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Samsung’s 8GB mini-DRAM Going Mobile

October 26, 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-sdramWe should start seeing 8GB appearing as standard in flagship mobile phones soon thanks to Samsung’s new silicon that packs 8GB of DRAM in a single tiny package.

The RAM uses LPDDR4 technology and the 10 nm process. The arrival of 64-bit processors has allowed phone RAM to increase beyond 4GB but few manufacturers could be bothered. Even Samsung passed on it. However, now it seems that with the new generation of RAM Samsung thinks it is worthwhile and will be jumping directly from 4 to 8GB by next year.

LPDDR4 is currently the fastest type of low power memory in the mobile market. Samsung says it is the same as PC-class DDR4 RAM and has twice the speed, operating at 4,266 Mbps, versus the PC’s 2,133 Mbps.

By using 10 nm processing, the DRAM only takes up 15 x 15 x 1 mm and can be stacked above or under other chips. While we can’t see the point of the technology in mobile phones, it does make a lot of sense in tablets.

While Samsung has hinted that it is going to release the technology on the mobile world, by the end of the year so we should see next year’s flagship models with 8Gb next year.


Is TSMC Going For Qualcomm?

October 26, 2016 by  
Filed under Computing

TSMC thinks that it can win back Qualcomm’s chip business with its 7nm process technology, but has all but given up expecting it to return for 10nm.

Qualcomm was once TSMC’s biggest customer until 14nm came along and it placed orders with Samsung instead. Qualcomm reportedly reached a deal with Samsung under which Samsung would make the Snapdragon 820 chips in exchange for Samsung using Qualcomm’s chips in its flagship smartphone devices.

Apparently Samsung swung a similar deal with Qualcomm for its 10nm chips in exchange for Qualcomm supplying the chips for Samsung’s upcoming Galaxy S8. TSMC worked out it would not get the deal when Qualcomm did not tape out Snapdragon 830 chips on TSMC’s 10nm FinFET process.

TSMC will remain the sole provider of A11 chips for Apple. Other TSMC 10nm customers include MediaTek, HiSilicon and Xilinx.

But according to Digitimes TSMC thinks its 7nm will woo Qualcomm back into the fold, although it is not clear why this would be the case. After all, Samsung only has to negotiate another deal for its next generation of smartphone and assuming it does not catch fire, Qualcomm will be quids in.


Will Virtual Reality Go The Way Of 3D?

October 25, 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-virtual-re-reVR startup Survios proudly announced last month that its futuristic co-op shooter Raw Data became the first VR title to generate revenues of $1 million in the span of a month. Steam Spy data showed that more than 33,000 people had purchased the $40 game, which is still in Early Access. That $1 million in revenues, however, brings up the million-dollar question: When $1 million represents the peak of success, how can VR developers actually make a living in this VR ecosystem?

Survios is in the enviable position of having raised $4 million from Shasta Ventures a couple years ago, when the studio was working on Project Holodeck. Without that money, working towards AAA on VR platforms like HTC Vive would be infinitely harder. That said, with claims of an attach rate of more than 20% for Raw Data, Survios believes it’s in a prime position to thrive in a AAA VR market as the installed base grows.

“The attach rate that we’ve had to the installed base, if we look 12 months down the road, 18 months down the road, where we believe the installed base will be, if the attach rate is even a fraction of what we currently have then we have a very sustainable business,” Hewish says.

“Price and reviews puts everything on the consumers’ shoulders but if there was some sort of designation, some way for the stores to designate that this is a full game or an experience, it would help the industry avoid consumer frustration”

“For us, we’re really taking a bit of a longer view when it comes to the business. We’re very fortunate that we have great backers, that we’re funded well enough to take a longer view. Our goal, if you’re looking at the existing console business or PC business or mobile business, those are all mature businesses where the objective for any developer or studio is revenue because you can have a fairly predictable outcome. If you put X amount of funding in and you can have a certain quality bar, you’re going to recoup your costs. It becomes much more important about being on time, on budget – it’s much more of a mature business model. With VR my point of view is it’s a new market and we are not at a point yet where it can sustain AAA development but we will get there.”

With that in mind, Hewish believes that it’s critical for Survios to “stake its claim” as a AAA VR studio now. He says that a lot of studios have struggled with having to make what are essentially demos, or more casual experiential titles instead of full-game efforts, because of the economics of VR. “There definitely is a tug and pull between those two ends of the spectrum and initially a lot of the discussion and a lot of the awareness was around experiential and short demo experiences. So for me the question was could the market go in that [AAA] direction? [If not] personally I believe the market would peter out,” he continues. “While there are a lot of cool experiences, I don’t think that’s enough to sustain a market or an industry. Being able to see that, while the market’s super nascent, we’re beginning to see AAA games come out and people do want them [is encouraging].”

Survios is eager to see the VR market evolve and hopes it’s part of the developer community that pushes it in exciting and new directions. The studio has a core tenet that it calls “Active VR,” and I can tell while talking to Hewish that he’s quite passionate about it.

“That is certainly central to our thesis. We really want the user to have a very active experience. It’s a key differentiator between this platform and others and it also touches on another thing, which is a soapbox item for me… VR and Active VR, this is an opportunity for the user to really feel heroic and to do things that you could never do in real life. It just kills me that there are games out there just recreating what you can do in real life; to me that’s just a missed opportunity,” he comments.

“I’m not bagging on anybody, I don’t have a specific developer in mind, and this is just an example since I don’t know if anyone’s done this, but why would I want to play chess in VR? I can do that in real life. I want to be heroic, with bad ass abilities and go into environments I could never see in real life and be extremely active in those environments. To me that’s the holy grail of VR, that’s what it offers. Getting that into consumers’ hands is the win for the medium.”

Hewish definitely sees eye-to-eye with Oculus CTO John Carmack on that front. The former id executive recently commented during Oculus Connect that too many VR developers are simply “coasting on novelty,” putting games into VR that don’t necessarily bring any additional value to players for being in VR.

“What he said definitely resonates a lot with me. At the same time, I agree from a business perspective. I saw this when I was working at Dreamworks Animation, when we were working on 3D movies. We were making movies specifically made for 3D so the entire pipeline and production process was different than a traditional 2D animated film, yet a lot of studios across the industry would turn films into 3D in post-production, which really soured the audience because there was a premium price to go view those films. If it wasn’t really made from the get-go for 3D it was a little underwhelming. So from a market and business standpoint that really scares me because we all saw how that played out for film and there’s the potential in VR for that same problem where the consumer gets a little bit burned and walks away from the medium,” Hewish warns.

That being said, Hewish is fully aware of how tough it can be on VR developers at the moment. He doesn’t believe studios are taking shortcuts out of greed, but he would like to see better curation and discoverability on storefronts so that consumer fully understand what they’re downloading, whether a short demo-like experience or a full AAA game.

“I’m not ignorant of the reality that a lot of the developers are in. A lot of people are bootstrapping themselves; it’s a passion play to work with the technology and they just aren’t resourced to build larger games. It’s that tinkerer sort of approach – it’s not that these people hate VR and are trying to destroy the medium, but they are doing what they can with what they have. What I would love to see, which would be on the platform and store holder side, something that would allow the consumer to identify the difference not just solely based on price and reviews. Price and reviews puts everything on the consumers’ shoulders but if there was some sort of designation, some way for the stores to designate that this is a full game or an experience, it would help the industry avoid consumer frustration,” he notes.

Steam has already announced that it’s looking to improve its platform with more targeted surfacing of new releases. That’s a good first step, at least. “It’s just scary – having gone through the mobile days, the moniker the App Store got was the Crap Store and how do we avoid that [with VR]?” Hewish wonders.

Getting back to that million-dollar question, though, what Survios and other VR startups should be encouraged by is that it actually is possible to build compelling VR games without breaking the bank, compared to say the budgets needed for a Call of Duty or GTA.

“One thing that gives me real confidence in VR, which is different from what happened with 3D movies and even more so 3D television… neither one of those mediums had really good content to drive adoption. The content was expensive to create and the size of the market to recoup against that content creation was much, much larger than what we’re looking at with VR. With VR if you can confidently sell even a few hundred thousand units of a premium price point game, you’re going to be able to recoup your money because we’re not talking about productions on the scale of a movie or even a AAA console game like Call of Duty where they’re north of $100 million in development costs let alone marketing,” Hewish says.

That’s all well and good, but what advice does Hewish have for the VR startups that can’t get much if any funding currently? “First and foremost, just be very clear and upfront with the audience when you do release something. There’s nothing wrong [with AA content]… And of course you don’t want the industry to be in a situation where innovation is killed because people feel like if they don’t launch AAA they shouldn’t launch anything,” he says.

Hewish adds that one approach is to actually build your way up towards a full AAA release: “Say in your mind you have a AAA game you want to make and it’s got five core key features but you can’t fund it all at once, so maybe one approach is you release one mechanic at a time as an experience at a lower price point and along the way you’re getting enough income to sustain yourself and you’re building your core engine essentially. So you release five experiences, each one is a low price point, enough to keep you going and allow you to build the next experience and then when you’re done with all of those you’ve got your mechanics to build a bigger game. It’s sort of amortizing your costs across different SKUs. Then lastly, if you’ve got a really great idea and a great demo, there’s no harm in going to someone who might be able to help fund it further and help turn it into a AAA game. We’re going to start seeing the evolution and we already are seeing studios out there that are funding content and publishing.”

Indeed, Survios could become one of those publishers in addition to evolving into a multi-project VR studio. “Something that we’re looking at ourselves is looking at doing third-party publishing across all platforms,” Hewish tells me. “We definitely are working on additional games,” he adds. “The way that we’re built we have our core game studio and then we have our prototype team that’s part of the studio that works on rapid prototypes and iterations of different ideas and mechanics and we have a couple that have really hit and we are ramping up to get into full production on some of those to launch some additional games next year. We absolutely are looking at a portfolio approach to the business.”

Publishing deals and funding exclusives has been one way that Oculus has helped to grow the VR market, enabling some developers to build out more robust games than would have been possible otherwise. Oculus boasted during Oculus Connect that it’s invested $250 million into the ecosystem already and will invest another $250 million on top of that. And while there are many positives around this infusion of capital, Hewish cautions that developers have to think carefully about their studio approach.

“I think it’s one leg of the stool, and it’s important. It certainly doesn’t come without its risks, but I think it can be important in sustaining studios through the initial growth curve of the market. The risk is that as a studio if you’re given a big wad of cash to develop exclusively for one platform and you spend all of that on developing that game, then you don’t have an ongoing revenue stream to get you into the next game, and once the market matures those funds for exclusive content may be harder to get or may shift to go to developers that are proven in AAA, so it’s just a risk,” he advises.

“I would say any studio that does that should be planning, how do they survive after that? Where are they going to get funding next? Or have they put enough aside out of that investment to sustain into the next game when they aren’t getting funded for exclusives? Conversely, they could look to studios that are not doing platform exclusives,” he continues, hinting at Survios’ potential future in publishing. “With an Oculus or someone it might be more a straight work for hire model, fully funding an exclusive title, whereas for us it would be more a publisher model we’re looking at so there would be an ongoing revenue stream for the developer to help them grow.”

“The one thing we know looking back at history, within a couple years the hit genres and the hit content on VR may not be what we think it is currently or there’ll be something new that evolves”

Aside from the economics of development, one critical component that Survios has learned about from being in Early Access is optimization. “Being a startup, we are still trying to play catchup when it comes to having a robust compatibility lab and being able to test across multiple configurations. I hearken back to the day of making games for PCs and you really had to worry about the different configurations and drivers people had running on their machines and that’s really important in VR. We kind of developed on the hardware we had at the time so we’re playing catchup in that regard in terms of getting the performance and the optimization equal across all configurations. I would say going forward for any VR developer, really budgeting extra time for that and communicating to your audience that you’re working on it and engage them to give you feedback so you can optimize properly is pretty important. So we’re now budgeting extra time for optimization and performance into each of our spreads even if it means pushing content out a bit further,” Hewish notes.

Speaking of optimization, while Survios built Raw Data for Vive, the studio is platform agnostic and is working on bringing the game to other VR platforms, but they will have to be optimized against the strengths and weaknesses of each.

“I’ve been in the industry long enough where I’ve seen people just develop for a lead platform and port it across everything and it’s just a crap experience because they just simply get it to run and that kind of approach is not a AAA approach and could kill the market before it even gets going,” Hewish warns.

With that in mind, Raw Data will need special attention for something like PSVR, which doesn’t have the precise tracking of Vive. “We’ll take as long as we need to take to make sure that the experience is great on that platform,” Hewish stresses. “So what you’re saying about the Move and PS4, maybe we’ll do things like adjust the intensity of how quickly the enemies spawn or where they spawn from, or maybe we work on some of the haptics and some of the controls, or maybe we rewrite a little bit of stuff so the motion doesn’t need to be as precise… I’m just throwing stuff out there, not saying we’re actively doing these things. On the Vive we’re trying to get closer to 1:1 movement but maybe on Sony we go for a pattern movement that triggers an animation or something – so to the PSVR player it feels great.”

In the end, Hewish is just excited to be part of the VR revolution. “The one thing we know looking back at history, within a couple years the hit genres and the hit content on VR may not be what we think it is currently or there’ll be something new that evolves,” he says. “Like on mobile, it really brought back strategy games and iterated on those, and puzzle games, which had been around but they evolved to match the medium. VR has that same potential.”

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.

Does Sony See A Rise In Demand For Image Senors?

October 12, 2016 by  
Filed under Technology

There are signs that the smartphone component industry is picking up, after being in the doledrums for a year or so.

Japanese electronics company Sony has said that it is about to throw the switch to 11 on the production of image sensors and move its plants to full capacity in the October-March half-year.

The head of its chip-making subsidiary Yasuhiro Ueda said momentum slowed late last year due to tepid demand for smartphones, but now the plan is to make the combined monthly production equal to 73,000 wafers at Sony’s five image sensor plants.  This is more than double the 70,000 wafers Sony is currently churning out.

He made the comments at a news conference on Friday at Sony’s Kumamoto factory in southern Japan, which was damaged by a series of strong earthquakes earlier this year.

Sony has its paws in about 40 percent of the market for complementary metal-oxide semiconductor (CMOS) image sensors, a type of chip that converts light into electronic signals.

The sensors were central to Sony’s recovery from years of losses stemming mainly from price competition in consumer electronics. A slowdown in the global smartphone market prompted Sony to cut sensor production in the October-March half of the last business year, but demand has since picked up.

He said brisk demand for Sony’s sensors also reflects the firm’s effort to diversify its client base, and pointed out that its clients had recently experienced some ups and downs.


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.


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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