A new HDMI certification program will make it easier to avoid crappy cables

October 10th, 2015 | Edited by | hardware

Oct
10

Certified cables will carry labels assuring the consumer that they’ve been tested to meet the HDMI 2.0 spec.

 

One HDMI cable is as good as another, right? Wrong. The old saying “an HDMI cable will either work or it won’t, because digital is all or nothing” is a myth. A poor-quality HDMI cable can deliver a degraded signal, resulting in a snowy picture or worse. A crappy HDMI cable, especially a long one, can also cause problems that you can’t see: radiating enough electromagnetic interference (EMI) to cause problems on your Wi-Fi network.
Having said that, bad HDMI cables are pretty hard to find, at least when asked to carry 1080p video just a few feet. It can be a different story when you enter the realm of 60-frames-per-second 4K video with high dynamic range, high-resolution multi-channel audio, and perhaps even ethernet. According to the standard, an HDMI 2.0 cable should be capable of delivering “ultra-reliable performance at the full 18Gbps bandwidth.”
To that end, HDMI Licensing LLC—the group responsible for developing and maintaining the HDMI standard that’s used on nearly every TV, PC, monitor, projector, Blu-ray player, A/V receiver, and media streamer shipping today—has announced a new cable certification program. Instead of hoping for the best—or paying ridiculous prices for cables made by companies with marketing budgets that dwarf what they spend on manufacturing—you could just shop for HDMI cables labeled “HDMI Premium Certified Cable.”

Source: www.pcworld.com

SanDisk builds tougher flash storage for Internet of Things devices

October 8th, 2015 | Edited by | hardware

Oct
08

The SanDisk Industrial XT iNAND embedded flash drive was introduced on Oct. 5, 2015.The SanDisk Industrial components are designed to work harder, last longer and withstand harsh conditions.

sandisk-industrial-inand

Consumers rely on flash memory cards in phones, tablets and cameras every day. But put those same cards in security cams, cellular base stations or the electrical grid and you’ll have a problem.
Industrial devices need flash that can work harder and withstand more extreme temperatures than consumer gear, and they’ll be operating out in the field years after a typical phone or camera card has been replaced. So SanDisk is introducing a line of components built for the Internet of Things.
IoT is expected to put thousands of sensors, meters, robots and machines into the field with growing needs to process and store data.
The SanDisk Industrial line includes cards for the familiar SD, microSD and eMMC (embedded MultiMediaCard) standards, but built to tougher specifications.
For example, the SanDisk Industrial XT SD Cards and XT iNAND embedded flash drives announced Monday are rated to work in temperatures as low as -40 degrees Celsius (-40 Fahrenheit), compared with -25 Celsius for a typical consumer SD card.
The industrial cards can also write more data before they have to be replaced: as much as 128TB, far more than is typical for a consumer-grade part, said Martin Booth, director of SanDisk Industrial and SanDisk Automotive. This kind of endurance is what’s needed in IoT devices like remote video cameras that will capture video around the clock for as long as five years, he said. Otherwise they would have to be replaced more frequently, a costly proposition if the owner needs to send out a truck and a technician.
SanDisk achieved the gains by holding back on things that make flash for a phone or camera attractive to consumers, like maximum write speeds and densely packed memory cells that drive down cost per bit by half every year or two, Booth said. The heavy-duty flash is made with an older 19-nanometer manufacturing process, not the 15nm process that’s the cutting edge today at SanDisk.
Another feature, Enhanced Power Immunity, will help prevent data loss in case of power failure. It uses special firmware for recovering data if the power is cut off, something ordinary flash cards may not be able to do if, for example, the user pulls a card out of a PC while it’s still transferring data.
The new parts range in size from 4GB or 8GB up to 64GB and will cost more than comparable consumer-grade products, but less than twice as much, Booth said. They are available now and will only be sold to equipment manufacturers.

Source: www.pcworld.com

Cortana coming to the Xbox One in 2016

October 6th, 2015 | Edited by | hardware

Oct
06

Microsoft’s digital assistant arrives on the Xbox One in 2016, but Xbox One Experience Preview testers will get to try it later this year.

xbox-one

On Friday evening, Microsoft’s Larry Hryb—better known as Major Nelson—took to his blog to make a couple announcements. First, a new update to the Xbox Beta app for Windows 10 is on its way. We’ll get to that in a moment, but the big news is that Cortana, Microsoft’s digital assistant technology, will make its way to the Xbox in 2016.
According to Major Nelson, beta testers will get a chance to try Cortana on their Xbox “later this year” when Microsoft releases it through the Xbox One experience preview program. This will allow the company to “ ensure that the experience is tuned for gamers” ahead of its public launch next year. Major Nelson didn’t provide any further details as to when in 2016 you can expect the official version of Cortana for Xbox, however.
The story behind the story: Cortana debuted in Windows Phone 8.1, and Microsoft also built it into Windows 10, so adding it to the Xbox One seems to be the most logical next step. We still don’t know what Cortana for Xbox will be able to do, but it will likely build off of the Xbox One’s existing support for spoken commands via the Kinect controller.

Xbox updates coming for Windows 10

In the meantime, while you’re waiting for Cortana for Xbox One, you may as well check out the latest Xbox Beta app for Windows 10. This new update includes support for a new group text chat feature, the ability to reply directly to notifications, and some new social features, such as an easier way to share in-game achievements and game clips, among other things. The new Xbox Beta app for Windows 10 is available for download now; a general public release date for these features has yet to be announced.

Source: www.pcworld.com

Broadwell-C is not dead, Intel clarifies

September 24th, 2015 | Edited by | hardware

Sep
24

Intel corrects a report about the demise of its socketed Broadwell CPU, but how long it’ll live remains anyone’s guess.

Intel’s Broadwell-C desktop processor is alive and well—for now, at least.

broadwell

A report on Thursday by ITWorld claimed that Intel was discontinuing the socketed Broadwell CPU after just one month on the market. But Intel quickly corrected that story,telling AnandTech that it will continue to manufacture and sell Broadwell-C. (Disclosure: Both PCWorld and ITWorld are owned by International Data Group.)
Broadwell-C is a unique chip in Intel’s lineup for a couple of reasons: First, it’s the only Broadwell chip for desktop tower PCs, and it arrived much later than usual in Intel’s product cycle. (Intel originally planned to skip socketed Broadwell entirely, a move the company now regrets.)
More importantly, Broadwell-C is Intel’s only socketed desktop chip with 128MB of embedded DRAM. This on-package memory allows for impressive gaming performance with just integrated graphics, and also provides a nice boost when paired with discrete graphics. In the past, Intel has reserved this configuration for laptops and mini-desktops where the CPU is soldered to the motherboard.
The reported demise of Broadwell-C was apparently just a mix-up, but made waves in enthusiast tech forums such as Slashdot and various subreddits. ITWorld has since corrected and amended its story, noting that it is in fact the next-generation Skylake-C that has been cancelled. Apparently Intel just doesn’t see enough market demand for that embedded DRAM setup. ITWorld also speculates that increased costs and lower yields could be to blame.
Why this matters: For many users, this may all be a moot point with the arrival ofSkylake CPUs, but it could also be an opportunity to pick up a decent last-generation CPU for less cash as long as Intel keeps making them. While opting for a cheaper processor and a low-end graphics card probably makes the most sense in traditional PC setups, Broadwell-C could be a compelling option if you want to perform entry-level gaming or other graphics-heavy tasks in a rig with an ultra-small form factor case where discrete graphics can’t fit well.

Source: www.pcworld.com.

What 3D Touch could mean for accessibility

September 19th, 2015 | Edited by | hardware

Sep
19

When it’s hard to tell a button from a link, the iPhone 6s and its 3D Touch feature could put more power into the hands of the visually and motor impaired.

In March, I wrote a piece for MacStories on the accessibility merit of Force Touch. I said, in part:
Imagine, for example, iOS 10 or 11. Apple will almost assuredly bring Force Touch to the iPhone and iPad, and they could utilize the technology in a slew of ways. They could effectively solve the problem with buttons in iOS 7 and 8 by using haptic feedback to denote a “button press” everywhere in the system. Thus, visually impaired users like me wouldn’t have to struggle so much in figuring out what’s a button versus a text label. Likewise, Force Touch could save those with motor challenges from the work of extra taps by allowing force-pressing to bring up contextually specific controls. There are lots of possibilities here.
My assumption that it would take two or three years for Apple to bring Force Touch to an iOS device was silly in hindsight. That’s because Apple is bringing Force Touch—namely, “3D Touch”—to the new iPhone 6S and 6S Plus, announced last Wednesday.

Apple is calling 3D Touch the “next generation of Multi-Touch,” with Peek and Pop and Quick Actions. My first impression is that the new technologies look pretty cool. From an accessibility perspective, there are some obvious benefits that jump out at me, but so too are there potential downsides.

iphone6s

The good: Less visual scanning and fine motor issues

Force Touch is useful simply as a time- and energy-saver. In visual terms, scanning a user interface can be daunting because it can be hard to find a certain button or icon. This is especially true in apps with busy or cluttered UIs [like Apple Music](http://www.macworld.com/article/2953973/ios-apps/apple-music-in-ios-9-gets-a-much-needed-redesign.html). Too much scanning is problematic in another way: it causes frustration, as well as eye strain and fatigue. Similarly, some users with fine-motor delays may feel frustration and/or even literal pain by having to tap a bunch of buttons to, say, send an iMessage or email.
Enter 3D Touch’s Quick Actions. What this feature allows is quick scanning and fewer taps. For example, instead of having to launch the Phone app, find the right tab, find a name, and tap it, someone like me can just hard-press the Phone icon on the Home screen, and tap a person’s name to call them instantly. It seems trivial, but the few seconds that are shaved off by Quick Actions really does have the potential to make a significant difference for the motor impaired. It makes a laborious task much more accessible.
As for Peek and Pop—which lets you preview things like emails and location maps by hard-pressing them, then hard-pressing again to open them fully—it seems like more of a convenience than anything else. I’m having trouble figuring out what its accessibility benefit would be. That isn’t to say that there aren’t anyaccessibility wins here—I’ll just have to try it in person to see.

The bad: Complexity and visual/motor issues

First, complexity. It’s not hard to imagine someone who’s cognitively delayed or has a learning disability being confused by 3D Touch’s layers and functions. Forgetting or misremembering what each touch does and how to get to them can lead to a less-than-enjoyable experience. It’s a bit of a tightrope walk, though: you want people to use 3D Touch, but the pragmatic approach would be to keep the UI mechanics as simple as possible by eschewing 3D Touch altogether. Simple may be best in these cases, but then you miss out on a marquee feature. It’s not an easy choice.
From a visual and motor standpoint, I have questions about Quick Actions and Peek and Pop. Will Quick Actions’s menus respond to Accessibility features such as Large Dynamic Type and VoiceOver? The same goes for Peek and Pop. My gut tells me that Apple’s considered these things and has added Accessibility support, but I can’t be 100 percent sure until I get my hands on an iPhone 6s.
Motor-wise, I can see 3D Touch being troublesome for those with RSI or other muscle-affecting conditions. Pressing the iPhone’s screen with different levels of pressure may prove to be painful. Also, some with low muscle tone may not be able to press firmly enough to register an action. (As an aside, I’m curious to know if Switch Control in iOS 9 supports 3D Touch. It’ll be a big deal if it does.)

Seeing is believing

If it seems like I’m writing mostly conjecture, that’s because I can’t definitely speak to 3D Touch’s utility as an accessibility tool—after all, the new iPhones aren’t out yet. The true test, of course, will come when I can play with one.
Still, as a person with both low vision and motor delays, I’m bullish overall about 3D Touch’s usefulness to me. If anything, I think it’ll make me more efficient, but that efficiency will only be as high as 3D Touch is accessible.

Source: www.macworld.com

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