MediaTek is planning a Helio X30 in 10nm later this year but news from Taiwan indicates that some key customers didn’t order the new flagship 10 core chip.
One of the main reasons might be the increased competition in the Chinese market and companies cannot afford to have two designs of the same phone with Qualcomm or a MediaTek chip in. The rumor is that Xiaomi, MediaTek’s big customer, might be coming up with its own Pinecone SoC and this will put some additional pressure on MediaTek’s high-end. There might be two Pinecones SoCs targeted at the mainstream and high end market.
LeEco, another big MediaTek customer is going through tough financial times, and was not interested in making big orders. Hope, which is the number one smartphone vendor in China, is usually a big customer. Another big one that usualy goes with MediaTek is the current number 3 in China, Vivo. The number two, Huawei has its own Kirin SoC while the number Four, the fruity Apple has its own SoC.
Oppo is MediaTek’s big hope as is Vivo. Oppo and Vivo are expected to sell 120 million and 100 million smartphones respectively in 2017.
The upcoming Snapdragon 835 SoC is also going to give Mediatek bother. It is shaping up to become one of the best, if not the best phone SoC of all times. MediaTek usually has a pricing advantage over most of its competitors so it might compete against it on price.
This is a TSMC manufactured chip based on the the long relationship that the company has with the biggest chip foundry which is across the street from MedaiTek’s headquarter in Hsinchu, Taiwan. The end result might be the massive cancellation of 10nm wafer orders at TSMC, as there wont be anyone who would want to buy. The timing could not be worse, as this is the first time MediaTek wanted to take the leap of faith and bet on the farm with the latest and greatest 10nm . Now it looks like it will have to cancel a lot of the 10nm orders. Still a few phones with Helio X30 deca core will hit the market.
The fatal clock timing flaw that causes switches, routers and security appliances die after about 18 months of service is apparently a feature of some Juniper products.
Cisco was the first vendor to post a notice about the problem earlier this month saying the notice covers some of the company’s most widely deployed products, such as certain models of its Series 4000 Integrated Services Routers, Nexus 9000 Series switches, ASA security devices and Meraki Cloud Managed Switches.
Juniper is telling its customers something similar:
“Although we believe the Juniper products with this component are performing normally as of February 13, 2017, the [listed] Juniper products could after the product has been in operation for at least 18 months begin to exhibit symptoms such as the inability to boot, or cease to operate. Recovery in the field is not possible. Juniper product with this supplier’s component were first placed into service on January 2016. Jupiter is working with the component supplier to implement a remediation. In addition, Juniper’s spare parts depots will be purged and updated with remediated products.”
The products in the warning comprise 13 Juniper switches, routers and other products including the MPC7E 10G, MPC7E (multi rate), MX2K-MPC8E, EX 920 Ethernet switches and PTX3000 integrated photonic line card.
So far neither Cisco nor Juniper have blamed Intel for the fault. However, Chipzilla did describe a flaw on its Atom C2000 chip which is under the bonnet of shedloads of net gear.
Intel said that problems with its Atom chip will hurt Intel’s 2016 Q4 earnings. CFO Robert Swan said that Intel was seeing a product quality issue in the fourth quarter with slightly higher expected failure rates under certain use and time constraints.
Swan said that it will be fixed with a minor design fix that Intel was working with its clients to resolve.
Intel had hoped it would see the back of its short-lived low-power Atom chips for servers. They were used in micro servers but also networking equipment from companies.
HPE and Dell are keeping quiet about the clock technology, though both are rumoured to use it. They might be hoping that Intel will come up with a fix so they can pretend it never happened.
Announced officially by AMD and to be held on February 28th at Ruby Skye in San Francisco, the new Capsaicin and Cream event promises “a feature-packed show highlighting the hottest new graphics and VR technologies propelling the games industry forward”.
Streamed live, the event will include the main Capsaicin & Cream part, which will hopefully include a bit more details on the actual lineup of graphics cards based on the new Vega GPU, as well as the Cream developer sessions which promise “inspiring talks focused on rendering ideas and new paths forward, driven by game industry gurus from multiple companies including Epic and Unity”.
The event will start at 10:00 AM PST, while the livestream is scheduled to start at 10:30 AM PST (20:00 CET).
For many, the success of Resident Evil 7 and its atmospheric campaign has offered a glimpse of what a “killer app” for virtual reality might look like; the game that shifts the common perception of VR from an intriguing glimpse of the future, to an essential part of contemporary entertainment. The term will be familiar to anyone who has seen the launch of a new console, but, as a panel of experts discussed today at Casual Connect Europe, VR defies such easy categorization.
The discussion was triggered by nDreams CEO Patrick O’Luanaigh, who was in the crowd to watch a panel that included representatives from Valve and Nvidia. When asked to pin down his definition of the term “Killer App,” O’Luanaigh said, “it’s less about revenue, more something that everybody talks about. A lot of people say that VR hasn’t had that killer game yet.
“If we look to the consoles we might say, ‘You have to have your Mario or your Sonic.’ But do you?”
“There’s lots of cool stuff out there, but nothing that really makes you feel, ‘Oh my god, this is so amazing, I have to go and buy a headset.’ We’re all saying that we want games like that to come, and as budgets go up hopefully that will happen. It’s really about where that game might come from.”
For Chet Faliszek, who has become the globe-trotting representative for Valve’s VR efforts, the very notion of a ‘Killer App’ seemed to belong more to traditional game hardware – the consoles made by Nintendo, Sega, Sony and Microsoft. “We have so few data points to extrapolate from to figure out what this is,” he said. “If we look to the consoles we might say, ‘You have to have your Mario, or your Sonic.’ But do you?”
Faliszek referred to a talk he gave the previous day, in which he suggested smartphones as a more appropriate comparison for VR technology. “What was the killer app for the App Store?” he asked the crowd the previous day. “I would argue it was flexibility; the ability to become different for each person. If you’d have asked me 20 years ago what feature do I most want on my phone, I probably would say something about making phone calls; now I rarely make a phone call.
Faliszek emphasized this point again, and suggested that some of the difficulty analysts have faced in grappling with the VR market relates to this kind of misunderstanding. “That’s why there’s slower growth in virtual reality than other people predicted – the analysts,” he continued. “Whereas I think people in the [VR] industry have the understanding that, if you demo ten individual things, out of those one person would say, ‘Why is this thing in there?’ And the next person would go, ‘That’s the best thing ever.’
“Today’s high-end becomes tomorrow’s mainstream… If you develop for the high-end, you know that’s going to have the longest tail”
“You have these personal reactions… Everybody finds that thing in there that they want to have.”
It was telling that, when asked about the most impressive applications for virtual reality right now, Faliszek listed tools for creativity: Google’s Tilt Brush, and the VR development capabilities offered by engines from Unity and Epic. There is a desire for a fully formed consumer market for VR to hurry up and arrive already, but the truth may be that, even a year after the launch of Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, the space is still best defined by its creators and the broad range of use cases they are attempting to discover.
However, one basic truth was mentioned on several occasions, starting with O’Luanaigh’s original question about the importance of positional head-tracking and motion controls becoming standard in mobile VR. These are core features the current high-end of VR hardware – including, but not limited to, the HTC Vive – but Faliszek also believes this is the smartest target for any developer wanting to reach the largest possible audience.
“If you want to make the most money in VR, you should make [games] for the largest addressable market,” he said. “The largest addressable market right now may be headsets that are rotational only, but they will be museum piece in a couple of years. If you make something that has positionally tracked head and motion controls you can probably still be selling that game years from now – or some version of that. If you did rotational only? Someone has to pull a headset out of the closet to experience that. The shelf life of that product is going to be much shorter.”
Faliszek made a similar point the day before, advising Casual Connect’s attendees that, “today’s high-end becomes tomorrow’s mainstream. If you really want to think about the largest addressable market, it’s not about the number of headsets out there for any one platform. It’s what will become the standard. If you develop for the high-end, you know that’s going to have the longest tail.”
Despite the probable advantage in the number of headset owners, then, mobile VR may have to reach a better technological standard to be a better commercial opportunity. No part of the VR market offers a huge installed base at present anyway, and, as Faliszek pointed out, “a game that works on 5 million [mobile] headsets this year isn’t necessarily going to work on 50 million headsets in a few years’ time.”
It has been reported a few times that Zen and the desktop part Ryzen are a crucial part of AMD’s strategy in the future. The fact that our sources confirm that Ryzen will compete well against Core i7 Extreme edition will definitely help AMD’s stock.
AMD’s John Taylor, Corporate Vice President, Worldwide Marketing at AMD showcased Zen running the CPU at Computex in June 1st 2016 and the stock market reacted favorably to it. Since early January last year, AMD stock grew tremendously from $1.90 USD roughly a year ago to $13.42 USD now. The stock price will definitely rise further.
It can be anticipated that Ryzen will be in high demand and that every single AMD fan will have a desire to get an AMD Zen based Ryzen machine. The reason is simple – people want AMD to succeed and the price will be much more competitive. We have readers in our community who never gave up hope that AMD would once return to its K7 glory Athlon days. Well, Ryzen is the closest to that goal.
AMD will quickly get some desktop CPU market share back, but we anticipate that demand will exceed supply. Wall Street likes what AMD has been doing and it will most likely react very favorably on Ryzen reviews and shipping.
Lisa Su, AMD’s CEO, has already confirmed that you can expect to see Ryzen shipping this quarter and the closest that we heard to a launch date is the first few days of March. It is happening rather soon and this is the single most important launch in the last decade for AMD. Intel is working on a response, but AMD fanboys will embrace the Zen, even if it ends up slightly slower compared to Intel.
The positive financial impact will help AMD becoming more competitive in both CPU and GPU areas, which is great news for the market. Intel has been left almost alone, for long enough and it is about to taste its own medicine.
Industry veteran journalist Kyle Bennet wrote back in December that Intel might launch a CPU powered by Radeon technology. This happens in the middle of the last quarter when Nvidia and Intel’s cross licensing GPU deal is about to expire.
Just recently, Kyle said that there might be a CPU with Radeon coming this year but more important is that from April 1, Intel will not have a valid GPU license from Nvidia or AMD. None of the three companies spoke publicly about a possible GPU licensing deal and as far as Fudzilla is aware Nvidia hasn’t reached a deal with Intel to extend the licensing.
As part of the original deal and the terms and conditions of the patent cross license agreement, Intel agreed to pay Nvidia licensing fees which in the aggregate will amount to $1.5 billion, payable in annual installments, as follows: a $300 million payment on each of January 18, 2011, January 13, 2012 and January 15, 2013 and a $200 million payment on each of January 15, 2014, 2015 and 2016.
The original document states that “Capture Period” shall mean any time on or prior to March 31, 2017 indicating that this is the last date where the license is still valid.
There are a few possible scenarios going forward and one very likely and that Fudzilla suggested a while ago, is that AMD will license its GPU technology to Intel and get some much-needed cash. Nvidia is always the more expensive choice. If you have been following Nvidia and AMD long enough you will recognize the pattern that both PlayStation and Xbox stayed away from Nvidia simply as AMD was the more affordable choice. Good fellow Jen-Hsun Huang, the CEO of Nvidia is all about making more money, something that resulted in a surge in the stock price.
AMD doesn’t want to talk about it. Fudzilla asked many contacts inside the company on and off the record, but no one seems to want to touch this touchy topic. Where there is smoke, there might be fire, one might imply.
The bottom line is that Intel needs a license or it faces a potential lawsuit. If it gets the GPU patent licensing from AMD, Nvidia would probably stay away from potential legal action.
Nvidia and AMD borrow GPU related ideas from each other left and right and center and we are quite sure that they don’t plan to sue each other for the GPU related patents anytime soon.
We would expect to see some announcements related to a potential AMD – Intel deal in the next few months. While many will argue that AMD is hardly going to benefit from it, making Intel a bigger competitor and losing the edge on the GPU performance lead, AMD would be making some additional cash, something that it desperately needs.
While an Nvidia graphics chip seems to be hanging the office laptop’s Outlook, the company has seen its quarterly revenue surge more than 50 percent for the second straight quarter and beat expectations.
Apparently it is seeing rising demand for its graphics chips and strength in rapidly growing areas such as self-driving systems and artificial intelligence.
The company also forecast revenue of $1.90 billion, plus or minus 2 percent, for the current quarter, marginally higher than the $1.88 billion the cocaine nose jobs of Wall Street predicted.
The Revenue in the company’s graphics processing unit businesses that contributes to more than three-quarters to its total revenue rose 57 percent to $1.85 billion in the fourth quarter.
Also, the Revenue from the company’s fast-growing data center business which counts Amazon’s AWS, Microsoft Azure and Alibaba Groups cloud business as its customers has more than tripled to $296 million in the quarter.
The business is also expected to grow sequentially, Nvidia Chief Financial Officer Colette Kress said on a conference call.
Revenue in Nvidia’s automotive business, which produces the DRIVE PX 2 self-driving system used by Tesla Inc, reported a 37.6 percent rise to $128 million.
Analysts had expected revenue of $135.3 million from the business. Nvidia’s total revenue rose to $2.17 billion from $1.40 billion, beating the average analyst estimate of $2.11 billion.
The company’s net income more than tripled to $655 million.
AMD has announced its Q4 financial results reporting a revenue of US $1.11 billion and an operating loss of three million dollars, which is still way better than financial analysts expected and has once again confirmed that both Ryzen CPUs and Vega-based GPUs are on track.
While its revenue was at $1.11 billion, which is about £200 million lower than in the Q3 2016 and just under $200 million higher than the same quarter last year, as well as an operating loss of US $3 million and net loss of US $51 million, or 0.06 per share, the announced financial results were still better than what analysts expected.
In a statement, AMD president and CEO, Dr. Lisa Su, said that AMD expects to deliver the strongest set of high performance computing and graphics products in more than a decade. She also added that the company is returning to the high end market, a part of the market where the company has not been in years.
“We met our strategic objectives in 2016, successfully executing our product roadmaps, regaining share in key markets, strengthening our financial foundation, and delivering annual revenue growth,” said Dr. Lisa Su, AMD president and CEO. “As we enter 2017, we are well positioned and on-track to deliver our strongest set of high-performance computing and graphics products in more than a decade.”
During the Q4 earnings call, Dr. Lisa Su also confirmed that its Ryzen CPUs, based on Zen CPU architecture, as well as socket AM4 motherboards, are still on track, scheduled to launch in Q1 2017. This means that these should be ready before the end of April, but earlier rumors suggest that AMD could make an official launch at the GDC 2017 show, which starts on February 27th.
Dr. Su also noted that the first graphics cards based on Vega GPU architecture should ship in Q2 2017, which means anywhere between May and August, but some earlier rumors suggesting May or June. The Computex 2017 show starts on May 30th, so it could give AMD partners a chance to show off their shiny new Vega-based products, so anything is possible.
In any case, AMD will have an interesting year and hopefully, both Vega and Zen will live up to its expectations.
The traditional sports ecosystem is dominated by three models of organisation. The most decentralised sports, like the PGA Tour or NASCAR, consist of largely independently organised competitions, which are sanctioned and governed by an administrative body and are open to any qualifying athlete. From there, we have typical leagues like the NBA or Premiership, which have a set number of recurring teams and players, and are extensively managed by a league front office that’s owned by each team.
eSports are quite different. If you choose to race without NASCAR or play basketball without the NBA, there’s nothing – and no official body – that can prevent you from replicating the experience. No one ‘owns’ racing or basketball, but someone does own Overwatch, and if you want to play you essentially have to go through that company. If you wanted to create your own eSports league, your ability to market or represent it would be entirely dependent on the legal team of the game’s publisher. Furthermore, the core experience is fully controlled by that publisher.
“No one ‘owns’ racing or basketball, but someone does own Overwatch, and if you want to play you essentially have to go through that company”
Leagues that are operated or endorsed by publishers can do unique things – e.g. item drops, exclusive/first-release capabilities, bundled original content – and offer unique monetisation opportunities. Three months before The International, the annual world championship for Dota 2, Valve sells interactive in-game items that directly contribute to the tournament prize pool. This model has been so successful that, in 2016, the prize pool reached $19.17 million.
Most tier-one publishers also handicap the data streams that the public can leverage. Whereas in traditional sports there are multiple providers of a firehose of sports data, game publishers offer barebones APIs that allow access to little more than character information and select match data. Valve offers an open API but, as events this year have demonstrated, it can shut off access and change policy at any time. On the platform side, Twitch is miles ahead of its competitors in terms of creating an external ecosystem thanks to its two year head-start and passionate developer community, but it maintains an ever more precarious balance between build vs. buy.
Because of these walled gardens, the investible opportunities within eSports often end up being features not products, which set them and their investors up for more of an acquihire than a Twitch-esque exit. There’s a strong argument to be made to publishers that working with third-party developers will lead to a stronger overall bottom line, foster innovation and provide defensibility.
It’s no secret that being a top publisher is a lucrative business. Activision reported $1.57 billion in revenue for Q2 of 2016 and EA $1.271 billion. It’s rumoured that Valve’s 2015 revenues reached $3.5 billion in 2015, and Riot Games’ over $1.6 billion. It’s not hard to see why partnerships with third parties and external API infrastructure aren’t a priority with so much money flowing, but that’s shortsighted. As publishers start thinking about how to monetise beyond game licenses and IAP, every moment not spent developing the ecosystem is a wasted one.
This isn’t unparalleled, and we can see examples of where large platforms in other verticals have made the decision to invest in their future, often early on in their company lifecycle. Salesforce, an enterprise software company, has a market cap of $50 billion. A report last year by IDC put the opportunity front and center: the AppExchange currently generates 2.8x the revenue of Salesforce itself and is expected to grow to 3.7x the size of Salesforce.
“As publishers start thinking about how to monetise beyond game licenses and IAP, every moment not spent developing the ecosystem is a wasted one”
Slack, the enterprise collaboration tool darling, also gets it. Even before raising money in April 2016, at a $3.8 billion valuation and boasting over 1.25 million paying users, they announced the Slack fund in December 2015 - an $80 million investment into supporting new integrations. Slack and Salesforce could have gone the closed route and developed these integrations and products internally, but they understood that the immediate revenue trade-off was well worth the ability to focus on creating the best core product possible, in addition to leveraging minimal company resources.
Now to everyone’s favourite eSports comparison : traditional sports. During the height of the daily fantasy sports craze in 2014/15, the NBA entered a multi-year partnership with FanDuel that gave it an ownership stake. The NFL expanded its partnership with Providence Equity in 2013, investing $300 million to participate in, “media and technology deals where it believes the league could help play a strategic role.” And these are just a few examples. Partnering with and investing in new properties allows older, larger establishments to participate in the upside of nascent industries quickly and cheaply.
Publishers are thinking about the shelf-life of games. The NFL and NBA will both be around in 25 years, but what about League of Legends or Counter-Strike? Opening up the ecosystem not only benefits players and fans by allowing them an outlet to interact with their favorite IPs, but ultimately enhances the core value of those IPs and gives publishers an opportunity for additional exposure through revenue share, API fees and strategic investments.
In addition to commercial benefits, let’s look at network effects. Valve is the publisher of both Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (25 million+ copies sold, 8.2 million+ players in the last two weeks), and Dota 2 (87 million+ times downloaded, 11 million+ active players in the last two weeks.) While the titles have richer histories than virtually any other competitive esport, Valve’s open API, developer tools and hands-off approach has contributed to their sustained success and status as two of the top eSports titles.
ELeague, FaceIt Esports Championship Series and Gfinity, ESL One and IEM. These streams of revenue have contributed to a high demand for professional CS:GO players, leading to lucrative contracts and opportunities.
3: The most lucrative has been the in-game skins economy, which allows players to purchase crates that contain different cosmetic versions of CS:GO weapons or Dota 2 items. During major tournaments, Valve has offered exclusive stickers that generate up to high six-figures for qualified teams. Valve has also allowed free reign on opening up use cases within this skins economy, which led to wagering, gambling and marketplaces (Bloomberg estimated yearly transaction volume to be >$7 billion.) Variations of this model have since been followed very conservatively by multiple franchises, including Call of Duty, Halo, H1Z1 and Overwatch.
On the platform side, Twitch’s dominance in livestreaming can largely be credited to going all-in on eSports first, but Twitch also has numerous native or platform exclusive features for its users. Diving deeper, this experience is powered by a blend of features that were built in-house or created by third parties. Examples include:
Bits, preceded by Streamlabs and StreamTip: direct donations from viewers are one of the foundations of a streamer’s income.
Clips, preceded by Oddshot, Plays.tv and Forge: allows viewers and creators to efficiently capture highlights and share to different social media channels.
Subscriptions / Partner Program and 3rd-party services (Revlo, Gamewisp and Curse/Discord integrations): subscriptions are another big source of income for streamers, and the third-party services all add further value to a sub and reduce churn.
TwitchPlays: what started out as a fun social experiment (TwitchPlaysPokemon) is now its own category to interact with potential customers for publishers.
Chatbots (Moobot, Nightbot and Xanbot): automated assistants that help moderate chat to prevent spamming and inappropriate behaviour.
Stream+ currency: Twitch’s new currency announced at TwitchCon 2016, which will allow developers to integrate monetisation options directly into games.
Facebook Live has launched to much fanfare, and given the massive distribution channel it will always be a huge threat. However, until it can get to feature parity Facebook Live will need to rely on traditional media partnerships or viral hits to create consistent content. These types of partnerships don’t scale when we’re talking about the individual streamers and professional players that have played a large part in getting Twitch to 100m+ MAUs, although the signing of G2 and Heroes of the Dorm is a good first step. YouTube Gaming is farther along and is doing a great job of starting to launch some analogous features.
How, then, should publishers look to partner with entrepreneurs and third parties? I’d like to see publishers create a vehicle, individually or collectively, in the model of Disney Accelerator, to offer mentorship, funding and support to kick-start the next generation of eSports businesses. Publishers should be developing their games as platforms, not individual entities - tons of data are being generated and archived and there is a treasure trove of use cases for them.
I’m confident that we’re slowly moving in the right direction. One day we’ll see a truly open ecosystem with publishers and third parties living in harmony.
According to the latest rumor, AMD’s upcoming Ryzen CPU lineup might lack 6-core version, due to the fact that AMD cen’t partially disable the four-core Zen module.
According to a rumor started by Zolkorn.com and spotted by PCGamesHardware.de, AMD will not be able to deactivate half of the four-core Zen module, which means the lineup will only launch in quad- and eight-core models, with and without SMT (Simultaneous MultiThreading).
This new rumor contradicts some previous rumors that AMD Ryzen series will include a full lineup, including a dual-core (with two cores disabled) and six-core versions.
The same source suggests that AMD will have several SKUs with a difference in the number of cores, SMT, frequency and TDP, so there will still be plenty of CPUs to choose from.
More details should be coming soon as the expected launch is scheduled for March.
Mega x86 chip outfit Intel is predicting a pretty flat 2017 after announcing mixed results for the last quarter of 2016.
Intel’s biggest cheese Brian Krzanich insisted that the last quarter for 2016 was a strong finish to a record year. But a lot of this was to do with Intel’s work in datacentres and clouds rather than its traditional PC base.
Next year AMD is expecting to be more competitive against Intel in 2017 with its new Zen processors for PCs, laptops, and servers. Microsoft is helping ARM based chip manufactures by issuing Windows 10 for them. This could mean that the days of x86 on the PC are ending.
Wall Street had expected Intel to report earnings per share of 75 cents on revenue of $15.8 billion for the fourth quarter. For the full year, they were expected earnings per share of $2.67 on revenue of $58.9 billion. Q4 earnings came in at $3.6 billion, or 73 a share, on revenue of $16.4 billion. A year ago, earnings per share were 74 cents, with revenue at $14.9 billion.
Net income for the year was $10.3 billion, while overall revenue for the year was $59.4 billion. A year ago, net income was $11.3 billion on revenue of $55.4 billion. Intel cut about 12,000 jobs during the year as it restructured to get behind the company’s focused priorities.
Krzanich said the company is taking a “conservative view of 2017 PC unit sales” than Wall Street. He said that there had been record demand for Intel PC chips in Q4, particularly on high end and gaming machines. However, he thinks that sales for 2017 could decline in the mid-single digit percentages, Krzanich said. To deal with that, Intel is positioning itself to lower its costs during the coming year.
Based on that it would appear that Intel is predicting that its chip sales will fall anyway during 2017 and then it will have to face a serious Zen and ARM challenge too.
Here’s a truism for you: dementia is a god-awful thing. A savage and remorseless condition, it strips away a lifetime of accumulated experience and personality, eradicating memory and emotional attachment, sometimes seeming to erase a person entirely. It’s a heart-rending process to witness, watching somebody vanish by degrees in this way, seeing them become angry, depressed or violent, and losing all recognition for the people they’ve loved for their entire lives.
Sometimes, the decay can be kinder than others – sufferers may drift into a kind of happy reverie, a sort of peace descending as their ember fades. Often it does not. In many cases, someone who has begun to exhibit the early signs of dementia will be aware of what’s happening, the unavoidable degradation made all the more bitter by the diminishing moments of clarity which pass fleetingly across the lens of their consciousness. Agonisingly for those around them, it can be supremely difficult not to will on the acceleration of the process, or indeed the final embrace of death, in a desire to see the tragedy of this recognition extinguished for good. There is scant comfort in knowing that the final stages of erasure leave little room for self-reflection.
And yet, for every guilt-saturated second in which you may wish for the release of a friend or relative from this inexorable grasp, you can be stung a thousand times by the merest hint of recognition in their eyes – a tiny smile, a grateful squeeze of the hand. The darkest curse of dementia can be the fragments of the person it leaves behind.
Of course, this conjecture comes from the selfish perspective of the witness. I speak with a little experience: both my father and grandmother were ravaged by dementia in the final stages of their lives. As a result, I know that it’s difficult enough to be involved in the process, even at considerable remove, that it becomes easier to grieve in advance. To begin, quite frankly, to think of them as dead already.
Then, someone you thought had vanished resurfaces, gasping, for even the briefest moment. In the last days of her life, I visited my grandmother in hospital and talked with her about things which had happened – 30 years ago in my childhood and 80 years ago in her’s – in astonishing detail: memories of happy days spent in sunshine and light. She was frail and faltering, but she had clarity and emotional continuity. A woman I hadn’t seen for years was there once more. She never left that bed, and did not go gently, and I have never really forgave myself for all the conversations I didn’t have in the months and years prior, the encounters rushed through, the moments wasted.
Years later, when my semi-estranged father passed, I wasn’t lucky enough to have another chance. Never tremendously close, we had precious few shared memories to revisit and he’d lost all recognition of me well before his final days, but I know there were things which eased his passing – happy recollections of his own. Even when he began to exhibit signs of unpredictability which sometimes escalated to violence, there were bits of his old self in between.
The point is this. Dementia can present us with a locked door, a sullen slab of unresponsiveness. It’s exhausting, harrowing, alienating. It’s only going to become more common, but there is hope. Pharmaceutical trials are showing some results in the amelioration of its onset. Mental health practices and dietary advances are leading to fitter, healthier brains more resilient to its advances. And VR may have its part to play as well.
The video above found its way onto my social media streams towards the end of last year. I saw it twice before I could bring myself to watch it, but I’m glad I did, because it’s full of hope.
It comes from Alex Smale at TribeMix, primarily a social media marketing company. Smale himself has a rich games industry background, beginning his career job at NMS Software, developers of pinball sim Tilt.
After a few years of moving around “in search of ever higher pay cheques”, Smale eventually found himself working with at Bitmap Brothers as head of art, where he rounded out a decade in games. Since, he’s spent a stint running a pub (“brilliant fun, quite dangerous and always interesting”), and set up a photography business just as Facebook began to take hold, getting an early grasp of the potential of the medium for promotion. After an even wilder turn working as the head of marketing in a zoo, Smale set up his current business.
“Our friends, Stan and Dulcie, are 99 and 94 years old respectively. Over the past two years, we watched them go from active people walking into town to do their shopping, to losing their confidence and never leaving the house”
“I eventually decided to set up a social media marketing agency, Tribemix, to help other businesses use social to grow. That’s been going really, really well. I’ve had one eye on VR since the announcement of the Oculus Rift. I knew that social media and VR would converge, and brands would need to create engaging experiences on this new platform. So I’ve gone back to my roots and we’ve been working on developing branded social VR experiences for our clients.
“We had some elderly neighbours who hadn’t left the house for a long time due to disability. We’d taken them back to some of their favourite holiday destinations using Street View and an iPad already, and I thought, ‘wouldn’t it be great if we could take them on holiday again using VR?’ So I created a basic beach scene to run on the Rift for them to try.”
The experiment was a successful one, and Smale realised the potential of the technology to offer hope.
“I had a friend who worked in care homes, and I asked him to introduce me to one so I could try what we’d made on some other elderly people. He put us in touch with the amazing folk at Belmont View in Hertford, which specialises in dementia care and is run by the Quantum group. They were really open minded to the idea and really supportive. Before this, I didn’t have a clue about dementia, but we’ve learned a lot.
“We worked with them for over a year, developing and fine-tuning a range of experiences specifically designed to help people living with dementia. The carers, managers and residents have all given us invaluable feedback which has enabled us to create something really unique and effective. The change in the residents’ behaviour is stark, as you can see from the video.”
“You can’t just put an Oculus Rift on an elderly person’s head and walk away. There’s a carefully developed process we’ve created that ensures the wellbeing of the patient at all times and ensures a positive experience for all”
The sort of experiences which Tribemix has been developing are very much at the gentle end of VR, for obvious reasons. They’re relaxing environments rather than games, but Tribemix doesn’t use 360 degree video or photography of real-world locations, instead preferring the environmental control offered by 3D modelling.
“This is all realtime 3D,” Smale clarifies. “Yes, there’s a trade-off in realism. But the control we have in 3D environment is a world apart from what we can set up to film around a 360 camera rig. And it’s this control that makes all the difference. People living with dementia are often incredibly sensitive, so being able to control simple things such as the distance birds are from the camera, or position of the audio is vital.
“And because of this sensitivity, you can’t just put an Oculus Rift on an elderly person’s head and walk away. There’s a carefully developed process we’ve created that ensures the wellbeing of the patient at all times and ensures a positive experience for all. It’s important to understand, this isn’t for everyone. And even for those people who do like it, they don’t necessarily always like it. So it’s always important to ensure that the experience is carried out on a voluntary basis and never pressured or forced.”
Smale raises a good point. It can be incredibly difficult to understand exactly what a dementia sufferer wants, and even harder to predict how they may react to a sudden or unexpected change in environment. Smale says that not only does the experience tend to relax people, it also offers a longer-term respite from some of the emotional peaks and troughs so common with the condition and assures me that the assessment processes are based on science and the concrete experience of healthcare professionals.
“That video is just the tip of the iceberg. It only shows a few brief minutes from a small number of patients who were kind enough to let us film them and show our work to the world. We’re really grateful to them for letting us do that, as it has opened a great many doors for us.
“But what you don’t get from the video are the long periods of serenity that the patients enjoy. It’s really relaxing just watching them use it. You often wonder if they’ve fallen asleep behind the headset. But then they’ll whisper something about the scene they’re in, and you know they’re still awake. Just very, very relaxed.
“People living with dementia are often confused and distressed. Rather than trying to bring them back to what we consider to be reality, it is better to live with them in the reality that they are in. A virtual experience is a way of taking them to a nice place from wherever they feel they currently are in a way that is actually far less stressful than taking them there in reality. For many, leaving the comfort of a care home and getting on a bus to travel somewhere is just not possible. Our virtual reality experiences allow those who haven’t been able to leave the care homes to enjoy a day out. With our robust processes, we ensure that if at any point, there is a risk of distress, we end the experience immediately and bring the patient straight back to well-being. Something that has always been very important to us to maintain.
“The dementia experts at Quantum have developed a wellbeing assessment tool based on the Abbey Pain scale. This records the wellbeing and behaviour of the patients before, during and after their VR experience. It’s really useful data that clearly shows a positive benefit across the board. We’re now working with two NHS hospitals on a behavioural research study which will expand on this work. It will also demonstrate the effectiveness in an acute setting.”
“People living with dementia are often confused and distressed. Rather than trying to bring them back to what we consider to be reality, it is better to live with them in the reality that they are in”
One of the key challenges facing dementia research is that the condition is often not treated until well established. Often it will go unnoticed, and many sufferers express understandable reticence to bring it to light, fearing stigma attached to it, not wanting to cause concern or present a burden. Stimulation and emotional engagement are increasingly considered to be effective methods of strengthening the brain against dementia, so I ask Smale if his work has potential in preventative care, or whether it might actually slow the onset of an established condition.
“This has yet to be determined,” he admits. “We’re hopeful that our research studies will begin to demonstrate some really useful outcomes, such as reduced medication or improvements in appetite. We have already seen countless memories brought vividly back to life in the patients. Sometimes patients will come out of the experiences and recount childhood memories linked to the experiences for half an hour or more. It’s magical to watch.”
It’s important to note that Tribemix is a for-profit company, not a charity. Whilst he may have noble goals, Smale also has his own bills to pay, and VR is an expensive business. Nonetheless, this isn’t an exploitative venture.
“The care providers will be the ones who have to cover the costs of the systems,” he says. “We’ve tried very hard to keep this as low as possible and we’re at a price point that works well for the industry and allows care providers to have access to the systems 24-7. Hardware is our biggest hurdle to get over. Oculus have been really helpful for VR hardware, but we also need help with the PCs to run it. So we would love to speak to any laptop manufacturers who might be interested in sponsoring our project. It’s getting a huge amount of interest worldwide. We’re also keen to make any connections in the care world.
“The more places we can get the systems in to, the more people we can help.”
The NPD Group and the Entertainment Software Association both released reports on last year’s sales in the US games business today. While overall game software grew six percent from $23.2 billion to $24.5 billion, the total consumer spend, including revenues from all hardware, software, peripherals, and in-game purchases, came in at $30.4 billion, only slightly better than last year’s $30.2 billion.
“Growth in entertainment software consumer spend was seen across the mobile, PC, virtual reality, subscription, portable and digital console segments,” said Mat Piscatella, industry analyst, The NPD Group. “Consumers have more options to purchase and enjoy entertainment software than ever before, while developers have more and easier ways of delivering that content. No matter the delivery platform, entertainment software has never been more engaging, diverse or accessible.”
While there was softness in the AAA games market, a big factor in 2016’s somewhat flat growth came from the hardware side, as consoles did not generate big spending. “2016 was a tough year for hardware spending,” acknowledged NPD analyst Sam Naji. “The category was down 24 percent as unit sales and the average retail price for consoles declined compared to 2015. On a positive note, Nintendo did shift an additional 4 percent of 3DS systems thanks in large part to the heightened demand for Pokemon.”
He added, “Total hardware spending for 2016 reached $3.7B, a decline of 24 percent versus 2015. Unfortunately the release of the Xbox One S and the PlayStation 4 Pro did not generate dollar spending growth. Although the combined ARP for the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 systems decreased by 15 percent, consumers bought 7 percent fewer units.”
The hardware trend continued throughout December too, as total sales slipped 20% to $994.9 million. “The PlayStation 4 was the top-selling hardware system in the month and the PlayStation 4 Slim System 500GB Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End Bundle was the month’s top seller,” noted Naji, adding, “Year-on-year there was a 10 percent increase in the number of Xbox One systems sold during December 2016.”
On the software side, total sales of console and portable titles (including digital formats) slipped 12% in December to $1.19 billion, while total PC game sales (including digital) dropped 13% to $45.8 million. The big winners in software were Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, Final Fantasy XV and Battlefield 1.
“Although a Call of Duty has now topped the December sales chart for the ninth consecutive year, Final Fantasy XV was the best selling game for the PS4 during the month,” said Naji. “Final Fantasy XV was the second best-selling title for December 2016… Final Fantasy XV experienced the best console launch month in the history of the franchise (since tracking began in 1995) selling 19 percent more new physical units than Final Fantasy XIII in its launch month and 54 percent more in total dollar revenue including digital full game sales.”
As for EA’s World War I-themed shooter, Battlefield 1 actually enjoyed 10% higher dollar spending than last year’s Star Wars Battlefront. And of course, in the portable realm, Pokemon: Sun and Moon reigned supreme, as the combined sales were the best for the franchise since Pokémon Diamond and Pearl in 2007.
Accessories felt the pinch in 2016 as well, dropping six percent, and 21% (excluding game cards) in December. Naji pointed out that this was “driven by a 50 percent decline in Interactive Gaming Toys.” He continued, “The Interactive Gaming Toys segment consumer spend sold half the volume the segment achieved a year ago. The only brand to achieve year-on-year growth was LEGO Dimensions, originally launched in September 2015.”
Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company held its most recent investors conference on January 12th, during which company officials said that it has not ruled out the possibility of building a facility in the US as a response to recent nationalistic pleas to restore American manufacturing jobs.
During the investors conference, company chairman Morris Chang said that fabricating chips in the US “may not necessarily be a good thing,” though the option is still under preliminary consideration. He indicated that the foundry is already helping to create jobs in the US by allowing integrated device manufacturers to succeed on a global scale and expand their operations.
TSMC also disclosed that revenues from customers based in North America accounted for 65 percent of its total wafer revenues in 2016. It projects revenues to stay about 60 percent this year, says Chang.
A shift back to US manufacturing
In late November, US president-elect Donald Trump stated that one of his biggest achievements would be to restore the decades-long decline in US manufacturing employment by relocating jobs from the self-reinforcing “supply chain cluster” of Asian manufacturing firms back to US shores. During his campaign, he declared the promise of a 35 percent tariff levied against products including the iPhone that are manufactured overseas, signaling an incentive for moving jobs back into the hands of blue collar American service occupations.
According to the most recent December 2016 jobs report from Glassdoor.com, TSMC pays its principal engineers a monthly salary of about NT$65,833 ($2,084), while senior engineers get NT$57,783 ($1,829), process engineers get NT$45,014 ($1,425), regular engineers get NT$44,517 ($1,408), and interns get NT$26,250 ($831).
TSMC is not the only foundry considering a facility in the US. Foxconn Electronics (Hon Hai Precision Company) released a statement to IBTimes in December confirming its exploration of expanding in the US. Back in November 2012, Foxconn had previously gone on record and denied reports considering plans to establish a plant in the US near Detroit or Los Angeles. The manufacturer of an estimated 40 percent of the world’s consumer electronic devices said it had already established several facilities in the US and did not have plans to expand at the time.
Then there are companies such as Pegatron, which have declined to formulate such a migration plan due to cost concerns. A 35 percent tariff increase would likely be passed on to consumers, raising the $649 base price of an iPhone to around $876.
AMD indicated that the official Ryzen launch date will be sometime before March.
While they haven’t specifically given an exact date, a talk to be given by AMD at the annual Game Developer Conference (GDC) says the following: “Join AMD Game Engineering team members for an introduction to the recently-launched AMD Ryzen CPU followed by advanced optimisation topics.”
Obviously for this to be the subject of the talk Ryzen would have had to be recently launched which means that it is probably timed for that week.
GDC event runs from 27 February to 3 March and has not been put on the schedule yet and it could appear any day during the event.
AMD has not disclosed an exact date either, launching the new set of Ryzen CPUs right in the middle of both GDC and Mobile World Congress would be insane as the news would end up being buried under other GDC and smartphone announcements.
It would make sense to do it the week before all that, if not two.