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    Hands-On with Nvidia's Shield Tablet

    Nvidia's first Shield was a dedicated gaming handheld, but its new model is a high-end tablet with gaming accessories. We spend a little time with Nvidia's new Android gaming tablet, compare it to the original Shield portable, and give our thoughts on this device's appeal to PC and mobile gamers.

    How To Build a Life-Size Dragon

    Norm's note: Frank first showed us his Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate dragon sculpt before this year's E3. Frank has since written up his build, which we wanted to share ahead of this week's Comic-Con--where the Gore Magala creature will be on display at the Capcom booth.

    I love video games and video game culture, and last year was stoked to be asked to be a part of a team doing the Zombie makeups for Capcom's Dead Rising 3 booth at E3. It was there that I befriended the creative services team in charge of all of these cool trade show events and displays. Jump ahead to a few months ago, when I received a call from the team lead at Capcom to bid on the making of a display sculpture for one of their upcoming games: Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate!

    The concept was to have a 20-foot tall backdrop with a huge image of one of the game’s monsters, and have the front third of it coming out of the backdrop. Big is sort of an understatement here; once I did some quick math to put it into scale, the sculpture I would have to create would be almost 8 feet tall, 14 feet wide, and 12 feet long. To bid on something of this size is really tough. Most trade show displays are carved or milled out of bead foam and then hard coated, which leaves very little finished detail. But this monster has a lot of detail. So I had to figure a solution that could provide that kind of detail while keeping costs reasonable. After that came an engineering problem: how would this thing support itself? Additionally, it has to be transported to multiple venues and be durable enough for the public to interact with. So it also needed to come apart. Not easy!

    After some back-and-forth details of the deliverables and specifications, and some careful planning and budgeting, I was awarded the job, which would be guilt in my newly expanded shop. Here is what my team and I came up with for the design of this build.

    In Brief: Samsung's VR Gear Solution Could Launch at IFA

    Engadget's report that Samsung is developing a virtual reality solution in partnership with Oculus VR to work with its Galaxy phones is becoming more believable. While neither Samsung nor Oculus have confirmed that a device is in the works, SamMobile claims to have the first images of the device design, along with details about its name and debut. The Gear VR name sounds believable, as well as the purported IFA unveil (Sept 5-10). Three new technical details stand out from this leak: first that Gear VR would use a cushioned elastic band to hold the headset in place, that it would have a dedicated button to activate the Galaxy phone's camera to let users "see through" the HMD, and that the side controls would be a touchpad. The latter two make sense as good UI, especially the see-through button--something I hope the consumer Oculus Rift will include. If calibrated properly with a camera lens, the see-through option opens up augmented reality potential for this kind of HMD.

    I'm still unconvinced that smartphone screens (as run through smartphone GPUs) can achieve the low persistence of vision that Oculus fans are expecting, but that's based on my experience using Google's Cardboard with an LCD-based phone, not Samsung's AMOLED screens. The other weird thing about this is that we're not expecting the Oculus consumer release any time soon, so Samsung's Gear VR may be the first Oculus-related virtual reality device to hit the consumer market. I'm not sure that would be a good thing for Oculus and the VR community if the reception isn't anything but glowing. If Gear VR does get announced at IFA, it'll be something that may distract from Oculus' agenda just two weeks later at their first Connect conference.

    Norman
    In Brief: South Park Recreated for Oculus Rift from Scratch

    Members of a small production company, Tool, spent a few short weeks last month building the world of South Park in the Unity game engine to be experienced with the Oculus Rift development kit. South Park is faithfully recreated based on the layout presented in the Stick of Truth game, as well as what geography and easter eggs could be extrapolated from the show's intro sequence. The exercise, meant to hone Tool's team in Unity and Oculus development, was finished in time for the Cannes Lions festival, and can be downloaded or viewed in-browser on the Tool website.

    Norman
    Making a Life-Size Dragon from Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate!

    How do you sculpt a realistic dragon, let alone one that has to be life size? That's what effects artist Frank Ippolito did for Capcom's booth at this year's E3 gaming conference. We visit Frank's shop before the event to see the in-progress dragon--the Gore Magala from the game Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate--before it's brought to life and then behold the impressive finished piece on the E3 show floor.

    Hands-On: Control VR Motion Control Gaming at E3 2014

    Virtual reality technology promises to put our head and "presence" in a virtual world, but what about the rest of our body? Control VR is a new wearable motion tracking system to put your hands and fingers in VR games and simulations. We test the system and discuss its technical merits in a hands-on demo at this year's E3.

    Hands-On: Sony PlayStation 4 Project Morpheus at E3 2014

    We get a private demo of Sony PlayStation's Project Morpheus virtual reality headset prototype at this year's E3, and play two new games that make use of VR on the PS4. Here are our impressions of the hardware and gameplay in the Castle and Street Luge demos, along with an interview of Morpheus project director Richard Marks!

    Tested Goes to E3 2014

    Sorry for the lack of updates on the site today. We are down in LA all day for E3, doing our signature E3-in-a-day coverage. We flew in at 8am this morning, and met with Oculus VR, PlayStation, and Control VR to get hands-on demos of the latest VR prototypes and new games. At Sony, we played the new Project Morpheus demo, Street Luge, and chatted with Morpheus director Richard Marks. We played the new Oculus VR demos, Alien: Isolation, Lucky's Tale, and SuperHot, and interviewed VP of Product Nate Palmer to carry on our tradition of Oculus interviews. Then, we tried out Control VR, a new motion control system now on Kickstarter. It was surprisingly great, and we'll share our detailed impressions on tomorrow's podcast.

    Don't you worry, there was plenty of this:

    Stay tuned for our video interviews and hands-on reports, the first of which should be on the site tomorrow!

    In Brief: Google May Buy Twitch, Picks up Word Lens

    Variety reports that Google is in negotiations to acquire Twitch for $1 billion, which would be integrated as part of Google's YouTube business. This makes a lot of sense for Google, which has already spent a lot of money building YouTube's original content initiatives, yet doesn't have a foothold in streaming. YouTube streaming currently works best through Google Hangouts; it's otherwise a bit of a hassle to set up a stream if you want to broadcast events like "let's play" gaming sessions. With Twitch, YouTube gets a big boost of both live streamers and viewers in a system already integrated into set-top boxes and game consoles. On an unrelated note, Google also recently acquired the Word Lens mobile app, which is a perfect fit as a native feature for future Android phones and Google Glass.

    Norman
    Tested: Gigabyte Brix Pro Mini PC

    The Brix Pro is a tiny, nearly cube-shaped PC sold by Gigabyte. Inside is an Intel Core i7 4770R running at 3.2GHz and including Intel Iris Pro graphics. I love this little PC. I also hate this little PC.

    Before I talk about the duality of my testing experience with Gigabytes slick little design, let’s talk about its unique design elements.

    The Brix Pro is just 4.3 inches x 4.5 inches and just 2.4 inches high.

    Brix Pro: Outside and In

    The $650 Brix Pro is similar to Intel’s NUC (Next Unit of Computing) concept, but just a bit bigger. Gigabyte’s goal was not to build the smallest possible PC, but to build the smallest possible, high performance PC. That laudable goal dictated some of the key design elements.

    Size. The Brix Pro is pretty small, at 4.5 x 4.3 x 2.4 inches. It’s bigger than Intel’s NUC, however, which is less than 1.4 inches tall.

    Components. The highest end Brix Pro ships with an Intel Core i7 4770R CPU, with four cores and supporting eight threads. It runs at 3.2GHz, as opposed to the 2.5GHz Core i5 Intel uses in its NUC. The 4770R includes Intel’s Iris Pro GPU. The Iris Pro is a GT3e GPU, in Intel’s parlance, which includes two full graphics “slices.” This translates to 40 execution units. Since each EU contains 8 shader cores, that’s 400 shader cores. The “e” in GT3e refers to the 128MB of high speed, off-chip cache that’s built into the CPU package. The GT3e can run at speeds up to 1.3GHz.

    This is where a potential problem crops up, as we’ll see shortly. The GT3e itself is rated at over 50W TDP by itself. The entire Core i7 4770R is rated at a 65W TDP. While relatively low power by Intel standards (the desktop Core i7 4770K is rated at 84W), that’s still a lot of heat to dissipate in such a tiny box.

    Testing: Logitech G502 Proteus Core Gaming Mouse

    Wait, wasn't it just one year ago that Logitech released the G500s, the rebirth of its venerated G5 line of gaming mice? Hold on for just a second while I check my review. Yep, that was just last March. But here we are, with another new high-end gaming mouse, the G502. And this year, Logitech's given it a fancy moniker: the Proteus Core. I'm not sure if that's meant to evoke a certain StarCraft faction in gamers' minds, or simply a take on the SAT-friendly word 'protean', meaning versatile or adaptable. The latter's likely the case, given the G502's ability to be calibrated for different mousing surfaces (glass and mirrors notwithstanding). Regardless, Logitech's new flagship is an aggressive product, an $80 mouse that not only succeeds last year's G500s, but revamps the design of Logitech's gaming mouse line. That curvy G5 design that I was so hot on last year has once again been retired (at least temporarily).

    I've been testing the G502 for about a week, in first-person shooters, real-time strategy games, and lots of desktop imaging work. I'm not a MOBA player, so my perspective may not reflect those playing the dominant PC gaming game type today. And as I've said before, a gaming mouse is an accessory that most people rarely change--they find the one that works for them and stick with it. If you like the Razer DeathAdder, Mad Catz R.A.T., or even Logitech's own previous G-series, mice, there's really not a lot of reason to spend another $80 on a new gaming mouse unless your current one breaks. Gaming mice technology has really reached a point where every new generation of product offers fewer new benefits; product engineers really feel like they're reaching when they push the boundaries of sensor DPI or add more configurable buttons. And the G502 has plenty of those new back-of-box features, for sure. Let's run through them and evaluate whether they truly add any benefit to your gaming experience.

    Arguably the most important component in a gaming mouse is its sensor, and the G502's optical (IR) sensor was apparently designed from the ground up to introduce two notable features. The first is DPI (dots per inch, or technically counts per inch) sensitivity that ranges from 200 to 12000. You read that correctly: this mouse is sensitive to past 10,000 DPI, which I believe is a first for a gaming mouse. (Consider that the G5, circa 2005, topped out at 2000 DPI). At that maximum setting, the tiniest flick of the wrist will send the cursor all the way across a 1080p panel; it's meant for gamers who want to make extremely large movements quickly, or desktop users running multiple monitors spanning many thousands of pixels wide. Of course, high DPI doesn't denote accuracy, just sensitivity. A mouse set to 10,000 DPI isn't useful if it isn't accurate at that "resolution"--the trick is testing the mouse's accuracy at the sensitivities that you find most useful.

    FTL: Advanced Edition Adds More Space and an iPad Version

    One of my favorite games of 2012 was FTL. It's a space sim roguelike-like unlike anything The game is deceptively simple and endlessly entertaining. In it, you control the crew of a starship on a desperate mission to stop the rebel alliance, or something like that. The upshot is that you control the crew, assigning them tasks like ship repair, arming the weapons, or cranking up the engines while traversing system after system. Because the game has roguelike elements, each time you play, the map changes. So while you'll likely encounter friendly merchants, hostile insect aliens and deadly plagues on one playthrough, your next trip across the galaxy will probably be very different.

    Yesterday, FTL: Advanced Edition was released as a free upgrade for Mac and PC owners, as well as a brand new iPad edition. I spent some time playing both versions over the last few days, and I can unequivocally recommend them both. The iPad version is a lovely translation of the PC game, with a touch interface that works well on even the smaller screen of my IPad Mini. The game performs wonderfully on all the devices I tested, and the touch interface complements the pause-and-issue-commands nature of the game perfectly.

    10 Things You Should Know about DirectX 12

    It’s about efficiency, not new features

    The new DirectX will add a few new rendering features, but those new features aren’t as important as efficiency. Direct3D 12 has a thinner abstraction layer between the operating system and the hardware. Game developers will have more control over how their code talks to graphics hardware. Overhead is reduced substantially. Time for threads to complete has been reduced by 2-5x in some cases.

    Only Direct3D 12 has been discussed

    Most gamers tend to think of Direct3D when DirectX is mentioned, and the focus of the recent announcement is indeed on D3D. There was no discussion of audio, game controller interfaces, Direct2D or other aspects of DirectX. Part of the reason for this early peak at DirectX 12 is that AMD’s Mantle, a direct-to-metal API with similar ambitions, was starting to get some traction. Microsoft no doubt worried that API fragmentation would return game development to the bad old days, where you wouldn’t be able to run any game on any graphics card.

    DirectX 12 is now a console API

    Direct3D 12 will run on the Xbox One. The execution environment has been described as “console-like,” which probably means the layers are thinner. This makes sense today, since most modern GPUs are really highly parallel and highly programmable. What this means for future versions of Windows is unknown, since Direct3D is the rendering API for Windows 8 and beyond. I hope Microsoft doesn’t “freeze” the Windows API at D3D 8. We’d once again be in a situation where application developers might end up using different APIs than game developers.

    Hands-On: Virtuix Omni Treadmill with Oculus Rift

    We strap on a harness and step on board the Virtuix Omni motion tracker at this year's Game Developers Conference. The Kickstarter-backed treadmill system pairs with an Oculus Rift development kit to simulate walking and running in a first-person shooter. It took a little getting used to, but the experience was unlike anything we've tried before.

    Why Facebook Buying Oculus VR Is Probably a Good Thing

    Earlier today, Facebook announced that it was buying virtual reality startup Oculus for $2 billion, and as is the usual, the Internet erupted in panic. Despite actively disliking what Facebook has become and avoiding the service wherever possible, I actually think Facebook buying Oculus is probably a good thing for Oculus, the virtual reality community, VR enthusiasts, and even gamers.

    If you take Mark Zuckerberg's post regarding the Oculus acquisition at face value, it seems clear that Facebook's impetus for buying Oculus is to accelerate Oculus's potential as a communications medium, taking it beyond games and turning it into a technology that becomes part of the fabric of our lives, just like computers, the Internet, and smartphones have been integrated in our lives.

    Reading between the lines, I'm pretty sure Zuckerberg wants to build Neal Stephenson's Metaverse. I'm actually OK with that.

    In Brief: Facebook Buys Oculus VR for $2 Billion

    Facebook has just announced that it will acquire Oculus VR, the makers of the Oculus Rift, for $2 billion in cash and stock. According to Facebook's news release, the company "plans to extend Oculus’ existing advantage in gaming to new verticals, including communications, media and entertainment, education and other areas. Given these broad potential applications, virtual reality technology is a strong candidate to emerge as the next social and communications platform." Said the Oculus VR team in a blog post, "Facebook understands the potential for VR. Mark and his team share our vision for virtual reality’s potential to transform the way we learn, share, play, and communicate." In a Facebook post, Mark Zuckerberg reinforced that Oculus technology would still be a platform for gaming first, but wants it to be a new communication platform for life experiences: "Imagine enjoying a court side seat at a game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world or consulting with a doctor face-to-face -- just by putting on goggles in your home."

    Oculus Rift development will continue from Oculus VR's headquarters in Irvine. Facebook will be hosting a conference call to discuss the acquisition later today, which we'll be tracking. Strange times.

    Norman 20
    In Brief: Nvidia Announces $3000 Titan Z Video Card

    Wasn't it just one month ago that Nvidia announced its GeForce GTX Titan Black video card? Yes, I'm sure it was, because I was in a meeting with them when they mentioned it while briefing me on Maxwell. Titan Black was supposed to be their new super high-end video card--a GTX Titan that ran at an unfettered 889MHz core clock (boosted to 980MHz), and 7GHz GGDR5 memory. Basically a suped-up GTX 780 Ti, priced at $1000. Well that's only one third the price of the new Titan Z video card, announced today at Nvidia's GPU Technology Conference in San Jose. Titan Z is basically two Titan Black cards crammed into one--a total of 5,760 processing cores (two GK110 chips), and 12GB of dedicated frame buffer memory. There's no word about its availability, or other important details like power consumption, but it's clearly a boutique product that's more for prestige than anything. PC Gamer should get one (or two) for their Large Pixel Collider.

    Norman 4