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South Side Chicago-Gets A Video Game

April 11, 2016 by Michael  
Filed under Gaming

When was the last time you played as a black character in a game who wasn’t either a) the sidekick to a strapping white dude or b) a stereotypical gang member? We Are Chicago, from Indie studio Culture Shock, offers something different: a realistic representation of the life of a person of color in Chicago’s South Side neighborhoods.

“It was interesting to think about how you make a game about something that’s actually happened, a true story, and still give the player agency,” explains studio founder Michael Block.

“So we were talking about those ideas. We’re from Chicago and at the time we had started doing some volunteer stuff and talking to some people on the South Side, a very racially-segregated section of the city, very poor and has a lot of issues with gangs and violence. We realized it’s a really interesting story and nobody is talking about this stuff.”

This was the moment that led to the game I played a few weeks ago at GDC, which Block calls a documentary game, a game which gives players an insight into the world of high school student Aaron. During the very first scene, Aaron’s family sits down to dinner, only to hear the sound of gunshots. It’s shocking not because I’ve never heard a gunshot in a game before, but because the family carries on with dinner, discussing their situation but accepting the violence as part of the background to their lives.

“We brought on a writer from one of the neighborhoods to write the actual dialogue”

Scenes like this aren’t just based on Culture Shock’s preconceived ideas about the South Side, but on the sort of research that would make any journalist proud.

The growth of narrative games

“Part of it comes to down to places like Telltale, I think what they were able to do which has been super helpful, and they’ve been paving the way for everyone else to do all this stuff, is because they had this tie-in to an IP that people really liked and then they were able to tell a really compelling story with that IP. I think that got people into that genre.

“That has benefited us in unimaginable ways because it allows people to come into it with an open mind and know what they’re getting.”

“At the beginning we did interviews. We actually got really lucky: there was a non-profit group that we were volunteering with that basically blanketed the city with volunteers and they had a survey that could have been written for our game. Things like, what are you seeing in your neighbourhood that could be problematic? What are the things that you’re seeing are really good? Are you seeing any solutions that are working well? What do you wish was there?”

“From that we were doing interviews with people at bus stops on the South Side and we just asked a bunch of people all these questions and then gave that all back to the non-profit. Then we met a whole bunch of people who we were volunteering and people that they knew and put us in touch with and we did more in-depth interviews.”

As well as researching their subject matter, We Are Chicago took their commitment to representing the stories into the studio via recruitment.

“We brought on a writer from one of the neighborhoods to write the actual dialogue. So we had the outline in place, we had the ideas that we wanted to talk about and we went to him and said ‘let’s figure out how to make this into a narrative arc’. Then we brought on environment artists as well from the neighborhoods that we were looking at to work on the content of the game and they’ve also looked over the script and made sure everything makes sense to them as well.”

Block and his team also plan to continue working with the non-profits of Chicago, taking a build of the game to a couple of schools in Chicago to do play-testing with young kids and to make sure that the game is true to their experiences. He also reveals that he plans to do a revenue share with some of the non-profits, as a way of giving back.

That’s Block’s motivation here, and it’s a noble one. We Are Chicago is a difficult game to make and difficult game to sell, but its importance to its creators goes beyond simple profit and loss.

“I’m working on this project because for all of my career – I’ve worked on Organ Trail and I’ve worked at mid-sized studios before and released other games – I didn’t really feel like they were having the impact I wanted to have. I wanted to do something that was positive for our society and our community and so this feels very important to me personally because it feels like I’m able to achieve that,” says Block.

“We’ve had some really great responses from people. Seeing some people express more racist sentiments and ideas and then after playing the game actually not express those things is really validating and really satisfying, to think that we might actually be able to have that impact. It’s a very strong connection for me because I’m hoping that we can prove that this is possible with games and that we’re doing it.”

We Are Chicago will be released this year on PC, Mac and Linux.

Courtesy-GI.biz

 

Will Quantum Break Be A Blast For Microsoft?

April 5, 2016 by Michael  
Filed under Gaming

In an age of viral media and ubiquitous social networks, it’s rare to encounter a major AAA release surrounded by so much uncertainty. Quantum Break has likely been in full development since 2012, when Remedy Entertainment launched Alan Wake: American Nightmare, and it has been a shining beacon in the Xbox One’s line-up since Microsoft unveiled the console a year later. Was Microsoft bankrolling an exclusive answer to Uncharted’s slick, story-driven adventure? Was its furtive marriage of live-action TV series and third-person action the result of unrevealed brilliance, or the unfortunate by-product of a now defunct product strategy? Or was it all just a logical evolution of the slick production and metatextual noodling found in all of Remedy’s previous games?

Reading through the myriad reviews that are now setting the record straight, the answer may be that Quantum Break is all of these things. Unfortunately for Remedy and Microsoft, there’s no consensus on just how capably it delivers on any one.

Polygon

With a score of 8.5 out of 10, Polygon is among Quantum Break’s more ardent admirers, praising Remedy for mostly fulfilling what seemed to be the loftiest of the game’s many promises: a marriage of action game and TV series that both works and satisfies.

“The way Quantum Break handles story is, easily, the most interesting, successful thing about it… Remedy accomplishes something no one has really tried, much less successfully executed on: The studio has integrated the game of Quantum Break with a fully live-action episodic component.

“This is no half-measure: Four out of five of Quantum Break’s in-game acts are followed by half-hour live-action episodes using the same actors cast within the game proper. Other narrative-heavy games that take the reins from the player for minutes or even hours at a time have often jokingly been criticized with the suggestion that their creators should “go make a movie” – I’m looking at you, Mr. Kojima – but Remedy has actually done it.

“Even more surprisingly … it’s pretty good? There’s a question mark there because I’m still surprised to be saying it.”

While the player spends the majority of the game controlling a conventional hero character, Jack Joyce, it also allows them to influence the actions of the antagonist, Paul Serene, in a series of playable bookends. Choices made in these sections influence the content of the story told through both the live-action episodes and the remaining game.

“These present an interesting conceit that I’ve never seen in any choice-driven game,” Polygon notes. “You’re making decisions as a villain, and are given the option to see the direct consequences of your actions – but the events that unfold after that are impossible to know. Some characters may vanish from the story entirely, or take on new roles or sides depending on these choices. They also managed to humanize Paul in a way that the game otherwise doesn’t accomplish, adding a tragic spin to the story.”

And it does this with no shortage of style. Indeed, Eurogamer’s review – which does not find Quantum Break to be good enough for Recommended or Essential, nor bad enough to be Avoided – reserves most of its praise for the game’s splendidly polished surface, particularly the impressive way the game, “shares the look and feel of the TV series.”

Eurogamer

“Quantum Break is primarily a shooter with little depth or nuance. What it boasts instead is an impeccable sense of style… An explosion in a university grounds, say, or a cruiser ship crashing noisily into a bridge; at these points there’s a deliciously perverse fetishisation of twisting metal and shattered glass that would have done dear Ballard proud, and a phenomenal visualisation of it all, told in countless particles and streaks of expressive light.

“It’s as a spectacle that Quantum Break really triumphs, a showcase of excellence on Remedy’s behalf as it creates an experience that’s aggressively handsome, delivered with great visual flair. When those firefights break out into noisy showers of sparks, pockets of fractured time and splinters of scenery, Quantum Break shows the magic that can happen when you give a handful of demoscene veterans a Hollywood budget.”

All of which sounds promising, but one cannot simply gloss over Eurogamer’s comment that, “Quantum Break is primarily a shooter with little depth or nuance.” Though other outlets might disagree on the use of the word “primarily” in that context, the criticism that Remedy has prioritised style over substance is relatively common. Indeed, Quantum Break’s staunchest critics seem to be those who lacked enthusiasm for its game/TV hybrid elements, leaving its mechanical weaknesses all the more exposed. Giant Bomb, for example, which will settle somewhere towards the bottom of Quantum Break’s Metacritic page with its two star review.

“Actually playing Quantum Break means you’ll engage in a lot of third-person cover shooting and some ill-conceived platforming,” Giant Bomb states, before describing a set of player abilities that are tied to the plot’s time manipulation conceit in name alone. “It feels like the developers just came up with a set of abilities and slapped the word ‘time’ on the front of each one.

“The gun handling in Quantum Break is pretty underwhelming and the powers at your disposal don’t feel as cool as they probably should. In some alternate timeline, this game has abilities that work together and chain off of each other, creating a more satisfying feeling of flow in combat. Instead it’s simple cooldown management as each of your powers is just about as good as every other one at taking down one or two enemies at a time… Remedy has delivered fantastic action games with exciting shooting components in the past, and it’s a real shame that Quantum Break doesn’t follow in those footsteps.

“Overall, the gameplay feels like it needs more variety, which makes the TV show side of things frustrating, since it features a car chase and other things that probably would’ve been more engaging if they were in the video game portion of the product.”

And that leads into the single most divisive aspect of Quantum Break, the apparent reason why its review percentages roam from 40 per cent all the way up to 90: the live-action episodes, and not the concept, but the reality. For Wired, they are “well-acted and tightly paced” enough to save Remedy’s, “radical concept from total disaster… They look and feel exactly like… well, like a mid-season replacement on the USA Network, if we’re being honest. But the action is just intriguing enough that you won’t mind being asked to watch a 20-minute cut scene before beginning the next level.

“[Quantum Break] will be remembered for blending game and live-action in a formula that actually kinda worked, not for its gameplay, which feels unambitious, half-baked.”

Ars Technica, on the other hand, takes a very different view, lambasting the, “excruciatingly average live-action TV show” for interfering with the “many strong elements” elsewhere. Ultimately, that could just be evidence that one person’s Breaking Bad is another’s Brady Bunch, but with a package as lavishly and expensively assembled as Quantum Break, it’s worth contemplating whether it’s a result Remedy and Microsoft will be happy to accept.

“Rather than make room in the live-action show for…character development, that show’s director wastes our time with overlong, poorly shot action sequences,” Ars Technica states. “Microsoft and Remedy’s experiment with live-action TV in a game is a horrible failure of management and execution. It’s as if someone let Xzibit into an Xbox conference room so that he could shout, ‘Yo dawg, I heard you like Netflix on your Xbox’-and totally missed the point of why and how we consume stories within our favorite games. Press Y to skip.”

Courtesy-GI.biz

 

Are Chinese Manufacturers Getting In The AMOLED Arena?

March 3, 2016 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

While Samsung and LG Display are into volume production of flexible AMOLED panels it looks like they could be facing competition from China-based panel makers.

Digitimes Research claims that BOE , Kunshan Visionox, Guangzhou New Vision Opto-Electronic are developing such panels and Kunshan Visionox should be ready with volume production in first-quarter 2017.

BOE, Kunshan Visionox and Guangzhou New Vision will focus on 9.5, 4.6- and 5.0-inch flexible AMOLED panels for the smartphone market. The three use PI (polyimide) substrates for flexible AMOLED panels. For TFT backplanes Kunshan Visionox uses LTPS while the other two adopt Oxide TFT.

It does not appear a simple move as the makers have experienced developing such panels economically. China-based Tianma Micro-electronics, China Star Optoelectronics Technology and Truly Opto-electronics have been developing non-flexible AMOLED panels so it looks like competition will be tighter for LG and Samsung next year.

Courtesy-Fud

 

Toshiba Denies Pulling Out Of PC Market

February 17, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

A Toshiba Corp denied reports that it was considering withdrawing from personal-computer production and selling its Hangzhou factory in China.

The comment by a Toshiba spokesman followed a report by the Sankei newspaper that said the Japanese conglomerate is planning to pull out of PCs as it restructures its business following a massive accounting scandal.

The Sankei said Toshiba, Fujitsu Ltd and VAIO are in talks to merge their PC businesses. Toshiba would consign production of its Dynabook brand to Fujitsu and VAIO factories while it focuses on design and development, helping it cut costs, the paper said.

 

 

 

Will Xbox-As-A-Service Work?

February 17, 2016 by Michael  
Filed under Gaming

Software giant Microsoft is planning to get its Xbox business back in gear by making it follow the same sort of business model which worked for it on Microsoft office.

CEO Satya Nadella said that Microsoft has shifted its focus away from trying to strong-arm competitors out of the market, and towards a future of providing apps and services on the iPhones, Android phones, and Macs.

For example Microsoft Office is already on a subscription-based service available via the Internet. With the Office 365 service, customers pay their $10/month (or more if they’re a business) and get access to all the Office apps they can eat.

Redmond recently announced that it had 48 million monthly active users of its Xbox Live gaming service, across both the last-generation (but still popular) Xbox 360 console and the newer Xbox One.

Redmond sells this in two subscription tiers: Silver, which is free, and Gold, which is $60 per year. Silver subscribers can buy games, movies, and TV shows from the Xbox’s digital store they are also expected to swim while wearing pajamas. But subscribing at the Gold level gets you some crucial perks, including the ability to play multiplayer games online and a handful of “free” games every month. Gold subscription will also mean that people start calling you ‘sir’ or ‘madam’ and take their hats off when they talk to you.

What is different is that the new Windows 10 operating system can push Microsoft’s subscription services on you including the Xbox live. It has all been dubbed as “Xbox as a service.”

The latest game from Microsoft “Quantum Break,” was supposed to be an Xbox exclusive. It was announced that there also be a PC version, which buyers of “Quantum Break” for the Xbox One get for free. Most important, you also can sync your saved games across the two via the cloud.

Xbox boss Phil Spencer said that this would be a “platform feature” for the Xbox and Windows 10. Basically it means you buy the game once, get two copies that you can play anywhere.

Sony is behind in this because it does not have Windows 10 as its trump card. It offers “cross-buy support” for some while on select games, letting you buy a game once and play it on your PlayStation 4 or the handheld PlayStation Vita console.

Courtesy-Fud

 

Samsung 4K Blu-ray Players Already Hit The Streets

February 10, 2016 by Michael  
Filed under Uncategorized

According to a post by USA Today, the Los Angeles area retailer began selling the Samsung UBDK8500 on February 5th for $397.99. The device is available in-store only, so we are expecting locals to rush in over the weekend and grab the player quickly as retailers are not expected to begin selling them for another few weeks.

In January, we wrote that Samsung’s UBDK8500 would begin arriving early to New York City-based Internet retailer B&H Photo Video as well as Crutchfield.com. Both sites are currently taking preorders for $399 and are expected to have stock on February 15th and February 17th, respectively.

For the initial public launch, 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray players are expected to be in high demand and limited supply as there will only be three options to choose from – the Samsung UBDK8500, the Philips BDP7501, and the Panasonic DMP-UB900.

We have asked Samsung if the company plans to release any 4K Ultra HD BD-ROM drives for PC, as we expect these to be a much better value-per-dollar than the standalone home entertainment players mentioned above. Unfortunately, the company says it cannot comment at this time.

Couretsy-Fud

 

Will eSport Grow To One Half Billion Dollar Market This Year?

January 28, 2016 by Michael  
Filed under Gaming

According to Newzoo’s 2016 Global eSports Market Report, this year is expected to be a “pivotal” one for the eSports sector. The firm said that last year’s tally for worldwide eSports revenues came to $325 million, and this year the full eSports economy should grow 43 percent to $463 million; Newzoo said this correlates with an audience of 131 million eSports enthusiasts and another 125 million “occasional viewers who tune in mainly for the big international events.” Overall, Newzoo’s report states that global and local eSports markets should jointly generate $1.1 billion in 2019.

Looking a bit deeper, Newzoo found that investment into and advertising associated with eSports continue to grow at a rapid clip. “This year has been dominated by the amount of investors getting involved in eSports. An increasing amount of traditional media companies have become aware of the value of the eSports sphere and have launched their first eSports initiatives. With these parties getting involved, there will be an increased focus on content and media rights. All major publishers have increased their investment into the space, realizing that convergence of video, live events and the game itself are providing consumers the cross-screen entertainment they desire from their favorite franchises,” Newzoo commented.

Online advertising in particular is the fastest growing revenue segment within eSports, jumping up 99.6 percent on a global scale compared to 2014. North America is expected to lead the charge worldwide.

“In 2016, North America will strengthen its lead in terms of revenues with an anticipated $175 million generated through merchandise, event tickets, sponsorships, online advertising and media rights. A significant part of these revenues flows back to the game publisher, but across all publishers, more money is invested into the eSports economy than is directly recouped by their eSports activities,” said Newzoo’s eSports Analyst, Pieter van den Heuvel.

“China and Korea together will represent 23 percent of global esports revenues, totalling $106 million in 2016. Audience-wise, the situation is different, with Asia contributing 44 percent of global eSports enthusiasts. Growth in this region is, for a large part, fuelled by an explosive uptake in Southeast Asia.”

While eSports is certainly on a good path for growth, game companies would be wise to not get too caught up by the hype. The average annual revenue per eSports enthusiast was $2.83 in 2015 and is expected to grow to $3.53 this year, Newzoo said, but that’s still a factor four lower than a mainstream sport such as basketball, which generates revenues of $15 per fan per year.

Peter Warman, CEO at Newzoo added, “The initial buzz will settle down and the way forward on several key factors, such as regulations, content rights and involvement of traditional media, will become more clear. The collapse of MLG was a reminder that this market still has a long road to maturity and we need to be realistic about the opportunities it provides. In that respect, it is in nobody’s interest that current market estimates differ so strongly. Luckily, when zooming in on the highest market estimates of more than $700 million, the difference is explainable by an in-depth look. This estimate only differs in the revenues generated in Asia (Korea in particular), and by taking betting revenues into account. At Newzoo, we believe betting on eSports should not be mixed into direct eSports revenues as the money does not flow into the eSports economy. Similarly, sports betting is not reported in sports market reports.”

Courtesy-GI.biz

 

Sony Pivots Towards IoT With Altair Acquisition

January 27, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Sony has signed a deal to purchase chip company Altair Semiconductor for $212 million in a bid to strengthen its offering for the Internet of Things market.

Altair, based in Israel, is a developer of modem chip technology and software relating to the LTE (Long Term Evolution) 4G cellular standard for mobile phones and data terminals. Sony aims to combine Altair’s work with its sensing technologies such as GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System) and image sensors to develop new cellular-connected, sensing devices.

Sony expects LTE, which is already used in data communication for mobile phones, to play a key role in IoT as more small devices or “things” are expected to be equipped with cellular chipsets and access network services that take advantage of cloud computing.

LTE is increasingly seen as a cellular technology that could be relevant for IoT, and carriers are preparing to offer it. Verizon announced last year the U.S. availability of chipsets for IoT devices that can connect to its LTE network at speeds up to 10Mbps.

Sony said in October it was acquiring Softkinetic Systems, a developer in Brussels of range image sensor technology that uses the time-of-flight (ToF) range method for arriving at the distance of an object. Sony said it would use the technology not only in the field of imaging but for broader sensing-related applications as well.

Altair claims on its website that its chipset already powers millions of LTE-connected devices worldwide. The company’s LTE chipsets provide varying speeds, standby current of microamps to milliamps, and package sizes ranging from small footprint modules to miniature, low-profile SiPs (system in package), the company said.

Sony expects to close the deal early next month. The consumer electronics company has been increasingly focusing on its components business, including a deal announced in December to acquire Toshiba’s CMOS image sensors and memory controller fabrication facility in Oita Prefecture in Japan.

 

 

Is Capcom Finally Getting Into eSports?

January 26, 2016 by Michael  
Filed under Gaming

On February 16, Street Fighter V will launch on PlayStation 4 and PC. It will not be launching to Xbox One thanks to an exclusivity deal signed with Sony. And as Capcom director of brand marketing and eSports Matt Dahlgren told GamesIndustry.biz recently, there are a few reasons for that.

Dahlgren called the deal “the largest strategic partnership that fighting games have ever seen,” and said it addressed several problems the publisher has had surrounding its fighting games for years.

“Basically every SKU of a game we released had its own segmented community,” he said. “No one was really able to play together and online leaderboards were always segmented, so it was very difficult to find out who would be the best online and compare everybody across the board.”

Street Fighter V should alleviate that problem as it’s only on two platforms, and gamers on each will be able to play with those on the other. Dahlgren said it will also help salt away problems that stemmed from differences between platforms. For example, the Xbox 360 version of Street Fighter IV had less input lag than the PS3 version. That fraction of a second difference between button press and action on-screen might have been unnoticeable to most casual players, but it was felt by high-level players who know the game down to the last frame of animation.

“There were varying degrees of input lag, so when those players ended up playing each other, it wasn’t necessarily on an equal playing field,” Dahlgren said. “This time around, by standardizing the platform and making everyone play together, there will be a tournament standard and everyone is on an equal playing field.”

Finally, Dahlgren said the deal with Sony will help take Street Fighter to the next level when it comes to eSports. In some ways, it’s a wonder it’s not there already.

“I think fighting games are one of the purest forms of 1v1 competition,” Dahlgren said. “A lot of the other eSports games out there are team-based, and while there’s an appeal to those, there’s something about having a single champion and having that 1v1 showdown that’s just inherently easy for people to understand.”

Street Fighter has a competitive gaming legacy longer than League of Legends or DOTA, but isn’t mentioned in the same breath as those hits on the eSports scene. In some ways, that legacy might have stymied the franchise’s growth in eSports.

“A lot of our community was really built by the fans themselves,” Dahlgren said. “Our tournament scene was built by grassroots tournament organizers, really without the help of Capcom throughout the years. And I would say a lot of those fans have been somewhat defensive [about expanding the game's appeal to new audiences]. It hasn’t been as inclusive as it could have been. With that said, I do definitely feel a shift in our community. There’s always been a talking point with our hardcore fans as to whether or not Street Fighter is an eSport, and what eSports could do for the scene. Could it potentially hurt it? There’s been all this controversy behind it.”

Even Capcom has shifted stances on how to handle Street Fighter as an eSport.

“In the past, we were actually against partnering up with any sort of corporations or companies out there that were treating eSports more like a business,” Dahlgren said. “And that has to do out of respect for some of our long-term tournament organizers… Our fear was that if we go out and partner up with companies concerned more about making a profit off the scene instead of the values that drive the community, then it could end up stomping out all these tournament organizers who are very passionate and have done so much for our franchise.”

“In the past, we were actually against partnering up with any sort of corporations or companies out there that were treating eSports more like a business.”

So instead of teaming with the MLGs or ESLs of the world, Capcom teamed with Twitch and formed its own Pro Tour in 2014. Local tournament organizers handle the logistics of the shows and retain the rights to their brands, while Capcom provides marketing support and helps with production values.

“I can’t say Capcom wouldn’t partner up with some of the other, more established eSports leagues out there,” Dahlgren said. “I do think there’s a way to make both of them exist, but our priority in the beginning was paying homage to our hardcore fans that helped build the scene, protecting them and allowing them to still have the entrepreneurial spirit to grow their own events. That comes first, before partnering with larger organizations.”

Just as Capcom’s stance toward tournaments has changed to better suit Street Fighter’s growth as an eSport, so too has the business model behind the game. The company has clearly looked at the success of many free-to-play eSports favorites and incorporated elements of them (except the whole “free-to-play” thing) into Street Fighter V. Previously, Capcom would release a core Street Fighter game, followed by annual or bi-annual updates with a handful of new fighters and balancing tweaks. Street Fighter V will have no such “Super” versions, with all new content and tweaks made to the game on a rolling basis.

“We are treating the game now more as a platform and a service, and are going to be continually adding new content post-launch,” Dahlgren said. “This is the first time we’re actually having our own in-game economy and in-game currency. So the more you play the game online, you’re going to generate fight money, and then you can use that fight money to earn DLC content post-launch free of charge, which is a first in our franchise. So essentially we’re looking at an approach that takes the best of both worlds. It’s not too far away from what our players really expect from a SF game, yet we get some of the benefits of continually releasing content post-launch and giving fans more of what they want to increase engagement long-term.”

Even if it’s not quite free-to-play, Street Fighter V may at least be cheaper to play. Dahlgren said that pricey arcade stick peripherals are not as essential for dedicated players as they might have seemed in the past.

“Since Street Fighter comes from an arcade heritage, a lot of people have this general belief that arcade sticks are the premier way of playing,” Dahlgren said. “I think now that the platform choice has moved more towards consoles, pad play has definitely become much more prevalent. I would believe that at launch you’re probably going to have more pad players than you actually have stick players. And in the competitive scene, we’ve seen the rise of a lot of very impressive pad players, which has pretty much shown that Street Fighter is a game that’s not necessarily dictated by the controller you play with; it’s the strategies and tactics you employ. And both of them are essentially on equal playing ground.”

Courtesy-GI.biz

 

Will Ultra HD Blu-ray Debut This Week?

January 5, 2016 by Michael  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray disc format will finally have its big debut at Consumer Electronics Show 2016 which will kick off in Las Vegas during first days of the new year.

In the early 70s and continuing into the 1980s, many children and parents growing up in the era of economic upheaval and the early dawning of globalization remember a time when Video Home Cassette (VHS) tapes rapidly became a common household item for their ease of use as a television recording and playback method. This time was not without competition between two major standards – namely Sony’s Betamax and JVCs Video Home System (VHS), the latter which eventually won the first format war despite being introduced one year after its rival and having less sophistication in terms of recording quality.

During the timeframe between 1982 when Philips and Sony commercialized the Compact Disc (CD) format to the mid-1990s when personal computer manufacturers and software developers began massive adoption of the CD-ROM standard for data storage, the CE industry was looking for a way to distribute digital video over an effective disc format to replace VHS that would serve two major purposes – being more cost-effective than LaserDiscs, and containing the ability to prevent unauthorized recordings (unlike Video CDs).

 

After several years of research in the early 1990s and the industry’s promise of avoiding another format war between two new optical disc formats – the Multimedia Compact Disc (MMCD) and the Super Density (SD) disc, the Digital Versatile Disc (DVD) standard was agreed upon. The DVD format went on sale in Japan in 1995, in the United States in 1997, in Europe in 1998 and in Australia in 1999.

The format enjoys a 1x playback speed of 10.5 Mbit/s and was originally offered in a 4.7GB single-layer capacity. In 2003, the double-layer format was launched and doubled capacity to 8.5GB.

Roughly ten years later, the first Blu-ray Disc titles were released on June 20, 2006 and included 50 First Dates, The Fifth Element, Hitch, House of Flying Daggers, Twister, Underworld: Evolution, xXx and The Terminator. The new 1080p Full HD format’s initial launch was predominantly helped by the launch of Sony’s PlayStation 3 in November 2006, selling just over 6 million console units worldwide in its first year on the market. The format wasn’t without competition, however, sparking the beginning of a second format war for the first time in three decades, this time between Blu-ray Disc and High Definition (HD) DVD. It was in February 2008 that one of HD-DVD’s main partners, Toshiba, announced that it would stop the development of HD-DVD players. This factor, along with a heavy lift in market share from PS3 sales, ultimately conceded the war to the Blu-ray disc format.

The Blu-ray Disc format originally launched with 25GB single-layer and 50GB dual-layer disc capacities, later upgrading to 100GB and 128GB with the BDXL format in June 2010. The PS3 features a 2x BD-ROM Blu-ray read speed at just 72Mbit/s. The 2x read speed was most likely chosen by Sony to save on console production costs, as the minimum required data transfer rate for Blu-ray disc movie playback is 54Mbit/s.

Once again, ten years after the launch of the 1080p Blu-ray Disc format we now have the 2160p Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc format in its place. On May 12, 2015, the Blu-ray Disc Association announced completed specifications and the official Ultra HD Blu-ray logo.

The initial 4K Blu-ray specification allows for three size densities – 50GB single layer, 66GB dual-layer and 100GB triple-layer each with 82Mbit/s, 108Mbit/s and 128Mbit/s data read speeds, respectively.

The new UHD 4K Blu-ray specification also moves from H.264 / AVC compression technology to the newer H.265 / HEVC (High Efficiency Video Coding) technology, allowing for noticeably more efficient data compression – about 25 percent to 35 percent lower bit rates – without any loss in image quality across a given data transfer speed.

Courtesy-Fud

Hackers Expected To Target U.S. Election Next Year

December 22, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

A major cyberattack next year will focus on a U.S. election, security expert Bruce Schneier predicts.

The attack won’t hit the voting system and may not involve the presidential election, but the temptation for hackers is too great, even in state and local races, said Schneier, a computer security pioneer and longtime commentator.

“There are going to be hacks that affect politics in the United States,” Schneier said. Attackers may break into candidates’ websites, e-mail or social media accounts to uncover material the campaigns don’t want public, he said.

Schneier gave the prediction Thursday on a webcast from incident response company Resilient Systems, where he is chief technology officer.

He sees data security and privacy increasingly entering the political realm, both in terms of hackers’ targets and motives and in growing policy differences across borders.

He includes attacks like the massive capture and leak of internal Sony e-mails, which the U.S. government has linked to North Korea, and the revelation this year that Saudi Arabia’s foreign affairs ministry had been a target in attacks blamed on Iranian hackers. Those kinds of crimes have turned a corner as attackers see the impact they can have, Schneier said.

Legal and public-relations risks are making some enterprises rethink the value of data itself, Schneier said. It’s now starting to be called a “toxic asset,” bringing headaches like compliance with a patchwork of privacy laws and protections against breaches. Some companies are deciding it’s better not to have some data in the first place.

“A little bit of data about your customers is useful, and a lot more just doesn’t help you at all,” he said.

Still, at least one thing is improving. More data is getting encrypted, invisibly to the user, one connection at a time. For example, it helps to have Gmail traffic encrypted from the user’s device to Google servers and separately between Google’s and other companies’ data centers, Schneier said.

“That’s much more powerful than trying and failing to get end-to-end again and again,” he said. There are ways to break the encryption, but not all attackers can carry them out everywhere, all the time. “We get a lot of security because of this.”

 

 

 

 

EA Goes Competitive Gaming

December 14, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Gaming

Electronic Arts is the latest publisher to add a dedicated eSports group to its business, as CEO Andrew Wilson today announced the formation of the EA Competitive Gaming Division.

“As the latest step in our journey to put our players first, this group will enable global eSports competitions in our biggest franchises including FIFA, Madden NFL, Battlefield and more,” Wilson said, adding, “EA’s CGD will seek to build a best-in-class program to centralize our efforts with new events, as well as the infrastructure to bring you the world’s preeminent EA competitive experiences.”

Wilson said the CGD will foster competition and community around EA’s games, creating official tournaments and live broadcasts to entertain millions.

Leading up the new CGD will be Peter Moore, who will step down from his role as chief operating officer of EA at the end of the fiscal year to assume a new role as executive vice president and chief competition officer. Moore is well acquainted with EA’s key competitive gaming franchises like FIFA and Madden; prior to assuming his current role in 2011, Moore spent almost four years as president of EA Sports. An EA representative said the company has not yet announced a successor to Moore in the COO position, with details on those plans to come in the weeks and months ahead.

Moore seems excited to lead a burgeoning field for EA. “As a longtime champion of competitive gaming, bringing this to life at EA is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me,” he said in a tweet. He also told IGN that this is something that EA has been thinking about for some time.

“We’re already very engaged with our development teams around the world to make sure our games have got modes that lend themselves very well to competitive gaming, built-in from the get-go. Not as something that’s put in as an add-on mode or a last-minute afterthought,” he explained.

“Prior to the formation of this division, conversations have been had, not just within the last few weeks but in the last couple years, about how we’ve got games that are coming to market in FY17, FY18, and FY19, and making darn sure that if you’re in a genre that lends itself to competitive gaming, you better have those modes built in.”

Wilson also named Todd Sitrin as the division’s senior vice president and general manager. Sitrin started with the company 14 years ago, leading product marketing at EA Tiburon for projects like Madden NFL and NASCAR Racing. Over the next decade, he worked his way up to senior vice president of marketing for all EA Sports, and has spent the last few years overseeing global marketing and product marketing for EA as a whole.

EA is by no means the only traditional publisher to identify an opportunity in the eSports market. In October, Activision Blizzard established its own eSports division. Unlike EA, Activision Blizzard looked outside its own walls for leadership of the group, tapping former ESPN CEO Steve Bornstein and MLG co-founder Mike Sepso to handle the new division.

Courtesy-GI.biz

Are Video Game Stocks Coming Back?

December 10, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Gaming

Given the soaraway success of the PlayStation 4, the none-too-shabby success of the Xbox One (eclipsed by the PS4, sure, but doing fine by its own rights) and the continued meteoric rise of mobile and digital game revenues, it probably won’t surprise you that this has been a banner year for videogame stocks. The success hasn’t been evenly spread around – and there have been some notable failures this year, too – but as the end of 2015 approaches, several videogame companies are trading at prices they haven’t seen in almost a decade, and others are exploring historic highs in their valuations. It’s not unreasonable to say that for the first time in a while, videogames are back to being investors’ darlings.

For this year-end round up of stocks in recognition of the extremely large number of publicly listed Japanese game companies, we’ve divided them off into a feature of their own; the trials and tribulations of the Tokyo Stock Exchange in 2015 were very different from those of American or European markets, so it makes more sense to analyse those stocks separately (that’ll be in Part 2 later this week). In this feature, you’ll find a round-up of all the major stocks from the US and Europe throughout 2015 to date, so without further ado, to the charts.

Our first chart gives you a quick overview of just how great this year has been for the major publishers. The black line is the NASDAQ index, representing the average performance of US tech stocks during 2015; as you can see, it’s been a reasonably torpid year overall, which puts the excellent performance of the game publisher stocks in sharp relief. Take-Two, absent a major GTA release in the year, is the weakest of the bunch, but even at that it’s almost doubled the NASDAQ’s gains since the start of January – while at the top of the chart, Electronic Arts and Activision have soared, with Activision in particular up almost 90 percent for the year, setting brand new heights for its share price. The company’s expansion of its business, especially the acquisition of King, is undoubtedly responsible for some of the late gains – but its investors have clearly been taken with its overall performance over the year as a whole, including the entrenchment of Destiny as a major franchise and the marked excitement over the new Call of Duty (though we’re still waiting to see if its sales have halted the series’ slow decline).

Looking a little more deeply at the contest between Activision and EA, the very early lead which EA took in January was down to a fantastic earnings report and bullish new guidance from the company; but Activision reported its own excellent earnings in August, beating its guidance and reassuring investors with a move towards digital revenues, which allowed it to catch up with and eventually outpace EA’s growth. As the year ended, Activision announced a bevy of strategic moves (the acquisition of King, filling a major hole in its product portfolio, being a major one) which boosted its growth towards a spectacular year-end. Depending on how sales figures for Call of Duty hold up in December, it’s not impossible that the company will finish 2015 with double the valuation it had at the start of the year – but EA, with nearly 50 percent price growth, is far from shabby.

On the other side of the Atlantic, the only major publicly listed “traditional” publisher is Ubisoft on the Paris Exchange – and here we can see that while, again, the exchange wasn’t a dramatic performer for the year (up around 20 percent overall), Ubisoft’s value increase since September has been incredibly dramatic. Why? It’s not that Ubisoft has anything particularly dramatic on the market right now – Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, its biggest game for this autumn, is doing fine but hardly driving the kind of business that would see stock prices leap so high. No, that valuation leap has everything to do with corporate machinations, specifically the acquisition of shares in the firm by Vivendi – a move that was greeted with anger by Ubisoft boss Yves Guillemot, who views Vivendi as a predatory firm whose potential takeover is far from welcome. His shareholders, apparently, do not agree; interest from Vivendi (which also owned a majority stake in Activision Blizzard until the subsidiary bought out the bulk of its own shares in 2013) sent prices rocketing.

As a general rule we don’t put stock prices from different indices alongside one another, as the fundamentals of the markets are very different and the comparisons unfair, but with both the NASDAQ and the CAC-40 index of Parisian shares rolling along at a low, steady rate this year, Ubisoft’s performance is actually broadly comparable with the US publishers – so here’s a quick graph showing where the French firm now sits in context, in the wake of rumours of aggressive take-over. Yves Guillemot may not like it, but rumours of a takeover have propelled his firm into second place among the traditional publishers for 2015 share price growth.

How about Microsoft, the US’ console platform holder? In truth, there’s not much to be gleaned about Microsoft’s gaming business from its share price movements; the company’s expansive businesses in operating systems, office software and cloud computing are far more relevant to its share price than the Xbox. Apple, on the other hand, finds its share price almost directly wired to the iPhone, or at least to sentiment around the iPhone; this year its share price hasn’t moved much, despite setting new records with the iPhone division, suggesting that as with Microsoft, there’s not really a whole lot of connection between the parts of the business relevant to videogames in any way, and the share price itself. In Apple’s case, there’s a compelling case that the share price isn’t really wired to anything real or sensible whatsoever, seemingly jolting around on whims, rumours and idiocy – but for the sake of completeness, we’ve included a graph of the two “platform holders”, so feast your eyes before we move on to the mobile space.

If 2015 has been a great year for traditional publishers, it’s been – once again – an unassuming year at best for mobile-first companies. The biggest mover is Gameloft, which also belongs to the Guillemot family and is essentially a sister company to Ubisoft. There’s a theory that in the event of a genuinely hostile takeover effort, Ubisoft could quickly merge with Gameloft and thus dilute its shares and boost the Guillemots’ control – a strategy called a “poison pill” approach, although that may be neutered by Vivendi’s decision to buy large tranches of shares in both companies at the same time.

Aside from Gameloft, the biggest performer is King – which plateaus in early November with the announcement of Activision’s buyout, and will of course not feature in any charts for the coming year. The premium Activision is paying for the company means that its shares, moribund for most of the year, will end up doubling the gains of the NASDAQ in 2015; a nice bonus for its long-suffering shareholders, though if you’d held on to your shares since the IPO, you’d still be making a loss. Zynga, a company struggling to retain its once-held lustre, underperformed again this year, losing money both in dollar terms and against the NASDAQ index, while Glu Mobile, last year’s top mobile performer off the back of its success with the Kim Kardashian brand, had a very bumpy year. Its growth in 2014 carried on to the middle of 2015, with new celebrity licensing deals and good financials helping to nudge the stock price ever higher, but the market soured on Glu in August after a double whammy of reality check – poor quarterly earnings and weaker than expected projections perhaps reminded investors of what Glu’s management will have known all along – that the Kardashian success might not be as easy to replicate as simply sticking Britney Spears’ or Nicki Minaj’s face on the loading screen and rolling in the money all over again. Turning celebrity mobile games into a sustainable business is a tough ask, and fears over the risks involved saw the firm’s shares cancelling out their 2015 gains, and then some, in the back half of the year.

With the removal of King from the charts, that leaves only Gameloft, Glu and Zynga as publicly traded mobile publishers in the west – and while the huge number of Japanese mobile publishers on the Tokyo exchange do make up the numbers, the absence in the stock markets of top mobile players like Game of War publisher Machine Zone is very notable. Of course, to some degree that’s due to the blurring of the lines with traditional publishers; buying King makes Activision a major mobile publisher overnight, while Electronic Arts has also consistently done pretty well in mobile. Incidentally, it’s not just mobile which lacks some major players on the markets – Bethesda, one of 2015′s biggest publishers in traditional gaming, is a subsidiary of the privately held ZeniMax.

Contrasting the performance of mobile with traditional publishers suggests that in the US, at least, there’s little sign of the “biggest names in gaming” changing any time soon; mobile threats have been met or absorbed by the dominant publishers, and they’ve come out of a tough transition looking more healthy, and certainly more valuable, than ever before. That’s a very different story from the other side of the Pacific, as we’ll see when we get around to tackling Japan’s stocks later this week.

Courtesy-GI.biz

 

Is The Steam OS Really Good?

November 19, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

Benchmarks for Valve’s Steam machines are out and it does not look like the Linux powered OS is stacking up well against Windows.

According to Ars Technica the SteamOS gaming comes with a significant performance hit on a number of benchmarks.

The OS was put through Geekbench 3 which has a Linux version. The magazine used some mid-to-late-2014 releases that had SteamOS ports suitable for tests including Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor and Metro: Last Light Redux.

Both were intensive 3D games with built-in benchmarking tools and a variety of quality sliders to play with (including six handy presets in Shadow of Mordor’s case).

On SteamOS both games had a sizable frame rate hit. We are talking about 21- to 58-percent fewer frames per second, depending on the graphical settings. On our hardware running Shadow of Mordor at Ultra settings and HD resolution, the OS change alone was the difference between a playable 34.5 fps average on Windows and a 14.6 fps mess on SteamOS.

You would think that Valve’s own games wouldn’t have this problem, but Portal, Team Fortress 2, and DOTA 2 all took massive frame rate dips on SteamOS compared to their Windows counterparts.

Left 4 Dead 2 showed comparable performance between the two operating systems but nothing like what Steam thought it would have a couple of years ago.

Courtesy-Fud

 

Samsung Sells LCD Business

November 19, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Samsung has sold a large LCD display operation in order to concentrate full time on OLED-based products.

A report in Business Korea says that the facility in Cheonan, South Chungcheong Province, has shut down its L5 line, the fifth generation of LCD displays, and begun selling the equipment to other manufacturers.

The age of the equipment meant it was only suitable for notebook and small monitor displays. With OLED now rolling out in phones such as the recent Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge, and big-screen TVs, it seems that the company has decided to make a break with the past.

The Korean manufacturer sold off its fourth generation production line to a Chinese company last year. A spokesman for Samsung Display confirmed: “The company shut down the L5 line last month and is seeking companies that are willing to acquire idle equipment.”

Although the equipment and the products it produces may seem outdated, there is still a huge market for this stuff in lower end electronics. Some analysts believe that there are tens of billions of Korean Won in any sale. Ten billion Won is about £5.6m, which doesn’t sound nearly as much but is still better than poke in the eye.

The Cheonan factory is likely to be converted to make OLED products, with talk of deals for AMOLED phone displays for Huawei and even an acceleration of its on-again-off-again Ernie and Bert relationship with Apple said to be at the heart of the decision to ramp up production.

Samsung still operates three LCD production lines, but analysts question if this is the beginning of a move to OLED production only, and if so, what effect that will have on the company as demand for cheaper LCD screens continues to grow, with production ramping up in China.

Samsung has lost market share in the end user market with recent Galaxy products failing to sell as well as their predecessors. As such these component deals are the lifeblood of the business, with a contract to produce high-end screens for Apple alone worth billions.

Courtesy-TheInq