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Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 vs. Nvidia Tegra K1: The Value of 64-bit on Android

Odds are good that if you buy a high-end Android device in the next few months, it's going to be packing either the Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 or Nvidia Tegra K1 SoC. We're at a pivotal moment in Android hardware as OEMs begin gearing up for the switch to 64-bit architectures, but only one of these chips has a 64-bit option. Let's take a look at where Nvidia and Qualcomm are going with their respective platforms, and whether or not you should hold out for a 64-bit device.

ARM, but not from ARM

The overwhelming majority of computing hardware in Android devices is ARM-based. Intel has successfully muscled its way into the market with updated x86 Atom parts. Android supports x86 and a few OEMs make tablets with Atom, but it's nowhere near as popular as ARM. All throughout the recent history of mobile devices, ARM has been the core architecture, but not all ARM chips are created equal.

When we're talking about ARM SoCs (systems-on-a-chip), we're actually talking about more than the CPU component. There's also the GPU, memory controller, digital signal processor, and more. We'll get to that later--the first point of distinction between the Snapdragon 805 and the Tegra K1 is in the way they implement the ARM architecture.

Chip makers have the option of licensing ARM's Cortex cores and building a chip around them. That's what Samsung and many smaller firms do. Qualcomm has for a long time licensed the ARM instruction set, which is ARMv7 for 32-bit and ARMv8 for 64-bit. These licenses are considerably more expensive than just getting a stock ARM core, but it allows Qualcomm to design its own custom CPU core for SoCs, and that's just what it's been doing ever since its Scorpion core for the original Snapdragon SoC in late 2008.

What a Blaster Bolt Would Look Like in Real Life

Physicists at the Laser Centre of the Institute of Physical Chemistry of the Polish Academy of Sciences and Faulty of Physics, University of Warsaw (phiew!) used a photography trick to composite a video of a ultrashort laser pulse traveling down a hallway. They're calling it an approximation of what a science-fiction blaster bolt would look like in real life. While each bolt takes a few femtoseconds to traverse the hallway, the researchers were able to photograph multiple bolts at a framerate of 10fps, syncing the recording with the pulses to give the illusion that you're just seeing one pulse. There's more detail in the YouTube video's description as well. (h/t Cnet)

In Brief: Microsoft Announces $200 Fitness Tracking Band

Microsoft's answer to Apple's watch isn't a watch at all. It's a $200 fitness tracker dubbed the Microsoft Band, and was announced today as part of Microsoft's new cloud-based Health Platform. The band, which looks more like a Nike Fuelband or Jawbone Up than watch, has a thin rectangular display with Microsoft-style tiles that show information like step counts, notifications, and the time. 10 sensors on it track heart rate, calorie burn, and sleep quality--it's something Microsoft wants users to wear all day. It'll work with Android and iOS devices, but Windows Phone users will get access to Cortana integration for voice queries. Microsoft strongly emphasized that this is not a smartwatch, so it's not going to buzz constantly like the Pebble of Android Wear watches. The Microsoft Band is available now, and Microsoft Health will soon have an SDK and support for cross-platform applications.

Norman 2
Adam Savage's Ghostbusters Costume

To celebrate both Halloween this week and the 30th anniversary of the release of Ghostbusters, Adam shares his own Ghostbusters uniform and prop replicas that he has made and assembled over the years. We geek out over fond memories of the film and its contributions to cosplay culture. This is a costume that anybody can make!

The Challenges of Hybrid Vehicle Design

My recent article on the OverDrive flying car design, triggered some debate about the practicality of hybrid designs. The comments were primarily focused on flying cars and floating cars, but all aspects of modern civilization teem with examples of hybrids. It seems an inescapable human desire to combine two good things in an effort to make one great thing. Some amalgams have achieved stellar results, perhaps even becoming a defining cultural element (think cameraphones). Others fade into a purgatory of ridicule and obscurity.

The OverDrive concept hybrid car.

The conversation made me question why some hybrid ideas flourish when others fail, even if the base components are individually successful. It is not something that I had ever given much thought to, but I began to wonder if there is a common link between the failed hybrid attempts. Today, I want to compare a handful of successful and failed hybrid concepts and attempt to determine why their relative outcomes were so varied.

What is a Hybrid?

The first question to be answered is how to define a hybrid, and there are many meanings. In its simplest form, a hybrid can be two or more widgets combined into a single unit. Perhaps each part is still intended to perform tasks independent of the other parts (ex. Swiss Army knife), or maybe the parts work in unison (ex. eraser-tipped pencil). Either way, it is the combining of these otherwise discrete tools that creates the selling point of the item.

In examining these types of hybrids, I think it is important to differentiate whether an aspect of a design is a fundamental element or just a feature. For example, most cars have clocks. We don’t call them clock-cars simply because the clock is a feature rather than a core facet of the design. It’s just a car, not a hybrid…unless it also has wings, or a hull, or two types of engines.

Another form of hybrid is the combination of two different tools that are used for similar jobs. The point is to utilize the best attributes from each tool to improve some aspect of the end item’s overall performance, such as efficiency, power output, reliability, or dependability. In this column we find things such as the diesel-electric locomotive and turboprop engine. We could even include mules (yes, the animals) and genetically-engineered seeds.

It doesn’t take long to figure out that hybrids of all types saturate our world. For the purposes of this examination (and at the risk of excluding pertinent data), I will focus on nuts and bolts machines. More specifically, I will stick to legacy military hardware, since such items tend to have well-documented requirements as well as performance data.

In Brief: NASA Releases Library of Space Sounds for Public Use

Earlier this month, NASA posted to SoundCloud a large library of audio clips from its history of space endeavors. These aren't just vocal bytes from ground control or astronauts--they include the sounds of rocket launches, landings, and spacecraft exploring our solar system. The beeping of Sputnik and the chorus of radio waves in the Earth's atmosphere can now be downloaded and mixed into your own productions. Archive.org has 222 NASA public domain audio clips as well!

Norman
Color Grading Breakdown for a Beauty Commercial

Joey shared this awesome video with us yesterday, a time-lapse screen capture of post-production colorist < ahref="http://www.colormeup.de/">Andreas Bruekcl's work on a L'Oreal beauty commercial. The three-minute clip shows about 30 minutes of realtime grading of video shot with on an Arri Alexa, and gives just a taste of the incredibly complex task of tweaking colors and lighting of video for production. It's far more complex than the developing of RAW photos in Lightroom, for example, because the colorist has to mask and track moving elements for video. Something to keep in mind: this is a process that almost every shot of every produced live-action commercial, television show, and film goes through today, to some extent.

In Brief: The Making of Danny DeVito's Penguin Makeup for Batman Returns

The Stan Winston school has posted an excerpt from the book "The Winston Effect", chronicling the design and application of Danny DeVito's iconic Penguin makeup for Batman Returns. For the Tim Burton film--which won Winston and collaborators Ve Neill and Ronnie Specter Oscar nominations--DeVito's makeup needed to capture the the director's creepy aesthetic and the essence of the villain. Behind-the-scenes art shows the various concept sketches for Penguin's look (and especially his nose), as well as the application of the prosthetics and paint for filming. DeVito apparently also asked that the makeup be put during voice-over ADR session for Batman Returns, to get back into character. Awesome stuff!

Norman
The Creature and Portrait Sculptures of Mike Hill

We visit the workshop of Mike Hill, a renowned portrait sculptor who specializes in recreating the classic horror monsters of Hollywood (and the actors who embodied them). Mike's full-body sculptures of characters like Frankenstein's Monster, the Wolf Man, and even Christopher Reeve's Superman are startlingly lifelike. We chat with Mike about his process, look at a work-in-progress, discuss what he tries to achieve with his portraits.