AMD Capsaicin Event Showcases VR and GPUOpen

Just yesterday, AMD hosted their Capsaicin live stream event from GDC. While there were some product announcements like the Radeon Pro Duo and the teasing of the upcoming Polaris 10 GPU, most of the time was spent on reiterating past statements. The key to this was VR and AMD spent a lot of the event focusing on this and ragged in a large number of industry insiders to shore up that point. Of course, we also get the usual cringeworthy humour from their engineers.

First off, AMD spoke about their investment in the pixel and HDR. Once again the focus was on improving the information each pixel portrayed to better present the whole image. Of course, AMD also talked about increasing pixel count more and more to get better image quality. The key to this are developments in new APIs such as DX12 and Vulkan as well as AMD’s own solutions in the form of GPUOpen which has been expanded upon with GeometryFX and other additions. One number mentioned was 16, or the 16ms that is allowed for each frame to be computed in order to allow 60FPS.

In order to power these effects, though, AMD is hoping that GPU scaling will continue to improve. This will be due to both improved scaling of multi-GPU (like for the Radeon Pro Duo) due to better support in DX12 and improved process does and architectures. AMD has noted that while GPUs haven’t been keeping track with Moore’s law in terms of performance per dollar, smaller GPUs have and it is important to be able to get 2 smaller GPUs to work together better since that solution would offer better bang for the buck.

In terms of VR, AMD is looking forward to working with developers to get the best performance out of their hardware to get the best experience. In line with this, AMD  is pointing out how their hardware is more than ready for with ACE to allow the best performance under DX12. Combined with LiquidVR and their other software libraries, AMD is presenting a comprehensive solution to allow developers to tackle VR. AMD is also offering a certification program for VR ready systems with their hardware to ensure consumers know that the hardware they are getting can handle VR. With this, maybe VR will go mainstream soon enough.

Netflix Values HDR Content Over 8K – Has No VR Plans

While Netflix is increasing its output of 4K resolution content, users should not expect the streaming on-demand platform to introduce 8K video any time soon. Instead, the company will be pushing high dynamic range (HDR) content, which increases colour and contrast range in images.

“Something that’s a little bit more out there that we’re really excited about is the notion of HDR or high dynamic range,” Chris Jaffe, Vice President of User Interface Innovation at Netflix said during a media briefing at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona (via CNBC).

“It’s less about packing more pixels on the screen like the move from HD to ultra-HD 4K was, it’s about extending the total range of those pixels … what that means is there’s a much more photo realistic image that you’re watching which is much more representative of the total range that your eye can see when you’re just looking around in real life.”

One visual innovation that Netflix will not be pursuing, though, is virtual reality. “We think there’s a great opportunity for VR in gaming and the gaming space is going to be an interesting place for them to explore it,” Jaffe added. “We don’t see an opportunity right now in the near-term for Netflix and VR, but we do want to watch how great story tellers use this technology, because at the end of the day, what you really see is when consumers really engage with great storytelling there’s a great opportunity and that’s what we really want to see.”

Netflix is aiming to release season one of Marco Polo and season two of Daredevil in HDR later this year.

Netflix to Introduce HDR Content This Year

With 4K slowly becoming the home standard for televisions and computer monitors, it seems that high dynamic range (HDR) is set to become the latest innovation for video content. HDR takes images of the same content, taken at a range of different exposures, and blends them together to highlight details that are imperceptible in a single shot.

Online video-on-demand service Netflix, which already offers a number of films and shows in 4K resolution – including its original shows House of Cards and Marco Polo, plus Breaking Bad, The Blacklist, and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon – plans to release 5% of its content in HDR by the end of this year.

“I think HDR is more visibly different than 4K,” Neil Hunt, Chief Product Officer for Netflix, told Digital Trends. “Over the past 15 years, we have had plenty of increments of pixels on the screen, and from what we saw with digital cameras, pixel count eventually stopped being interesting.”

Amazon’s Prime Video has already released its first show in HDR; the Golden Globe award-winning Mozart in the Jungle.

“In the real world, you have 14 bits of brightness difference, so imagine stepping outside to look at a reflection of water or shadow of a tree that’s between 12 and 14-bits of range,” Hunt added. “TV only represents 8 bits, so you lose one or the other; you can’t have the brights and the darks at the same time.”

Netflix intends to offer 20% of its content in HDR by 2019.

AMD Displays The Benefits of HDR Colour @ CES 2016

CES 2016: Display resolutions, and the quality of panels used have progressed at a blistering pace. The advent of IPS 8-bit and even 10-bit screens for professional photo editing has made TN technology seem so outdated. While TN still has an quicker response time, IPS panels are starting to catch up and even come in high refresh models. Furthermore, the advent of quantum dot displays and OLED panels results in a more vivid, and vibrant image which almost defies belief. Today, AMD showcased the massive difference between a High Dynamic Range and SDR TV. Unfortunately, it’s quite difficult to capture the Milo HDR demo and relay in quantitative terms how much better the HDR image is.

On the left, an LG 55EF9500 OLED TV was used, while the right picture is displayed on an LG 4600 LED TV. In simple terms, HDR produces enhanced luminance, and formulates a much sharper image. As a result, blacks are much darker, and there’s a greater contrast between colours. Hopefully you can see from this comparison shot, the enhanced detail and sharper focus.

Ultra HD Blu-Ray Release Date Revealed

More and more people are upgrading to a 4K capable TV or monitor these days, and with services like Netflix and Amazon Prime offering content, albeit a limited library, ready to stream 4K movies and TV shows, it’s easy to see why. The prices of 4K TVs and monitors have been falling steadily and it now makes perfect sense to go for 4K vs a standard HD set if you’re upgrading.

Of course, streaming isn’t a viable option for everyone, mostly due to bandwidth limitations. I personally don’t have fast enough internet for streaming in 4K, so disc based media is certainly the way to go. I’m also a bit of a movie and home cinema buff, so streamed content, with its limited bitrates, compression and more, are simply a deal breaker for me; although perhaps not so for everyone else.

Ultra HD Blu-Ray has been a long time coming, with the format only having been finalized this year and Samsung revealing the first consumer model player at IFA this month. All the major studios are behind the new format and have helped shape the standards for it, but when can we expect discs to hit the market?

The new format will offer up a greatly improved resolution, wide colour space, HDR, HFR and much more, helping future proof the discs for quite some time and providing formats that we now often see used in the cinema, right in your own living room. The first discs are now expected to launch in January, with many of the major studios and networks pushing the Ultra HD discs on the same day they release the HD Blu-Ray.

Thank you AVForums for providing us with this information.

HDR Video Streaming Coming to Amazon UK

There has been a lot of talk in the last few years about what will come after HD broadcasts. 1080p is great, but it has been around for quite a while now and it’s not always the best for those with larger screen sizes. 4K is the current thrill, with new TVs, media boxes, streaming services and more cropping up almost every week to supply us with content for the new format. One of the most popular formats is certainly streaming, with the likes of Amazon and NetFlix pushing hard for us to get more 4K content, but it seems Amazon is about to one-up the competition with the release of HDR video content in the UK.

The service will be available to Prime members in the UK and follows the launch of HDR video content in the US two months ago. HDR adds a greatly increased range of colours and brightness to the picture, giving huge improvements in detail on darker sections of the image, while enhancing colours and more to provide a more vivid and lifelike image.

Of course, you’ll also need an HDR compatible display, but with many newer 4K sets already supporting the extended colour format, there should be dozens of people in the whole country who can actually enjoy this content.

If you get a chance to watch some HDR 4K content, I highly recommend it!

thank you Engadget for providing us with this information.

HDMI Forum Releases HDMI 2.0a Specifications

HDMI Forum Inc, the non-profit corporation behind the HDMI standard, announced the latest specifications that now have reached version 2.0a. The new upgraded specification enables transmission of HDR formats which provide enhanced picture quality by simultaneously enabling greater detail for both the dark and bright parts of an image.

“We recognized that HDR would be a critical feature as the industry evolves. Our support for HDR enables our 800+ HDMI 2.0 Adopters to develop market-leading products that include HDR and will maintain interoperability across the entire HDMI ecosystem,” said Robert Blanchard, President of the HDMI Forum, Inc. “Along with the publication of the CEA extensions, the HDMI Forum continues to update the HDMI Specification and remain closely aligned with leading CE standards organizations.”

The news had barely arrived on the scene before the critics arrived too, claiming that it’s just to little to late. And in a way, they’re right. HDMI is one of the oldest of our current display transport technologies and it lacks the adoption of the newer revisions by manufacturers. There’s also those who have trouble with devices not working well together between the last two revisions, which could be why so many manufacturers still stick to 1.4a though 2.0 was released in 2013. Looks like more and more people would like their devices to have DisplayPort instead of HDMI.

Unity 5 Released, Including Fully Featured Free Version!

Unity 5 is finally here! This has proven to be a quick response to Epic’s shocking shift in making Unreal Engine 4 free last weekend. Unity 5 brings “over a thousand” improvements, including making the engine 64-bit and adding support for 21 platforms.

In terms of more detailed improvements, the team at Unity call the new engine a “graphical powerhouse”. What they mean by this is that there have been a lot of changes in terms of rendering:

  • Physically-based Standard Shader
    • The new Standard Shader will make your materials look consistent in any lighting environment, across mobile, high-end desktop, and consoles. Apply it across 95% of the materials in your game, such as metal, plastics, wood, ceramics and cloth. Use it together with the new HDR Skybox, Reflection Probes and Global Illumination System to create stunning visuals.
  • Real-time Global Illumination
    • Animate lighting with Real-time Global Illumination built on Geomerics Enlighten technology. Achieve dynamic lighting treatments on high-end mobile, desktop and consoles, and for lower-end devices, create beautifully detailed results with baked artwork.
  • HDR Reflection Probes
    • Enhance visual fidelity with our new HDR Reflection Probes. Add richer detail by having any object realistically reflect its surroundings. Reflection Probes are easy to implement—just place a probe at any location in your scene to sample reflections for its surrounding objects.

Moving further under the hood, we see some major changes in the Editor as well, having added a new audio mixer, enhanced animation workflows and PhysX 3.3:

  • The Audio Mixer
    • Now anyone can massively improve the audio in their game! Our new Audio Mixer brings nested mixing workflows, with snapshots to capture mixes in different areas of your project, plus industry-standard effects to add immersive new depths.
  • New Physics Engine
    • PhysX 3.3 brings massive performance improvements to 3D physics in Unity 5. New multithreaded simulation is available for platforms that support it, and there’s a new cloth component for character clothing. New wheel colliders bring better support for suspension and tire force simulation. Collision detection is improved and bake-free scaled MeshCollider support is added.
  • A more powerful Animator
    • We added more flexibility to the animation system. Add State Machine Behaviours to states to give precise control of script functions during animation. Anything in your game that requires some kind of State Machine-like logic can now use our visual editor live feedback. A new Asset Creation API is now exposed so animators can now create all sorts of tools to create and edit animation assets.

Other improvements include WebGL Preview, which is a preview of the deployment support for advanced 3D and 2D content in modern browsers. It aims at enhancing support for HTML5 and WebGL applications through Unity Web Player, stating that the new improvements will “deliver performance at native speeds”. Aside from WebGL, Unity 5 now supports iOS Metal Rendering, taking full advantage of iOS hardware in order to achieve greater detail, smoother performance and interactivity in games at a lower CPU usage cost.

Also, Unity 5 along with Oculus are working to “further boost the exceptional frame rates achievable with Unity on the Oculus”. This means we are going to see a lot of developers taking an interest in VR technology and in return, we should expect a lot of titles supporting the technology in the future.

In terms of new features, Unity 5 apparently is heading “to the clouds”. The team has prepared a new feature for developers, namely Unity Cloud Build, along with a set of game performance reporting tools and analytics:

  • Unity Cloud Build
    • Unity Cloud Build brings the magic of build automation to all Unity developers. Unity Cloud Build automates the creation and distribution of builds, by monitoring your team’s source control, and when changes are detected, it builds your project for multiple platforms in the cloud. Your whole team is kept updated with email notifications, making it easy for them to install builds on their devices with the tap of a button.
  • Game Performance Reporting
    • Game Performance Reporting is a new cloud service for Unity Professional customers that provides developers with new tools for improving game performance, starting with a preview of exception logging. Exception Logging captures exceptions in editor, development and release builds, and delivers detailed reports that can be read via a web dashboard.
  • Unity Analytics
    • Our new cloud-based analytics tool is currently in open beta. Unity Analytics provides you with powerful yet simple-to-understand tools that will help you understand your audience and get actionable insights into your players’ behavior. With that knowledge in hand, you can then improve your players’ gaming experience to boost retention, engagement and monetization.

Other improvements and additions are as following:

  • A 64-bit Editor to handle large projects
  • iOS 64-bit support
  • New Deferred Rendering
  • Graphics Command Buffers
  • Improved Linear lighting, HDR, Skybox and Cubemap workflows
  • Improved job scheduling system, plus a new CPU Timeline Profiler lets you see and investigate multicore usage
  • Improved NavMesh pathfinding system
  • Integrated SpeedTree support to create lush, rich and dynamic vegetation
  • New Frame Debugger to track down graphical issues in your projects
  • Improved Project Wizard
  • Updated Standard Assets
  • New UI and scripting APIs for AssetBundle Build system

Lastly, Unity 5 not only brings a lot of changes in terms of features, performance and improvements, but in terms of pricing as well. The team seems to be working with having two “goals” in mind:

Goal #1 — One of the founding principles of Unity is the idea that we work hard to solve very hard technical problems so our developers / users won’t have to. For this to be at all relevant, our best tools need to be a great value.

Goal #2 — Deep in Unity’s culture is the principle of Democracy. The goal is to price in such a way as to reflect our principles. Democracy is the principle we were founded on, and it means we do our best to put Unity in the hands of developers, Indies or Pros, that may not have the resources to pay for it. It’s about enabling most everyone to create with the best tools we can make. I won’t get too soppy in this post — but is an honor for me to work in a company so mission driven and principled.
Unity 5 Personal can be downloaded for free over at Unity’s website.

This is reflected in Unity 5’s pricing. This is why the Personal edition can be downloaded for free over at Unity’s website. However, the free version does not include the analytics, cloud, performance reporting and some other features. This is why the Professional edition comes with a subscription fee of $75/month.

However, the subscription fee mentioned above is just for Indie companies. There are three more subscription options, which include Enterprise, Education and Industry Solutions which are offered to bring the best subscription package for the job at hand. The pricing and more detail about the subscription packages can also be found on Unity’s website.

Sources: Unity Blog, Unity 5

EVGA Tegra NOTE 7 Launched, Worlds Fastest 7″ Android Tablet

EVGA have just launched their fast as lightening Tegra NOTE 7 into Europe, with immediate availability in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, with more European countries to follow soon. This is great news for performance junkies as it packs some seriously impressive hardware that sets it a fair bit ahead of the competition in this size category.

“The EVGA Tegra NOTE 7 tablet is the perfect travelling companion – combining a lightning-fast mobile processor with a brilliant 7-inch (17.8 cm) HD display in a sleek, comfortable design. Play the latest games at full speed. Capture stunning photos. Watch HD video for up to ten hours. And listen to your favourite music with booming, room-filling NVIDIA PureAudio. It’s mobile freedom at the speed of life.” Said EVGA in a recent press release.

As you can see from the rather extensive feature set below, there isn’t much that the new tablet can’t do and when it comes to working or gaming you’ll be enjoying the benefits of the new Nvidia Tegra 4 processors. The new processor features a quad-core design for the high end stuff, while also having a 5th core that can be used to conserve power when you don’t need the tablet to run at full power. The onboard GPU features 72 cores that will be able to make easy work of even the most demanding mobile applications.

Input is taken care of by the a high quality touch scree and the addition of the only chisel tip stylus on the market, which is said to be 3x more responsive that other stylus solutions. This allows for natural writing on the screen and will no doubt prove handy for those using the device for work as well as gaming tasks.

  • Patented stylus system allows for highly sensitive variable stroke width
  • 3x more responsive than other available stylus solutions
  • Only Chisel-tip stylus on the market
  • Intuitive note taking, annotation, capturing, and sharing
  • Edit PDFs: write, save, share
  • Full lasso selection for easy editing
  • Grab images in any app, and easily share
  • Stylus support, plus finger and palm recognition

The tablet also features the new Nvidia Chimera technology, this enables always-on HDR and give s the NOTE 7 the title of being the only HDR camera in a tablet. Something that should look pretty epic thanks to the 1280×800 IPS display which is backed up by Nvidia Prism 2 display processing, which modulates the display backlight and per-pixel colour values to extend battery life up to 40%

Nvidia Chimera computational photography for Always-On HDR:

  • World’s first HDR camera in a tablet: Capture exactly what your eye sees
  • Tap-to-Track: Choose any object to track so it’s in focus when you’re ready to take the shot
  • Slow-motion: Gear down the action for drama and effect

Nvidia PureAudio for the deepest, richest tablet audio:

  • Front facing stereo speakers with a bass reflex port for true stereo sound
  • Extended frequency response 380-12 kHz – compared to typical 800-5 kHz range
  • Premium Tegra 4 audio processing for louder, cleaner, richer sound

Incredible Value:

  • The fastest, loudest, most fun tablet you can find – at an affordable price
  • Compose and create on the fly using the incredibly intuitive Nvidia DirectStylus and bundled apps
  • Astounding front-facing Nvidia PureAudio stereo sound with unique bass reflex port
  • 5 MegaPixel Always-On HDR camera
  • World’s first Always-On HDR tablet, capturing scenes exactly as your eye sees them
  • World’s first Tap-to-Track tablet, allowing automatic tracking, focus, and exposure of the object
  • VGA front camera for video chat
  • World-class Nvidia engineering (mechanical design, software, electrical, quality, over-the-air updates)
  • 7-inch (17.8 cm) 1280×800 IPS display
  • Compatibility with Built for NVIDIA Tegra wireless game controllers means console-quality gaming is available through the tablet
  • Over-the-air (OTA) update support to keep your Tegra NOTE 7 up to date

Additional Specs:

  • 16GB storage + MicroSD card slot
  • Wi-Fi 802.11n
  • 4100 mAh battery for up to 10 hours HD video playback
  • Bluetooth 4.0 LE
  • GPS, 9-axis motion with gyro, accelerometer, compass
  • Micro HDMI to connect to HDTV
  • Ambient Light sensor for backlight control
  • USB 2.0
  • 1GB RAM

I look forward to seeing more of this tablet in the coming weeks as I must admit I have a soft spot for new hardware that claims to be the fastest around.

Thank you EVGA for providing us with this information.

Images courtesy of EVGA.

Android 4.4.1 Will Reportedly Fix Nexus 5 Camera

Nexus 5 users should be pleased to hear that Android 4.4.1 update should be rolling out shortly and that in addition to speeding up focusing, it will add faster white balancing, less shutter lag, and the ability to pinch-zoom the viewfinder in HDR+ mode. The company also shared a handful of photos showing the difference between normal mode and HDR+ following the update.

Dave Burke, Google’s Director of Engineering for Android, confirmed the news about the camera problems users have been encountering and that the Nexus 5 takes longer to focus than it should. In an effort to produce a higher-quality image, the team opted to “make the shutter time longer, reduce the gain even longer, and get better shots.” This resulted in slower-than-expected shooting speeds, a drawback the next version of Android is aimed at fixing.

Besides the framerate increase, the Nexus 5 will have a speed-up between capturing pictures, reducing the time gap by 1 second. There will also be a progress indicator in the HDR+ mode that makes the mode easier to manage. The update should also fix the Nexus 5’s face unlock bug, where relying on facial recognition to unlock the device would occasionally ruin the camera app until the entire phone was rebooted.

The camera on the Nexus 5 is superb as it is, however the drawbacks have kept it from being the perfect picture-taking gadget. With the new update, owners should soon be able to whip out the handset with more confidence.

Thank you Android Police for providing us with this information
Images courtesy of Android Police

New Chip From MIT Will Help Your Photos Look Professional With The Touch Of A Button

The researchers at MIT (Microsystems Technology Laboratory) have created a powerful processing chip that can do everything from creating more realistic lighting , and can perform tasks such as creating more realistic effects within your shot in just a fraction of a second, without effecting the overall ambience of the image. Sure current smartphones have this kind of technology already, and many smartphones have advanced software that can improve images greatly, but at the expense of intensive CPU usage and of course your battery.

“We wanted to build a single chip that could perform multiple operations, consume significantly less power compared to doing the same job in software, and do it all in real time,” said Mr. Rithe of MIT.

HDR photography is often incredible in terms of visual results, but its often limited in its application to mobile devices and more compact cameras due to the heavy workload required to process such an image, not to mention the range of brightness and exposures that are required to composite a HDR image. HDR generally requires three images to be taken at different light levels, then combined to give a bold visual effect; this takes a few seconds to do for most smartphones with HDR capability.

Not only are MIT claiming their chip can do this for photographs using some hardware trickery, but that it will also be capable of doing the same level of processing with video and all within a a few hundred milliseconds, even on a 10MP image, which should provide some truly breathtaking results.

They already have a working prototype CMOS chip integrated into a camera and display. It will be interesting to see this technology in action and we expect that it’s going to be the next big thing in mobile photography.