New Nvidia Shield Tablet Hopes To Bring Portable Gaming To The Next Level

July 23rd, 2014 by Manmohan No comments »

Nvidia has unveiled the next generation of its Shield gaming hardware. Starting later this month, the company will be offering a new Shield Wireless Controller and the Tegra K1-powered Shield Tablet, changing up the formula from the original Shield clamshell portable that was announced at the beginning of last year. We got a chance to check out both new products, and were able to see what Nvidia has planned for the future of mobile and PC gaming.

The Shield Tablet is equipped with an 8-inch 1,920 x 1,200 display, a 2.2Ghz quad-core A15 CPU, 2GB of RAM, and Nvidia’s impressive Tegra K1 mobile processor. The Android-powered device also comes with a built-in stylus, 5-megapixel cameras on the front and rear, and microSD card support up to 128GB. Those with 4K-ready televisions will also be able to use the tablet to deliver ultra high-definition content via a Mini HDMI port.

With its pair of front-facing stereo speakers, the tablet resembles a bigger version of the HTC One smartphone, sporting a solid and sleek design. At 9.2mm thick and weighing 390 grams, it’s also small and light enough to easily toss into a bag or purse when on the go.

The Shield Controller is similar to the game pad found with the current Shield portable, but features a smoother and generally more attractive design. Its layout features a pair of analog sticks at the bottom, a directional pad on the top left, four face buttons to the right, and a set of dual-shoulder buttons that are perpendicularly-aligned, not unlike those on the Xbox 360 controller. In the center of the controller are buttons that are used to navigate around Android and Nvidia’s software, as well as launch voice-activated commands.

Also included are a mic / headphone jack, a rechargeable battery, and connectivity via Wi-Fi direct—up to four controllers can be synced to a single tablet. The controller can be used with the original Shield portable as well, for those times that you have the handheld hooked up to your television.

The Shield controller doesn’t have the premium feel and ergonomics of the PlayStation 4 or Xbox One controllers, and its long body reminded me of the game pad that came with Sega’s Dreamcast. It’s certainly adequate and was comfortable enough for gaming, even if it may not be the best designed controller currently offered.

But Nvidia’s Shield experience is about much more than just outward-facing hardware; software plays just as big of a role. The Tegra Zone has been rebranded as the Shield Hub, providing a single destination for gaming news, Android games and media apps, a method to purchase other Shield products, and access to PC games throughGamestream and Nvidia Grid. The tablet also features gamepad mapping software, in case you want to use the new controller with titles that aren’t compatible by default.

When connected to your television or monitor via HDMI, the Shield Hub can be set to TV mode, allowing the UI to completely fill your screen and make for controller-friendly navigation. Beyond the new hub, the Shield Tablet runs a largely untouched version of Android 4.4 KitKat, complete with access to the Google Play store. The device will be updated to Android L when it is available.

We got to try out Trine 2 using the Shield Tablet and Controller—the game will come included with the tablet—and the beautifully-designed characters and textures looked and played great. We were told that the version of the game found on Shield uses the same textures and assets as the one available for PlayStation 3, which is impressive considering that it was coming from a tablet.

We also took Grid 2 for a test drive, checking out how well Nvidia’s Gamestream performs with the new Shield hardware. Controller latency didn’t appear to be a problem, and the game generally looked great. It’s important to keep in mind that we were playing in a very controlled situation, so Gamestream performance may vary depending on your wireless conditions.

To show off the power of the Tegra K1′s 192 graphics cores, Nvidia gave an Unreal Engine 4 demo running directly from the tablet—the same demonstrated during Google’s recent developers conference. The interactive demo displayed the processing power of the K1 with advanced lighting and photo-realistic textures, and frame rate appeared to keep up with the graphics quite nicely.

In addition to offering a large library of Android and compatible PC games, the Shield Tablet is also the first mobile device to be able to stream real time to Twitch. Whether playing a mobile game or utilizing game streaming, users can take advantage of the tablet’s front-facing camera and the Shield Controller’s built-in mic to share their game time with the rest of the Twitch community. We tried out Asphalt 8: Airborne using the new Twitch feature, and were able to broadcast exactly as we would if were using the service through a PC or game console.

The new Shield also comes with Nvidia’s Dabbler app. The painting and drawing software offers a number of brushes and painting techniques for use with the built-in stylus, while also utilizing the tablet’s hardware for some interesting effects. For example, when using watercolors, the tablet can be tilted to have the paint run, just as it would in real life. I don’t posses the artistic ability to have created my own masterpiece, but the app definitely felt like it has a lot of potential.

Nvidia’s new Shield Tablet will be available for an affordable $299 USD with 16GB of built-in storage and Wi-Fi connectivity. Doubling the storage and adding LTE will cost $399—the tablet is compatible with AT&T and T-Mobile in the United States. The Shield Controller will be sold for $59, and a cover for the tablet that can also be used as a kick stand is priced at $39.

All of Nvidia’s new products will launch in the United States and Canada on July 29, with Europe scheduled for August 14, followed by other regions during fall of this year. The new Shield line is available for pre-order now in the United States, Canada, and select European countries, direct from Nvidia and from Amazon.

After spending some time with the new tablet and controller, Nvidia’s vision for the future of its Shield platform became more clear. The new hardware offers a ton of options for gamers, whether playing at home with the tablet connected to their TV or enjoying PC games away from their computer using GameStream and Grid. The form factor is also a lot more practical for everyday use than the original Shield portable, and when compared to other Android tablets, the new Shield is competitively priced, regardless of if you’re going to use it for gaming or not.


Google Sells a Million Chromebooks to Schools in Q2

July 23rd, 2014 by Manmohan No comments »

There’s more evidence that Chromebooks are growing into the third major computer platform — and that they could pose a risk to Microsoft Windows-based machines in large organizations. Google has announced that schools bought more than a million Chromebooks in the second quarter.

The announcement was made in a post on Google’s Office Enterprise Blog, which was otherwise dedicated to the CIO Relevant Products/Services for public schools in Bridgeport, Connecticut, David Andrade, explaining why his district selected Chromebooks. The sales figure was also revealed in an earnings call last week.

“I was a fan of the Chromebook right from the start,” Andrade wrote, “because of their affordable price and ease of use.” He added that his school system Relevant Products/Services “could buy three Chromebooks for the price of a single desktop computer, and the district’s small IT Relevant Products/Services team wouldn’t have to struggle to keep up with the repairs and updates on aging PCs,” since the thin-client, Internet-based Chromebooks update automatically.

‘Very Strong Growth’

Google also replaces malfunctioning Chromebooks with others at no additional cost. Last month, Google announced that its Google Play for Education, a portal for teachers and schools that it launched at the end of 2013 to make Android-based apps easier to purchase, will now also offer Chrome apps and books. The company has said that about 10,000 schools are using Chromebooks.

Recently, Microsoft announced that there would soon be $199, Windows-based HP Stream laptops, a move that many observers have said is an attempt to slow Chromebooks’ growth.

Ross Rubin, principal analyst for industry research firm Reticle Research, told us that a million units in schools “represents very strong growth” for Chromebooks. He pointed out that a lower price point for Windows laptops is only “one aspect” of Chromebooks’ competitive positioning, in addition to its “simplicity and manageability.”

“Moving forward,” Rubin said, “Chromebooks are poised to become a much more competitive option” for organizations, because Google is “embracing more powerful Chromebooks with faster processors and is working with developers to require that apps work in offline modes.”

A Net OS for Microsoft?

It’s conceivable that Microsoft, which is developing its new directions under new CEO Satya Nadella, could create its own Net-oriented OS that, like Google, taps into its growing library of cloud Relevant Products/Services-based apps.

Rubin noted that, if Microsoft took that route, it would end up competing directly with its computer-based OS, Office apps and other products. On the other hand, one might note, a key lesson of this age of disruptive technology is that, if anyone is going to eat your lunch — and consume your product line — it might as well be you.

For Google’s part, Rubin pointed out that the tech giant avoids competition between its Android mobile OS and its Chrome computer OS by “not actively encouraging the development of Android-based computers.”

Some obstacles still remain, however, before Chromebooks can gain larger acceptance in the enterprise. These include supporting other e-mail options besides Gmail and the ability to support existing apps that employees already know how to use.


IBM deal could give Apple leg up over Microsoft

July 23rd, 2014 by Manmohan No comments »

Last week the largely business-oriented computing company struck a deal with Apple to integrate the devices and services offered by both companies. It’s a big deal in the business world, as it has the potential to give Apple a bigger advantage over competitors such as Amazon, Google — and Microsoft.

That last detail caused a fair amount of giggling among old-school tech geeks because the deal poses the biggest threat to the company that rose to power largely because of a key mistake IBM made more than 30 years ago.

Akhilesh Bajaj, chairman of the University of Tulsa’s Management Information Systems department, said Microsoft’s opportunity arose in 1980 as IBM began making some of the first truly personal computers.

“IBM was the dominant home computer hardware provider, though they developed and catered to experimental hobbyists,” he said.

IBM believed the power of its hardware would be the key to its home success, but those running the company didn’t think much about the operating system it would run on, Bajaj said.
“It was deemed too small to be important to IBM,” he said.

For the operating system, IBM reached out to Bill Gates and Paul Allen, who were able to adapt DOS to IBM’s machines, Bajaj said. As part of that deal, the then 3-year-old Microsoft was free to license its MS-DOS system to other companies.

It turned out the operating system, and not any specific hardware, would drive PC sales. DOS and its successor Windows became the unified platforms for the vast majority of personal computers and transformed Microsoft into a computing giant. IBM slowly began to struggle against dozens of competitors, and the company eventually sold its PC division to Lenovo in 2004.

Although IBM left most of our homes, it remained a powerhouse in corporate computing, infrastructure, hosting, artificial intelligence and more. Many large businesses rely on the company to carry out their day-to-day operations.

And Apple, once just a relatively small competitor to Microsoft, has reinvented itself as a provider of a variety of popular devices. Thanks in part to the rise of the iPhone and iPad, many companies have moved from dictating what kind of smartphone can be used to a “bring your own device” policy.

That’s why Bajaj said he believes the partnership will be a powerful one.

“This combines the strengths of both companies,” he said. “Workers will be able to input data on iPads, while their managers will be able to look at the information on IBM platforms.”

This combination should have enough appeal that other competitors won’t be able to just sit back and rely on their past reputations — including the company IBM helped create.

“This will put more pressure on companies like Google and Microsoft to deliver these kinds of services on their own,” he said.


The Nvidia Shield is a high-powered tablet optimized for gaming

July 23rd, 2014 by Manmohan No comments »

Nvidia announced a gaming-focused Android tablet on Tuesday, the Nvidia Shield tablet, which is the first tablet launched in the United States running Nvidia’s Tegra K1 chip. Also announced and sold separately is a new Shield wireless controller, which pairs with Nvidia’s hardware through Wi-Fi Direct.

The Shield tablet is sporting some great specs. Its display is an 8-inch 1920 x 1200 screen paired with front-facing speakers, which are a relative rarity on tablets. Of course, the device is powered by Nvidia’s Tegra K1 chip, which has 192 cores and can output advanced console-level graphics from engines such as Unreal Engine 4. There’s a 5MP front-facing camera for selfies, videoconferencing, and live streaming to Twitch, a video channel devoted to gaming. Nvidia includes a passive stylus with the tablet, and there’s also a slot for a microSD card to store all those big game files.

But the specs don’t tell the story about this device, which has significant features over similar Android tablets. The Shield tablet hooks up to a TV through the built-in HDMI port, and with the Shield wireless controller, can provide an experience that is very similar to consoles. I saw a demo of Trine 2, which will be included for free, which looked very similar to the experience I’d have on my PS3.

Underpinning that console-like experience is a Wi-Fi Direct controller that costs $60. Why not Bluetooth? According to Nvidia, Bluetooth introduces latency that can be very frustrating while gaming, and Wi-Fi direct allowed the controller to incorporate a headphone jack. Four Shield controllers can be paired with one tablet, which could lead to split-screen multiplayer games, a very console-like experience on the big screen, although there aren’t currently any apps that currently support that many controllers.

The Nvidia Shield can also livestream to Twitch while running graphically complex games. When Microsoft announced the Xbox One, Twitch livestreaming was a key selling point for the platform, although it took months for the feature to be turned on. There’s also a feature for lucky gamers with both an Nvidia GeForce graphics card-powered desktop and a Shield mobile device which lets a computer “stream” a Steam game to the tablet while the desktop computer does the heavy computational lifting, similar to the prior Shield device.

But even if you’re not a hardcore gamer, the Shield tablet looks like it has a lot to offer: It’s a solidly built device with a attractive screen and the fastest mobile processor currently available in the United States (The Chinese Xiaomi MiPad also uses the Tegra K1.) When the Nvidia Shield Hub, a launcher replacement app, is paired with a controller it provides one of the least awkward “10-foot” Android interfaces currently available.

The Shield tablet is Nvidia’s second hardware product, after its Android-based Shield handheld system hit the market late last year. That device has been renamed the Shield portable.

There will be two versions. One version has 16GB of built-in storage for $300, and another with 32GB and LTE support for AT&T and T-Mobile SIM cards that will cost $400. The Wi-Fi version is available for preorder today and will hit stores on July 29.


Arm Gets A Q2 Boost From Chip Licensings

July 23rd, 2014 by Manmohan No comments »

ARM has announced a 9% rise in its second-quarter profits, pinning its growth on processor licensing despite a slowdown in smartphone sales.

ARM sells blueprints for processor designs, in turn receiving royalties for every chip sold. It announced that 41 processor licenses had been signed across its markets of mobile computing, consumer electronics and embedded intelligent devices, taking the cumulative number of licences signed to more than 1,100.

Simon Segars, CEO, said: “Our continued strong licensing performance reflects the intent of existing and new customers to base more of their future products on ARM technology. The 41 processor licences signed in Q2 were driven by demand for ARM technology in smart mobile devices, consumer electronics and embedded computing chips for the Internet of Things, and include further licences for ARMv8-A and Mali processor technology. This bodes well for growth in ARM’s medium and long term royalty revenues.

“As expected, our royalty revenue in Q2 2014 has been impacted by seasonal trends and inventory management in parts of the electronics supply chain. An improving market environment in the second half gives us confidence in strengthening royalty revenue in H2 2014.”

ARM had a net cash generation of £86.7m. Net cash at 30 June 2014 was £746.4m compared to £706.3m at 31 December 2013.


Microsoft makes design central to its future

July 23rd, 2014 by Manmohan No comments »

Before Ralf Groene helped devise the look and feel of Microsoft’s Surface tablet, he designed food — or “food concepts,” he says, for people on the go. Among them: dried noodles that come wrapped around a pair of chopsticks; a tubular meal that can be pulled with two fingers from a car cup holder base; and a fork that squeezes out sauce.

Though none of these ideas made it into production, the principles behind them can be applied to computing devices that fit into busy lives, says Groene, and they are just as varied as the ones Microsoft now uses to redesign all its software and devices.

“In a way, we’ve designed Surface with very similar principles,” Groene said on a recent tour of the Surface lab on Microsoft’s sprawling campus in Redmond, Washington. “Surface is trying to dissolve into your day.”

Groene and his team designed the Surface to accompany its users everywhere. It can be used as a tablet-style news reader propped up on its kickstand while you eat your morning bowl of cereal, as a notepad to be scribbled on with a digital pen at a business meeting, and for watching a movie while sitting on your couch later in the day.

Microsoft is putting an emphasis on design excellence more than ever — to make its products more competitive with offerings from rivals Apple, Google, and Amazon and to prod its hardware making partners to dream up new, more innovative devices. In recent years, the software giant has put a priority on fashioning devices that work around people’s lives, help reduce information overload and become intimate, personal and knowledgeable about their users.

And yes, Microsoft is even trying to make devices attractive, cool and desirable, top executives say.

Over the last four years, Microsoft has doubled the number of designers it employs to some 1,400. They have backgrounds as varied as filmmaking, food and footwear. While that pales in comparison to the 64,000 engineers who make up over half the company’s workforce, designers are now shaping products, building user interfaces and mocking up devices with wood and 3-D printers.

“It used to be that engineers ruled the roost and engineers would bring in designers to make icons,” says Joe Belfiore, Microsoft’s corporate vice president overseeing personal computers, tablets and phones. “It’s changed now.”

Even as the company eliminates 18,000 jobs — most of them related to its purchase of Nokia’s devices unit — Microsoft is empowering people like Belfiore and Groene to challenge conventional notions of what Windows devices can do.

Microsoft’s new design ethos is a break from the past — a time, not long ago, when the company’s software was largely a workplace necessity housed in functional plastic that was crafted by other companies.

It’s no secret that Apple is the world’s most beloved technology company in part because its devices are sleek, comfortable, and easy to use. And Microsoft now wants to infuse its products with the same qualities.

Designers today are woven into the process, from the early stages of product development to the way products are marketed to consumers, Belfiore says.

Microsoft has also recently elevated designers to more prominent leadership roles.

Take Albert Shum. A former designer for Nike, Shum was part of the team that revolutionized the Windows Phone software design to feature the boxy, “live tiles” that are central to the Windows 8 touch-based interface. Shum now heads “interaction design” for PC operating systems, Xbox game consoles, and phones, all of which were previously managed separately.

Microsoft’s modern design philosophy draws upon the minimalist Bauhaus movement, which stresses function over ornamentation, while adding in clean typography and swooping motions. This common design language is key to making Microsoft’s offerings seem like a related family of products and services.

With minimal market share in both tablets and phones, Microsoft has its work cut out for it. Yet a focus on design over compatibility under new CEO Satya Nadella means Microsoft can make products and services for non-Windows platforms, such as Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android, and still retain the look, feel and functionality of the Microsoft brand.

Steve Kaneko, a design manager who has been with Microsoft since 1991 and has worked on Office, Windows and other projects, said it’s important for the company to not only design its products to work well on other platforms, but to talk about what design means to Microsoft.

That’s become an easier conversation to have with top executives including Nadella, who took over as chief executive in February. It’s a dialogue the company wants to start with consumers, Kaneko says.

As part of one noteworthy design project, the company plans to make greater use of the tiles in an update to the Windows 8.1 operating system. Pressing Start while in desktop mode will soon bring up several boxy live tiles in the pop-up menu, from which users can launch touch-first apps in the traditional mouse-and-keyboard environment — a feature it previewed at its Build developer conference in April.

Groene’s Surface team already showed off design improvements with the Surface Pro 3, released in June. Clicking the device’s accompanying pen launches the OneNote note-taking app, so it’s as ready as a yellow legal pad for scribbling. And a new bar magnet on the keyboard cover and a kickstand with a wider range of motion helped created a sturdier foundation for typing on a lap.

Another problem the design team is working on: fixing the “hamburger” icon, says Shum.

The icon, featured in Windows Phone and the Xbox One, has three stacked lines resembling two buns and a patty. It mostly acts as a “junk drawer” for random menu items, so it’s not clear what you’ll get when you click on it, Shum says.

On the Xbox One controller for instance, a physical hamburger button represents “enter” on a virtual keyboard. In games like “Titanfall,” it brings up a menu of various in-game options. In Windows Phone’s Cortana app, though, a hamburger button will bring up options for interacting with the digital assistant.

Shum says his team wants to make the icon work similarly across devices. A hint: it will act like a signpost in a city with many neighborhoods. “It should always be this thing that allows you to go to different parts of the city,” he says.

The company is also working to expand the use of the Cortana digital assistant, which is active on some Windows Phone devices. The voice-activated persona is meant to offer help proactively — giving you a snapshot of traffic on the route from the office to your home when the workday ends, for instance.

Kat Holmes, a principal designer who helped design Cortana, is working on ways that it might work in other Microsoft devices, from PCs to the Xbox. The guiding principle, which adheres closely to Microsoft’s new philosophy, is to help the user in various ways depending on the situation.


Users report install, crashing issues with latest MacBook Air EFI update

July 23rd, 2014 by Manmohan No comments »

Apple pushed out the MacBook Air EFI update 2.9 last week to address sleep/wake issues seen on mid-2011 hardware running OS X 10.9.2 and later.

On Tuesday, users began reporting the update as flawed on Apple’s Support Communities forum, citing a number of problems including installation bugs and system lockups. The exact cause of the problem is unknown, though a corrupted file may be to blame as users with identical hardware are seeing varied negative effects.

One user with a “bricked” Air took their machine to an Apple Store Genius Bar, where the technician performed a “soft” SMC reset to successfully expunge the tainted EFI update and bring the computer back to life. The issue was then reported to Apple’s engineering department, though the company has yet to remove the EFI update page.

The thread, which now has more than 850 views and 42 replies, contains a number of similar stories, though the number of MacBook Air owners affected remains unknown.

Apple’s MacBook Air update was meant to fix an issue that causes the laptop to take longer than expected to wake from sleep. Also addressed in the software is a problem that could cause the computer’s fans to run at full speed after waking from sleep.


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