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Minecraft to get big lighting, shadow and color upgrades through Nvidia ray tracing

Posted by | cologne, computing, Gadgets, Gaming, GeForce, Germany, microsoft windows, Minecraft, Mojang, nvidia, rtx, TC, Video Cards, video games, Virtual reality | No Comments

Minecraft is getting a free update that brings much-improved lighting and color to the game’s blocky graphics using real-time ray tracing running on Nvidia GeForce RTX graphics hardware. The new look is a dramatic change in the atmospherics of the game, and manages to be eerily realistic while retaining Minecraft’s pixelated charm.

The ray-tracing tech will be available via a free update to the game on Windows 10 PCs, but it’ll only be accessible to players using an Nvidia GeForce RTX GPU, as that’s the only graphics hardware on the market that currently supports playing games with real-time ray tracing active.

It sounds like it’ll be an excellent addition to the experience for players who are equipped with the right hardware — including lighting effects not only from the sun, but also from in-game materials like glowstone and lava; both hard and soft shadows depending on transparency of material and angle of light refraction; and accurate reflections in surfaces that are supposed to be reflective (i.e. gold blocks, for instance).

This is welcome news after Minecraft developer Mojang announced last week that it canceled plans to release its Super Duper Graphics Pack, which was going to add a bunch of improved visuals to the game because it wouldn’t work well across platforms. At the time, Mojang said it would be sharing news about graphics optimization for some platforms “very soon,” and it looks like this is what they had in mind.

Nvidia, meanwhile, is showing off at Gamescom 2019 in Cologne, Germany a range of 2019 games with real-time ray tracing enabled, including Dying Light 2, Cyperpunk 2077, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and Watch Dogs: Legion.

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This year’s Computex was a wild ride with dueling chip releases, new laptops and 467 startups

Posted by | amd, artificial intelligence, asus, chips, computers, Computex, Computex 2019, Gadgets, Gaming, GPUS, Innovex, Intel, nvidia, Processors, Qualcomm, taipei, taiwan, TC, trade show | No Comments

After a relatively quiet show last year, Computex picked up the pace this year, with dueling chip launches by rivals AMD and Intel and a slew of laptop releases from Asus, Qualcomm, Nvidia, Lenovo and other companies.

Founded in 1981, the trade show, which took place last week from May 28 to June 1, is one of the ICT industry’s largest gatherings of OEMs and ODMs. In recent years, the show’s purview has widened, thanks to efforts by its organizers, the Taiwan External Trade Development Council and Taipei Computer Association, to attract two groups: high-end computer customers, such as hardcore gamers, and startups looking for investors and business partners. This makes for a larger, more diverse and livelier show. Computex’s organizers said this year’s event attracted 42,000 international visitors, a new record.

Though the worldwide PC market continues to see slow growth, demand for high-performance computers is still being driven by gamers and the popularity of esports and live-streaming sites like Twitch. Computex, with its large, elaborate booths run by brands like Asus’ Republic of Gaming, is a popular destination for many gamers (the show is open to the public, with tickets costing NTD $200, or about $6.40), and began hosting esport competitions a few years ago.

People visit the ASUS stand during Computex at Nangang exhibition centre in Taipei on May 28, 2019. (Photo by Chris STOWERS / AFP) (Photo credit should read CHRIS STOWERS/AFP/Getty Images)

The timing of the show, formally known as the Taipei International Information Technology Show, at the end of May or beginning of June each year, also gives companies a chance to debut products they teased at CES or preview releases for other shows later in the year, including E3 and IFA.

One difference between Computex now and ten (or maybe even just five) years ago is that the increasing accessibility of high-end PCs means many customers keep a close eye on major announcements by companies like AMD, Intel and Nvidia, not only to see when more powerful processors will be available but also because of potential pricing wars. For example, many gamers hope competition from new graphic processor units from AMD will force Nvidia to bring down prices on its popular but expensive GPUs.

The Battle of the Chips

The biggest news at this year’s Computex was the intense rivalry between AMD and Intel, whose keynote presentations came after a very different twelve months for the two competitors.

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Nvidia announces its Studio line of laptops to compete against the MacBook Pro

Posted by | Computex, Computex 2019, Gadgets, laptops, nvidia, Nvidia Studio, PCs, TC | No Comments

During its press conference in Taipei a day before Computex starts, Nvidia announced a new line of laptops that will run its RTX graphics processing units, as well as a new software platform called Studio, with SDKs and drivers to make graphics rendering and other tasks faster. The units are targeted to creative professionals, like video editors, photographers and graphic designers, and meant to compete with the 15-inch MacBook Pro.

One of Nvidia's new Studio laptops, meant to compete against the MacBook Pro

One of Nvidia’s new Studio laptops, meant to compete against the MacBook Pro

The series will include seventeen laptops made by Nvidia’s manufacturing partners (including Acer, ASUS, Dell, Gigabyte, HP, MSI and Razer). The laptops will begin retailing in June, with prices starting at $1,599.

The 17 laptops will be equipped with Quadro RTX 5000, 4000 or 3000 GPUs or GeForce RTX 2080, 2070 and 2060 GPUs. Nvidia claims they can perform up to seven times faster than the MacBook Pro. Studio laptops with Quadro RTX 5000 GPUs will have 16GB of graphics memory, and some of the devices will also have 4K displays and Nvidia’s Max-Q tech for building thin and lightweight laptops.

The Nvidia Studio suite includes the CUDA-X AI platform for automating tasks like color matching videos or tagging photos.

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Nintendo and Sony temper console expectations ahead of E3

Posted by | e3, Gaming, hardware, Microsoft, Nintendo, nvidia, PlayStation 5, Sony, xbox | No Comments

E3’s just over a month away, and per usual, the news in the lead up has offered more insight into what we won’t be hearing about at the big gaming show. Late last year, Sony announced that it would be skipping its big annual press conference at the event. The move marks a key absence for the gaming giant for the first time in nearly a quarter of a century, as the company will instead be “exploring new and familiar ways to engage our community in 2019.”

The sentiment should ring familiar for those who follow the gaming industry. Several years ago Nintendo made a similar move, eschewing the in-person press conference for the online Nintendo Direct “Treehouse” it uses to showcase new trailers. It’s a method Nintendo has held to ever since.

Game publisher Square Enix this week happily slid into Sony’s prime-time slot, leaving Microsoft the last of the remaining three major console makers with a press conference at the Los Angeles event. The death of shows like E3 has been overstated throughout the years, of course. These things tend to move in cycles, with much of the hype tied specifically to new system reveals.

Microsoft took the wraps off its disc-free Xbox One S “All-Digital Edition” this month, leaving many wondering what the company could still have up its sleeve for the June event. Earlier this week, meanwhile, Sony batted away suggestions that the PlayStation 5 was coming soon. Details are, not surprisingly, still vague, but the company says the next-gen console won’t be arriving in the next six months.

On its earnings call, Nintendo similarly dismissed recent rumors that it would launch a low-cost version of the Switch. The console has been a wild success for the company on the heels of the disappointing Wii U, but slowing sales have pointed to Nintendo’s longstanding tradition of offering modified hardware. Rumors have largely pointed to a lower-cost version of the system that can only be played in portable mode.

None of this is to say we got some kind of preview. Companies love to tease these sorts of things out, but it does appear that the big three are tempering expectations for the show. That leaves some opening for other players — of course, E3 has long been dominated by the big three. Among the other rumors currently circulating ahead of the show is a 2-in-1 gaming tablet from Nvidia.

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Mobileye CEO clowns on Nvidia for allegedly copying self-driving car safety scheme

Posted by | artificial intelligence, automotive, autonomous vehicles, Gadgets, hardware, Intel, Mobileye, nvidia, robotics, self-driving cars, TC, Transportation | No Comments

While creating self-driving car systems, it’s natural that different companies might independently arrive at similar methods or results — but the similarities in a recent “first of its kind” Nvidia proposal to work done by Mobileye two years ago were just too much for the latter company’s CEO to take politely.

Amnon Shashua, in a blog post on parent company Intel’s news feed cheekily titled “Innovation Requires Originality, openly mocks Nvidia’s “Safety Force Field,” pointing out innumerable similarities to Mobileye’s “Responsibility Sensitive Safety” paper from 2017.

He writes:

It is clear Nvidia’s leaders have continued their pattern of imitation as their so-called “first-of-its-kind” safety concept is a close replica of the RSS model we published nearly two years ago. In our opinion, SFF is simply an inferior version of RSS dressed in green and black. To the extent there is any innovation there, it appears to be primarily of the linguistic variety.

Now, it’s worth considering the idea that the approach both seem to take is, like many in the automotive and autonomous fields and others, simply inevitable. Car makers don’t go around accusing each other of using the similar setup of four wheels and two pedals. It’s partly for this reason, and partly because the safety model works better the more cars follow it, that when Mobileye published its RSS paper, it did so publicly and invited the industry to collaborate.

Many did, and as Shashua points out, including Nvidia, at least for a short time in 2018, after which Nvidia pulled out of collaboration talks. To do so and then, a year afterwards, propose a system that is, if not identical, then at least remarkably similar, and without crediting or mentioning Mobileye is suspicious to say the least.

The (highly simplified) foundation of both is calculating a set of standard actions corresponding to laws and human behavior that plan safe maneuvers based on the car’s own physical parameters and those of nearby objects and actors. But the similarities extend beyond these basics, Shashua writes (emphasis his):

RSS defines a safe longitudinal and a safe lateral distance around the vehicle. When those safe distances are compromised, we say that the vehicle is in a Dangerous Situation and must perform a Proper Response. The specific moment when the vehicle must perform the Proper Response is called the Danger Threshold.

SFF defines identical concepts with slightly modified terminology. Safe longitudinal distance is instead called “the SFF in One Dimension;” safe lateral distance is described as “the SFF in Higher Dimensions.”  Instead of Proper Response, SFF uses “Safety Procedure.” Instead of Dangerous Situation, SFF replaces it with “Unsafe Situation.” And, just to be complete, SFF also recognizes the existence of a Danger Threshold, instead calling it a “Critical Moment.”

This is followed by numerous other close parallels, and just when you think it’s done, he includes a whole separate document (PDF) showing dozens of other cases where Nvidia seems (it’s hard to tell in some cases if you’re not closely familiar with the subject matter) to have followed Mobileye and RSS’s example over and over again.

Theoretical work like this isn’t really patentable, and patenting wouldn’t be wise anyway, since widespread adoption of the basic ideas is the most desirable outcome (as both papers emphasize). But it’s common for one R&D group to push in one direction and have others refine or create counter-approaches.

You see it in computer vision, where for example Google boffins may publish their early and interesting work, which is picked up by FAIR or Uber and improved or added to in another paper 8 months later. So it really would have been fine for Nvidia to publicly say “Mobileye proposed some stuff, that’s great but here’s our superior approach.”

Instead there is no mention of RSS at all, which is strange considering their similarity, and the only citation in the SFF whitepaper is “The Safety Force Field, Nvidia, 2017,” in which, we are informed on the very first line, “the precise math is detailed.”

Just one problem: This paper doesn’t seem to exist anywhere. It certainly was never published publicly in any journal or blog post by the company. It has no DOI number and doesn’t show up in any searches or article archives. This appears to be the first time anyone has ever cited it.

It’s not required for rival companies to be civil with each other all the time, but in the research world this will almost certainly be considered poor form by Nvidia, and that can have knock-on effects when it comes to recruiting and overall credibility.

I’ve contacted Nvidia for comment (and to ask for a copy of this mysterious paper). I’ll update this post if I hear back.

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Unity adds preview support for Nvidia’s ray tracing tech to push gaming realism

Posted by | Gaming, GDC, nvidia, Nvidia GTC 2019, unity | No Comments

Ray tracing has been a major topic of conversation at both GDC and GTC so it seems fitting that that the overlapping conventions would both kick off with an announcement that touches both industries.

Today at GTC, Nvidia announced that it has built-out a number of major partnerships with 3D software makers including some apparent names like Adobe and Autodesk to integrate access with Nvidia’s RTX ray-tracing platform in their future software releases. The partnerships with Unity is perhaps the most interesting, given the excitement amongst game developers to bring real-time ray tracing to interactive works.

Epic Games had already announced Unreal Engine 4.22 support for Nvidia RTX ray-tracing, and it was only a matter of time before Unity made the plunge as well, but now the tech is officially coming to Unity’s High Definition Render Pipeline (HDRP) today in preview.

The technology is all focused on how games render lighting more realistically, showing how light interacts with the atmosphere and the objects it strikes. This technique has already been in use elsewhere but rendering all of this can be pretty resource-intensive which has made the advancements of the past few years to cement this as a real-time system such an entrancing prospect.

Nvidia has certainly been tooting the horn of this technology, but there have been some doubts whether this is just another technology that’s still a few years out from popular adoption amongst game developers.

“Real-time ray tracing moves real-time graphics significantly closer to realism, opening the gates to global rendering effects never before possible in the real-time domain,” a Unity exec said in a statement. In their announcement, Nvidia boasted that their system enabled “ray traced images that can be indistinguishable from photographs” that “blur the line between real-time and reality.”

While the prospect of added realism in gaming is certainly something consumers will be psyched about, engine-makers will undoubtedly also be promoting their early access to the Nvidia tech to customers in other industries including enterprise.

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Don’t expect a new Nvidia Shield Tablet anytime soon

Posted by | CES, CES 2016, Jensen Huang, Mobile, nvidia, nvidia shield tablet, Shield Tablet | No Comments

The Shield TV, Nvidia’s Android TV streaming box, is still getting regular updates, but the Shield Tablet, which launched in 2014, was last refreshed in 2015 and officially discontinued last year, wasn’t quite the same success. As Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang said during a small press gathering at CES in Las Vegas today, the company doesn’t have any plans to resurrect it.

“Shield TV is still unquestionably the best Android TV in the world,” he said. “We have updated the software now over 30 times. People are blown away by how much we continue to enhance it.” And more (unspecified) enhancements are coming, he said.

On the mobile side, though, the days of the Shield Tablet are very much over, especially now that the Nintendo Switch, which uses Nvidia’s Tegra chips, has really captured that market.

“We are really committed to [Shield TV], but on mobile devices, we don’t think it’s necessary,” Huang said. “We would only build things not to gain market share. Nvidia is not a ‘take somebody else’s market share company.’ I think that’s really angry. It’s an angry way to run a business. Creating new markets, expanding the horizon, creating things that the world doesn’t have, that’s a loving way to build a business.”

He added that this is the way to inspire employees, too. Just copying competitors and maybe selling a product cheaper, though, does nothing to motivate employees and is not what Nvidia is interested in.

Of course, Huang left the door open to a future tablet if it made sense — though he clearly doesn’t think it does today. He’d only do so, “if the world needs it. But at the moment, I just don’t see it. I think Nintendo did such a great job.”


Bonus: The outspoken Huang also used his time with the assembled journalists to voice his opinion of AMD’s new Radeon VII graphics cards, which were announced earlier today. “Wow. Underwhelming, huh? I was kind of like saying ‘what?’ Because the performance is lousy and there’s nothing new. There’s no raytracing, no artificial intelligence. It’s a 7nm chip with HBM memory that barely keeps up with a 2080 and when we turn on DLSS, we’ll crush it. When we turn on raytracing, we’ll crush it. And it’s not even available yet.”

CES 2019 coverage - TechCrunch

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Acer launches new high-end gaming laptops with Nvidia RTX 2080 GPUs

Posted by | Acer, CES 2019, Gadgets, Gaming, gaming laptops, hardware, nvidia | No Comments

Acer today announced two new gaming laptops at CES, the 17-inch $4,000 Predator Triton 900 with a convertible 4K display and the somewhat more affordable all-metal 15-inch $1,800 Triton 500. What sets these laptops apart is, among a few other interesting features and some interesting design choices, support for Nvidia’s new(ish) RTX 2080 GPUs, the most powerful graphics processors on the market today.

The Triton 900 features the RTX 2080 by default, while you’ll have to shell out an extra $700 to get it on the Triton 500. Otherwise, the specs are very much what you’d expect from a modern gaming laptop, with 8th generation Intel i7 chips, 16GB of base memory (with the option of going up to 32GB) and up to a terabyte of NVMe-based storage.

The Triton 900’s flipping screen is a bit of a gimmick, but it doesn’t look bad and the company argues that it’ll allow for “multiple gaming scenarios and better ergonomics.” I’m not sure ergonomics is top of mind for most gamers who are willing to shell out $4,000 for a laptop, but it can’t hurt either. The 4K display is a touchscreen, too, which could make it interesting as a more high-end portable workstation for creative work. If you’re a gamer, though, you’ll likely be more excited about the built-in Xbox wireless receiver and audio by Waves, which offers head tracking to provide you a more realistic 3D audio experience

Unsurprisingly, the Triton 500 is the more “sensible” option here, with a more palatable starting price, slim design (it’s 0.7 inches thick and weighs in at 4.6 lbs) and the promise of eight hours of battery life. You only get a full HD display, though, with even the base model comes with an RTX 2060 card, which is no slouch either and should easily be able to let you play and modern game at its maximum graphics settings in HD.

CES 2019 coverage - TechCrunch

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Watch Nvidia unveil the RTX 2080 live right here

Posted by | Gadgets, Gaming, hardware, nvidia, rtx | No Comments

Nvidia is taking advantage of the Gamescom in Germany to hold a press conference about its future graphics processing units. The conference will start at 6 PM in Germany, 12 PM in New York, 9 AM in San Francisco.

Just a week after the company unveiled its new Turing architecture, Nvidia could share more details about the configurations and prices of its upcoming products — the RTX 2080, RTX 2080 Ti, etc.

The name of the conference #BeForeTheGame suggests that Nvidia is going to focus on consumer products and in particular GPUs for gamers. While the GeForce GTX 1080 is still doing fine when it comes to playing demanding games, the company is always working on new generations to push the graphical boundaries of your computer.

According to Next INpact, you can expect two different products this afternoon. The GeForce RTX 2080 is going to feature 2,944 CUDA cores with 8GB of GDDR6. The GeForce RTX 2080 Ti could feature as many as 4,352 CUDA cores with 11GB of GDDR6.

Nvidia already unveiled Quadro RTX models for professional workstations last week. The company is expecting significant performance improvements with this new generation as those GPUs are optimized for ray tracing — the “RT” in RTX stands for ray tracing.

While ray tracing isn’t new, it’s hard to process images using this method with current hardware. The RTX GPUs will have dedicated hardware units for this task in particular.

And maybe it’s going to become easier to buy GPUs now that the cryptocurrency mining craze is slowly fading away.

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Microsoft is building low-cost, streaming-only Xbox, says report

Posted by | Gadgets, Gaming, Microsoft, Nintendo, nvidia, onlive, PlayStation 4, Sony, xbox | No Comments

It was revealed at E3 last month that Microsoft was building a cloud gaming system. A report today calls that system Scarlett Cloud and it’s only part of Microsoft’s next-gen Xbox strategy. And it makes a lot of sense, too.

According to Thurrott.com, noted site for all things Microsoft, the next Xbox will come in two flavors. One will be a traditional gaming console where games are processed locally. You know, like how it works on game systems right now. The other system will be a lower-powered system that will stream games from the cloud — most likely, Microsoft’s Azure cloud.

This streaming system will still have some processing power, which is in part to counter latency traditionally associated with streaming games. Apparently part of the game will run locally while the rest is streamed to the system.

The streaming Xbox will likely be available at a much lower cost than the traditional Xbox. And why not. Microsoft has sold Xbox systems with a slim profit margin, relying on sales of games and online services to make up the difference. A streaming service that’s talked about on Thurrott would further take advantage of this model while tapping into Microsoft’s deep understanding of cloud computing.

A few companies have tried streaming full video games. Onlive was one of the first; while successful for a time, it eventually went through a dramatic round of layoffs before a surprise sale for $4.8 million in 2012. Sony offers an extensive library of PS2, PS3 and PS4 games for streaming through its PlayStation Now service. Nvidia got into the streaming game this year and offers a small selection of streaming through GeForce Now. But these are all side projects for the companies.

Sony and Nintendo do not have the global cloud computing platform of Microsoft, and if Microsoft’s streaming service hits, it could change the landscape and force competitors to reevaluate everything.

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