Pioneer Adopts Apple’s AirPlay

Most manufacturers implement whiz-bang new technologies in their most expensive products first, and then trickle them down to the cheaper products over time. Pioneer stands that practice on its head with its adoption of Apple’s AirPlay technology: The $549 VSX-1021-K is Pioneer’s least expensive Ethernet-equipped, DLNA certified A/V receiver, and the company’s higher-end models—including those in its Elite product line—won’t support AirPlay until later this year.

Pioneer’s VSX-1021-K is the first A/V receiver we’ve seen that supports Apple’s AirPlay.

As with the Zeppelin Air, AirPlay support enables you to stream audio from an iOS device to the receiver over your wireless network. Alternately, you can use your iOS device as a remote control and stream songs to the receiver from your iTunes library. (You’ll need to hard-wire the receiver to your network or plug in Pioneer’s optional AS-WL300 Wi-Fi client adapter to accomplish this.)

Pioneer also showed off two new iOS apps: iControlAV2 and Air Jam. iControlAV2 converts an iPad, iPod Touch, or iPhone into a marvelous remote control for the VSX-1021 and its other network-ready receivers. The app replicates all of the receiver’s controls and settings in its graphical user interface and enables you to tweak any of its functions. Beyond that, it also features detailed displays representing the before and after effects of Pioneer’s room calibration software and allows you to customize EQ settings and even designate the room’s sweet spot to locations other than centered between the front channels.

Pioneer’s free iControlAV2 iOS app converts an iPad, iPod Touch, or iPhone into a full-featured remote control for the VSX-1021-K and any attached Pioneer Blu-ray player. The company hopes to eventually expand this functionality into a universal remote control.

Air Jam enables as many as four iOS device users to collaboratively create playlists in real time, streaming tracks from their devices to the receiver’s optional Bluetooth adapter. Each user sees the entire song queue on their device and can save the list for future reference. If they hear an unfamiliar song they like, they can click on a button on their screen that will take them to their iTunes account to buy the song, or they can click a second button that will search for the artist’s videos on YouTube.

Plug in an optional BlueTooth adapter, and up to four people can build, manage, and save collaborative playlists using their iOS devices and Pioneer’s Air Jam app.

The VSX-1021-K is very well equipped for an A/V receiver in this price range, with five HDMI 1.4a inputs (but only one output), an amp that delivers 120 watts to each of seven channels, automated room calibration, an integrated iOS port (no need to purchase an optional docking station),a 24-bit/192kHz DAC, and DLNA 1.5 certification.

Stay tuned for our hands-on review.

Source: Maximum PC – All Articles

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AMD Radeon HD 6990 Performance Preview

Double the GPUs, double the performance, at almost double the price.

AMD’s dual GPU cards have come a long way in the past several years. The original Radeon HD 3870 was noisy, ran hot and didn’t always perform up to snuff. Since then, AMD’s Catalyst Driver suite has substantially improved the performance and breadth of CrossFire-supported games.

On the hardware side, AMD is pulling out all the stops with its Radeon HD 6990 card. The company understands that a dual GPU card is most appealing to a small band of enthusiasts who really want the card to push the edge of the envelope, both in terms of engineering and features.

Despite being fully twelve inches long—like its predecessor, the Radeon HD 5970—the HD 6990 looks a little less imposing than the 5970. Maybe it’s the center-mounted fan, which visually breaks up the huge mass of the cooling shroud.


The Radeon HD 6990 combines twin Cayman GPUs, 4GB of GDDR5 and a new cooling system.

Still, it’s a big, heavy card that will only fit in larger PC cases, so make sure your case has the room for it.

The HD 6990 is essentially two Radeon HD 6970 cards built onto one card. While the base core clock speed is down a bit, at 830MHz, the full 6970 has been replicated, complete with 3,072 total shader ALUs, 192 texture units and 4GB of GDDR5 running at 1,250MHz.

A pair of HD 6970 GPUs and all that GDDR5, even with the core clocks cranked back to 830MHz, consumes serious power; the HD 6990 ships with two 8-pin PCI Express power connectors. Also built into the card is a tiny physical dip switch that allows you to overclock and overvolt the core clock with a single flick, to 880MHz. Flicking that switch turns the 6990 into full, screaming dual HD 6970s, but at a hefty power cost. At full throttle, the overclocked HD 5990 used 528W—more power than we’ve ever seen from a single graphics card. The card itself, when overclocked, consumes up to 450W, which requires serious voltage regulation. AMD touts its use of Volterra digital programmable regulators and cherry-picked GPUs which would run at high voltages and clock speeds without melting.

The dual Volterra digital regulators are the rectangular chips at the top. The two GPUs are symmetrically laid out.

Cooling dual Cayman GPUs and 4GB of video RAM takes a serious cooling system. AMD re-engineered the cooling system, incorporating a full-board heat dissipation system with dual vapor chambers.

The heat sink fins each cover a separate vapor chamber located above each GPU. The copper head sink is thermally linked via phase change thermal interface materials.

The central fan pulls heat from the rearmost GPU, pushing that air over the front GPU. Since all the video connectors are mounted on one side of the double-wide PCI bracket, the other bracket side becomes a full-height exhaust vent.

The HD 6990 ships with five video connectors built in, one dual-link DVI connector and four mini-DisplayPort 1.2 attach points. Retail boxes will ship with three additional adapters, one miniDP to single link DVI passive, one miniDP to single link DVI active and a miniDP to HDMI passive.

Four mini-DP 1.2 ports plus a dual link DVI connector enable full Eyefinity support.

So the Radeon HD 6990 seems well engineered. How does it actually perform? We cranked up the standard testbed, loaded up the benchmarks and took it for a spin. We compared theHD 6990 (with the OC switch in both settings) to anoverclocked eVGA GTX 580 SC, and the previous generation Radeon HD 5970.

Any lingering doubts as to who is the new performance champ are now gone. In games that are seem mostly bandwidth or texture bound, we see little difference between the OC setting and the standard setting. It’s worth noting that we did see games crash on a couple of occasions when the card’s switch was set in the OC setting, while the 6990 was completely stable at the standard setting.

So for the moment, AMD gets to hoist the PC graphics performance crown onto its brow. But fame and GPU fortune can be fleeting, and already rumblings of a dual GPU Nvidia-based card have hit the Internet rumor mills.

Will you want one? At $699, the price is pretty steep, especially if you consider that a single Radeon HD 6970 costs about $360. Also, it’s a big card, so make sure you case has room for a foot-long card. And you’ll need a robust power supply to deliver all that juice.

Nevertheless, the temptation is there – that’s a lot of raw GPU power on a single card. The price of GPU glory is never a small one.

$699 (est) http://www.amd.com

SPECS

Radeon HD 6970 eVGA GTX 580 SC Radeon HD 6990
Shader Units* 1536 512 3072
Texture Units 96 64 192
ROPs 32 48 64
Power Connectors 1 x 8, 1 x 6 1 x 8, 1 x 6 2 x 8
Core Clock Frequency (MHz) 880 797 830 (std), 880 (OC)
Memory Clock Frequency (MHz) 1250 1012 1250
Frame Buffer Size 2GB 1.5GB 2 x 2GB
Memory Interface 256-bit 384-bit 256-bit
Price $360 $520 $699 (est)

*AMD and Nvidia computer cores are not directly comparable.

Benchmarks
eVGA GTX 580 SC Radeon HD 6990 Standard Radeon HD 6990 OC Radeon HD 5970
3DMark 2011 (Extreme) 2,021 3,259 3,404 2,509
3DMark Vantage Perf. 23,888 27,495 27,854 24,654
Unigine Heaven 2.1 (fps) 36 50 53 28
Crysis (fps) 36 61 61 44
BattleForge DX11 (fps) 78 100 101 73
Far Cry 2 / Long (fps) 122 149 151 114
HAWX 2 DX11 (fps) 158 143 146 102
STALKER: CoP DX11 (fps) 58 89 92 54
Just Cause 2 (fps) 52 71 71 55
Aliens vs. Predator (fps) 44 77 80 49
F1 2010 (fps) 72 87
86 80
Metro 2033 (fps) 26 39
38 20
Power @ idle (W) 141 160
160 169
Power @ full throttle (W) 395 477 528 364

Our test bed is a 3.33GHz Core i7-975 Extreme Edition in an Asus P6X58D Premium motherboard with 6GB of DDR3/1333 and an 850TX Corsair PSU. The OS is 64-bit Windows Ultimate. All games are run at 1920×1200 with 4x AA.


Source: Maximum PC – All Articles

Old School Monday: DVD is Hot! So When Can We Have It?

In this week’s edition of Old School Monday, we revisit the days before DVD with Senior Editor Gordon Ung:

You want storage quaintness? When the DVD-ROM was making its debut, we still used storage comparisons based on the floppy drive. Yeah, that brand-spanking new DVD technology could store the same amount of data that 170,000 5.25-inch disk could! Other choice phrases in the 20/20 Hindsight Technology machine: “Imagine backing up an entire 4GB hard drive onto a single disc.” Though generally accurate, the magazine’s report on the nascent technology was a bit premature on two points: dual-layer, double sided DVD discs never became popular and the prediction that soon, game developers could store an entire game on a single disc didn’t become a reality until the middle of the next decade.

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Modder Creates Handheld N64, Makes Us Want One

n64The N64 was pretty awesome back in the late 90s when it hooked up to a TV. In the year 2011, we’re still impressed by the console, but it’s gone through some changes. A modder by the name Hailrazer has created what every 15 year old would have killed for in 1999: a handheld N64 game machine. The name for this magnificent contraption? The N64 Boy Advance.

It is constructed from a Gameboy Advance carrying case and the innards of an N64. The N64 joystick was swapped out for a Gamecube part, which we are assured is much better. A 4.3-inch screen provides video, and the modder stuffed a few camcorder batteries inside to provide power. The cartridge itself slots in the back.

Hailrazer does point out that he made this mod for his own personal use, so some features like the d-pad and external power supply are gone. Our intrepid modder found that he didn’t need them. Of all the classic console mods out there, this might be the best we’ve seen. 

Source: Maximum PC – All Articles

Google Navigation for Android Gets Real-Time Traffic Avoidance

navGoogle has announced today that Android owners that use their devices as GPS units will have another reason to smile. The free Google navigation service will now be able to route you around traffic jams in real time. No need to adjust any settings, the Google cloud servers will just spit out the fastest route automagically.

In the past, Google Navigation on Android took expected traffic conditions into account, but now they are actually using the real time traffic data to find the best route. The feature is being added in areas of Europe and North America where the turn-by-turn service is already available. 

Google also went out of its way to remind us that they cannot guarantee the accuracy of their maps. Still, we’ve not had any real problems with Google’s navigation services. Chime in and let us know what you think of this change.

Source: Maximum PC – All Articles

Microsoft to Pay Nokia $1 Billion in Windows Phone Deal

wp7There has been some back and forth as people try to sort out the details of the Microsoft-Nokia deal. Some said that Nokia was only accepting software and marketing assistance from Microsoft, but many suspected there was a cold, hard cash payoff going on. Today Bloomberg is reporting that Microsoft has committed to pay the Finnish company $1 billion to promote and develop Windows Phone 7 devices.

Nokia will still pay a license fee for each copy of WinPho7 they ship, but that is expected to be more than offset by reductions in in-house research spending. Clearly, Nokia’s costs will go down if they abandon several of their internal platforms. As Nokia’s margins shrink year after year, analysts agree that the company needs to reduce costs in the short term to remain competitive in the next generation of devices. 

Nokia’s shares have dropped 26% since the Windows Phone partnership was announced last month. But maybe investors will take heart that the Microsoft funding will hasten Nokia’s cost cutting and software development. 

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Motorola Xoom: Our Official Review

The Android tablet is like one of those genetically engineered super-species from a sci-fi thriller. Each successive generation is smarter, faster and bigger than the one before it, and the pace of evolution gains momentum with each iteration. The Dell Streak (6 verdict, August 2010) wasn’t a viable challenger to any device in the tablet universe, but the Samsung Galaxy Tab (8 verdict, December 2010) showed the potential of what an Android tablet could be. Now the Motorola Xoom—almost a defacto reference design for the new Honeycomb OS—emerges as an evolutionary leap forward, and a direct threat to the iPad’s top-of-food-chain status.

Indeed, as we post this review four days before the release of iPad 2, we can tell you that if you’re in the market for a tablet device—today, right now—it’s a toss up between the Xoom and Apple’s first-gen, category-creating leader. Apple may regain dominance with iPad 2, but at least until this Friday, the tablet competition is a dead-heat between two very capable devices. In fact, the Xoom trumps the original iPad in every relevant way, save for a tablet’s most important feature: the depth of its app marketplace.

Pixel for pixel, the Xoom’s display isn’t as quite as bright and saturated as the iPad’s, but we love its higher-res, 1280×800 resolution, and its slightly larger size (10.1 inches to Apple’s 9.7 inches). The aspect ratio of the Xoom screen is almost 16:9, so HD video fills nearly the entire visible display. The iPad, meanwhile, has a 1024×768 screen, and at this 4:3 aspect ratio, HD content is significantly letterboxed. Both tablets are limited to 720p when playing HD video on their built-in screens, but the Xoom can output 1080p (a trick unavailable in the first-gen iPad).

Relative to the iPad, the Xoom also has a significantly thinner black border around it’s viewable display area — a half-inch to the iPad’s three-quarters of an inch. But the main benefit of the Xoom’s display is that it’s larger than 7 inches, the previous high-water mark of Android tablet screens. Certain tap-computing tasks like web browsing, touch typing, gaming and e-book reading really come alive once you graduate from 7 to 10 diagonal inches, and, in this respect, Motorola has elevated the Xoom to an echelon that the iPad once held alone.

There’s no physical home button on the Xoom, and the power button is located on the rear of the chassis. We didn’t miss the former, and don’t object to the placement of the latter. An onscreen home button resides in a Taskbar-like strip at the bottom of the display, and using it quickly becomes second-nature. Ditto the power button, which falls right underneath your index finger when using the Xoom in landscape mode.

Other physical features include two barely protruding volume controls (vaguely tactile at best, and not as easy to locate as the power button); a Micro USB port for data I/O; a Mini HDMI port to send 1080p video to an external display; a proprietary power connector; a 3.5mm headphone jack; and a slide-out tray that will accept a 4G SIM card and MicroSD card—once the Xoom’s firmware is appropriately updated.

Besides offering a 10.1-inch display, the Xoom’s outward-facing hardware features are ostensibly standard for an Android tablet. However, the tablet’s rear-mounted, 5-megapixel camera impressed the hell out of us with surprisingly sharp image quality and a full slate of onscreen controls for flash, white balance, special effects and shooting mode presets (e.g., Action, Night portrait, Steady photo and nine others).

And, of course, that same 5-mepapixel camera can shoot video as well (at 720p). Until playing with the Xoom, we had sneered at the utility of high-res cameras on tablets. Why shoot anything with your tablet when smaller, more conveniently toted smartphones boast perfectly capable cameras as well? Well, we discovered that the real utility of Motorola’s video package comes in the form of on-screen video editing.

When in video mode, the Xoom’s camera boasts controls for white balance, special effects, and time lapse, and even allows for persistent, always-on lighting via its twin LED flash (alas, poor battery life, we knew ye well). But after you’ve shot your video—and this is where the fun really begins—you can dice and splice your movies in the pre-installed Movie Studio app. Here you can insert individual photos, an audio soundtrack, titles, special effects, and frame-by-frame transition effects. Almost unfathomably, Movie Studio comes with no documentation of any kind, but it’s a surprisingly deep app for a freebie, and makes video shooting, editing and uploading a single-device affair. In one fell swoop, video capture on a tablet becomes an intriguing proposition.

Now, none of this would be possible if not for the Xoom’s internal hardware, which comes correct with a wicked-fast processor and loads of internal storage. Fueling your video rendering is a 1GHz, dual-core Nvidia Tegra 2 processor. This chip takes tablet performance to a whole new level. Overall, we found application response to be fluid and zippy—especially in the browser, where screen draws are faster than on the iPad—and benchmark results back up the promise of this dual-core chip (at least they did when the tests actually ran). There’s also 1GB of DDR2 system memory (the iPad includes just 256MB), as well as 32GB of storage space with support for another 32GB when Micro SD card functionality is granted by a future software update.

All in all, the hardware build evokes “Dream Machine: The Tablet Edition,” and as such, you’ll be paying top dollar. Support for 3G data connectivity isn’t a configuration option; it comes built-in whether you want it or not (though a WiFi-only Xoom version is imminent). Likewise, you can’t opt for storage capacities of less than 32GB to save money. It all adds up to a $799 purchase, which is $70 more than a similarly equipped iPad. That’s not a hellacious premium to pay if you subscribe to the Dream Machine ethos of “maximum performance, by any means necessary.” And once you factor in the benefits of the Honeycomb OS (aka Android 3.0), as well as the Xoom’s built-in apps, you’ll be ashamed that you even sweated a $70 pricing differential.

As the first Android OS to support display resolutions befitting a 10-inch screen (the previous high of 854×480 just wasn’t cutting it), Honeycomb has been custom-designed for tablet deployment. We particularly like the new browser app, which offers liquid-smooth performance, tabbed screens (just like a desktop browser) and a nice set of quickly accessed options, such as “Find on page,” “Incognito” browsing (which eliminates all digital trails of your online exploits), and Google voice control. In fact, across the entire OS and its built-in apps, you get a higher degree of user control and functionality than you’ll find on the iPad. Contextual option menus can be accessed from within an app (as opposed to having to open an OS-level settings menu), and from the Browser to the Calendar to Gmail (aka the email app), you’re afforded a higher degree of customization and user autonomy. The onscreen keyboard feels nearly identical to the iPad’s save for everything is a bit larger, thanks to the Xoom’s widescreen dimensions. While the keyboard doesn’t expose numerals in their own row of keys (you have to access a second keyboard layout, something that really bugs us), it does include a Google voice button right on the main interface so you can verbally enter URLs and such.

And, of course, Honeycomb supports home screen widgets, which provide app-like functionality right on the desktop, with no app launching necessary. For example, you can stream CNN’s top stories, WeatherBug’s current conditions, your Twitter feed, your Calendar responsibilities, and other data, all in real-time for sort of a “total command center” effect. It’s a very clever OS trick that gives Android an advantage over the competition, and might be worth that $70 price premium alone.

Unfortunately, for some, the Xoom’s many advantages could be erased by the poor depth of its app marketplace. Compared to other Android iterations, Honeycomb delivers a much more friendly browsing/shopping experience in its Market app, but the actual offerings in the app just don’t compare to what’s available for the iPad’s iOS. Sure, you’ll find Angry Birds and Doodle Jump, but the games section lacks marquee-level talent, and the same holds true for other important app categories. Similarly, besides the apps that come pre-installed in the Xoom, just a handful of currently available Android apps (let alone their associated widgets) are optimized for Honeycomb’s larger screen size and dual-core processor support. What’s more, Xoom won’t support Flash until Adobe releases Flash Player 10.2 (though that could be any day now).

Experientially, in terms of hands-on, everyday use, the Xoom offers an excellent tablet experience. It’s 1.76 ounces heavier than the iPad, but that’s an imperceptible amount in real-world terms, and the Xoom actually just feels a bit better in our hands—maybe thanks to its more rectangular shape. The Xoom’s interface and in-app performance is fast and fluid, and we applaud the way Honeycomb exposes user options and functionality. All these benefits would seem to propel the Xoom past Apple’s first-gen tablet, but because Honeycomb app support is woeful compare to what you’ll find in iOS, we have to say the two supertablets actually stand on equal footing. If you’re looking for superior hardware and a solid foundation for future riches, the Xoom is your tablet of choice. But if you’re all about software options in the here and now, or have your eyes set on all the various apps that are only available on iOS, then the iPad emerges victorious.

And as for iPad 2, well, we’ll know within a matter of days whether it makes both the Xoom and first-gen iPad obsolete. But for now, the tablet war is stuck in a deadlock. We’re loving the Xoom, and using it as our primary tablet—until we need an app that’s only available for iOS. For more details on our Xoom testing experiences, check out this first look.

NOTE: As we wrote in our Galaxy Tab review, “We originally gave [the iPad] an 8 verdict, but now with its new multitasking support, it would warrant a 9.” To be clear, we never changed the official score of the original iPad. That would be revisionist history. Nonetheless, with its post-launch OS updates, the iPad is now a much better tablet device.

$799 off-contract, $600 with 2-year contract, www.motorola.com

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