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Microsoft Partners with Sony on Gaming and AI

Sony Corporation (Sony) and Microsoft Corp. (Microsoft) announced on Thursday that the two companies will partner on new innovations to enhance customer experiences in their direct-to-consumer entertainment platforms and AI solutions.

Under the memorandum of understanding signed by the parties, the two companies will explore joint development of future cloud solutions in Microsoft Azure to support their respective game and content-streaming services. In addition, the two companies will explore the use of current Microsoft Azure datacenter-based solutions for Sony's game and content-streaming services. By working together, the companies aim to deliver more enhanced entertainment experiences for their worldwide customers. These efforts will also include building better development platforms for the content creator community.

Sony PlayStation 5 Console Confirmed Powered by 8-core Zen 2 CPU, Navi and Ray Tracing Confirmed

Sony's own lead system architect Mark Cerny spilled the beans on the company's upcoming "PlayStation 5" games console - the name isn't confirmed, but it's a PlayStation, and it's the fifth, so, following from the previous nomenclature just makes sense, doesn't it? One particular detail, however, is of most interest to us PC hardware junkies, and that one little fact is the confirmed Navi GPU that will power it. This is, almost certainly, a semi-custom Navi-based GPU, however; but the tidbit that PlayStation 5 will have raytracing support is the one game changer for hardware expectations - on paper, at least.

Of course, Navi is expected to debut much sooner in the consumer space than on next-gen consoles, but the fact that PlayStation 5 development kits are already being seeded - and an increasing rate, according to Sony - bodes well for the feature's inclusion on AMD's consumer-based cards. Either that or the company is taking a software approach to raytracing, which, if NVIDIA's 1000 and 10*0 series is any indication, wouldn't go very well with performance intentions. This does mean that raytracing is about to receive a much-needed market penetration boost for its adoption by developers. NVIDIA will of course be able to wave the flag of having been the first company to introduce the technology to consumers.

Quantic Dreams' PlayStation Exclusives Heavy Rain, Beyond: Two Souls and Detroit: Become Human Announced for PC as EPIC Games Store Exclusives

The unthinkable, never-before-seen, has happened: games that were developed as PlayStation exclusives are finally making their way to PC (outside of any PS Now streaming shenanigans). Developer Quantic Dreams has announced at GDC 2019 that Heavy Rain, Beyond: Two Souls and Detroit: Become Human are coming to the PC platform. And if you didn't read that title, you probably wondered, and yes: they are exclusive, for a period of one year, to the EPIC Games Store.

AMD Patents Variable Rate Shading Technique for Console, VR Performance Domination

While developers have become more and more focused on actually taking advantage of the PC platform's performance - and particularly graphical technologies - advantages over consoles, the truth remains that games are being optimized for the lowest common denominator first. Consoles also share a much more user-friendly approach to gaming - there's no need for hardware updates or software configuration, mostly - it's just a sit on the couch and leave it affair, which can't really be said for gaming PCs. And the console market, due to its needs for cheap hardware that still offers performance levels that can currently fill a 4K resolution screen, are the most important playground for companies to thrive. Enter AMD, with its almost 100% stake in the console market, and Variable Rate Shading.

As we've seen with NVIDIA's Turing implementation for Variable Rate Shading, this performance-enhancing technique works in two ways: motion adaptive shading and content adaptive shading. Motion adaptive shading basically takes input from previous frames in order to calculate which pixels are moving fast across the screen, such as with a racing perspective - fast-flying detail doesn't stay focused in our vision so much that we can discern a relative loss in shading detail, whilst stationary objects, such as the focused hypercar you're driving, are rendered in all their glory. Valuable compute time can be gained by rendering a coarse approximation of the pixels that should be in that place, and upscaling them as needed according to the relative speed they are moving across the frame. Content adaptive shading, on the other hand, analyzes detail across a scene, and by reducing shading work to be done across colors and detail that hasn't had much movement in the previous frame and frames - saves frame time.

Google Keynote at GDC 2019 Hints Towards Dedicated Gaming Entry

Google sent out a fairly cryptic invite to the game developers and associated press this week in the form of a GIF (converted into relevant images below). It teases a keynote on March 19, 2019 and more information was made available shortly confirming this would be in the form of a keynote to be held at 10 am PST during GDC this year. The media giant promises to "reveal all", and also has developer-focused sessions throughout the course of the event. An early report from The Information suggests the keynote will have Google talk about their new game-streaming service, code-named Yeti. This is in line with our own expectations, after having participated in the fairly successful Project Stream beta test that concluded recently.

Kotaku went further to suggest that Yeti is a streaming service in conjunction with a hardware platform- a simple streaming box, if you will, to take on the dedicated game consoles of 2019 and beyond. Indeed, Google has been wanting to get into this highly lucrative market, with intentions to take over Twitch before Amazon pulled one over them. There remain many challenges in general to a game-streaming world, not least of which were detailed in our own editorial linked above. But, with the next generation consoles getting ready for development and Microsoft willing to explore a game-streaming future themselves, perhaps Microsoft, Sony, Nintendo and others should pay very close attention to said Google keynote in less than a month's time.

JOLED Announces OLED Panels for PC Monitors, Expected to Hit the Market in 2019

JOLED, a Japanese Display, Sony and Panasonic group, has announced new OLED solutions for PC monitors that are expected to enter the market in 2019. While OLED has become ubiquitous in both high-end smartphones and TV's, some of the technology's quirks (read: burn-in) mean that it has some more problems that need addressing compared to the other, more traditional display panel technologies. That's likely one of the reasons OLEDs are taking so long to enter the PC monitor market, even though some of their characteristics (such as the fact that the announced JOLED models can features repsosne times of 0.1 ms) are naturally gamer-appealing.

The market entries will start small, with 21.6" diagonals in both 1080p (geared for gamers in partnership with Japanese e-sports team Burning Core) and 4K (which should make its way to the market inside ASUS' Proart PQ22UC. For some reason, there's apparently a 27" panel that's being developed specifically for smart home applications, instead of for the gaming crowds. Go figure.

AMD 8-core Ryzen APU to Power Sony Playstation 5, Says the Rumor Mill

Sony's announcement of the Playstation team skipping E3 2019 took everyone by surprise aside from a few on Reddit who had paid attention to a thread created the day before. Reddit user RuthenicCookie seemed to know a lot more about Sony's plans for their popular game console for the next few years, as well as game titles supporting this current console generation and the next. Amidst a lot of the tasty rumor bits that should interest console gamers, something more relevant to us directly is the mention of the Playstation 5 to continue using AMD for processing power.

This is a logical move to just about everyone familiar with the industry, and Sony needed to up the CPU horsepower in particular to compete with the XBOX One X and offer a true 4K/60 FPS solution for gaming without framerate drops galore. As such, said redditor shared information saying that the current plans involve an 8-core Ryzen-based processor and an estimated console price point of $500. Sony may well share a teaser about the console next year, with retail availability expected in the holiday season 2020 (two years from now, thus). As such, developer kits are likely already ready meaning the specs are finalized as well. This may mean we will see either the first or second gen Ryzen APUs, and not Ryzen 2 as many may have hoped. No word yet on what Microsoft is cooking in their side of the kitchen, but incremental console updates means we may see a Ryzen 2-powered console sooner than later as well.

Nominees for Game Awards Show 2018 Outed - And There are a Lot of PS4 Exclusives

The nominees for the 2018 Game Awards have been announced, and... It seems that us PC gamers are missing out. I myself am missing out, despite owning my own PS4 system; there's just so much time one can have in between - the other kind of - life. However, the range of nominees that are exclusive to Sony's system is relentless in showing us that there may be life on the other side of the pond.

There are a whole lot of categories for this one, so I'll take my editor's discretion in calling your attention to the Game of the Year, Best Game Direction, and Best Narrative categories, where exclusives to Sony's platform God of War and Marvel's Spider-Man are nominated in all three categories. Detroit: Become Human, another PS4 exclusive, eeked its way into both Best Game Direction and Best Narrative categories as well, and console exclusive (for now) Red Dead Redemption 2 is nominated in all three categories. You can check out the main Game Awards 2018 page for all the categories, including Best Ongoing Game and Best Score/Music - up to a total of 30 differentiating categories.

Sony PlayStation 5 Confirmed: "It's Necessary To Have A Next-Generation Hardware"

Some experts say that the console and PC will be irrelevant very soon: cloud gaming services will make dedicated and powerful hardware unnecessary, but Sony doesn't seem to agree. Kenichiro Yoshida, CEO of Sony, doesn't, and in an interview with the Financial Times he has made it clear that there will be a new PlayStation, although he has not confirmed whether the name of that console will be PlayStation 5.

John Kodera, president of Sony Interactive Entertainment, mentioned months ago in The Wall Street Journal how the company was working on new developments in this area. In fact he mentioned to analysts and investors that in March 2021 PlayStation would "crouch down once" to grow further in the future.

AMD CEO Speaks with Jim Cramer About the "Secret Sauce" Behind its Giant-Killing Spree

Jim Cramer of CNBC Mad Money interviewed AMD CEO Dr. Lisa Su on the floor of the NYSE remarking her company as the year's biggest tech turnaround stories. The two spoke a variety of topics, including how the company went from a single-digit stock and a loss-making entity to one of the hottest tech-stocks, which threatens both Intel and NVIDIA. Dr. Su placed emphasis on taking long term strategic decisions that bear fruit years down the line.

"We decided to make the right investments. Technology is all about making the right choices, where we're going to invest, and where we're not going to invest...three or four years ago, it was mobile phones, tablets, and IoT that were the sexy things, and we were like 'hey we know that those are good markets, but those are not AMD.' We focused on what we thought the future would hold for us," said Dr. Su. "We are making decisions now that you won't see the outcome of for the next 3-5 years. We're making some good decisions," she added.

Brainwavz Introduces its M2 IEM in-ear Noise Isolating Earphones, Sony-specific Pads

Global audio specialist Brainwavz, established in 2008 with a focus on offering high quality products at competitive pricing, today announces the availability of its M2 IEM Noise Isolating Earphones in the UK. The M2 IEM are the latest in the Brainwavz range of over 25 earphones and headphones and represent great value at £45.00 /$59.50, from www.brainwavzaudio.com.

Described as the "Bass King" by Digit website, the Brainwavz M2 provide a mature, detailed and refined sound whilst also giving a fun and exciting overall signature designed to sound good with any genre of music. Users can listen to pop, hip hop or country music without sacrificing clarity and performance.

On the New Subscription Age, EA Acquires Game Streaming Service Gamefly

Seems like almost every industry is looking towards transitioning to a subscription model for its goods and services. Netflix may be the most iconic one such company, having acquired millions of subscribers that allow it to have a relatively stable, monthly influx of liquidity (yes, we can also count World of Warcraft on such a scenario). However, many other industries have taken to the same approach (think lootcrates, all kinds of crates, subscription services for online features, etc).

That said, few industries can take the same amount of data from their subscribers such as these media-consumption based ones, where an Internet connection is required, and user data - be it views or, the most interesting metric, engagement rates - are king in determining exactly what the user base expects and craves more of. Netflix's algorithms and view history have been responsible for the selection of its future investments. The base idea for the movie Bright, for example, was developed based on a mash-up of genres Netflix's algorithms indicated as the more captivating to the user base - and Netflix's sci-fi portfolio, for instance, has recently grown towards becoming the single biggest investment from the company, as users seem to gobble-up such content (I'm dully guilty as charged for that one sin as well, I have to admit).

BenQ Intros Zowie RL2755T 27-inch "Console eSports Monitor"

So "console-optimized monitors" are a thing. Apparently eSports players on consoles can't lug their big TVs around to BYOD events (local LAN parties), and so BenQ has come up with the Zowie RL2755T, which has been certified by Sony as an officially-licensed product for the PlayStation 4. The 27-inch monitor features a TN-film panel, with Full HD (1920 x 1080 pixels) resolution, 1 ms (GTG) response time, and up to 75 Hz refresh rate.

BenQ makes up for these specs otherwise brushed aside by PC gamers, with a narrow bezel design, low response-time, Black eQualizer (a feature that enhances dark areas of the screen to help you spot enemies), flicker-free brightness adjustments, and dynamic color vibrance that helps you spot distant enemies. The stand offers height and tilt adjustments. Display inputs include two HDMI inputs, and DVI. The company didn't reveal pricing.

Sony Announces Availability for the New Xperia Ear Duo Wireless Earphones

Sony Mobile Communications ("Sony Mobile") is pleased to announce that Xperia Ear Duo will be available in the United States for pre-order at b8ta starting May 1, 2018. Xperia Ear Duo will then be available at b8ta and on Amazon on May 25, 2018. Suggested retail price is $279.99.

Built to reimagine the wireless headset, Xperia Ear Duo features Dual Listening technology, so you can listen to music and receive notifications, while simultaneously hearing environmental sound or conversation. Whether you're listening to music during a workout or while commuting, it's an unparalleled ambient experience.

FTC Gives Manufacturers 30 Days to Remove Warranty Void Stickers

Remember that time where the FTC announced they were cracking down on illegal, predatory warranty conditions? You know, such as those "warranty void if removed" stickers that don't really have any legal base towards their implementation - and eventual refusal of an actual warranty claim? Well, the gong has now sounded, and it will reverberate some 30 times: the amount of days the FTC has given companies to cease and desist on putting those stickers in newly shipped products.

Sony Announces New SL-E Series External SSDs

Sony is expanding its External Solid-State Drive (SSD) range with a brand new top of the range SL-E series. This new model is a stylish, high-capacity external SSD that is small enough to put in your pocket but powerful enough for high-speed and safe data transfer. Designed with the needs of professionals such as architects, engineers and researchers in mind, the handy external solid-state drive is smaller than a credit card, so you can take it anywhere and with up to 960GB of storage you can keep all your important files with you all the time.

Compatible with wide range of devices
This SSD is equipped with compact and reversible USB Type-C ports for connection to all the latest mobile technology, as well as standard-A cables. Having both ports ensures usability with a wide range of devices including Mac and Windows PCs, Android smartphones and tablets.

Sony's New MDR-1AM2 Headphones Deliver Uncompromised High-Resolution Sound

Sony Electronics announced today the latest in Hi-Resolution headphones, the MDR-1AM2. Building from the acclaimed MDR-1A headphones that launched in 2014, the MDR-1AM2 brings a host of new and improved features to take the premium headphones industry by storm. Sony has built on its already established high quality listening experiences, and improved its sound even further.

"At Sony, we are committed to bringing high quality sound to consumers," said Dunja LaRosa, Director, and Head of Mobile Audio Business, Home Entertainment and Sound at Sony Electronics, North America. "Reviving Sony's classic headphones, the MDR-1AM2 is a testament to this commitment, playing back music as the artist intended and delivering consumers the ability to enjoy high quality music, regardless of their location."

Tesla Motors Develops Semi-custom AI Chip with AMD

Tesla Motors, which arguably brought electric vehicles to the luxury-mainstream, is investing big in self-driving cars. Despite its leader Elon Musk's fears and reservations on just how much one must allow artificial intelligence (AI) to develop, the company realized that a true self-driving car cannot be made without giving the car a degree of machine learning and AI, so it can learn its surroundings in real-time, and maneuver itself with some agility. To that extent, Tesla is designing its own AI processor. This SoC (system on chip) will be a semi-custom development, in collaboration with the reigning king of semi-custom chips, AMD.

AMD has with it a clear GPGPU performance advantage over NVIDIA, despite the latter's heavy investments in deep-learning. AMD is probably also banking on good pricing, greater freedom over the IP thanks to open standards, and a vast semi-custom track-record, having developed semi-custom chips with technology giants such as Sony and Microsoft. Musk confirmed that the first car in which you can simply get in, fall asleep, and wake up at your destination, will roll out within two years, hinting at a 2019 rollout. This would mean a bulk of the chip's development is done.

Toshiba Elects Preferred Bidder for Its Memory Business Sale

The Japanese Toshiba have been in a sort of bad run lately, following disastrous investments into nuclear plants and a $1.2 billion "mistake" in their earnings reports, which gave the company a hard time in refinancing itself in the Tokyo Exchange. Now, in a bid to sell a 20% stake of their highly successful memory business, the company has elected a preferred buyer. And in what might not come as a surprise, they elected a US-Japan consortium led by the Japanese government itself.

Toshiba said it selected the consortium, consisting of Innovation Network Corporation of Japan (a 26-strong network which includes Sony, Canon and Toyota, among others), Bain Capital Private Equity LP (based in Boston) and the Development Bank of Japan, because it presented "the best proposal in terms of valuation and respect" to "certainty of closing, retention of employees" and I quote again, "maintenance of sensitive technology within Japan". Terms of the deal were not disclosed although analysts have previously estimated Toshiba Memory Corporation to be worth around $20 billion. In its announcement, Toshiba said it intends to reach an agreement for purchase with the consortium before its annual shareholders meeting on June 28. If all goes well, the Japanese tech giant is looking to close on the transaction by March 2018, pending regulatory approval and so forth.

2017's Weak VR/AR Demand May Burst VR Investment Bubble

Many research firms' numbers have shown that VR product sales in 2016 have been weaker than originally expected due to both high product costs and lack of content. No-one has yet seen VR's killer app, after all, and I know I'd love to see another Halo-like product to drive awareness on the VR platforms like it did on the original Xbox.

All of the above lead towards Google's Daydream View, HTC's Vive, Oculus Rift and Samsung Electronics' Gear VR having all achieved sales that are not even close to previously-set market expectations, with even the current mainstream poster-boy for VR, Sony's PSVR, showing adoption numbers that are as lowly as low can be. Even in their home-field, Japan, a country known for being filled with tech-savvy and tech-crazed customers, only 0.7% of the existing PS4 and PS4 Pro user-base has made the jump for a VR headset.

AMD's Q3 2016 Earnings Call - Revenue is Up, Debt is Down

AMD today released their earnings call for 3Q 2016, giving us some interesting tidbits in regards to their financial robustness. The balance of AMD's economics seems to be pending towards better execution, and, coeteris paribus, a much better outlook for the coming quarters, after the monumental missteps in the past that almost threw AMD under the proverbial bus. Reception for the results seems to be a tangled mess, however, with some sides claiming that AMD beat expectations, while others prefer to draw attention to AMD's 2% stock decline since the report was outed.

AMD posted revenue of $1,307 million, up 27% sequentially and 23% year-over-year. This revenue was distributed unevenly through AMD's divisions, though. "Computing and Graphics" segment revenue was $472 million, up 9% from Q2 2016, primarily due to increased GPU sales (where Polaris picked up the grunt of the work, being responsible for 50% of AMD's GPU revenue), offset by lower sales of client desktop processors and chipsets; whereas "Enterprise, Embedded and Semi-Custom" segment revenue was $835 million, up 41% sequentially, primarily due to record semi-custom SoC sales (such as those found in Microsoft's XBOX One and Sony's PS4 and upcoming PS4 Pro).

NVIDIA Claws Back Console Chips Business: Nintendo Switch Announced

After months of speculation, the lid is off Nintendo's "NX" project, with the company finally announcing today its much-awaited games console, the Nintendo Switch. With an expected release slated for March 2017, the console blurs the line between a games console and a handheld device, by making use of a docking station which will allow it to connect to a television, much like a traditional games console, while instantly entering a so called "portable mode" when it is undocked. As both a console and a portable device, the Nintendo Switch will use cartridges known as Game Cards, displaying games in a "high definition display" embedded on the console while on the go, with two detachable Joy-Con controllers stepping in as input devices.

For PC hardware enthusiasts, that may not be all too interesting. What is arguably more interesting is that this games console will make use of NVIDIA hardware: most notably, a custom Tegra processor is the one pulling out all of the console's processing needs, with the graphics being served by what the company calls "the same architecture as the world's top-performing GeForce gaming graphics cards."

Sony Launches AMD "Polaris" Powered PlayStation 4 Pro

Sony today announced an addition to its PlayStation family of entertainment systems, with the new PlayStation 4 Pro (PS4 Pro). The PS4 Pro isn't meant to succeed the PS4, and is still a "current generation" console, in that all of its games are compatible with the PS4, and there won't be PS4 Pro-exclusive games. What sets it apart is higher-resolution game rendering that looks best on 4K Ultra HD TVs. This doesn't necessarily mean that the games are being rendered at 3840 x 2160 pixels. They could be rendered at resolutions higher than 1080p, and using just the right upscaling algorithms, made to look significantly better than 1080p. Another key visual component is hardware HDR. The PS4 Pro falls in line with Sony's big push for 4K HDR TVs this holiday shopping season.

Under the hood, the PlayStation 4 Pro features an all new semi-custom SoC designed by Sony and AMD. The CPU component sticks to the "Jaguar/Puma" architecture, with 8 cores, but features higher CPU clock speeds. The 8 GB GDDR5 memory is said to run at higher clocks, too, and is bolstered by new lossless memory compression tech by AMD. The GPU component is where the action is. The GPU features over double the shading power of the PS4, and is based on the "Polaris" GPU architecture. The PS4 Pro also ships with a bigger 1 TB hard drive. There is seamless interplayability between PS4 and PS4 Pro. PS4 games you already own are being added with higher-resolution content meant for PS4 Pro. The console also has the muscle for PS-VR. For those still holding on to 1080p HDTVs, the PS4 Pro rewards with higher visual detail, more geometric complexity, and better effects, at that resolution. The PS4 Pro starts at $399.

PlayStation 4K to Feature a 2,304-SP AMD "Polaris" GPU

Sony's upcoming 4K Ultra HD game console, which its fans are referring to as the "PlayStation 4K," while being internally referred to by Sony as "NEO," could feature a very powerful GPU. AMD could custom-design the SoC that drives the console, to feature an 8-core 64-bit x86 CPU based on the "Jaguar" micro-architecture, running at 2.10 GHz; and a GPU component featuring 36 compute units based on "next-generation Graphics CoreNext" architecture.

36 next-gen GCN compute units sounds an awful lot like the specs of the Polaris10 "Ellesmere" chip in its Radeon R9 480 configuration, working out to a stream processor count of 2,304 - double that of the 1,152 on the current-gen PlayStation 4. The SoC is also rumored to feature a 256-bit GDDR5 memory interface holding 8 GB of memory. This memory will be used as both system and video memory, just like on the current-gen PlayStation 4. The memory bandwidth will be increased to 218 GB/s from the current 176 GB/s. Besides 4K Ultra HD gaming, this chip could also prepare Sony for VR headsets, leveraging AMD's LiquidVR tech.

Sony Unveils the SLW-M Series Consumer SSDs

Sony is making its international debut in consumer SSDs, with the SLW-M series. The company was selling some of its first SSDs locally in Japan. Built in the 7 mm thick 2.5-inch form-factor, the drives feature SATA 6 Gb/s interface, and come in capacities of 240 GB (SLW-MG2) and 480 GB (SLW-MG4). There's no word on the controller or NAND flash make, but the company is advertising performance figures of up to 560 MB/s reads, with up to 530 MB/s writes. A 9.5 mm spacer, and a license to Acronis True image 2015 HD come included. Sony is also including its very own drive management software, the Sony SSD Toolbox.
Update: DIYPC HK posted a picture of the drive's PCB. It reveals a rebranded Phison S10 series controller, and Toshiba A19 TLC NAND flash.
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