Jun 13, 2008

AMD hooks up with game giant Havok


AMD will work with game giant Havok to tailor Havok's game technology to AMD processors, the companies said Thursday

The plans call for optimizing game-physics effects utilizing AMD's multicore processors and graphics processing units, or GPUs.

Game physics brings the laws of physics--or physical-world simulation--to a game. For example, explosions may be modeled differently depending on the terrain.

Havok, which Intel acquired in September of last year, provides development tools and services used by digital-media creators. Havok's technology has been used in game titles such as BioShock, Stranglehold, Halo 2, Half Life 2, and has been used to create special effects in movies such as The Matrix and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Physics code has traditionally run on a CPU such as an AMD Phenom X4 quad-core processor. As part of the collaboration, Havok and AMD plan to further optimize Havok physics on AMD CPUs. Right now about 300 titles are optimized for Havok physics on the CPU, said Matt Skynner, vice president of marketing at AMD's Graphics Products Group.

AMD wants to take this CPU-centric approach a step further, however, and optimize certain components on the GPU, as well. "The plan is to work with them to leverage the right pieces of the physics (technology) that can be accelerated on the GPU," Skynner said.

"The feedback that we consistently receive from leading game developers is that core game play simulation should be performed on CPU cores," said David O'Meara, managing director of Havok in a statement. "Beyond core simulation, however, the capabilities of massively parallel (GPU) products offer technical possibilities for computing certain types of simulation," he said.

AMD is chasing Nvidia, which acquired Ageia Technologies in February. Ageia's PhysX software is widely used, with more than 140 PhysX-based games shipping or in development on Sony Playstation3, Microsoft XBOX 360, Nintendo Wii and gaming PCs, according to Nvidia.

And Nvidia has said that the conversion of Ageia's physics application interface to Nvidia's CUDA C language environment is under way. This means users will be able to get the benefits of a physics accelerator via a software download, Nvidia said.

May 7, 2008

Microsoft Backpedals on Windows Updates

Microsoft has withdrawn Vista SP1 from automatic delivery in the wake of news that XP SP3 can cause data corruption in business apps.Part 1 of a special five-part series.
Neil McAllister



Earlier this week, Microsoft announced that it was delaying the release of Windows XP Service Pack 3 due to incompatibilities with its Microsoft Dynamics Retail Management software. Now comes word that Windows Vista Service Pack 1 has also been withdrawn from automatic distribution. According to Microsoft representatives, changes introduced in Vista SP1 affect how Microsoft's SQL Server database behaves in certain situations, potentially resulting in data loss or corruption.
Microsoft has been pushing SP1 out to all Vista customers via Automatic Update since last week -- pity the unfortunate Microsoft Dynamics customers who discovered the bugs. But the bright side is that Microsoft was able to put on the brakes before the same problems started affecting XP customers, as well. That's when the real fun would have started.
There's been no word yet on when the bugs will be patched, but fear not: Microsoft is reportedly working on filters that will prevent any computer running Microsoft Dynamics Retail Management from downloading the OS updates. That's one way to solve the problem, I guess.
Curiously, there's been no word as to how many other applications might be affected by these incompatibilities. Maybe it's just bad luck that Microsoft's own software can corrupt data when the OS updates are applied, and no one but Dynamics RMS customers need worry. If you ask me, though, I would tread very carefully before applying Vista SP1 or XP SP3 to any server running an application with a SQL Server backend. Until we get more information about exactly what causes the data corruption, we have to assume that this same gotcha might be lurking out there for other business applications, as well.

Apr 3, 2008

Webair Hosting Unveils Enhanced Content Delivery Network


NEW YORK — Hosting company Webair has unveiled an enhanced version of their Content Delivery Network, a global array of high-speed servers optimized for digital media.
It works like this: Clients typically will host their basic website files – HTML or PHP files, for example – but would host their heavier digital media files on Webair's Content Delivery Network, or CDN. When a surfer accesses a large movie file, it would download faster.
Webair Executive Sales Manager Gerard Helton explained to XBIZ that while a webmaster could conceivably host every file on their website on the CDN, a more common scenario would be to only host large digital media files on it.
Helton added that the CDN hosts content on a network of server clusters around the world, so that when a surfer downloads a file on the CDN, they will automatically access the closest server, and thereby get the content faster.
Existing Webair clients will be able to add CDN functionality to their sites through their existing control panels. Webmasters who host their sites with other companies are also welcome to host any of their content on Webair's CDN. Helton said that using the CDN is easy and involves no complicated changes in website code.
Webmasters who want to try out the service can email sales@webair.com.

Feb 26, 2008

Apple upgrades MacBook and MacBook Pros

As anticipated (and remember, it's "new release day" Tuesday in the US), Apple this morning revved its range of MacBook and MacBook Pro notebooks.
All Apple laptops except the MacBook Air now ship standard with the latest Intel Penryn CPUs (offering lower power consumption), bigger hard drives, more memory and better built-to-order options. The new MacBook
Pro features a multi-touch
trackpad.
They also feature a full range of ports, unlike the Air, including 802.11n, Bluetooth, 2x USB and 1 x Firewire 400, while the Pro has 1 x Firewire 800 and ExpressCard 34 and full-size DVI as well. Disappointingly Apple still hasn't seen fit to add ExpressCard to the basic MacBook, which means MacBook owners' only option for mobile broadband is the annoying USB soap-on-a-rope modems, or a Bluetooth connection to their mobile phone (which is a distinctly third-grade option.)

As anticipated (and remember, it's "new release day" Tuesday in the US), Apple this morning revved its range of MacBook and MacBook Pro notebooks.
All Apple laptops except the MacBook Air now ship standard with the latest Intel Penryn CPUs (offering lower power consumption), bigger hard drives, more memory and better built-to-order options.
They also feature a full range of ports, unlike the Air, including 802.11n, Bluetooth, 2x USB and 1 x Firewire 400, while the Pro has 1 x Firewire 800 and ExpressCard 34 and full-size DVI as well. Disappointingly Apple still hasn't seen fit to add ExpressCard to the basic MacBook, which means MacBook owners' only option for mobile broadband is the annoying USB soap-on-a-rope modems, or a Bluetooth connection to their mobile phone (which is a distinctly third-grade option.)

Feb 24, 2008

Five unexpected effects of a Blu-ray victory


Toshiba has officially thrown in the towel and HD DVD is, for all practical purposes, no more. For consumers, it looks great that the war is over, but here's five consequences of a Blu-ray victory that you might not have considered.


1. Region coding is still alive


While HD DVD had no regional restrictions, Blu-ray maintained the studio-friendly approach of coding titles so that they would only play in particular regions (albeit with a three-region approach rather than DVD's four, placing Australia alongside Europe rather than South America).
In practice, the vast majority of titles were released in region-free versions that would play anywhere, but that might very well change if HD DVD finally gets the flick. Region coding is a nuisance for buyers, and neither format could risk putting people off during a battle for market share. But if there's only one option -- and hence no chance of defecting to a rival -- what's the bet that it starts appearing more frequently?


2. Java gets embedded in yet another platform


One of the original points of contention between Blu-ray and HD DVD was the way in which interactive components would be coded. Blu-ray used a Java derivative called BD-J, while HD DVD favoured HDi, essentially a combination of ECMAScript and XML developed by the HD DVD consortium. Amongst developer types, there was consensus that Sun's approach was potentially more useful, working as it did with a relatively open standard supported by a wide range of tools.
For consumers, the picture is murkier, as there have been reports that not all BD-J features work on all players. The use of Java does mean that the specification can theoretically be upgraded if the hardware supports it, which offers an advantage to PlayStation3 users if nothing else.


3. Porn producers will have to work harder


It's widely assumed (though without much in the way of, ahem, hard evidence) that one of the reasons VHS beat Betamax was the widespread (ahem) availability of porn on the former format. In the HD format wars, the picture was (ahem) murkier. Online media fell over themselves last year to report that Sony had banned Blu-ray from being used for porn, but the truth was a little more prosaic.
While individual manufacturers are free to reproduce whatever titles they like, their contracts with specific movie studios might prohibit any X-rated material being reproduced on the premises. The main enforcer of such provisions is Disney, which is still haunted by the memory of a VHS version of The Rescuers which features a few frames of a topless woman inserted by a bored editor. Given the choice between replicating a few million copies of Toy Story or a much smaller run of Young Ripe Melons 13, most duplicators are going to opt for the former.

4. You still probably can't play CDs


One problem with both HD formats is that the rush to produce hi-def pictures wasn't always matched with attention to detail when it came to other formats. Thus, despite the fact that both rivals had discs the same size as audio CDs (and hence, in turn, DVDs), a surprising number of players couldn't actually play music from a CD.
Given that a $50 DVD from the dodgy store round the corner can manage that feat, it's a surprising omission. This is by no means something that affects all players, but it's definitely worth checking.


5. Sony has won a format war for once


A constant point of reference during the Blu-ray/HD DVD battle has been the similarities with the VHS/Betamax battles for home video cassette supremacy in the early 1980s. Sony lost that particular fight, and that helped create a perception that Sony-backed formats rarely succeed in the market. Various other media formats such as Memory Stick, MiniDisc, DAT and UMD rather reinforced that impression, although in truth none of those ever looked like serious contenders.
Unfortunately, Sony can't afford to gloat despite HD DVD's disappearance. While high-capacity Blu-ray discs might well be a useful storage medium, flash technologies are evolving so rapidly that it would be unwise to bet against them catching up in the near future. And as for movies themselves? Downloading still looks like a good option (if you don't have an Australian broadband cap).
Perhaps the salient lesson from the original video war is that no format lasts forever. In the 20-odd years since VHS vanquished Betamax, video tapes themselves have become largely archaic. The odds of Blu-ray even surviving 20 years seem just as slight.

Feb 19, 2008

GAME OVER:FORMAT WAR ENDS AS TOSHIBA DROPS HD DVD


At a board meeting today in Tokyo, Toshiba decided it would abandon the HD DVD format. A rival blue-laser optical disc technology to Blu-ray Disc, HD DVD was locked in a struggle with Blu-ray to become the next-generation heir to the booming $24 million DVD business (see our timeline of the format war). The format war stretched back to the year 2002, when backers of both formats unveiled their plans for blue-laser-based optical discs.
Toshiba's chief executive Atsutoshi Nishida, addressed assembled media in Tokyo after the board meeting during which the company pulled the plug on its HD DVD support. At the press conference, Nishida noted that the decision to pull out of the HD DVD market was a difficult one, "but when we thought about the trouble we would cause to consumers and our partners, we decided it was not right for us to keep going with such a small presence."
Existing HD DVD players will continue to have support, says Toshiba, although for how long was unclear. (Even more unclear: How long Universal Studios might keep up its support of those nifty interactive features) introduced last year.
Toshiba did not announce any plans to produce its own Blu-ray drives, although it's impossible to imagine that the consumer electronics company will completely abandon the market for movie disc players.
Some historical trivia: HD DVD was initially introduced in 2002 as the Advanced Optical Disc (AOD) format. Toshiba and NEC together proposed this technology to succeed DVD by way of the DVD Forum, an industry forum for governing the standards of the current red-laser DVD technology. For years, that the DVD Forum approved the technology was presented as a strength of the HD DVD format over Blu-ray. (And, in the end, as I expected, it was Toshiba's withdrawal from the market--and not any announcement from the DVD Forum or the HD DVd Promotion Group--that marked the end of the HD DVD format itself. That underscores just how Toshiba was single-handedly propping up the the HD DVD format; without Toshiba's support, the format cannot, and has no reason to, exist.)
By contrast, the companies behind Blu-ray opted from the get-go to bypass the DVD Forum. Instead, Blu-ray's backers formed their own governing body to oversee the developmenet and implementation of the standard--much like the DVD+RW Alliance had done with its non-DVD-Forum backed DVD+R/RW format before it. Blu-ray was initially developed by Sony and Pioneer, but the technology has been championed from the outset by large consortium of consumer electronics companies.
The thing about Blu-ray has been its clear support within the industry from the start. At the International Consumer Electronics Show in 2006, Blu-ray Disc Association head Andy Parsons noted, "The legions of engineers who have been working on this is just astounding. I’ve never seen anything like it. Companies that usually duke it out--competitors--are working together."
Parsons, himself based at Pioneer, went on to say, "It’s been fun to watch it all come together." At the time of these comments, Blu-ray's technical spec had just been finalized.
Now, with Toshiba's announcement, Blu-ray's path is complete. And I can add that this has been one wild ride to observe.

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