AMD unveils its second-generation Ryzen CPUs

AMD

With last year’s Ryzen processors, AMD made a grand re-entry into the world of high-performance desktop computing. Now its improving on those designs with its second-generation Ryzen chips, which are a bit faster and more efficient. And, due to fan demand, AMD is also throwing in free “Wraith” coolers with every CPU. The big takeaway this year: AMD is in an even better place to compete with Intel.

The highest end Ryzen model is the eight-core Ryzen 7 2700X, which replaces the 1800X and 1700X from last year (honestly they weren’t thatdifferent). With a base clock of 3.7GHz, and a boost speed of 4.3Ghz, it’s faster than the 1800X, which ran between 3.6Ghz and 4Ghz. The new chip is also a much better deal at $329, compared with the $399 and $499 launch prices of the 1700X and 1800X. In comparison, Intel’s six-core i7-8700K sells for around $350.

At the more affordable end, there’s the six-core Ryzen 5 2600, which will go for $199. It’s clocked between 3.4Ghz and 3.9GHz, and it should be a solid competitor to Intel’s similarly priced Core i5-8500. The new chips are built on AMD’s 12 nanometer Zen+ architecture, so you can think of them as a slight upgrade over last year’s models. Its true platform followup, Zen 2, is expected to debut next year.

MODEL CORES THREADS CLOCK SPEED MAX BOOST/ BASE (GHZ) SMART PREFETCH CACHE TDP COOLER SEP (USD)
Ryzen™ 7 2700X 8 16 4.3/3.7 20MB 105W Wraith Prism (LED) $329
Ryzen™ 7 2700 8 16 4.1/3.2 20MB 65W Wraith Spire (LED) $299
Ryzen™ 5 2600X 6 12 4.2/3.6 19MB 95W Wraith Spire $229
Ryzen™ 5 2600 6 12 3.9/3.4 19MB 65W Wraith Stealth $199

AMD is keeping full details about the new Zen chips under wraps until their April 19th launch. But it did reveal a few tidbits: They’ll run on its new X470 AM4 chipset, and they’ll support its StoreMI technology, which can speed up disk performance by linking together SSDs, traditional hard disks and RAM.

The ethically murky marriage of technology and beauty

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The last time I bought foundation, I couldn’t decide if I was a “Fair” or a “Light.” Confusing names aside, shades of cosmetics are particularly tricky for me — a relatively pale Asian woman with yellow undertones in my skin. Colors designed for Asian complexions tend to be a bit dark or dull for my liking, while those for white skin look unnatural on me.

I’m already luckier than many people whose complexions fall on the darker range of the spectrum: Finding an accurate shade may be a challenge, but I can almost always get an option that’s close enough. For others who are more tan, though, that’s not always possible.

The latest spate of beauty tech seems intent on changing all that. Companies are using tech to provide highly customized products like makeup, corrective skin care and shampoos that are tailored to your exact needs. But while on the surface these appear to be well-meaning efforts to promote diversity and inclusivity, the industry needs to carefully examine every step as it moves forward or risk exacerbating problems around perceived ideals in beauty.

Lancome launched its Le Teint Particulier custom liquid foundation in 2016 at select Nordstrom stores. It uses a skin scanner to detect your complexion at various points on your face with the help of an onsite consultant and creates a formula that’s best suited for you. The company says it can detect more than 72,000 skin tones and mix your foundation on the spot. Oprah magazine’s Manouska Jeantus even said it “answered all our prayers for a foundation that works for dark skin tones.”

Meanwhile, businesses like Curology, Insitu and Skinceuticals have sprung up in the last few years or so, offering personalized skin care with the help of tech. Curology and Insitu learn about your skin from your pictures and answers to online questionnaires, while Skinceuticals’ Custom DOSE(Diagnostic Optimization Serum Expertise) will use in-person evaluations when the service launches this summer.

The idea is that the traditional way of classifying your skin as oily, dry or combination is no longer enough — you should be able to get products based on exactly how dry, supple and pigmented your skin is. That’s good news for people who don’t fit neatly into a category and want to treat their faces with a precise combination of moisturizers and active ingredients. And it’s not just about your complexion. Benefit Cosmetics, which launched an AR brow try-on app earlier this year, said: “All brows are unique, so we built an AR solution that is customizable for any person.”

But while these products seem to promise greater inclusivity for more diverse skin types, they also come at a cost. Literally. Lancome’s Le Teint Particulier will set you back $88 per 1-ounce bottle (price includes the consultation, although refills also cost $88), while the brand’s other foundation lines like Teint Idole and Teint Miracle, which have more-limited shades, cost $47 for the same amount.

Meanwhile, systems like Custom DOSE and Schwarzkopf’s smart salon, which scans your hair to better understand its moisture and color profile for a more accurate treatment, aren’t available everywhere. When Skinceuticals launches DOSE, it will start with specific dermatology and plastic-surgery clinics, while Schwarzkopf’s service will hit select partner salons first. It’s not clear where these are located yet — whether they’re in primarily affluent neighborhoods and major cities — but typically plastic surgeons don’t see very diverse clientele. Reports from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons show that almost 70 percent of all patients who underwent cosmetic procedures in the US were Caucasian, while Hispanic, African-American and Asian-American people made up 11, 9 and 7 percent, respectively.

That goes against the very notion of inclusivity. Higher prices and limited availability impede access to these products, so, many people still will not be able to enjoy the benefits. Those aren’t the only factors, of course, and things like income inequality and expensive materials aren’t necessarily the beauty industry’s problem or something companies can control. But they do have a say over other parts of the challenge.

“As more and more companies are using technology to develop customized cosmetics, they need to pay attention to issues of accessibility not only from the standpoint of price and availability but from a marketing standpoint as well,” said Tiffany Gill, associate professor of history and Africana studies at University of Delaware.

Nintendo wants startups to pitch new Switch concepts

AOL

If you thought Nintendo opening the Switch to new indie games every quarter was a big shift for the company, wait ’til you hear that it’s getting into startups. The venerable video game corporation has partnered with Scrum Ventures to find companies tinkering with new ways to play with or use Nintendo’s flagship console.

Scrum will consider ideas for new Switch tools from startups, teams in larger companies or university researchers, Bloomberg reported. Then the early-stage venture capital firm will workshop concepts with teams before they pitch them to Nintendo this fall. Scrum will consider hardware and software ideas (not games), which in itself is a new frontier for a game company that has always relied on trusted, established suppliers. When considering ideas, Scrum will evaluate:

  • How advanced the technology is
  • How creatively the technology adds to the Nintendo Switch platform
  • The goal is to develop technology collaborations that surprise and delight users

But the Switch has heralded an era of experimentation. The well-received Labo kits set to debut next week are a good example, blending DIY cardboard controllers with the console’s sensor-packed Joy-Cons and tablet-like central screen unit. Whatever Scrum finds will likely be a surprising use of the Switch’s existing hardware and tech, but it’s just as shocking to see the famously protective and secretive Nintendo open its doors to third parties, large and small.

Update 4/12/18 4:05PM ET: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Scrum Ventures will only seek hardware concepts. It is seeking both hardware and software concepts, but not video game pitches.

Anti-drone tech protected a weekend of NASCAR racing

Sean Gardner/Getty Images

Anti-drone technology isn’t just being used at airports or sensitive politicaland military locations. Law enforcement just relied on DroneShield’s systems, including its anti-drone gun, to protect against UAVs during a NASCAR race series at the Texas Motor Speedway between April 5th and April 8th. The tech helped police watch out for drones, disable them and (if all else failed) knock them out of the air. There weren’t any known incidents, but it’s notable that the technology was involved in the first place — it was the first time American law enforcers used all three of DroneShield’s products.

The company is also keen to tout that it’s the “sole provider” of counter-drone hardware for NASCAR.

This isn’t the first time the company’s tech has been used at a sporting event. It played a role at the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang. However, it could set a precedent. The US government treats NASCAR races as high-security events, and it won’t be surprising if anti-drone systems become a staple at any large event where drones pose enough of a risk that organizers don’t want to depend on geofencing to keep people safe.

Sega Japan teases a mini Genesis coming later in 2018

MegaDrive Mini

Along with the rereleases of Shenmue I & II, Sega also showed off its own attempt at retro console loaded with classic games. While knockoff Genesis systems have been easy to find, the success of Nintendo’s miniaturized NES and SNES may have pushed Sega to get serious about nostalgia. MegaDrive Mini is apparently just a tentative name, but it’s also timed to arrive for the system’s 30th anniversary. So far Sega’s social media and PR for Europe and Japan are quiet on the subject, but if we find out any more details we’ll let you know.

Panasonic SC-GA10 review: A smart speaker that fails to stand out

Billy Steele/Engadget

Alexa and Google Assistant have been taking over homes for a few years now, so it’s probably easier to name the companies that haven’t made a smart speaker. The options are seemingly endless. Audio gear that harnesses a virtual assistant comes in all shapes and sizes, with some making big claims about the quality of sound they get out of such small devices. Panasonic is doing just that with its $250 SC-GA10; however, the company’s promise of “premium hi-fi sound” failed to make a lasting impression.

Engadget Score

POOR

UNINSPIRING

GOOD

EXCELLENT

Key
Panasonic
SC-GA10
from $249.00

Buy Now

74
Pros
  • Google Assistant features work well
  • Design blends in on a shelf
  • Works well with Chromecast apps and devices
  • Bluetooth and auxiliary connections
Cons
  • Pricey compared to the competition
  • Audio quality is just okay
  • Physical controls can be awkward
  • No 360 audio like several competitors

Summary

As you should expect, Google Assistant works just fine here to deliver a “smart” speaker experience. But, Panasonic doesn’t deliver on its promise of high-quality audio, and the GA10 is much pricier than a lot of its competition.

Gallery: Panasonic SC-GA10 review | 12 Photos

  • +8

A lot of smart speakers are round, cylindrical affairs, but Panasonic chose to go the boxy route with the SC-GA10. The speaker’s cube shape isn’t novel, but it’s different enough from a lot of the popular options (Echo, Google Home, etc.) that it feels somewhat unique. Sure, it’s rather plain, but I kind of like that. The GA10 blends in easily on a shelf, thanks to its unassuming aesthetic.

Panasonic offers two color schemes for the SC-GA10: a mix of black and silver or white and silver. Both of those varieties are pretty standard fare for smart speakers. The SC-GA10’s look is simple, with some Panasonic branding on the front and power and auxiliary jacks around back. There are also a few white lights on the front edge: one stays lit when the speaker is on, while others light up in a row whenever Google Assistant is active. Other than those few items, this speaker is basically a box that looks a bit like a miniature tower speaker.

As with many speakers, not just the smart ones, Panasonic put all of the physical controls up top. While this is the most convenient position, the height of the SC-GA10 poses some issues. All of the onboard controls are on a touch panel on the top of the speaker. There are controls for power, volume, muting the microphone, play/pause and several input options.

So far so good… until you try to make any tweaks when the speaker is sitting at eye level (or above) — like on a shelf. Unless the SC-GA10 is sitting in a spot where you have a full view of the top, you really have no idea what you’re tapping. Play/pause is pretty easy to remember because it’s alone in the center, and I quickly learned the location of the volume controls, but there are no raised dots or anything to let you know which of the features you’re close to. This may seem like a small thing for some people, but for me it was frustrating.

Sure, this is a voice-controlled speaker, and most of the time I just used spoken cues. For things like volume adjustments, though, I prefer to make the change manually rather than rely on Google Assistant. A lot of smart speakers, like Google Home and the Sony LF-S50G, solve this with gesture controls. There can be a bit of a learning curve with those as well, but you don’t have to worry as much about where you place those speakers, since you don’t really need to see the top. As frustrating as the gestures were on the LF-S50G at first, I found myself wishing the Panasonic SC-GA10 had them.

When it comes to smart speakers, there’s a range of sound quality. While most aim to simply get the job done, others offer impressive audio in a compact device. Sonos One is a perfect example of the latter. With the SC-GA10, Panasonic promises “premium hi-fi sound” and tosses the word “supreme” around. But I found the sound to be mostly just… fine. It will certainly fill the void if you’re looking for a smart speaker, but if all you’re after is voice control, there are more affordable options, like Google Home Mini, Echo and Echo Dot. Even the Sonos One is $50 cheaper, and it offers both Alexa and better sound quality.

The Sony LF-S50G and the Panasonic SC-GA10.While the audio on the SC-GA10 is crisp and clear, the EQ tuning is where Panasonic lost me. Across a range of genres, the sound lacks dynamics: the midrange is overemphasized, without the necessary amount of bass or treble. I noticed it most with bass-heavy genres like hip-hop. The low end is just muddy and lacks the punch or depth other speakers offer. At higher volumes, the EQ blends together and the overall audio quality is noticeably worse. There is a Panasonic app where you can make EQ tweaks, but in my experience, it didn’t offer much help. I’ll admit Sonos has spoiled me a bit, but the sound was noticeably better on the Sony LF-S50G too. With the claims Panasonic was making about the SC-GA10’s audio chops, I expected it to at least be comparable to the Sonos One. Instead, it’s just okay.

Despite the clothlike material wrapping the entire top of the unit, the SC-GA10 isn’t a 360-degree speaker. Two tweeters are angled to the sides, and there’s a single subwoofer, but the sound is beamed entirely out of the front. Other smart speakers blast tunes in all directions, but even though Panasonic’s smart speaker looks like it does the same, that’s not the case.

Of course, audio is just one piece of the equation here. Google Assistant is the main reason to consider the SC-GA10. I’m happy to report that the smart features, like voice control, work just fine for the most part. There were times when it had trouble picking up my commands, but that was rare and usually happened when the speaker was blasting music at a considerable volume. My wife had trouble with the speaker hearing her spoken queries more often than not, but I had far less trouble. Of course, my voice was programmed into the Google Home app, but that didn’t make a difference on other speakers I’ve tested. (The Sony LF-S50G even reliably understood my three-year-old.) Most of the time, though, the SC-GA10 picked up my voice cues without issue. And thanks to the Google Home app, setting up the speaker takes only a couple of minutes.

At $250, the SC-GA10 is at least $50 more than a lot of its competition. If you’re looking for Google Assistant alternatives, Google Home is $129, and Sony’s LF-S50G is $200. The Sonos One currently works only with Alexa, but at some point it will also work with Assistant for $50 less than the SC-GA10. And of course, Amazon has a bunch of options at various price points if you don’t have a virtual assistant preference. Again, in terms of overall sound, Sony and Sonos are better options.

With all of the other options on the table, Panasonic’s SC-GA10 is a tough sell. Unless you really want touch controls on your smart speaker or just like the look of it, there are cheaper and better-sounding devices to consider. I’ll admit I like the design of the SC-GA10, but when it comes to audio gear, you can’t make decisions based on looks alone. Sure, Google Assistant does an admirable job here, but the mediocre sound quality and high price make this one of the less compelling additions to the smart speaker heap.

TCL’s wallet-friendly 6-Series Roku TVs will be available by May 1st

Earlier this year, TCL announced that it was once again teaming with Roku on a line of affordably priced 4K TVs. We now know that the 6-Series television sets will debut by May 1st, though some of the pricing is still unclear.

TCL’s previous venture, the P-Series, really impressed reviewers with its affordable price point, bright screen and good contrast, but it was limited to just one size: 55 inches. The new 6-Series will be available in both 55 and 65 inches. The Verge reports that the price point on the 55-inch 6-Series will be $650, the same as the P-Series. It’s unclear how much the 65-inch model will cost.

The 6-Series is a premium line, which features Dolby Vision and an attractive brushed metal design. The displays will also come with a Roku TV voice remote, three HDMI ports, 802.11ac WiFi and Ethernet. TCL has put extra effort into improving the picture quality for this line, with HDR Pro Gamma and Contrast Control Zone technology. The 6-Series will have better control over backlighting than the P-Series, which means deeper blacks, even when another part of the image is bright.

 

‘Hyper Light Drifter’ is another indie game coming to Switch

Nintendo wasn’t done with the indie game announcements after its #Nindies live stream earlier today. At an event and on social media it revealed three more ports coming to the Switch soon: Hyper Light Drifter, Nidhogg 2 and Crashlands. All three are GameMaker Studio titles, so it’s not surprising they’re coming to Nintendo’s convertible console now that the development tool has Switch support built-in.

Hyper Light Drifter is confirmed due this summer in the eShop — after missing out on a hoped-for Wii U release — while the other two are scheduled to arrive later this year. Abylight Studios is in charge of the port, and said it’s working with GameMaker creator Yoyo Games since this title “pushed the technical envelope.” If you’d like an early peek, the original developer tweeted a brief, blurry clip of the game running on Switch.

Skywalker Sound and the challenges of making audio for VR films

Lauded Mexican filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu, best known for his work on movies such as Birdman and The Revenant, last year nabbed a “special” Oscar award for his VR exhibition Carne y Arena. The virtual reality project, dubbed Flesh and Sand in English, takes viewers into a world where they can experience what it’s like to be an immigrant trying to cross a border. As much as visuals were important to tell this story, one of Iñárritu’s focus was to also to create the most immersive sounds — which can be complicated when going from traditional film to a completely new medium like VR.

To do that, the director recruited Skywalker Sound, an arm of the Lucasfilm motion picture group, to work on making the best spatial, 360-degree audio possible for Carne y Arena. But that wasn’t easy, according to Kevin Bolen and Bill Rudolph, two sound designers from Skywalker Sound who worked on the installation and spoke at GDC 2018 about the challenges of bringing it to life. They said that implementation is half the battle, as there are a number of factors to consider when creating sounds for a VR film, like 3D panning, how the waves are positioned and the artistic spread of the story itself. These are things that video game developers don’t typically think about, per Bolen and Rudolph, which presents a major challenge during production.

Another major factor to consider is that, in a VR movie, everyone who watches it can have a different experience. This means it’s key for the spatial sound to fit into a story’s narrative, regardless of where a viewer’s eyes are focused on while wearing a VR headset and watching a scene. Bolen and Rudolph said Iñárritu was obsessed with getting this right in Carne y Arena, since it was important for him that people could hear the dialogue as it was intended — so even if you’re wandering away from a character who has some key lines, you won’t miss out on what they have to say.

Kevin Bolen (far left) Bill Rudolph (middle) speaking at GDC 2018.Bolen and Rudolph added that after working with Iñárritu on Carne y Arena, they realized they needed to be naive in their approach to applying sounds to a VR film: “You have to throw as many people under the experience as you can. You have to know if someone’s going to stand in a place that none of the developers expected.” This is something that Oculus was doing a great job understanding through VR movies like Lost and Henry, though the company shut down its in-house Story Studio (which was responsible for making those) last year.

At the end of the day, Bolen said it’s best to approach VR films with a new perspective, rather than try to make them feel like traditional movies. Not just because that’s what is necessary to make them feel more realistic, but because it’s also what directors like Iñárritu see a challenge they need to conquer. “You have to take a fresh look at it,” he said, “and put aside all your preconceived notions.”

Google is reportedly acquiring Lytro for around $40 million

Lytro burst onto the scene in 2011 with its then-unprecedented “light field” technology that powered an oddly-shaped camera with the ability to refocus pictures after they’re taken. The first $400 camera arrived in 2012, however, after a pivot to virtual reality (where its technology creates photographs and videos that you can move around in to experience from different angles) and pro cameras, TechCrunch reports the company will be acquired by Google. According to unnamed sources, Google is mostly grabbing the company’s technology and patents for about $40 million, with some employees having already departed.

So what could Google have in mind? Light field technology has a lot of implications for virtual reality, and just last week Google launched a “Welcome to Light Fields” app on Steam with “navigable stills” where users can “experience real-world reflections, depth, and translucence like never before in VR.” Lytro’s tech is perfect for this application, and for videos where users could change their perspective in VR. TechCrunch also points out that Lytro itself recently acquired Limitless, developer of the Reaping Rewards VR experience, to work on technology to blend animation with light-field captured live action video.

All of that could come in handy as Google takes on Facebook (with its upcoming Oculus Go mass-market VR device), Magic Leap and all the rest.