Far Cry game, the latest entry in a series that has been earning a reputation for boldly storming into narrative territory where other games fear to tread (often with good reason).

Like the fire propagation mechanic, this narrative ambition was introduced to the series with Far Cry 2. What had previously been just another shooter (albeit one in a tropical setting more attractive than most) became a series that embedded its stories within thorny issues. Far Cry 2 cast players as a mercenary in a fictitious African country’s prolonged civil unrest, using blood diamonds, malaria, and Western imperialism as texture in a story emphasizing the moral vacuum of war. Far Cry 3 took things a step further, with players controlling a spoiled rich white kid on a tropical island vacation who suddenly must deal with nefariously swarthy pirates and intentionally stereotypical natives. And just in case that didn’t stir up any controversy, the story also weaves in rape, sex, drugs, and torture. In both cases, some critics and players felt the games offensively trivialized important or tragic subjects.

Given this history, it’s not surprising that Far Cry 4 would not universally receive the benefit of the doubt. Much more surprising (to me, at least) is that Ubisoft is continuing down this path with the franchise. Far Cry 3 sold a staggering 9 million units, putting it in the same class of blockbuster as Assassin’s Creed (last year’s version of which sold 11 million units). However, the publisher’s narrative approach to the two games could not be more different.

Assassin’s Creed is a fascinating case study for dealing with touchy subjects in AAA video games. It wasn’t long after the US invaded Afghanistan and Iraq that work on the first Assassin’s Creed started. You know, the one set in the middle of a holy war between Christians and Muslims. Assassin’s Creed II had players attempt to assassinate the pope. Assassin’s Creed III put players in control of a Native American protagonist during the Revolutionary War. Assassin’s Creed IV: Freedom Cry saw the gamification of emancipation.

The Assassin’s Creed franchise draws some criticism from time to time for its handling of these subjects, but the series has rarely found itself at the flashpoint of controversy. Part of the reason for that is the Assassin’s Creed developers research their subjects thoroughly. They understand what the concerns surrounding the sensitive topics are, and by virtue of the games’ historical settings, they can point to factual evidence of certain people’s actions, or common situations of each era.

When it comes to dealing with controversy, Assassin’s Creed is much like its stealthy protagonists are imagined to be: quiet, cautious, and efficient. Far Cry, on the other hand, deals with these topics more like the way Assassin’s Creed protagonists behave when I play them: recklessly uncoordinated and endlessly destructive. Even when it’s clear Far Cry’s developers have put plenty of thought into what they’re saying, it’s not always clear they’ve put much thought into what people will hear them saying through their games.

It speaks volumes about how Ubisoft perceives the long-term value of the two series. Assassin’s Creed is the company’s biggest and most adaptable blockbuster, an annual gaming event based on a premise that can be mined and iterated on endlessly in almost any medium, a recurring revenue stream to be nurtured over time. Far Cry, this key art release suggests, is just another first-person shooter, a brand defined primarily by how hard it works to shock people, perhaps because the company doesn’t have faith that it can sell on its other merits. One of them is the kind of project you make a Michael Fassbender film around. The other might be more of an Uwe Boll joint.

I’m not saying that Far Cry should avoid these subjects. I actually love to see games of all sizes attempting to tackle topics and themes often ignored by the industry. But the right to explore those subjects should come with a responsibility to do so with care. These are legitimately painful subjects for many people. If developers want to force players to confront them, they should have a good reason for it that goes beyond pushing people’s buttons, exploiting tragedy for shock value and an early preorder campaign. In video games, we don’t push buttons for the sake of pushing buttons. We push them to do things.

Courtesy-GI.biz

Is Sony Still On Track?

May 21, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Gaming

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; while I hesitate to apply Dickens’ immortal words to something as fleetingly temporal as Sony’s financial woes, it’s a quote I couldn’t quite shake as I digested this week’s results statement. Here is a company that has just launched one of its most important products in years, the PlayStation 4, to almost universal fanfare and massive sales; whose reputation has risen remarkably in its core markets and whose overseas sales are, finally, being buoyed once more by a sensibly-priced Yen. The best of times! And yet; here is a company whose computer entertainment division can’t turn a profit, a company posting huge losses against all expectations, a company whose already-interminable restructuring is set to last another year. The worst of times.

Sony lost over $1.2 billion last year. Revenues were up, though; over $75 billion poured through the company during the year, a 14.3% increase on the previous year. That’s important context for the scale of the loss, but it doesn’t make the loss itself any smaller. Market analysts expected a small profit. Instead, they got not only a loss overall, but a loss in the videogames division specifically, whose seemingly stellar performance recently could not plug the $78 million gap in its finances.

To add to the company’s woes, its new CFO – the commendably straight-talking Yoshida Kenichiro – says that next year will be another loss. There’s more restructuring ahead, he told analysts at a briefing this week, and it’s going to hit the company’s balance sheet hard in the next 12 months. Yoshida simultaneously promises light at the end of the tunnel, and a rocky road ahead; a travel-related mixed metaphor that probably doesn’t fill any veteran Sony-watchers with confidence.

It’s worth digging a little deeper into Sony’s results to try and understand what’s actually happening here. For all that it has trimmed its operations over the past decade, Sony remains a pretty enormous sprawl of a company, with interests that extend far beyond the consumer electronics for which western consumers recognise the firm. Sony Music and Sony Pictures, of course, are major parts of the business; Sony Computer Entertainment we all know and love; cameras and TVs we understand; but how about Sony’s life insurance businesses, or its banking efforts? How about its semiconductor operations, or its sidelines in making camera components for other firms’ smartphones? How about its fabrication plants for CDs, DVDs and Blu-Ray discs, responsible for a huge proportion of the discs on sale around the world today?

The challenge in interpreting Sony results lies in trying to understand the full scale of those business interests and then in trying to figure out where negative results really stem from. We know, for instance, that Sony is taking on major costs in winding down disc fabrication plants in some parts of the world. We know that the television division has been in trouble for years thanks to competition (some of it state-backed) from Asian rivals, and will finally be spun off and left to sink or swim in a major swathe of restructuring this year. That won’t be without its own costs, of course. Other costs or profits may be harder to discern. Clients for component businesses are generally somewhat anonymous; it’s considered an open secret that Sony provides the camera for recent iPhones, but few component contracts are quite so well-known, and thus, their bottom line impact is harder to discern.

What I’m saying is that Sony (and to an even greater extent, its rival Microsoft) is a bloody hard business to read and understand on the basis of financial reports. Companies like Nintendo, Electronic Arts and Activision Blizzard really just do videogames, so when their results are poor, it’s easy to discern what’s going on. We know their products, we know their markets and we can usually quite easily discern the weaknesses causing difficulties (although seeing the difficulty and suggesting an effective prescription are two very different talents). Sony, however, is big, complex and obfuscated to no small degree. We get broad outlines; a big loss is a big loss; but the fine detail is hard to get a grasp upon.

None of which is to say we shouldn’t try. Sony is one of the most important companies in the games business; with the success of the PS4 over the past six months, it’s arguably the most important company in the business right now. Hence, yes, it’s a concern that it’s making big losses. It’s doubly concerning that some of those losses are coming out of the seemingly successful computer entertainment division, but we can make some educated guesses at what’s happening here. Firstly, the extremely high sales of the PS4 in its early months are actually a short-term negative to the company’s figures. Sony’s console business is a razor-and-razorblades model, selling hardware at a loss initially but recouping this money through software sales and, ultimately, through more profitable hardware sales down the line when manufacturing costs have fallen. Thus, the more units PS4 sold in its launch period, the more money Sony would lose – but this lost money is really more of an investment, since the firm is betting on getting it back in software sales down the line.

High early sales also contribute to losses in other ways. Sony’s launch plans for PS4 were hugely ambitious in terms of the number of units shipped to each territory; the company did end up somewhat supply-constrained, but it aimed to avoid such constraints where possible with enormous shipments and rapid resupply of inventory. This strategy may have been partially aimed at capitalising on Microsoft’s launch weakness before strategic changes could be made to the Xbox One’s product or pricing, but I’m sure that a wider goal was also in mind. Rapid sales of a new home console would silence some critics expecting tablets and smartphones to destroy this market sector entirely; such rapid sales would require a good supply chain, and those don’t come cheap. The exceptional ramp-up of Sony’s PS4 manufacturing capabilities won’t have been cheap, an expense compounded by the loss the firm will have registered on manufacturing every PS4 shipped to date.

In the short term, that means a loss for SCE; but CFO Yoshida seemed pretty blase about that, and rightly so. In the medium term, it’s a good investment. Sony has a great track record of strong attach rates for its consoles, meaning it will get its money back with interest. Moreover, it has a truly fantastic track record of cost-cutting on console manufacture, even managing to get the tricky Cell-based PS3 into a vastly smaller and cheaper casing in the end. The faster the installed base grows, the faster the bulk discounts to manufacturing costs can be realised; with PS4 selling far faster than PS3 or Xbox 360 did before it, Sony can expect its new console to be in the black well ahead of schedule.

As for the rest of the company; I reiterate my position that Kaz Hirai’s job is not an enviable one. It was said of John Riccitiello’s tenure at EA that he faced the task of trying to explain to shareholders why his company was in the fifth year of a three-year restructuring that was going to take seven years. Hirai’s task is even more tricky, in some regards. He’s only been in the top job for two years, so if his ambitious restructuring can truly be completed by next year (as Yoshida claims, with some authority) then it will actually have been a rather fast turnaround. However, Sony is already restructure-weary; seven years of turmoil under former CEO Howard Stringer left the company and its commentators skeptical of any claims regarding light at the end of the restructuring tunnel. Stringer did many good things and helped to move Sony’s culture to a point where Hirai’s ideas could find fertile soil, but he also permitted (or felt that he could not fight) all manner of poor strategy in core divisions, most notably television, where Sony has stumbled from disastrous strategy to doubly disastrous strategy on a near-annual basis for the past decade.

Hirai, at least, appears to have the confidence and the clout to make his plans work where Stringer’s did not. Separating the almost certainly doomed TV business from the rest of Sony is a good plan, but one that required extraordinary political capital within the firm. Having the respected Yoshida as CFO is also a good move, since it’s given Hirai the cover he needs to bring all of the financial pain of his restructuring plans into the current year and the following year. The temptation would have been to spread things out, but the markets seem to respect Hirai and Yoshida’s honesty in front-loading the costs, anticipating a return to profitability in two years’ time.

That, perhaps, is the big difference between Sony and Nintendo – two companies that have been compared heavily in discussion over their recent financial results. Both have some very profitable divisions (3DS does well for Nintendo, while movies and finance, in particular, are solid performers for Sony), but both have just recorded financial results well below expectations and triggered alarm among market commentators. Nintendo, though, can only suggest vague directions it might take to exit its current situation; it will take a major new product announcement to see whether the company can get back on track, and that’s not likely for a couple of years. Until then, Nintendo’s financial health is largely a matter of faith.

Sony, on the other hand, has a plan. It’s a tough plan, but a solid one; the divestment of loss-making businesses, the refocus on core pillars that actually make money, and more specifically to our industry, the tried-and-tested approach to bringing the PS4 into profitability as rapidly as possible. A CFO like Yoshida can speak plainly about how Sony is going to change, what it’s going to cost and when it’s going to start making money; Nintendo, relying on products still under wraps to give it a relevant future, lacks the ability to be so blunt and straightforward about how it will build future success.

Even the rather tolerant Japanese stock market and its very patient institutional investors have limits, and Sony could yet reach those limits. The company’s restructuring to date would try the patience of even someone playing a very long game; but Yoshida is a credible figure, Hirai seemingly retains the ability to carry out the reforms he plans, and the company’s generally profitable divisions, including games, are still in good shape. Even if another year of pain does loom for Sony, the end might finally be in sight; in 12 months time we can hope to hear of a leaner, tighter and more focused Sony, with black ink finally starting to crop up on its accounts.

Courtesy-GI.biz

 

Will Watch Dogs Be A Hit For Ubisoft?

May 20, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Gaming

Ubisoft announced that Watch Dogs is setting pre-order records for the publisher. The company said that it’s the most pre-ordered new IP in Ubisoft’s history, the second-highest pre-ordered Ubisoft game ever, and the most pre-ordered new IP in the industry this year. Moreover, retailer GameStop confirmed that Watch Dogs is the most pre-ordered next-gen game to date.

All that said, Ubisoft actually did not disclose how many units were pre-ordered. GamesIndustry International pinged Ubisoft to ask for a pre-sales figure and we’ll be sure to let you know if we get one.

[Update: On the company's earnings conference call, executives said that they fully expect Watch Dogs to perform better than the first Assassin's Creed, meaning it should exceed 6.3 million in lifetime sales. "We expect it to become a major heavyweight of the industry," said CEO Yves Guillemot.]

“These strong pre-orders are a clear indication of players’ anticipation and excitement for Watch Dogs,” said Geoffroy Sardin, Senior VP Sales and Marketing at Ubisoft. “The teams have worked tirelessly to ensure that players will enjoy a top quality game with enormous scope, and we can’t wait to get the game into their hands.”

“We are seeing tremendous excitement for the new Watch Dogs game… It is on track to be one of the top selling video games across all consoles in 2014,” added Michael van den Berg, vice president of Merchandising at GameStop International.

Watch Dogs development is being led by Ubisoft Montreal, but similar to other massive AAA projects in the industry it’s been a collaborative effort with assistance from teams at Ubisoft Bucharest, Ubisoft Paris, Ubisoft Quebec and Reflections. The game will release on May 27 for current-gen and next-gen consoles, PC and it’s coming to Wii U “at a later date.”

Courtesy-GI.biz

Will nVidia Enter ARM’s Micro-Server Market?

May 14, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

A part of Nvidia’s Financial Q1 2015 conference call Q&A session included some questions about micro servers, whether or not the 64-bit Tegra K1 can make it into the GRID market.

Nvidia’s CEO Jen-Hsun Huang was a straight shooter saying that Nvidia is “seeing a lot of interest in putting something like Tegra in micro servers,” but he added a caveat: “one step at a time, one step at a time.”

Jen-Hsun addressed the importance of the software component, or software stack for this market. He points out that the software stack Nvidia is building for GRID will eventually used on top of Tegra.

Denver could have what it takes

The Denver 64-bit architecture used in the Tegra K1 64-bit might have a shot in the micro server market as it will offer a lot of compute power and the CPU core should end up faster than the Cortex A57. Back at GTC 2014 we saw a demo at the GE booth where a single Jetson board hooked up to a camera over 10Gbit network port managed to trace a multiple targets at once.

The significance of such capabilities is that they can could easily find applications in the security market, drones, self-driving cars and all this can be done with close to 10W of power. Of course, this can be done with existing chips, but the CUDA powered Tegra K1 needs significantly less power to pull it off, which results in a much smaller footprint than say a 100W system that would handle the same task.

Eventually Nvidia could make a move in the traditional server market. The way things are going some 64-bit Cortex A57 servers might hit the market in early 2015 and Denver 64-bit might be the only custom based 64-bit ARM core ready at that time. Qualcomm’s 64-bit Krait is expected in the first half of 2015 and it might give Nvidia, AMD and other players a run for their money.

The server market is more than just chips and John Byrne, Chief Sales Officer at AMD, covered a few interesting points in a brief discussion with Fudzilla last month.

Does an ARM server push make sense for Nvidia?

In order to be successful in server market you need software, hardware, a great field application engineer network, customers that want to work with you and this is exactly why Calxeda failed. Nvidia has an advantage over Intel as it can do ARM based micro server, but then again, everyone else can. AMD is taking the ARM server market quite seriously and it has a lot more experience in the field than Nvidia.

Should Nvidia choose to proceed with an ARM server push, it will ultimately be a matter of research and development money that company can afford to put behind this risky strategy. Nvidia is making some progress with Tesla and Grid into the server market, but it will take some great products to convince Dell, HP and the rest of the market go your way.

In theory, Nvidia could leverage its compute software stack, but that’s only relevant in a handful of niches. AMD is targeting a much wider micro server market, while Nvidia could go after niche systems that would benefit from its compute tech. However, whether or not this niche is worth the investment remains to be seen. Both Nvidia and AMD can offer unique compute capabilities that could differentiate their ARM parts from the rest of the field (CUDA, Open CL), rendering their ARM server parts more competitive in a number of market segments.

Courtesy-Fud

AMD Goes Forty-Five

May 6, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

If by any chance you think AMD has been acting rather strangely lately, rest assured it’s all normal, it’s just a midlife crisis. Signs of a midlife crisis include excessive reminisce about your childhood, buying a Harley or a plucky European sports car, dying gray hairs and of course getting huge hangovers some 12 hours after forgetting you were a Cold War teen.

For AMD, the signs are a bit different. They include transitioning from the PC world to custom chips, micro servers and GPUs, spinning off fabs and yelling at those pesky ARM kids to get off the lawn. Nvidia on the other hand is still trying to blend in with the kids through some consumer ARM chips of its own, but then again Nvidia is quite a bit younger.

AMD was founded on May 1 1969 and broke ground for its first Sunnyvale facility that month. To put things into perspective, NASA went to the moon a couple of months later, Richard Nixon was still president and he was having a rather hard time with hippies. The first ARPANET message was sent in October 1969 and the same month Bell Laboratories developed the first CCD. The first Boeing 747 took to the skies in December 1969.

AMD isn’t that old – in fact it’s still a few years younger than some Fudzilla team members.

Our Cold War references may not make much sense to the uninformed, but like most tech companies created in the fifties and sixties, AMD can trace its roots back to the military industrial complex. The US Government was practically the only client for many chip outfits at the time. Silicon Valley is perhaps the biggest and longest living monument to runaway defence spending. Someone had to keep the free world free, the Reds were everywhere and US taxpayers had to foot the bill.

AMD’s core team came from Fairchild Semiconductor, including Jerry Sanders III, Ed Turney, John Carey, Sven Simonsen, Jack Gifford and three members from Gifford’s team, Frank Botte, Jim Giles, and Larry Stenger.

AMD’s claim to fame came in the late eighties and early nineties. Rather than building clones of Intel chips like the Am386 and Am486, the company started churning out its own, in-house designs like the K5 in the mid nineties. In 1996 AMD bought NexGen and its series of Nx processors, which eventually led to the K6 series and the Socket 7 platform. The K7 shifted to the Slot A connector and it was a massive success. AMD followed up with the legendary K8, which could run circles around much pricier Intel chips.

It sort of went downhill from there. A decade ago Intel finally started taking AMD seriously, perhaps even too seriously judging by some of its questionable business practices which landed it in court.

Still, AMD is here and it’s here to stay. The company is undergoing a big transformation and it’s looking a lot better than it did just a couple of years ago. The eternal underdog still has what it takes to surprise us and the competition. The K8 glory days are long gone and so are AMD’s once competitive big cores, but AMD is still very relevant thanks to a myriad of innovative technologies and products, the stuff that’s our bread and butter.

Courtesy-Fud