The PS4 Pro, as explained by the man who designed it

Sony really wants to clarify a few things about the PlayStation 4 Pro:

First, the Pro doesn’t signal the end of video game console generations, even though its specs and launch window fit a pattern that resembles PC or smartphone upgrade cycles more than traditional console releases. Second, the Pro is valuable even if you don’t have a 4K TV. Third, though most games on the Pro won’t actually be rendered in true 4K, they’re still much improved over the standard PS4.

Sony probably feels the need to clarify these points because after it revealed the PS4 Pro in September, there was some confusion over the capabilities and identity of the new console. It was pitched as a mid-generation upgrade that would usher in an era of 4K gaming, but after the scripted presentation, it became obvious that 4K was still out of reach for most developers. At the launch event, we found just one game on the demo floor that actually ran in 4K (that would be Elder Scrolls Online), while others took advantage of the Pro’s upgraded guts in other ways. Impressive ways, but not 4K.

After the reveal, it was unclear who the PS4 Pro was built for and what it signaled for the future of gaming consoles. It joined Microsoft’s Project Scorpio in blurring the generational divide, and with all of this talk about 4K, its benefits for HDTV owners were uncertain.

This is where Mark Cerny steps in.

Cerny is the architect of the PS4 and a highly respected veteran of the gaming industry. He introduced the Pro at Sony’s September event, and he followed that presentation with a behind-closed-doors meeting this week, diving deep into the console’s technical aspects. In other words, Cerny is Sony’s cleanup crew.

“PS4 Pro is not the start of a new generation and that is a very good thing,” he said. “We don’t believe that generations are going away. They are truly healthy for the industry and for the gaming community. It’s just that the objectives for PS4 Pro are going to be different.”

Cerny is adamant that console generations are a useful, necessary aspect of the video game industry. He repeated the line “generations are a good thing” throughout the meeting, reciting it like a mantra.

However, the definition of a console generation is changing, and, right now the PS4 Pro is leading the charge. It isn’t a traditional, expected “slim” model with slightly upgraded specs and a fresh look — in fact, Sony just released one of these consoles as well. The Pro is bulkier and significantly more powerful than the standard PS4 or the new and improved slim version. Plus, the Pro costs $ 400 compared with the slim’s launch price of $ 300.

The Pro is a dividing line. The PS4 is not Sony’s latest and greatest piece of gaming hardware anymore — that distinction belongs to the PS4 Pro. When the console hits store shelves on Nov. 10th, there will be haves and have-nots, just like there are people who got the iPhone 6S Plus the day it came out, if only to show off to anyone who owned the suddenly outdated iPhone 6 Plus.

Cerny sees it differently. For him, from a technical standpoint, there are at least two necessary features that signal a new console generation: significantly more memory and a new CPU.

“For me, one of the hallmarks of a new console generation is the use of significantly more memory,” he said. “By contrast, the PS4 Pro is definitely part of the PS4 generation, so we took a different direction with the console. We felt games needed a little more memory, about 10 percent more, so we added about a gigabyte of slow, conventional DRAM to the console.”

The PS4 Pro uses this memory differently than the standard PS4. On the PS4, if you open Netflix and then swap to a game, Netflix remains resonant in system memory, allowing for fast swapping between the two apps: Nothing needs to be loaded. The Pro, however, allocates background tasks to the 1GB of slow, conventional DRAM, freeing up more memory for the active apps (and allowing the home screen to resolve in 4K rather than the standard model’s 1080p).

Additionally, the PS4 Pro features an 8-core AMD Jaguar CPU, just like the standard model. This means it doesn’t use a brand new CPU — another aspect that would herald an entirely new console generation, in Cerny’s eyes.

“With PS4 Pro, one of the primary targets is flawless interoperability between two consoles,” Cery said. “We chose a different path [than a new CPU], keeping Jaguar as the CPU and boosting the frequency as much as possible.”

So there’s the technical definition of a new generation and then there’s the social distinction. Regardless of whether players view the Pro as a more powerful, generation-skipping console, Cerny is adamant that the hardware itself is not upgraded enough to be a new generation.

But that’s just hardware. Games on the PS4 Pro will also use new software tricks to beef up their graphics and gameplay across SD, HD and 4K TVs. The newest, most game-changing technique is called checkerboard rendering, a process that was first used in Rainbow Six Siege.

Checkerboard rendering changes the shape of pixels; they’re no longer square. Instead, this process relies on delineated horizontal rectangles that each include one color, one Z value and one ID buffer (the building blocks of game graphics). Using data from previous frames to fill in information gaps, checkerboard rendering enables developers to build a more complete, crisp image that, according to Cerny, is nearly identical to native 4K.

He’s not exaggerating here either. In a demo this week, he pulled up a scene in Days Gone on two separate Pros and 4K televisions, one of them natively rendered and the other checkerboard upscaled. The images were nearly indistinguishable: The native game was slightly more saturated and the textures in the grass were clearly resolved, while the checkerboard grass shimmered slightly in the breeze. However, from three or four feet away, it was nigh impossible to see a difference.

Of course, not all games on the PS4 Pro will use checkerboard rendering or even attempt to hit 2160p. Even games that do support 4K won’t always reach their full potential, considering not all players own a 4K TV. For those without a 4K set, Pro games will automatically scale down to the TV’s maximum display settings.

“Requiring all titles to run at 2160p on PS4 Pro makes no more sense than requiring all titles to run at 1080p on the standard PS4,” Cerny said. “The titles are going to use the increased graphical power in a number of ways. Some developers will favor quality over resolution, some will favor resolution over quality. We don’t want to have any sort of rules that have to be followed.”

Cerny listed a handful of AAA games that prepared for the Pro via various techniques, though nine of the 13 titles on display used some form of checkerboard rendering. Days Gone, Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, Rise of the Tomb Raider and Horizon Zero Dawn all use 2160p checkerboard upscaling, and most of these titles rely on 1080p super-sampling for HDTVs. Meanwhile Watch Dogs 2, Killing Floor 2, Infamous First Light and Mass Effect: Andromeda use 1080p checkerboard rendering. Deus Ex: Mankind Divided takes advantage of checkerboard rendering to hit variable 1080p and 2160p resolutions, while Spider-Man hits 2160p via a post-checkerboard process called temporal injection and For Honor gets there via a similar version of temporal anti-aliasing.

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor and Paragon are special cases too. Shadow of Mordor uses native rendering at dynamic resolution, meaning the resolution “can vary broadly,” Cerny said, “but typically it’s at 80 percent to 90 percent of 4K.” Paragon features a mode for HDTVs with 1080p native rendering and enhanced visuals, and there’s no direct 4K version of the game: On 4K TVs, the upgraded graphics will simply be enhanced even further.

“We know that when game creators are making the decisions on how to best use the technology we provide, the result is almost invariably better for the gaming community,” Cerny said.

Near the end of the meeting, Cerny pulled up Knack, his PS4 launch title, side by side on two HDTVs. One game was running on a PS4 Pro and the other on a standard PS4. The differences were obvious: The PS4 Pro resolved cleaner lines and animations while the standard PS4 scene had more noise, particularly in detailed areas and backgrounds.

Cerny started with the Pro, picking up the controller and saying, “So if we look at the scene, again, it’s very clean, smooth. But if I were to do this on — ” he switched to the PS4 TV and sighed. “Look at all the moiré, or all of the shimmery noise in the distance. And this is what we see when we play games on an HDTV and we’ve learned to ignore it.”

Noticeably improved graphics and new standards for developing games certainly sound like hallmarks of a new generation — at least from the player’s perspective. Technically, Cerny might be right that the Pro is a mid-generational upgrade, but it is clearly a significant improvement over the standard console (even for people without 4K TVs). It’s significant enough to cost $ 100 more than the new and improved slim PS4, at least.

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Apple will finally update its Mac lineup on October 27th

It’s been a very, very long time since Apple has updated its Mac lineup — the new Macbook is the only computer that Apple has seen fit to upgrade in 2016. That should all change next week, though: We just received an invite to an event in Cupertino on Thursday, October 27th. With the yearly iPhone refresh in the rearview mirror and macOS Sierra out in the wild, it’s time — well past time, in fact — for some new Mac computers. The event’s tagline — “Hello again” — is a pretty clear nod to the Mac, which debuted with a big old “hello” on its screen way back in 1984.

Headlining the event should be a totally redesigned MacBook Pro, which has existed in its current form for a good four years now. Rumors point to a touch-capable OLED strip on the keyboard above the number row that can adapt to whatever app you’re using. Touch ID might be making its way to the Mac for the first time, as well. Of course, the computers will likely be thinner and lighter and will probably see many of the innovations Apple first rolled out in the MacBook in 2015. The butterfly keyboard mechanism, tiered battery design and reliance on USB-C all seem likely to come on board at this point. We’re hoping the MacBook Pro will be available in a variety of colors for the first time, too.

Beyond that, spec bumps for the iMac and MacBook Air seem like good bets, as does the inclusion of USB-C on those models as well. Looking beyond the Mac line, it’s also possible the iPad will get some love. The iPad Air 2, while still a very capable tablet, is now two years old. And the 12.9-inch iPad Pro is just about a year old and lags behind the smaller iPad Pro in a few key ways. It wouldn’t surprise us to see both of those devices get some updates.

Whatever Apple has to show off, we’ll be there live to bring you all the news as it happens when the event starts at 10AM PT.

Source: Apple

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Clinton campaign considered Tim Cook and Bill Gates for VP

One of the nuggets of information to come from the Podesta emails leaked by Wikileaks is a correspondence that lists business and tech leaders as potential running mates for presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. If you’re running against a business man, you might as well fight commerce with commerce.

CNN reports that on March 17th, Podesta sent an email filled with political figures and business leaders that were considered by top Clinton campaign staffers. In a odd choice of separating those individuals, Podesta organized the names into “food groups.”

One of those groups included Apple CEO, Tim Cook, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, and cofounder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Melinda Gates. The email also contains GM CEO, Mary Barra and Starbucks CEO, Howard Shultz. But in the end, Clinton decided to stick with a politician like herself and picked Tim Kaine killing our dreams of an iPhone in every pocket and an Apple car in every garage.

Source: CNN

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Apple hires a Carnegie Mellon professor to improve its AI

Apple isn’t letting Samsung’s acquisition of Viv go unanswered. The Cupertino crew has hired Russ Salakhutdinov, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University, as a director of artificial intelligence research. Interestingly, he isn’t giving up his school work — he may well be publishing research at the same time as he’s upgrading your iPhone or Mac. It’s not certain what he’ll be working on, although Recode observes that his recent studies have involved understanding the context behind questions. We’ve asked Apple if it can comment.

The hire could make a big difference for Siri, which has been criticized for evolving relatively little compared to services like Google Assistant. The AI helper may develop a better understanding of what you’re asking, and could be better at handling less-than-explicit or follow-up questions. However, Apple’s use of AI isn’t limited just to voice commands. Remember how iOS 10 uses machine learning for object and face recognition in its Photos app? You could see Salakhutdinov’s influence across many products, giving weight to Apple’s claims that it considers AI a key part of its future.

Carnegie Mellon might not be entirely happy. Uber spent a while poaching from the school’s robotics lab, and now the university has to worry about Apple luring top talent. While that may not be such a bad thing if it leads to more practical applications for AI, it may limit academic studies in the near future.

Source: Russ Salakhutdinov (Twitter)

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iPhone 7 update fixes your Verizon connection problems

If you recently snagged an iPhone 7 or 7 Plus and depend on Verizon for service, you’ll want to check for a software update. Apple has released an iOS 10.0.3 upgrade that that fixes a weeks-long problem where some iPhone 7 and 7 Plus users (particularly Verizon customers) would temporarily lose their cellular connections. If you were affected, your LTE connection would unexpectedly drop out and revert you to pokey 3G speeds. There are no other real improvements, but this could make a big difference if your initial iPhone 7 experience has been defined by flaky access.

Source: Apple

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AT&T’s insurance plan will soon repair busted phone screens

If you have insurance on your phone and smash the ever-loving tar out of the screen, you normally have to file a claim, pay a deductible and wait for a replacement device. Bleh. AT&T and its insurance provider Asurion, however, are trying something a little different. As of November 15, people paying to insure their phones can shell out $ 89 to — schedule permitting — have a technician repair that display that very day.

Same-day repairs definitely aren’t guaranteed, but the plan could work well for people who can’t go without their phones or don’t have the time for the traditional trade-in process. You stand to save a little money, too: the usual deductible for a high-end smartphone fluctuates between $ 150 and $ 225 depending on what it is, so just under $ 90 doesn’t sound like a bad deal for potentially speedy service.

There are a couple caveats you should know about, though — for one, the new plan only applies to certain smartphones. If you have an iPhone 6, 6 Plus, 6s, 6s Plus or SE, you’re in luck. Ditto if you own Samsung’s Galaxy Note 4, Galaxy S5 or Galaxy S6. You might notice some very popular omissions from that list, namely the most recent iPhone and Galaxy S devices, but that’s probably because the requisite parts are more pricey or tougher to come by. Beyond that, the screen replacement plan is only set to launch in 14 markets come November 15; you can check out the full list (plus markets launching down the road) below.

Via: AndroidPolice

Source: AT&T

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Blue’s Raspberry mic is small, but delivers stellar audio quality

It’s no secret that Blue’s line of USB microphones are a go-to choice for podcasters and anyone else who wants a simple, easy-to-use recording device. The company’s Snowball and Yeti mics may be the most popular, but its last few products have focused more on technology that helps you streamline the postproduction editing process. The same can be said for its latest device, the Blue Raspberry. The Raspberry’s compact stature and built-in audio tools make it ideal for on-the-go recording, even with the $ 200 asking price.

With the Raspberry, Blue threw in its usual retro design touches without overdoing it. The company has a knack for blending old and new aesthetics in a way that’s unique but not kitschy. The exterior here is mostly silver with a matching metal stand to anchor it. Tiny rubber feet on the bottom of the stand help insulate the mic from any vibrations on your desktop that could cause problems for your captured audio. The prominent Blue logo sits front and center on a panel of red leather that continues down to the bottom and around back — no doubt a nod to the gadget’s name. This thing is also really small. When it’s folded down and nestled in its attached stand, it stands about as tall as both of the phones I have lying around: the Moto X and iPhone 6s.

Above that red patch, the speaker grille extends from halfway down the front panel, around the top and to the middle of the back side. There’s also a status light on the front that glows green when you’re ready to record and flips to red when you’re muted. This red/green combo makes it much more obvious which mode you’re in, as opposed to the Yeti, whose light either glows or blinks in red. The change shows you at a glance when the mic is on, so now you don’t have to second-guess it.

Over on the right side of the front face lies the mic’s gain/level control. With that knob, you can adjust the gain between 0 and 40 decibels. Additionally, that rotating dial serves as the mute switch. Simply push it in to cut the signal if you need to cough or get a drink of water during your session. Push it once more to unmute. Like the mute function on previous Blue microphones, there’s also an audible click accompanying the changing light.

On the back panel, there’s a headphone jack and a micro-USB port. The 3.5mm headphone jack provides zero-latency monitoring while you record, and there’s a volume knob on the left side of the device. It perfectly matches the look of the gain control, lending the design a symmetrical feel. As far as the USB socket goes, it’s there where you’ll connect either the standard USB or lightning cable that comes in the box. There’s also a carrying pouch and a microphone-stand adapter should the need arise. Blue says the Raspberry will work with USB-C devices with an adapter. In fact, it has successfully tested the mic with the LG Nexus 5X and Huawei Nexus 6P and the device still performed as intended.

One thing I’ve always liked about Blue products is their ease of use. The company’s line of USB mics require almost no setup, thanks to their plug-and-play design. The same goes for the new Raspberry. To test the mic, I recorded an episode of my beer-focused podcast (it’s a side project, OK?). Before firing up a quick YouTube Live session through Hangouts on Air, all I did was plug the microphone into my MacBook Air. Once I got to the Hangouts on Air interface, the only thing I had to do was select the Blue Raspberry as the input and output device instead of my laptop’s built-in mic and speakers. I was ready to record in two or three minutes, and that included setting up the YouTube event.

What you hear in the episode above is the unedited audio from the Hangouts recording (I’m the host). This is just the audio pulled from the video YouTube logs, imported to Audacity and exported in a format that SoundCloud accepts for uploads. There was no editing, save for adding the intro clip. Inside the Raspberry, there’s a new Internal Acoustic Diffuser (IAD) design inspired by concert halls and recording studios. It’s built to diffuse noise and any reflections, thereby minimizing the sound of the room. The company says this allows the device to offer studio-quality 24-bit/48kHz audio wherever you’re recording.

When I compared the session I recorded with the Raspberry to clips captured with other USB mics, I noticed a big difference when it came to ambient noise. The captured audio through Hangouts was much cleaner with this new model. It didn’t capture sounds from my house like the hum of the air conditioner, washer/dryer and other environmental noises that tend to go unnoticed on a daily basis. I also record in my living room, which has tall vaulted ceilings, so I can plug directly into my router. Other mics also typically pick up on my voice bouncing around the space, but with the Raspberry I didn’t notice an echo.

Not everyone needs a microphone for podcasting, though. When it initially unveiled the Raspberry, Blue said the device would work with any audio software. The company specifically lists GarageBand, Opinion Podcasts, Spire Recorder and Movie Pro on the microphone’s product page. Since I’m a Mac owner, GarageBand is the most accessible option for me. It’s also free. The desktop setup is nearly identical to using the Raspberry for YouTube or Hangouts: Plug in the mic, select it as the input source in the app’s preferences menu and you’re ready to record.

If you’re wondering about using the device with an iPhone or iPad, the process is very similar. The only difference is GarageBand for iOS automatically detects when you have an “audio device” connected, so you have to confirm you want to turn on monitoring via headphones to avoid feedback. It’s slightly different, but the setup for an iOS handset or tablet is just as efficient.

Blue also says that you can use the Raspberry up close to your face or, if there’s more than one person speaking, position it at the center of a table. As with other USB mics, using the gear for a group is a workable option, but the audio quality suffers. I’d really recommend it only for things like conference calls instead of trying to track some high-quality audio. Even with the built-in tech, I still noticed some of that ambient noise coming through. This became more obvious as I placed the mic the farther away. Using the Raspberry alone at a close distance will provide the best results, unless you’re OK getting cozy with your colleagues.

At $ 200, the Raspberry is the same price as Blue’s Spark Digital, which came out in 2012. That microphone also touts USB and iOS connectivity with the same cardioid condenser capsule as the pro-grade Spark studio mic. What you forfeit with the Spark Digital is the IAD tech on the Raspberry that cuts down on the unwanted noise. The Spark Digital is also larger with a more substantial stand, so it’ll take up more space in your backpack.

If you’re after a microphone that adapts to what you’re tracking, and you don’t need to use it with your mobile device, you might want to look at Blue’s Nessie. The device will adapt to your vocals and instruments in real time to help you get solid audio without a lot of editing. The best part? Nixing iOS functionality will save you $ 100. Of course, if you just want a straightforward mic, the Blue Snowball is really affordable at $ 70. It’s been around for years, too — a testament to how beloved it is.

After my podcasting session with the Raspberry, the latest Blue mic is an attractive alternative to the Yeti I typically use. Built-in IAD technology provided cleaner audio than what I’m used to for my recording environment, living up to Blue’s promise of cutting out some of that extra noise. There’s also the much smaller form factor; the Raspberry takes up considerably less space than the Spark Digital or Yeti. This means it’s convenient if I need to pack it for a trip, but it doesn’t skimp on audio quality, either. When you tack on iOS connectivity, Blue seems to have a complete package here in a compact device — even if it does come with a $ 200 price tag.

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Here’s Apple’s workaround when your iPhone 7 home button fails

The iPhone 7’s non-moving home button may feel odd at first, but it has its perks… especially if it ever stops working. MacRumors forum goer iwayne has shown that the new iPhone will give you an on-screen home button (along with a warning that you may need repairs) if it thinks the physical key is broken. While that’s not much consolation if your phone needs to be fixed, it does mean that you can keep using your device in a relatively normal way while you’re waiting for your Genius Bar appointment.

The technology may be short-lived when there are reports of Apple possibly ditching physical home buttons entirely with the next iPhone. However, it’s not hard to see why Apple would push for a motionless button in the short term. It’s not just the customizable haptic feedback — the new design is theoretically less likely to break (since it doesn’t click down) and reduces the pressure to get an immediate fix. That helps Apple’s bottom line, of course, but it may also make you a happier owner in the long term.

The iPhone 7's home button failure warning

Image credit: iwayne, MacRumors Forums

Via: MacRumors

Source: MacRumors Forums

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Even Windows 10 tablets get an Instagram app before the iPad

Instagram brought its filter-driven social network to Windows 10 mobile back in the spring and now it’s doing the same for PCs and tablets running Microsoft’s OS. The photo and video app is now available for desktops and slates, meaning its now an option across all Windows 10 devices and a true universal app. Just like the versions for other operating systems, Direct, Explore and Stories are all tools here for viewing photos and videos alongside capture and editing features.

There is one caveat with the Windows 10 version of Instagram. You’ll need a PC or tablet with a touchscreen in order to upload your images or videos. Yes, it sounds strange, but at least Microsoft’s Surface line will give you full functionality. “Keep in mind that other devices running Windows 10 may not support certain features, like the ability to capture and upload photos and videos,” the app’s page in the Window’s Store explains.

While Windows 10 users are able to use the app across all of their devices, iPad owners are still dealing with the iPhone version for Instagram on Apple’s slates. Further proof we can’t always get what we want, I suppose.

Via: The Verge

Source: Windows Store, Instagram

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4Chan may have wiped Clinton campaign chief’s iPhone

Hillary Clinton’s campaign chief, John Podesta, might be having a particularly lousy week. In the wake of WikiLeaks dumps revealing Podesta’s email and the sensitive account details inside, intruders (apparently from 4Chan’s /pol board) claim to have hijacked his iCloud account and wiped his iOS devices. They may have been the ones who briefly compromised his Twitter account, too. Podesta’s social account is back in running order, but it’s not certain what happened to his iPhone and iPad.

As with earlier high-profile iCloud intrusions, this doesn’t appear to be a hack. Instead, the intruders took advantage of what knowledge WikiLeaks offered to reset passwords and take control. That suggests that Podesta wasn’t using two-factor authentication to protect his accounts — an odd oversight for someone long considered a high-profile target, especially when WikiLeaks data has circulated for days.

It’s difficult to know whether or not 4chan members are directly responsible, or did as much damage as they claimed they did. The screenshots are plausible, but it’s easy to imagine someone on the prank-prone site whipping up faked images to look like a champion to Clinton haters. We’ve reached out to the Clinton campaign to see if it can confirm any details and say what it’s doing next, although Podesta has already blamed the Russian government for the hack that led to the email breach. Whatever it says, it’s safe to presume that the campaign will be double-checking its security measures.

Via: Ars Technica, The Verge

Source: Pwn All The Things (Twitter 1), (2), (3)

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