TechSummit Rewind #013: January 14th, 2014

Editor’s Note: Welcome to the TechSummit Rewind, which presses pause on the technology newswire.

Google Image Search to sort results by licensing rights

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Google Image Search has allowed users to filter results based on how they’ve licensed since 2009, but the option remained hidden under an advanced options menu where few users ever look. Now, a request by law professor and Creative Commons founding member Lawrence Lessig has changed that. Bing added the option to filter by licensing rights last July with placement front and center, and Googler Matt Cutts tweeted that his employer’s search engine has a similar option, shown above. Perfect for bloggers in a hurry or anyone looking to whip up an image for a new meme, it can pick out images labeled for reuse, reuse with modification, or commercial variants of either.

Tesla formally recalls 29,000 Model S wall charging adapters

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Tesla may argue that it’s being proactive by replacing the wall charging adapters of its Motor S, but that still constitutes a recall by most anyone’s definition. According, the company has sent a letter to the NHTSA announcing a voluntary recall of the 29,222 first-generation adapters that theoretically post a fire hazard. As before, Tesla stresses that the adapter replacement program is a “precautionary measure” — an earlier software update addressed the underlying problem by accounting for unexpected changes in power input. The formal notice doesn’t change much for Model S drivers, but it at least means that the right authorities are aware of what’s happening.

Sony grows Xperia line with 6-inch T2 Ultra and Walkman-centric E1

Sony-Xperia-T2-Ultra-2You’d think a company that recently announced two new flagship smartphones at CES would slow its roll and hold off on the product announcements for a bit. But no, Sony introduced two more handsets to the mix with the Xperia T2 Ultra and Xperia E1, albeit for very specific markets. Neither the T2 Ultra, which gets its ‘Ultra’-ness with a six-inch, 720p display, nor the diminutive four-inch E1, with its 100Db speaker and musical focus, are going for early adopters. Instead, Sony’s crafted these devices for those with less high-end tastes; the T2 Ultra’s aimed for “emerging markets,” while the E1’s a mid-tier take on Sony’s Walkman legacy, with both arriving with dual SIM variants.

The T2 Ultra maintains the original Xperia T’s 720p Triluminos display and 13-megapixel camera, while enlarging the phone’s overall footpring and beefing up its battery life with a 3,000mAh cell. Yes, that big display will cut down on the pixel density, but the phone is a relatively thin 7.6mm — just as thick as the iPhone 5s. Storage-wise, users are looking for 8GB of internal memory with the option to expand that by an extra 32GB via microSD.

Sony’s bundled a handful of camera apps for those users that want to take advantage of the T2 Ultra’s 13-megapixel module. It’s not entirely the same app suite on the Z1S — with Info Eye, AR Effects and Social Live being dropped — but users will have access to Background defocus, Sweep Panorama, Collage, Timeshift burst and the selfie-friendly Portrait Retouch.

Despite its emerging markets push, the T2 Ultra is a LTE handset, with an 1.4GHz quad-core Snapdragon processor inside. That said, HSPA-only versions will come in regions where LTE isn’t ubiquitious.

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As for the E1, that four-inch HSPA+ handset’s all about the music, not top shelf specs and will be available in three colors: white, black and purple. Its combination of a 800×480 WVGA display, 1.2GHz dual-core Snapdragon 200 processor paired with 512MB of RAM, and 1,700mAh battery makes the E1 a solid budget device. What saves it from mid-range Android smartphone obscurity is its 100Db speaker.

If you’re not an audiophile, the E1’s speaker essentially means that you’ll be able to blast the latest pop hits over your neighbor’s morning lawn mowing or the soothing sounds of jackhammers attacking the pavement. Audio quality couold take a hit at those levels, but Sony’s packed in its ClearAudio+ and xLoud technologies to make sure overall balanced sound. The E1 also features a dedicated hardware key for Sony’s Walkman application, support for shake-to-shuffle play control and a 30-day trial for Sony’s Music Unlimited catalog.

The Xperia T2 Ultra is making its way to China, the Middle East, Africa and Asia-Pacific.

Appeals court strikes down key part of FCC’s Net Neutrality rules

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A Washington, DC appeals court has voided the anti-blocking and anti-discrimination requirements in the FCC’s Open Internet Order, arguing that they go beyond the agency’s mandates. While the court acknowledges the potential for bad behavior following this decision, it argues that services like Google Fiber will keep incumbent carriers honest. That’s an odd argument given that many of these services have a tiny footprint at best — often, big carriers enjoy duopolies and monopolies across much of the US. The move potentially allows providers like Verizon (which first appealed the rules) either block competing internet services on their landline networks, or charge these companies extra for features like guaranteed delivery or higher performance.

Verizon issued a statement arguing that it supports an open internet even with the decision in its favor. However, Big Red claimed that the ruling gives customers more say over “how they access and experience the internet.”

Valve’s VR-friendly Steam UI launches in beta prior to handset reveal

Steam VR UI

If Oculus VR’s “Crystal Cove” prototype is something to go by, gamers are really going to appreciate the revival of virtual reality. It’s no secret Valve, too, is cooking up its own VR headset, and the company added a new search filter to its Steam client to highlight games supporting this resurgence. The headset-friendly Steam overlay that’s been in the works, now called SteamVR, is available in the platform’s beta client, and those who’ve got it working are essentially seeing a floating and curved version of Steam’s Big Picture Mode. The launch of this experimental features landed immediately before the Steam developer conference, where we expect to see Valve’s own VR hardware finally become a… well, reality.

Huawei launches 5.5-inch B199 in China with a battery for hire

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Huawei recently announced the Ascend Mate 2 with a 4,000mAh battery that can actually charge other devices, and it’s now brought that tech to a mid-range handset. The 5.5-inch B199 is a successor to the A199, and packs similar specs: a 720p screen, 2GB of RAM, 16GB of internal storage (expandable via microSD slot), dual SIMs (3G only) and a quad-core processor. The new model, though, has a Snapdragon, instead of a Huawei K3V2 CPU and carries a larger 3,000mAh battery instead of a 2,100mAh one. That’ll power the phone through long browsing sessions, according to Huawei, and even let you charge other devices — though it’d be odd to pack another smartphone when you already have one with two SIMs. Given those dual SIMs, I doubt that this $330 phone will make it outside China and similar markets.

Tumblr adds @mentions to further establish internet jargon

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Yahoo’s favorite microblogging service has added Twitter-esque @ messages and celebrated with a GIF. Mentions work as expected: you can mention another person with the “@” symbol, and you’ll receive a notification in the dashboard stream when anyone mentions you.

AMD: Company’s next PC chip trumps Intel with 12 ‘compute cores,’ smoother gaming

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A decade ago, AMD brought us the first dual-core x86 processor. Then, started in 2008, the company trotted out with tri-and-quad-core designs in rapid succession, leading up to octa-core chips in 2011’s FX range as well as in the latest AMD-powered game consoles. Now, the chipmaker’s taking a fresh leap forward, albeit one that needs some explaining: a desktop and laptop chip called Kaveri, which brings up to four CPU and eight GPU cores together and gives them computing indpendence, such that AMD feels justified in describing them collectivity as a dozen compute cores.”

Typical marketing? Not exactly. AMD is at least being transparent in its thinking, and besides, GPU cores can be used for more than just 3D rendering. Nevertheless, even if you don’t go for the whole 12-core concept, AMD still made some down-to-earth promises about Kaveri’s price and performance — for example, that it matches up to Intel chips that cost a lot more than its $173’s price (a Haswell Core i5 goes for $242), and can play the latest games at 30fps without needing a discrete graphics card.

Let’s start with the theoretical stuff, even though it’s largely academic until more software can make use of it. The reason AMD calls Kaveri’s GPU cores “compute cores” is because they’re “fundamentally different” to the GPU cores in other PC processors. This difference lies in the fact that they’re said to be fundamentally different to the GPU cores in other PC processors. This difference lies in the facct that they’re able to function as equal citizens: Instead of relying on the CPU to orchestrate their workload, they can access system memory directly and take on tasks independently — almost like a CPU core does. The only difference is that they can’t take on the same types of tasks as a CPU, as theyh’re better suited to simple parallel chores rather than complicated serial processing.

As things stand, software developers are already able to exploit the GPU for general computing using tools like OpenCL, which can be used to accelerate anything from Photoshop to big spreadsheets. But OpenCL requires reams of code and a lot of ineffijdcient to-and-fro between the GPU and CPU — all of which will be “drastically reduced” if developers latch onto HSA, according to AMD. That’s a big “if,” of course, but now that the company has recruited partners into its HSA Foundation, and managed to push its silicon into millions of households through next-gen game consoles, developer interest looks more likely, and Kaveri’s compute cores at least bring it some future proofing as a result.

Gaming

kaveri gaming

Bearing in mind that these are AMD’s in-house test results, let’s look at that basic claim about Kaveri undercutting Intel as a gaming processor. The chart abovef shows a top-end Kaveri A10-7850K pitted against Intel’s Core i5-4670K for games being played at 1080p with max settings (or close to them). In each case, the processor is paired with a discrete graphics card, AMD’s mid-range Radeon R9 270X, presumably because most enthusiasts would still avoid relying solely on integrated graphics. As you can see, Intel is slightly ahead in a number of games, but never by a significant margin, suggesting that spending $70 more on Intel’s chip doesn’t add much to the experience.

 Power efficiency and onboard graphics

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In addition to Kaveri’s suitability for gaming when paired with a separate graphics card, the slide above suggests the chip also has an advantage over a Haswell Core i5 on certain synthetic benchmarks, likely due to the fact that it has a bigger GPU than you’d find on an Intel processor. Kaveri’s built-in GPU accounts for 47 percent of all transistors in the chip (more than a billion in total), and is potentially meaty enough for it to run games without a discrete graphics card, which saves energy and money and allows for smaller PCs. In practice, playing through a level of BioShock Infinite at 1080p with low settings, with Kaveri running beneath a third-party cooler netted us a steady 30fps frame rate. This is something AMD claims is also possible in other titles like Battlefield 4, which it’s bundling free with high-end boxed Kaveri chips, but again, you should accept low detail settings.

For the sake of balance, it’s important to point out that an Intel chip is more power-efficient in its own right. Haswell has 0.9 billion fewer transitions (compared to Kaveri’s 2.3 billion) and its transistors are 6nm smaller than Kaveri’s 28nm ones, which should equate to reduced power draw — something that’s espeically significant when you think about notebook or hybrid/tablet versions of these chips, particularly ones that don’t need to focus on 3D graphics (or delegate all such tasks to a separate GPU).

Mantle and TrueAudio

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Speaking of Battlefield 4, you neatly arrive at Kaveri’s other big claim to fame — and it’s one that requires a much smaller leap of faith than HSA does. Battlefield 4 is one of a growing number of games that will take advantage of an AMD-tailored programming tool called Mantle, which promises big boosts in performance even on lower-power (ex.: HTPC, laptop) versions of the chip. Mantle runs on any AMD graphics card that has the newer Graphics Core Next (GCN) architecture, and since Kaveri’s graphics processor runs on GCN, it can run Mantle-optimized games and applications too, resulting in claimed performance increases of up to 45 percent in BF4 and as much as 300 percent in real-time strategy games running on the Star Swarm game engine.

Finally, in addition to Mantle, Kaveri also brings another feature across from AMD’s latest graphics cards: TrueAudio. This is a dedicated, programmable audio processor that sits on the chip and helps to improve the audio in games by decoding data about place (giving sounds a feeling of directionality and distance) and increasing the total number of voices and effects that it can hear at one time.

Wrap-Up

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Kaveri apparently took four years to develop, due to all the extras AMD squeezed  on it, like HSA, Mantle and TrueAudio. This also explains why Kaveri chips are much more expensive than their predecessor, Richland: The lower-specced A8-7600 will start at $119, rising to $152 for the A10-7700K will start at $119, rising to $152 for the A10-7700K and, as we’ve mentioned, $173 for the flagship A10. AMD has bought some clever additions to this generation that could boost its value. It looks good as a traditional gaming processor now, especially if you intend to pair it with a Radeon graphics card to enable Dual Graphics (with the GCN cores in Kaveri’s GPU and in the discrete GPU effectively being added together).

Chrome 32 brings Chrome OS-style ‘desktop’ to Windows 8

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After a fairly lengthy beta phase, Google has released the finished version of Chrome 32 — and it’s one of the biggest updates to the browser in recent memory. Windows 8 users now get a Chrome OS-style interface (shown above), complete with its own windowing system and a web app launcher. Whichever platform you’re running, you’ll also get malware blocking and notifications when tabs are playing audio or using your webcam. Protective parents may also like a beta supervised users feature that lets the review their kids’ browsing habits.

Cyanogen’s new gallery software now available in beta

cyanogenmod-gallerynext02In a Google+ post, Cyanogen not only admitted the shortfalls of the current gallery, but announced its replacement. Enter GalleryNext. In addition to functioning as a standard gallery app, the app also bakes in support for Flickr, Picasa, Facebook and Dropbox. The custom ROM maker also plans to give it an Android 4.4 KitKat-esque interface overhaul in the future, too. The app is available now on Google Play.

 Hyundai, Kia tap SoundCloud to help find music in the car

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Always pulling out your smartphone to Shazam a song you’ve heard on the airwaves? Nevermore, at least if you buy a new Hyundai or Kia model.

The Korean automakers have teamed up with sound-recognition service SoundHound to bring its music-discovery tools to select 2014 models in North America, Korea and China. The partnership will see Hyundai and Kia integrate music tagging directly into their infotainment systems, letting you pull up information on a song or artist by pressing the SoundHound icon. If you choose, the app can keep a record of your searches, giving you the option to pull them up on a mobile device at a more suitable time.

One model that will definitely get SoundHound’s music-discovery feature is Hyundai’s 2015 Genesis sedan, which is already set to let owners remotely lock their cars, do maintenance updates and send Google Maps directions to the car with Google Glass. Not content with that, the carmaker is also a member of the Open Automotive Alliance. As part of the alliance, Hyundai worked with Google to develop an Android-based version of its infotainment system, helping the search giant expand further into the connected cars world.

Horizon for iOS records landscape video no matter how you hold your phone

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On Vine, Instagram and Snapchat, portrait mode is the way to go. But when it comes to YouTube or TV, you’re going to put viewers in a loop if you present them with a vertical video. Despite six years in the smartphone space, Apple hasn’t solved the one major problem of our generation: Vertical Video Syndrome, so Evil Window Dog wants to fix it for them. With Horizon, the developer believes it can help shape a world where black sidebars are extinct. Where some developers ask users to hold their iPhone on its side before shooting, like Google tried to with YouTube Capture for iOS, Horizon wants to make things a lot easier by letting you capture horizontal video from any angle.

Horizon works by using your iOS device’s gyroscope to auto-level videos, keeping a horizontal focus on the action. If you rotate your iPhone 45 degrees, the app simply adjusts the frame to keep up its aspect ratio (square 1:1, wide 16:9, standard 4:3). But that’s not all; in the app’s settings, you can set whether you’d like to rotate as you film, rotate and scale recordings or disable rotation altogether. Video quality is tweakable to output VGA, 720p or 1080p recordings and you also mirror videos to your Apple TV using AirPlay. You can even apply one of eight pre-installed filters, if that’s your thing. Horizon is available now in the App Store for $0.99.

Charter makes $61 million bid for Time Warner Cable

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After months of trying to negotiate a deal behind the scenes, Charter Communications is publishing details of its offer to buy Time Warner Cable (which split from Time Warner years ago). Despite a bid that could’ve nabbed Nest 20 or so times, TWC’s board called the offer “grossly inadequate.” Charter CEO Tom Rutledge is telling anyone who will listen that he can run the company better than its current leadership, and is encouraging shareholders to join him in this viewpoint by making this offer public. For customers, the upside isn’t so clear, as according to J.D. Power & Associates, Charter is next-to-last in customer satisfaction, staying ahead of only Time Warner Cable.

The Charter/TWC combination would make for the country’s third-largest provider behind Comcast and DirecTV.

Charter took a conference call to explain its side of the argument, and Time Warner replied it “would not let Charter steal this company.”

Video messaging app Wordeo turns plain text into audiovisual poetry

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Six-second Vine clips are great, but the best ones need way more than six seconds’ worth of creative energy and pre-planning. A video messaging app called Wordeo, however, tries to simplify things by asking you to write a text message first, and then automatically providing short snippets of moving images from Getty Images an emotive background to each word you’ve written. The whole process can get done in under a minute, depending on how much time you spend messing with the font, background music or inserting self-made, two-second video clips to better drive your point home.

Yes, Wordeo might sound a bit silly and need a reasonably fast internet connection at every stage while also inevitably exposing your messages to a third-party’s servers, but the end results are quite satisfying, especially considering the small amount of effort required. Currently, finished mini-movies can only be shared directly with other Wordeo users, or as links on Facebook and Twitter, but the app’s creators are hoping to get permission for the .mp4 videos to play directly in people’s social feeds, which might help win some people over. In the meantime, you can try the iOS and Android apps for free in their respective app stores.

Radionomy acquires Winamp and Shoutcast to boost its streaming efforts

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Online radio platform provider Radionomy has acquired both Winamp and Shoutcast from AOL for an undisclosed sum. The deal is primary a ploy for market share; now that Radionomy owns Shoutcast, it’s powering roughly half of all internet radio. The company also plans to improve Winamp to make it “ubiquitous” across platforms including mobile devices and car infotainment systems. It’s doubtful that Winamp will reclaim its past prominence, but the acquisition should at least give both services a new lease on life.

Google shuts down bucket-list service Schemer

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Not long after rumors of Google shutting down goal-sharing service Schemer arose, we have received confirmation. Data has since been wiped, but you can give Field Trip and Google Maps’ explore function to take care of some of the app’s functionality.

AT&T begins updating Galaxy S4 Active with Android 4.3 Jelly Bean

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Nope, it’s not KitKat, but hey, owners of older Android devices can’t be choosers. If you’ve been using AT&T’s version, of the Samsung’s waterproof Galaxy S4 Active, Android 4.3 is starting to roll out to you through an over-the-air update. The update keeps the phone in Jelly Bean territory, but brings a good deal of improvements, including OpenGL ES 3.0 support, Bluetooth Smart technology, enhanced notifications and 1080p Netflix streaming.

Google Drive’s Activity stream tracks changes to shared files

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Tracking changes in those shared Google Drive docs have gotten a lot easier. Mountain View has added an activity stream to the cloud-based service for keeping tabs on collaborative efforts. Once you’re inside Drive, clicking the ‘i’ button at the top right will make the list appear. Inside, you’ll find the flurry of recent activity like moving or removing files, renaming, uploading, sharing/unsharing, editing and commentating. You can also select each file or folders to view updates for those specific items. The activity stream is available now to all Drive users.

Stahl vacates STO project lead for ‘exciting new’ Cryptic project

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Daniel Stahl is executive producer of Star Trek Online no more, according to a post from his successor Stephen D’Angelo. Stahl left to pursue a new project at Cryptic Studios.

Stahl led STO for three of the four years of the game’s lifespan. D’Angelo previously served at STO’s executive producer for six months when Stahl left Cryptic for Zynga before returning to reclaim his original post.

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