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Can Micro-Consoles Compete With True Gaming Consoles?

April 15, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Gaming

With Amazon’s Fire TV device the first out the door, the second wave of microconsoles has just kicked off. Amazon’s device will be joined in reasonably short order by one from Google, with an app-capable update of the Apple TV device also likely in the works. Who else will join the party is unclear; Sony’s Vita TV, quietly soft-launched in Japan last year, remains a potentially fascinating contender if it had the right messaging and services behind it, but for now it’s out of the race. One thing seems certain, though; at least this time we’re actually going to have a party.

“Second wave”, you see, rather implies the existence of a first wave of microconsoles, but last time out the party was disappointing, to say the least. In fact, if you missed the first wave, don’t feel too bad; you’re in good company. Despite enthusiasm, Kickstarter dollars and lofty predictions, the first wave of microconsole devices tanked. Ouya, Gamestick and their ilk just turned out to be something few people actually wanted or needed. Somewhat dodgy controllers and weak selections of a sub-set of Android’s game library merely compounded the basic problem – they weren’t sufficiently cheap or appealing compared to the consoles reaching their end-of-life and armed with a vast back catalogue of excellent, cheap AAA software.

“The second wave microconsoles will enjoy all the advantages their predecessors did not. They’ll be backed by significant money, marketing and development effort, and will have a major presence at retail”

That was always the reality which deflated the most puffed-up “microconsoles will kill consoles” argument; the last wave of microconsoles sucked compared to consoles, not just for the core AAA gamer but for just about everyone else as well. Their hardware was poor, their controllers uncomfortable, their software libraries anaemic and their much-vaunted cost savings resulting from mobile game pricing rather than console game pricing tended to ignore the actual behaviour of non-core console gamers – who rarely buy day-one software and as a result get remarkably good value for money from their console gaming experiences. Comparing mobile game pricing or F2P models to $60 console games is a pretty dishonest exercise if you know perfectly well that most of the consumers you’re targeting wouldn’t dream of spending $60 on a console game, and never have to.

Why is the second wave of microconsoles going to be different? Three words: Amazon, Google, Apple. Perhaps Sony; perhaps even Samsung or Microsoft, if the wind blows the right direction for those firms (a Samsung microconsole, sold separately and also bundled into the firm’s TVs, as Sony will probably do with Vita TV in future Bravia televisions, would make particular sense). Every major player in the tech industry has a keen interest in controlling the channel through which media is consumed in the living room. Just as Sony and Microsoft originally entered the games business with a “trojan horse” strategy for controlling living rooms, Amazon and Google now recognise games as being a useful way to pursue the same objective. Thus, unlike the plucky but poorly conceived efforts of the small companies who launched the first wave of microconsoles, the second wave is backed by the most powerful tech giants in the world, whose titanic struggle with each other for control of the means of media distribution means their devices will have enormous backing.

To that end, Amazon has created its own game studios, focusing their efforts on the elusive mid-range between casual mobile games and core console games. Other microconsole vendors may take a different approach, creating schemes to appeal to third-party developers rather than building in-house studios (Apple, at least, is almost guaranteed to go down this path; Google could yet surprise us by pursuing in-house development for key exclusive titles). Either way, the investment in software will come. The second wave of microconsoles will not be “boxes that let you play phone games on your TV”; at least not entirely. Rather, they will enjoy dedicated software support from companies who understand that a hit exclusive game would be a powerful way to drive installed base and usage.

Moreover, this wave of microconsoles will enjoy significant retail support. Fire TV’s edge is obvious; Amazon is the world’s largest and most successful online retailer, and it will give Fire TV prime billing on its various sites. The power of being promoted strongly by Amazon is not to be underestimated. Kindle Fire devices may still be eclipsed by the astonishing strength of the iPad in the tablet market, but they’re effectively the only non-iPad devices in the running, in sales terms, largely because Amazon has thrown its weight as a retailer behind them. Apple, meanwhile, is no laggard at retail, operating a network of the world’s most profitable stores to sell its own goods, while Google, although the runt of the litter in this regard, has done a solid job of balancing direct sales of its Nexus handsets with carrier and retail sales, work which it could bring to bear effectively on a microconsole offering.

In short, the second wave microconsoles will enjoy all the advantages their predecessors did not. They’ll be backed by significant money, marketing and development effort, and will have a major presence at retail. Moreover, they’ll be “trojan horse” devices in more ways than one, since their primary purpose will be as media devices, streaming content from Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, Hulu, Netflix and so on, while also serving as solid gaming devices in their own right. Here, then, is the convergence that microconsole advocates (and the rather less credible advocates of Smart TV) have been predicting all along; a tiny box that will stream all your media off the network and also build in enough gaming capability to satisfy the mainstream of consumers. Between the microconsole under the TV and the phone in your pocket, that’s gaming all sewn up, they reckon; just as a smartphone camera is good enough for almost everyone, leaving digital SLRs and their ilk to the devoted hobbyist, the professional and the poseur, a microconsole and a smartphone will be more than enough gaming for almost everyone, leaving dedicated consoles and gaming PCs to a commercially irrelevant hardcore fringe.

There are, I think, two problems with that assessment. The first is the notion that the “hardcore fringe” who will use dedicated gaming hardware is small enough to be commercially irrelevant; I’ve pointed out before that the strong growth of a new casual gaming market does not have to come at the cost of growth in the core market, and may even support it by providing a new stream of interested consumers. This is not a zero-sum game, and will not be a zero-sum game until we reach a point where there are no more non-gaming consumers out there to introduce to our medium. Microconsoles might do very well and still cause not the slightest headache to PlayStation, Xbox or Steam.

The second problem with the assessment is a problem with the microconsoles themselves – a problem which the Fire TV suffers from very seriously, and which will likely be replicated by subsequent devices. The problem is control.

Games are an interactive experience. Having a box which can run graphically intensive games is only one side of the equation – it is, arguably, the less important side of the equation. The other side is the controller, the device through which the player interacts with the game world. The most powerful graphics hardware in the world would be meaningless without some enjoyable, comfortable, well-designed method of interaction for players; and out of the box, Fire TV doesn’t have that.

Sure, you can control games (some of them, anyway) with the default remote control, but that’s going to be a terrible experience. I’m reminded of terribly earnest people ten years ago trying to convince me that you could have fun controlling complex games on pre-smartphone phones, or on TV remote controls linked up to cable boxes; valiant efforts ultimately doomed not only by a non-existent business ecosystem but by a terrible, terrible user experience. Smartphones heralded a gaming revolution not just because of the App Store ecosystem, but because it turned out that a sensitive multi-touch screen isn’t a bad way of controlling quite a lot of games. It still doesn’t work for many types of game; a lot of traditional game genres are designed around control mechanisms that simply can’t be shoehorned onto a smartphone. By and large, though, developers have come to grips with the possibilities and limitations of the touchscreen as a controller, and are making some solid, fun experiences with it.

With Fire TV, and I expect with whatever offering Google and Apple end up making, the controller is an afterthought – both figuratively and literally. You have to buy it separately, which keeps down the cost of the basic box but makes it highly unlikely that the average purchaser will be able to have a good game experience on the device. The controller itself doesn’t look great, which doesn’t help much, but simply being bundled with the box would make a bold statement about Fire TV’s gaming ambitions. As it is, this is not a gaming device. It’s a device that can play games if you buy an add-on; the notion that a box is a “gaming device” just because its internal chips can process game software, even if it doesn’t have the external hardware required to adequately control the experience, is the kind of notion only held by people who don’t play or understand games.

This is the Achilles’ Heel of the second generation of microconsoles. They offer a great deal – the backing of the tech giants, potentially huge investment and enormous retail presence. They could, with the right wind in their sales, help to bring “sofa gaming” to the same immense, casual audience that presently enjoys “pocket gaming”. Yet the giant unsolved question remains; how will these games be controlled? A Fire TV owner, a potential casual gamer, who tries to play a game using his remote control and finds the experience frustrating and unpleasant won’t go off and buy a controller to make things better; he’ll shrug and return to the Hulu app, dismissing the Games panel of the device as being a pointless irrelevance.

The answer doesn’t have to be “bundle a joypad”. Perhaps it’ll be “tether to a smartphone”, a decision which would demand a whole new approach to interaction design (which would be rather exciting, actually). Perhaps a simple Wiimote style wand could double as a remote control and a great motion controller or pointer. Perhaps (though I acknowledge this as deeply unlikely) a motion sensor like a “Kinect Lite” could be the solution. Many compelling approaches exist which deserve to be tried out; but one thing is absolutely certain. While the second generation of microconsoles are going to do very well in sales terms, they will primarily be bought as media streaming boxes – and will never be an important games platform until the question of control gets a good answer.

Courtesy-GI.biz

Amazon Rumored To Launch Smartphone In Time For Christmas Season

April 14, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Amazon.com Inc is making plans to unveil its long-rumored smartphone in the second half of the year, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday, citing people briefed on the company’s plans.

The Internet retailer would jump into a crowded market dominated by Apple Inc and Samsung Electronics Co Ltd.

The company has recently been demonstrating versions of the handset to developers in San Francisco and Seattle. It intends to announce the device in June and ship to stores around the end of September, the newspaper cited the unidentified sources as saying.

Amazon has made great strides into the hardware arena as it seeks to boost sales of digital content and puts its online store in front of more users. Amazon recently launched its $99 Fire TV video-streaming box and its Kindle e-readers and Fire tablets already command respectable U.S. market share after just a few years on the market.

Rumors of an Amazon-designed smartphone have circulated for years, though executives have previously played down ambitions to leap into a heavily competitive and increasingly saturated market.

Apple and Samsung, which once accounted for the lion’s share of the smartphone market, are struggling to maintain margins as new entrants such as Huawei and Lenovo target the lower-income segment.

To stand out from the crowd, Amazon intends to equip its phones with screens that display three-dimensional images without a need for special glasses, the Journal said.

Amazon officials were not immediately available for comment.

 

Lenovo Says More Low-priced Android Tablets Coming In May

April 10, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

More lower priced Android tablets ranging from $129 to $249 are coming from Lenovo.

The new Tab A-series tablets, which will ship next month, have screen sizes ranging from 7-10 inches and are designed for Web surfing and home entertainment, Lenovo said. Other than screen sizes and weight, the tablets have mostly identical features.

The cheapest tablet in the lineup is the Tab A7-50, which weighs 320 grams and starts at $129. The TAB A8 weighs 360 grams and is priced starting at $179. The Tab A10 is much heftier at 560 grams, but has a larger battery that offers a Wi-Fi browsing time of eight hours, Lenovo said in a specification sheet.

All the tablets have screens that can display images at a resolution of 1280 x 800 pixels. The tablets have Android 4.2, code-named Jelly Bean, which will be upgradeable to version 4.4, code-named KitKat.

Common features also include Wi-Fi b/g/n, 1GB of RAM, 16GB of storage, and an SD card slot for up to 32GB of expandable storage. The tablets have a 2-megapixel front-facing camera and a 5-megapixel rear camera. Another feature is integrated 3G mobile broadband, though Lenovo did not say whether it was included in the price or is optional.

The tablets will ship in the U.S. Lenovo did not immediately provide information about shipment plans for other countries.

Lenovo offers a range of tablets for Android and Windows 8.1, with models starting at $99. The company is trying to create brands around Android-based Yoga tablets, which are being promoted by actor Ashton Kutcher, and ThinkPad tablets, which run on Windows.

 

Twitter Unveils Redesign Of User Profile Pages

April 10, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Twitter Inc has revealed a redesign of its user profile pages, the latest in a series of steps promised by the company to bring new users to the seven-year-old service.

In response to an all-time low in user growth figures during the recent quarter, Twitter Chief Executive Dick Costolo informed worried Wall Street analysts that the company would make a number of changes to freshen up the service.

The redesign, while mostly cosmetic, hinted at what Costolo described in February as a willingness to experiment with new ways to organize content. Users can now “pin” a tweet to stay at the top of their feed, a rare instance of Twitter departing from the continuously rolling format that has defined the service.

Tweets that have received more re-tweets or replies will also appear slightly larger to spur more user engagement.

The new layout, which will be available to a small group of users initially, will be widely deployed to Twitter’s 241 million users in the coming weeks, the company said.

Twitter reported higher-than-expected fourth-quarter revenue on February 6, but investors focused on user growth of just 3.8 percent, the lowest rate of quarter-on-quarter growth since Twitter began disclosing user figures. The San Francisco-based company went public in November.

In recent weeks, Twitter has also reportedly been testing a number of new advertising units, such as ads that include download links for mobile apps.

As part of Tuesday’s refresh, Twitter said users will also be allowed to select a large banner picture to display across the top of their profile page, as well as a much larger profile picture, two features that resemble another social network familiar to most of the world’s Internet users: Facebook.

 

Will Raspberry Pi Go Industrial computer This Summer?

April 10, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

The Raspberry Pi Foundation is readying an industrial compute module that will go on sale in early summer.

James Adams, director of hardware at the Raspberry Pi Foundation, said that the upcoming Raspberry Pi Compute Module is a complete Raspberry Pi system that fits it on a 67.6x30mm board.

It is a computer within a computer that is aimed at the Raspberry Pi hobbyist market of people that want to build their own PCB. Less able designers will be treated to a separate Compute Module IO board.

The module board includes 512MB of RAM, a BCM2835 processor and a 4GB eMMC Flash device.

“The Flash memory is connected directly to the processor on the board, but the remaining processor interfaces are available to the user via the connector pins. You get the full flexibility of the BCM2835 SoC (which means that many more GPIOs and interfaces are available as compared to the Raspberry Pi), and designing the module into a custom system should be relatively straightforward as we’ve put all the tricky bits onto the module itself,” said Adams.

“So what you are seeing here is a Raspberry Pi shrunk down to fit on a SODIMM with onboard memory, whose connectors you can customise for your own needs.”

The kits and cards will go online from resellers RS Components and Element14 this June, he added. Bulk orders of 100 will have a unit cost of $30. Individual orders will also be accepted, but they will incur a higher charge.

Adams said that all profits will be plowed back into charity, which is the foundation’s way. Last week it announced a “you raise it and we’ll match it” $1.7 million investment fund for educational projects.

Courtesy-TheInq

nVidia Updates Shield

April 10, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Gaming

Nvidia certainly did one thing right with the Shield gaming console. It has learned that users of such devices really like continuous and regular updates that add features and functionality to their devices.

The effort probably would not be worth it, given the limited number of Shield consoles in the wild, but it demonstrates that Nvidia is committed to the concept. Shield today sells for a rather attractive $199 and offers Gamstream support on your home network as long as you have a 5GHz capable router.

With the latest April Update, Nvidia is offering remote Gamestream support. This is good news but we still have to try this in the field in order to make some conclusion about it. Let’s not forget that Nvidia lets you use the Shield in console mode, playing your games on a big screen TV as long as you have the necessary Bluetooth controller. Grid gaming works for some users depending on the region, with California as the epicentre, but this functionality was enabled before the April update. It is required that your ping stays below 150ms and Nvidia will let you try out a dozen games for free. We tried it and it works nice, as long as you don’t get too far away from the 5G router.

The Shield April update also brings mouse and keyboard support in console mode, and it will make your life easier playing Civilisation V, World of Warcraft and similar games from your couch. Nvidia also updated Game touch mapper making it easier to map your favourite touch based games. You can also download predefined settings from the community profiles. The full support for Android 4.4.2 KitKat is certainly a nice addition. Andrew Conrad, Nvidia tech guy and gaming nerd, the face of Nvidia gaming for the new generation also confirms that Gamestream on the go will work via WiFi, tether, MiFi or Hotspot internet connection.

As we already pointed out, Nvidia is clearly putting a lot of effort into Shield on the software front. This is not always the case with niche products, but Shield is part of a much wider strategy that revolves around streaming, blurring the lines between different platforms. Whether or not upcoming generations of the console can gain a mainstream following remains to be seen.

Courtesy-Fud

Can The Amazon Fire TV Compete In The Gaming Space?

April 8, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Gaming

With Fire TV, Amazon has launched its first box to deliver games to the living room. The $99 Android-based hardware features a quad-core processor, a dedicated GPU and a separate gaming controller for $40. Moreover, Amazon will bring exclusive games to the Fire TV through its first-party team at Amazon Game Studios.

Similar to other microconsoles, the games on the digital store will be either free or quite cheap to purchase, which Amazon hopes will make it attractive to the masses. Amazon has an army of resources and while other microconsoles have failed to become mainstream, it would be foolish to doubt Amazon’s potential. Should dedicated console makers like Sony or Microsoft be concerned? The majority of the analysts GamesIndustry International spoke to didn’t think so.

Wedbush Securities’ Michael Pachter called the announcement a “nonevent,” saying Amazon “will not be a player.” DFC Intelligence’s David Cole agrees.

“Short term they don’t have a reason to be concerned but long term it could be an issue. The main focus of the box is streaming video. The issue is video is 1) a much bigger application than games and 2) much easier to do. It is clear games are at best currently a distant after thought for Amazon in terms of the Amazon box. The type of games they are looking at are more in the realm of tablet/mobile/casual products, which are really no substitute for what the dedicated consoles provide,” he said.

“So I think right now it is a rounding error in the game industry but that could change if Amazon decides it wants to make a big investment in the space. However, the reality is you really have to very directly target gamers and Amazon right now is only half-heartedly doing that.”

Indeed, hardcore gamers won’t be passing up the PlayStation 4 or Xbox One for an Amazon Fire TV anytime soon, said independent analyst Billy Pidgeon: “Hardcore games enthusiasts won’t be satisfied by this or any other inexpensive television-connected device. Still, Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo are increasingly competing for individual and family entertainment time with interactive entertainment, video and audio available in the home on multiple devices, including smartphones and tablets as well as multimedia boxes that connect to television sets.”

Pidgeon conceded that “as more devices can offer games and media, consoles’ appeal for the mass market (an important factor in mid-to-end cycle console adoption) is in steep decline.” He added that if anyone should be worried now, it should be Apple and Google.

“Apple and Google have been the main contenders for online media transactions, but Amazon has the motivation, the focus and the distribution to move Fire TV quickly into lead position. Apple has competition issues with media providers and Google is behind in online retail and user experience. Amazon’s entry into connected TV could energize the competition and speed household penetration,” he said.

Asif Khan, CFO of Virtue LLC, wasn’t wowed by the Fire TV announcement either. Even with exclusive games – and now Amazon has hired some heavy hitters in Clint Hocking and Kim Swift – he’s not convinced that Amazon can disrupt the console market.

“We knew that Amazon was going to enter the games industry, but I am not sure who is going to feel compelled to buy it with a controller that costs 40 percent of the device. The success of the device as a gaming alternative will likely depend on the software that Amazon’s gaming studio can create, but we have seen with Nintendo’s Wii U flop that first-party content is not enough to get consumers to buy a device,” Khan noted.

“There is chance that Fire TV can make some waves if Amazon’s partners continue to bring games to the device, but in my opinion this product will achieve limited success,” he continued. “It feels like all of Apple’s competitors have now shown their cards in anticipation of the upcoming Apple TV refresh. We have seen Xbox One, Chromecast, and now Fire TV. None of these products have wowed consumers and ushered in a new age of how we interact with TVs. This announcement by Amazon today just has me even more interested in what Apple is going to announce this year. Clearly the set top box market has a lot of players and Amazon has a chance to contribute something to that increasingly crowded space. With that being said, I do not think the Fire TV is a game changer for video game consoles. It is a set top box that also plays games, with the potential of asymmetric gameplay.”

If the analysts seem overly negative, perhaps they are forgetting about Amazon’s web services. The back-end technology could make a difference, said IDC research manager Lewis Ward, who believes Amazon is “absolutely” a contender in the console space.

“Anybody in high tech or in content that sees Amazon jump into their bread and butter market and isn’t concerned about what Amazon might be able to do should have their head examined,” he commented. “Let’s put it this way: Fire TV is by far the most viable microconsole platform out there. Couple that with Amazon’s back-end streaming, storage, and game-hosting platforms and developer tools and you’ve got a serious threat to casual home-based console gaming in particular, at least in North America and pockets of Europe in the next few years.”

Courtesy-GI.biz

Microsoft Announces Give Away Of Windows For Tablets, Phones

April 4, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Microsoft Corp announced plans to give away its Windows operating system to makers of smartphones and small tablets for consumers as it seeks to make more of an impact on those fast-growing markets and counter the massive success of Google Inc’s free Android platform.

Microsoft’s, plans which were unveiled at its annual developers conference in San Francisco, is an attempt to broaden the small user base of mobile versions of Windows, in the hope that more customers will end up using Microsoft’s money-making, cloud-based services such as Skype and Office.

Up to now, Microsoft has charged phone and tablet makers between $5 and $15 per device to use its Windows system, as it has done successfully at higher prices for many years with Windows on personal computers. Hardware makers factor the cost of that into the sale price of each device.

That model has been obliterated in the past few years by the fast adoption of Google’s Android system for phones and tablets, which hardware makers quickly embraced and now accounts for more than 75 percent of all smartphones sold last year. Apple Inc’s iPhone and iPad account for most of the rest of the mobile computing market.

By contrast, Windows-powered phones held only 3 percent of the global smartphone market last year. Windows tablets have only about 2 percent of the tablet market, according to tech research firm Gartner.

Microsoft’s move to make Windows free for some consumer devices bucks a central tenet of Bill Gates’ original philosophy, that software should be paid for, which led to Microsoft’s massive financial success over the last four decades. But analysts said it is a realistic reaction to the runaway success of free Android.

“Microsoft is facing challenges on the mobile and tablet fronts and need to change their strategy to move the growth needle, this is a good and logical first step,” said Daniel Ives, an analyst at FBR Capital Markets.

Windows will be free for companies making phones and tablets with screen sizes under nine inches for the consumer market. A license fee will still apply for business devices.

It comes a week after new Microsoft Chief Executive Satya Nadella unveiled new versions of Word, PowerPoint and Excel applications for Apple Inc’s iPad. A year’s free subscription to Microsoft’s cloud-based Office 365 service will be offered on the new devices running the free Windows, Microsoft said.

Both moves show that Microsoft is now more interested in gaining market share for its cloud-based services such as Office on any platform or device, rather than its traditional approach of putting Windows at the center of everything it does and extending its influence from there.

In the new era of mobile computing, Nadella acknowledged Microsoft’s underdog status.

“We are going to innovate with a challenger mindset,” said Nadella in a question and answer session at the developer conference. “We are not coming at this as some incumbent trying to do the next version of Windows, we are going to come at this by innovating in every dimension.”

 

Western Digital’s ‘MyCloud’ Outage Continues

April 3, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Computing

Western Digital’s (WD) consumer cloud storage sites have been plagued by outages for the more than five days.

According to WD, its My Cloud and My Book Live users “are experiencing intermittent issues with WD servers that enable remote access when using these products.

“These issues include poor transfer speeds and/or inability to connect remotely. We are working very hard to resolve these issues and resume normal service as soon as possible,” the company said.

A spokesperson said that users of the sites have access to their data via Ethernet and WiFi. “This is only affected with those using remote access,” she said.

Other than saying it was a server issue, the WD spokesperson did not detail what caused the problems.

WD’s MyBook Live service was built to act as an online backup for the MyBook network-attached storage (NAS) device that resides in a customer’s home or office.

Last year, WD unveiled the My Cloud service, which is combined with a physical hard drive that has 2TB to 4TB of capacity and runs on Linux.

The MyCloud service/drive is simpler to use than the MyBook Live device and comes with management software that is compatible with iOS, Android, Windows or OS X. The My Cloud software allows users to organize digital content from all of their computer devices and set up automated cloud backups to WD’s My Cloud storage service.

 

Latest Move By FCC Could Mean Faster Wi-Fi

April 2, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

U.S. regulators are opening up spectrum that may lead to Wi-Fi services with speeds of one gigabit per second and faster.

The Federal Communications Commission on Monday voted unanimously to open up an additional 100MHz for Wi-Fi-enabled devices in the 5GHz band of spectrum, and remove indoor-only restrictions on Wi-Fi devices and increase the amount of power they can use in the 5.15 to 5.25 GHz band of spectrum. The restrictions had been in place to protect Globalstar, which provides mobile and fixed satellite services in that area of spectrum.

Globalstar had raised interference concerns about new Wi-Fi devices operating in the spectrum, but general counsel Barbee Ponder said last month that the company did not object as long as its services could be protected.

“This change will have real impact, because we are doubling the unlicensed bandwidth in the 5 GHz band overnight,” Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said.

The new spectrum will help Internet users get higher Wi-Fi speeds and should ease congestion in crowded areas, the FCC said. But the unlicensed spectrum will also give innovators more spectrum with which to experiment, Rosenworcel said.

“The power of unlicensed goes beyond on-ramps to the Internet and off-loading for licensed [mobile] services,” she said. “It is the power of setting aside more of our airwaves for experiment and innovation without license. It is bound to yield new and exciting developments. It is also bound to be an economic boon.”

The FCC’s decision moves the U.S. closer to ending an old debate about the value of licensed spectrum versus unlicensed spectrum, added FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler.

“In 2014, licensed and unlicensed spectrum are more complementary than competitive,” he said. “They are less oil and vinegar and more peanut butter and jelly. Wireless carriers are using Wi-Fi to offload more than 45 percent of smartphone traffic to fixed networks.”

The FCC action will allow so-called unlicensed national information infrastructure (U-NII) devices to operate in the spectrum. U-NII devices now operate in 555MHz of spectrum in the 5GHz band, and are used for Wi-Fi and other high-speed wireless connections.

U-NII devices create Wi-Fi hot spots and wireless home local area networks to connect smart phones, tablets and laptops to the Internet, and are used by wireless ISPs to provide broadband service to rural areas, the FCC said.

 

Intel Buys Significant Slice Of Big Data Start-Up

April 1, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Around The Net

Intel has made what it has dubbed “a significant investment” in Cloudera and will make the fast-growing startup its preferred distributor of software for crunching Big Data.

Intel’s cash makes it the Cloudera’s single largest strategic shareholder and it comes as Intel looks to expand its server business to make up for falling sales of personal computers. While no one is saying how much Intel has spent, Intel said that he stake in Cloudera is its largest data center technology investment ever.

Cloudera helps corporate customers manage data through “Hadoop,” an open-source software system that can sort and handle the massive amounts of information, increasingly called Big Data, generated through the Internet and mobile devices. Intel said it will promote Cloudera’s Hadoop and move away from its own customized version that it had been promoting as optimal for Intel server chips.

Cloudera will now re-engineer Hadoop products to work best with Intel’s server chip technology.

Courtesy-Fud

Some Philips Smart TVs are Vulnerable To Hacking

March 31, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

The latest firmware in some Philips smart TV models opens an insecure Miracast wireless network, giving potential hackers located in the signal range to control the TV remotely and perform unauthorized actions.

Researchers from Malta-based vulnerability research firm ReVuln recently published a video demonstration of what attackers can do after they connect to the insecure wireless networks of the affected Philips TVs. The potential attacks include: accessing the TV’s configuration files; accessing files stored on USB devices attached to the TV; broadcasting video, audio and images to the TV; controlling the TVs via an external remote control application and stealing website authentication cookies from the TV’s browser.

The insecure network is opened by Miracast, a feature that enables the wireless delivery of audio and video content to the TV screen from desktops, tablets, phones, and other devices.

The Philips TVs running vulnerable firmware versions open a wireless network connection with an identifier that starts with DIRECT-xy and can be accessed with a hard-coded password, the ReVuln security researchers said Friday via email.

“So basically you just connect directly to the TV via WiFi without restrictions,” the researchers said. “Miracast is enabled by default and the password cannot be changed. We tried all the possible ways to reset the TV included those methods suggested in the Philips manual [...] but the TV just allows anyone to connect.”

The TV doesn’t use any additional security measures like generating a unique PIN for each wireless client asking for manual confirmation before authorizing incoming connections.

The problem was likely introduced a few months ago and only exists in newer firmware versions, the ReVuln researchers said. Some models tested in a shop didn’t have this issue, but they were running older firmware, they said.

The researchers tested a Philips 55PFL6008S TV, but believe many 2013 models are also affected because they share the same firmware.

 

nVidia’s Volta Coming After Pascal

March 28, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

Volta was previously supposed to follow in the footsteps of Maxwell, which is rolling out this year, at least this was the case last time we saw Nvidia’s roadmap.

Things changed today at the Nvidia’s GPU technology conference, Jen Hsun Huang, the CEO of Nvidia just showed an updated roadmap with Pascal replacing the Maxwell architecture at some point in 2016.

Volta is currently scheduled to come after Pascal, so definitely from late 2016 onwards. Nvidia told us that the Pascal got pulled in and the module that was shown at the keynote is meant for the increasingly popular HTPC form factor.

To clear any possible confusion, Pascal will make it to mobile, desktop, graphics card factors, so there is nothing to worry about. Just like Maxwell it will show up in all segments where Nvidia needs an up to date GPU.

Volta is now coming after Maxwell, that is the official line. Pascal comes in a unique form factor that opens up a lot of opportunities, but again this very unique chip with stacked memory and NVlink communication is happening in late 2016, quite some time from now.

Courtesy-Fud

Intel Acquires Health Band Maker Basis Science

March 27, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

In another sign of the mainstream growth of wearable devices, Intel has purchased high-end health tracker maker Basis Science.

The San Francisco-based startup developed the Basis band, hailed as an advanced health-tracking wristband.

Intel did not disclose the terms of the deal, but said the trackers will still be sold and supported through existing channels.

The chip maker said its strategy is to create wearable reference devices, SoCs (systems on a chip) and other technology platforms “ready to be used by customers in development of wearable products.”

Basis will be incorporated into Intel’s New Devices Group, where former Basis CEO Jef Holove is now a general manager.

“Intel has a broad wearables strategy and we are now a key part of it,” Basis wrote in a blog post.

The acquisition of Basis gives Intel immediate entry into the health tracking wearables market, Mike Bell, Intel vice president and general manager of the New Devices Group, said in a statement.

At CES, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich focused on the company’s push into wearables during his keynote address, showing off smart earbuds for runners that can measure heart rate and display the data on a smartphone screen.

He also featured the Jarvis earpiece, a smooth-talking personal assistant that can make dinner reservations and scan email.

In 2013, Intel invested in Thalmic Labs, which makes the MYO gestural armband, and Recon Instruments, which is behind the Jet, a heads-up display for sports that has some similarities with Google Glass.

The $199 Basis band has sensors that sit against the skin and can analyze sleep patterns, motion, heart rate, calorie expenditure, perspiration and skin temperature around the clock. Of course, it also tells the time.

 

ZTE Debuts 6.4 Inch Smartphone With 13 Megapixel Camera

March 26, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Those who really enjoy taking selfies might be interested in the latest handset from ZTE, a smartphone that the Chinese company claims is the world’s first with a 13-megapixel front-facing camera.

Called the Nubia X6, the 6.4-inch smartphone has the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 quad-core processor, and a massive 4250 mAh battery. In addition, it has two 13-megapixel cameras, one in the front, the other in the back.

The X6 joins thegrowing number of 6-in. smartphones starting to appear on the market. It has a 1080p screen that packs in 344 pixels per inch. The aluminum-cased handset also has dual speakers, slots for two SIM cards, and comes in configurations with either 2 GB or 3 GB of RAM.

Like other handset makers, ZTE is highlighting the phone’s cameras as a way to attract consumers. The X6′s rear-facing camera uses an “EXMOR RS” imaging sensor from Sony that helps it take pictures in low light levels to the point that it can capture clear photos of stars in the night sky.

The phone runs Android 4.3 with ZTE’s Nubia 2.0 user interface. ZTE incorporated a split screen function so that users can view separate apps at the same time on the large screen.

The phone is the latest device to carry the Nubia name, a newly established brand ZTE hopes will distinguish itself in a market already crowded with rivals. To raise its profits, the company is increasingly developing more high-end devices at higher price points.

ZTE will start selling the phone first in China, with pre-orders beginning on March 25. But the company will probably roll out the device to other markets later in the year, said a ZTE spokeswoman.