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Monday, 20 August 2018

When I read the book read player one I really got excited about the future of virtual reality, but the movie really didn't do the book justice. Some blockbusters have succeeded in interspersing computer graphics with real people and making it hard to tell the difference. Still, a totally rendered movie still looks like animation and you just don't get the film quality you get from, well, film.
This was disappointing in particular with the movie sky capain and the world of tomorrow which was all done with actors in front of blue screens and rendered. I read the book, but the animation quality of the movie really detracted from the story. An earlier film, the last flight was even worse. It's another example of a decent story being ruined by the fact that the technology just wasn't up to the task at the time. (By the way, everyone and their brother apparently wants to remake the film but getting the rights to it has proven daunting).
Well, Nvidia last week announced its new Quadro RTX cards which appear to have the horsepower needed to make movies like Sky Captain and Last Starfighter real. In fact, it actually could just re-render those movies and, for a tiny fraction of a remake, turn them into Netflix or Amazon Prime stars.
This technology goes beyond that, though. It is so good you may not be able to tell what is real and what is unreal.
This is actually one of the biggest things to happen in tech. I'll explain and then close with my product of the week: an impressive professional VR headset from StarVR. 

Light Is the Problem

The truly annoying problem the industry has been struggling to solve is light. Light refracts, it reflects, it creates shadows, and it does weird things to textures and finishes. Light makes it incredibly difficult and expensive to create animations that look like real objects. You can do it, but it is massively resource-intensive, and when rendered, people tend to have a creepy almost-zombie look to them.
Back in 1979 a guy by the name of Turner Whitted came up with a solution for this, but it was wicked expensive -- and when I say wicked expensive, I mean Department of Defense expensive. His concept, called "multi-bounce recursive ray tracing," could lead to real-looking objects, but it would require a super computer for every single pixel rendered. Say you have 4K pixels on a screen -- it would require 4,000 supercomputers to render a frame of a movie.
That would be an impressive effort that likely would eclipse the cost of flying to the moon, and it clearly would be outside the budget of a movie studio. But man, if you could do it, it would be amazing.
Most of us thought the technology was at least a decade out, so man did we get a surprise at SIGGRAPH 2018 this week.


If you don't know about SIGGRAPH, it is the premier computer graphics show of the world. If it has to do with rendering, it is at this show, and there is actually a pretty impressive 3D printing showcase there now as well.
This year there was a huge spotlight on women in graphics, and major vendors like Apple were recruiting employees at the event. If you are at all interested in computer graphics, this is a must-attend event this year.
I was incredibly impressed with the advancements in VR hardware, 3D printing, and workstation performance at the event. Both HP and Lenovo had a strong workstation presence (Lenovo had a really impressive mobile workstation).
Intel also had a decent presence, but it was overshadowed by yet another processor vulnerability. That made last week's AMD Threadripper 2 announcement particularly timely, as AMD is not affected by that vulnerability. AMD now has the fastest CPU in the world. Apparently, Intel just can't catch a break.

Nvidia RTX

Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun "Jensen" Huang really stuck it to Intel during his launch talk at SIGGRAPH. He showcased that something like four shelves of Nvidia's new RTX cards easily could outperform something like 10 racks of Intel servers for rendering, saving a studio millions of dollars on unneeded servers in a render farm.
He later closed his talk with Nvidia's take on Intel's iconic bunny men, but updated with the new Nvidia RTX cards, so the image was fully rendered (Intel used actors). That demonstration more than implied that Intel, at least with regard to rendering, had become obsolete.
Strangely, I don't think he went far enough. The capabilities showcased on stage were so far beyond anything Intel technology currently can do, it really did look as though the two companies were in different centuries.
You couldn't help but wonder what would happen if Intel had a CEO like Huang, and there appears to be growing sentiment in analyst circles that Intel should merge with Nvidia just to get a decent CEO. (Currently Intel has no CEO or CMO.)
These new RTX cards range from US$2,300 at the low end to $10K at the high end, and this means you don't need a new workstation to get this additional performance -- you just need a new graphics card.
It did get me wondering how incredibly powerful an AMD Threadripper box would be with this new line of cards. Coupling the fastest processor with the most powerful rendering graphics card would result in a wicked fast workstation -- one that graphics artists and animators likely would kill for.
What also is amazing is that this is the very first version of these revolutionary cards, which makes you wonder what generation No. 3 will look like. (Typically, it takes three generations for a new technology like this to fully align with what the market wants, and given that this first generation is so impressive, the third should be unimaginably fast.)
One of the ways Nvidia gets to this performance, which is a whopping 6x over prior generations, is that the card renders in low resolution first and then uses an AI-based up-converter to get to higher resolutions like 4K and 8K.
This up-conversion process can be applied to other media, so you could take films from the 1930s and up-convert them to look like current generation movies -- but in theory, you also could take older animated films like Sky Captain and Ready Player One and up-convert them to something that looks real.
Not stopping there, you also could use this technology to replace actors or elements with other actors or elements globally. Think about a Disney option to get a movie with your kids in it, where it looked as though they were in the movie. Granted, there would be an upcharge for the work -- but wouldn't that make an amazing addition to a birthday party?
Another option would be to render extra frames so that rather than having to use a $140K video camera to be able to do super-slow motion, you could use a GoPro and simply render the intermediate frames for the same effect. Once again, this is just generation No. 1 of this technology.

Wrapping Up

Turning our imaginations into reality is what likely will define the coming Ready Player One-like VR world. Last week at SIGGRAPH, one of the few CEOs I'm not worried about, Jensen Haung, launched Nvidia's Quadro RTX cards, which take a massive step in that direction.
In the meantime, this technology could turn some of our old beloved TV shows and movies, and some newer moves that were before their time, into Netflix and Amazon Prime hits. (Some may even qualify for re-release to theaters.)
This is one of those launches that, I expect, we'll look back on as industry-changing. I think we are going to love our new virtual worlds.

Rob Enderle's Product of the Week

One of the big VR industry problems is that much of the success is in the commercial market but virtually all VR headsets are consumer grade. This means, in a commercial deployment, they wouldn't hold up and the result would be less than ideal.
Well a number of companies have started to step up, and I saw an impressive headset at SIGGRAPH that appears to do a nice job of addressing this problem. It is called the "StarVR One" headset, and it is a beast. It actually looks pretty damned good, kind of an edgy sharp industrial design.

StarVR One Headset

It has a whopping 16 million sub-pixels (4K has less than 12K to give you an idea of the resolution), a 90Hz low persistence refresh rate, a 210-degree horizontal and 130-degree vertical field of view, full eye tracking (Tobii), dynamic foveated fendering (reduces workstation workload), and head mounting hardware that is both easy to replace and robust enough to survive a commercial deployment.
With all of this it is relatively light, at just about one pound in weight.
One interesting feature is automatic IPD adjustment (adjusting the display to account for the distance between the screen and your pupils often makes setting up one of these things a pain in the butt). Further, the display isn't LCD but AMOLED, which provides far brighter and more realistic colors.
Pricing hasn't been announced yet, but in person and on paper this thing is damned close to what the professional market is looking for, so the StarVR One VR headset is my product of the week. (Paired with a Quadro RTX card this thing could truly be amazing because it is optimized for Nvidia VRWorks.)
The only negative is that I really want one and I'm betting it won't be a cheap date.

Sunday, 19 August 2018

Samsung approached the Galaxy Note9’s design with equal focus on usability and on empowering users’ expression.

As a result, the latest addition to the Note family is not only easy to use, with its customizable, Bluetooth Low-Energy (BLE) connected S Pen, it’s also easy on the eyes, with a thoughtfully refined display and frame design. And with a total of four standout color options, which users are encouraged to mix and match with S Pens and accessories of various hues, the Galaxy Note9 offers users more ways to express their fashion and style.

Enhancing an Iconic Design

The Galaxy Note9 furthers the Note series’ stunning design heritage with a sleek and square form factor, as well as enhancements that enable users to multitask more efficiently and enjoy immersive multimedia experiences.

A cornerstone of Samsung’s design legacy, the Infinity Display is known for its seamless form and captivating visuals. Measuring 6.4 inches, the Galaxy Note9’s Quad HD+ Super AMOLED Infinity Display is the series’ largest yet, offering more room for work, play and everything in between. That means a bigger screen to immerse yourself in a favorite movie or game, and more space to write or create with the S Pen.

To amplify users’ immersion, Samsung rounded the corners of the display to a bare minimum, and refined the Galaxy Note9’s barely-there bezels to conceal its iris sensor. The screen itself is also a deeper black, which allows it to blend in with the bezels when the device is off and enhances the overall aesthetic. Other enhancements include the redesigned camera deco, which now matches the color of the device, and the repositioned fingerprint sensor, which is now found beneath the camera.

The smartphone’s design is rounded off with a choice of four expressive color options: Ocean Blue, Midnight Black, Metallic Copper and Lavender Purple.

A Standout S Pen

Each Note adds new capabilities to the smartphones’ signature feature: the S Pen. Over the years, these enhancements have unlocked innovative ways for users to manage their mobile lives more comfortably and freely. When designing the Galaxy Note9, Samsung’s team focused on enhancements that would take the S Pen’s ‘freeing’ aspects to the next level, transforming it into more than a tool, but rather a device in its own right, complete with Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) connectivity and its own independent functions.

The S Pen’s individuality is also reflected in aesthetic elements of the Galaxy Note9’s design. For example, unlike the other colorways, which each feature an S Pen in a matching hue, the stylish Ocean Blue model comes with a vibrant Yellow S Pen that stands out from the rest. And because each model’s S Pen is compatible with any other Galaxy Note9, you can easily swap your S Pen for another if you feel like a different color would better suit your style*.

The S Pen’s significance to the line is also reflected in the new flagship’s packaging, which prominently displays an image of the S Pen in place of the devices’ traditional logo. This adjustment was made to honor the S Pen as the symbol of the Note series, and a key reason why the smartphones have garnered countless fans.

A Refined Frame

One of the first things you’ll notice when holding the Galaxy Note9 is just how nicely it sits in the hand. The smartphone’s comfortable contours are the result of a frame design that reflects thoughtful consideration for both usability and aesthetics.

The metal frame was forged using a cutting process known as Dia-cutting, which utilizes a fast-rotating artificial diamond tool to create smooth, glossy surfaces that accentuate design details. The process involved tapering the surfaces of the frame that blend into the device’s front and back, and carefully rounding the middle section, which comes into contact with your palm the most. The tapered parts of the frame feature a glossy finish, while the rounded middle section is matte.

The resulting frame is sleek and slim, and features an interplay of glossy and matte finishes that complements the Galaxy Note9’s premium design cues.

Exceptional Accessories

The Galaxy Note9’s accessories selection includes a wide range of stylish covers that offer users more ways to customize their smartphone’s aesthetic. Designed to suit a wide array of tastes, the protective covers span from fine leather to military-grade options.

The new Leather Wallet Cover is perhaps the most eye-catching of the bunch. Crafted from genuine calf leather, it features a handy card pocket as well as a soft microfiber lining that helps protect the Galaxy Note9 from scratches. It’s available in a choice of five colors—black, brown, red, blue and yellow—which users are encouraged to mix and match with their Galaxy Note9 to showcase their style.

Also included in the Galaxy Note9’s collection of compatible accessories is Samsung’s new Wireless Charger Duo. A combination of the Fast Charge Wireless Charging Stand and the Wireless Charging Pad, the fast-charging two-in-one allows users to quickly charge their phone alongside another Qi-compatible phone or wearable. The charger eliminates the need to fumble with cables each time you need to top up your devices’ batteries, and its built-in stand offers easy access to your phone’s screen.

Since 2012, iPhone Life has published over 30 issues of our magazine. Covering everything from the unique mechanics of each model iPhone to smart gear for your kids and pets, our comprehensive and in-depth articles take the iPhone experience to a whole new level. If, like me, you enjoy reading but already have too many stacks of books and magazines in your home, then the Insider membership is a handy way to get access to a large library without all the clutter.

Through iPhone Life Insider, you get instant access to the digital archives as an extra benefit with your annual membership. Alongside our in-depth video guides, short daily video tips, and Ask an Editor feature, iPhone Life Insider includes the entire library of past editions of the magazine. No extra charges and no hidden fees; the Insider program is comprehensive, affordable, and exclusive.

With our iPhone Life app, you can log in to your insider membership and flip through the entire catalogue of past issues. The layout for each issue is easy to navigate; the magazine is broken up into sections that you can jump to with a quick tap. From photography contests to staff picks to roundups of useful lifestyle apps, you'll find unique content in every issue that's as relevent today as at the time of publication. Read humurous anecdotes in our Tech Mishaps where readers (and our staff) write in to share their embarrassing stories. Get an inside view of life at our HQ with the Overheard section. Check out in-depth articles like our feature on the legacy of Tim Cook. With access to the digital archives, you'll find great content you won't find on our site, and it's all included with an insider membership

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Microsoft and Amazon on Wednesday announced the release of a public preview of the integration of their Cortana and Alexa voice assistants.
Cortana will be available on amazon Echo devices, while Alexa will be available to U.S. customers on Windows 10 devices and on Harman Kardon Invoke speakers.
"Our ongoing goal has been to make Cortana your intelligent assistant, wherever you need assistance, and across many devices and platforms, from Windows 10 PCs to iPhone and Android," a Microsoft spokesperson said in a statement provided to TechNewsWorld by company rep Joel Gunderson.
The collaboration is separate from the Alexa app on Windows 10 PCs, the spokesperson noted. "Our collaboration with Amazon is part of a longer-term vision for digital assistants to work together on behalf of our customers."

How the Integration Works

Currently, Cortana and Alexa each can invoke their counterparts on certain devices. For example, Office 365 users can access Alexa on their PC. Echo users can enlist Cortana to perform work-related tasks such as previewing their calendar, adding items to a to-do list or checking email.
Additional skills, offering features such as streaming music and setting alarms, will be added over time. Availability of the services also will expand to other devices.
"By bringing Cortana to Alexa and Alexa to Cortana, we are adding more value and choice for consumers and developers alike," the Microsoft spokesperson said. "Cortana users are now able to use Alexa to shop on and manage their Amazon orders, and access many of Alexa's third-party skills by asking Cortana to open Alexa. Just as Alexa users now have access to Cortana's helpful productivity features such as calendar and email management, day-at-a-glance and answers, simply by asking Alexa to open Cortana."
Just having the Outlook calendar integrated into Alexa "is a huge step forward," noted Bill Ablondi, director of smart home strategies at Strategy Analytics.
"I tried to get Google Assistant to work with my Outlook calendar but was unsuccessful," he told TechNewsWorld.
To enable Cortana as a skill on Echo devices, users have to say "Alexa, open Cortana" and follow the sign-in instructions or set up their Microsoft account.
To enable Alexa as a skill on a PC, users say "Hey, Cortana, open Alexa" or click the microphone button and say "Open Alexa," and then sign into or set up their Amazon account.
Some features that either assistant can handle easily, like setting alarms and timers, won't be included in the integration.
Cortana eventually may be positioned as the assistant to use for work and productivity-related tasks and Alexa for personal tasks.
"It will be interesting to see how the digital assistants determine what's work and what's not," Ablondi said.

Voice Interaction Revolution

"I think we are evolving to a standard voice interface to the data domain," observed Michael Jude, program manager at Stratecast/Frost & Sullivan.
"When that happens, voice interaction will really take off," he told TechNewsWorld.
The global market for voice and speech recognition software will total nearly US$7 billion by 2025, up from the $1.1 billion chalked up in 2017, according to Tractica.
There has been an upsurge in the development of viable market use cases that employ the human voice to control highly sophisticated, automated processes, the company said.

What Microsoft and Amazon Gain

Amazon has about 45,000 skills while Cortana has only about 250, but "It isn't the skills, since most Alexa users use only a tiny fraction of them," noted Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.
"It's more that Alexa is the only interface for Echo devices, so people are forced to use her and are used to that," he told TechNewsWorld.
Amazon needs this partnership because it's losing ground to Google in the smart speaker market, Enderle said.
In Q2, Google had 28 percent of the global smart speaker market, up from 16 percent in Q2 2017, while Amazon had 41 percent, down from 76 percent in Q2 2017, according to Strategy Analytics.
The partnership will give Amazon "broader placement on more devices," Enderle said. Microsoft, meanwhile, "will hopefully get better access to Amazon content, which they need for products like the Surface Go."
Microsoft "gets the assurance that Windows PCs will stay relevant as digital assistants become more useful and commonplace, while getting some breathing room to work on Cortana," said Eric Smith, director of connected computing at Strategy Analytics.
Amazon "gets a big foot in the door in the PC world, which has over a billion devices in use globally," he told TechNewsWorld. "It truly is a win-win."

Impact of the Integration

"Simple is best for consumers, and while [the integration] simplifies using two digital assistants or AIs, it's still a bit clunky," remarked Jack Narcotta, senior industry analyst for smart home strategies at Strategy Analytics.
"The value proposition is ahead of the functionality," he told TechNewsWorld, "but that said, this is still a beta service."

Impact on Other AIs

The integration will not have any effect on other voice assistants, Narcotta suggested, because "Siri, Bixby and other AI assistants exist largely to serve their own ecosystems. Those providers are more concerned with expanding their footprints than forging new partnerships."
However, Samsung owns Harman Kardon, and it has its own Bixby voice assistant, which might complicate matters.
"With Samsung, anything's possible," Frost's Jude observed. "They just came out with an update to their intelligent appliance software that uses their own version of Android, which is incompatible with just about every other Android device."
Offering both Alexa/Cortana and Bixby would be in Samsung's best interest, Smith suggested, because "otherwise they risk losing out on sales of devices where voice is most important, as users begin finding their preferred assistant."

Privacy Issues

Raw voice data will not be shared between Microsoft and Amazon, the Microsoft spokesperson said. All interactions with each voice assistant will be governed by the respective company's privacy policy.
Privacy "is definitely an issue," Ablondi said. "Integrating in work-related tasks with non-work creates potential security risks too."
There is always room for error, Smith noted. "Hopefully both companies are thinking about security and privacy controls."
Still, "neither Amazon's nor Microsoft's business models depend on selling information on their users to be profitable, which is likely the strongest protection against abuses of personal information," Enderle pointed out. "Both are far less risky than Google, which does have that model."
Oracle on Wednesday announced that it has open-sourced GraphPipe to enhance machine learning applications.
The project's goal is to improve deployment results for machine learning models, noted Project Leader Vish Abrams. That process includes creating an open standard.
The company has a questionable relationship with open source developers, so its decision to open-source GraphPipe might not receive a flood of interest.
Oracle hopes developers will rally behind the project to simplify and standardize the deployment of machine learning models. GraphPipe consists of a set of libraries and tools for following a deployment standard.
GraphPipe is an attempt to standardize on the client end and transport layers of machine learning.
Most ML deployments have to build a custom solution that may not deal with multiple ML backends very well, according to Jack E. Gold, principal analyst at J.Gold Associates.
"So Oracle is trying to rationalize all of the client side and transport layer capabilities," he told LinuxInsider. "It will depend on whether others see this as a real open source and build tools based on it, or see it as an Oracle-directed project."
If the open source community sees Oracle's actions as an attempt to gain an advantage for the company, then they will not be very interested in working with it, he warned.

Making Progress

Oracle no doubt will gain some benefits from open-sourcing GraphPipe. It already has some capability in this space. Other vendors, like Google and Microsoft, have been trying to build out similar capabilities, noted Gold, but those attempts so far have not been via open source.
Developers have made progress over the last few years in building machine learning into applications, Abrams pointed out, but successfully deploying a model requires overcoming several problems.
There is no standard for model serving APIs, which means users are limited to whatever framework is at hand, he explained. Also, building a model server can be very complicated. Further, many of the existing solutions lack a focus on performance in some use cases.
Abrams and his team developed GraphPipe to address those challenges.

Open Source Impact

Oracle's decision to open-source this project could benefit development communities. Standardized libraries are a commonly open-sourced thing (ML or not), and they are a good thing, remarked Gary McGraw, vice president of security technology at Synopsys.
"In this case, Oracle is providing some libraries which help with some aspects of the ML production pipeline," he told LinuxInsider. "This makes sense since Oracle is in the business of storing big piles of data in databases. Big data is another ML component that is useful."
Who gains more from the cooperation is the tricky part, McGraw said. If the library is useful, it will be picked up by developers, who by now use open source things in almost everything they build.
"So that is a positive thing. GraphPipe appears to be addressing a legitimate need," he said. "On the other hand, Oracle will gain a foothold in lots of ML code and attempt to become indispensable, so it obviously benefits them directly."

What It Does

GraphPipe is a network protocol that simplifies and standardizes transmission of machine learning data between remote processes. No dominant standard exists for how tensor-like data should be transmitted between components in a deep learning architecture.
Developers commonly use protocols like JSON. But that solution is inefficient. TensorFlow uses multiple protocol buffers, which makes it a large and complex software.
GraphPipe's design solves both of those limitations by bringing efficiency through a binary, memory-mapped format while remaining simple and light on dependencies. It includes simple implementations of clients and servers that make deploying and querying machine learning models from any framework less complicated.

GraphPipe's servers can deliver models built in TensorFlow, PyTorch, mxnet, CNTK, or caffe2, according to Abrams.

Github Ready

GraphPipe is available on Oracle's GitHub, along with documentation, examples and other relevant content.
GraphPipe comes with guidelines for serving models consistently according to the flatbuffer definitions.
The package contents also include examples for serving models from TensorFlow, ONNX, and caffe2 along with client libraries for querying models served via GraphPipe.

Comparing Outcomes

GraphPipe behaves much like a TensorFlow-serving predict request. It uses flatbuffers as the message format, according to Oracle.
Flatbuffers are similar to Google protocol buffers. But it provides the added benefit of avoiding a memory copy during the deserialization step. The flatbuffer definitions provide a request message that includes input tensors, input names and output names.
GraphPipe relies on a remote model to accept the request message. It returns one tensor per requested output name. The remote model also must provide metadata about the types and shapes of the inputs and outputs that it supports.
Protocol performance is better in GraphPipe, based on a comparison of serialization and deserialization speed and end-to-end throughput.

Trust in the Making

This choice of open standards helps Oracle regain community trust, not just by opening up its project to the world, but also by embracing what the community creates and uses, according to Stephen Goldberg, CEO of HarperDB.
This creates an interconnected web that props up all projects involved, not just GraphPipe.
"Choosing established standards eases implementations, as there is nothing new to learn, understand or vet out," Goldberg told LinuxInsider.
"This is a huge win for developers and implementers in the machine learning space," he continued. "Rather than spending copious amounts of time in the weeds figuring out deployments across frameworks, developers can focus on the work that moves their project forward."
Shifting their stance on support for open source has been hugely important for companies like Microsoft and Oracle, observed Goldberg, and there will be many benefits from the success and continuing maturity of projects such as GraphPipe.
With their established brands and resources behind such projects, large enterprises will be more inclined to adopt these tools and products.
"Oracle is taking strong steps towards embracing the collaborative technology landscape that we now inhabit," Goldberg said. "We have seen Oracle adopt a more open, transparent and collaborative approach to their ecosystem."
Oracle has been on a path to becoming a huge champion of collaboration and transparency, he suggested. The company has focused on finding the best holistic solutions for customers, and that is an indication that its embrace of open source is authentic.

As a reporter, I cover a number of beats, including those related to advances in TV production and the technology that brings TV to our homes. In my lifetime I've seen some of the most significant advances in television, and unlike many who take it for granted, I have a very deep respect for TV.
My actual birthday is in January, but Aug. 21 is a date that is much more momentous to me. Back in 1980, it was the date on which my family was first connected to cable TV.
This might seem like a silly date to note in one's life, but how important TV has been to me can't be overstated. I was born only a few years before Philo Farnsworth passed away, but as a child I wrote a paper on him in grade school, crediting Farnsworth as my favorite "inventor" of the 20th century.
My teacher, who saw TV as "the idiot box" was far from impressed -- Farnsworth was no Alexander Graham Bell or Thomas Edison in her mind -- but even then I could have argued that Farnsworth saw the potential of television, and unlike many other inventors, including the two aforementioned ones, he wasn't someone who took credit for others' works. In fact, unless you study broadcasting in school, as I did in college, you might not even know the name Farnsworth at all.
Yet he helped usher in a form of communication that connected the world like never before.
Cable TV took my devotion to the box to a whole new level. It fostered an appreciation of film, one that few children possess beyond the usual Disney films. The day the cable guy came was rainy and cool, so my mother had no problem with me soaking in TV rather than playing outside and literally getting soaked.
The first movie I watched that day was on Cinemax, which actually had launched as the first HBO spinoff channel, and it largely showed classic and B-movies in the afternoon. That day I saw the 1955 Frank Sinatra drama The Man with the Golden Arm -- not exactly a kid-friendly film, but maybe the fact that it was presented without commercials just stuck with me.

Picture Perfect

The other thing I noticed -- even before my parents or other adults did -- was that the picture quality was consistent across every channel, even on a rainy summer day. Today most of us take this for granted, but anyone who was a child in the 1970s or 1980s, or who went without cable in the pre-HD era, remembers the need for rabbit ear antennas and plenty of aluminum foil! Cable delivered a great looking picture on every channel.
The next thing that instantly clicked was that you could watch a movie again the next time it aired (provided your parents subscribed to HBO, Cinemax or Showtime -- the channels available at the time). Today many parents no doubt endure endless loops of children's movies, but before cable kids often begged their parents to take them to the movies to see a favorite again and again. That changed first with cable and soon after came the VCR. Later still, one could watch favorites on DVDs.
The ability to watch movies at home is something we take for granted, but prior to HBO -- which actually debuted in 1972 and now is the oldest and longest continuously operating pay TV service -- watching movies on TV was sort of special. The major networks paid big dollars to the studios, and the Sunday night movie on network TV was a big, big thing back in the 1960s and 1970s.
How big? Try "Heidi Bowl."
I'm personally too young to remember it, but Nov. 17, 1968, featured a late afternoon football showdown between the Oakland Raiders and the New York Jets, in which the former scored two touchdowns in nine seconds -- only NBC switched off the game with 65 seconds on the clock to show a made-for-TV version of the children's story Heidi. Needless to say NFL fans watching at home weren't happy about it!
That is one reason sports and other live programming today will delay the start of other regularly scheduled programming. This can present a different problem, as our modern DVRs don't know that a game ran over, but fortunately they are often available "on demand" so no one misses out!

Go to the Tape

Pay TV channels such as HBO didn't really change the way my family and others gathered to watch movies, but they did change the movies we saw. Instead of movies that featured commercial breaks and that were edited for content, we saw uncut, uninterrupted movies.
It could be argued today that this may have exposed children (notably those of Generation X) to violent and racy content like never before. Few parents would have taken their kids to see Hardcore with George C. Scott, or the Vietnam War film The Boys in Company C, but those were just two such films I was exposed to at a fairly young age because they were shown on pay TV.
A further change in the movie viewing experience came for me in 1985. After saving up a summer's worth of lawn mowing money, I split the cost of a VHS recorder with my father. That allowed us to rent movies -- but, more importantly, it allowed me to record programming. That ensured that I would never miss my shows again -- unless the power went out or the channel was messed up. It was a step in the right direction for me. The need to be home to see TV was replaced by the fear that I forgot to set the darn VCR!
When I went off to college I had my VCR, which really was important for the first two years, because rooms in the dorms I lived in weren't wired for cable TV. That was the only time in my life that I went without cable for a significant time.

Studying TV

College is a time of studies, extracurricular activities and parties -- in various orders of importance, of course -- and for many students there is less time to watch TV. However, I majored in Broadcast and Cinematic Arts, which included the study of the history of television shows. Yes, I literally earned college credits for watching TV.
One particular favorite class of mine was on TV critique, which highlighted the fact that most TV critics actually are "TV reviewers," who do little more than grade the story along with its acting and directing. Critique actually examines the elements of the story, including social commentary and symbolism.
For a major project, I chose to do a multilevel critique of Star Trek, and actually re-watched all 79 episodes of the original series.
In my paper, I discussed numerous ways you could critique the sci-fi show, including a Freudian analysis with Captain Kirk as the id, Dr. McCoy as the ego and Mr. Spock as the superego. I also described how the show could be seen as an allegory of the Cold War, as well as how Kirk and company represented the mainstream culture of 1960s. Think about how many times Kirk loses control of his ship, his crew, and even his mind due to drugs or other hostile "alien" influences.
Obviously, my love of TV -- not to mention the fact that I had a Star Trek-obsessed friend who had all 79 episodes on tape, paid off. My fellow students, many of whom had watched only a dozen shows for their respective reports, were less enthusiastic since I opted to present first and set the bar impossibly high!

Embracing the Advances

After college, I remained interested in TV but actually never really strived to work in the industry. TV production seemed tedious to me, but I did work briefly at a music recording studio and with a company that did live sound for concerts.
Later still, I worked with a good friend to develop a sitcom pilot, and was involved heavily in the production. A former boss was kind enough to let us shoot the project in her boutique PR firm's Manhattan offices over the course of a few summer weekends -- and I hated every second of the experience.
As our pilot wasn't picked up, I opted to stick to my day job and write about the technology on the consumer end, as well as behind the scenes.
As a result, I've been an early adopter of TV technologies. I had the first commercial DVD player and the first six commercial releases back in April 1997 -- the very week they arrived on the market. Even before I bought the player, I knew DVD was going to be a game-changer for packaged content.
It was the next two devices that absolutely changed my life, however. The first was my TiVo DVR -- which, as those late 1990s commercials made clear, let you pause and rewind live TV. As with a lot of the stuff I've described, we take this for granted now, but 20 years ago this was a huge game-changer. Have to take a call, go to the bathroom? Just missed an important line? Rewind it! The DVR, along with on-demand content, ensures that it is difficult to "miss" a show today. How different my life as a TV-addicted child would have been had I had such devices!
The second life-changing device was my first HDTV set. Today we expect our TVs to be thin and wide, but the first HDTV my wife and I purchased was a massive rear projection CRT set. It weighed a couple hundred pounds and was a good 27 inches deep, but it had a 48-inch screen and an amazing picture to display what little content was available. Of course, we had no HD channels at first, and within six months of purchasing it, the set burned in an image! That was a costly mistake, as it resulted in a US$700 repair bill -- but HDTV just made watching everything "better."
In 2002, I was offered the chance to do an editorial review of a 42-inch plasma TV. As a matter of full disclosure, the company offered an editorial discount and I did buy that TV, spending an unthinkable sum at the time. However, we enjoyed that set for five years until it was passed on to my parents, who used it for several more years before upgrading. It was only last year that it was retired to the curb as the picture had started to go. That wasn't a bad run for the set, and I must admit seeing it being hauled away was like losing an old friend.

Embracing It All

There were other great improvements along the way -- including stereo sound, multichannel audio -- as well as some technologies that even a hardcore early adopter like me didn't embrace, such as 3D. Even now I'm not entirely sold on 4K because of the limits of content, but I'm watching how HDR (High Dynamic Range) unfolds.
However, there were other advances that are still close to my heart. The first was the "Sling" technology, which allows not only time shifting but also location shifting of shows. As a self-confessed TV junkie, I could be difficult when on vacation. I would worry, "did my show record," and I'd be concerned about catching up on all of the programming I'd missed when I returned home.
Sling technology via DISH was almost as big a game changer for me. It allowed me to watch the content I recorded in my living room and watch it while I traveled. It might seem silly to some, but it is so nice to be in someplace like Vienna and take in the museums, but then head back to the hotel for the evening and watch the latest episode of Homeland.
Of course I've embraced streaming media and currently subscribe to Amazon Prime Video and Netflix. My wife and I do binge some shows, but perhaps because of how I grew up, I still enjoy the weekly schedule, with Sunday being a day of new offerings on HBO, Showtime, Starz and Epix, as well as FX and AMC.
So, when I celebrate my very personal holiday on Aug. 21, I am not just thinking about what cable TV brings me, even if it does provide favorites like The Walking DeadForged in Fire and of course Game of Thrones.
That narrow black cable allows me to watch the only sporting event I've ever been serious about, the Tour de France, and because of DVRs I can record each stage and fast-forward through the boring parts -- because even a hardcore cycling fan will tell you there are hours of boring stuff, and the networks would be quick to switch over to a new production of Heidi at some point!
Now I celebrate Aug. 21 not just for actual "cable TV" but because of all of the advances of TV in general. It isn't the idiot box that my teacher may have suggested all those years ago. TV is a valid form of entertainment, as well as a critical source of news and information. It provides countless jobs and has become a huge part of the global economy.
Then again, on a personal level, I just love TV.

Thursday, 9 August 2018

Apple on Thursday announced updated MacBook Pro 13- and 15-inch notebooks with a Touch Bar, 8th-generation Intel Core processors, support for up to 32 GB of DDR memory in the larger notebook, a True Tone display, and an improved third-generation keyboard for quiet typing.

The 15-inch model comes with 6-core Intel Core i7 and i9 processors rated at up to 2.9 GHz -- with Turbo Boost, up to 4.8 GHz. It offers up to 4 TB of SSD storage.

The 13-inch model has quad-core Intel Core i5 and i7 processors rated at up to 2.7GHz -- with Turbo Boost up to 4.5 GHz. IT has double the eDRAM of its predecessors and up to 2 TB of SSD storage.

SSD read speeds are up to 3.2GB/second. Both new MacBook Pros have up to 10 hours of battery life.

The new MacBook Pro delivers a speed boost for complex simulations and data manipulation.

"The processor and RAM upgrades are crucial to keeping up with competitors on very premium devices like this," said Eric Smith, director of tablet and touchscreen strategies at Strategy Analytics.

"HP, Microsoft, and even Huawei have all made hay of how much more power their premium laptops have over Apple," he told TechNewsWorld.

Other features include an AMD Radeon Pro graphics card in the 15-inch MacBook Pro, as well as Touch ID, dynamic stereo speakers, and up to four Thunderbolt 3 ports.

Easy on the Eyes

The True Tone screen technology, rated at 500 Nits, supports the P3 wide color gamut, as do the iPhone 7 and iMac Pro.

"The TrueTone display is a nice touch for people who sit in front of their screens for hours on end -- particularly for creatives, who really strain their eyes with their work," Smith noted.

Security, Siri and the T2 Processor

Both update notebooks have Apple's T2 chip, which debuted in the iMac Pro desktop earlier this year.

The T2 supports secure boot and on-the-fly encrypted storage for greater security. It also enables the Siri voice assistant.

"The real-time encryption makes it easier to protect your data," said Kevin Krewell, principal analyst at Tirias Research.

"I don't think the Siri aspect is all that important, but it does level the field with Microsoft's Cortana support," he told TechNewsWorld.

The processors aren't new. Apple began using AMD Radeon in 15-inch MacBook Pros back in 2016, and the T2 processor in the iMac Pro desktop released earlier this year. MacBook Pros released in 2016 had Thunderbolt 3 ports.

Demand and Defection

"There's a lot of pent-up demand out there for an updated MacBook Pro, but there's also been evidence of Mac users defecting to Windows machines in recent years," Smith said.

The updates "will give Mac sales a little boost over the next year," he said.

Some users might be upset that the MacBook Pros only offer the Thunderbolt port, "but Apple included [up to] four of these," Smith noted, "and, frankly, it seems a little antiquated to still be complaining about ports that have been around for several years."

The Touch Bar "remains somewhat controversial, and only minor upgrades are available on the non-Touch Bar model," he said. Also, "it sounds like incremental improvements were made to the keyboard but that some issues persist."

Pricing and Availability

The new MacBook Pros are featured in Apple's Back to School promotion, which launched Thursday. Purchasers will get educational pricing for the Mac, iPad Pro, AppleCare, select accessories, and a pair of qualifying Beats headphones free with the purchase of any eligible Mac or iPad Pro.

The updated 13-inch MacBook Pro starts at US$1,800 and the updated 15-inch model at $2,400. Both are available at, and at select Apple Stores and Apple Authorized Resellers.

A maxed-out 15-inch updated MacBook Pro costs $6,700, according to AppleInsider.

That might seem pricey, but MacBook Pros are a critical tool for professionals, Tirias' Krewell pointed out. "They are not as price-sensitive, and Apple knows it."

Microsoft has a $3,300 Surface Book 2 with 1 TB of storage, 16 GB of RAM and a discrete GPU, Strategy Analytics' Smith noted. "By leapfrogging many of these specs with an 8th Generation Core i9 processor, it's not [impossible] that some well-heeled Mac enthusiasts who value a powerful workstation will shell out for this."

The most interesting part of this announcement "was the extension of [Apple's] portfolio upwards with more build-to-configuration options," observed Linn Huang, research director at IDC.

"This is less about competing with a performance desktop market, and more about Apple tapping into the rapidly growing mobile workstation market, which grew more than 19 percent annually over the past two years," he told TechNewsWorld.

"The $7,000 i9 behemoth is less about moving a typical current MacBook Pro owner up the stack than it is about luring, for example, the Dell Precision Mobile Workstation user back to Apple," Huang said.

The iPhone is Apple's main revenue generator, so whether Apple will remain committed to the MacBook is a question "only a few in Cupertino can answer," he remarked.

This is the device's third iteration since its overhaul in 2016, Huang pointed out, and "if we're still getting component bumps and feature adds in 2020 without a new design, that would suggest some focus is diverting elsewhere."

On the other hand, "if we exclude the iPhone from revenue, the Mac is one of the biggest contributors to Apple's business," noted Smith, "and is one of three hardware legs it relies on to make incremental services revenue."

Previews of the Microsoft Surface Go two-in-one, which hit shelves on Thursday, mainly have been positive.

"It's a tiny wonder of a computer -- with a few flaws -- that can do more than I would have given it credit for before I tried it," wrote Dieter Bohn for The Verge.

The Surface Go "is simply a very small Surface, with everything that entails," he said. "It's a little less powerful and probably not the right thing to be your only computer, but as a secondary machine for Windows users, it could have a real place."

The Surface Go is a 2-in-1 laptop that's "a very, very good one that jumps up to being exceptional when you consider its price versus other devices of the same ilk," wrote Alex Cranz for Gizmodo.

The Surface Go is the device consumers who "want a solid Windows machine that's primarily for browsing, emailing and word processing need to buy," she noted.

Under the Hood

The Surface Go has a 10-inch Corning Gorilla Glass 3 PixelSense display with 1800 x 1200 (217 PPI) resolution, a 3:2 aspect ratio, a 10-point multi-touch screen and ink.

It measures 9.65 x 6.9 x 0.33 inches.

Connections are 1 USB-C port, 1 Surface Connect port, 1 Surface Type cover port, 1 MicroSDXC card reader, and a 3.5mm, headphone jack.

Battery life is rated at up to 9 hours.

The Surface Go runs on an Intel Pentium Gold processor.

It uses Windows Hello facial sign-in and has TPM 2.0 for enterprise security.

It has a 5-MP front-facing camera with 1080 Skype HD video that's used for facial authentication, and an 8-MP rear-facing autofocus camera with 1080p HD video, one microphone, and 2W stereo speakers with Dolby Audio Premium.

The Surface Go comes with Microsoft Office 365 Home on a 30-day trial basis.

It is IEEE 802.11 a/b/b/n/ac compatible, and uses Bluetooth Wireless 4.1.

The Surface Go has an ambient light sensor, accelerometer, gyroscope and magnetometer.

Its weight starts at 1.15 pounds not including the Type Cover, which is sold separately. The Surface Go comes with a 30-day return policy, 90 days of free tech phone support, 12 months of in-store support and tech assistance, and one free training session.

There are two versions: one with 4 GB of RAM and 64-GB eMMC, priced at US$400; and one with 8 GB of RAM and a 128-GB SSD, for $550.

Accessories, sold separately, are the Surface keyboard, priced at $100-$130; the Surface Mobile Mouse, which costs $35; and the Surface Pen, priced at $100.

"The price is a clear advantage as Microsoft attempts to crack the mid-market with a competent detachable," noted Eric Smith, director of connected computing at Strategy Analytics.

"Unfortunately, this comes at the expense of processing power without significant battery life improvements, cellular chipset, or other advantages Microsoft has been touting for its Always Connected PCs," he told TechNewsWorld.

The entry-level Surface Go "reportedly has performance issues while browsing the Web, which doesn't compare favorably to most competitors in that price tier," he said, but added that it could be "a perfect device" for students.

Comparisons With the iPad

The Surface Go is "almost as light as an iPad but can also run most of the Windows apps you need," wrote Devindra Hardawar for Engadget.

It is "an intriguing option as a secondary device," he said.

The Go "is the first Surface that can actually take on the iPad," Hardawar maintained. "It's impressively thin and light, while also being a fully fledged Windows PC."

The iPad "is better for entertainment -- but if that's what you want, I'd suggest the large Amazon Kindle is a far more economical choice than either," said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.

"This Surface Go is far closer to what people seem to want in a small product that's more focused on productivity than the iPad has yet been able to deliver," he told TechNewsWorld.

"While the iPad is likely to offer the better tablet experience, the Go runs Windows 10 S or 10 Pro, both of which support more traditional PC applications," observed Lauren Guenveur, senior research analyst for devices and displays at IDC.

That means it likely will offer a better PC experience, she told TechNewsWorld.

"In addition, with Windows 10 security and encryption features, IT buyers may find the Surface Go appealing for workers that need either more portable or secondary devices," Guenveur said.

Fit and Finish Win Kudos

The Surface Go earned praise for product quality, with reviewers noting its superiority to other inexpensive PCs in terms of design and finish.

"It's rare to have a device at this price with such a premium feel," Guenveur remarked.

On the downside, the CPU isn't up to handling large applications such as Photoshop and games, or loading big PDFs or complex Web pages with embedded videos, reviewers noted.

Another issue is the paucity of apps in the Windows Store. The Surface Go runs Windows 10 in S mode, which restricts it to using Microsoft's Edge browser and Microsoft apps.

Still, the upgraded version could run eight or 10 lightweight apps simultaneously, together with a dozen Edge browser tabs, noted The Verge's Dieter Bohn.

Enterprise Potential

Microsoft has positioned the Surface Go as an enterprise device, emphasizing its security features.

Microsoft "did see fair success with the Surface 3 in the enterprise, and this would be a timely replacement for those devices," IDC's Guenveur said.

However, "the modest inner workings could dampen an employee's ability to use the device as a daily driver, depending on the vertical they work in," she added.

An ARM-based product "is coming under the 'Always Connected' effort, which will likely be a stronger enterprise product," said Enderle, "but it's waiting for the next-generation Qualcomm processor, the Snapdragon 1000."

Chromebooks and small iPads, "the natural competitor to this offering, haven't been that popular for work in the enterprise, and I doubt this will be much better," he noted.

"It's a stronger alternative for education, though, due to price and capability," Enderle said. "There really isn't much in the productivity area with this screen size. The exception has been schools and people with extreme requirements for portability, but this latter group hasn't been well targeted with a product until now."

Education "and perhaps millennials" will be the strongest markets for the Surface Go, he suggested, "though for the latter group, I think the Snapdragon version will be far more attractive long term