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    Testing Xbox One X and The "Hovis Method"

    With the design of the Xbox One X, Microsoft paid a lot of attention to the delicate balance of processing power and power consumption in its latest game console. One of the more interesting in Scorpio's technical design is the Hovis Method, a hardware design process that customizes the amount of power needed for each individual One X console. Now that the console has been out for a few months, I've had time to test multiple units and see the results of Microsoft's engineering efforts.

    When CPUs and GPUs are manufactured, it's impossible to get a yield of 100%. No process for making silicon parts is infallible. For companies like Intel, AMD, and Nvidia they've adapted their product lines to accommodate for the imperfect manufacturing process. Processors are organized, or "binned", based on how much of the CPU is actually usable. For example, AMD's Ryzen 5 1600 has 6 usable CPU cores, but it's actually an 8-core chip with two of those cores deactivated. AMD didn't specifically design and manufacture a 6-core CPU. Instead they took 8-core chips that couldn't reach required clock frequencies, maintain certain voltage levels, and/or operate within desired temperatures and "binned" them for a lower tier computer product. Even then, not all of the same parts are made equal. You'll often hear the term "silicon lottery" in the overclocking community. This refers to the imperfections in the manufacturing process. An Intel Core i7 8700K with fewer imperfections needs less voltage to overclock to a certain frequency than another 8700K with more imperfections, even though on paper they're the same.

    The processors put into video game consoles are subject to the same imperfections as desktop and laptop processors. However, Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo typically make their consoles to a single, one size fits all specification and the hardware isn't as flexible as a desktop computer. One of these specifications is power consumption. Measure the power draw of any original Xbox One console and you'll get the same value. The Xbox One X bucks this trend though, and Microsoft's implementation of the Hovis Method means that different One X consoles can consume significantly different amounts of power. The variance in power draw also has implications for how the cooling system performs.

    Rather than have a single power profile for all consoles manufactured, which would result in some generating excess heat by taking more power than components require, each Scorpio Engine processor has a custom power profile programmed onto the motherboard it's paired with in the factory. This process is referred to as the Hovis Method, named after Xbox engineer Bill Hovis. This means that Microsoft is able to net better yields of chips as opposed to a standard building process. Every system is highly power efficient, and the processors that require just a little more extra juice are now usable. For the consumer, this means that any two Xbox One X consoles quite literally aren't the same. Yes, they will all of course hit the same clock frequencies, data speeds, and everything else needed to run games identically. Some consoles however will draw more power than others, including my own.

    Tested: Insta360 One Camera with Stabilization and Tracking

    We're not convinced that 360-degree video shooting makes sense for people watching content on their phones, but the latest update for the Insta360 One camera has us giving it another chance. Their new stabilization algorithm is impressive, and subject tracking in the app makes this a viable alternative to a mechanical gimbal.

    Custom Keyboard Spotlight: Novelkeys Box Royal Switches

    Some of the most popular keyboard switches are tactile like the Cherry MX Browns and Clears. That means there's a "bump" as you press the key, but no clicking mechanism. As you dig deeper into the custom keyboard community, you'll come across tactile switches with varying properties like Zealios and the Input Club Hako series. Some of these are pretty tactile, but new Box Royal switch from Novelkeys and Kailh is probably the most tactile switch I've ever used. It might not be for everyone, but it's fascinating nonetheless.

    On the outside, the Box Royal looks like similar Kailh-manufactured switches we've seen recently. The stem has a square shape with a standard Cherry-style cross in the middle. Thus, it'll work with all Cherry-compatible keycaps. The opening in the housing makes it compatible with in-switch LEDs as well as SMD LEDs on the circuit board. The stem color is dark purple, rather like Zealios.

    Inside, the Royal has the usual Box assembly protecting the metal contacts. When the stem moves down, it presses a plastic nub that actually moves the contacts inside the Box portion. See below for what the switch looks like disassembled. The shape of the internal stem and the spring weight give the Royal its unique properties.

    As you press a Box Royal, the force required to get over the tactile bump is extremely high—65 grams. That's right up there with the MX Clear, but the tactile bump is less round on the Box Royal. It sort of "steps down" through several smaller bumps before the spring force ramps back up as you get closer to the bottom of the switch. However, it bottoms out at just 55g. That's lighter than the tactile peak.

    HTC Vive Pro VR Headset Review!

    We test and review the new HTC Vive Pro virtual reality headset! Two years after the release of the original Vive, HTC has upgraded the display, ergonomics, and camera system of their flagship HMD. We discuss how adding 70% more pixels affects gaming and other VR experiences, and who should get this headset. Plus, a bonus game review as we gush over Wipeout on PSVR!

    Custom Keyboard Spotlight: Input Club Kira Keyboard

    You will almost never see a custom keyboard with a full 104-key layout. That's something that exists as the "default" simply because it's been around for so long. It's not very efficient, though. There are several custom boards that have almost as many keys but with a much more compact layout. Input Club, makers of the WhiteFox and K-Type boards, has just launched a Kickstarter for the long-awaited Kira. It's a full-sized keyboard with full programmability that won't take up as much space on your desk.

    The Kira has a 99-key layout, which provides single-layer access to virtually every standard keyboard function. The arrow cluster has moved in closer to the alpha keys, clipping the right shift key a bit. The group of keys that usually lives above the arrows has moved to the space above the number pad—yes, there's a full number pad. It sits right up against the modifiers on the right. You also have a full F-key row directly above the number row.

    With less wasted space, the Kira reduces the distance your hands have to move to access everything. You can also have your mouse closer than if you had a clunky full-sized board. That's not to say the Kira is a lightweight. It'll probably be a hefty board with the option for an aluminum case. If you want to save a few bucks, the injection molded plastic case is cheaper and lighter. No matter which case you choose, it'll be a "high-profile" design. That means the board is permanently sloped. Many inexpensive keyboards have feet that you can use or not, but not the Kira.

    On the bottom of the case, you get a transparent panel the show off the RGB underglow. There's even more RGB to be had, too. Just like the K-Type, this board has per-key RGB backlighting. You'll need switches that support underglow properly, and Input Club has you covered there. If you want an assembled Kira, you can choose from various switch options including the Hako Clear, True, and Violet. There are also Kaihl-manufactured switches from Novelkeys and a few Cherry RGB switch variants. They should all work with the SMD lighting components.

    The Kira will run Input Club's KLL firmware with an online configuration tool. That means you can change the layout and function layers to whatever you want. Once your layout is flashed, you can plug the Kira into any system, and it will work exactly the same.

    Hands-On with HTC Vive Wireless Adapter!

    We test untethered virtual reality with the upcoming HTC Vive wireless adapter. To learn how it works with the demanding visual throughput of desktop VR, we chat with DisplayLink, the makers of the chip inside the wireless adapter. Plus, we go over some more games we saw at this year's GDC from Survios and Stress Level Zero.

    Custom Keyboard Spotlight: Hako Violet Switches

    The keyboard and switch designers from Input Club launched a new series of switches a few months back under the "Hako" brand. At the time, there were two switches in the series known as Hako Clear and True. Now, there's a third Hako switch, and this one will probably have wider appeal than the first two. The Hako Violet is a much lighter switch, which has some things in common with the classic Cherry MX Brown. The details are pure Hako, though.

    Like the other Hako switches, this one is based on the BOX design from switch manufacturer Kailh. That means it's got a square stem with a standard Cherry-style cross connector in the middle. All regular Cherry keycaps should fit on a Hako Violet just fine. It's also IP56 rated for water and dust-resistance—it's "self-cleaning" via holes in the bottom of the switch, and the metal contacts are tucked away in the "box" compartment inside the switch.

    The Hako Violet is a tactile switch, but it's much lighter than the Clear and True versions. It's in the same general range as the Cherry Brown (the Violet bottoms out at about 50g). If you've used a Brown switch, the Hako Violet won't be a shock. The force curve—the way the switch feels—is very different, though.

    Hako switches are designed in such a way that it's easier to type without bottoming out. They put the tactile bump closer to the top and ramp up force as you get to the bottom. The Violet has these same properties, but everything about it is lighter. Right near the top is the tactile bump with a force of around 39g and just past that is actuation at 28g. Then, you have a long ramp up before you reach the bottom with a force of 50g. The gap between actuation and bottom out is supposed to give you time to release the switch and move on.

    Tested: Skydio R1 Autonomous Drone Review

    We review the Skydio R1 Frontier Edition, the first autonomous drone we've tested that lives up to its promises of hands-free flight! We're so impresssed by the Skydio R1's ability to navigate around obstacles and track fast-moving subjects--its movements were almost otherworldly. Watch it chase us as we try to evade it!

    PROJECTIONS, Episode 42: Oculus Go Hands-On, Budget Cuts Impressions!

    We go in-depth with the Oculus Go $200 standalone virtual reality headset at this year's Game Developers Conference! After playing a few games with it, including the cross-platform Settlers of Catan, we share our impressions and some insights from chatting with Oculus developers. Plus, we get some play time with one of our most anticipated VR games, Budget Cuts!

    Custom Keyboard Spotlight: Cherry MX Vintage Black Switches

    Most of the fancy switches you see people putting on their custom boards are shiny and new, but some of the most sought-after switches are older than the people typing on them. Because the tooling and manufacturing processes for switches have changed over the years, older batches of switches can have noticeably different properties. That's the case with the popular Cherry MX Black. Finding a batch of so-called Cherry Vintage Blacks is like hitting the custom keyboard jackpot.

    The MX Black is one of Cherry's oldest switch designs, introduced back in 1984. It's a medium-weight stiff switch that falls in the linear category. That means there's no click or tactile bump as you press the key. MX Blacks were popular in industrial equipment, mainframe terminals, point-of-sale machines, and scientific instruments. The MX Black actuates at 60 grams of force and bottoms out around 80 grams. That's substantially heavier than the more well-known MX Blue (about 50g and 60g).

    Cherry has been producing MX Black switches continuously over the years—you can still get brand new boards with fresh batches of Black switches. However, enthusiasts who have tracked Cherry's manufacturing report the company made some tooling changes around 1994 or 1995, and MX Blacks haven't felt the same since. The newer switches have the same force ratings, but they just aren't as good.

    A Vintage Black is smoother and has less wobble. Some may disagree on that, but I think the difference is pretty noticeable when you've used a Vintage Black. You can see a comparison of vintage and newer MX Black stems below. It's hard to spot the differences in images, but the vintage stem is smooth, whereas the newer one has a slightly rough texture. The stem is what moves up and down in the housing to hit the metal contacts. If your stem is not smooth, the switch feels "gritty."

    PROJECTIONS, Episode 41: Rec Room Quests and Zero Latency

    We've gushed about Rec Room for a while now, and devote this week's episode to discussing why it's such a great introduction to virtual reality and how its multiplayer quests have real depth. Rec Room's latest quest--Island of the Lost Skulls--is one of the best VR experiences we've had yet. Plus, Norm talks about playing the Zero Latency location-based room-scale VR game.

    Testing the Ergonomics of Vertical Mice

    Sit up straight with your feet flat on the ground. Get a chair with good lumbar support. Adjust your monitor so that the top of it is as eye level. You've likely heard one or more of these kinds of tips for sitting at a desk and using a computer. They're all talked about in reference to computer ergonomics. UC Berkeley defines ergonomics as "the science of fitting jobs to people." And so by extension, it could be said that a major aspect of computer ergonomics is determining the best desk setup and computer accessories for people to use so that the experience is more natural.

    As it turns out, a traditional computer mouse may not apply good ergonomics. I want you to do a little experiment to realize it. First, rest your hand and arm by your side. Take note of how it feels, and the orientation of your forearm in particular. Now move your arm into position as if you were using a mouse. Do you know what is happening inside your arm? Put your other hand around your arm to feel the change. The bones in your arm twisted, and the muscles tightened in order to do so. The orientation of our arm when using a mouse isn't even close to a natural resting position. Putting your body into unnatural positions for long periods of time can cause physical strain, or even injury.

    Early last year I started looking for an alternative to your standard computer mouse. I switched from using trackpads on laptops to a desktop mouse after building my first PC, and it didn't take long for my use of a traditional mouse to start causing me discomfort, and sometimes minor pain, in my hand and wrist. (Before I go any further I'd like to say that myself nor anyone at Tested is offering medical advice. If you think you have a problem, please seek a medical professional if at all possible.)

    Do as I say, not as I do. I've yet to see a doctor about my joint issues. My problem is likely two fold. First, when using a traditional mouse I don't use the proper technique; moving primarily with your shoulder and elbow. I'll move my wrist side to side, and plant my wrist to use only my fingers. While this level of control is great for precise production work or playing first person shooters, it's also a fast track to a repetitive motion injury like carpal tunnel syndrome. Additionally, joint problems run in my family, specifically rheumatoid arthritis. That is very likely not doing me any favors. As a result of these factors I'm not able to use a traditional mouse for long periods of time.

    So I started usng a vertical mouse.

    Hobby RC: Testing the Tamiya Dancing Rider

    I consider myself to be pretty well-rounded when it comes to RC stuff. I've dabbled in a little bit of everything during my years in the hobby. Until recently, however, I had one glaring omission from my RC bona fides: I had never built an RC car from Tamiya. That's a little like being a chef who has never made a grilled cheese sandwich!

    Most of my RC buddies got their start in the hobby with iconic Tamiya vehicles like the Grasshopper, Frog, and Blackfoot. These simple and tough machines were ideal for beginning builders and drivers. Tamiya also has a reputation for producing some very unusual RC cars. And that is how I finally filled the Tamiya-shaped void in my life! Enter the Tamiya Dancing Rider.

    About the Dancing Rider

    The Dancing Rider ($146) is modeled after 3-wheel delivery vehicles that are popular in Japan. It is definitely a unique platform in both appearance and function. I'm a sucker for unusual models. So this kit was right up my alley!

    I quickly discovered that I had to abandon all of my standard concepts of scale for RC cars. Tamiya calls the Dancing Rider a 1/8-scale vehicle, but it is much smaller than your average 1/8-scale 4-wheeled rig. Sure, when you scale down a smaller-than-average vehicle, you get a smaller-than-average model. I get it.

    From size and power standpoints, the Dancing Rider has much more in common with 1/18-scale cars than anything you would typically find on the 1/8-scale shelf. One exception is the radio gear used in the Dancing Rider, which is pulled from the 1/10-scale class. None of this scaling is a problem. I just found it interesting.

    Custom Keyboard Spotlight: The Minivan 40% Keyboard

    A standard keyboard has around 104 keys, but some smaller form factors might sport 80 or 60-ish. I'd lay good odds that your keyboard is somewhere in that realm, but there are enthusiast boards that make do with far fewer. So-called 40% keyboards are increasingly popular, and one of the most well-known is the Minivan from TheVan Keyboards. This keyboard is small, but it's more powerful than you'd think.

    The Minivan.

    A 40% keyboard has all the standard alpha keys, but many of the other keys are missing or smaller than usual. These boards all have varying ideas about what keys you need, but I think the Minivan is the best for a few reasons. Rather than use a full-sized spacebar and enter key, the Minivan uses a split space design that lets you have both space and enter on the bottom row. That frees up locations for function keys and mods in the Minivan's small footprint.

    The Minivan also has several keys that are programmed to have different functions depending on whether you press or hold them. For example, the Fn toggle on the right is the quote key if you just press it, but holding it down triggers the assigned function layer. Function layers are a big deal on the Minivan, as you'd probably expect. It doesn't even have a number row, so you'll need to flip between at least two different layers to access all the usual keyboard features. However, you can get extremely efficient with enough practice. Every keyboard function is accessible within no more than two keys of the home row, so you can dramatically cut down on hand movement with a Minivan.

    Like many custom keyboards, this one is fully programmable via the TMK firmware. There's an online config tool where you can visually define your layout and function layers. Flashing that layout to the board is a snap (as long as you've got the necessary program installed on your computer), and you can change it as many times as you want.

    Hands-On with Nintendo Labo Cardboard Kits!

    We go hands-on with the Nintendo Labo cardboard maker kits for the Switch console! Jeremy, Kishore, and Norm spend the day testing out the Variety and Robot kits, assembling a few of the accessories and playtesting their corresponding games. We share our impressions on Labo and our hopes for the platform.